Monday, December 29, 2014

What's in the News: December 2014

Well, the holiday season is pretty much over, and so is 2014. We're just a couple of bottles of champagne and a half-hearted joke about an unused gym membership away from putting this whole thing behind us, but before we do, let's see what happened in food news this past month that you may have missed:

From Sporadic and anecdotal evidence shows that coconut oil may reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. The Alzheimer's Association is reluctant to test this, going so far as to imply that coconut oil consumption could actually be bad for you.
-5 points

From Boston Business Journal: New startup CookRadar pairs adventurous foodies with amateur chefs who name their own price for home-cooked meals.
+5 points

From Aljazeera America: Vermont becomes the big player in the GMO labeling issue. If it's law goes into effect in 2016 as planned, it could set a precedent for nationwide labeling.
+5 points

Monday, December 22, 2014

December Recipe Roundup

One thing I love about the holiday season is all the nice, warm comfort food. Here are few favorite recipes I tracked down this month that were delicious:

Pork Tenderloin with Cranberries from Paleo Leap:

This is a great gluten-free option, and with a glaze of cranberries, honey, and cinnamon, it's a perfect cold weather meal.

Easier and more flavorful than your average stir fry, this delivers a hearty, complex bite with just five ingredients.

I talked about these in my Holiday Cookies post a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating now that I've gotten some favorable reviews on them, that these are a little fluffier than most sugar cookies, and are great with or without frosting.

I was shocked at how easy it was to make these guys. If you're short on time, or just don't want to get a lot cookie sheets dirty, no-bake is the way to go. No gluten, no animals products, and very little sugar go into making these a quick and easy treat any day of the year.

What have you eaten this month?

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?