Posts Tagged sugars

Almond Meal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Watermarked(2017-05-13-1519)

 

Guaranteed these little beauties are easy to make and delicious to munch on. My version is adapted from Cuisinicity, a recipe website developed by Catherine Katz. Definitely worth the time to check out especially if you are looking for vegan / vegetarian options. Catherine is a lovely, creative, energetic cook who write recipes that work.

I got to know Catherine when I did some metric re-engineering on some of her recipes. She’s French and has many followers from Europe who appreciate metric measures. Catherine’s original version is made with agave syrup instead of maple syrup. I used maple syrup because that’s what I had on hand and the recipe worked just fine. Reading through the comments I can see other adapters used honey. So it’s really up to you.

When I bake, my preference is to use my digital scale because to my way of thinking it’s easier. Before I start, the oven gets set at 350 F. Next I put a medium sized mixing bowl on the scale and zero out. Now comes the fun. Weight out each of the 4 ingredients directly into the bowl zeroing out after each addition. No mess. No extra spoons or cups to wash. No waste.

  • 100 grams almond meal  | 2 2/3  cups
  • 80 grams canola oil | 6  tablespoons
  • 120 grams maple syrup |  6  tablespoons
  • 100 grams chocolate chips | 3/4  cup

Remove bowl to counter and mix thoroughly.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, form dough into 24 little balls, and press each one down to flatten out into a fat pancake. Mine bake them for about 17 minutes, longer than Catherine recommends, or until lightly browned. Then cool on a wire rack and store in an air tight container or freeze.

INGREDIENTS – I’m particular about ingredients and am willing to pay a higher price for more specific and detailed ingredient credentials. But that’s me and I’ll okay with other folks choosing other options because just making your own cookies is such a big step towards eating healthier.  One caveat. Almonds and real maple syrup are not inexpensive and these cookies will cost $11 to $12 dollars per pound.

• Ground almonds come in two forms. Actually it’s three forms if you count grinding them yourself. The major provider of ground almonds is Bob’s Red Mill and he makes two versions: almond meal and almond flour. The meal is made from almonds with the skins on whereas the flour is made with balanced skinless almonds. I prefer the whole meal but either type will work.

• Canola oil comes in two forms too. Conventional or nonGMO. I use the nonGMO version. Not because I have concerns about genetically engineered ingredients – I remain neutral in that volatile issue – but because the oil is expellor pressed. Conventional canola oil is heat processed and expellor processing is a gentler way to get the oil out of the rape seed. Consider price and choose the one that works best for you.

• Maple syrup comes from the north east mainly Québec, New York, and Vermont. I use New York State dark syrup because I live in New York and buy local when I have the choice.

• Chocolate chips are the easiest to source. My preference is bittersweet or the darkest chip I can find. The ones I use for these cookies are the 67% cocoa Whole Foods house brand.

NUTRITION – Healthy has a very specific meaning as per FDA regulations and up until recently there’s no way I could label them healthy. Things are beginning to change which is, in my opinion, a positive and long overdue move.

The nutrition tag reads as follows: 140 calories per cookie, 11 grams fat (1.2g saturated), 9g carbohydrate (2g dietary fiber, 6g added sugar), 3g protein. Recipe analyzed using Bob’s Red Mill almond meal.

• Fat Profile. Don’t be concerned when I share with you that 72% calories come from fat. That fat comes from almonds, canola oil, and chocolate chips. I still can’t label these cookies healthy but one of the changes recently introduced by the FDA allows me to talk about the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. I won’t be able to calculate that ratio until Bob revises the nutrition facts label and lists mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, but I can tell looking at the total fat and the saturated fat that the ratio will be very favorable. In other words, most of those 11 grams fat will be coming from “healthy” unsaturated fats.

• Carbohydrate. Both added sugars and dietary fibers get counted as carbohydrates. Each cookie has 6 grams added sugars about half from maple syrup and the other half from chocolate chips. I used USDA bittersweet chocolate chip for my calculation which breaks out the added sugars. Each cookie also has 2g dietary fiber from the almonds because I used almond meal which includes skins.

• Protein. Well we all know we don’t eat cookies because we want protein. However nuts are a source of protein and these cookies are almost 50% almonds, so it’s not surprising that one cookie delivers 3 grams.

ALLERGENS – Tree Nuts

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Let’s see if I can count the added sugars in my jam.

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Pictured above is one of my favorite jams. Lingonberry Jam. The berries grow in Sweden and this jam is imported from Sweden. It’s not too sweet and that’s why I like it so much.

With sugars rapidly replacing fats as the nutrient of the day to avoid, lots of folks are paying more attention to how many sugars are added to whatever they eat. So I thought I’d try to figure out how many grams were in my jam.

Currently as per the FDA, manufacturers will need to add a line item on the nutrition fact label indicating how many sugars in their product have been added. But for now we’re on our own. So let’s take a look

First I checked the ingredient list.

Lingonberries (48%), sugar, water, and fruit pectin. Ingredients must be listed by weight in descending order, so the list tells me that the manufacturer used more lingonberries than sugar, water, or pectin. But I still don’t know what fraction of the sugars come from added sugar and what fraction comes from natural sugars in the lingonberries.

Then I tried to find a food composition table for lingonberries.

Lingonberries grow wild in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, as well as Canada, Sweden, and Finland. I’ve never tasted a raw wild lingonberry but from what I can tell based on a couple of internet searches, these tiny, round berries are a distant relative of cranberries and share the same bitter flavor.

Checking my favorite food composition database, I actually found a reference to raw, low bush cranberry or lingonberry listed under American Indian /Alaska Native Foods. The record is incomplete. Carbohydrates are listed but no detail is given on how many are sugars or complex carbohydrates and dietary fibers. It’s a safe assumption to assume the number of natural sugars is pretty low just like the natural sugars in a cranberry but I still don’t have the number of added sugar grams.

Then I looked for a lingonberry jam recipe.

I’m sure recipes exist in Swedish but I can’t read Swedish. So I tried a substitution. It’s my understanding that red currants are similar to lingonberries so I set out to find a recipe for red currant jam. I want a European source because I need a weight based recipe. I have a good collection of French books and checked Conserves Familiales by Henrietta Lasnet de Lanty. Confiture de groseilles: 700 grammes de sucre par kilo de groseilles. In English: 700 grams sugar and 1 kilogram red currants. Those proportions correspond to the Swedish label which listed lingonberries first, sugar second.

But after all this I still don’t have the number of added sugar grams.

So the answer to the question is no. I can’t calculate the grams of added sugar in my jam without having the proportions used by the manufacturer.

Okay, I can’t do it. But I do know this. There is less sugar than fruit. The last thing I checked was the USDA Standard Reference food composition table. I pulled up about two dozen berry jams. Most of these branded jams list sugar first and fruit second.

And here’s my take away.

We may not be able to calculate the actual grams of added sugar until the manufacturer updates the label in 2018. But I do know what I need to look for on the ingredient list. Fruit listed first and sugars in any form listed second.

 

 

 

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French Macarons and Added Sugars

 

McDonalds Pastry Selection, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris. @gourmetmetrics

McDonalds Pastry Selection, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris.
@gourmetmetrics

 A beautiful pastry selection. Wouldn’t you agree?  We took the picture during a recent trip to Paris. And yes the pastry selection really was in McDonalds. And yes that McDonalds really is on the Champs-Élysées just about a block down from the Arc de Triomphe.

Now check out those 6 plates in the center. Those are plates of French Macarons. See the two plates in different hues of green. Then a plate of vibrant pink. And two more plates of chocolate-browns and one of cream. All beautifully sculpted and artfully arranged. All perfect. And all tasting deliciously sweet.

If you were standing in front of that gorgeous display, how many would you eat? Just between you and me, I don’t have a well developed sweet tooth so a good French macaron is almost too sweet for me. One or two is all I can eat at a time.

Now if you have a well developed sweet tooth and are feeling an irresistible urge to indulge, here’s the good news. You don’t have to go to Paris to savor the delicacy. There are stores in New York and other metropolitan cities dedicated to Macarons. Specialty manufacturers have picked up on the trend and providing packaged Macarons in stores and via the internet. Websites like Food Network or Epicurious also feature recipes for making Macarons at home.

The cookie is sweet, light, airy, and dainty. Made with sugar, almond meal (no flour and therefore no wheat), egg whites, cream, butter, and flavorings, the list of ingredients is straightforward and simple.

Had I been at a McDonald’s here in New York, calories for these Macarons would be easy to access. Several cities including New York City require it and McDonald’s has decided to be proactive posting nutrient information in restaurants and online. But Paris has no such municipal regulations so no calories and no other nutrient data.

Based on comparing data from boutique providers and recipe nutrient tags, here’s my guesstimate for my two French Macarons. Weights can vary of course but depending on selection one can expect 5 to 6 Macarons per 100 grams. So for calories let’s say 70 to 80 per each or 140 to 160 calories for two.

As for sugars, it’s safe to assume the carbohydrate is all added sugar. The other ingredients (almond meal, egg whites, cream, butter) are not carbohydrate sources except for just a whisper of lactose from the heavy cream. Good news for celiacs and those with a wheat allergy because Macarons are both gluten free and contain no wheat. Bad news for folks with a nut or milk allergy.

But who really cares? I do. But I’m a self confessed nutrition nerd. So who else cares?

A group of committed health professional food activists care. They believe their duty is to help others eat better and healthier. They care a lot. Then there’s a group made up of food manufacturers and restaurants. This group cares too but for completely different reasons.

Now you may be asking what does all this have to do with French Macarons?

Like so many other packages on the shelf, there’s added sugars in French Macaron. Quite a lot of added sugars actually. Sugar by weight is over 40% of the macaron’s total weight. Or calories from added sugars are over 40% of the total calories. However you measure it, that’s a lot of sweet.

The government has already spent significant resources constructing the new regulations. Manufacturers are now being asked to spend significant dollars to research and update their labels. Soon it will be our turn. Were consumers willing to invest the time to read and understand labels, the investment would be easy to justify. Especially if the information transmitted resulted in a decrease in obesity rates.

But here’s the catch. Will listing added sugar grams on the label discourage folks from eating too many French macarons? That’s the crucial question. Personality, I don’t think so.

Do you think the folks who just love these sweet delicate little treats will pay much attention and eat less?

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Which would you choose for dessert? Panna cotta. Valhrona chocolate cake. Ice cream. Or something else …

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Imagine you’re sitting in a popular Manhattan restaurant. The meal you’ve just finished was worth every calorie invested and every dollar spent because of culinary excellence and ingredient quality. Now it’s time for one more decision. Do you want dessert?

The dessert menu comes and three items catch your eye. Homemade ice cream – a couple of scoops made with heavy cream from grassfed cows. Panna cotta – an Italian creation made from cream, sugar, sometimes buttermilk and molded with gelatin for spectacular presentation. Valhrona chocolate cake – one of the world’s finest chocolates mixed with almond meal and wheat flour, sugars, butter, eggs, and finished with a dark chocolate glaze.

So which one would you go with?

There is always the option to skip dessert of course but when you’re having a meal out with a special person and the wine that you drank with dinner has gone ever so slightly to your head, and you love desserts, most folks just don’t skip this “best part of the meal”.

My choice is none of the above. I ask in my most polite professional manner if the restaurant can provide a fruit plate. And I’m not surprised when most of the time the response is we’re really sorry but we’re not able to do fruit plates.

Most restaurants in or out of Manhattan are not set up for fruit plates. Sometimes restaurants put a little fruit on a cheese plate, but that’s usually considered an appetizer. Fruit also appears in tarts or pies or ice cream flavors. But ripe seasonal fruit beautifully presented on a plate is not readily available in most restaurants. And I understand why.

Fresh fruit is perishable. Stone fruits and berries have a finite shelf life and bruise easily. Apples need to be under constant refrigeration and humidity once they are picked. Melons will keep okay for a while until you cut them open … To sum it up, most fruits, with the exception of citrus, grapes, bananas, or pears, are just not good keepers.

Now my preference for a fruit plate has nothing to do with the calories. Although the difference is dramatic. A piece of the Valhrona cake could run as high as 400 calories in an elite restaurant. Not too bad compared with say a slice of chocolate cake from the cheesecake factors at 1500 calories. But still a hit after good meal and a glass of wine. The panna cotta would be less intense and would run around 250 calories for a serving. And the ice cream depending on the size and number of scoops will clock in between 250 and 500 calories. That fruit plate above at most 120 calories.

The reason for the dramatic calorie difference is of course the water content. Count about 30% water for the cake, 65% water for the panna cotta, 60% for the ice cream, and almost 90% for fresh fruit.

And that’s exactly why I choose fruit. Love that refreshing wonderful slightly acidic water, especially after a restaurant meal. Cool, wet, refreshing, and sweetened with natural sugars. Guess you can figure out where that beautiful picture came from. And the fruit was as good as it looks. Down to the last raspberry.

BUY GOOD STUFF.   Nectarine. Grapefruit. Peach. Blackberries. Raspberries. Buy good stuff even when you eat in a restaurant

COUNT WHAT MATTERS.  Here’s how a nutrition label would look:  120 calories, 1 gram fat, 21 grams total sugars (includes 6 grams fiber, 7 grams sugars, 0 grams added sugars) and 1 gram protein. If you check the food composition for fruit, most of the weight is water weight. Not just any old tap water weight but naturally rich vitamin mineral infused water including potassium plus phytonutrients depending on the color of the fruit.

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The Naked Berry.

imageSo why do I want my strawberries naked you may be asking when I could have sorbet or shortcake or even a strawberry tart?

Why you ask?  Because they taste sooooooooooooo good.

A seasonal local strawberry picked at peak ripeness is ephemeral and incredibly delicious.

So when strawberry season rolls around each year, I leave recipe round ups to others.

Just make my berries naked straight up to savor all by themselves.

Nature is a harsh master and sometimes here in the northeast, the berries aren’t quite sweet enough and I’ll serve them with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of brown sugar. But when nature, weather, and timing line up, you can’t beat the taste of a naked local berry.

Our strawberry growing season is short. Sometimes I get greedy and buy more strawberries than we can eat. So these berries get macerated in brandy and maple syrup for safekeeping. Almost as delicious as straight up.

Strawberries are sold in the farmer’s market by volume and not by weight. How much each container of strawberries weighs depends on how many strawberries fit in each container. Strawberries range in size from SMALL (1/4 ounce / 7 grams) to EXTRA LARGE (1 ounce / 28 grams). The smaller the berry, the more that will fit in the container. That means you get a little extra weight when you buy a dry quart or a dry pint of small berries.

BUY GOOD STUFF.   The berries above are Earliglow Strawberries, grown on the North Fork of Long Island. They were picked, boxed, and sold within 24 hours to folks like me willing to go out of our way for local berries.

Strawberries imported from California or Florida are sold by the pound, but my local berries come in dry quarts or dry pints. Thanks to my scale I know the berries in the dry quart weighed about 680 grams / 1.5 pound. At $5.99 per box that costs me $4 per pound. California conventional berries are price competitive with these local berries but California organic cost more.

Earliglow strawberries are considered by some to be the best tasting berry around. New York State actually can grow another dozen or so varieties which is good because these excellent berries have a short lived season.

COUNT WAHT MATTERS.   One serving of Earliglow strawberries (140 grams or 12 berries):   45 CALORIES, 0 gram fat, 0 mg sodium, 11 gram carb, 1 gram protein (91% water)

We already know eating more fruits every day is healthy and a really good habit to get into. Lots of good nutrients and not so many calories. So you may be asking why bother running the numbers? Read on and you will find out why.

You could almost say naked berries have no calories. Naked strawberries as noted above certainly don’t have a lot of calories. Why is this? Because strawberries like most other fruit are mostly water.

Just think of fruit as the best vitamin water. Fruits have vitamins as well as fibers, minerals, and phyto-nutrients. All this good stuff gets infused in naturally sweetened water and is ready to savor in its own edible package.

Strawberries macerated in brandy with maple syrup doubles the number of calories to 90 calories. Naked berries with sour cream and brown sugar raises it even more to 110 calories.

Now for the answer as to why I need to run the numbers. Because I want to compare my naked strawberries to more ambitious plates. And you will see, the more complex the recipe, the greater the calorie increase.

We need two things. First a couple of good recipes for real desserts that use strawberries. That part is actually not too hard. It’s the second part that can be a challenge. These recipes also need a reasonable reliable nutrient analysis. Up until recently, I would have needed to run those numbers myself. But thanks to the marvels of modern data analysis tools, almost every recipe circulating the internet today comes with a nutrient analysis.

My favorite source for great classics recipes is The New York Times Recipe Box. It’s an amazing site and an amazing collection of well written recipes from some of the best food writers our country has produced over the last 50 years. And now each one comes with an analysis.

When I went looking for what was listed under strawberries and pulled up 260 recipes for strawberries, even I was surprised at how many recipes I found. From sorbets to soups and tarts to shortcakes, anything and everything you could ever think of doing with strawberries has made its way to the collection.

Everyone loves a real dessert on the table when we are in celebration mode, but my preference is always naked berries for daily fare.

And now for the numbers. Here’s how my naked berries ranging from 45 calories to 110 calories per serving compare with a couple of real desserts culled from The New York Times Recipe Box:

• Strawberry sorbet for 300 calories

• Strawberry tart for 350 calories

• Strawberry shortcake for 750 calories

Links to recipe collections / websites with nutrient analysis in sidebar

 

 

 

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Will 2016 be the Year of the Kitchen Scale?

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2016 has been declared the Year of the Pulse. But will 2016 also be the year of the scale?

 

Fannie Farmer published the Boston Cooking School Cookbook over 100 years ago and Americans have practiced her sifting, spooning, and leveling technique ever since. But things may be changing. Consider this. A prominent New York blogger starting adding weights to her recipes back in 2010. And as each year passed since then, the buzz has gotten louder. More books and articles and food writers are including weight measures in their recipes, especially for home baking.

 

Most professional bakers and pastry chefs already use weight and most food service recipes are written with weigh measures. A recent check of  The New York Times recipe box, a collection of over 17,000 recipes, showed more and more recipes with weighted ingredients. Most of the rest of the cooking world already writes recipes by weight and I am wondering if 2016 could be the year the practice goes mainstream in this country.

 

My interest in the measurement protocol is personal. I have been developing my own recipes with grams and liters ever since I lived in France. So I am thrilled to find a growing number of cooks and bakers out there who are coming around to my side of the table.  I am also thinking now is the time to start sharing my expertise.  Weight based cooking is not hard.  It just requires a change in habits and how we go about doing things.  But if the thought of using a scale sounds foreign to you, here is a step by step guide on how to use a kitchen scale to make my healthier, cheaper, better rolled oat and walnuts cookies.

 

ROLLED OAT, WALNUT, AND APPLESAUCE COOKIES

Ingredients for about 25 cookies:

 

100 grams unsalted butter (7 tablespoons)

100 grams turbinado sugar (1/2 cup)

100 grams canned unsweetened applesauce *  (scant 7 tablespoons)

2 large eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla extract **

100 grams walnut (1 cup chopped)

100 grams white whole wheat flour (generous 3/4 cup fluffed, spooned, and leveled)

100 gram rolled oats (1 cup)

100 gram raisins (scant 2/3 cup packed)

 

Besides the scale, you will also need one larger mixing bowl, a couple of smaller bowls, an electric mixer, and baking sheets. Remember to remove one 4 ounce stick of butter from frig or freezer a couple of hours before starting so the butter comes to room temperature.  Also remember to preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit at some point before starting to bake.

 

Turn on the scale. Place one small bowl on the scale, zero out, and weigh sugar. Place another small bowl on scale, zero out, and weigh applesauce*. Set both sugar and applesauce aside.

 

Place the larger mixing bowl on scale, zero out, and weigh the butter. Remove bowl from scale and cream butter using the electric mixer. Add sugar slowly to creamed butter and continue to mix until thoroughly blended.  Then add applesauce, eggs, vanilla, and just a dash of salt (optional). Mix thoroughly and set aside.

 

Place smaller bowl on scale. Weight walnuts and remove. Chop walnuts and set aside. Return bowl to scale and weigh flour, rolled oats, and raisins, zeroing out after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients from the smaller bowl plus the walnuts to wet ingredients, folding in gently with a spatula.

 

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicon liners. Form the raw dough into little balls about the size of a rounded tablespoon and arrange these rounds on the baking sheet leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) distance between each one. Flatten each cookie before baking. Place cookies in oven and bake until cookies start to darken, about 17 minutes.  Cool on rack. Store in air tight container.  Or freeze for long term storage.

 

Cooking Notes:

 

* Applesauce comes in individual 4 ounce / 113 ml serving sizes. Using these little cups means you don’t have to buy a whole big jar for a small amount. Each individual cup contains just a little more than 100 grams applesauce.  The extra amount is not going to ruin the recipe, but for those of you who are nerds like me, just remove about a tablespoon.

 

** I use imitation vanilla for cooking.  The delicate flavor profile of real vanilla does not survive the high heat of the baking process, so I bake with artificial vanilla and save real vanilla for smoothies and ice cream.

 

Nutrition Notes:

 

Deciding to bake my own cookies was an easy decision. They are better, healthier, and cheaper than the competition.  My cookies are better because I can control the sweetness and if you’re like me and do not like your cookies too sweet, you can adjust any recipe to just enough.  My cookies are healthier because I source really good quality ingredients like whole grains, whole nuts, and seasonally dried fruit.  And my cookies are cheaper. Each pound costs me a little over $6.00.  And those are New York City dollars.  Prestigious artisan cookies say from a farmers market or pricy bakery boutique cost as much as $20 per pound here in the Big Apple. And even more, sometimes a lot more.

 

Yes my cookies are healthier, I can’t label my cookies “healthy” because they do not meet the nutrient profile required by the FDA for a healthy nutrient content claim. And maybe that’s just as well.  An indulgence is an indulgence. They are certainly not junk, but aren’t all cookies an indulgence?

 

Allergen Alert: Wheat, Gluten, Tree nuts, Eggs

 

Nutrients per one cookie serving: 120 Calories, 2 grams Protein, 14 grams Carbohydrates, 7 grams Fat, 1 gram Dietary Fiber.

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When healthy makes you gag!

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Fall is the season for so many good healthy vegetables. Brassica like kale, rapini, cauliflower, sprouts. Celeriac. Onions. Late season storage carrots. And squashes like butternut, spaghetti, pumpkin, and acorn.

My CSA Keeps sending me squashes and I have a problem. Acorn squash and speghetti squash make me gag.

All vegetables are healthy but some vegetables are more healthy. Pigment color is the marker for certain phytonutrients. Red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetable are rich in carotinoids. And winter squash is nothing if not deep orange. That deep vibrant color marks heavy concentrations. So I have tried on many occasions and failed. Acorn squash just makes me gag.

Besides there is no point in signing up for a CSA and then not eating what arrives each week. Or at the very least giving it away.

Pictured above are two acorn and one sweet dumpling. And I anticipate more squash next week. It’s squash season.

So last week I put on my creative cooking cap and came up with the following solution. Every Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a squash in the same family as acorn so what would happen is if I just substituted the same amount of steamed acorn for canned pumpkin?

And my good idea worked beautifully. Acorn squash makes an excellent pumpkin pie. We can’t say my pie is as healthy as a serving of the vegetable because the squash comes along with added sugar and more refined carbohydrate which dilute the phytonutrition. However it’s fresh, local, and delicious. I can eat it without gagging and not a single squash will go to waste. Each of my acorn squash pies makes 6 servings so at 340 calories per piece, we are going to need to keep our eye on portion size and frequency.

Here are the proportions I used:

1 2/3 cup purée (pumpkin, acorn squash)/ 400 grams
2 eggs
3/4 cup turbinado sugar / 150 grams
2/3 cup milk / 150 ml
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 tablespoons butter / 30 grams
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 prepared 9 inch graham cracker crust

Steam acorn squash or open the canned pumpkin. Melt butter. Assemble ingredients. Combine squash or pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk, flour, butter, vanilla, spices, salt in mixing bowl. Whisk just enough to blend thoroughly. Pour into 9 inch graham cracker crust. Bake at 425F for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F and bake addition 40 minutes. Remove and cool at least 2 hours before serving.

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Cheaper, better, healthier cookies.

rolled oat, Zante raisin, walnut cookie | photo gourmet-metrics

rolled oat, Zante raisin, walnut cookie | photo gourmet-metrics

Culinary judgment works better for savory than for sweet. That is because sweet usually requires baking and baking requires precision.

Or does it? My mother-in-law remembers her mother’s family, raised in Central Europe, baked without recipes or measurements. This makes sense to me. Practice and experience build good hands and knowing how the dough is suppose to feel goes a long way to getting the proportions right.

Doesn’t really matter because baking illiterates like me need guidance. So when I decided the time had come to bake my own cookies, I went out looking for a recipe or at least a set of proportions to start from.

Rather than page through the tens of thousands cookie recipes available with a key click, I went to the source. Michael Ruhlman wrote a neat book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. My first batch used Ruhlman’s basic butter cookie ratio = 1 part sugar : 2 parts fat : 3 parts flour.

What followed was a year of experimentation. I played around with healthy stuff like whole grains, nuts, dry fruit. I kept the butter because butter just bakes the best. Two eggs, some vanilla, and a pinch of salt got added along the way. One year later, I ended up with a cookie that looks and tastes very different from where I started.

ROLLED OAT, RAISIN, and WALNUT COOKIES

100 grams walnut halves (1 cup)

100 grams white whole wheat flour (7/8 cup)

100 grams rolled oats (1 cup)

100 grams Zante currants or raisins (2/3 cup)

100 grams unsalted butter (7 tablespoons)

100 grams turbinado sugar (1/2 cup)

2 each large eggs

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon flake style salt

Weigh out walnuts and coarsely chop. Place walnuts in bowl, place bowl on scale, and zero out. Now weigh out flour, oats, and currants. Add a pinch of salt and set dry ingredients aside. Next weigh out butter and sugar. Cream butter. Add in sugar, then beat in eggs and add vanilla. Gently fold in dry ingredients. Divide dough into three pieces of equal weight and make rolls. Wrap each roll in plastic and chill until firm. Note that the rolls can be frozen at this point to be used later. Prepare baking sheet or use silicon liner. Cut each roll into 12 pieces and flatten. Bake at 350 degree until the cookies start to darken and fat starts to sizzle around the edges. Cool on rack; store in air tight container. Makes 36 moderately sized cookies.

So what do I have to show for my year of experimentation besides multiple, albeit tasty, mistakes?

A better cookie? That one is hard to call. Taste is 100% subjective so it all depends.

Certainly a cheaper cookie. I used the best ingredients I could find. Walnuts are expensive and I used a generous amount. Organic oats, white whole flour, real vanilla, and Zante currants also add up. Sugar and eggs are reasonably priced. Although tempted, I drew the line at organic butter. The last batch I made cost $9 which works out to between $6 to $7 per pound. Hand made artisan cookies of comparable quality would have cost me upwards of $15 per pound here in New York City.

Certainly a healthier cookie. Whole grains are healthier than refined flour. The fatty acid profile is more favorable because I increased the walnuts (unsaturated fat) and decreased the butter (saturated fat). It’s a dense, filling, satisfying cookie that does not invite gluttony. I weighed two cookies at 35 grams and calculated 160 calories.

And certainly a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction. This is my ratio. The recipe works just the way I want it to and the proportions work by weight. If I have to measure, my preference is round numbers on my scale. Easy to measure and easy to make. But that’s just me and my simplistic mind.

Baking illiterates often don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But even I have to admit that a couple of cookies mid afternoon with coffee or tea is very satisfying.

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Healthy can be seen, touched, and tasted … sometimes.

photo | gourmet metrics

photo | gourmet metrics

 

These are red, fragile, stem ripened local, end of season strawberries. The picture of healthy. Ephemeral, perfect, delicious.

So how do I know they are healthy? The farmer I bought them from told me they were picked the day before I bought them. They looked good, felt good, and tasted good. But I will be honest, there was no label or organic certification or other guideline for confirmation. And even if there had been, these picture perfect strawberries might have carried some pesky microorganism so you better believe that I washed them before eating.

Strawberry season has come and gone here into Northeast, but looking at those berries in all their pristine beauty helped me put the final piece in place on an observation that has been troubling me since last summer about the same time of the year.

I was picking out vegetables from a farmer I like when an attractive, articulate, well educated young woman came up from behind and starting asking all kinds of questions about the vegetables and the strawberries

Now I am the last one to say don’t ask questions. I ask so many questions that some people don’t want to be bothered with me. A royal pain in the ass some would say.

No, her questions didn’t bother me.

What troubled me was her unwillingness to accept answers.

Now I liked this particular farmer for a couple of reasons. Besides strawberries, she always had excellent local peaches, seasonal tomatoes, and a consistently good spread of local greens. It was also a family affair. The lady in charge looked and talked like she had spend her whole life growing vegetables. She came across to me as credible, authentic, and wise. She knew how to store onions and could tell me that the reason some onions rotted from the inside out while other onions were really good keepers. “You have to pull them out and let them really dry out before moving to storage …” The onions I bought from her never rotted out before I used them either.

She sat in the back of her stand and left most of the customer dealings to her niece. So the articulate woman began her questioning with the niece.

The articulate woman wanted to know if the produce was certified organic. Her questions were pointed and intense and anxious. She knew just how to drill down. The niece answered as best she could but since the farm has not bothered to get certified the answers were not what the articulate woman was looking for.

Now I already knew this farm was not certified organic because I had asked the same questions myself. “We just don’t want to bother with the extra paperwork. Too much hassle. You’re going to have to trust us …”

That was good enough for me.

It was not however what the articulate woman wanted to hear. I could tell she might have been tempted by the way she looked at my selections laid out and waiting to be packed into my bags. “I am just really afraid of all that poison … ”

So she left to look elsewhere.

I looked at the niece and the niece looked back at me and that was that.

This exchange has been haunting me ever since. And what it really comes down to is trust. People can lie. Our senses can deceive. Labels can mislead. Certifications can be fictitious. But we still have to eat and we still have to make decisions.

So the exchange has played over and over again in my head for a year. I keep wanting to reassure that articulate young woman that yes it’s a food jungle out here and yes being skeptical is important, but sometimes it’s okay to go with your gut.

But she went away as quickly and she appeared and I never saw her again.

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Empty Calories? Give Me a Break.

apples & baking dish for clafouti

apples & baking dish for clafouti

As my more zealous colleagues like to point out, desserts are fats, sugars, and refined carbohydrates with minimal nutrition return for the calorie investment. Agreed. Desserts can certainly be indulgent. Granted, desserts are usually high in sugar and fat. But what exactly makes the calories empty? Boggles my simplistic mind.

MyPlate states that solid fats and added sugars are empty. But I have a hard time visualizing just what that means. The presence of butterfat in whole milk does not negate the value of the protein does it? With or without fats, milk has nutritional value.

MyPlate also states that some “empty calories” are okay and can be limited by eating small portions. This approach makes more sense to my simplistic mind. I struggle with the concept of “empty” but appreciate the permission to make my own discretionary decision. Eating my food whole and controlling my own portion size has always made good commonsense to me.

Consider my apple clafouti. Small can be beautiful. Especially when it is sweet, custardy, made with baked apples, fine fresh butter, brown sugar, perfumed with cinnamon, and accented with just a pinch of salt. Whole wheat flour adds better nutrition than white refined all purpose.

For those people who sit at my table and like a generous serving, my sweet, custardy clafouti will cost them about 270 calories. Nutrition return will be 7 grams protein from milk & eggs and 4 grams fiber from the apples & white whole wheat.  If you choose to eat fewer calories, remember small is beautiful and have a smaller portion. Fewer calories and less saturated fats, but also less protein and fiber. Not empty. Just less of everything.

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