Friday, November 29, 2019

Science with Chocolate Chip Cookies

Step 1: Define the result of a successful experiment. In this case, I sought a chocolate chip cookie that was delicious and oh-so-soft.


Step 2: Do background research. Wow, this was fun! Most of my old links were dead, but here's a fantastic new crop (including some of the same information at new homes):

Are you hungry now? I couldn't wait to get started!


Step 3: Based on your research, create a likely plan. I selected these ingredients for their characteristics:

  • margarine, creamed from the refrigerator (creamed for cakier cookies, lighter and firmer; warmer butter yields denser cookies)
  • brown (tall and moist) and white (thin and crisp) sugars, with some syrup
  • more flour (cake flour for softer cookies)
  • chill dough 24hr (to elevate flavor; cool dough for compact cookies with less spread)
I'm lactose-intolerant, so margarine is less likely to cause me digestive issues later; I often say "butter" and mean "butter or margarine, probably margarine if I'm eating it". The recipe I selected as a starting point is The Ultimate Healthy Soft & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Amy's Healthy Baking because softness was a key goal for that recipe too. Aside: I am never going to call chocolate chip cookies healthy, but some recipes are less bad than others.


Detour: One chocolate chip cookie recipe that is less unhealthy that my Very Picky Eater actually loves is for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Candid Appetite. However, since I always modify recipes, I made that recipe, but with fresh sweet potato purée instead of fresh pumpkin purée (other substitutions would include butternut squash, actually in many cans of "pumpkin pie filling"), and skipping the nutmeg and allspice and walnuts because I know my audience. However, based on my experience, I recommend that you do not use purple sweet potatoes because the cookies were an unappetizing shade of blue-green on the inside! The color initially made me think of copper sulfate (not anhydrous), and I don't want my food to look like that! Luckily, the cookies were delicious and we ate them all ... while laughing about how terrible they looked.


Another Detour: My Very Picky Eater also loves these Chocolate Chip Chocolate Zucchini Cookies. Again, since I always modify recipes, I use zucchini purée (I also drain off some of the liquid, so the purée is slightly thicker - more like wet batter) because shredded zucchini was a notable texture (picky eaters and unexpected textures do not mix happily), with no cinnamon or walnuts (because I know my target audience). I'm not going to lie to my children "just because it's easier" so for both of these recipes, my picky eater knows that I put vegetables in his cookies and he still loves them.


Step 4: Experiment! Did you think I would start my science at this step? No, I know the value of careful planning! There were many batches of chocolate chip cookies, and a winner emerged that best fit the criteria for success.


Step 5: Document and publish your results for other scientists to verify. OK, here goes!


Yield: 34 cookies


Preparation Time: 20 minutes


Total Time: minimum 4 hours and 40 minutes


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (measured correctly with no compression)
  • 1/2 Tbs aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 Tbs clear gel, or 1/2 Tbs arrowroot powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbs butter, melted (I was persuaded / asked nicely to use butter instead)
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs skim milk
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 Tbs mini chocolate chips, divided


Directions:

  1. On a flexible sheet, sift together the flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and salt. In a bowl, whisk together the melted butter and egg until fluffy. Whisk in the milk and vanilla extract. Stir in the brown sugar, smearing out any clumps along the side of the bowl. Add in the flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Fold in the regular chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of mini chocolate chips.
  2. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll the chilled cookie dough into 24 balls, and place on the prepared baking sheets. Make sure each cookie has visible chocolate chips, pressing more into the top of each as needed. Flatten slightly to about 3/4-inch thick. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to sit on the warm baking sheet for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.


Recipe Notes:

  • Do NOT overbake these cookies! After 10-12 minutes in the oven, they’ll still look and feel slightly underdone, but they’ll continue to bake and set on the warm baking sheet for the 10 minutes after. Remember: these cookies should be soft!
  • Second batch should be in for less time (first batch was fine at 11 minutes, but second batch was crispier).
  • Cornstarch has a (faint) bitter flavor in this recipe, so use gel (best) or arrowroot powder instead. This ingredient adds softness and thickness.
  • Other scientific notes from the original base recipes:
    • less butter, and melted for chewiness
    • more vanilla for buttery flavor
    • brown sugar for moisture and chew
    • regular and mini chips for more chocolate throughout
    • chilling for thickness
    • baking 10-12 minutes for softness


Equipment: cookie scoop, cookie sheet, measuring, mixing bowl, oven, refrigerator


Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Morning Bowl of Chocolate

Most mornings, I have a "bowl of chocolate" for breakfast. This is one of the few breakfasts that holds me until (or beyond) lunch time, and I like not having a strong urge to snack between breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I make the cinnamon variant and eat it with fruit, but my default is chocolate.


The original source that my mother sent to me has vanished, but this Cinnamon Breakfast Muffin recipe is very close. I have adapted this recipe, based on food sensitivities (sugar instead of Splenda to minimize gastrointestinal consequences), happy accidents (tripling the yogurt, and doubling the ground flax), and experiments. Since I eat this almost every morning, I make a large batch of the dry ingredients in advance to save time in the morning. I have also learned that I can mix this a day or two in advance, store it in the refrigerator, and cook it in the morning (less thinking and time required to get to breakfast).


Once I had a routine, I wanted to try additions to the basic recipe. My current variations are to add almond butter (more protein and healthy fats), psyllium husk (fiber and prebiotic), hemp seeds (complete protein with all essential amino acids, nutrients, and some essential fatty acids), and chia seeds (antioxidants, fiber, nutrients, and protein). I discovered that I enjoyed the additions, but could no longer eat a "single serving" in one sitting. Generally recipes with baking powder should be baked soon after mixing with wet ingredients, but this recipe stores fine when I've made it up to a week in advance. By splitting the result into two bowls (one lidded), I was able to keep my tasty recipe additions without overeating.


Chocolate Morning Mix Ingredients

  • 2 cups flax seeds, ground into flax meal
  • 2 Tbs up to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa (or 2 Tbs ground cinnamon)
  • 1/2 cup hemp seeds/hearts
  • 3 Tbs chia seeds
  • 2 Tbs baking powder
  • 2 Tbs psyllium husk (not ground - use less if ground)


Morning "Bowl of Chocolate" Directions

  1. Scramble 1 egg in a large microwave-safe bowl (recommended 3 cup capacity).
  2. Scoop in 2 Tbs (up to 1/4 cup) of yogurt. I generally use plain yogurt.
  3. Mix in 2 to 3 Tbs of almond butter. (When I tried peanut butter, it tasted burnt, so I stick with almond butter.) While this doesn't have to be thoroughly mixed, it does help to break up most of the "chunks" in the almond butter, and to mix the egg and yogurt thoroughly.
  4. Add 6 Tbs of morning mix, and combine. The mixture will thicken; once you're used to this recipe, you will be able to tell when it has thickened enough or when you need to add more mix.
  5. Scoop half of this into a bowl with a lid, and save that for tomorrow (or for your best friend, as I've done before).
  6. Microwave until done. The original recipe says 1 minute, but as I added more yogurt and other ingredients, I had to increase the time. In my 900-watt microwave, I cook a half-batch for 2 minutes (2:30 if it's not as thick as usual because I ran out of mix).
  7. Top with a thin layer of maple syrup. I found pancake syrup tasted odd with this.
  8. Top with semisweet chocolate chips. I found that milk chocolate chips were the wrong flavor contrast for my preferences.
  9. Enjoy while warm! It loses a lot of appeal when it cools. I find this is best when it's the first food I eat; later in the day, it tastes "too healthy" and isn't as enjoyable. In the morning, it's like chocolate cake; in the evening, I prefer "The One" Chocolate Mug Cake.


Almost every time I try something else for breakfast, I end up snacking before lunch and wishing I had stuck to my routine.


With both dairy (yogurt) and eggs, this is not allergy-friendly. I have not found this recipe to be adaptable to substitutions for either eggs or yogurt. It is, however, gluten free so long as the baking powder is GF.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Rocker Bottom Shoes

I developed osteoarthritis in both knees at the age of 16 when I started running cross country. Many years ago, I read (in print!) that the leading cause of osteoarthritis in juveniles was dehydration, and I know I didn't increase my fluid intake when I started running (unfortunately; this is your cue to get more to drink so you stay hydrated). Thanks to my physical therapist, I am not (often) bothered by that knee pain. Yes, you can beat osteoarthritis! One of the suggestions from my physical therapist was always to wear athletic shoes for the cushioning and support. This has been the simplest fix so far! After a flare-up, I do need to treat the pain and perform my PT exercises regularly, but after that my "maintenance" state is just to wear good sneakers at all times.


Based on my experience running cross country, I want my shoes to provide motion control as well as lots of cushioning. Motion control shoes ease the stress on my wobbly ankles, and hold my arch in a better position. I tend to pronate when I walk, and supinate when I run, so when my shoes provide proper cues for both conditions, I experience less pain. This is why I choose motion control over stability. However, I also have a very heavy stride, wearing through the soles of my shoes very quickly, so the more cushioning, the less pain I feel.


Until bilateral ankle pain visited me, I was a huge fan of rocker bottom shoes, specifically Skechers Shape Ups. Some Skechers are so cushioned that I call them "marshmallow shoes" for all that squishiness! Shape Ups are very cushioned! The rocker bottom forced me to roll into each step instead of stomping with my heel, thereby reducing heel and knee pain. Instead of needing a new pair of shoes every 3 months, I could generally wear one pair almost a year before I noticed the characteristic ache in my knees of needing new shoes. However, the arch support was negligible. I took a pair of 3/4-length shoe inserts, and cut out just the arch following the shape of some other inserts I had that built up the arch in layers that made it easy to see the shaping. I put that "just the arch" cut-out underneath the liner in my Skechers Shape Ups, and my feet were finally comfortable!


However, the rocker bottom is not stable on your front-back axis (it's fine side-to-side, which is why it didn't originally bother my ankles). You should not wear these hiking, mowing, or on uneven surfaces.


After 5 cushioned years in my Skechers Shape Ups, I hit 2 years of near-continuous ankle pain that is somewhat soothed with normal flat-bottom shoes. sigh However, if you have a heavy stride, you want a cushioning shoe, and you don't mind the lack of arch support or you don't mind adding your own arch support, these shoes were great! I'm looking for my next favorite shoes.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Raspberry Pi Zero W, back from noboot

I had a brief power outage recently, and my Raspberry Pi Zero W did not survive - but the original Raspberry Pi Zero right next to it came through the power bounce without problems! (Power and cable modem internet have been bouncy this month.)


I tried to power it up on two known-good power sources. I tried another micro USB power cable. I didn't see any lights any time I tried, so I thought this Zero W was completely dead.


Then I ran across this suggestion to try a different SD card. Since that's so simple to try, I did, and now my Raspberry Pi Zero W works again! The old SD card spewed errors all over dmesg when I tried to mount it on my computer, so that was definitely the problem.


So now I'll add trying a new SD card to the list with power and cable to get a Raspberry Pi to boot.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chicken and Rice

I usually skip "me too" posts and comments, but how to cook moist and tender chicken breasts every time [from The Kitchn] does exactly that. I feel bad for not already sharing how easy and delicious this is!


I usually skip the first step of flattening the chicken. I've tried cooking chicken breasts both ways, and as long as I keep the thinner end of the chicken breast farther from the center of the heat and the pan, the end result is just as good in less time, with less of my kitchen exposed to raw chicken. I season very lightly with salt and garlic powder, but no pepper. I use either olive oil, or almond oil poured off my almond butter. It's especially tasty when some almond butter gets in the pan! If the chicken breasts are thick, I leave the heat on low for the second round of cooking for 10 minutes too. In less than 25 minutes, I have freshly cooked, delicious chicken breasts!


The chicken leaves some delicious broth in the pan, and often some bits of chicken. For my next step, I make rice with the chicken broth. I use my Progressive microwave rice cooker. So, for instance, if I make basmati rice, I add one scoop (about 3/4 cup) of basmati rice, and three scoops of liquid. I start with as much chicken broth as was left in the pan, and then I add cold water to fill three scoops. I microwave that for 18 minutes in my 900 Watt microwave. Then I take the rice out and stir it up. Since my crowd strongly prefers soft rice, I add two more scoops of water, sample it to adjust seasoning levels (usually just salt and garlic powder), and then microwave for another 12 minutes. Brown rice gets 21 minutes then 14 minutes; compared to the first round, the second round of cooking uses 2/3 of the water and 2/3 of the microwaving time. Now I'm up to an hour of cooking time, but 50 minutes of that is hands-off with no peeking so it's low effort.


From this point, it's a week of chicken and rice, but that's a delicious combination! Chicken with veggies over rice, chicken burrito bowl over rice, chicken stir-fry over rice, classic chicken and rice casserole, southwestern chicken and rice casserole, chicken fried rice, chicken and rice soup, pineapple chicken and rice, Greek chicken and rice, and that's just off the top of my head if you keep the chicken and rice paired together! I enjoy sliced chicken on my sandwiches, and rice is always a tasty side dish.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sugary Fun

The first project of summer vacation this year was sugar + water.


The first segment was to make hummingbird food for the hummingbird feeder I picked up from Dollar General (technically, it was my kids' Mother's Day present to me). I found many online resources, that most matched this one. The ratio is one part white sugar to 4 parts recently-boiled water (presumably to sterilize it). We followed the admonitions not to add food coloring, nor to change the proportions. I instructed my kids to measure how much the feeder would hold (then water the plants with the excess), and to calculate how much sugar to add to that much water. We then set that aside to cool overnight. I had them sample 1:4 sugar water for reference, and I was informed that hummingbirds are lucky because that's tasty.


If you wanted to continue on the hummingbird theme, here's a collection of hummingbird resources (maps, books, crafts).


The second segment was to make rock candy. The directions varied with the website, from as high as 3:1 down to a moderate 5:2. I went with the super-saturated note from Science Bob and stopped at 1:1 (possibly too low) when the sugar took much, much longer to dissolve in boiling water. I dipped popsicle sticks (made of untreated wood) in the solution, then rolled them in sugar, put clothespins above the sugar level, and placed the sticks in small (to the tall and narrow side) jars to wait for cooling and crystals. Next time, we might add flavors!


And now we wait impatiently for sugar crystals to grow ...


One piece of trivia from my college Optics class is (unverified) that sugar water circularly polarizes light, so you might be able to add on further science ...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Beans

Update 2019-06-10


After years of cooking dried beans in the crockpot, I needed to adapt my approach to reduce bloating and gas, so I did some research on other methods. My current approach is almost as convenient as using the crockpot.


  1. Hot Soak: In a dutch oven, add 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans. Season as desired; my standard is garlic and ground cumin. Boil for 7 minutes (assuming my typical use of pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, and white beans). Move to oven to soak overnight (4 to 24 hours suggested; I plan for overnight). [hot soak recommendation]
  2. Preparation: Rinse the beans, discard the soaking water, and refill the dutch oven to the same level with fresh water (or broth). Season again as desired. Boil for 1 minute. Skim off the foam. [digestibility, also digestibility]
  3. Bake: Bake in the oven (covered) at 350°F for 1 to 2 hours; start checking every 20-30 minutes after the first hour for tender but not overcooked beans. At the check, I may add salt. [cooking times, prefer oven, method]


I am uncomfortably aware that cooking sources I respect, namely J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats, say not to soak beans, but I absolutely need to be able to stand myself after eating my own cooking. Every person is unique and may respond differently, so find what works for you!


Another debate is If and when to salt the beans. (I had no idea that cooking beans was so hotly debated until I started researching!) Some argue that cooked beans are less tender if the dried beans were soaked or cooked with salt. My choice is to cook beans with salt because I know that most people use less salt overall when the salt has been used in cooking as compared to adding salt at the table. (Sodium intake is a long discussion of its own.) I season my food with salt while cooking such that I use the salt shaker at the dining table maybe once every two months. I salt my beans depending on what I plan to do. If I plan to purée the beans to make a sofrito-style sauce, I will salt the sofrito, but either leave the beans unsalted or very lightly salted (even for me). If I plan for the beans to stand alone, I will salt them after the first check in order for the last 30 minutes (roughly) of cooking to be with salt.


I prefer cooking dried beans because I prefer my seasoned beans to unseasoned beans from a can, I prefer usually-tender beans to mushy (over-cooked) beans from a can, I can reduce the sodium content, and dried beans are generally cheaper (per unit price, canned beans would need to be 1/3 to 1/4 the cost of dried beans to match, before any discussion of flavor and texture).


Original


I read this article, So You Like Flavor? Don't Soak Your Black Beans! at Serious Eats that references an LA Times article, Don't soak your dried beans! Now even the cool kids agree.


That made me wonder How to Soak Dried Beans (from the US Dry Bean Council). They recommend and describe the hot soak method to reduce cooking time and to result in consistently tender beans. I looked up cooking times at How To Cook Dried Beans (from What's Cooking America) and Bean Varieties (from the US Dry Bean Council), giving more credence to the latter. Then I read How To Cook Beans in the Oven (from The Kitchn).


I used to (cold) soak my beans overnight, then cook for 8 hours in the crock-pot. After that research, I have a new method (that takes just about as long).


I pour 2 cups of pinto beans and 10 cups of water into my dutch oven. I heat it to boiling on the stove, then boil for 7 minutes. Now I place the dutch oven inside the oven (for heat retention) for 4 to 24 hours; I usually let the beans sit overnight. Before cooking, I exchange the soaking water (outdoor plants love these nutrients!) with fresh water. I add minced garlic or garlic powder and ground cumin at this point. I return the dutch oven of soaked pinto beans to the oven, and bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Around 1 1/2 hours, I add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir, and test the beans for done-ness. I expect 6 cups of cooked pinto beans from 2 cups of dried beans.