As you may have noticed, there have been some changes around here!
I am very happy with The Graceful Kitchen’s new domain name, hosting plan, design, and cutting the cord with wordpress.com… It is definitely still a work-in-progress but I am coming to terms with the fact that LIFE itself is a work in progress — nothing is ever going to be completely perfect. Which is great if you look at it from the right perspective — it means that there is always room to grow!
There have been many new beginnings around here at the Graceful household. First, we were lucky enough to be the first ones to jump the gun on adopting this little cutie.
His name is Pedro Martinez and he is 6 weeks old. Watching him grow and learn new things every day is amazing… I sound like a mom talking about her baby, don’t I?
Well, about that…
Yep, in a few months we are expecting yet ANOTHER addition to our happy family. Hopefully Pedro won’t get too jealous!
Not that I am making any excuses, but this is kind of my explanation for why things have been slow around here posting-wise. I didn’t have really bad morning sickness and, overall, the pregnancy has been easy so far, but for nearly the first half of it I had lost my passion for food and cooking… I had never experienced anything like that before and it is NOT a place I ever want to go back to. I would literally sit on the couch, scanning my brain for things to do in the kitchen… And either come up empty or come up with something, but without any energy to actually walk to the kitchen and do it. Now I am much, much better and am determined to never let that happen again (though I will probably have more kids, but this time I will anticipate this dreadful lack-of-feeling and come prepared).
You may have also noticed that the tagline of the website has changed from “Whatever you are, be a good one” to it’s current one (mostly vegan, usually healthy, always sane).
When I started this blog, it was very, very different from what it is today. The idea to have a food-blog had been cooking in my mind for quite some time (pun intended), but I didn’t quite know in what direction it would go. As often happens in life, the right direction came only after something terribly wrong happened. I will not go too deep into the details here as that event is very personal and as freshly painful to think about as it was when it had just happened, but the bottom line is that I had lost a friend and the world had lost an incredible human being. That tragedy brought a new kind of clarity to my life: If I (and everyone who was touched by this friend) would share even a little bit of our inner grace with the world around us, then he would still be making his amazingly positive mark on the world.
My style of writing ranges from genuine to sarcastic, and I was in a constant search after the voice that would truly represent me here. The tragedy is what tipped the scale for me, and I knew that the right direction for this blog was to spread kindness and happiness rather than sharp cynicism. Of course, I am doing it in my personal voice, so parts of it are still cynical and I let a swearword slip every now and then… But for the most part this place is dedicated to sharing happiness and good food.
Even with this direction in mind, I still didn’t know exactly how this blog would turn out. But I knew it needed to be the best I can make it be at any given moment… So I started with the catch-phrase that I thought best suited the attitude: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
A few weeks ago my (lovely) sister-in-law was browsing through some of the earliest recipes here and commented on how much my style of recipes had changed. She was right. Without really noticing, my non-vegan recipes were vanishing and a tremendous amount of thought was being put into making each one as healthy as it possibly can be without compromising its culinary quality.
This wasn’t just a coincidence — after Mr. Graceful and I both read The China Study, we decided to erase animal products from our grocery shopping list, except for honey and (very rarely) fish. Mr. Graceful was sold on going vegan for the health benefits and I was happy because, although I am definitely the type of person that can enjoy a good steak, I have always found meat, eggs and milk somewhat repulsive (cheese is a different story). It also seemed to make sense that what is good for our bodies is also what is good for our environment and the other living creatures we share it with. (And for our wallets, too — a plant-based diet is much cheaper, at least where we live).
But another positive side-effect had taken place, somewhere I really wasn’t expecting it to show up — here on this blog! It didn’t even occur to me once that having a vegan kitchen was a limitation — it was one of the most culinarily liberating things that had happened to me in a long time. I began to better understand the chemistry behind raw materials, why certain processes were applied in traditional cooking and baking, and more. This knowledge enabled me to ask more questions, experiment more, and gain more answers and confidence. And the amount of support I got in the form of readers who found my information useful encouraged me to continue in that direction.
While making the design and hosting changes to the blog, I realized that it already had the things it was missing in the beginning: A strong voice and a solid genre. While I still believe in “Whatever you are, be a good one,” this blog reached a place where it already knew what it was — and it was becoming a darn good one.
Now the tagline “Mostly vegan, usually healthy, always sane” seemed much more fitting and specific. And I’ll tell you a secret… It doesn’t describe just the blog — it pretty much describes me*. I guess it’s a good thing when an author of a blog is so in-tune with it!
And what better way of celebrating new beginnings than with the reason you’re even reading this post… Chocolate chip cookies!
Ah, the elusive chewy chocolate chip cookie…
You know the one. The one that taunts you as it’s cooling with its tantalizing smell. The one with the perfect tone – slightly crispy on the outside, beautifully chewy on the inside. The one that makes you think you remember something wonderful when you eat it, only you can’t remember what (hint: it’s your childhood).
…The one that’s impossible to achieve without eggs, or butter, or both.
It has long been my goal to succeed in making the perfect batch of THAT cookie, that will be both vegan and healthier than its classic counterpart.
Ditching the egg was rather easy, but the butter was a tough one. Whipped with the sugar, it was a crucial ingredient in lending the cookies that holy-grail-of-cookies texture.
I managed to succeed with vegan butter (read: margarine) but felt horrible about having margarine, an ingredient that normally would never have entered my house, be the thing that salvaged the cookies.
I know what you’re thinking: “Umm, hello? What about coconut oil? THE fat that vegans turn to when they need butter?!”
The thing with coconut oil is… It is too damn expensive! Mr. Graceful and I are both students (and soon-to-be-parents!) on a tight budget and it just doesn’t make sense for us to spend so much on something I will be using frequently. Another thought is that I want these recipes to be as accessible to everyone as possible, not full of esoteric ingredients that make people just close the tab and go, defeated, to buy a stick of margarine.
I tried to replicate my margarine success using canola oil, and got a flaky cookie reminiscent of thick pie crust.
Realizing what I needed is something to weigh the batter down in order to make it chewier, I did countless experiments, with ingredients ranging from the conventional (applesauce, oat flour, etc.) to the downright bizarre (chickpeas, lentils, etc.) without success.
Just when I was about to give up, I ran into this recipe on veganbaking.net by a user named Mattie. The recipe itself doesn’t look too different or more promising than the things I was attempting myself — it looked like a fairly standard recipe, and called for “vegan butter”, which I had no intention of using.
But reading the comments of other people and Mattie’s responses, it quickly became clear to me that this Mattie was somewhat of a cookie scientist… So I took note and read EVERYthing Mattie had to say… And this is the major insight for this recipe, the secret ingredient: Water.
As you may or may not know, butter and margarine (as opposed to oil) are about 80% fat and 20% water. And as it turns out, this small difference plays a crucial role in determining the “bite” of the final result.
I gave it a shot, using roughly that ratio of oil to water… It was like magic. The cookie was EXACTLY what I was looking for. I did end up changing the recipe a little, but for the most part it was pretty much too perfect to mess with.
Given this new freedom I started making different variations of it, each different from the other, but all bearing the distinct texture of that perfect cookie (the best one in my opinion is the mocha version! It comes out just like our good friend Esther’s legendary mocha cookies, only vegan).
I wouldn’t call this recipe “healthy” because even with my modifications it still has more sugar than I like to comfortably consume, and of course it is not fat free. But it is definitely healthier than most chocolate chip cookie recipes out there, so when we are looking for a special treat around here this is a rather sane one to turn to.
Fortunately it is also extremely easy to make and takes about 10 minutes to put together, plus another 25 minutes to bake. Baking an entire baking sheet and cutting it into squares or bars also saves the labor intensive part of balling up cookies (but if you’re up for it, see the modification notes at the end of this post).
*Mr. Graceful has mentioned that it is mostly, usually the insane people that feet the need to say that they are always sane. I guess he makes a good point…!
4-Way Classic Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars:
Very lightly adapted from here
Serves: Makes 24-30 squares
Estimated Time: 10 minute prep + 25 minute bake
Music That Compliments This Dish: Gavin DeGraw – I Don’t Wanna Be
2 1.4 cups all-purpose flour (see modifications for including whole-wheat)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
100 grams (3.5 oz.) dark chocolate
3/4 cups sugar**
1 Tbs. sticky brown sugar (the kind with molasses)
11 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 Tbs. ground flax seed
3 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius, which are 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients except the chocolate.
Chop the chocolate and stir it in as well.
Create the flax mix by mixing the ground flax with 3 Tablespoons of water, and set aside.
In a different bowl, mix the sugars with the 11 Tablespoons of oil and 3 Tablespoons of water. It’s important to work fast from here on out so that the sugars won’t dissolve completely, lending themselves to that normally just-out-of-reach texture we’re aiming for.
Add the flax mix and vanilla and mix until combined.
Add the bowl of dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not be tempted to over-stir!
Line a 23×32 cm (9×12 inch) pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper and turn the dough out into it.
Flatten the cookie dough with your hands until it is evenly covering the entire surface of the baking sheet. If your baking sheet is significantly bigger, you can double the recipe and use it or just spread the cookie dough over half of the baking sheet. The important thing is that the thickness of the dough after flattening will be just under a centimeter (a bit more than 1/4 inch).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. Touch the dough lightly with your finger to determine if it’s ready. It should still be soft, but not wet or sticky. Let cool before cutting into squares.
These will keep for 2-3 weeks in an airtight container (but they normally just don’t last that long).
- Whole-wheat flour: I have only been successful at replacing half the flour with whole wheat, but I used the kind that is supposed to replicate all-purpose. I would start by replacing a quarter of the flour with whole wheat and gradually taking it up.
- Sugar: The original recipe calls for 1.5 cups of white sugar. For me, this is much too sweet. American-based recipes tend to call for way more sugar than is normal for me to handle, and it’s not uncommon for me to cut that amount in half. When I make these at home, I make them with 1/2 cup of sugar (instead of the 3/4 that I listed above) because that is as low as I could get it without compromising the texture of the cookies… So if you have a low-tolerance for sweetness (like me), you can do that as well. If your palette is accustomed to the American cookie recipes, 3/4 cup may not seem sweet enough for you. But I recommend trying it out before piling on the sugar. You might just like the feeling of eating a cookie without getting punched in the face by a sugar overload.
- Cookies vs. Bars: I like making these in bar form because it’s so easy! But if you want to go all the way with these and shape them into cookies, then I recommend you bake them for less time (about 12-15 minutes) at a higher temperature (180 C or 350 F). I would also “help them” flatten out a little prior to baking.
- For Esther’s chewy mocha cookies (HIGHLY recommended): simply add 4 Tablespoons instant coffee to the sugars before mixing with the oil.
- For chewy almond cookies: replace the chocolate with 1 cup slivered almonds. Replace the vanilla extract with 1 tsp almond extract.
- For chewy oatmeal cookies: Replace the chocolate with 1 cup raisins. Replace 3/4 cup of flour with 1 cup oats. Add 1 Tbs. cinnamon and 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg to the dry ingredients.
- Preheat oven to 160 C (320 F)
- Whisk together 2 1/4 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp baking soda.
- Chop 100 grams (3.5 oz) dark chocolate and mix it in as well
- In a small bowl, mix 2 Tbs. ground flax with 3 Tbs water and set aside
- In a medium bowl, mix 3/4 cup white sugar and 1 Tbs. sticky brown sugar with 11 Tbs. oil and 3 Tbs. water.
- Add the flax mix and 3 tsp vanilla extract to the sugar bowl and mix until combined.
- Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
- Flatten into a 23X32 cm (9×12 inch) cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes.
- Let cool before cutting into squares.