Yeasted cookies?

The original recipe.
I was poking around on the internet and found this post for yeasted chocolate chip cookies. I'm a BIG fan of yeast, so I was intrigued. I decided to do a taste test.

I baked up two batches of the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe, one with 1t of baking soda, and one with 1t of instant yeast. The smell and a quick email attracted about 25 of the people in my dorm and they voted on taste and texture.
Yeasted cookies on the left, original recipe on the right.
The results:
Yeast: 14
Baking Soda: 9

Yeasted cookies were the clear winner on taste, but there was more to this than met the eye. The yeast cookies had a much cleaner taste—it was easier to taste the actual cookie and the chocolate and the vanilla. The baking soda cookie, though, just tasted like you expect a cookie to taste—it was familiar, and therefore delicious.


how to pick a ripe _________

All my life, I was blessed with a grocery store that changed their produce selection based on what was in season, so the fruit in abundance was always the best fruit. This made it easy to figure out what variety to buy, and since most of it was fairly ripe, it was easy to pick a good piece of fruit, too.

When I moved to New Jersey, I realized how lucky I'd been. I also realized how odd people thought my thorough inspections of fruit and vegetables were. But two heads of broccoli can provide very different results, and if I'm going to be paying that much for a nectarine it better be a damn good nectarine.

So how do you pick? Well, first pick by season. You should probably stick with things that are in season in your hemisphere, because long commutes don't bode well for most things.

Chili con Carne

Housesitting this summer, my parents left us a bunch of chorizo and ground beef in the freezer, a lot of beans in the cupboard, and an extensive spice collection. With direct instructions to use up all the food in the house, we decided to make a big batch of chili.

Having never made (or really eaten) chili before, this was a complete experiment. Given that chili is now my go-to soup, I'd say it was also pretty successful.

Hearty chili with plenty of beans
Chili con Carne

1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. chorizo, either sliced or broken up into chunks

1 minced spicy green pepper (whatever your local store has)
1 minced red bell pepper
1 minced jalapeno
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped

3T chili powder (we used a mix of several kinds; use whatever you have on hand)
1.5T brown sugar
3t dried oregano
3T cumin
1t allspice
1t cloves
1 28oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 15oz. can of pureed tomatoes (we used a food processor; if you don't have one, add more diced tomatoes)

1 15oz can black beans
1 15oz can pinto beans
1 15oz can cannellini beans

Slow cooker oatmeal

Brown sugar, cranberries, and oats, waiting to enter the slow cooker.

Seeing as it's finally getting cold and rainy out, it seemed just about time to switch from cold morning cereal to hot morning cereal (at least for a bit).

Our first attempt at oats was an absolute failure. We used what we thought were steel cut oats but were actually quick cooking steel-cut oats. After 8 hours in the slow cooker, we ended up with soup. After it cooled, it solidified into something oat-like, but we decided it probably wasn't worth eating.

We learned a valuable lesson from that experiment, though. We put dried cranberries in the night before (with extra water to make up for them!), hoping they would rehydrate overnight. They sure did rehydrate, and I can tell you now that I prefer my cranberries dehydrated.

Breakfast the next morning. Yum.
Slow cooker oatmeal
Serves 4

1.5 cups of steel cut oats
4 cups of water
1 cup of half and half

brown sugar

A food tour of Berkeley, CA

As a long-time Berkeley resident, and child of an absolute foodie, I'd say I know my way around the Berkeley food scene fairly well. If you ever find yourself visiting, here are the absolutely must see things:

1. The Berkeley Bowl:
I remember when the Berkeley Bowl was still in the old bowling alley, with crowded aisles and wooden crates of fruit and veggies. There are now two locations, although the original is better. Go here to see a HUGE selection of amazing seasonal produce (don't expect to find apricots in November), a great bulk food section, and a wide collection of anything related to Asian cooking. Make sure to check out the squishy shelf—fruits and veggies on the tail end of prime condition with huge discounts. In the original store, it's located by the bulk lettuce and berries.

2. Cheeseboard Pizza
Crisp, garlicky, sourdough crust; multiple, flavorful, melting cheeses; fresh, sweet, savory vegetables... what more could you ask for in a pizza? They serve up one flavor of vegetarian pizza Tuesday thru Saturday, so make sure to check their flavor of the day ahead of time. My favorite is the fresh corn pizza in the summer months. Also worthwhile is the olive focaccia from two doors down—the original Cheeseboard. (Also a great place to sample cheeses, if you're into that sort of thing.)

3. La Farine
Ok, so this one is actually in Oakland, but it's about a half block out of Berkeley, so I'll count it. A quick bus ride from UC Berkeley's campus, this bakery has been a staple in my life since a young age. I've already mentioned their incredible morning buns, gooey sticky sugary syrup wrapped in flaky, buttery pastry dough. More importantly, though, is their rustic baguette. At one point, my father had to ask their baking schedule because they sold out so quickly. I've tried a lot of baguettes, and this is the most delightfully flavorful of them all. Great plain, or spread with some good french butter (preferably from the Cheeseboard.)


Awesome green beans

I've had green beans before. I've had good green beans before. These are awesome green beans.

Awesome Green Beans
serves 2-4

1/2 T butter
1 shallot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, thinly sliced into strips
1 lb. green beans
1/2 T butter
1.5 cups white wine



A couple of years ago, Dannon started advertising for a new yogurt called Activia. If you've ever seen the commercials, the ridiculous graphics and careful vocabulary are pretty amusing. But after a round of antibiotics left me constantly bloated and gassy, I was willing to try anything, no matter how silly the commercials.

Two weeks of Activia and things weren't perfect, but they were so much better.

Since then, I've gotten really into eating yogurt. I don't eat Activia anymore—once you make your own yogurt, it's hard to go back to the store-bought stuff—but I'm still reaping the benefits. Plus, on top of the probiotics, it's also a great source of calcium.

I've included a recipe for homemade yogurt below.


10 ways to travel light

I recently spent a week in Chicago, a city not known for its healthy food. As a foodie, I also felt obliged to try much of Chicago's best cuisine. Still, by the end of the week, I had dropped two pounds. Here's how I eat and travel:

1. Change your watch the morning you leave. 
That means if you're traveling to some place three hours behind, you should be eating breakfast 3 hours later than usual. Most people change their watch on the plane; this can mean you have lunchtime or dinnertime twice. Plan on having a snack, not a meal, on the plane, unless you're definitely flying through lunch or dinner time at your destination. (Try to bring an apple or baby carrots with you as a snack.)


Honey Oatmeal Bread

At some point in the last year, I decided I wanted to figure out yeast. This may seem ambitious, but with no thermometer, no guidance and no prior experience, I conquered the beast.

I started with bagels. In retrospect, that was probably a poor idea, seeing as bagels are basically an extra complicated version of bread. They weren't great, but they were edible and that was certainly a boon.

Next, I moved on to cinnamon rolls (actually, Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls, which are divine). I think the gooey cinnamon made up for any shortfall in my bread baking skills. This is definitely a great first recipe with yeast! If you're nervous about yeast, or have had bad experiences in the past, try it.

Finally, I tried my hand at bread. I chose it because I had the ingredients on hand, and had been trying to figure out a way to use them for about a month. I've baked it probably 10 times, with several variations. Here I'll give you the basic recipe along with step-by-step instructions for the novice bread baker.

Honey Oatmeal Bread
(from Lanier B&B)
Yield: 3 loaves

1/8 cup active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°-110°)
1 1/2 cup quick (or rolled) oats
3 cups warm water
1/3 cup melted butter
1 3/4 tablespoons salt
3/4 cup honey
7 1/2 cup bread flour

Glorious Brussel Sprouts

Notice the X's cut into the bottom of the sprouts.

I'm pretty sure I've always liked brussel sprouts. This is probably why:

brussel sprouts
olive oil
chicken (or veggie) stock

stick frying pan (as opposed to non-stick) with a lid
sharp knife

The salad bar

I love bars: chocolate bars, Lara bars, cookie bars... and I also love the salad bar. I don't know if you've ever eaten in a dining hall, but sometimes there's just nothing good, or nothing good for you. This is when the salad bar comes to the rescue—not to make a salad, but to allow a bit of creativity.

Don't get me wrong, I love salads. In fact, I'd consider myself a salad connoisseur. My favorite salad: green leaf lettuce, with cubes of tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper and avocado, corn straight from the cob, and half slices of carrots, thoroughly tossed in a dressing of equal parts good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, with just enough dijon mustard to help it emulsify. Doesn't that just have your mouth water?

Unfortunately, most salad bars are not stocked in red bell pepper, avocado, corn from the cob, carrots, olive oil or good vinegar.. let alone a dining hall with a bowl big enough to get a good toss going. So I avoid salads, because why waste any room in your stomach on something that's not completely satisfying and delicious?

No, I like to use the salad bar much more creatively. I've also seen a number of grocery stores that have salad bars in their produce aisle. Here are just a few of the ways you can use the salad bar to make your life easier, or to improve your lunch.

1. Spruce up your pasta dishes. The dining hall serves vegetarian pasta dishes all the time, but I usually find them a bit heavy on the pasta and light on the protein and veggies. I'll usually fill my plate with pasta, and pile on edamame, corn, beans, cubed chicken or tofu, and a little bit of cheese. I then throw the plate into the microwave for a few minutes, and suddenly I have perfect pasta. (Sometimes I also grab a pat of butter and throw it into the mix... makes for some delicious bites).


Pumpkin muffins: A comparison

Up until last year, I never really liked pumpkin-anything. Then, around this time of year, I made pumpkin muffins for my advising group, and my eyes were opened. Next: pumpkin pie, with graham cracker crust and lots of whipped cream.

This year, I've revamped my recipe slightly. The old recipe produced muffins whose grease soaked through the muffin liners--delicious, but also dense. The new recipe produces light, fluffy muffins, that are less greasy, but definitely not less moist. I'd say they're an overall win! (Did I mention they've got less than half the calories?)

Love pumpkin? Check out the rest of the pumpkin muffin saga, including more recent recipes!

Both recipes yield 12 muffins. Continue reading for the calorie comparison, and the winning recipe~

Ingredient:           original recipe................new recipe
AP flour:              2 cups................2.25 cups
baking soda:        1t................0.75t
baking powder:    1t................0.75t

white sugar:         1 cup................1.5 cups
brown sugar:       1 cup................0 cups
eggs, whole:        4................1
eggs, white:         0................4
butter:                  2 sticks................0 sticks

pumpkin:             15 oz.................15 oz.
shredded carrot:   0 cups................1 cup

salt:                      1t................1t
cinnamon:            1t................1.5t
ginger:                  1t................0t
nutmeg:                0.25t................1.5t
allspice:                0.25t................0t
cloves:                  0t................1.5t


Book Review: Architect's Pocket Book of Kitchen Design, Charlotte Baden-Powell

If you’ve ever dreamed about designing your own kitchen, reading this book will make your imagination run wild. Although it’s really a practical handbook for practicing architects, detailing things such as the amount of ventilation needed in a kitchen, it also discusses the work triangle and ideal kitchen layouts. For the experienced cooks, much of this will seem obvious.

Still, there were things that I hadn’t thought about, such as the ideal distance from sink to stovetop. The book also showed examples of ready-to-install appliances like sinks, dishwashers, cabinets and fridges, all in various style and set ups. Having used two kitchens my whole life, I never realized that dishwashers came in drawers or that sinks could have draining boards attached.

After reading this book, my dream kitchen got even better, and even more fun to use. I had hoped to get more out of this book, though. The short section on kitchen layout presented very little new material and showed very little thinking outside the box. I have seen other books that ventured to break the kitchen triangle, a more interesting concept to consider.

Baden-Powell also completely omits a discussion of kitchen styles, such as modern, rustic or industrial. Although many other books about kitchen design focus heavily on this distinction, I would have like to hear Baden-Powell’s clear, succinct description of the various stylistic possibilities and how they might affect things such as kitchen layout and appliance selection.

This book is probably not worth buying unless you actually plan to design your own kitchen. If your local library happens to have a copy, though, it’s a quick, fun read that will set your mind wandering amongst the possibilities.

Book Review: Season to Taste by Colin Dence

I found this book in the dark depths of the university chemistry library. I doubt you'll find a copy of it anywhere, and I think that's ok. Colin Dence tries to present a pseudo-scientific text on the art of seasoning food. Unfortunately, his presentation doesn’t clearly cover the topic as a science or as an art.

The book begins with a presentation of the various types of spices and the various tastes available to the human palette. Unfortunately, the poor organization of the various sections and what should have been subsections makes the material difficult to slog through.

Otherwise, the material in this section is quite useful. Dence makes two clear distinctions. First, he distinguishes between taste and aroma, and uses vague scientific explanations to categorize herbs, spices and seeds as aromatics or flavorings. Second, he distinguishes between two categories of dish—sweet and sour dishes and savory dishes.

This second distinction segues into part two of his book, where he goes into a rather lengthy discussion of the history of seasoning. This entire middle third of the book could be left out. Although some of the recipes are interesting, and well-presented, his argument that sweet and sour cookery gave way to savory cookery was not very well presented nor particularly relevant to the rest of the text. I found that the history did very little to improve my understanding of seasoning. Dence would have done better to use science, rather than history, to back his claims about the seasoning combinations. All of his digging into historic cookbooks also seems to have affected his style of writing, making it somewhat more difficult to read.

Based on the section titles, it appears the Dence will finally cover the scientific portion of the presentation, and maybe cover the chemistry behind flavour harmony and flavour balance. Instead he does nothing of the sort.

In his explanation of flavour harmony, he provides a very brief list of example flavour harmonies, such as tomato, sugar, onion and cinnamon as can be found in tomato ketchup, describing this harmony as very important. However, the section doesn’t cover why these ingredients are harmonious in any particular detail, or how to achieve other harmonious combinations. The section on flavour balance is similar, telling the reader to make sure no one flavour is out of proportion with the others, unless of course that’s the point.

Overall, I found the book to be a significant letdown. I had hoped for a scientific presentation of seasoning, and got a historical treatise on seasoning. Still I did learn a few things from the book. Most strikingly, I learned the difference between aroma and taste, and how the spices, seeds and herbs can help to balance the senses. I also learned to consider sweetness, sourness/acidity and savoury as distinct flavors that need balance first. Any more experienced cook probably already knew that.


Eating in Chicago

At the end of October, one of my classes took a trip to Chicago. I really only had about 2 days to explore, but I made sure to cram as much delicious into those two days as possible. Here are the three things you have to try in Chicago:

1. Chicago French Market
This is a great place to get fresh fruit to snack on, or vegetables for that matter. The Belgian fries were delicious (although the dipping sauces were, frankly, uninspiring). I had a delicious roast chicken sandwich from Chicago Organics, as well.
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