Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Favorite Gingersnaps

It's probably the cold weather that has caused me to want to hole up in my hole of an apartment and bake for hours. Really, I've been quite a baking machine these days. Between several varieties of scones, cookies, muffins, and cupcakes, I enjoy standing near our oven, mixing together my flours, sweeteners, leaveners, and fatteners, knowing that what I'm making will bring a smile to someone's face. I intend to wholeheartedly use this as justification for what will likely be a shocker of a gas bill this month. Because really, I just like to make people smile, and who can't help but smile when they're offered a freshly baked cookie?!

As a child I enjoyed these gingersnaps at tea parties with my bears and dolls in the beautiful, woodsy backyard of my grandparent's home. These cookies were prepared meticulously by my grandma, who undoubtedly spent quite some time rolling out tiny balls of dough to create dozens of identically-sized cookies just larger than a quarter. Having made several batches of these over the past few weeks, I have grown to love the cathartic, mind-numbing feeling of dough between my hands, rolling out ball after ball, while dancing a bit to some Beatles tunes. It helps that the end result is a well-received, soft (yet snappy) cookie that is a subtle blend of sweet ginger, cinnamon, and molasses. To prevent burning, watch these cookies carefully, especially if they're small. They can easily be stored in the freezer, but watch out, because I've found that they are just as tasty frozen!
The Stuff:
  • Mixing bowl(s)
  • Flour sifter (recommended, but I don't own one, so I just shake my flour around a bit :-)
  • Baking sheet
  • Oven
  • Cooling rack (again, I don't own one, so it's not totally necessary)
The Edibles:
  • 1 c. sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. sifted white wheat flour
  • 1 T. ground ginger (slightly more if you're using a generic brand)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (slightly more if you're using a generic brand)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 T. ground flax seed
  • 3 T. water
  • 3/4 c. shortening (I used Crisco!)
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. dark molasses
  • 1/3 c. cinnamon sugar (1/3 c. sugar with a few hearty shakes of cinnamon mixed in well)
The Making:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Sift the flours, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir the mixture to blend evenly, and if you're feeling ambitious, sift a second time into another bowl.
  3. Mix flax seed and water in a small bowl or cup, and let it sit for at least 3 minutes.
  4. Place the shortening into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Gradually beat in the white sugar. Beat in the flax seed water mixture and dark molasses. Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture into the shortening mixture; stir to thoroughly blend. Sift in the remaining flour mixture, and mix together until a soft dough forms. Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into 1 inch diameter balls between your hands. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar, and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
  5. Bake in preheated oven until the tops are rounded and slightly cracked, about 10 minutes. Larger cookies may take longer. I would recommend checking every minute or so around the 10 minute mark.
  6. Cool cookies on a wire rack. Store in an air tight container.
Recipe makes about 60 cookies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cranberry Apple Nut Yogurt Scones

Burr! It's cooooold here in Chicago! Slightly sweet, not too heavy, these scones are a great little treat for a cold winter morning... and considering they're nutritionally enhanced through the incorporation of whole grains, fruit, and healthy fats from the nuts, you shouldn't feel guilty if you have more than one!

If you're averse to cranberries (ahem Momo), fear not! This recipe is merely a base that can be adapted to your preferences and ingredients on hand. For the cranberries and apple you can substitute anything from raisins to blueberries, raspberries to snozberries... And your favorite nut variety can can stand in for the hazelnuts! Play around!
The Edibles:
  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/2 c. dried apple, chopped
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 3 T. baking powder
  • 3/4 c. (1 & 1/2 sticks) cold butter or margarine
  • 1 c. chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 c. vanilla nonfat yogurt
  • 1 c. fat free half-and-half
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
The Making:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Add water to cranberries; stir. Let stand 10 min. to plump cranberries. Meanwhile, mix flours, sugar and baking powder in large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add walnuts and drained cranberries; mix well. Add yogurt and half-and-half; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  2. Divide dough into 3 pieces. Pat each piece into 6-inch round on floured surface; cut each into 8 wedges. Place wedges, 2 inches apart, on ungreased baking sheets; brush with egg.
  3. Bake 15 to 18 min. or until lightly browned. Serve warm.
The original recipe that inspired this interpretation said that this makes 24 scones... I made 28. I'm special like that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

No Worry Crock Pot Curry

Curry powder. You may not have guessed it by looking at it, but it can pack a potentially life-altering, health-improving punch. It's a complex combination of herbs and spices that generally includes coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and red pepper, but will sometimes be supplemented with additional ingredients such as ginger, garlic, asafoetida, fennel seed, caraway, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green cardamom, black cardamom, mace, nutmeg, long pepper, and black pepper.

So what makes curry powder so great? Well, many of its ingredients have been linked to improvements in health indicators. What am I talking about? Let's look at an example...

Why tumeric rocks:
  • It may help relieve joint pain experienced by people living with arthritis because tumeric contains more than 24 compounds that fight inflammation in the body.
  • It may help those living with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), because tumeric can aid digestion and reduce disturbances such as heartburn, bloating and gas.
  • It may help those with high cholesterol, because studies have shown that tumeric may assist in the reduction of LDL levels (bad cholesterol), thereby helping prevent atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the artery walls)
(For more information about the benefits of curry powder and tumeric, visit here and here.)

Fueled by my love for easily prepared, tasty, nutrition-packed meals, I set out to create a healthy crock pot curry recipe. The challenge for me was creating a recipe that resembled the classic coconut curry my mom used to make, but was a bit lighter in that it didn't use coconut milk.* I wanted to develop a curry dish that was well-balanced and allowed me to recognize the veggies, chicken, and grain because they weren't completely smothered in sauce. Go ahead, call me a purist. (For a vegetarian version, omit chicken and substitute vegetable broth or water for the chicken broth.)

Speaking of veggies, feel free to add whatever you may have on hand. Some bell pepper strips or cauliflower would be great additions both flavor and health-wise. Serve over a mini grain like rice, quinoa, or cous cous, and top your curry with one, two, or all of my suggestions below. (Before you judge my vanilla yogurt idea, I'd recommend giving it a whirl because I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be just as surprised as I was by its yum factor! Try it!)
The Stuff:
  • non-stick olive oil cooking spray
  • medium sauté pan
  • crockpot
The Edibles:
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 medium potatoes, chopped into pieces the same size as your chicken
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots (about 1 & ½ c.), sliced (can use frozen)
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. coconut extract
    *Of course you could use coconut milk in this recipe if that's what your heart desires; substitute 1 cup milk for one cup of broth; omit extract and honey
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. flour
  • 2 T. curry powder
  • hearty shake of the following: garlic powder, onion powder, and coriander
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. frozen peas, thawed
Optional Toppings:
  • 2 T. vanilla yogurt
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • 2 -3 tsp. toasted flaked coconut
  • 1 T. slivered almonds
The Making:
  1. Spray a medium-sized saute pan with non-stick olive oil cooking spray. Place pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and on all sides.
  2. Doing this quick cook will help seal in the moisture of the chicken and prevent your meat from disintegrating in the crock pot.
  3. Place potatoes and onion in crock pot. If using fresh carrots, add at this time. Top with seared chicken.
  4. Whisk together chicken broth, coconut extract, honey, flour, curry powder, dashes of spices, and a pinch of salt and pepper (you can add more after cooking). Pour over chicken and vegetables.
  5. Cover; cook on high for 3 to 3 & ½ hours or LOW 6 to 7 hours.
  6. Add peas and carrots (if you’re using frozen) at this time. Allow the curry to cook for 30-45 minutes on high with the cover removed in order to thicken the sauce.
  7. Serve over rice, quinoa, cous cous or whatever else you may have on hand!
Optional topping ideas: a dollop of vanilla yogurt, hot sauce, flaked coconut, slivered almonds.