Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Rocket Scientist's Molasses Cookies

What does a rocket scientist know about baking cookies? When Anya Stettler (one of the few rocket scientists I know) pulled these molasses cookies out of the oven, they looked perfect, smelled warm and spicy and were soulful, tender and full of buttery, sugary, molasses-y flavor. I grabbed a couple of them and asked how she did it.

She has spent her life with math, chemistry and physics and there was never any hint she baked wonderfully, but there was no ignoring those cookies on the plate. I have spent my life baking cookies and while mine taste good sometimes they look like I dropped them on the floor.

She started baking in the last few years and pretty much mastered it right away. Her scientific training let me in on why her cookies are so good.

Her big secret is that she uses a precise recipe, follows directions (who would ever think that would work?), pulls equal blops of cookie dough from the bowl, then thoughtfully rolls them into perfect balls and sets them on the baking sheet. Most people approximate the ingredient amounts in recipes, substitute this for that, flop things onto cooking vessels and might not know that glass measuring cups are for liquid and metal/plastic are for dry ingredients (they measure differently).

Because her mom is gluten intolerant, Anya made the smaller cookies on the plate with a gluten-free baking mix so she wouldn’t be left out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Twain's Feast: My New Favorite Book

We’re all looking for the next good read and last week I got a review copy of Twain’s Feast, absolutely a good read. Andrew Beahrs, an anthropologist and writer, takes a look at foods loved by Mark Twain and rediscovers and eats them in their natural locales. It’s travel, history, food and locavor-osity all mixed into one book that keeps you mesmerized with its effortless yarn spinning.

Beahrs doesn’t write with a big ego or with annoying fake bravado, and he doesn’t smile at everything he eats and repeat ‘good stuff’ or ‘delicious’ – when it’s bad he says so and in a way that’ll make you laugh.

Feeling romantic about stewing raccoons? Beahrs tells of Coon Suppers in Gillett, Arkansas where the smell of the animal’s fat made him nauseous as it bubbled in the outdoor cooking pots. Dogs won’t even eat raccoon fat. At the supper Beahrs attended, a local nodded at the kettles of coon stew and said, “Yeah, we’re gonna eat real well but it won’t be coming out of there.”

Slow cooking with onions and vegetables eventually tamed the beastly flavor and yesterday in Seattle (one leg of his book tour) Beahrs said the flavor was hard to discern and compared the texture of slow-cooked raccoon to pot roast, which for some may be as close as they get to trying raccoon stew.

What did he like? When he tried Olympia oysters grown by Washington’s Taylor Shellfish it put him in Twain’s shoes. “Those Oly’s were a Twain moment for me.” Sheepshead fish in New Orleans and maple syrup made his like list too, though he guessed he’ll never know what prairie chicken tastes like (a Twain favorite) because they are almost extinct now.

“Twain appreciated the best of what was there,” says Beahrs, “and when something was good he knew it.” Beahrs shares that with Twain and between the two of them this book is food writing at its very best.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Moonshine and Everclear Taste Test

I don't know exactly why I bought the corn whiskey. I was curious about moonshine, and it's moonshine corn whiskey made by Junior Johnson, a Nascar driver whose family has been in the moonshine business for a long time. This bottle is legal for some reason, and a friend told me it tastes much better than the moonshone he drank as a kid in Aberdeen, Washington.

The Everclear is something I keep around to make holiday fruit explosions and bitters, and it's fun to offer to people at a party.

The taste test between these two revealed:

  • The corn whiskey was an abhorrence. Cleaning chemical nose, blistering on the palate and with a faint cheap whiskey note. It made the Everclear look good.

  • The Everclear was wild tasting, with an acid nose, incinerating on the palate and with no flavor notes at all. From here on out I'm only using it with blueberries and kiwi.

I will be looking for other ways to get rid of the corn whiskey, and right now it is in the running for a birthday gift for my brother, maybe made into sweet jelly for his morning toast.