Wednesday, August 23, 2006

All Natural Graham Crackers

I love Graham crackers, especially when they are under a luscious New York style cheese cake or topped with chocolate chips and coconut. I recently wanted to buy a box to have on hand should I get the urge to make one of these treats, when I discovered on the side of a box of Honey Maids, right there in the list of ingredients, the evil, silent killer: partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Sure, the Trans Fats content is "0g" under the Nutrition Facts, but that just means it contains less than one half of a gram per serving. That means these graham crackers could contain up to .49 grams of trans fat per serving and still say it contains 0 grams on the nutrition label. What if I decide to have two servings? Honestly, a few crackers in the crust of a cheese cake are probably should not be a health concern considering what's sitting on top of it, but none-the-less, I have principles and I choose not to eat hydrogenated oils partially hydrogenated or not. I left the store Graham-less.

Last night, Lou mentioned he had a craving for Chippy Dippy bars. A simple, quick and easy recipe of chocolate chips and sweetened coconut sprinkled over graham crackers laid out on a backing sheet with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over it, then baked at 350 degrees until slightly browned and gooey. I reminded him I had not purchased the graham crackers as planned. He reminded me I had decided to make the crackers due to my obsession with eating all natural fats. And so I took on the challenge.

The internet is an amazing thing. In the course of an hour, I can research what the heck Graham is, find a recipe for Graham crackers and figure out how to adjust it for the ingredients I have on hand. It turns out these crackers I've refused to buy due to their ingredients were once considered a health food. They also didn't use to contain so much sugar. Back in 1830, Graham, for whom the cracker and the flour was named, was well ahead of his time, preaching (literally-he was Reverand Sylvester Graham) against refined flour.

Interestingly enough, the recipe I found had not a drop of Graham flour in it. It called for a mixture of all-purpose, whole wheat, and rye. Graham flour is a type of whole grain flour containing all of the bran and germ of the wheat. As a nod to Graham's good intentions toward healthy eating (although he sounded pretty nutty) I decided to use all whole wheat flour in place of the three flours called for. More specifically, I used white whole wheat flour, knowing that it could replace the all-purpose flour and easily replace a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat.

Graham Crackers
2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon molasses (I used black strap)
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor or electric stand mixer, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the cold butter and process or mix until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the honey, molasses, water, and vanilla. Mix until the dough comes together in a ball.

Between 2 sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap, roll the dough 1/2-inch thick. Chill for 1 hour, until firm. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Dust the dough with flour and roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch squares. Arrange the crackers on parchment lined cookie sheets. With a toothpick, prick several holes in each cracker. Bake for 15 minutes, or until browned.

Based on "Homemade Graham Crackers Recipe" on

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mashed Potato Maker?

Now I've seen everything. Westinghouse seems to think that there's a need for an appliance whose sole purpose is to steam and then mash vegetables. Or, perhaps they found there really isn't a need because it's being sold for $19.99 on Smart Bargains. No wonder.

If you'd like to make fantastic mashed potatoes, don't bother buying fancy mixers or mashers. Just buy a basic hand masher, like this one at Sur La Table.

Choose good quality potatoes. I like Newman's Own Organic. Both the Russet and the Red potatoes have excellent flavor and texture when mashed. After peeling the potatoes, cut them into equal sized cubes or slices so they cook evenly and at the same rate. Then cover them with cold water in a saucepan. Salt generously with kosher salt. One teapsoon for every two potatoes should be a good ratio. We usually make 4 potatoes and use 2 teaspoons kosher salt. You can add more if needed during the mashing process.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain well and return to pot. Place on very low heat with lid off and allow excess moisture to evaporate while mashing by hand. Add as little or as much butter as you like. We use a little extra butter for special occasions, but normally use just a couple of pats on a weeknight. Just make sure you're using REAL butter. After the butter is incorporated, add milk as needed and mix in until the potato mixture is fluffy and lump-free, that is unless you like nurdles, as they are called in our house. Salt to taste and add freshly ground white pepper as desired. Most importantly, and because it seems everyone is particular about how they like their mashers, practice this recipe a few times so you can tweak it and make them just as you like them. You'll find you can easily make your favorite mashed potatoes without any fancy contraptions.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

White Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Much of the whole wheat flour we buy in the store and which is used in making the whole grain breads we buy is made from red wheat. The red refers to the color of their kernel, which is reddish brown, coated with phenolic compounds. In the past year, I have been experimenting with a new find-white whole wheat flour. White is not alluding to a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, but acutally is referring to the white wheat from which it is ground. White wheat has a lower phenolic content than red wheat resulting in a kernel that is a light tan color and a flour that has a "Lighter Color, Milder Flavor" according to my bag of King Arthur. Bob's Red Mill sells it under the label of "Whole Wheat Pastry Flour".

My first experiment was to replace the half red whole wheat flour, half all-purpose flour mixture I usually used in my banana bread recipe with the white whole wheat flour. When the bread came out moist and with a mild wheat flavor that didn't mask the banana, I decided to try the white whole wheat flour in something sweeter- Chocolate chip cookies. I had attempted making whole wheat chocolate chip cookies before but the whole wheat flour I used always overpowered the vanilla flavored dough I loved and so I always came back to making my mom's recipe with good quality unbleached all-purpose flour.

So why not just use all-purspose flour? Unlike all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour contains the entire or "whole" berry and therefore retains the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals not to mention the fiber of the bran. As a general rule, less processing means greater retention of nutrients.

Mom's recipe had to be tweaked slightly by adding extra vanilla to compensate for the stronger wheat flavor, but other than that, the chewy cookies worked just fine with my change in flour. It has been suggested they are actually more satisfying than the cookies made with all-purpose flour since they are somewhat heartier and seemingly more filling.

However delicious they seemed to us, I wondered if we had developed a taste for them and if the whole wheat version of our chocolate chip cookies would be liked by sweet-toothed kids- the target market for America's favorite cookies. The kid test was passed this past week when I made them for Lou's nephews. The choosey eaters gobbled them down without any thought as to what type of flour might have been used. Here's the recipe, so you can try them for yourself. A stand mixer makes the process much easier.

White Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
based on Mom's recipe

3/4 cup unsalted butter softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (more or less as desired)
3/4 cup broken walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric stand mixer using the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a hand beater. Add eggs and vanilla, mix to combine. While mixer is turned off, add the flour, soda, and salt. Mix or stir to combine thoroughly. (If you're doing this by hand, it will be a great workout-this dough is stiff) Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts by hand. Scoop by tablespoons onto a parchment covered or prepared baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes or until cookies no longer feel raw to the touch. Do not brown or overbake. Cool (if you can) and enjoy!