Saturday, December 11, 2010


4-Tiered Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Cream Frosting and Peach Jam

Firstly, a BIG thank you to my mom who has always been there for me with love, support, and baking advice.......and who inspired me to cook from a very young age. Her help in making this cake is incomparable and she made it such a fun amazing day!

You heard that title correctly...... 4-Layer Chocolate Cake! Let me start out by justifying my actions with the bold statement that, in moderation, chocolate is healthy. That doesn't mean you'll live to be a hundred if you double up on your Snickers bar intake or that you'll lose weight, feel wonderful, and lose those wrinkles with a few extra bags of M& does mean that occasional high-quality dark chocolate indulgences can actually help increase the antioxidant power within your body, can help lower stress and blood pressure, elevate mood, relax muscles, and increase brain function. High-quality dark chocolate offers a host of benefits: omega-3s, magnesium, phenethylamine (PEA), and theobromine.

Chocolate comes from a large tropical fruit called theobroma cacao that grows in South America. Cocoa is made from the beans of the fruit, which are roasted, pressed, and separated from the fat, resulting in a chocolate powder. The fat is called cocoa butter, which is the base of hard chocolates. Two of the naturally-occurring chemicals in chocolate are responsible for being the food of choice for post-break-up women all around the world. Why do women love their chocolate? Why do people feel so great gobbling down a thousand calories of Valentine's chocolates or Ben & Jerry's? Why do I mourn for days on end when the CVS down the street runs out of Dove dark chocolate? One answer may be that chocolate offers two chemicals mentioned earlier called phenethylamine (PEA) and theobromine. Both chemicals increase the levels of serotonin (the "happy" chemical) in the brain, making one feel similar feelings of being in love. Both chemicals increase mood, ease stress, lower tension, and help loosen arteries and increase blood flow, making one think clearer, have more energy, and feel happier. When confronted with the realization that an angry mob of starving people were storming he castle, Marie-Antoinette may have been onto something when she facetiously responded with, "Let them eat cake!" Especially if it was chocolate cake!!

Winter makes you creaky. Brittle. Stiff. Cold. Don't you wish there was some magical thing that could make you feel good, help you warm up, get blood flowing, help your heart, and relax muscles? It's called a gym membership, lazy bones! Get running! But a more delicious option that requires absolutely no spandex, bench presses, or sweaty towels is chocolate! A good-quality dark chocolate helps increase circulation which brings blood flow to the colder parts of your body to warm them up. Increased blood flow also allows more calories and nutrients to reach cells, making your body energy stores more easily accessible. Increased blood flow also promotes healing, healthy-looking skin, and flexibility. Chocolate is also an amazing therapy for the heart (both emotionally and physically!) and it helps to lower blood pressure. A really amazing experience is to buy yourself a 70% organic cocoa chocolate bar, to eat about half of it veeerrrrryyyy slowly, having the chocolate melt in your mouth (this method releases the most "happy" chemicals in your brain), and then to hit the mat. The yoga mat that is. The chocolate helps provide the increased blood flow and relaxing feeling that both contribute to a successful jaunt in yoga. Or try some Tai Chi, dance, or just some simple stretches. Clean the kitchen, make the something active, enjoy the moment, and feel the warmth flowing through your body and mind. And then thank your lucky stars for the conquistadors who brought the bitter ground cocoa to Europe where nations like Italy and France added sugar and made the confection we have today. Take a "me" day. Enjoy some music, buy yourself some good tea, read a book, do some yoga, write, or celebrate the holidays, friends, family, and all the riches in your life by baking a cake. Don't be afraid of may seem a little intimidating but really, it is all just about following directions and being willing to learn and enjoy the process! Try something new, learn a few skills, eat some chocolate, enjoy the day before the craziness of the holidays really begins to set in! Gratitude and joy attract peace and plenty.


Makes one 4-tiered cake. OR one 3-layered cake. OR 3 individual cakes!

This cake freezes really really well, so no worries about extra!

You will need:
-electric mixer, either a stand-up Kitchenaid mixer or a hand-mixer
-big, big bowls!
-either three 8" or 9" cake pans OR 4 cake pans of varying sizes, none larger than 9"

**For baking tips and hints, read THIS

Ingredients for the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE EVER:
  • 1 1/2 cups of local or at least organic unsalted butter, softened. This equals 3 sticks. 
  • 2 cups organic unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 cups sifted, organic pastry flour or all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c organic sugar
  • 2 cups organic whole milk, coconut milk, or soy milk
  • 3 large eggs, beaten, plus 3 yolks
  • 1 tsp stevia or to taste, OR use 3 cups organic sugar
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
-Grease all pans generously with butter
-Sift salt, cocoa powder, flour, sugar, and baking soda together in a bowl and mix thoroughly
-Mix softened butter, vanilla, eggs, milk, and stevia together in another bowl and beat with a mixer or by hand until a smooth consistency is reached and all ingredients are combined.
-In a mixer, slowly add about 1/2 cup at a time of the dry ingredients to the wet on medium speed, mixing well in between adding the dry mixture.
-When all ingredients are incorporated, beat on high speed about 3 minutes.
-Pour batter into cake pans 1/2 inch away from the top rim.
-Bake about 25-50 minutes, remembering that if you are making a tiered cake, the smaller cakes will be done much quicker than the larger ones, so keep a diligent eye.
-Cake is ready when top cracks open a bit and when a knife is inserted fully into the cake, it comes out clean.
-Let cakes cool in their pans rested atop wire racks to allow the bottom of the pans to cool.
-After 15 minutes, gently and quickly flip cakes over onto wire racks or plates to rest

  • 24 oz semi-sweet chocolate morsels 
  • 4 cups organic heavy cream OR 4 cups coconut milk heavy cream
  • 1 tsp organic light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
**Warning: This Frosting seems to be a pain but it is WORTH IT!!! It may be one of the best frostings you have ever had......

-Put a pot of water on the boil 
-Place a large metal bowl over the top of the pot and place chocolate int he bowl, stirring it constantly as it melts. This process is tempering temper, read Baking 101 HERE
-Once melted, add cream and mix well, keeping over heat.
-On medium-high heat, stir chocolate-cream mixture for 30-35 minutes. It may be very runny or long as you followed the directions, no worries, it will thicken.
-After 30-35 minutes of stirring, take bowl off heat and stir in the vanilla and corn syrup.
-Place bowl in fridge and let set a minimum of two hours, until thick.

-You will need the thickened frosting, the cooled cakes, an offset spatula, a piping bag and tips if you want to pipe decorations on the cake. These are cheap, fun, and you can use them for cake decorating, cookies, and even savory hors d'oeuvres. HERE is a great beginning set!
-AND you'll need 2 1/2 - 3 cups of a good-quality jam that goes well with chocolate. Raspberry would be amazing, as would apricot, strawberry, or marmalade. I used a homemade peach and star anise jam made from NY peaches I dried in my dehydrator when I lived up in the Hudson was a great-tasting combo!
-Ok, so spread a thick layer of about 1/3-1/2 inch of jam on the bottom of each tier except the bottom tier and then stack them evenly straight up. If you are making a layered cake instead of tiers, spread a thick layer of jam on top of each layer and stack the layers.
-Make sure cake is steady, not leaning, etc, and that the jam is thick enough to hold the cake layers/tiers up.
-Cover cake with a very thick layer of doesn't have to look good at all. Just throw it on! You'll see my pictures below. Cover every part of the cake.
-Using the offset spatula and a pitcher of very hot water and a towel, get the spatula hot int he water, wipe off the water, and use the heat to evenly spread and smooth the frosting on the cake. The best way the do this is to hold the spatula so it looks like an "l" and slowly go around the edges of each tier and then carefully around the top of the tiers, making neat meeting points where the top and sides meet. A great beginning book to help you build a repertoire of basic cake and decorating skills is THIS BOOK. I have this book and love, love, love it. The Swiss Buttercream Frosting recipe in that book is to die for!
-You are DONE! Well, unless you'd like to fancy your cake up a bit.....which, of course you do! Why go through all that trouble to have a boring cake? For a classically beautiful and easy look, go to your local store or florist and buy some flowers like daisies, violets, or pansies and stick flowers to the cake and around it.....lovely!
-If you'd like to decorate, get some extra frosting and fill your pastry bag. Put on the many-pronged circular sunburst tip, tie end of bag with a rubberband and make little sunbursts/flowers around each layer/tier and covering the top of the top layer/tier and covering the entire sides of the first'll see what I am talking about in the pictures.

--Enjoy your work! Have a party! Show this beauty off and relax with chocolate and these pictures!!

Stewing my peaches to make jam....

My peach & star anise jam in jars

Varying sizes of cake pans I used......some springform, some not.

The butter, cut up to make mixing easier

The wet mix!

The dry mix!

This bottom tin is lined with parchment to make clean-up easier and to help prevent the cake from sticking

Me mixing away!

The batter!

Baking the cakes!

Making the frosting in the stove

Cake cooling on a wire rack

The cake assembled but naked

Putting on the frosting to cover before shaping

The finished cake!

And it tasted even better than it looks!

For my aunt Candy's birthday!!!

Cross-section to show jam and layers!

My aunt Candy so happy to have a delicious cake made with love for her birthday!!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Baking 101 and Double Chocolate Cookies OH MY!

Happy post-Thanksgiving I-ate-way-too-much-and-am-mourning-the-loss-of-my-money-after-Black-Friday day!! I hope you all learned to cook something new, enjoyed family, and ate at least one thing green or otherwise marginally healthy! If you did, good for you. Treat yourself with some Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (recipe will follow). If you failed at the healthy thing, then you may as well just dig the hole deeper and eat this great dessert anyway!

I know, I know. This is a blog about health and nutrition.....why are there cookies and cakes littering the pages? Not that you're complaining, right? This may be a blog about being healthy, but I would argue that happiness coupled with a little sweetness once in a while is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. Dancing in the kitchen to Cher, Ani DiFranco, or White Snake while mixing a bowl of double chocolate batter and eating spoonfuls of powdered sugar (have you ever really tried that? It's impossible!) can also be a cathartic and meditative experience. Let that creativity out! Let out that squeaky off-pitch voice! Learn some basic baking skills, unearth your most embarrassing guilty pleasure music, lock your front door so your significant other won't walk in to the best opportunity for black mail ever, and get cookin'!

Baking Skills and Tips 101: Cookies
All right, so let's go over some of the basic ingredients in cookies, what they do (the chemistry of them), what they are about, and what kind is best for these desserts.

Flour: There are a bagillion (yes, I counted) types of flour. Chestnut flour, millet flour, spelt flour, bleached white flour, pastry flour, whole wheat flour, organic flour.....and many more. And they all have their uses. For cookies, whole wheat flour is healthiest yet it imparts a very strong taste to cookies that makes them, well, less than delicious. In my last recipe of Orange Blossom Water and Crystallized Ginger Cookies 
I used brown rice flour for its subtle nutty sweetness and health benefits. This kind of flour works well with heartier cookies like oatmeal, chocolate chip, espresso cookies, and so on. For chocolate-dough cookies I prefer to use organic unbleached all-purpose flour. This type should be your basic cookie flour unless otherwise specified for a specialized cookie. 

Sugar: There are so many sweeteners out there! Agave, maple syrup, Sucanat, stevia, crystallized sugar, powdered sugar; and, they all have their uses. Remember that baking is about science and balancing the equation of wet and dry ingredients. So, if you want to make a cookie with maple syrup as the sweetener, you'd have to balance that by adding more flour. If you want to make a crumbly cookie like shortbread, you'd use confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar) instead of regular sugar since regular sugar melts and turns into a binder in cookies. Say you make my Double Chocolate Snow Cookies and you are watching your cane sugar intake and want a healthier option. Lessen the amount of sugar the recipe calls for, add in more stevia, and replace the crystallized sugar with maple syrup, which has a lot of minerals and vitamins. Now that you have introduced more liquid into the mix, you will also need to add more dry ingredient to balance the equation. So, add some more flour or cocoa powder. It takes some experimenting to really know the ropes but that is ok. Enjoy, experiment, and soon you'll be able to create any combination of flavors and your own recipes just by understanding the chemistry behind baking. 

 Eggs: Like butter, eggs are a binder. If you have ever made meatloaf you know that it calls for eggs. In meatloaf, bread, and cookies, eggs are the glue that holds the product together. Eggs are comprised of two parts: the yolk and the white. The yolk is the fat and it makes cookies, brownies, cake, and bread denser, richer, and more moist. The whites are the protein and it makes desserts crunchier, crumbly, and fluffier. In most recipes, you need a balance of rich and fluffy, but, in some chocolate recipes it helps to add an extra egg yolk in for richness. If ever you have added too much flour to a recipe that has already called for eggs and you don't know what to do, you have two options to create a balanced product. You can add more eggs or more butter. Next time the flour bag tips over into you dough and you are crying on the floor, wondering what in heck you're going to do now that your cookies are ruined and your friends will be disappointed and will disown've got the knowledge to fix it up like it never happened! 

Salt: You're probably thinking yourself, "oh, yeah...........why IS salt in every cookie recipe???" You may have seen salt called for in every cookie recipe ever and you've always added it without thinking about it or you've completely ignored it. "Salt has no place in a cookie!!" you may be screaming at your computer screen now. I hate the be the bearer of bad news but....salt is a cookie's best of best friends. Think of a beautiful woman. Now think of her with knotted hair, eyebrows like Frida Kahlo , a T-shirt stained with last week's dinner. Now, we want to help accentuate this woman's beauty. Let's brush her hair, get her makeover, some clothes that show off her beautiful figure. That fashion stylist is salt. Well, at least in the case of cookies. Salt brings out the flavors of everything. It makes vanilla more vanilla. It brings out the chocolate-ness of chocolate. ALWAYS add salt to your desserts! A good, mineralized salt will bring out the flavors the best. I suggest Himalayan Pink Salt because it has the best flavor, has 83 minerals where regular table salt has 2, and has a slightly subtle sweetness that lends itself nicely to sweets. And, it isn't very expensive for what it's worth. 

Butter: This may be the best part of the cookie for some of you and for others, this may be the most difficult to work with. For all of you vegans out there, remember that butter is simply a saturated fat. Just replace it with another saturated fat! A saturated fat is a fat that remains solid at room temperature. The best option is Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil . It adds a light coconut flavor which you may or may not like but the other options are not very healthy and are usually hydrogenated vegetable oils. I use Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil in my cooking, baking, frying, and even on my skin and hair every day. It's a great investment and provides many healthy essential fatty acids, helps regulate your thyroid, balance hormones, and can help increase metabolism with prudent daily use. Anyhow, for all you butter-lovers, butter is the fat that adds richness to cookies and, like eggs, binds the product. Added too much butter? Add more flour/dry sugar for balance. A little short on butter for the recipe? Add an egg or an egg and a yolk to replace a couple tablespoons of butter. And remember, buy local if possible and ALWAYS buy organic! Organic produces a better product, creates better texture, better flavor, is healthier for you, for the environment, and for those you love. A great investment for a few extra bucks. 
Some baking tips:  
  • In a recipe, mix all the wet ingredients in one bowl and all the dry ingredients in another bowl. That means salt, flour, cocoa powder, dry sugar, baking powder, baking soda together. Eggs, soft butter, vanilla extract, milk, water, and liquid sweetener mixed well in another bowl. Once the ingredients are mixed well in their own bowls, slowly incorporate the mixture into one bowl using the folding method. This means to be gentle with mixing. DO NOT knead, beat, or otherwise be aggressive to the dough. Treat it like a baby, or a mine! Or a 3,000 year-old piece of China worth millions of dollars. "Why?" You may be asking. Well, by being aggressive, kneading, or over-mixing the dough, you are forming gluten from the wheat flour and your result will be bread, not a cookie. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold layers of the dry and wet mix on top of each other until it ends up well-incorporated. There is a picture of what the batter should look like below. 
  • Pre-heat the oven! Not with the baking sheet in the oven!
  • Do not place cookies straight on the metal baking sheet; always use parchment on top of the sheet not only because it helps prevent the cookies from sticking but also because it prevents the burnt-bottom & raw middle syndrome cookies often get. 
  • Taste the batter before shaping the dough
  • Keep cookies about 1 inch apart
  • Check the cookies 5 minutes earlier than the earliest bake time. Better to be diligent than to end up with rock-hard burnt cookies
  • Take cookies out of oven a tad before they are exactly ready. They will continue to cook a little once you take them out of the oven and taking them out early prevents over-cooking.
  • Freeze extra cookies in a freezer bag. They'll last for an entire year if well-kept!
  • When melting chocolate, NEVER EVER NEVER melt the chocolate in a pot or pan on the stove! I hate to tell you but this is murder. Just plain murder. It may not seem like it but that chocolate is now useless, overcooked, and not even your dog will want it. Instead, use a process called TEMPERING. Put an inch of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Place a large metal bowl on top of the pot so that the bowl's sides rest on top of the pot. The steam from the boil will heat the chocolate perfectly. Stay by the chocolate, mixing it gently with a rubber spatula. Keep moving the chocolate around to make sure it all melts and that the chocolate on the bottom does not overheat. When all chocolate is just melted, take the bowl off heat immediately. Chocolate should be smooth, thick, shiny, and not too hot. Congratulations, you just tempered chocolate!
 Onto the good stuff:

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies!

Double Chocolate Snow Cookies
 Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Recipe makes 40 cookies or around 3 dozen.
This is a rich, double-chocolate cookie topped with powdered sugar to look like snow. The cookie is great for children and adults and can be made chewy and fudgy or crunchier, depending on how long you choose to cook them. Cook for 20-23 minutes for a crunchier cookie and about 15 minutes for a chewy little darling. These keep well in the freezer for a year. 

  • 1 cup of organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 8 oz semi-sweet organic chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil, softened, not melted
  • 2 cups organic sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus one additional egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Stevia extract to taste if you prefer sweeter cookies (I added 1/2 tsp stevia extract to mine)
-Put 1 inch of water to a boil in a pot. 
-Place a large metal bowl over the pot and pour chocolate chips into bowl, stirring mixture constantly to melt all pieces of chocolate but being careful not to overcook the chocolate. 
-Mix together melted chocolate, softened butter or coconut oil, vanilla extract, stevia extract, the 2 eggs and one extra yolk in a bowl. 
-Mix together salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, and cocoa flour. 
-Gently fold wet mixture into dry until well-incorporated. 
-Roll dough into balls about the size of a gold ball, flatten, and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet in rows with cookies one inch apart. 
-Cookies will fill approximately 2 baking sheets. 
-Place cookies in the ore-heated oven and cook for 15 minutes for chewy cookies and 20-23 minutes for crunchier cookies
-Dust with powdered sugar in a sieve when cookies are still warm to create a snowy look! 
-See recipe below for optional mint filling for Double Chocolate Snow Mint Sandwich Cookies

Recipe for Mint Frosting Filling for Double Chocolate Snow Cookies (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or coconut oil, softened
  • 1 cup packed confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 tsp creme de menthe or mint oil/essence/extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
-Mix all ingredients well. 
-Taste and add a bit of milk/water if mix is too dry
-Spread a thick layer on cookies and sandwich them together

Easy recipe......awesomely delicious results. Enjoy the pictures!!

Flour Power

Local, organic eggs from free-range chickens!

The Dry Mix bowl

Step 1 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 2 of Tempering Chocolate

Step 3 of Tempering Chocolate.....almost all melted

The melted chocolate mixed with all the other wet ingredients

The dough!

Cookies before baking

Snowing the cookies

My beautiful babies!


Thin crunch on the outside, moist on the inside.....perfecto!

Double Chocolate Mint Snow Sandwich Cookies.....that's a mouthful!

A sea of cookies!!!!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies!

Hello all! I have been on a short hiatus from blogging lately but no need to fear and wonder how in the world you'll get enough vitamin C and natural anti-inflammatory compounds this autumn. "Why?" you ask yourself out loud (as your roommate shoots you weird looks from across the room, wondering if he should call the white coat men, after all, isn't talking to one's self one of the first signs of schizophrenia?). Now you can rest in peace at night knowing that even if you are a little (or a lot)'ve got a powerful immune system and happy body.

Today's Health Food: GINGER!!!!
"Ginger?" you may be thinking...."Well, I eat a lot of that!" Unfortunately, ginger snaps, gingerbread, ginger ale, and sadly that Chinese chicken swimming in high fructose corn syrup and a teensy bit of artificial ginger flavor are all very inadequate (albeit tasty) sources of high-quality ginger. "So, what's left?" you may ask. Well, lots of great stuff! Ginger and vegetable stir-fry, sliced ginger and local chicken casserole, ginger tea, ginger-lemongrass soup with cilantro, ginger and garlic broccoli, a delicious ginger yellow curry, ginger and butternut squash soup, and today's treat: Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies!

So, get that apron on, get to your local health food store to pick up the ingredients, get baking, and get ready to reap some serious therapeutic value here because ginger is no joke! Ginger has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat and prevent many ailments from an upset stomach and nausea to cancer, arthritis, and respiratory problems. How does this magical rhizome treat so many ailments? A large majority of these ailments like joint stiffness, swelling, arthritis, and cold extremities are all due to poor circulation. Ginger helps encourage good circulation, which gets blood, nutrients, antioxidants, and oxygen to the places that need healing and warmth. In the fall and winter, as it becomes colder, a lot of your body's energy will be focused inward to support the warmth of your torso. This means that your body will have poorer circulation than in the summer months when you feel all springy and limber. Want some warmth? Better joint motion? Increased flexibility? Try chopping fresh ginger and simmering it in some filtered water for 10 minutes in a pot with the lid on. Then add a little stevia and you've got a spicy, warm, tasty ginger tea! Ginger also helps to break up mucus, treats stuffy nose (try the tea!), aids digestion (have the tea before a meal or put some ginger for added flavor in your dinner!), helps suppress pain, and improves liver function. As an anti-inflammatory food, ginger treats pain, bruises, swelling, aches, and infection well. To celebrate, let's have some cookies, shall we?

This is an original recipe that uses butter. I eat butter only a couple times a year and one of those is on
Christmas. The butter I use is from a local dairy co-op called Happy Cow Creamery where the cows are pasture-raised meaning they live under the sun, eat grass, weeds, flowers, and hay in the winter. The cows are given space to move and play, are raised with love and respect, and are humanely treated. Besides the better treatment of animals, these kinds of farms are easier on the environment because the cows eat local grass instead of being shipped chemical-treated corn from Iowa like conventional dairy cattle. The feces of these cows are also worked back into the land to actually create fertile top-soil instead of diminishing it as conventional farms do. In addition still, this butter has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids--the "good" fats we need more of that are present in foods like flax seed, olive oil, hemp seed, and avocados--and are lower in omega-6 fatty acids which are more prevalent in foods like french fries, chips, fried chicken, and conventional meat and eggs. And, by buying this butter, I am helping to support responsible farming practices, local jobs, and the local economy. "What can this butter not do?" you may be asking yourself. Can it vacuum? Can it pay my taxes? Can it write my dissertation for me? I tried to get it to do all of these things and it stubbornly refused. But with the way science is going now, don't be surprised if it can soon learn to do the laundry, feed the dog, pick up the kids from school, AND still make the best dang cookies around! But until then, let's just stick with the cookies.....

Just to get you drooling, I'll show you a picture FIRST (it is a tactic I use to pull you into my cooking and to convince you to try this easy recipe so that when you try it and realize how heavenly these cookies are, you'll become an instant addict. It's a power thing.........).

Orange Blossom and Crystallized Ginger Cookies
-makes about 4 dozen medium-sized cookies or 6 dozen smaller snack cookies
-preset the oven on 320 degrees Fahrenheit

You know you want it!
  • 1 1/3 cup organic brown rice flour (this flour is healthier than wheat and creates a better texture for this cookie)
  • 1 1/3 cup organic unbleached pastry flour
  • 2 cups Sucanat sweetener (can be found at any health food store or Whole Foods)
  • Powdered stevia or stevia liquid to taste (add a little at a time, mix into the batter and taste....)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, Celtic sea salt, or Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 tsp organic and real vanilla extract or 1 1/2 tsp organic vanilla bean paste or powder
  • 2 cups organic and preferably local butter, softened --NOT melted!-- (check out your local health food store for best options)
  • 1/3 cup orange blossom water (easily found at Whole Foods, or in the "International Foods" section of your local grocery store. Can sometimes also be found in health food stores. If you cannot find this item, no worries, although it really makes these cookies amazing and I get an entire bottle for only $3
  • 2 cups of organic crystallized ginger, chopped into tiny pieces (measure BEFORE chopping)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves

-Preheat that oven (if you haven't already). 320 degrees Fahrenheit 
-Mix it all up! All of it!! Measure everything out and throw it into a big, ole bowl, roll up those sleeves, take off your watch, your rings, and get to mixin'! (The best part about this is that you get to lick your fingers when you're done!!) But really, there is a method to the madness. The subtle heat from your hands warms and softens the butter and the sugar, and thus helps incorporate all the ingredients...that is the baker's REAL secret....everything is done by hand!
-When done mixing, taste it. Everyone's palette is different. Do you like more orange blossom water? More sweetness? More vanilla?
-Line 2 large or 3-4 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper. The parchment can be found at any grocery store or health food store and is extremely important! The parchment prevents the metal cookie sheets from becoming too hot and burning the underside of the cookie before the cookie is actually done. The regrettable "Burnt-Bottom, Raw-Inside" syndrome. Sad.
-Shape the cookies into ping-pong sized balls for medium-sized cookies and flatten slightly on the tray. Keep cookies 1/2 an inch apart. OR shape the cookies into smaller sizes but note that if you do this, the cooking time will decrease some.
-Bake cookies at 320 for 30-45 minutes. You want them a light brown color and to be a little hard on the outside. After 30 minutes, take a cookie out, break it open and see if there is a darker brown inside. If so, it is not done yet....give it 5-10 more minutes. My batch took exactly 48 minutes to cook, so, just be attentive and check them every 7 minutes or so.
-When done, use a spatula to transfer them to plates and let cool.
-Eat as is or follow directions to make the glaze, below....

Local Honey Glaze:
  • 1/4 c local honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste, powder, or extract
  • 1 heaping Tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1/4 c local honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste, powder, or extract
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp organic confectioner's sugar
METHOD for both options:
-Mix all ingredients thoroughly
-Using a basting brush or offset spatula, glaze the tops of all cookies when warm or cool
-Let the glaze set 20 minutes

WARNING: These cookies are crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, cohesive yet crumbly and very, very addictive.

Enjoy the pictures below!!
On the ingredients list....some healthy flours

Orange Blossom water to add that interesting yet subtle taste to these cookies

The dark brown is an unprocessed and mineral-rich sugar called Sucanat

Local butter made from the milk of pasture-raised cows!



Baking in the oven

Glazing the cookies using local SC honey

Perfect taste and consistency. My mom swears it is one of the best cookies she has ever had.......and my mom has tried a LOT of cookies!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The "P" and the Pea: Eating the Rainbow and Vegetable Soup

The chlorophyll in the leaves have begun to oxidize and their hidden layers of carotenoids are beginning to appear as vibrant yellows and oranges. As the trees begin to pull their energy-- in the form of glucose-- inward to store for the winter, the leaves also begin to create the fiery reds and purples of anthocyanins. And when the trees' energy has all recoiled inward and into the roots under the warm and insulated ground, the leaves wither and die to become the forest's compost. The natural chemicals that cause the visual pigments are called polyphenols (or as I like to call them, The Big "P") and if you have been reading any article about green tea, wine, or dark chocolate lately, it is very likely you have seen this word splattered over every page, kicked around, but never really explained. So, here's the breakdown (.....try to contain your anticipation, I know this is exciting.....)

A polyphenol is a naturally-occurring chemical in plants that makes it a particular color, depending on the specific polyphenol. These chemicals can also influence the taste of the food but they also provide (drumroll pleease!):  ANTIOXIDANTS!!

That's right, I said it. The "A Word" that has been toted by food companies, abused by manufacturers, posted on every article about food and nutrition and smothered across every no-so-healthy processed food item with a tiny amount of vitamin E added (as a preservative) to convince consumers that this item is "healthy"! Just because a food has antioxidants 1) Does not mean those antioxidants are necessary viable or 2) In large enough quantities to be helpful or 3) Are good-quality antioxidants (think of the difference between an '86 Honda with a broken transmission and a brand-new convertible Hybrid at 60mpg....and let's be honest here folks, we ALL want that convertible Hybrid at 60mpg!).

Antioxidants do what they say they will: to Anti the Oxidant....or better yet, they prevent the oxidation of cells. Some examples of excessive cellular oxidation of cells are: premature aging and wrinkles, stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease, and many other terrible and usually completely preventable (if not treatable or curable) diseases.
Eating optimal amounts of high-quality antioxidants in whole-food form can help prevent oxidative stress on the body, which can help you:
  • Think clearer
  • Feel rested after less sleep
  • Breathe easier
  • Have more energy
  • Prevent illness
  • Become less stressed
  • Look more vibrant
  • Look younger
  • Improve skin, hair, and nails
  • Improve organ function
  • Detoxify the body
  • Lose weight
So, now that I have convinced you of my plan to reduce oxidative stress and feel better, stronger, and happier, here are some ways to get those antioxidants and polyphenols.

Think of the rainbow. Yes, that thing that through clever marketing will always remind you of the omnipresent candy: Skittles. Except, replace those tiny, artificially-colored, nutrient-devoid, genetically-modified high fructose corn syrup balls with fruits, vegetables, and grains. Like in a bag of Skittles (pretend like you eat the yellow and orange ones too) you eat every color of the rainbow. In any two-day span, try your best to also eat every color of the rainbow in whole, natural, organic foods. Every color of the rainbow, and sometimes even different hues, is caused by those things we talked about earlier: polyphenols. And different polyphenols make up different colors, which all have different antioxidative and therapeutic qualities. For example, the red/purple-red polyphenol quercetin helps inhibit cancer cell growth, combat gout and arthritis, protects the heart, and helps treat hives and asthma by blocking histamines.

Instead of following the tactics of segmentation and fractioning that Western medicine has proven to be ineffective in the realm of natural health, try seeing antioxidants in a broad, relative spectrum. For example, instead of hearing that Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect the heart and increase brain function and plopping your credit card on the counter of your local health food store or GNC to buy a 2-year supply of Omega-3 pills, try eating it in whole form, as nature intended. If you eat nutrients, minerals, and protective compound in whole form, you are gaining the synergy of that entire food. Most substances work more effectively as a whole food, working with the other compounds in that food to provide you maximum benefits, versus being chemically separated from a whole food and sold back to you in a less-potent and less-viable form. So, save your money and instead of loading up your cupboards with a pill bottle of vitamin B-complex, a pill bottle of melatonin, a pill bottle of anthocyanins, a pill bottle of zinc, and a pill bottle of alpha lipoic acid, eat all of these substances in your food! Then you are not simply supplementing your normal meals, you are actually changing your food choices to shift your entire paradigm of health in a positive way. Eating your nutrients and therapeutic compounds can help you in many, many more ways than simple and dangerous pill-popping of nutrients, chemicals, and minerals, which can create imbalances in the body, deficiencies, malabsorption, and even overdose in the case of minerals and even some vitamins (such as vitamin A and vitamin D, which is actually a hormone).

To obtain the maximum benefits possible from antioxidants and polyphenols, eat from every color of the rainbow in each 2-day span from as many in-season and local foods as possible. Since blueberries offer the polyphenol anthocyanin, cherries offer quercetin, and watermelon offers lutein and more lycopene (which help the heart and eyes) than tomatoes, in the summer when you can get many of these foods from farm stands, farms, U-pick places, the health food store, co-ops, and farmer's markets locally, eat a fruit salad that combines the power of all three foods and their health-promoting abilities. In the fall, eat buttnernut squash for its beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to Vitamin-A which helps keep skin glowing, keeps acne at bay, keeps hair and nails strong and shiny, helps promote good eyesight, fights free-radicals that cause oxidative damage, and reduce signs of sun damage and wrinkles) and remember one thing about this tricky orange-pigmented polyphenol: beta-carotene is fat soluble, meaning it can only be assimilated into the body in a fatty medium. So, eat your orange foods with a little fat: oranges and mandarins with a few almonds or pistachios, eat butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash with organic extra virgin olive oil (which offers a host of benefits including vitamin E and omega-3 fats), and eat carrots with a little olive oil-based salad dressing and so on.

Although the green color in foods is not caused by a polyphenol, it is extremely important as well. The green color in foods is due to chlorophyll. Chloroplasts (the tiny cells that lay atop one another to create stacks called chlorophyll) are the plant cells responsible for mixing light and carbon dioxide together in its cauldron to create the wonderful products (another drum roll, please): oxygen and glucose!!! Those products of photosynthesis we love so much which allow us to breathe and to eat plants for energy! Anyway, on the cellular level chlorophyll is extremely similar to human hemoglobin. Chlorophyll helps build hemoglobin in humans, which is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. So, chlorophyll is the oxygenator of the body. It brings oxygen to the cells, which helps them to live long, live optimally, to replicate healthily, and to use nutrients, minerals, and energy effectively. A good supply of oxygen also makes the muscles more flexible, heal better, helps create a feeling of peace and calm inside the body, helps promote clarity and mental alertness, and helps create energy and fight fatigue as well as enhancing mood. A similar experience is when athletes work out, they flood their body with oxygen at first (which also stimulates the secretion of endorphins), creating a runner's high. Mamma was right: eat those greens! Green foods also help detoxify the blood and organs of toxins, heavy metals, chemicals, bad fats, and more. Like OxyClean (only better-tasting, trust me!) greens oxygenate and clean. Mean and green, baby. Mean and green.

To celebrate, I have a soup to tempt you all with because I like to see you suffer after a long lecture of all sorts of crazy science-things that may or may not make any sense to you whatsoever. The soup:

Fall Farmer's Soup (try for ingredients as local as possible):

  • One big, 2-3 gallon soup pot filled 1/3 of the way with filtered water and some Himalayan pink-, French    clay-, or sun-dried Celtic sea-, salt.
  • 3 big ole carrots, cut into rounds or sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin
  • 1/2 head of celery cut into half-moons or celery root (also called celeriac) cut into dime-sized cubes
  • 5 fat cloves of garlic, sliced or crushed
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 cups freshly-shelled black-eyes peas, chick peas, fava beans, green peas, or other pea
OR if freshly shelled peas are not available, substitute with 6 cups lentils, already-cooked beans, or peas

OR 6 cups quinoa or local seed such as buckwheat if possible.
  •  2 bay leaves
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves or 4 medium fresh sage leaves chopped
  • 1 small bunch of parsley, chopped fine
-Bring water to a boil with herbs (except the fresh parsley), salt, spices, and bay leaf.
-When boiling, add the quinoa, buckwheat, fresh peas, or lentils and turn heat down to medium-high
-When bean/pea/seed (like buckwheat and quinoa) are half-done (bite one to check for stiffness), add the orange food (carrot, pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato) and the celery, onion, garlic, and whatever extra fall vegetables you'd like to add such as torn kale, beets, or rutabaga.
-Cook on medium heat (not boiling, just at a low simmer) until all the vegetables are 4/5 of the way done (they will continue to cook in the hot soup so turn the heat off now to prevent over-cooking).
-Turn off heat!
-Stir in 3 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to help absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin K and beta-carotene
-Taste for saltiness and add more salt and/or spice if necessary.
-Add chopped parsley into pot, give a good stir, and let all flavors meld for about 10 minutes then get out that bowl, your favorite soup spoon and sit on the couch to a great book or movie and warm yourself in the beautiful health soup you made! Check out the pictures below....

Fall peas for shelling....also known to some as meditation and to most: lots of work

Fresh peas from a drier and easier-to-shell pod. These peas, when dried will turn brown and hard and can keep for the winter just like the dried beans you see in bins or bags at the store or market.

Into the soup you go: walk the pod to your doom!

About 1/2 way through the cooking process

The final stage. With a generous grind of fresh pepper on top to help facilitate nutrient absorption of course!