Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kitchen Sink Cookies: Your Holiday Baking Just Got Easier

The holidays snuck up on me again this year. Three weeks ago, I was feeling great, having gotten a head start on my planning, and now here I am still not done yet.  Christmas is ten days away, there are rumblings at work of a last minute Secret Santa, and one irritating friend has already caught me off guard by giving me a gift before I was ready.

If this sounds like you, fear not! I can't help you with the fact that the Amazon shipping window has closed, but I can remind you that dessert is always a great gift. Whether you've got a office party or cookie swap obligation, or just a family member that's hard to shop for, something hand-made and thoughtful is never a bad way to go. Cookies also make a fantastic last-minute gift for someone you didn't plan on seeing, or item to bring to a party you forgot about.

Last week I posted some of my favorite fancy pants cookie recipes, but it you feel that the time for getting all that has passed, you can still wow your love ones/hated ones/tolerated ones with some seriously good cookies they've ever had without even making a trip to the store.

Every year, the last batch of cookies I make is to use up the orphan ingredients. This works at any season of the year to clean out your cupboard of items you don't know what to do with, and it's equally useful for whipping up a hasty holiday treat.

No two batches are alike.
Directions: (based on the Original Nestle Toll House Cookie Recipe)

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Variation: Use up to 50% nut-based flour without changing the recipe.
  3. In a large bowl, beat 2 sticks butter, 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until creamy. Variation: Sub coconut oil for butter, almond extract for vanilla, and feel free to cut back on the sugar. In the photo above I COMPLETELY FORGOT the brown sugar, and they ended up tasting a little more like a short bread cookie, but still good.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time (or about 1/4 of a very ripe avocado to make it vegan)
  5. Stir in flour mixture until well blended.
  6. Stir in about half a cup each of chocolate chips, oatmeal, chopped nuts, dried fruit, whatever you've got in the cupboard. Get creative.
  7. Back 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown. If you're using nut flours, they will spread out a little, so take that into account when you're spacing them out on the cookie sheet.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Cookies 2014

How are your holiday preparations coming along? I'm pretty excited that my cookies are all boxed up and ready to go. I thought getting the baking out of the way early was a smart move until I realized how much extra will power it was going to take to not devour every last one before I have a chance to give any away.

As always, these cookies are corn-free and as healthy as they can be while still tasting decadent. Every batch this year was made with a 2:1 ratio of unbleached all purpose flour and cashew meal. The cashew meal gives the cookies a rich, nutty flavor, adds extra oil so the cookies don't get too dry, and of course, cut down on gluten and refined carbs. I did use a lot of butter, but if it makes you feel better, here are some smug charts on how the low-fat movement is making us the unhealthiest we've ever been.

And now the 2014 Official Holiday Cookie List:

1) Ribbon Cookies

These tri-color cookies are always a huge hit, and my personal favorite to make. I will admit there were some questionable ingredients in the food coloring I used, so if you have a corn allergy, I would do some research or get all natural food coloring.

2) Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

I learned tonight on The West Wing (yes, I am just now watching The West Wing for the first time) that these are apparently called Black Eyed Susans. (Yes, that's the kind of useful knowledge I glean from The West Wing.) Anyway, Hershey doesn't exactly make the most sustainable chocolate, so I sacrificed form for function and used locally produced chocolate bar squares.

3) Macaroons
photo credit: The Yellow House

If you're a Ibsen fan with a dark sense of humor like me, you know it just isn't Christmas without macaroons. This recipe from The Yellow House gives a bright lemony twist to the traditional coconut bite. I subbed maple syrup for the recommended honey and they came out quite nicely.

4) Sugar Cookies

I haven't been totally satisfied with the sugar cookie recipe I've been using for the last few years, so this time around I tried one from Just a Taste. They puff up more than other sugar cookies, giving a little bit more life to your cutout shapes, and the flavor is incredible. I opted not to use the frosting that Kelly recommended, and I don't miss it at all.

5) Almond Joy Truffles

This no-bake option from Real Food Real Deals can be completed in a flash if you have a good food processor, plus they contain no sugar, no flour, and no eggs or dairy! Just don't forget to pit the dates, or you'll be biting down on something and thinking to yourself , "Wow. That's one tough almond." Idiot.

6. Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cookies

Because you've got to have at least once sinfully chocolaty option, I tried out this recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod that combines two of my favorite non-standard baking ingredients: avocados and coconut oil. They taste great, but have some patience when stirring in the chocolate chips. Without eggs as a binding agent, those little guys just don't want to stay mixed in.

What are you baking this holiday season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's in the News: November 2014

November is over and there's no more denying that it is officially The Holiday Season, whatever that means. Look for some cookie recipes later in the week, but first, here's what happened in food news during November, and how dire the outlook is:

The Global Green Economy Index ranks the U.S. in 28th place, despite a perception that we're working much harder than that towards sustainable infrastructure.  -10 points

The Washington Post published a piece co-written by Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and others outlining a proposal for a national food policy that would put organizations like the EPA and USDA into a more well thought out fight against everything wrong with our food systems, which might get more done than our current system of similar but discrete agendas undoing each other's work. +10 points

Celebrity Chef Tom Coliccio "comes out" as anti-GMO, and attempts to publicize something called Food Policy Action that he apparently founded in 2012. Why isn't this more public knowledge? Does General Mills own Bravo along with everything else?

Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Places to Shop in Boston for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is a movement organized in response to Black Friday that reminds shoppers not to give all their holiday gift money to big box stores. I was a little disappointed to find out that it's organized by American Express, but that's a conversation for another day. Here's a list of indie shops in Boston (who sell online as well if you're not local) where you can get a present that's a little more personal than a TV.

Penzey's Spices

photo credit: Penzey's Spices

With an online store as well as brick and mortar location in Arlington, Massachusetts and Norwalk, Connecticut, Penzey's is a great place to shop for anyone who love to cook or bake. Pick up one of their pre-arranged gift boxes, or put together your own personalized collection.

Follow the Honey

Harvard Square is a great a place to get almost all of your shopping taken care of, whether you're shopping for toys, books, clothing or jewelry. While you're there, don't forget to venture a little farther down Mount Auburn Street and stop into this little shop for a fantastic assortment of honeys, plus candles, soaps, cookbooks, and more. Plus, you'll be supporting beekeepers that are keeping our pollinator population intact.

Pemberton Farms

photo credit: Pemberton Farms

From unique jellies and small batch liqours to plants and gardening supplies as a reminder of spring, Pemberton Farms in North Cambrdige is your hookup for outside the box yard and kitchen needs. And while you're there, you can even save a trip and pick yourself up a Christmas tree!

Taza Chocolate

photo credit:

Somerville's very own chocolate factory makes its bars right on the premises with ethically sourced beans and no preservatives or unpronounceable ingredients of any kind. If you've got family visiting for the weekend, take them on a $5 tour, and pick up a hot chocolate set complete with mugs and whisks at the gift shop on your way out.

The Hempest

photo credit:

Hemp is more versatile than people realize for use in textiles, skin care products, and even food. The controversial alternate material is an important plant to have as part of a healthy polyculture. You can find an assortment of great hemp-based gift items online or at The Hempest in Burlington Vermont, or any of their three Massachusetts locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Northampton.

Are you observing Small Business Saturday this weekend? What's on your list?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Chef Boston and Cooking in Pop Culture

Contestants pick out produce at Whole Foods Maket in Lynnfield, MA.
photo credit:
Reality shows aren't going away any time soon, and neither are the programs in the sub-genre of cooking reality shows. Food and cooking are becoming more and more visible in pop culture, from controversy over the word "foodie," to CSAs and farmers markets gaining popularity, to everyone suddenly brewing their own beer. Does the entertainment media have a responsibility to portray a responsible food system? And if so, how are they doing with that?

Bravo's Top Chef filmed its current season, which is airing now, right here in Boston, and it's gotten some of us locavores raising eyebrows at what the producers have chosen to showcase.

A recent interview with Top Chef judge Gail Simmons focused on Simmons' personal preferences for food that is healthy, seasonal, and ethically sourced. In fact, almost every judge and contestant on the show has, in a private interview, mentioned something to the effect that these issues are important to them in their own cooking, but they rarely come up on the show itself.

The Boston season, like most seasons of Top Chef, features the contractually obligated trip to Whole Foods in nearly every episode, which never bothered me until I thought about all of our great local grocers, butchers, and farms that would have made for way better local color than the strained Revolutionary War references they insist on weaving into every episode.

We can hope that Whole Foods was chosen because of its quality, but this is never really stated, and we're left wondering whether Whole Foods just did a better business deal than Stop and Shop or- gasp- Market Basket. We know that there are a lot of advantages to the way that Whole Foods sources its products, but either this topic never comes up when the cameras are rolling, or it gets edited out in favor of the personal squabbles that give Andy Cohen something to get excited about.

What are your thoughts? Do cooking shows help or hurt the problems with our food system? Or should we look at them in a vacuum, as pure entertainment? And if you're watching Top Chef Boston, who do you hope will win?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blueprint Brands at Local Craft Brewfest

For the last few years, I've been guest blogging for the Boston Local Food Festival and it's sister event, Local Craft Brewfest. Here's my latest article on local Marketing Company Blueprint Brands.

It can be hard to reconcile a love of local, ethically sourced food with a love of booze. Like cell phones and hot showers, alcohol tends to sometimes fall under the category of “I gotta draw the line somewhere.” Luckily, there’s Blueprint Brands, a marketing and sales company that works solely with ”a carefully curated selection of boutique distilleries that are committed to the production of small batch spirits, with a steady focus on well sourced ingredients and hands-on production methods.”

This means that not only can you feel good about the sourcing of the liquor you enjoy, you can get a tastier and all around better quality product as well. No matter what your spirit of choice, you’ve got options. Blueprint Brands represents dozens of distillers of tequila, rum, vodka, you name it. Travelling? From the Blueprint website, click on the state you’ll be visiting and they’ll give you a list of their distillers whose wares are available in that area.

Read the full article at the Boston Local Food Festival website!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October Recipe Roundup

photo credit: Marcus Nilsson

When it comes to solving the day to day omnivore's dilemma, we're bombarded with more choices than ever in the age of the internet. Those of us who like to cook still have hard copies of cookbooks taking up all the shelf space in our kitchen, plus a box of haphazard magazine clippings and hand-written index cards. And that's before we even get to the options provided by the thousands of food blogs out there. The really tricky part is that a lot of these recipes are all slight variations on the same thing, and it can be a lot easier to just order pizza than figure out which of the six different lentil sloppy joe recipes I currently have pending is likely to come out the best. So I've decided to start a monthly roundup of internet recipe successes I've had in order to streamline some of the confusion. I'll even do my best to make them somewhat seasonal. If you've got any requests, let me know in the comments section. Here's what I've found lately:

Curried Delicata Squash and Crunchy Lentil Salad

There are some great squash varieties in season right now that you can sub for the suggested delicata. Anything with a skin that's thin enough to edible works great.

Maple Mustard Pork

This recipe is actually a riff on one I had posted on another website. The author gave it a paleo spin by using nut flour as breading. What a great idea. I'm never buying Panko again!

Cheesy Quinoa Black Bean Stuffed Peppers

Classic, easy, and perfect for having leftovers.

Chocolate Beet Cake

Some friends who were going out of town gave me the spoils of their CSA share. I never know what to do with beets, but apparently they give baked goods that nice moist density I love so much. Between that and the rich flavor, I was able to make this recipe without the frosting and not miss it at all.