Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Carob, Hazelnut and Agave Biscotti

I've decided to write a cookbook. Yes, indeed, that's big news. Over the years, I've altered so many recipes to meet my dietary requirements that it made me think about how many other people are doing the same thing.

The focus will most likely be altering treats and desserts to accommodate my friend agave nectar.

Please note that I fully agree with copyrite laws and promise to provide full citations to all the originators of their recipes.

One example is this lovely recipe from Gourmet magazine that I altered in a few ways. First, I used whole wheat pastry flour. I also added a half cup of carob powder to offset the substitution of the liquid agave nectar for the sugar. I also cut the eggs by one.

Using a liquid sweetener always leads to a stickier dough unless the dry ingredients are increased so much that it throws the flavor way out of balance.

In the case of biscotti, though, I was counting on the fact that these cookies would be double baked (in other words, dryed) in a slow oven. Therefore, the wetness of the dough wouldn't matter in the long run.

I was right.

The original recipe calls for the oven to be kept at 350 degrees F. When dealing with agave nectar, it is necessary to keep the oven 25 degrees F colder because the risk of burning the food increases with each degree.
I followed the recipe with the timing for the first baking, and the biscotti logs came out as expected, with the typical cracking on the top, although one was more cracked than the other.

Years ago, prior to my discovery of sugar sensitivity and prior to my starting Deb's Delectables, I made hundreds of biscotti each year as holiday gifts. So, I had an idea of what to expect. However, this was my first ever attempt at making one of my favorite cookies with agave nectar.

The addition of the carob made it a bit more challenging to see how browned the cookies were, but I used the timing of the original recipe again to achieve a successful batch of biscotti.

As you can see at the right, I did not observe the 1/2 inch rule of biscotti. I like mine a bit thicker. They're more fun to dunk in tea that way.

Prior to my giving up caffiene, my favorite tea was a flowery Earl Grey from Harrods. This tea was a wonderful complement to pure biscotti (not altered with chocolate or carob.

These days, it's herbal tea for me. I paired this carob version with cammomile for a lovely honey overtone. A very yummy result.

The gourmet recipe is very true to every traditional recipe I've tried, except typically, they use toasted almonds rather than hazelnuts. But, who am I to argue with the rich flavor imparted by the humble hazelnut.

Just in case you might have wondered where I've been all this month, I've had my office painted and sent my computer back to the nice folks at Tiger Direct for a thermal issue. Today, I sit in my freshly painted office with my newly fixed machine beneath my fingertips. In the meantime, boxes filled with books sit patiently at my left and right, waiting to be placed on the shelves I hefted up the stairs yesterday.

Don't worry, I never packed the cookbooks away. They've just been relocated to the newly placed shelves in the dining room. They're sharing the space with John's fly-fishing books and our travel books.

Next time, an examination of diversity as seen through packed boxes.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Newcomer to Vegas

As I've said previously, prior to a couple of weeks ago, I'd never been to Las Vegas. When John's family decided we were going, I asked his Mom if she wouldn't mind taking me to a local Barnes and Noble so I could buy a Las Vegas travel book. Of course, I had one home in New Jersey, but that didn't help me then.

I went through the book, making a list of my must-see choices. The Liberace museum, Bellagio conservatory and fountains, Hoover Dam (see the post here for those pics), Ceasar's Forum, and the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel and casino topped my list. Although I didn't make it to the Liberace museum, I did get to see quite a bit of the famous strip. Here are some of the photos I took while I experienced Sin City.

Oh Vegas! Home to Big Elvis. When I say "Big" I don't mean big, I mean HUGE. This fellow has to weigh at least 400 pounds.

Connie, John's Mom, knew I have a penchant for Elvis impersonators, so she motioned for us to follow her into the casino next to the Flamingo Hotel where we stayed during our trip. Toward the back of the casino was a little performance area packed with people listening to this big fellow sing from his chair.

All of a sudden he rose, and I snapped this photo, albeit a bit out of focus. I had to catch him while I could because it would be a while before he stood again. His performance was fine and we all had a good laugh. If you're like me, and just go to Vegas for the spectacle, don't miss Big Elvis.

Speaking of spectacle, you should definitely visit the Rio. The casino features Carnevale "floats" suspended from the ceiling that circulate around the casino floor. We watched the procession at least four times while we waited for our turn at the famous seafood buffet.

It was not worth the wait. Most of the food was cold, the crab was very fishy tasting, and there wasn't a big variety of things. I was surprised since it had been rated so highly. You had to peel your own shrimp as well.

Nonetheless, go see the floats. The music is fun, and dancers throw Mardi Gras beads to the crowds on the balcony while they make their rounds.

If you want to see wildlife in Vegas, you can certainly see some at the Secret Garden of Sigfried and Roy at the Mirage. You pay $15 to take a tour of the gardens and possibly see dolphins playing. Within the gardens are white lions and tigers in smaller-than-zoo-size cages. When we were there, the 20 mph winds were making the animals squirrelly, so they paced back and forth in their anxiety.

This make photo-snapping very challenging, but here's one of the better shots of a white lion.

One of the advantages of seeing Vegas on foot is that there are many walkways and bridges with great views of the spectacles.

On the bridge from Ceasar's Palace to the Flamingo, the plexiglass walls along the bridge can provide some shelter from the elements (in our case wind). At night, you can catch ironic reflections such as this one with Ceasar's Palace superimposed upon the Bellagio on the plexiglass.

John took some great shots of the Paris hotel reflected on the Flamingo. By the way, if you want to use the fanciest potties in Vegas, go to the Paris shopping area. It was the nicest public lavatory I have ever experienced (and we tried them in all the casinos while we were there).

Next post -- Carob Hazelnut Biscotti.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Open Letter to Wolfgang Puck

Dear Mr. Puck:

You're quite a famous gourmet chef and restauranteur, so I thought I would try your Las Vegas Spago restaurant when my husband and I were at Ceasar's Palace two weeks ago.

There was a long wait to get in, and were told it would be 20 minutes although it turned out to be almost 40. The waitstaff took another 10 minutes to give us menus when we were seated, then another 15 minutes to take our orders. After that, it took an hour to deliver our meals.

My husband ordered the pulled pork sandwich and I ordered the hand cut herb fettuccini with wild mushrooms, baby arugula and glazed shallots. Do these normally take an hour to prepare and serve? If the waitstaff had informed us that the handmade pasta would take so long, I would have ordered something else. However, there was no such notification or apology for the long wait.

On the menu, as you see here, there is no mention of either pancetta or corn in my dish. However, when it arrived, it had both. I do not eat pancetta. In fact, I have not eaten pork in 16 years. Because the lunch took nearly an hour to reach our table, I did not send it back for fear of another 60 minute wait. Instead, I merely picked the pork from the dish and put it aside. I wish that the menu had stated that this dish contained pork so that I could have ordered something else and not have felt so uncomfortable about it.

The big letdown of the meal was that the menu stated the pasta was "herb fettuccini." There were no herbs present in either the pasta or the sauce. The pasta was plain. The sauce only contained the wild mushrooms, very little arugula, the errant pancetta, the puzzling corn, and the shallots. I was terribly disappointed by the meal, especially after waiting so long for it to appear. Moreover, I deliberately ordered a specialty dish because of your great reputation, thinking it would be more carefully prepared. I know I was just a tourist, like the millions of others who pass through Vegas, but I'm still a paying customer.

The saving grace was that my husband said his pork sandwich was alright. He opted out of the apple slaw.

Overall, I really wish I'd had a better experience with my lunch. I'm just glad the dishes were reasonably priced.

I hope you'll consider what I've written here because I'd like to give one of your other restaurants another chance given the opportunity.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Best Snow on Earth and Other Highlights of Our Christmas Trip West

...are in Utah. More specifically, the best place to ski (if you just want to ski with other skiers without snowboarders) is at Alta.

John and I were pretty lucky -- we skied the only day it snowed while we were in Utah. His parents live about 30 minutes from the parking lot at Alta, so we had fresh snow to play in pretty quickly.

Utah is essentially a desert, so the snow on the mountain is powdery and lofty. I learned how to ski during a blizzard, so I'm much more comfortable skiing while it's snowing or when there's fresh snow on the ground, than when there's not.

I had a good first day until my knees decided to give out. John seems convinced that I have the green slopes down cold, and that I should try the blues. Maybe next time because my second day didn't last long at all due to the pain and dysfunction in my legs. It frustrated me so much that I cried on the mountain. I've worked very hard on rehabilitating my legs all year, so I was devastated by the disappointment. Now that I'm back home in NJ, I've been working even harder at getting my legs back up to snuff.

This is the view coming back down the mountain. Salt Lake City is the valley sitting in the middle of the Wasatch mountain range. At night, you can easily see the huge Mormon temples lighting up the landscape.

Since we were there during Christmas, we did see a lot of colorful lights and seasonal decorations.

When there aren't any snow storms, Salt Lake City suffers from an "inversion." You may know this as smog. Because it sits in a valley, the city's polluted air is trapped within the mountains. When we first flew into Utah, we saw the yellow smog ring settling on the city. I always get a headache the minute we land.

Because I probably wouldn't be able to ski again this trip, we told my in-laws that if they wanted to go to Vegas, we could go with them. They were originally going to be in Vegas when we arrived, but because John's Aunt Pris died, they had come back to Pennsylvania for the viewing and funeral instead.

They were relieved to be getting out of town, so we left for Vegas the day after Christmas. I'd never been before, so the trip was full of firsts for me.

Most likely, the highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Hoover Dam. If you haven't been, you ought to go because the U.S. government is building a bypass road (a marvel in itself) that will avoid the dam and cease all traffic over it. In the photo on the left, you can see the Colorado river on the Nevada side of the Dam.

What you don't see here are the massive power lines and erector-set-like structures wired up and over the dam.

On the Arizona side of the dam, you can walk by the overflow area. It looks like the ultimate skateboard trick park. In this photo, you can see the Arizona side of the dam, with it's clear, blue-green water and salt line showing how deep the water has been in the past.

While we were at the dam, the weather changed from sunny to rainy, with 20 mph winds. These same winds kept us from seeing some of Vegas' typical sights later in the week.

One thing that John and I didn't expect to see were at least four Geodetic Survey buttons pressed into the concrete, both on the Nevada and Arizona sides of the dam.

We usually see these when we tour and hike the national parks. Don't bother asking at the visitor's center if they have pins or patches of these for your collection. They don't have them.

The fun thing about the dam is that you can stand on the timeline between the two states. Arizona is an hour behind Nevada.

It's a good thing we went first thing in the morning (as recommended by Fodors) because when we left the Hoover Dam, there was a line of vehicles stretching for at least 5 miles into the next town.

Between now and the end of next week, I'll post more items on our trip west. One will be an open letter to Wolfgang Puck regarding our lunch at Spago at Ceasar's Palace. The other will be a photo diary of the Vegas sights.

Finally, I'll also be posting another fun and easy recipe for biscotti from a recent issue of Gourmet.

I'm looking forward to a visit with Mom and Dave tomorrow. With the loss of John's Aunt Pris, family continues to become even more precious.

Hope you have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcakes Take Over!

And, surprise! They're good for you.

Yet another great cupcake from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World. These were a big hit for my brother Jorden's birthday at Mom's the day we found out that John's Aunt Pris had passed away.

I have to admit that I de-veganized these by using dairy yogurt instead of soy yogurt, and neufchatel cheese and butter in my frosting, but the original recipe is vegan. Here it is:

Carrot Cake Cupcakes


2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup sugar (I used agave nectar)
1/3 cup vegetable oil (use 1/4 cup if you use agave nectar)
1/3 cup soy yogurt (plain or vanilla) (I used a grain-sweetened dairy yogurt in peach flavor)
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used vanilla paste)
1 cup finely grated carrots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins

Frosting of your choice (I made up a frosting from vegan rice protein powder, neufchatel cheese, butter, vanilla paste, and agave nectar. I'm probably going to make it differently next time, though, since it turned out to be gritty.)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners (I used mini cupcake pans and had extra batter that filled two mini pie pans).
2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt, and vanilla. Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices), and mix until smooth. Fold in carrots, walnuts and raisins.
3. Spray the cupcake liners with non-stick baking spray. Fill the liners 2/3 full. Bake for 26-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted through the center of one comes out clean.
4. Once fully colled, top generously with cream cheese frosting.

It was my first time using pastry tips, so I had a variety of different designs. Those that weren't so pretty were dipped into chopped walnuts to make them look like I meant to do that.

I also filled these tiny gems by poking a hole in the middle of the tops of each cupcake with my index finger, then using a medium round tip to fill with frosting. My family was pretty impressed. I just enjoyed how much fun it was to make them.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

And, may all your baked goods rise to perfection in golden goodness.

Catching up a bit, after John's Aunt Pris' (please see the post below) funeral, John and I left for Utah to spend an extended visit with his mourning parents. They live in a suburb of Salt Lake City that's close to the beautiful mountains that make up the Wasatch mountain range. This includes the famous skiing-only resort of Alta, where we ski. I took some photos which I'll post later in the week, but we only skiied twice because my wretched knees were acting up. However, we did ski on the only day when it snowed.

One of the things that John's Aunt Pris really enjoyed was visiting with John's parents. She often joined them in Las Vegas (a 6-hr drive south from the Salt Lake City area) to gamble and enjoy the sights. In a way of celebrating her love for the town, we wound up taking a last-minute trip to Vegas the day after Christmas.

It was my first trip, so I took a few photos. Like the Utah pics, I'll post them later in the week as well.

Finally, John and I would like to thank everyone who has sent their condolences to his family for their tragic loss. We appreciate your sentiments as well as your prayers during this time. Also, thank you to everyone who participated in the Menu for Hope. The food bloggers of the world raised $60,000 (last year's take was $17,000) to help feed the world through the UN's World Food Programme. It's an honor to be a part of this thoughtful and collaborative effort.