The importance of splurging: part two and how to make a cake with your bare hands

This is the second time my husband has requested a strawberry cake. I think it is the long winter that gives him a craving for a summer taste. For his cake, I followed a recipe in a book that my brother and sister-in-law gave me called the Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book, ©1934.

The author, John MacPherson, had one very good reason for wanting to remain a mystery — his mother. Apparently, she was “horrified” that her son had taken up the hobby of cooking. In fact, she recommended that he “keep it under his hat.” I guess cooking didn’t seem like the thing a man should be doing in the ’30s.

I like two things about this recipe. One, the ingredients were few and simple. Two, he recommends that all the stirring be done with your hands. Not by hand, as in with a wooden spoon, but with your hands. Whether this was a lack of an electric mixer, which were pricey in the 1930s, or his predilection for making a big mess, I couldn’t tell you, but I was intrigued by the idea. I’m no stranger to pushing my sleeves up past my elbows and digging in, so I gave it a try,

Squishing the butter and sugar together was kind of fun. When I added the eggs and milk, it got very sloppy. If you ever decide to go this route, I recommend a few things. First measure all of your ingredients and have them in containers that you can easily pick up with slimy hands. Or have an assistant to dump all the ingredients as you need them. Better yet, find a kid and have them do all of the mixing while you add the ingredients. I think that would be a win-win solution.

I now know that if I find myself with a hot oven, flour, butter, baking soda, eggs, milk, sugar and a bowl, but nary a spoon in site, I can still confidently make a cake. Step aside, I would tell my hapless cohorts; I’ve done this before.

Strawberry Cake

Modified from the Mystery Chef’s Master Butter Cake recipe. If you are too much of a wimp to mix this with your hands, then by all means get the electric mixer out.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs yolks
1 1/2 cups of sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sliced strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Method

  • Heat oven to 375.
  • Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans
  • Measure all ingredients and have them ready to use.
  • Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside.
  • Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and lemon in color.
  • Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and squeeze the butter with your hands until it is well mixed with the sugar.
  • Add the egg yolks and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Slowly add the flour mix and continue to mix with your hands.
  • Add milk, strawberries and extract and mix some more. It will be a bit runny and you’ll start to question the whole mixing with your hands technique.
  • If you don’t have an assistant, you will have to stop and wash your hands at this point to whip the egg whites. They can’t be whipped before hand. Whip them until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. I found this the hardest part and probably over mixed, which resulted in a cake that didn’t rise as much as I would have liked.
  • Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans. Place pans on the middle rack and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.
  • Spread strawberry jam on one cake layer. Place the other layer on top and frost with strawberry cream-cheese frosting.

Strawberry Cream-Cheese Frosting

I tried mixing this with my hands, but quickly gave up and grabbed my immersion blender.

Ingredients

1 cup chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using a hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. If your frosting is runny, either chill until it sets a little or slowly pour it over the cake and allow it to drip down the sides (that is what I did).

The importance of splurging: part one

In my last entry, I wrote about the evils of sugar, but this week I’m turning a blind eye and splurging! My husband’s birthday and mine are eight days apart. They are close enough that, if we celebrated in the middle of the week, we could share a cake. But then where is the fun in that? We each wanted our own, which meant two cakes in eight days.

I love baking cakes. While my husband has made many delicious cakes for me, this year I wanted to bake my own. I find it very indulgent and an excellent way to celebrate yourself, something everyone should do.

My cake needed to fit the following criteria — no white flour, no white refined sugar and no canola oil (or other polyunsaturated vegetable oils).

My husband’s pleas, I mean, requests, were white flour, white sugar and strawberries.

For my cake, I did a healthy take on a recipe my mom always uses for chocolate cake. You can find it right on the box of Hershey’s cocoa mix and it is easy and delicious, though my version uses honey, olive oil and white-wheat flour.

A healthy version of Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups white-wheat flour (or half white-wheat and half white)
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of honey
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
3/4 cup boiling water

Method

  • Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • Stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
  • Add honey, eggs, milk, yogurt, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for about two minutes. Stir in the boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter, softened
8 ounces of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method
Using an electric hand mixer or immersion blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.

The trick to frosting a cake is to first apply a thin layer of frosting. This is called a crumb coat. Don’t worry if it isn’t pretty and bits of the cake (the crumbs) show. After applying the crumb coat, chill the cake for 15 minutes or so. The second coat should go on much smoother and you’ll have a beautifully frosted cake.

Part of Monday Mania.

So, what’s wrong with sugar anyway?

The American Heart Association’s main push for decreasing the amount of added sugar a person eats is that adding such empty calories may lead to weight gain and weight gain can lead to heart disease.1

If that was all there was to it, I might not change my habits. I have a terrible sweet tooth. If my weight goes up, I cut calories across the board and don’t just zero in on sugars. But, as I’ve found out, there are other reasons to limit sugar.

Here are two good ones:

Excess sugar consumption may lead to insulin resistance.2, 3

When you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels rise. Then, your pancreas releases insulin to help move sugar from your blood into your cells. As blood sugar levels go down, your insulin levels return to normal. Over time, it takes more and more insulin to get the job done. It is thought that, eventually, your pancreas sort of wears out and may be less effective at lowering blood sugars. Excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream and you’ve got a stage set for type 2 diabetes.4

Excess sugar consumption promotes inflammation in the body.5, 6

Apparently, inflammation is the real killer and is thought to be linked to a host of ailments, including heart attacks, strokes and dementia.

One thing to look at is the amount of “added sugar” in your diet. Added sugars are just that, sugar (whether it is refined or unrefined) added to a product.

According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their intake of added sugar to about six teaspoons (or 24 grams) a day. For men, it’s about nine teaspoons (or 36 grams). One 12-ounce can of soda can have eight to 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Ouch.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (fructose) and milk (lactose). Naturally occurring sugars aren’t empty calories. With them, you are getting vitamins, minerals and/or fiber, a.k.a., the good stuff you need in your diet. If you are keeping track of your carb intake, be sure to add any naturally occurring sugars in your count, but you don’t need to fret too much over them when watching out for added sugar.

Spotting added sugar requires a bit of label reading. Food manufacturers aren’t required to separate naturally occurring sugars from added sugars. The ingredients to look for in prepared products are sugar, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, cane sugar, corn sweetener, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, concentrated fruit juice and anything that end with “ose,” such as maltose, dextrose or sucrose. As my nephew Brennen once told me, if it ends with “ose,” it’s gross.

For now, I’m going to pick on refined, white sugar. Some say it’s the devil incarnate. I’m not quite ready to go that far, but I don’t think it is doing your body any favors, even in moderation. When you eat white, refined sugar, not only are you spiking the level of sugar in your blood, you aren’t giving any nutrients to your body.

The reason to switch to less-refined sugars is they offer a bit of nutrients along with their sweet kick. Raw honey has enzymes; molasses and maple sugar have trace minerals. Plus, I just think it is a good idea to choose foods that are closest to how they are found in nature. I don’t like my food mucked around with.

Switching to less-refined sugar isn’t a license to eat more. It’s still sugar and will spike your blood levels and add calories.

When you do indulge in a sweet treat, eat one that has a little fat in it, like whole-milk ice cream or a dark chocolate bar with nuts. According to Sally Fallon, author of “Nourishing Traditions,” adding fats to sweets “slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients …”

Yes, that means whole-milk ice cream with nuts is back on the menu! Especially if you can find it sweetened with natural sugars or make it yourself.

Here are some of my favorite natural sugar recipes:
Pear Walnut Cream Cheese Wontons
Pasteli- Sesame Honey Candy
Almond Date Balls
Peanut Butter Cups
Maple Syrup Bread Pudding
Maple Pralines
Maple Turtles
Almond Joy Knock Offs

Food for Thought:
“Sugar in any form or refined carbohydrates (white food) drives the good cholesterol down, cause triglycerides to go up, creates small damaging cholesterol particles, and causes metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. That is the true cause of most heart attacks, NOT LDL cholesterol.” Mark Hyman MD; Why Cholesterol May Not Be the Cause Of Heart Disease

end notes
1 http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3068932
2 http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/292/8/978.extract
3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709452?dopt=Abstract
4 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/type-2-diabetes/DS00585/DSECTION=causes
5 http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/What-you-eat-can-fuel-or-cool-inflammation-a-key-driver-of-heart-disease-diabetes-and-other-chronic-conditions.shtml
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17402291?dopt=Abstract

Participating in Monday Mania.

What I will do for a good ginger scone and hot cup of chai

chaiI will brave Washington, DC traffic in rush hour to get a ginger scone and hot cup of chai from Teaism, one of my favorite DC cafes. I also love their cilantro scrambled eggs with naan and never leave without getting one of their salty oat cookies. But their chai and scones are worth the agony of sitting on the beltway.

Chai is an Indian spiced tea. It’s become quite popular and you can find it in many coffee shops and markets. While I’m not a picky eater in general, I am a picky about my chai and there are few places that meet my high standards. I don’t like it overly sweet and I don’t like it with a cloying vanilla flavor. I don’t want it to taste like a ginger snap. I like it complex, slightly sweet but with a nice bite. Teasim makes the perfectly balanced chai. Since I live six hours away, it was necessary for me to learn how to make my own perfect cup.

If you must be lazy, you may order both chai and ginger scone mix from Teaism’s website.

Ginger scones

These are a snap to make. I altered this recipe from the blog, Orangette. I used honey and white whole-wheat flour and was very happy with the results. If you want to be decadent, use white flour and sugar.

Crystallized ginger can be found in better food markets. If you can’t find it, ask your grocer to pick it up for you or make your own.

These are best served warm with a pat of butter.

Ingredients
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter. Using your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You may also use a pastry knife or a fork. The goal is to incorporate the butter into little pea-sized or smaller pieces. This will give you a flakey scone.
  • While gently stirring the mixture, drizzle the honey over it. Add the ginger and stir to mix.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk together. Save a tablespoon for the glaze and pour the rest into the flour mixture, stir gently to just combine. Using your hands, press and knead the dough into a rough ball. It will be a little dry. If it isn’t holding together, add a little water.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead it. Do not overwork the dough, a half dozen kneads should do it. Pat it into a round disc about 1 inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges.
  • Place the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush them with the reserved milk/egg mixture.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden. Cool briefly on a rack, and serve.

Makes eight medium-size scones

Up next, spicy chia…

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding!

The other day as I was procrastinating, I mean doing research for this column, I came across a quiz that tested one’s knowledge of food in holiday songs. Here are a few questions that I remember (see answers below):

1. What did Grandma drink too much of before she got run over by a reindeer?

2. In “Let it Snow,” what is the food item and how are they going to prepare it?

3. In “The Christmas Song,” what’s roasting on an open fire? What other food item is mentioned?

4. The quiz left out some of my favorite food references from the “Grinch.” Name three food items.

And, of course, we have the following:

We wish you a Merry Christmas; We wish you a Merry Christmas …

Now, bring us some figgy pudding! Now, bring us some figgy pudding! Now, bring us some figgy pudding and bring some out here!

We won’t go until we get some!

We won’t go until we get some!

We won’t go until we get some, so bring it right here!

So people come to your door, wish you a merry Christmas, then demand figgy pudding and don’t plan to leave until you bring it. That’s flat out holiday extortion. You know they are serious because they repeat it three times. The gall!

I’ve never been exactly sure what figgy pudding is, but have always loved the lengths that people purportedly go just to get some. I pictured people clad in winter gear, holding a cup of pudding and trying to maneuver their spoons while wearing mittens. Turns out figgy pudding is more of a cake, so may easily be eaten by bundled up, caroling extortionists.

Figgy pudding is a nice break from all the cloyingly sweet treats that I certainly eat quite a bit of this time of year. It’s a moist, spiced, bread-like cake. The flavor deepens as it ages; so make it a couple of days before you plan to eat it. For an extra treat, top each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.

Ingredients
2 cups dried figs (about 1 pound), stems removed, chopped fine
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Method

  • Chop dried figs and place in medium-sized bowl. Pour bourbon and warm water over fruit and let sit, preferably overnight, but an hour will do.
  • Grease and flour a bunt pan or loaf pan. This cake has a tendency to stick, so grease it well. You can also line the pan with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg; set aside.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and molasses and beat again. Mix in the dried fruit (with liquid if any), lemon peel, milk and walnuts.
  • Mix in dried ingredients.
  • Bake at 325º F for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Makes 12 to 14 servings.

    Answers to the above quiz:

    1. Eggnog.

    2. Corn for popping.

    3. Chestnuts; turkey.

    4. Bad banana with a greasy black peal; garlic; dead tomato splot with moldy purple spots; three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

Almond Biscotti with Orange Zest and Fennel

I’m told that biscotti means to bake twice. That is how these delicious cookies get their satisfying crunch. This is another great one to give as a gift. They will last for weeks.

Ingredients
1 cup whole almonds
3 cups flour, plus flour for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
zest from one orange
2 teaspoons almond extract

Method

  • Bake almonds 10 minutes at 350° F, let cool, roughly chop and set aside.
  • Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, fennel, orange zest and almond extract.
  • Mix to incorporate the ingredients; the dough will be a little sticky.
  • Flour your hands and a clean kitchen surface and lightly knead the dough. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Form the dough into two large logs. The loaves should be relatively flat, only about half an inch high and three to four inches wide.
  • Bake for 20 to 22 minutes at 350º F, until the center is firm to the touch.
  • Let biscotti cool for 15 minutes and then, using a serrated knife, cut into 1 inch wide pieces.
  • Turn the oven down to 300º F and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp. Cool completely.
  • Let sit uncovered overnight in a dry space.

Makes about 36 small biscotti.

Pear Walnut Cream Cheese Wontons

My husband made pork dumplings the other night and we had leftover wonton wrappers. He had the great idea of making a pear dessert with them.

Wonton wrappers can usually be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores. If you are more of a D.I.Y. person, click here for a recipe on making your own.

Ingredients
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of salt
1 medium-sized pears, roughly chopped (peeled or not is your choice)
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
10-15 wonton wrappers
1/4 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil for frying)

Method

  • Add cream cheese, maple syrup, cinnamon and a dash of salt to a medium-sized bowl and mix until smooth.
  • Mix in pears and walnuts.
  • Place 1 heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of wrapper.
  • Using fingertip dipped in water, gently wet around the inside edge of wrapper.
  • Fold wrapper in half. Gently push the filling down to keep edge of wrapper free of filling. Press to seal.
  • Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  • Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat, keep the oil under its smoking point.
  • Once the oil is hot, gently set dumplings in the pan.
  • Fry for 3 or 4 minutes on both side, or until the bottoms are a nice golden brown. Shift dumplings occasionally to prevent from sticking. (These are sometime called pot-stickers because of their predilection for sticking.)

Serve warm.
Makes 10-15 wontons

Cantaloupe Bread

My mom’s friend Sandy and her husband have a farm stand in Virginia. He does the farming; she runs the stand. My husband and I visited it this summer. They had a couple of large bins filled with cantaloupe. I asked Sandy to help me pick out a good, sweet one.

She started picking up the melons and sniffing them. She handed me one and said that it seemed like a good one but she wasn’t sure. She picked up another and gave it to us in case the first one wasn’t sweet. We picked out beautiful tomatoes, green beans and blue potatoes. We must have gotten the friend discount because she only requested a 10 spot.

On the way out, she ran to our car with yet another cantaloupe. “Just in case,” she said. With that, it became our favorite farm stand.

Smelling a cantaloupe is the best way to tell if it is ripe. It should have a pleasantly sweet aroma. If it has too strong of a fragrance, the melon most likely will be overripe.

Also look at the color underneath the netting on the skin. A ripe melon will be creamy white or yellow. Green indicates that the melon isn’t completely ripe. An unripe cantaloupe will ripen on your kitchen counter, but it doesn’t get sweeter. My understanding that for the sweetest melons, it is best to pick ones that have ripened in the field.

You’ll also want a melon that feels heavy for its size, is firm and doesn’t have any soft spots. Soft spots are a sign that it is overripe or has been bruised.

When preparing cantaloupe, it’s important to wash the outside before cutting. Whatever is on the outside can be transferred to the melon’s flesh when it’s cut. Wash the melon under running water and use a vegetable brush to gently scrub it.

Cantaloupes sport a bit of health prowess. One of my favorite sites for nutrition information is the World’s Healthiest Foods. It is well-sourced and gives nutritional profiles on everything from soy sauce to lima beans. It also makes me want to eat whatever it is I’m researching.

For example, the site gushes about the health properties of cantaloupe. Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, a very good source of potassium and a good source of vitamin B6, dietary fiber, folate, and niacin (vitamin B3). According to the site, eating cantaloupe promotes lung health, protects your vision and reduces risk of death from heart disease, stroke and cancer. Wow, it’s a veritable wonder drug! Give me some!

As I was looking for recipes, I started wondering why you rarely see any recipes for cooked cantaloupe. I’m guessing it’s because cooked cantaloupe doesn’t sound appealing. I imagined that it would tastes a bit like overly ripe cantaloupe, which, in my opinion, can be summed up in one word: yuck.

Actually, cooked cantaloupe tastes a bit like cooked pumpkin. That’s no wonder since they are close cousins both haling from the Cucurbitaceae family. This explains why cantaloupe worked great in a sweet quick bread but my cantaloupe cobbler experiment didn’t go so well. My husband said that he liked it but I wonder if that is just something a sweet husband tells his wife to keep on her good side.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut oil or melted unsalted butter
1 egg
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cup cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and chopped (see note)

Method

  • Heat oven to 350º F.
  • Greased and flour an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.
  • In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together coconut oil, egg, honey, milk and vanilla and add to flour mixture.
  • Place cantaloupe in a food processor and pulse a few times, until finely chopped. You may also either finely chop the cantaloupe or mash it with a potato masher.
  • Add cantaloupe and nuts to mixture and mix until combined.
  • Turn mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes.
  • Cool and serve.

Note: Cantaloupe 101- After washing the melon, slice it in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice into wedges then carefully cut the orange flesh away from the rind.

I’m sharing this recipe on:
The Nourishing Gourmet

Grilled Shortbread Cookies

My friend Virginia’s dad, Andy, has grilled just about everything. I mean everything. Yes, he has grilled all of the standards— hot dogs, hamburgers, and barbeque chicken— but he also has tried lasagna, casseroles, and even a cheesecake. That certainly got my mind ticking.

Virginia has memories of him standing outside at midnight in the rain holding an umbrella over himself and the grill.

A man after my own heart.

A couple of weeks ago we went to our friend’s Hallie’s birthday party. We brought hotdogs and cookies. True to form, I decided to start making the cookies about 30 minutes before we needed to leave. Also, true to form, I wanted to experiment. Our kitchen was as hot as blue blazes, so I decided to throw the cookies on the grill. If Andy Anderson can grill a cake, then by golly I can grill cookies.

Being confident that it would work, I loaded up two baking sheet with cookies while the grill heated up. I placed both sheets on the grill and closed the lid. In about three minutes flat, the bottoms of the cookies were all solid black. Oops.

Lesson number one, things burn quickly on an overly hot grill. One day, I will remember that in earnest.

The tops were delicious so instead of tossing the bunch, my husband and I dutifully scraped off and ate the good parts. Not dignified, especially if you use your teeth, but tasty.

Luckily, I had enough dough left over for one more tray. I heated the oven (and yes, in turn, heated the kitchen) and baked the last batch. Disaster averted.

Not willing to give up easily, the next day, I returned to my grilled cookie project and after a few (smaller) test runs, I perfected it. Andy would be proud!

Grilled Shortbread Cookies
The inspiration for these comes from the soft shortbread cookies at Otto’s Market in Germantown. They truly are the best cookies that I’ve ever had. This is a slightly healthier version, plus they are grilled! Besides keeping your kitchen cool, grilling gives the bottoms of the cookies an extra crispness.

I used rapadura in this recipe. Rapadura is dried sugarcane juice. It is rich in minerals, particularly silica and iron, so it offers a little more nutrients than the empty calories that you get from refined sugar. It still is sugar, so using it isn’t license to eat the whole batch.

I also used whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour. Whole-wheat pastry flour is made with soft-wheat and it has a fine texture. This makes it an ideal substitute for white flour when baking.

You can find rapadura and whole-wheat pastry flour at most health food stores or ask your grocer to stock it for you.

Ingredients

2 sticks of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup rapadura (substitute brown sugar if you must)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup chopped pecans (toasting is optional)

Method

  • Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream the butter, extracts, salt, and rapadura until smooth.
  • Add the oats and flour one cup at a time and mix well.
  • Stir in the pecans.
  • Scoop out about a fourth of the dough and place on a sheet of wax or parchment paper. Roll into a log with the diameter about the size of a silver dollar. Be sure the dough roll is firmly compact, so it doesn’t fall apart when you slice it. Repeat with all dough.
  • Cover and freeze the dough logs for at least 10 minutes. (You may keep these well wrapped in the freezer for several months. No need to thaw before you slice and bake.)
  • Prepare grill for indirect grilling. If using a gas grill, heat one side to medium-high and leave the other side off. If using a charcoal grill, light the briquettes. When they glow red, scoot them to the sides, leaving an empty space in the middle of the grill.
  • Cut dough into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place slices on an ungreased baking sheet. This baking sheet will go directly on the grill, so make sure that it fits. If you have a round grill, use a round pizza pan. These cookies don’t tend to spread much, so they can be placed within an inch or less of each other.
  • Place the cookie sheet on the indirect heat portion of the grill.
  • This is the tricky part. Close the lid but stay close by. You’ll need to keep checking on the cookies. On my grill, using indirect heat, they were done in about 10 minutes. My grill doesn’t heat evenly, so halfway through, I turn the baking sheet around. I only keep them on until the bottoms are slightly golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

If you have a nice air-conditioned kitchen, these cookies work beautifully in an oven heated to 350ºf, bake for 10-12 minutes, but where is the fun in that?

French Vanilla Ice Cream

If I am thinking ahead and want a rich, creamy ice cream, I make this custard-based, french vanilla ice cream.

You will need an ice cream maker for this recipes.

This recipe is modified from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks, whipped
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups hot whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or whole vanilla bean)
2 cups heavy cream (or half and half)

Method

  • In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and salt until blended (no heat).
  • Gradually whisk in hot milk and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens slightly about 10 to 12 minutes. It is ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not bring to a boil or it will curdle.
  • Remove from heat and cool.
  • Strain with a fine-mesh sieve (you may have a few eggy parts). Add cream and stir.
  • Place in ice cream maker and churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
  • If you prefer a firm ice cream, transfer ice cream to a plastic container and freeze until firm, about 2 hours. We can never wait that long, plus I think it is best when it is freshly churned.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Try adding these combos:.

Maple Walnut
Substitute 1/2 cup of maple syrup for the sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Ginger Peach
2 cup fresh peaches, chopped (reserve juice and add to mixture)
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Summer Stawberry Ice Cream

When I was a kid we usually made two kinds of ice cream, peach and strawberry. I knew it was special for a couple of reasons. First, we only had it in the summer when the fruit was freshly picked. I don’t think anyone would have stood for canned or rock hard out-of-season peaches. Second, it took a long time to make.

We had a hand-cranked ice cream churner, the kind that used rock salt and ice. We always made ice cream when there was a big crowd. I’m guessing that is because of the abundance of free child labor. If you knew ice cream was being made, you tried to stay away from the porch. If got too close and made eye contact with any adult, you would be summoned to take your turn churning.

These days, I have an electric ice cream maker. No rock salt is needed so the process is much simpler. Here’s how I usually make ice cream: I glance around my kitchen and see what I have and improvise.

This week, I picked up some-fresh-from-the-field strawberries and thought they would be perfect for the summer’s first ice cream. In a bowl, I added a couple of cups of milk (I use cream when I have it). I eyeballed it for two people. Trying to stay on the non-refined sugar train, I added honey. I then added vanilla extract and a dash of salt. I tasted and adjusted for flavor. Then I grabbed the ice cream maker from the freezer, plugged it in and started churning.

Now, when you cook this way, you have some successes and you have some failures. Somehow this honey strawberry ice cream missed the mark. My husband claimed to have liked it, but I didn’t. I think the honey was too floral for my taste.

It would break my heart to throw out perfectly good milk and strawberries so like many of my mistakes, I transformed it. I let it melt, added flour and baking powder and made strawberry bread. It was ok, still not great. From there, my husband sliced it and made French toast—much, much better. Finally, I turned the leftovers into bread pudding, which is the most common final resting place for all things bread in our kitchen—perfect.

But it wasn’t the strawberry ice cream I had been craving, so I started again and used sugar this time. It tasted just like summer!

If I want to make ice cream on the fly, I make a Philadelphia style, which doesn’t use eggs or require cooking and cooling.

You will need an ice cream maker for this recipes. One fun one to get is an Play and Freeze Ice Cream Maker Ball). Once the ball is frozen, you add the ingredients and roll it around until the ice cream is done. How fun is that?

Modified from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Philadelphia-Style Ice Cream with Strawberries

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or whole vanilla bean)
3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped

Method

  • Whisk all ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Place in ice cream maker and churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
  • Serve freshly churned. This one doesn’t freeze as well as the custard.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts.

Pasteli: Sesame Honey Candy

Warning, this delicious, chewy Greek candy is easy to make and rather addictive. It’s a great energy-packed snack, so don’t feel too bad if you eat more than a few.

Ingredients
2 cups sesame seeds, toasted*
1 cup pumpkin seeds (raw or toasted)
1 tablespoon flax seeds, ground
1 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Method

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease it with oil or butter.
  • Place honey in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat until it starts to bubble and forms a mass.
  • Add sesame seeds, pumpkin seed, ground flax seeds and salt to the pan and mix well.
  • Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring until the mixture is a rich golden-brown color, about 10 minutes.
  • Scrape mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread it to about 1/4 inch thick. You can do this with a spatula or by placing a slightly oiled piece of parchment paper over the mixture and using a rolling pin to thin it.
  • Cool completely.
  • Transfer the candy to a cutting board (keep it on the parchment paper). Using a knife, pizza cutter or kitchen shears, cut into small pieces (rectangle, triangle, your choice).
  • Place in an airtight container.

Yield: Approximately 50 pieces.

* Note: Toasted sesame seeds: Heat seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Heat until lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Watch carefully; they burn quickly!

Peanut Butter Cups (no refined sugar)

This is a dark chocolate version of the classic peanut butter cup but without refined sugar. Yummm!

Ingredients
Chocolate mixture
3-4 tablespoons honey
1 cup of coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1 cup cocoa powder

Peanut butter mixture
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup peanut butter (no sugar added)
Dash of salt

Method

  • Heat 3/4 cup of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of honey and vanilla extract until melted.
  • Stir in cocoa powder. Remove from heat and mix until smooth. Taste and adjust sweetness.
  • Line a 24 mini muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Pour a spoonful of the chocolate sauce in each cup. Reserve extra sauce and place muffin tin in freezer for 10 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, add the peanut butter, cream cheese, maple syrup and salt and mix together until smooth.
  • Take muffin tin out of the freezer and spoon the peanut butter mixture over the chocolate. Smooth out the peanut butter mixture with a wet hand or spatula.
  • Place the mixture in the freezer again for 10 minutes.
  • Reheat the chocolate mixture if necessary. Remove muffin tin from freezer and top the peanut butter mixture with chocolate sauce.
  • Return tin to freezer for 20 minutes.

Keep either in the freezer or refrigerator, these melt fast!

Makes 24.

Almond Joy Knock-Offs

I think these Almond Joy knock-offs are down right healthy for you. Granted, it is a high-fat candy, but the fat is from almonds and coconut oil, two things I have no problem eating. Coconut oil is purported to have antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. The almonds give you a healthy dose of vitamin E. The cocoa powder is a good source of antioxidants. What’s not to love? These do have about 120 calories each … so don’t go overboard!

Keep these treats either in the freezer of refrigerator. Unlike M&M’s, these do melt in your hand!

This recipe is adapted from The Nourishing Gourmet blog. I love this recipe and have been making it weekly.

Ingredients
Coconut mixture
1/2 cup almonds, plus 24 whole almonds
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup of honey
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Chocolate mixture
2 tablespoons honey (or more if you want it sweeter)
1/2 cup of coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder

Method

  • In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of almonds until finely ground.
  • In a small pan, melt the coconut oil and honey over low heat until just melted. Whisk to combine. Add the almond extract, coconut flakes and ground almonds.
  • Line a mini muffin tin with paper cupcake wrappers (24).(You can also grease the muffin tin with coconut oil. They are often hard to get out. Use a butter knife around the sides.)
  • In each wrapper, place an almond then add the coconut mixture and press down lightly.
    Place in a freezer and freeze (10 to 20 minutes).
  • In a small pan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of honey, salt and vanilla extract.
  • Stir in cocoa powder. Mix until smooth. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust sweetness.
  • Take out the frozen coconut flakes mixture and divide the chocolate mixture in each cup over the coconut.
  • Place back in freezer and freeze about 20 minutes.

Makes 24

Keep either in the freezer or refrigerator.

Note: If you don’t have a mini-muffin pan, you can use a regular one. Makes 12 large (note large will have 240 calories and 2 grams of added natural sugar).