Sunday, January 27, 2008

Only Losers Eat Carbs: Or Why I was Throwing Things at the TV Last Night

So, there we were, Rose and I, sitting on our couches, playing cards, enjoying a geriatric-friendly Saturday night after an overly filling meal of our favorite Mexican restaurant on Landsdowne, Mi Piquena Hacienda. We flipped channels looking for something to watch on television. I suggested Miss America, and it was all downhill from there.

Did anyone else catch Miss America last night?

Was anyone else severely offended at the frequent jokes and comments made about how as soon as the contestants "lost" they could "go eat some carbs"?

Is anyone else thinking that, if the Miss America organization really wants to get with the times, they'll drop the pageant all together and base "Miss America" on a combination of service to others, humility, and progressive feminist ideals? Isn't it time that Miss America looks more like the rest of the 18-25 year olds out there? Anyone else think that this generation's "it" girl shouldn't try to fit into a Hollywood mold?

And why don't we have a Mr. America pageant that parades men around in boxer shorts in front of a live television audience, makes them sing, dance, and twirl batons, and forces them to find the "right" outfits for months, and years, leading up to the pageant?

I'm still so angry about the whole deal that I don't know I can (a) finish the paper I'm working on that's due tomorrow or (b) even put a recipe up here. Just for all the carb bashing, here's my favorite, and most fattening, and most fulfilling, thing that I make: fettuccine alfredo with peas.

For the pasta, for one serving:
2 oz fettuccine
salt/pepper to taste
1/4 cup frozen peas (slightly thawed out, not cooked)

For the sauce, for one serving:
1/4 cup heavy cream (NO substitutions, thank you)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
good shower of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Here is where a lot of y'all out there mess up with the pasta cooking, so pay close attention. As soon as the water is at a rolling boil, toss in a small handful of salt. Then, put the pasta in the pot of salted, still boiling water. Do not reduce the heat. Leave it at a boil. Set your kitchen timer to 8 minutes. Stir the pasta occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick. At 8 minutes, take out a piece of pasta, cool it off, and taste it. If it's not completely cooked through (i.e. it is crunchy), give your pasta another 2 minutes (by kitchen timer). Then recheck. As soon as the pasta is done, take it off the heat, and drain it. Do not set your pasta to cook, then walk away. Don't cook it for 15 minutes. Don't reduce the heat and leave it alone while you go take a shower. 8-10 minutes, al dente, perfection.

While your pasta is coming to al dente goodness, start on the sauce. In a small saucepan, place the heavy cream and butter together over medium-low heat (important step too, don't want to overcook or cook too quickly). As soon as the butter has melted, add in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir together, leaving over medium-low heat until it starts to thicken up (you'll need to stir it quite a bit during the process). Toss in the parmesan cheese after the sauce has cooked for about 7 minutes, and stir well. Do not let the sauce boil, just let it come to a simmer. With my stovetop, over electric, I start the sauce as I put the water on to boil, and by the time my pasta is ready, so is my sauce. At Dave's house, over gas heat, I start the sauce right before I put the pasta in to cook. It'll take a little while to figure out which method will work best for your kitchen.

Right after draining the pasta, toss in the slightly thawed peas. The heat of the pasta will cook the little green gems right through. Then, pour the alfredo sauce over the pasta and peas. Stir together, and top with salt, pepper, and a good shower of parmesan.

Devour without saying "I shouldn't eat this" or "heavy cream is so bad for you!" or "guess I can run 10 extra minutes tomorrow at the gym to make up for it" or "there goes the diet." Enjoy eating it - because you are a winner - and in honor of all those girls out there who are not eating carbs because Miss America tells them they shouldn't.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My Most Requested Recipe: Party Cookies

Yep. I should be summarizing the legacy of Radway in terms of media feminist scholarship since 1984. I also should be writing down some of the thoughts I've had over the weekend about audience analysis, content analysis, and if the two will have a "happy marriage" in my dissertation (really funny for those of you who know my topic, huh). But, I'd honestly rather blog. One can only procrastinate on Facebook for so long, until another form of distraction becomes necessary. After a weekend of stress, Scrabble, thinking, and more stress, I'll for once and for all publish my hands down most requested recipe: party cookies.

I don't know the exact origins of this recipe, but I will tell you where I got it. When I was in the 7th grade, I went to help my mom on a teacher's workday in December. She was teaching K-2nd graders at Owens, where I (and she, and my dad, and my brother, and everyone else related to me) went to school. I expected to help her and my old favorite teachers if they needed me - Mrs. Abernathy, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Green - but instead, I was assigned to the library under Mrs. Caudle's supervision for a school-wide, all-important task. I had to type, format, and copy the faculty Christmas cookbook. (Yes. Christmas. I think they even had a Christmas tree up in the hall. This is pre-war-on-Christmas times, people.)

That year, the faculty all brought in their favorite Christmas recipe to share along with a sample to taste for their final faculty meeting. Since they had free labor the next day, someone decided it was a great idea to combine all the recipes into one handy book. The perpetual teacher's pet, I was up for the challenge.

The book became a family favorite of mine, as it had some of the classics I still make today, like Mexican Pinwheels, Puppy Chow (aka Christmas Crack according to the Finch's), and party cookies. Party cookies came from my first grade teacher, Mrs. Jayne South. They were everyone's favorite at the faculty meeting, and they became one of my all-time favorites as well. I started making them on special occasions, and they became a staple at tailgates once I got to Auburn. They are buttery, creamy, goodness. They are versatile, as the frosting can be dyed with food coloring, making them a festive addition for baby showers, wedding showers, St. Patrick's Day parties, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Independence Day, Easter... need I go on? Every time I make them, someone wants the recipe. So, in honor of Mrs. South, the best first grade teacher of all time, and the teachers from Owens Elementary School, I present to you:

Party Cookies
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, divided
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped pecans, optional

Buttercream Frosting
1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
1 lb. bag of powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
milk, if needed, for consistency

In small bowl, combine flour and salt, set aside. In large bowl, combine sugar and butter until well incorporated. Add in vanilla, and 2 egg yolks (one egg yolk at a time). Save the egg whites for a later use. Gradually add in flour/salt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Then, preheat oven to 350. Roll dough in small, nickel sized balls. Dip balls into lightly beaten egg whites, then into pecans (if using). Place on nonstick cookie sheet. Press thumb in the middle of the cookies to make an indentation for the frosting. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:
Place butter in medium-sized bowl. Add in about 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix with hand mixer until combined. Add in powdered sugar, no more than a 1-lb bag, until the mixture takes on a frosting-like consistency (or tastes sweet enough for you). If the frosting becomes too thick, add milk, 1 tsp at a time, to thin it out. If it becomes too sugary, add more butter. Add food coloring, if desired, after frosting is finished.

If you haven't been around the T.A. office long enough, or you don't even know me so I haven't made these for you, then try them. They are a simple, easy cookie that you will make all the time. This is one of the few cookies for which the finished product is better than the dough. Yes. I eat cookie dough, brownie dough, cake dough, cheesecake dough... what's the fun in baking if you don't eat the dough?! I have since I was old enough to get a spoon out of the drawer and stick it in the mix by myself. And until I get salmonella, I will continue to do so, thank you very much. Did I mention I have a stubborn streak? Anyway. I do love these cookies, and they are worth the effort. They do take a bit more time than some of my other recipes, with the mixing, chilling, rolling, coating, frosting and all, but wow are they worth it. If you don't screw them up, and don't eat all the dough yourself, I can guarantee they will be a hit at your next potluck, or faculty meeting.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

On Weight Loss, and Nutella Chocoloate Chip Cookies

2005 was an amazing year. It was the culmination of my "fun times" in Auburn, of which I could tell you many a fun story, but will today suffice to disclose that in addition to the many great memories, friendships and pictures that should probably be destroyed, I was also carrying around an 15 extra pounds that came from out of nowhere. Who knew that gorging on tailgate junk food and beer every single weekend would make one gain weight even if said person "walked" for exercise every day?

So, my 2006 new year's resolution was to keep up with every single morsel of food that entered my mouth in an effort to lose the weight. The written version of the food journal lasted for a breakfast and lunch one day; I quickly searched the web for an easier way to make my healthy resolution happen. I stumbled upon My Food Diary, a fantastic online resource with an army of nutrition information, experts, and advice for losing weight, along with a food diary and exercise diary that keeps you on track. (It's $9/month and money well spent; Anne tells me the FDA has a similar one online for free that works just as well.) Anyway, MFD tells you how many calories you need to eat in a day to lose weight. My adventure on MFD resulted in positives and negatives. In short, I lost the 15 pounds, kept them off, and am healthier and in better shape than I've ever been in my life. But, one big negative - I became, and still am, obsessed with counting calories. It's a switch in my brain I have not yet been able to turn off, resulting in yet another way I can be hard on myself, something my evil little brain loves to do to me. This, friends is another journal entry.

Anyway, the plethora of new year's weight loss advertisements are really getting to me, and making me reflect on my own experience with trying to be healthier. I'll probably write a big paper someday about all this, but I can't let LBDelicious start the new year without "weighing in" with my own two cents on this issue. Dear readers, if you want to lose weight, do it. But for the love of God, don't do Nutri System, don't do South Beach, don't to Atkins, don't to Jeni Craig, and if I find out you're taking HydroxyCut I will find you and pour the pills down the toilet while yelling at you. Don't do a "diet," make lifestyle changes that you can live with. Eat smaller portions. Exercise. Don't expect to lose 10 pounds in a day. If you do, you'll only gain it back the next. Want to know the real secret to weight loss? You need a 3500 calorie deficit in order to lose a pound in a week. You must burn 3500 more calories than you eat in a week to lose a pound a week. Sign up for MFD, sign up for the FDA's free version, give it a month, and see if I'm not right. Or look it up for yourself.

There is one caveat to the 3500 calorie rule. If you go overboard and don't eat enough in a day, your body can go into "starvation mode," where despite what you cognitively know about what you're doing to yourself, your body thinks you are, like, starving, and will hang on to whatever fat reserves you have in an effort to "survive" until you eat a good meal. If you think this sounds ludicrous, just think about how our cavewomen ancestors survived in the wilderness when they had trouble finding food because their sorry ass cavemen husbands got lazy and refused to help them hunt. Or how our more immediate ancestors survived rural north Alabama during the Great Depression (their diets consisted of dirt, mud, grass, and the occasional biscuit. See Daws, 2005 unpublished A.U. thesis, or Barker, 1934 A.P.I. unpublished thesis, for details or if you don't believe me.)

As a direct result of watching the sickening weight loss ads, I decided yesterday that I wanted chocolate cookies. I couldn't find a recipe that I liked, so I invented my very first cookie recipe! I was very happy. Try them & let me know what you think.

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies (an LBDelicious original)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 dash salt
12 TB butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup nutella
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 oz bag chocolate chips (semi sweet, bittersweet, whatever you have on hand)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt; set aside. Cream together butter and 2 sugars with hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add nutella, mix together. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Add flour gradually, mixing until just combined. Stir in chips. Drop onto greased cookie sheet and bake for 9 minutes, cool.

Nutella is made with hazelnuts; don't eat these if you have a nut allergy. You may even want to add nuts so that an unsuspecting nut-allergic friend doesn't mistake them as safe. They are delicious with a big scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two of them, still warm.

Happy eating, and happy new year. :)