Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lemon Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

It wasn't until this batch of cookies was riding with me on the subway to work did I realize that I hadn't taken any pictures to showcase the final product of my Sunday afternoon baking. I figured that asking around the cubicles for a camera in order to take a photo of the tupperware container might have seemed a little crazy, so I wasn't able to capture any photographic proof of these Lemon Chocolate Chip Cookies. By the end of the day, there was not even a single cookie remaining, which could have been taken home and then later, eaten happily by me.

That's the kind of reaction I like out of my cookies, though; and not to brag, but the foot traffic through my work area was pretty heavy the other day, as was the praise following the first bite of these cookies. Actually, I should just credit the recipe, which I found and adapted slightly from Mrs. Fields and her vast wisdom of cookie-dom. The most surprising thing, I was told by my co-workers, was the hint of spice in these otherwise straightforward cookies: the cumin mixes well with the tartness of the lemon and the sweetness of the chocolate, making for a unique and delicious taste. Soft-baked and small, it's possible to eat a whole cookie in one bite, allowing all of the flavors to work together.

I was quite happy to bring the joy of Mrs. Fields into the office, considering what pleasure it gave me to bake these cookies over the weekend. As is the case, I'm sure, for so many around the city and the country, a good part of my Sunday routine has been given over to cooking; I make a large batch of my meals for the week and divide it into day-by-day portions; I peel and chop vegetables and wash fruit so that I'll have something to snack on; and, inevitably, I bake some sort of dessert that I will later share amongst my co-workers or my friends (however the week turns out).

Maybe this seems overly domestic, maybe it sounds positively dull, but for me, nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating, and nothing begins my week as solidly, than a kitchen full of fresh, fragrant food. And the memory of having a table top covered with cooling cookies, the scent of lemon rising with the heat, is most definitely helping me get through this week.

Lemon Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) salted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F.
1. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, and cumin; set aside.
2. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed.
3. Add eggs and lemon extract, and beat well. Blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Drop dough by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 14 - 15 minutes. Do not allow tops to brown. Immediately move cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

WTF at our advertising

When I was a junior in college I took a Communications class with a professor named Robin Andersen.

There are certain teachers who one will have the pleasure of encountering over the course of a lifetime, whether it’s the third grade teacher with long brown hair and a taste for gold pins attached to her lapel, or the woman whose lecture you sincerely anticipated, despite the start time of 10:00 a.m. Dr. Andersen was this latter professor, who never could recall my name, even though I had taken a total of three of her classes over two years, who once asked a student in the front row for a pen because she couldn’t find hers in her bag.

Her classes on media studies truly gave my eager undergrad eyes a perspective upon the world that I hadn’t thought of before—and what student does not wish for this precise thing in a professor?

Before this one specific class called “History and the Culture of Advertising,” I had looked upon billboards and magazine ads with a fleeting shrug. But when I was able to take a more thorough examination of what we are subjected to each and every day, and its subconscious ramifications, I feel as though my perspective of our American culture and everything that comes along with it did shift.

When I was in Ireland, I saw the billboard posted here. Now, this may not look like anything major, but when I saw it, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, that I did the clichéd “stop and gawk with a wide eyed-expression look.” Now, why?

Because I would never, ever have seen this billboard in America. I don’t know much about advertising in Europe, but I feel confident that I do know advertising in this country.

In the U.S., this woman would be a “plus-sized” model. But in Ireland, this woman, whom I would venture to say is perfectly normal-sized, is a spokesperson for a diet regiment.

And then there's the ad of the diet plan, in the U.S., posted below.

Now, I really don’t want to get overly political, or talk about any specific interest group (cough, young American women who develop eating disorders and who are constantly being shown images in magazines, t.v shows, and commercials of skinny 96 pound women with the cursory tagline of how desirable they are and with instructions on how to become just like them.)

I really don’t want to.

But when I saw this billboard, I immediately saw how a woman of her—what? Curviness? Size? Proportions?— would not have gotten her picture up there if she were living over here (New York? Forget about it).

Also, I just love this guy staring hungrily at the stick woman in her apartment...because, unless we're all on The Special K Diet, where is our allure, really?

I do know that the notion of my food blog and this particular post paired together are quite amusing. It's been in the back of my mind as I've written this whole post. But the more important thing on my mind is the question of why the f*ck the second ad is even shown here, even in existence, something that that is being broadcast to women as something to aspire to, and why the Irish ad is not shown here, the one that makes my head hurt so much less than the American one.

Sadly, I know the answer is not simple, and it's something that one girl in Brooklyn will not be able to answer or to change the circumstances of, though she might desperately want to.

Maybe I should have just written an email to, but I'm riding on the hope that this is an appropriate vehicle of outrage, as well.

If not, please do let me know.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Delicious Ireland

I have discovered that arriving at JFK airport is something similar to having physical torture inflicted upon you; I could easily get more graphic, concerning long customs lines and aggravating people who decide to drop their 14-pound Louis Vuitton carry on onto ones (admittedly stupidly) sandaled foot, but since this blog is about food and eating, I think that it would be best not to. Anyway, I came into the airport late last night, after a severely delayed flight, with the fatigue that I imagine many travelers have felt before me, and many more will encounter in the future. Despite the long, long journey from the airport to my home, when I unlocked my door, and finally felt as though I could take a deep breath of air, I was overcome with joy. Joy that I had just spent the week in Dublin, joy that I was again in my apartment, joy that my cat wrapped herself around my legs and purred at an unprecedented decibel. And, clearly, joy that my belly had very recently been full of wondrously delicious Irish food.

Along my trip, as I walked from my hostel to the various castles and libraries and churches, I glanced at innumerable sidewalk signs with various food specials scrawled in chalk, and I became very aware that Dublin is no longer a city that cannot boast a rich culinary experience. It had been my naïve understanding that this was the case, and I only wish that I had had the means to more thoroughly dispel the notion. Even still, the food I ate on my vacation was positively incredible. I’m not sure where to begin; whether I should start with the steak and kidney pie, or the biscuits, or the cheeses.

Before this week, I had never experienced fresh cheese like the Irish can offer. While I was there, I found the most wonderful shop whose door displayed a sign saying that “the revolution will not be pasteurized.” I am not as witty as that author, and I have not been able to come up with a slogan as perfectly applicable. Maybe I’m awaiting some massive stomachache, but I really don’t believe so; I also believe that unpasturized cheese—the sharp cheddar I ate, specifically—is unlike anything I’ve tried on my side of the ocean before. The flavor was blunt and unapologetic, and even as it shocked my taste buds, I ate it gratefully. And the creaminess was another aspect in itself; maybe that was how cheese was meant to be tasted, as raw and authentic as though it just came from the cow. Later, for dinner, I had a plate of fresh cheese on brown bread with salad and fries (chips, of course) which was just as tasty.

Although I tried to be a thrifty traveler, one splurge was the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel I had for lunch at the end of my trip. The cream cheese was of the average variety, but the smoked salmon – well, I couldn’t have predicted something so flavorful. I hate to be redundant by stating how creamy this was, but that has been the most apt adjective I’ve been able to come up with. And unlike cheese, which one might expect to be creamy, I know that I was not anticipating the same for my smoked salmon. But it was, with such a velvety texture that I had to pause. This was simply not akin to the smoked salmon I’ve had in America.

Another treat that I experienced was of the sweet variety (of course, I could not leave the country without trying its pastries). A bakery near my hostel displayed for me, each morning as I walked by, a baking sheet of biscuit topped with chocolate. Now, this is a simple enough dessert, and perhaps the only reason that I bought a total of five of them throughout my stay was its transoceanic quality. If that’s the case, I’m totally fine with it. But its simplicity truly made it stand out to me, and I’m just happy to have eaten such a crumbly and chocolately dessert – much like the cheese I ate, there was nothing over the top about it, and I found myself enjoying it all the more for it. With raisins, it’s called a 'Tiffin' slice.

As I had mentioned before, Ireland is a country that is quickly growing in its culinary prowess. Though there are many, many things that I can now recommend to the Dublin traveler, I’m happy to state that the food ranks quite high on this list. I would even say that you really ought to try the steak and kidney pie, if only the one time – just because you’re in Ireland.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Early Summer Fun: Double Chocolate Cupcakes

This Saturday was a strange and lovely day for me; it began, as most days do, with a plan and the expectation that nothing unexpected would really occur. Much later, at around 7:00, the day had progressed to find me riding my newly acquired used bike through Prospect Park, past the lake, with the wind blowing through my hair and the sun preparing to set, and – I kid you not – a tin of homemade chocolate cupcakes sitting in the front wicker basket of the bike, ready for a friend’s impromptu get together.

As this perfect, serene lake-side moment unfolded, I paused and wondered what city and what time I had possibly found myself in, and how I had wound up there. Although I could go on for pages about the past two days, I’ll refrain; but everything that this weekend has surprised me with has also filled me with the kind of summer excitement that I haven’t felt since I was in school (way before college, of course), when the arrival of June brought the promise of such opportunity: for fun, for adventure, for the unpredictable.

Keeping with this accidental theme of youthful excitement, onto the cupcakes: I had extra buttermilk from the Irish soda bread I recently made, and this was a recipe from Cooking Light that I had wanted to try, but never wanted to go out and specially buy buttermilk for. When my friend invited me over, I gazed into my refrigerator, contemplating what to bring, and my eyes fell on the carton of buttermilk that I had been trying to forget about all week. How serendipitous! And these cupcakes are truly delicious: they’re airy and cakey (as opposed to thick and fudgey), and not very sweet. Because there’s not an obscene amount of sugar in the recipe, and because the chocolate used is so dark, they have a richer chocolate taste than the typical cupcake, which I believe gives them a more sophisticated flavor.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup 1% low-fat buttermilk
1 1/4 ounces dark (70 percent cocoa) chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk.
Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined (about 3 minutes). Add egg substitute and vanilla, beating well. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to granulated sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fold in chocolate. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups lined with muffin cup liners. Bake at 350° for 18 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving.