Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Bourbon Balls

This week’s soap box ramble will focus on shopping, and is brought to you by the letter $. Because you have to buy your food before you can cook it, right?

Facing a drastically lower income 10 months ago, I was forced to reexamine my food spending. I admit, prior to my layoff, I was spoiled. I shopped primarily at Jimbo’s out of loyalty and hoping my weekly spending would do it’s part toward keeping the only Whole Foods-like store in my area open. I loved their local, organic produce, their fresh, organic meats, their wide array of whole grain dried goods, and their minimally processed packaged food selection. I also shopped for convenience, valuing my time saved by shopping at just one or two stores a week, rather than hunting down the deals at several stores to save a few bucks. When suddenly faced with an excess of time and a deficit of money, old habits went out the window and I took the opportunity to pick up some new smart-shopper skills. I figure I can pass on a few tips I picked up while tightening the belt - not just how I saved a buck, but how I turned that into an opportunity for eating healthier foods. But first I want to preface this list by saying the very first step is to evaluate the value of your time vs. the money you could save with thriftier shopping. Obviously, if you really take the time to research the price of each product and each store to compare, are willing to hit up five or six grocery stores as opposed to just one or two, and basically able to spend hours a week being the thriftiest shopper you could be, you could save what ends up being oodles of money! But if you’re, say, juggling being a mom, working full time, and a flourishing social life, you’re probably less inclined to care if your bath tissue is 10 cents cheaper at the store across town. There’s nothing wrong with either scenario. The right thing for you is the right thing. Either way, here are some things I picked up along my miserly way that I intend to remember, no matter my food budget situation:

  • Learn all of the grocers in your neighborhood, not just the big names, and decide at which stores you are willing to shop - In my neighborhood I have Ralph’s, Vons, Albertsons, Stater Bros, Barons, Jimbo’s, Fresh and Easy, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Henry’s, and Costco. That’s too many stores, even for me, so I decided Stater Bros and Barons I was just going to ignore because they don’t offer anything particularly different from the others. Fresh and Easy isn’t actually open yet, so I have yet to evaluate it. Jimbo’s is out of my price range. Costco is a separate beast I’ll get to later. I treat Ralph’s, Vons, and Albertsons as one store (The Megamart, I dub thee). So that leaves Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, and Henry’s as my main stores (Love them!). 
  • Stop throwing away those weekly ad circulars - I used to curse the grocery stores clogging up my mail box with ads. It was such a waste, since I would throw them directly into the recycling, and I often wished for a way to opt out of having them sent. But they have become the highlight of my Monday evening. Pathetic, but true. First I check Sprouts and Henry’s. They often have similar foods on sale, but always slightly different, or one store will be slightly cheaper than the other. So I make a list of which store is carrying sale items I’m interested in. I made the mistake of not making a list in the beginning and often overpaid because I would forget the cheap apples were at Henry’s while shopping at Sprouts. Then I check The Megamart ads and pick out any extra special deals, whether $.77/lb chicken thighs at Vons, or $2 off Peet’s coffee at Ralph’s, whichever store has the deals I’m interested most in, and that’s which one I end up patronizing that week. It sounds like a big time commitment, but I actually peruse the ads while watching tv after dinner. I’m just sitting around anyway, right? 
  • Be flexible with your menu - One of the reasons I never bothered checking the ads before was because I didn't much care what was on sale. I knew what I wanted to make, and I was going to make it, sale or no. Now I plan my weekly menu around the ads. I’ll often turn to Husband and say “Cauliflower, eggplant, and zucchini is on sale. I’m thinking a vegetable lasagna with a side of roasted cauliflower, does that sound tasty?” Or usually it goes more like, “Broccoli is on sale again, and I already did roasted broccoli 3 weeks in a row. I’m thinking I’ll make a white bean, broccoli, cheddar soup to spice things up.” I admit that I totally plan my meals around what produce is on sale. Hey, it works for me! If you were planning to do pulled pork and chicken is on super sale, maybe you could substitute. 
  • Meat is expensive - And by meat I mean meat, poultry, and seafood. Especially seafood. I nice fillet of salmon hasn't been in my budget for a long time. But even when it’s just a couple of pounds of chicken thighs or some cheap ground beef, meat easily ends up making up half of the total cost on the receipt. If environmental and health reasons weren't enough to practice a meat-lite lifestyle, cost definitely is. I’m not suggesting conversion to vegetarianism or replacing your burger patty with a tofurky substitute. You know me better than that! I’m merely suggesting buying less. Eating less. And learning how to incorporate meat as a flavor rather than the main event of the plate. Remember, it’s not the only form of protein out there. 
  • Produce is cheap - I can buy two overflowing bags of produce for under $20. How much would the equal amount of meat set you back? Hundreds? The trick is to buy what’s in season and buy what’s on sale, though that usually means the same thing. When a crop is in season, the stores get an overflow and they sell it cheap to get rid of it before it spoils. So in summer it’s zucchini and berries, in fall it’s squash and apples, in winter it’s cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli and cauliflower), etc. Some produce always costs more - asparagus, winter greens, persimmons, eggplant. Some produce is always reasonably priced - celery, carrots, onions, bananas, potatoes. But even the “expensive stuff” still only sets you back a few bucks. 
  • The bulk bins are your friend - Don’t fear the bulk bins! Sure, you’re forced to come up with your own air-tight packaging when you get it home, but it’s called $.99 tupperware, and it’s your friend. Dried beans, split peas, lentils, rice, quinoa, millet, almonds, pecans, peanuts, etc. These items are great because, aside from the nuts, which tend to be pricier (but worth it because you don’t typically use more than a cup or so at a time at most), they are dirt cheap and amazingly healthy. You can buy a pound of dried black beans for about a buck. That’s the equivalent of I don’t even know how many cans once they’re cooked. A ton! The trade-off is the time you take into account for soaking and cooking the beans (neither activity requires much active participation from you, it’s more a planning issue). Lentils and quinoa are two bulk bin items I’m never without because they are so fantastic in every way. They are high in protein and fiber, give you the satisfaction you get from eating carbs, but are still low in the glycemic index. They are very budget-friendly, cook up in about 20 minutes, and are very versatile for a number of varying applications. Win, win, win! My Megamart, tragically, doesn’t have bulk bins worth acknowledging, so that’s another reason to scope out the alternative markets in your area, if need be. 
  • Packaged foods often make you pay more for less - There’s two main points here. First, the more hands your food passes through before it gets to you, the less fresh it’s going to be, the more stuff they’re going to add to it to keep it a viable product, the more you have to pay to recoup those costs. You’re not only paying more, but you’re also eating all the preservatives and additives they add to the food to keep it shelf-worthy for all those years. Second, all the pretty packaging itself boosts the cost. That little 2 serving box of cous cous or quinoa is probably something you could get in the bulk bin for a fraction of the cost. 
  • Find the ethnic markets - Once every 2-3 months I have a list saved up of all the ingredients I need to stock up on at my local Asian market. It usually has some combination of soy sauce, rice wine, chili oil, sesame oil, seaweed, green tea, and brown rice. I can buy every one of those items at The Megamart, but for several times the cost, and without the option of selection. The soy sauce aisle at the Asian market? Dizzying. I still have it on my to-do list to find an Indian market in the hopes they have a vast and reasonably priced spice section. Sure, it’s a special trip where you’ll only pick up a few items, but that’s why you go just every once in a while. Treat it like a special occasion. 
  • Join Costco - You might say you don’t need a Costco membership, you’re fine without a 5lb jar or mayonnaise. I would agree, but there is a lot more to Costco than that nowadays. When it comes to certain items, pricing at Costco just can’t be beat. A bag of fresh frozen 4oz. mahi mahi fillets for $4.99/lb - pre-portioned, convenient, and actually very delicious! I go through vanilla extract like crazy, so the huge bottle is actually totally worth it, and it’s such a deal. It’s a great place to buy pantry staples - hot sauce, green chiles, tuna, diced tomatoes, tomato paste. Sure, you’ll take awhile to go through them, but it’s canned, it’ll keep. Their prices on dairy and meats is great, though you have to evaluate your consumption needs. I can’t drink 2 gallons of milk before it spoils, so I don’t bother. But I’ll pick up a whole pork loin, portion it into 1-2lb portions when I get it home, and freeze them for easy use later. And if you’re a booze hound like my, their prices on beer, wine, and hard liquor, if you can find what you want, can’t be beat. You might even be able to share your membership. When I joined in college they let Husband (who was then merely Boyfriend) join my account, even though we weren’t related or married, so we were able to split the cost of the membership. One section to stay away from, however, is the produce section. Their prices can be confusing because they post prices by the package, but if you look in the corner of the price tag you’ll see the price per pound, and it’s generally higher than even The Megamart. And since the quality of their produce tends to be more miss than hit for me, why pay more for it? 

I could go on, but I’m sure this glimpse into the inner-workings of my miserly mind is about as much as any person can take in one sitting. Basically, I try to stay on a varied and healthy diet, spending as little as I can. Husband often commends my efforts, saying he wouldn’t even know we’re on such a tight food budget because I keep him so well fed. It’s not without effort, but I consider it well worth it.

Now that we’ve shopped, let’s eat! These little bundles of joy combine three of my favorite flavors - chocolate, peanut butter, and bourbon. Each flavor really stands outs and brings its own personality to the party. The dark chocolate shell gives you that hit of rich cocoa right off the bat, and the bit of crunch is the perfect contrast to the soft, boozy, peanut buttery goodness in the middle. Oh the middle... I don’t know how to describe it, except to say that I really love the balance of ingredients. The cream cheese and graham crackers make it creamy yet substantive. I love the sweet yet salty compliment from the sugar, salt, and peanut butter. And the bourbon rounds everything out nicely, as bourbon always does. It really tastes like you’re eating a bourbon ball, but the peanut butter by no means plays second fiddle. It’s everything that makes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups so great, but a thousand times tastier. No joke. The first time I made these was Halloween weekend - the one time of year Husband gets to eat his favorite store-bought candy. He actually jokingly chided me for ruining the moment for him, since compared to these peanut butter balls, the Reese’s just didn’t measure up. Sorry Husband. Next year I will steer clear of making these, so you can enjoy your Reese’s in peace.

Something tells me that’s not going to fly...

These make a great party dessert. Like, say, your Superbowl party next weekend. For instance. You can make them in advance, and they’ll even do better with a night in the fridge, where the flavors can introduce themselves to each other. They are easy to serve, whether plopped onto a plate or heaped in a bowl. They are finger-friendly, no utensils or plates needed, and I guarantee your friends will not be able to eat just one, so I doubt you’ll be dealing with leftovers. Plus, what is a better way to nosh during the second half than with chocolate, peanut butter, and bourbon?

These balls come together wonderfully fast and easy right up until it’s time to coat them in chocolate. I won’t lie, that part was tricky. A total pain in the butt, even. There were casualties. Some balls just weren’t destined to make it through the molten swamp of chocolate to reach their resting place of my tupperware container. Where some balls managed to keep it together, others were made of lesser stuff and fell apart. My heart went out to them. But worry not, it doesn’t mean the balls you will inevitably lose will be ruined. I called those little mishaps “happy accidents” and promptly ate them before Husband could see what a failure I was. The things I eat do for ego’s-sake! It does mean that if you plan on a specific number, you’ll definitely want to make some extra. The first few will be the baker’s treat, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be fine.

Happy Accident!

Besides my structural issues, I also struggled with what to call these. I couldn’t exactly walk around asking people if they wanted to try my balls, now could I? Chocolate covered pb bourbon balls is what they are. It’s descriptive. But it’s also cumbersome! See how I was too lazy to spell out peanut butter? The recipe I adapted these from were called buckeyes because they are reminiscent of the nuts that grow on the buckeye tree. Since I’m not familiar with buckeyes, and since I think that’s kind of lame, and since these have bourbon, and thus are way better, I think they deserve their own distinction. But they do kind of look like eyes, especially if you aim your skewer right through the center.

Chocolate covered peanut butter bourbon balls, you shall henceforth be known as Bourbon Blinders.

Is that stupid? It’s a little stupid. But don’t hate on my Blinders until you’ve tried one. Because then you won’t care what I call it, as long as you get to eat it. Mwhaha!

Are you planning any fun finger foods for the Superbowl next weekend? Have a better suggestion for what to call my balls? Any thrifty shopping tips my list is lacking? Send it all my way!

PS: I feel comfortable asking you to name my balls, knowing that I have just the edible kind at my disposal. Otherwise, I might be opening myself up for teasing. Thank goodness that’s not the case.

Bourbon Blinders
AKA: Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Bourbon Balls
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

makes about 2 dozen

1 oz. cream cheese (I used neufatel or lowfat), at room temperature
¾ cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ tsp sea salt (or substitute kosher salt)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
4 TB unsalted butter, melted
3 TB bourbon
1 tsp vanilla
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I used 72% chocolate chips)

  1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter until they are well combined. Add the graham crackers and mix until combined. Add the butter, sugar, salt, bourbon, and vanilla and mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then increase the speed to medium and mix until the mixture is uniform. 
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Using a tablespoon or a 1TB scoop, shape the dough into balls and place them on the sheet pan, leaving enough space that they are not touching. Make sure you use some pressure to make them as dense as possible to avoid fall-aparts later. Place the sheet pan in the freezer for about 15 minutes so the balls will firm up. 
  3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Using a toothpick or thin skewer (the thinner, the better), spear a ball and dip it in the chocolate, rolling it around so it is well coated, and place it back on the parchment. My method was inserting the toothpick into the side of the ball, dunking it in the chocolate at about a 45 degree angle, and swirling it one rotation, all the way around. The more quickly you work, the less time the ball will have to fall apart in the molten chocolate. 
  4. Repeat with the remaining balls, then chill them in the refrigerator to set up, about 30 minutes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Winter Soup

Last post I promised a healthy soup to help shed those extra pounds we tend to get as a result of all that sticky toffee pudding, gingerbread, and eggnog around the holidays, and I am quite the deliverer, if I do say so myself. And I do!

I gullibly keep recording shows on the Food Network promising healthy and light meals, excited that it’s finally the time of year when those celebrity chefs might just be cooking something I’d like to try. Then they pull out the lite mayo or top a plain, grilled chicken breast with cheese and pepperoni and call it pizza (and healthy pizza no less!), and I stop and delete the episode. Healthy does not mean diet! Diet food is flavorless, rubbery chicken with microwaved broccoli. Diet food is a punishment to teach yourself not to be such a pig the next holiday season. Diet food is stupid. Healthy eating is about thinking outside the deep fryer box and finding ways to prepare fresh foods in flavorful ways that make us want to eat them. It’s about shifting your habits to eat a different way. Instead of trying to take an unhealthy dish and removing everything that makes it taste good, just eat something that’s healthy to begin with. No brainer, right?

I learned early in my healthy eating transition that I like to eat. Actually, I love to eat. Sure, I’ve lessened my portions, but I used to eat on par with Husband and his roommates in college. I am not a 6’2” male, but I sure liked to eat like one. I still eat plenty because I knew for this to work, I had to let myself eat. Then I found vegetables. They’re such wonderful things. So full of flavor and texture and every good thing. There’s a reason that Weight Watchers puts vegetables at zero points, and that would be how totally nutrient rich are for being so low in calories. As Rachel Ray likes to say - if you eat healthy, you can eat more. A sentiment I always identified with. Just remember that eating too much stretches your stomach, which is a recipe for disaster later. Eat until you’re satisfied, not waddling. Be reasonable. 

One way I like to fill up my tummy without filling up my calorie bank is soup. Broth-based soups feel substantial because of their high water content, but still add a great amount of flavor. Toss in a healthy dose of vegetables and some form of lean protein and/or whole grains, and you’ve got yourself a meal you can sink a spoon into.

I love soup. I have always loved soup. It’s a love affair that started with my grandmother. She made a mean soup, and growing up a picky eater, I was always happy to go to her house knowing there would be a large pot of soup that had been sitting on the stove slow cooking all day and brimming with vegetables, barley, lentils, and meat (though I ate around that part). Her theory was that I just didn’t like to chew. I think I just like the infinite blend of flavors and the comforting feeling it brings. Warm liquids bring me joy. I love my sludgy coffee in the morning, my steamy afternoon tea, and a silky bowl of soup for dinner. I had a friend in college who didn’t like warm liquids of any kind. We no longer keep in touch.

I’m actually surprised I haven’t posted twenty soup recipes by now, but I guess they’re usually so flung together that I don’t really have a recipe prepared, or sometimes they’re so simple I would feel silly posting it.

If you couldn't tell already, I might be a little obsessed with vegetables. I never feel like I eat enough of them, even though probably 75% of my diet is vegetables (if we don’t count breakfast because I eat zero for breakfast, and if we’re counting breakfast the percentage drops to like 45% because even if I ate nothing but vegetables for lunch and dinner, the most it could be is 66%, so let’s just not count it, m’kay?). I have this little trick with soups. It helps me with portion control and it’s a good way to get a few more leafy greens in my diet. Because I’m seriously lacking in that department, right? I’m talking about spinach. I line my soup bowl with a good helping of fresh baby spinach leaves (I always have some on hand from Trader Joe’s, they have those handy resealable bags), more if it’s a veggie-lite soup, less if it’s veggie-heavy. Then I add the soup until my piggy eyes see it reach the rim of the bowl. This is where it helps with the portion control. The fresh spinach takes up a lot of room in the bowl, so even though I can’t stop myself from filling the bowl, it’s not really full. Of soup anyway. Aw, what a trickster I am! After a few minutes in the microwave the soup is hot and the spinach is wilted, and magically (good ol’ water evaporation!) the level of soup in the bowl is no longer threatening to spill over the sides. It’s ok to be a piggy if you recognize it and trick yourself from letting it impede your health, right? Right. Plus, spinach is delicious and is always a yummy addition to whatever soup I’m enjoying, such as this roasted vegetable soup I made recently.

I am a master of the segue.
This soup was just a happy accident, brought together - like the plot of many a good novel - by a random string of circumstances. Zucchini and eggplant were on sale (seriously, how crazy has the zucchini crop been this year?). I had fresh thyme leftover from my Thanksgiving splurge. I happened to be drinking white wine that night. I wanted the soup creamier without using cream. But here’s the kicker - I was freezing my booty off and I wanted an excuse to turn on the oven. I may be too poor (err, cheap) to heat my house properly, but it encouraged me to roast my veggies before throwing them into the soup, and man did it make this one of the better soups I’ve ever made. 

Husband gobbled it all up in record time, and he's not even a soup person!  We no longer keep in touch.  

Roasting the vegetables caramelized the sugars, making the soup sweeter, richer, and more complex. Love it! And apparently eggplant pureed in soup is like liquid silk, it adds a lovely texture. Who knew?  The evaporated milk thickened the soup beautifully without all that pesky fat. I just need to be mindful that it’s concentrated milk, so 1 cup of evaporated milk is still a hefty amount of calories compared to a cup of milk. But a little goes a long way, so it's all good. Definitely a trick I'm going to remember.  Oh, and did I mention this soup is pretty darn quick? Definitely doable for a weeknight meal. Only about 30 minutes of total cook time, and since I used the broiler setting on the oven, I didn’t even have to wait forever for it to heat up. Win!

So to sum up the awesomeness of this soup, let’s count the ways:
  1. Healthy - fresh vegetables, stock, and lowfat milk 
  2. Fast - 45 minutes tops, depending on how long it takes you to chop
  3. Easy - mostly just chop, dump, or stir
  4. Delicious - eggplant = silky 
  5. Comforting - it’s cold everywhere right now 
  6. Why are you still reading this? Go make this soup! 

What healthy foods are you cooking up to stay warm?  Will you be bringing home your own bag of spinach from Trader Joe's?

Roasted Vegetable Winter Soup 

4 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
2 small eggplant, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly sliced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB fresh thyme, minced
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 12oz. can evaporated milk (I used 2%)
2 TB white wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

  1. Turn the oven on to broil (500 degrees). In a large roasting pan, toss the zucchini, eggplant, and onions with about 2 TB of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Roast the vegetables until they are soft and nicely browned, tossing every 5-7 minutes so they cook evenly. This will take about 20 minutes total. 
  2. When the vegetables are out of the oven heat 2 TB of olive oil in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two until it is softened and fragrant. Add the thyme and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook until it is reduced by half, then add the chicken broth and roasted vegetables. Bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, until everything is softened and incorporated. 
  3. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool down a bit. Once cooled, puree with an immersion blender (or regular blender or food processor). Add the evaporated milk, as much as you prefer. I added the whole can for optimal creaminess, but a few tablespoons would have been plenty. Then add vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.

Edit for SoupaPalooza 2012: Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by KitchenAid, Red Star Yeast and Le Creuset

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Fig Einsteins - It's Fruit and Cookie!

A new year, a new start. A time to resolve oneself for the year to come. The difficulty of this past year, and the inevitable difficulty of this new year to come, is part of the reason for my month-long absence from posting. Reflecting back, it was truly the worst year of my life, and at the same time, in some ways, one of the best. I’ve grown and learned so much about myself. I’ve become a different person, a better person, and most importantly, more like the person I want to be. I try to focus on that and have faith that the rest will work itself out for the best. I resolve to keep growing and learning this year, to keep finding the bright sides and silver linings, and to continue to be thankful for all the great things in my life - my friends, my family, and my amazing husband. And also, to never go so long without posting again! Inexcusable.

You might think I’m done with the sappy bits, but I’m feeling very sentimental. Bare with me for another paragraph or two...

I asked my friend on January 1st if she had any New Year’s resolutions, and she responded something along the lines that she had been done with those years ago. I know it’s a bit like asking a husband if he’s buying flowers for his wife on Valentine’s Day. We feel like we should do it because society tells us to, but we grumble and curse the commercial holiday (with gym memberships being sold in place of flowers). While I think the traditional approach to New Year’s resolutions is tired and completely unmotivated, the original idea shouldn’t be sloughed aside. How often do we plan to start something and then put it off until later? We all have a little Scarlett O’Hara in us. A new year is nothing more than an excuse, a reason to finally convince yourself that later is here, and it’s time to start. It’s that push out the door that we need sometimes.

And I’m not talking about “the resolutioners”. The people who make a vague, empty promise to themselves because they feel like they have to. They resolve to “eat better”, and buy a stock of celery that goes untouched in the vegetable bin until the rot can no longer be tolerated. They resolve to “exercise more”, and go stand around their gym a time or two, mostly just taking up space on equipment other people are waiting to use. Don’t be a resolutioner! Make a real promise to yourself that you intend to keep. It doesn’t have to be big, or even related to your health. You could give your house that big scrub down you’ve been meaning to do since last spring, or even just one room. You could go through your DVR season pass list and clean out the shows that are no longer on the air (man, I need to do that). And yes, I supposed you could eat better and exercise more. But how will you eat better? When will you exercise more? Baby steps, people.  Husband has started to change how he eats for breakfast, hoping that eating more food, higher in protein, he’ll eat healthier and feel better throughout the day. I’ve seen spouses out walking their dog together, rather than just one or the other. Do something small, and when you feel great about doing it, do something else. Not because it’s New Years, but because there’s never a better time than now.  Today could be the day I finally frame my ketubah!

That's a Jewish marriage contract.
It's been sitting unframed on my mantle in a plastic protector since I got married.
I've been married 4 years now.
It's sitting upside down.
I'm not really going to frame it today.

Ok, enough of this nonsense. Let’s talk food.  Now I know this is the time of year everyone dawns their halo and posts the uber-healthy meals.  I know I should be giving you a recipe for kale chips (which are amazing, by the way, and so flipping healthy), and telling you twelve easy steps for staying motivated at the gym (I really only have one trick - constantly telling myself "suck it up, pansy!").  But you know what?  That just ain't my style.  Plus, there's an entire year for that.  Next week when everyone is back to posting their recipes for brownies and fried chicken, I'll be posting a light and satisfying soup.  This week, I want to tell you about these cookies.

I may not have been posting the last few weeks, but I’ve certainly been eating. As anyone who reads my posts on Facebook can attest. I made these fig cookies awhile ago. I remember the day I made the first batch because it was the day that I discovered Urge Gastropub. A joint truly after my own heart. I went there for dinner with some very good friends, and I brought some of these cookies along to give to them. It’s always good to feed the ones who encourage you in the kitchen, right? I kept calling them Fig Newtons, but was dissatisfied with the name because, while anyone who watched ample tv in the late 80s/early 90s, as I did, can attest, Fig Newtons are fruit and cake. My cookies were most definitely fruit and cookie. My friend dubbed them Fig Einsteins, and so they have been called since.

A very fitting name, in my opinion, because these cookies are genius!  And so delicious - soft and chewy. The flavor was buttery and had a density from the whole wheat flour, yet the texture was still light and fluffy. They were so good that I made a second batch just a few days later. Because, like a good cookie should be, these were super fast to throw together. Minus making the jam of course. But the jam was so worth the effort.  It had the deep, rich, sweetness of figs, with a beautiful balance from the lemon.  Though the real hit for me was the brandy.  It lent a nice background flavor, and somehow worked its magic breaking down the figs to really bring out their sweetness.  I actually reduced the sugar in the recipe by at least half because the natural sugars brought out were so powerful.  A jam worthy of its own cookie, for sure.

If you aren't a fan of figs, or just can't find them, no worries.  These cookies are versatile!  Any jam would work, really. Even store-bought, if you must. But the deep sweetness from the figs works especially well with the richer flavor of the cookie. I could see blueberry jam also working quite well.  You'll just want to make sure it's a thick jam, otherwise it'll just run out of the cookie while it bakes.  If you're worried, you could always reduce it on the stove for a few minutes.

When people scoff at you for eating cookies, you can inform them that you're just fulfilling your New Years' resolution to eat more whole grains.  It's all about eating right, right?

Fig Einsteins
adapted from Cate’s World Kitchen

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 TB buttermilk (or substitute milk)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 TB bourbon (optional)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup fig jam* (recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F 
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Turn the speed down to low and beat in the egg, milk, vanilla, and bourbon until well combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and stir just until combined. Divide the dough into even quarters, it will be quite sticky. 
  3. Working on a well floured surface, roll one quarter of dough into a log about 12 inches long. Using your fingers, pat the dough out into a rectangle about ⅛ inch, and 2 inches wide. Spread half the jam down the center of the dough. Press out another portion of dough into a rectangle of the same size, and place it on top of the dough with the filling. Seal the long edges of the dough together by pressing the two sides together, then cut crosswise into 1 inch lengths, until you have 12 cookies. 
  4. Repeat step 3 with the remaining dough and jam. 
  5. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until they just begin to brown. 
*Or whatever jam tickles your fancy.

Fig Brandy Freezer Jam
jam adapted from Bon Appetit

Makes about 6 cups

2 lemons
4 pounds fresh figs, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 8-9 cups)
2 cups sugar (or more to taste)
3/4 cup brandy
½ tsp kosher salt
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove strips of peel from the lemons, careful not to get any pith. Cut the strips into tiny matchsticks. 
  2. Combine the lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and salt in a large heavy pot. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Bring the mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to simmer until the jam thickens and reduces to about 6 cups, about 30-35 minutes, occasionally mashing the mixture with a potato masher. Remove the pot from the heat. When the mixture cools down a bit mix in the juice from one of the lemons, then taste it. If it’s too sweet, add more lemon juice, if it’s not sweet enough, add more sugar. 
  4. Ladle the mixture into freezer jam jars (or any freezer-safe container that tickles your fancy), leaving at least half an inch of room from the top of the container, and move to the refrigerator to set up overnight. The next day, move any jam to the freezer that you’re not planning to eat in the next week or so. 
Note: Cate has a fig filling recipe using dried figs. If you can’t locate fresh figs, that would be a good option.