Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chocolate Chip & Walnut Cookies

Sorry the posting has been non-existent lately! Crazy times with the launch of The Ice Princess (check me out in the New York Times talking about Camilla Läckberg) and lots and lots of wedding-related balls to juggle. And since it is too hot for soup, my usual comfort food when there is too much going on, I have had to turn to something else: cookies!

I know, I know, I've said over and over again throughout this blog that I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but lately I've been craving cookies like nothing else. Perhaps it has been because I've really made an effort to amp up my training for this triathlon and the marathon I've signed up for. Plus, it has been good for me to take a second and slow down and bake for a bit, getting in my miles or publicity follow-up be damned.

My favorite cookie to make recently has been the chocolate chip and walnut cookies my Po-po makes. It is a bit of an odd thing for a Chinese grandma to bake such "Americana" cookies so well, but there is a funny back-story to this recipe. My mom was in high school in Puerto Rico (after the family had left China via the Philippines and were now splitting their time between Michigan and San Juan, where the new Parke-Davis facility had opened) and her friend gave her these delicious cookies. She loved them so much that she brought some home to share and Po-po loved them so much that she insisted that my mom go back and finagle the recipe out of her friend. She succeeded, and to this day Po-po still makes these cookies to the letter of the original recipe! When she showed it to me, it was THE original recipe my mom wrote down in pencil on the notebook paper more than forty years ago.

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups Gold Medal flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 6 oz. packages of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat the over to 375 degrees.
Thoroughly mix the shortening, butter, egg, sugars, and vanilla.
Blend in remaining ingredients (for a softer, rounder cookie, add 1/2 cup extra flour)
Drop dough by rounded teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart onto UNgreased baking sheet
Bake 8-18 minutes or until light brown
Cool slightly before removing from baking sheet

Makes about 7 dozen cookies, so go to town!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Consider the bean. It's magical fruit.

And I don't just mean with regards to the sophomoric little rhyme, heh. Beans are magically delicious and nutritious and one of my favorite foods, especially in the summer, as they don't require as much cooking (if at all) and therefore relieve me from having to turn on the stove when it is already a billion degrees in my apartment. You see, beans in any form (canned, dried, frozen, or fresh) provide tons of health benefits and can be integrated into every meal or even made the center protein of your meal.

I already know that without hummus I would starve to death (see here for an avocado hummus recipe that's a personal favorite). I wolf through bags of baby carrots and celery so long as I have some fresh hummus, which, as you should already know, is made from chick peas, which are a delicious addition to salads and an integral part of any bean salad. I rinse canned kidney beans and add them to any red pasta sauce I am making, and a great chilly treat that can serve as the bulk of a meal is bean salad, which is easy to make in large batches and keeps for quite a while. I like to make it as follows:

One can each of chick peas, kidney beans, black beans. Rinse.

Slice up at least two stalks of celery (I am a big celery fan, so I might even do 3 stalks), and dice up half a red onion. Set aside.

This is lazy, but it's still good: Trader Joe's Frozen sweet white corn. Pour half a bag into a colander and rinse under hot water until defrosted and essentially cooked, and then blast with a cold shot of water (blanching for the lazy).

Tear up cilantro to taste.

Put beans, celery, onions, and corn into a big bowl and mix in some olive oil, red wine vinegar, cracked sea salt, and the cilantro. Set in fridge to chill for a bit and you're done!

I also love refried beans. Eat that with some of the guac and you'll have some nice Mexicali flavor goin' on. You could make your own vegitarian quesadillas with this quite easily (I like tomatoes, grilled onions and sweet peppers) or you could just be a freak and eat it straight out of the bowl with some chips.

I've known a few folks who make their refried beans in a pressure cooker, but I don't have one so I have to do it the old fashioned way. It takes a while but totally worth it. Plus, you can make a big batch and it doesn't require a lot of active cooking time, so go do your laundry or read a book.


  • 2 1/2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 1 lb or 450gm) NOT canned
  • 3 quarts of water
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (use the rest of that onion from the bean salad!)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • Cheddar cheese (optional)
Rinse the beans thoroughly.

Put beans into a pot and cover beans with at least 3 inches of water - about 3 quarts for 2 1/2 cups of dry beans. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. The cooking time will vary a bit from pot to pot. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open.

Strain the beans.

Now, cook your onions in a frying pan with your olive oil until clear. Add the cooked beans to the pan along with about 1/4 cup of water. Careful now. Take a potato masher and mash the beans while still in the frying pan, along with all the onions, until it is a rough puree. Add more water if you need. Add a bit of salt to taste as you mash. Once it is to your preferred consistency, you're ready to go! Some people like to melt a bit of cheddar cheese on top along with some scallions, as seen in the photo above.

Learn more about the health benefits of beans here. It really does everything from build muscle to lower cholesterol. It is no wonder that "red beans and rice" is the traditional "peasant diet." It gives you everything the body needs! Plus, they are cheap as all hell...take the money you saved and buy a pressure cooker. Then, it will take you half the time to cook those pinto beans...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

B is for Beer

I miss Princeton. It is not as if I sit at home alone, in the dark, gazing wistfully through old photos and sighing softly to myself as I reminisce on those blissful four years, now already four years gone. And yet, after reunions this year, I realize that there is always been a bit of a dull ache and reminder of my time there, and it isn't just the scars on my bum leg from getting run over in that damn crosswalk all those years ago.

What is it exactly that I miss so much? I am not unhappy in my career nor have I failed to find fulfillment in "the real world." In fact, I am happier at this moment deep down in my core than I ever thought I could be. Yet I think that, for me, Princeton (aka college in general), represents a time when literally anything was possible. I dodged death, if not a car, met people who were truly capable of changing the world, was at the peak of my physical prowress both in and out of the pool, and had the fantastic opportunity to learn for the sake of learning, from some of the most amazing minds of our time at that. I hold to this day that my thesis adviser is The Most Brilliant Woman Alive, and I still recall certain lectures and discussions and instances of profound intellectual fulfillment the minute my mind begins to wander.

So what's the point of it all, gastronomically speaking? Upon heavy reflection, the one single taste that embodies my college experience That's right. Beer. Cheap beer. Bud Light Beast. Natty Light. Milwaukee's Best. You name it, I drank it religiously and without a second thought for four years and then some. The minute I left Princeton? HELL no. But the minute I set foot back on campus? Girl, it never tasted so good.

You would think that my gastronomical memory would be mooched late night pizza or a heart-stop from Hoagie Haven, or even my most beloved cheesy-eggs from my eating club, Cloister. Nope. It is beer all the way, much as it ever was.

You see, it was the incomparable (for better or worse) taste of beer that was there when I had my first love and my first heartbreak. It was there during my first real hangover and the day that I showed up at swim practice still wearing my Halloween costume (as a leprechaun, if you must know). Beer was in the background when I turned in my thesis, when I met the friends I would have for life, when we won conference championships, and when we lost them, too. There was always a six-pack or two during late night movies or spring-time bands, and when the "Old Guard" marches each year during the "P-Rade," some of whom are back for their 70th reunion, they clutch an ice-cold brew in their hand, a brew no doubt handed to them by someone young enough to be their great-grandchild. And that can was pulled from a class beer jacket. It may be sentimental, but that is what beer means for me.

It doesn't taste very good, and lord knows there is no nutritional value, but in its own nasty, smelly, calorie-riddled way, it sure does a body good.