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Monday, February 25, 2013

Quick Chocolate Fix Dessert--Can Be Vegan Too!



Here's a quick dessert that could be stirred up and baked while finishing the rest of dinner, or even made after drop in guests arrive, ready to be served hot from the oven. It's a good one for kids to help with, both because it is fun to see how the sauce ends up on the bottom and because the lack of eggs in the batter means that bowls and utensils can all be licked clean when the mixing is done.

If you are an ice cream fan, this is wonderful hot out of the oven with ice cream melting over and around it. Whipped cream is also an excellent topper for those who like these creamy additions. And while this is probably best served warm, any leftovers will be good cold too, even though the sauce will thicken and soak into the cake part a bit more. Re-warming individual servings in the microwave is also an option, though I find leftovers rarely are a problem with this dessert. It can easily serve eight or nine, but fewer people at the table will probably find room for seconds or thirds!

Warm or cold, this old-fashioned dessert is a good thing to keep in your ready recipe repertoire.


Hot Fudge Pudding

1 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3 T cocoa
2 t baking powder
1/4 t ground black pepper (optional)
2 T canola oil (could use butter for a non-vegan version)
1/2 c milk--soy or almond milk for vegan version
1/2 t pure vanilla

Topping:
1 c brown sugar
4 T cocoa
1 3/4 c very hot water--should be almost boiling for best results
1 c coarsely nuts (optional)

1. Sift dry ingredients and stir in milk and oil. Spread in oiled 8” square pan.

2. If using nuts, spread evenly over the top of the batter.










3. Mix brown sugar and cocoa and sprinkle over batter.





4. Pour hot water over entire batter. It may look strange, almost like a failure, at this point, but don't worry!


5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Do not overbake. Serve warm or cold.

Mixing Hints to Minimize Clean-up
 Stir the batter in a large glass measuring cup--one of my favorite kitchen items is this four cup mixing bowl/measuring cup.


Scrape the batter out of the bowl with a silicone spatula and then mix the brown sugar and cocoa in the same bowl and spread that mixture over the batter.

Heat the water in a hotpot or separate bowl in the microwave.  Pour the almost boiling water into the same measuring cup bowl you just used for the cocoa/brown sugar mix, up to the 1 3/4 cup line before pouring it over the batter as in step 4 in the recipe.

Voila! You have an already rinsed mixing bowl ready for the dishwasher, and the container you used to heat the water can be allowed to air dry and then put away--no need to wash it, since boiling water in it has sanitized it better than any other cleaning step you might think you need to take.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies--or Not



A few weeks ago, I used friends and family as pilot testers for some cookies labeled Batch A and Batch B. If they wanted to try one of the chocolate chip cookies being offered, they had to try two, one from each plate...and then they had to give me their feedback. The things you have to go through when you come to my house!

I had played around with substituting oil for part of the butter in a few cookie recipes before Christmas, but I decided it was time to do some "scientific" testing of the experiments.

With eggs at their seasonal high prices right now (and for those of us who may run out of this "essential" baking ingredient at just the wrong time), I also started with a recipe that had no eggs at all. The oil version would end up as a vegan choice that I knew some of my friends would also appreciate, so I could kill two birds with one stone--though that is probably a poor choice of metaphor for a vegan recipe!

Anyway...

To make the oil v. butter testing work, I mixed the recipe up twice, once with oil for the fat, once with  butter. There was no added salt in either recipe, even though I used "sweet cream butter" (which includes salt) in the butter batch. Based on some of the comments, a quarter teaspoon of salt (no more) might be a good addition to the oil-based cookies. 

I had to work very hard to keep track of which batch was which, since, as you can see from the photos,  there is very little difference in appearance in either the batter or the baked results. It did seem as though the oil cookies browned more quickly than those made with butter--and I baked the pans side by side in the oven so they got exactly the same amount of time. Amazingly, I ended up with 60 oil-containing cookies and 59 butter-containing cookies. (Since my drop cookies tend not to be as uniform as I would like, I surprised myself with the uniform outcome!)

As for the test results? These are definitely not the very buttery, very rich chocolate chip cookies that many of us may be accustomed to, but they are still homemade, with a nice crunch and overall great flavor. Both were well-received, with only one or two people noting any preference. The butter cookies were the winners when there was a choice, but it seemed as though the blandness of the lower salt content was probably the main factor.

One more thing: Cost. Six cups of oil are in a rather standard size bottle of oil, and I can get this right now at Aldi for a regular price well under $3, less than 50 cents a cup. Even when on sale, butter is going to be at least $1 a cup, so there is a significant cost difference between the two recipes just in the fat ingredient. Other savings I was able to realize on these included getting the chocolate chips and nuts when they were featured as pre-holiday baking specials and making my own applesauce from the orchard apples I buy as seconds in the fall. Obviously, prices change continuously, but the oil recipe cookies came out to about $2.75 for the entire batch, or 55 cents a dozen. If I had made them without nuts, they would have been only $2.00, or 40 cents a dozen--not bad for snacks these days.


Vegan (or Almost Vegan) Chocolate Chip Cookies


1/2 c butter OR canola oil
1 c sugar
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
1/2 c wheat germ (optional)
1 t soda
1/2 t cinnamon (optional)
1 c (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1.  Combine the softened butter or oil with the sugar,  applesauce, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
2.  Stir together the flour, wheat germ, soda, and cinnamon and fold into applesauce mixture. Mix just until well blended.
3.  Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4.  Drop by tablespoons full on to an oiled baking sheet. Since the dough is quite thick, you may want to flatten each cookie slightly. Bake at 350 for about 7 to 9 minutes, until the center of a cookie springs back just slightly when touched.

This makes about 4 1/2 to 5 dozen cookies. Store them tightly covered.

Test Kitchen Results:










Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chocolate, Applesauce, Oatmeal--Great Cookies in the Making!


One of those automated invitations arrived in my email the other day, asking for three dozen cookies for an event this weekend. I was glad to sign up, but I knew that there are lots of really fantastic bakers who will also be providing cookies, so I wanted to try something that might be a little different.

I decided to add  half a package of "white chocolate chips" left from holiday baking to an old-favorite chocolate drop cookie. It is quick and easy and, because I substituted oil for the butter in the original recipe, relatively economical.

One thing to keep in mind with the chips: Even the name brand "white chocolate chips" are really not exactly chocolate, so they handle and bake up differently from "regular" chocolate chips. Whether it was the chips or the substitution of the oil, I did find the dough a little trickier to work with than usual. Just "dropping" the spoonfuls of dough on the pan resulted in lots of chips rolling off in many directions, so I had to use my fingers to press them back into each cookie. Note the "before and after" of this step:

Before:


After:











Not a big deal, but one you should be aware of when you make these.

Also--as you can see from the photos, the six ounces of chips is more than ample; to reduce costs a bit, you could cut back on the chips and save those not used for another purpose. (They might also be easier to handle if the ratio of chips to batter was slightly different!)

Chocolate Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies

1/4 c canola oil
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1/3 c cocoa
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t soda
6 oz white chocolate chips
3 c rolled oats, quick (not instant) variety

1. Combine the first six ingredients and beat until smooth.
2. Stir the baking soda into the flour and then add to the batter. Combine until well mixed.
3. Stir in the chips and then the rolled oats.  (It is much easier to get the chips well blended by putting them in first).
4.  Drop by tablespoons onto a lightly greased baking sheet, pressing the chips into the dough as needed.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees about 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies barely spring back after touching with a finger in the center. As with most chocolate cookies, be careful not to over-bake! Store tightly covered.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

Variations:

Use semisweet chocolate chips instead of the white variety.
Add 1/2 to 3/4 c chopped walnuts or sliced almonds.
Substitute raisins or dried cranberries for the chips.



Special Bruschetta Toppings--Versatile Too



It seems like the Super Bowl is becoming one of those "food holidays" like Thanksgiving, with the focus on all kinds of snacks, many of which are pretty much the antithesis of health foods.  Looking at the prices in the stores this week, many of the menu items planned are not necessarily budget friendly either.

Today's recipes could be rather expensive too, especially tapenade. A quick online search found nothing below $22 for 24 oz, and most sources were even higher. My recipe is a version of  "Moroccan" tapenade without the heat of that country's harissa, but it does not include the anchovies and/or capers that can bump up the price quickly. In addition, I buy olives in a two pound bag at Costco or Sam's, with the price well under $2 a pound.
 

The sun-dried tomatoes are another ingredient that is not often a "frugal" choice, but watch for sales; last fall, Aldi's was featuring some for a great price, so I stocked up with a couple of jars. The feta cheese is another item that both the warehouse chains have feta crumbles at wonderfully reasonable prices, another way to keep the costs down. If you are not sure about using the large size containers these stores have available, you can freeze the cheese. Yes, the texture becomes more crumbly, but since that seems to be the way most of us use this tangy cheese, the change is probably not a problem. (If you want some hints from some those who are real feta fanciers,  check out Greek Food--Feta.)

Finally, though I do keep garlic powder and jarred garlic on hand for cooking in a hurry, these really need the real thing. Once again, I go to the warehouse stores for my supply, buying their two pound bags at ridiculous prices. If that sounds like too much garlic, remember that it keeps a long time on the shelf, but it is also a fun thing to share with your cooking friends. (How's that for a hostess gift? Here, I brought you a couple of heads of garlic--enjoy!)

I'm not sure what to call either of these mixtures--dips? spreads?--but they are wonderfully tangy additions to thin slices of baguettes, whether the latter are toasted or plain. They could also be used on crackers, though the tapenade, especially, is quite salty, so you really don't want to add to that.

Some other ideas for serving Tapenade or Feta and Sun-dried Tomatoes could include:
  • As a garnish for scrambled eggs--a small dollop of either on top of deviled eggs gives them a special look and taste too 
  • Instead of mayo on any sandwich, especially vegetarian fillings for pitas
  • Stuffed into slit chicken breasts or fish fillets before grilling them
  • Added to oil and vinegar and used as a salad dressing
  • Stirred into hummus
  • The tapenade could be layered with feta or other cheese on unsalted crackers
  • Tossed with grated mozzarella and/or parmesan over pasta 
  • Either could be used to enhance the flavor of vegetarian sandwiches or pasta dishes--especially for those who still think every main dish needs some kind of meat
While these should be stored in the refrigerator, they are at their flavorful best if you let them sit at room temperature for a half hour or so. To be honest, I don't know how well they keep, since they both seem to disappear virtually within minutes of being served! My guess is that the ingredients in both mixtures would allow for a pretty extended refrigerator life.



Quick Tapenade


1 c sliced, canned black olives, including up to a tablespoon  of the liquid from the olives
2 cloves garlic, quartered
1 T lemon juice
approximately 3 T roughly chopped parsley, including stems--pack tightly to measure
2 to 4 T olive oil
dash cayenne pepper, or to taste

1. Pulse olives and garlic in a processor until olives are very coarsely chopped.
2. Add the parsley and lemon juice and continue processing until the mixture is evenly blended.
3.  Sprinkle on a bit of cayenne, to taste, and then drizzle in the olive oil while running the processor, until the desired consistency is reached. It should be about the thickness of soft hummus.
4.  Serve immediately or chill. (Because of the oil content, the mixture will be slightly thicker if served cold instead of at room temperature.)

Makes about 1 cup of spread.



Feta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Spread



1 c sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil--measure with the oil included
1 to 2 T dried basil
1/4 c diced red bell pepper--about 1/3 to 1/2 a medium sized pepper
4 to 6 cloves garlic, to taste (but don't skimp!)--peeled and coarsely chopped
2 t balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste
6 oz (about 1 c) feta crumbles
olive oil, if needed

1.  Combine all but the feta in a processor fitted with the cutting blade. Pulse to achieve a uniform, coarsely ground, texture.
2.  Add the feta and pulse just a few times, until the mixture is well mixed.
3.  If the mixture is too thick, add a bit more of the oil from the tomatoes or a little olive oil. Taste for seasoning and allow to chill for half an hour or more to blend the flavors.

Makes about 2 cups of spread.