A writer cooks; chaos ensues.

One of my goals this year is to cook more, and I enjoy documenting the process here & there.  I also think it will be valuable considering how my life is going to evolve this year.  So, here’s to 2013 and making more and better meals at home!

CINNAMON RAISIN SCONES

Makes 8 scones
Adapted from SkinnyTaste’s Skinny Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Scones
Approximately 260 calories per scone

New Year's Cinnamon-Raisin SconesT has a pretty ardent love of scones, so I’ve been wanting to try making them at home. New Year’s morning seemed like a decent time to give that a shot since he had to be up earlyish to go into work (poor guy).  These were a pretty big success, and they even got him to eat a complete breakfast with yogurt and a small glass of orange juice.  They took about 20 minutes to throw together and 20 to bake.

Ingredients

2 cups white whole wheat flour + more for dusting/kneading
2 T. flax meal
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar + more for sprinkling
1 T. baking powder
3 T. butter (cold, cubed)
2 t. vanilla
1 egg + 1 more egg, beaten, for egg wash
3/4 cup raisins
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions

  1. Whisk together buttermilk, sugars, vanilla and one egg.  Set aside.
  2. Whisk together flour, flax meal, baking powder, salt & cinnamon.  Cut in butter & raisins.
  3. Add milk mixture to flour mixture & stir until just combined.
  4. Turn onto a floured surface and knead four times with floured hands until the mixture holds together a little better (the dough will be very wet to start).
  5. Turn onto parchment-covered baking sheet and shape into a 9-inch disk, about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Cut into eight wedges.  Paint with egg wash & sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit about 18 to 20 minutes.
  6. Prepare to serve, and place remaining scones in a dish of some sort to prevent your cat from eating them.  They’ll probably keep for a day if well-wrapped and stored in an air-tight container, but my guess is they’re best the day they’re baked.
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During NaNoWriMo, it’s easy to forget how to eat anything that a) can’t be nuked in 3 minutes or less, b) can’t be ingested from a mug, or c) can’t be purchased from a franchise restaurant.

My younger NaNoWriMo days were filled with ramen soup, Diet Coke and fast food.  While there will still be an occasional Diet Coke, ramen soup and fast food do not a healthy lifestyle make.  And you know what?  Those things don’t make brains happy either.  So, while I could feasibly eat at Chipotle every night and still accomplish my weight loss goals, my bank account might not be super happy with that approach.

As I prepared my notes, outlines and character info for November, I also made an effort to stock my freezer and refrigerator with items that I knew would make good brain & body fuel whilst being as quick and effortless as possible to make ingestion-ready.  Here’s one of the things I came up with.

CHICKEN-CHEDDAR-CHIVE QUICHE TARTLETTES
Yield: Six individual tartlettes

Ingredients
base
1 pie crust
4 eggs
1/2 cup fat-free half & half
salt & pepper

for chicken-cheddar-chive quiche
1/2 cup chives
1/2 cup shredded 2% sharp cheddar cheese
6 oz. cooked chicken, chopped (Hormel’s all-natural line is good)

Special equipment
Tartlette pans (I used these, & they worked like a charm. If you don’t have tartlette pans, you can always make one big quiche & slice it into six individual pieces.)

Directions

  1. Divide pie crust into six individual tart pans. I used a store-bought pie crust & cut out circles to fill the tart pans, filling any thin places with the scraps. Refrigerate.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, half & half, and salt & pepper until frothy & smooth.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Chop chives & chicken. Place in equal portions in tartlette shells. Top with cheddar.
  5. Pour egg mixture in equal portions over chicken-chive-cheese mixture in shells. (FYI, I had exactly enough to fill all the shells. When in doubt, fill less, & then go back & add more accordingly.)
  6. 6) Bake 25 to 35 minutes until puffed, set, and golden.
  7. Let cool completely. Remove from pans & serve, or…
  8. Freeze uncovered on trays.  When completely frozen, wrap in foil, sealing edges. Wrap again in parchment or place in an airtight container or ziplock bag(s). Label with content & date prepared.
  9. To prepare from frozen, loosen foil & place in refrigerator to thaw for several hours.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit & bake 20-30 minutes ’til heated through.

Take note that I’ve subdivided the ingredients because you can hypothetically add anything you want.  For this version, you’re looking at 266 calories per quiche tartlette, which makes it a perfect option for adding a salad or even some soup to make a complete, low-cal meal.

The base ingredients come out to 207 calories per tartlette, so start there and add whatever you like.

As my youngest sister heads off to college today, I feel it’s important to pass along the most practical piece of advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to making friends at college.

Share cookies.

Like these ones.

The Way to a College Student's Heart

I’m sending my sister off to school with a batch of the Easiest Peanut Butter Cookies ever because I want people to like her.  And while I think she’s got the charm to pull it off on her own, having a little back-up never hurts.  This recipe is all over the internet, but I first saw it over at Joy the Baker’s blog, so props to her.  For the record, I added some Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips to half of these babies, and mixed in some dried cranberries to about a third, leaving [math nerds insert fraction here] of them the classical peanut butter.

EASIEST PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES EVER

Ingredients

1 cup all-natural peanut butter
1 cup sugar (you can mix brown & white if you like)
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
Any mix-ins or toppings your heart desires.

Directions

Mix the peanut butter & sugar in a mixer until well-combined.  Add the egg & the baking soda, and mix again.  Drop into walnut-sized balls (incorporating mix-ins if you like), and flatten slightly with a fork (hold onto the edges of the cookie as you do this so they don’t fall apart).  If you’d like to add chocolate chips to the top, now is the time to do it.  Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.  Cool for a couple of minutes on the cooking sheet, and then transfer to a cookie rack. Stack in a container and give them to your sister as she leaves for college, along with a promise of Chipotle when she comes home and a hug and/or a Peter Petrelli pound, depending on your own sisterly style.

It’s amazing how something that starts out looking as gruesome as this:

Can end up looking as sweet and innocent as this:

LESSONS LEARNED WHILST MAKING & CONSUMING JOY THE BAKER’S FAVORITE RED VELVET CUPCAKES:

1) I’d be terrible at cleaning up a crime scene.


How did it get *there*?

Guess I'll have to burn this now, too.

2) Gruesome-looking desserts make me want to watch SWEENEY TODD and/or DORIAN GRAY, which probably makes me really weird.

Maybe I should have worn an apron.

Did you really just ask me to split the last cupcake?

3) Red Velvet Cupcakes make excellent birthday cupcakes.

The Birthday Girl

Sometimes having company in the kitchen is welcome.  Other times I appreciate the occasionally meditative quality of cooking alone, a time when I can focus on the ingredients — the feel, the aroma, the changes taking place as I combine them.

Until I step on my dog because she likes to hover right underneath my feet.

Rikku: Sneaky, but not quick.

No matter how many times I tell her to vamoose, go away, move, or just plain get out, she always scurries off and then immediately sneaks back.  This ends badly about 80 percent of the time, with her yelping and/or growling at me for stepping on her, and me shouting an expletive at her for bringing it on herself.  Such is the way of things in Ditty’s Kitchen.

Despite the dangerous tango in which Rikku and I are often engaged, I did find myself transported to some French or Italian countryside while making Panzanella this past weekend.  (When I made it again on Monday morning, however, I was immediately brought back to reality by the feeling of a knife blade entering my index finger. Lesson: Do not attempt to cut stale Tomato Basil Bread in bleary-eyed, pre-6-a.m. state.) This recipe is super easy (assuming you’re not in bleary-eyed, pre-6-a.m. state), and it’s perfect for summer produce.

Before

PANZANELLA
(recipe adapted from Simply Recipes)
Serves One

Ingredients
1 slice stale bread
1 small tomato
1 small cucumber
Red onion, diced, to taste (I used about 1 tablespoon)
Fresh basil, torn, to taste (I used about 2 tablespoons)
1 t. olive oil (or whatever you have on hand; I used canola)
Salt & pepper to taste (I used about ½ a teaspoon salt)
Garlic, minced, to taste (I used three cloves because I love garlic & am anti-vampire bite at this point in my life)

Directions

  1. Cut bread, tomato & cucumber into bite-sized pieces.  Dice onion.  Mince garlic.  Tear basil into small pieces.
  2. Combine all ingredients.  Cover & let mariate at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours at room temperature.  (The original recipe is adamant about not refrigerating, lest you ruin the texture of the tomatoes, but I’d be nervous about leaving all this out to sit for 12 hours.  Just my two cents.  The marination period between 6-a.m. bleariness & lunch was about 5 hours, though, and it did just fine — no soggy bread!)

After!

For those counting, this is a really healthy, filling, and delightfully tasty recipe.  Obviously, calories will vary depending on specific ingredients, but mine came out to about 174 calories total.

The following notion was revealed to me by nothing short of divine revelation (by way of the rose sale at Hy-Vee on Friday):

A girl should never hesitate to buy herself roses or flowers of any kind. There is no need for a middle man.

(This went into my notebook as, “Cut out the middle man! Who needs him?” but I think the reworked version sounds a little more divine.)

A rose by any other name still looks pretty sitting in my parlor.

And by that same logic, a girl should never hesitate to bake herself some Double Dark Chocolate Biscotti with Pecans if the mood strikes her, or, since it will keep for up to a week in an airtight container, if she thinks the mood will strike her at any point over the next seven days.

DOUBLE DARK CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI WITH PECANS

Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar (or 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup sweetener of your choice, or all sweetener of your choice)
1 t. vanilla
2 T. canola oil + 2 T. pumpkin (I think next time I will try all pumpkin & see what happens)
1/2 cup pecans
3 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (about half a cup)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder & salt until well combined.  Set aside.
  2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.  (It will turn a lovely pastel yellow. Think Easter.)  Beat in vanilla, pumpkin & oil until well-combined.
  3. With mixer on low, beat in flour-cocoa mixture until combined.  Fold in pecans and chocolate chunks.
  4. With moistened hands, shape dough into two logs, about 2½ inches wide, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (The original recipe said they should be nine inches long, but after my heavy modifications, they turned out to be around seven, I think. Isn’t that the way of it?  Still, I found if you know what you’re doing with your logs, a shortfalling of a couple of inches really makes very little difference.)
  5. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit ’til set on top, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes in pan.  Meanwhile, reduce oven heat to 325 degrees.
  6. Transfer logs to cutting board & slice into 3/4-inch slices (mine yielded 19).  Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes more, turning over midway through.  Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  7. For those keeping track, here’s the calorie breakdown.  FYI, I was using some apparently pretty high-calorie (but high-quality!) cocoa powder, so, per usual, your totals will depend on the specific ingredients you use.

Entire recipe: 2264 calories (with half Splenda, half sugar), or 120 calories per piece of delicious, decadent, wonderful biscotti

Biscotti & Frozen Yogurt

If you try the all-pumpkin route, you could cut the total down to 2036, and if you’re not averse to sweetener, you can cut it down even further to 1856.  I’ve no idea what either substitution would do to the texture, but my suspicion is it would still taste fantastic even if the texture suffered a little.  As it is, they’re a bit crumbly in an endearing sort of way.  And hey, you never know — it could improve!  So, if you try, please let me know how it goes.

This is here for no other reason than it is a pretty egg (& I used it in the bread).

I love to bake.  More accurately, I love to eat stuff I’ve baked. And that, my friends, is why I bake very rarely. But if I want to become a Domestic Goddess, I need to learn how to balance my love of eating delicious things and my love of appearing relatively fit (not to mention my continuing efforts to look fitter).

One part of this effort involves taking traditional recipes and “healthifying” them.  This would be a lot easier if I’d paid attention to the at-the-time-boring food science part of the cooking class I took in high school.  Luckily, there’s this wonderful thing called “the Internet,” which yielded this extremely helpful article from Mahalo.  In short, it tells you what various ingredients do, when you can sub them and when you really shouldn’t, and what you can use in their place.

So, with that article, I set out on an adventure I call, “Ditty Learns How to Make Whole Wheat Tomato Basil Bread.”  Now, one thing that’s helpful to know is that whole wheat flour doesn’t act like white flour.  Most baking recipes will tell you to go half and half OR ELSE.  But me?  I laugh in the face of danger.  And then when the recipe says “knead 10 times,” I go, “Um, have you seen the dough I’m working with?”  And then all those people who insisted on half white flour smirk smugly.  Some even dare to say, “I told you so.”  And I stare back defiantly, hands covered in sticky dough, and say, “Screw you and your kneading and your white flour!  I shall put this dough into loaf pans instead, and it will be GLORIOUS!”

And you know what?  It was.

WHOLE WHEAT TOMATO BASIL BREAD
(aka, Eff the Naysayers Bread)

Ingredients
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/2 cup freshly chopped basil
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (I used two 5.3-oz. containers of Oikos 0% plain)
1 egg
1/3 cup water (or enough to help dough come together)

Directions

  1. In medium bowl, combine flour, parmesan, baking soda, salt & basil. Mix well.
  2. Add yogurt, egg, tomatoes and water. Stir (a wooden spoon works well) ’til just moistened.
  3. Turn onto floured surface and shape into two loaves.  Place in PAM’d loaf pans.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit 30-35 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from sheet and let cool completely.

Victory!

For anyone keeping track, the total calories in both loaves was about 1400 calories.  I sliced mine into 8 pieces each, which came out to 88 calories a slice.  Once it’s cooled, store it in an airtight container or a ziplock bag to keep it fresh for a few days.  (Or leave a couple of slices out, with which to make Panzanella — stay tuned for the recipe!)