Monday, April 13, 2009

The Best Kind of Plate

It’s probably time for me to face the truth: I am a bowl girl at heart. It’s not that I don’t eat things off of plates, because I do. Instead, it’s that recipes that end with phrases like “serve in deep bowls” just call to me. They sing, they chirp, they chant my name like a magical incantation. I love soup and cereal. I could live off those things, and with frequent spoonfuls of peanut or almond butter, I think I do. I’m not unhappy about the state of things. I’ve got lots of bowls in my kitchen, and they exist in a continual rotation of use-wash-dry-return to cabinet.

But plates have their place. I had a plate of excellent, excellent Japanese Pan Noodles at Noodles & Company on Friday night. That, along with a fruity yogurt and the new issue of Gourmet, was my reward for surviving another hectic week in the lab. I adore Japanese Pan Noodles. Every time I realize my work day is going to be extending into the 7 o’clock hour, I immediately think JAPANESE PAN NOODLES! Sweet and spicy, fat and chewy, with nubs of fried tofu and slivers of vegetables, pan noodles are just about the only thing that can make me happy I’m working late. How did I ever live without Japanese Pan Noodles?

Plenty of other good things are eaten off of plates. Several of you came through with shining colors when I asked for suggestions a few weeks ago. I owe you an apology for taking so long to put together a nice, neat list, but maybe if I promise you something really spectacular today, you’ll forgive me. I do thank you for not throwing a plate at me! I’ve ordered the recipes by meal just to give the list a sense of rhythm.

* For breakfast (or any time, really) Nick, our Peanut Butter Boy, has an amazing-sounding recipe for a Platecake, a plate-sized pancake. Every time I thought about this recipe, I kept calling it a “mancake,” which made me laugh. My only question is this: how ripe is too ripe for the bananas in this recipe? Because I’ve got some spotty bananas sitting on the table right now, but I just don’t know if they are past their platecake-prime.

* The recipe offered by ttfn300 seems like a Saturday lunch dish to me: Kale Skins, a riff on twice-baked potatoes that packs sauteed kale into cheesy mashed potatoes stuffed into sturdy potato skins. (As an aside, I love the name Kale Skins!)

* My dear friend Nicole sent me a link for one of her favorite workhorse casseroles, Polenta and Vegetable Bake from EatingWell. She writes, “I wouldn’t say it’s AMAZING, but it’s good comfort food that’s easy to prepare. I actually love casseroles, and this one is on the healthier end of casseroles. It has an Italian flare, with the tomato sauce and basil. The most time consuming part is chopping, and then it bakes for a while. It’s very flexible in terms of how much cheese and/or vegetables you include. I usually throw in more vegetables, because I chop a larger eggplant or something. It re-heats very well, which is a big plus for my meal-planning and expenses.” Thank you, Nicole!

* And finally, Laurie laughed at this whole plate thing and suggested I make a soupy bowl of vegetables and tofu. The only thing this recipe is missing is some noodles! There’s nothing better than slurping noodles, especially on a Friday night.

The best kind of plate, though, is the one that appears after the main course: the mixed dessert plate. When it comes to dessert, I’m firmly pro-plate. I do like the occasional bowl of ice cream, or a few spoonfuls of my Raspberry Cookie Pudding, but again and again, I come back to the same kind of dessert: cookies. I find them utterly charming: almost bite-sized, studded with dried fruit or chocolate chips, nubbly with nuts, cookies are what I fantasize about baking when I feel anxious or stressed. It’s funny: I don’t really fantasize about eating dozens of cookies, just baking them. Perhaps it’s because cookies remind me of simpler times and my younger self. The Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie was the first recipe I really mastered. I’m a better baker now—for one thing, I use real butter and my cookies are only flat and thin when I want them to be—but cookie dough still has the ability to let me call upon the child I used to be. I will skip work-outs, stay up late, leave a mess in the kitchen, do whatever it takes to fulfill my cookie-baking needs. It’s a little obsessive, I know, but it makes me happy.

Cookies are the perfect item for the mixed dessert plate. The idea is this: by choosing several small items to eat for dessert, you create a mixed dessert plate that lets you have a taste of everything that sounds good. For example, sometimes I like a spoonful of Barney Butter for dessert. So I’ll have that, and because Barney Butter is pretty innocent as far as desserts go, I might have a square of peppermint bark (left over from Christmas) and a cookie. The key is to take portions that provide just a bite or three so that you don’t put yourself into a sugar coma.

Many cookies are quite rich, almost overwhelming with their buttery sweetness. These cookies can still work with the mixed dessert plate if they’re small, but I’ve got an even better idea for you: Walnut Wafers. These cookies, made from a most unusual set of ingredients, are sophisticated and irresistible. They’re a vegan oatmeal cookie that bakes into thin, chewy-crispy discs—wafers, if you will. They taste like walnuts, only better: sweet with a hint of cinnamon and the occasional chocolate chip, they’ve got a deep nutty flavor and a tiny edge of bitterness. These little treats are amazing, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I loved them so much that I foisted them on every person I could find: Matt, Daphna, my friend Daine, and Daine’s wife, Amanda. Matt doesn’t even like nuts in his desserts, but sometimes I just won’t take no for an answer.

Daine is one of my newest friends, and he and I both love to cook. I was so eager for Daine to try these cookies that I filled a Ziploc baggie with Walnut Wafers and handed them off, instructing him to share with Amanda. He came back to me a few days later, telling me that Amanda loved them. “These are so good!” she’d say, dipping into their cookie supply. “I just can’t stop eating them!” Upon hearing this, I beamed—what bliss! But Daine wasn’t feeling the bliss. “Okay,” he’d say to Amanda. “I get it. You like the cookies.” And they’d repeat this routine, over and over, until finally, Daine brought out the big gun: key lime pie. You see, Daine is quite territorial about his cooking prowess, and he just wasn’t going to stand by helplessly while his wife fell in love with a dessert that someone else made. Key lime pie is her favorite, he told me, and only key lime pie would be powerful enough to break the spell of those damn Walnut Wafers.

I hooted and howled when Daine told me this story. I’m not territorial at all about my cooking or the people I love. I don’t know why—I’ve certainly gone green with envy in the past—but somehow in my ripe old age, I’ve mellowed. I don’t pout jealously. Instead, I share. And so it is that I’m sharing my Walnut Wafers with you. Add them to your mixed dessert plate. Just don’t try to eat them with key lime pie—you might induce a food fight.

Walnut Wafers
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes ~40 cookies, plus or minus a few

I cannot believe how much Vegetarian Times undersold this recipe. These cookies are phenomenally good, possibly the most interesting and delicious thing I’ve eaten all year. The recipe was part of a VT feature on heart health, so these cookies were originally named “The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World.” VT did not tell me that these cookies would make me rethink my entire concept of what a vegan cookie is and can be. Instead, the magazine focused on the nutritional content of these cookies, which made me think that maybe this idea of healthy desserts gets taken too far sometimes.

I was very curious to see how this recipe would turn out, so I gave it a whirl. I tweaked the recipe a bit right off the bat, ditching the additional rolled oats in favor of a smoother texture. During my first round of baking, I found that big two-inch balls of cookie dough spread and spread and spread, which alone would have been okay, but the cookies are also very delicate. These giant cookies flopped off my flipper and collapsed through the gaps of my wire cooling racks. Gah—so frustrating!

To troubleshoot the recipe, I made the cookies smaller and thus arrived in cookie paradise. Small cookies were easy to handle, and their texture was wonderful: crisp edges, chewy middles, and melty chips of chocolate strewn throughout. Once I got my recipe perfected, I could not have cared less that these cookies are made with heart-healthy ingredients like walnuts and oatmeal. It is nice to take a break from the butter-eggs-white flour of traditional cookies, but Walnut Wafers are delicious enough that you don’t need to apologize for these “healthy” cookies. You can serve them to your friends and let them praise you profusely for your mad baking skills.

Oh, and one last thing. If you make these cookies with certified gluten-free oats, then the cookies are gluten-free in addition to being vegan. That means even more people can enjoy Walnut Wafers—bliss!

1 cup walnuts
1 1/2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup oat flour (you can make your own by whirling rolled oats in the blender until powdery. That’s what I do.)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (vegans and gluten-free people, be sure to check your chocolate to make sure it meets your requirements)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
2) Blend the walnuts in a food processor for 30 seconds, or until they are ground into a fine meal. Add the canola oil and blend for 2-3 minutes to create a paste. Scrape the paste into a mixing bowl.
3) Combine the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Pour the sugar water over the walnut paste, add the vanilla, and stir until smooth.
4) Stir together the oat flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Combine the flour mixture with the walnut mixture. Cool for ten minutes. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5) Drop the cookie dough onto the prepared sheets in small spoonfuls. I like the texture of these cookies when they are rather small, so I’d recommend using 1-2 tsp. of dough per cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes (my cookies need the full 10 minutes to achieve that lovely crispy edge). Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

13 comments:

ammie said...

Ooh, I'm going to give these a try this week and bring them to my Friday night rehearsal! I share that cookie infatuation you're writing about, and I think I may be becoming known for bringing baked goods to rehearsals :)

Anonymous said...

RA,

Although I can't comment specifically on the PBB's platecake recipe, I can say that I have used spotty, slightly mushy bananas with success in my pancakes. A plate-size pancake is a standard workday breakfast for me. I do cheat and use prepackaged Jiffy pancake mix to save work-morning time. (Packaged mix also saves dishes, because there are no real proportions to measure . . . I mix in a glass measuring cup and eyeball the mix/liquid quantities using the cup markers.)

The key to soft banana success seems to be these three steps:
1. Thoroughly mash up the banana with a fork.
2. Blend in the dry ingredients until you have a thick floury paste.
3. Slowly add soymilk until reaching a pourable consistency.

If you really want to save dishes (you can see this is a morning priority for me!) you can cook the pancake in a round, no-stick frying pan and carefully eat it right from the pan. I just plunk the pan on a hot pad to protect the table.

AMPD

Laurie said...

lol, I always serve that veg and tofu dish with noodles. Great minds!

JD said...

Much like you, I have to admit, I have always been partial to bowls myself. I always try to put things that don't belong in bowls in a bowl for eating. Bowls are just convenient. Anything that you eat with mashed potatoes is immediately a candidate for bowldom, as is anything casserolelike. Long like the bowl!

Rosiecat said...

Wow, such enthusiasm in the comments section today! Hurray!

Ammie, I hope you love the cookies as much as I do. If anyone doubts the deliciousness of vegan cookies, the Walnut Wafer could make them a believer. By the way, you can reuse your parchment paper while baking these cookies, which is nice.

AMPD, I love the part about eating your giant pancake straight out of the frying pan! Out of the frying pan and into your belly! I want to try making a single-serve platecake. My fridge can't handle any more containers right now...

I know you like your Jiffy mix, but I wonder if you could make or buy a whole-grain pancake mix to serve the same purpose: just eyeball the measurement and mix.

Laurie, great minds indeed! I can't wait to try a peanut noodle soup as a riff on your suggestion. I love sesame-peanut noodles.

I agree, JD: bowls ARE convenient. I find them comforting in a way that plates are not. Bowls forever! We can eat out of bowls together when I visit you and the Wife in September.

Nick said...

As much as I love my platecakes, I agree with your bowl obsession. For me it stems from oatmeal. Now those rice dishes in hot clay bowls at Asian restaurants always entice me.

That being said, ripened bananas are fine for the platecake batter. It may turn brown faster when it's in the fridge and may not keep as long, but simply freeze the batter in individual portions if prompt consumption is a concern (it shouldn't be). Those walnut wafers sound delicious, especially since they are plates within themselves.

Rosiecat said...

Thanks for the platecake advice, Nick! Have you ever made something with ripe bananas and found they were just TOO ripe? That the banana flavor was too strong? It's such a bummer. I would hate to ruin my pancakes by using bananas that were past their prime.

I love almost all Asian food that isn't being prepared by me. I can make a decent bowl of peanut-sesame noodles, but that's about it. As a cook, Asian food eludes me.

daphna said...

Hey, just wanted to tell you that I made your toasty oatmeal cookies tonight! SO good! I actually used 1/2 flour and 1/4 each oat flour and oats. I'm bummed that I missed ammie's cookbook giveaway, but I'm guessing you'll have a copy at your place soon enough that I can check out. :)

Rosiecat said...

Hey D!

Ah, my long-lost friend surfaces once again! Just teasing :-) So you actually decreased the all-purpose flour by a cup in the toasty oatmeal cookie recipe? Interesting! Yours are D-licious. Maybe I should make that cookie for my thesis committee meeting on Thursday--I'm having a hard time deciding what to make, but cookies seem like a good idea.

And of course I have a copy of Ammie's cookbook! The recipes tend toward the indulgent side--recipes to impress, I'd say--and it's adorably put together. So come on over! We can eat cookies together.

ttfn300 said...

there's no such thing as too ripe when it comes to baking or platecakes ;) your story left me wondering... did the key lime pie beat the cookies?? they sound delightful, and i need to work on my portions... oops!

Rosiecat said...

I'm loving all the banana advice around here! You are all fabulous. Yes, key lime pie beat Walnut Wafers, but at least it took Amanda's FAVORITE DESSERT EVER to beat my cookies. That's a hell of a compliment!

Uh-oh! What's this about portion woes?

daphna said...

I don't know if you'll see this, but I listed ratios of flour/oatmeal, not amounts. :) Less than a week until finals are done, w00t!

Rosiecat said...

Thanks for clarifying, D! Woot-woot to finishing classes with a bang! Good luck :-)