Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flat Cookies and Food Waste. Yum?

Jake decided that he wanted to bake something this afternoon. (Yes, I realize that the above picture is not the most appetizing if we're talking about baking, but bear with me, I'll eventually get to the explanation.) If you know me, you know that I don't often bake. Not until the end of the year, that is, because the holidays are baking time, in my mind at least. It's not that I don't like to do it year-round. It's just that I don't want to eat too much of a not-so-healthy food (and that's the only stuff worth baking), and then we don't often finish off whatever it is before it's gone bad/stale, and then I feel bad about eventually throwing it out. So, I feel guilty if I do eat it, and I feel guilty if I don't. But Jake is really into baking (I think at least partially because they do it so often at preschool), so we pulled out a cookbook this afternoon and sat down to decide what we should make together. After a little deliberation, we settled on chocolate chip cookies. I didn't actually go with the recipe in Jake's Betty Crocker Kid's Cook!, but instead went with my all-time favorite cookies, Martha Stewart's recipe for Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (2 Weight Watchers points per cookie).

Now, since I don't often bake, I needed to check the list of ingredients to figure out what we had on hand, and what I needed to pick up from the store. I picked up the flour container, and it felt heavy enough that I knew we had plenty for cookies. But on a whim, I decided to actually open it up and check on the flour inside (since last time I baked anything was probably before Christmas). Sure enough, I opened up the bag to see hundreds of tiny black dots moving around. Apparently, these little bugs are known as flour weevils and are usually present as larvae inside the bag of flour even before you get it home, so that's how they manage to grow and multiply inside a sealed container. Gross. A trip to the grocery store was a definite necessity before the baking would commence.

Anyhow, this discovery reminded me of one of my new favorite blogs, The Frugal Girl. Every Friday, she posts her Food Waste Friday blog, which includes a picture of the food that she throws out each week, in an effort to hold herself accountable for reducing the amount of waste. If you look back at the earlier blogs, you can see that she was wasting what was probably less than the average household, but still a lot compared to what gets wasted now (she often has weeks with no waste at all).

Okay, so you guessed it. The picture at the top is my own Food Waste Friday, er, make that Saturday.
-About a quarter of the bag of flour.
-A relatively small amount of salt. I know, you're probably wondering how salt goes bad. Well, when you've had it so long that it clumps up, and even when you beat the container against the counter, you can't seem to break it down enough to get the salt to pour out the top, then it's gone bad. That's my definition, at least. The only way that I could have gotten the last big chunk out would have been to somehow tear the top off of the container to access it, and that just seemed like way too much work, especially considering that I already had another unopened container in the pantry. (It's actually a small cabinet where we keep the food, but I like to think of it as a pantry. It feels fancier. But, I digress.) 
-Most of a very small can of tomato paste. (What do you do with the rest of it when the recipe only calls for a tablespoon or two? No, those aren't marshmallows in there, it's mold. Yes, that one had been in the fridge for awhile.)
-Half of a container of grape tomatoes (I'm not a big tomato fan, so I find it hard to finish those off before they become wrinkly and gross).
-The rest of a can of enchilada sauce.
-About a dozen pepperoni.
-Most of a jar of pizza sauce. I guess I should freeze the tomato-based products in smaller, usable quantities after I open them, huh?
Anyhow, I don't even think this was that bad of a week for me, but I am wondering if I already threw out other stuff earlier in the week that I didn't document. Hmm, I think I should try to do this regularly and see what comes of this little experiment.

But maybe I need to take a step back for a minute to tell you why I even care. Recent studies have shown that the average U.S. household wastes approximately 14% of their food purchases, or that a family of four throws out $590 per year in just meats, fruits, vegetables and grain products. This is a waste of the water, energy and oil that went into producing, packaging, transporting and selling the food, even if it does get composted. If not, it goes into the landfill, where yes, it decomposes, but that's part of the problem because it causes a release of methane, which is about 23 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in our atmosphere. Every bit of food wasted contributes significantly to increasing our overall carbon footprint.

So, I may not be saving the world by taking a picture of our household's food waste from this week, but at least I'm trying to hold myself accountable. I could do a better job of planning meals around foods that we already have in the pantry or fridge, and at least cleaning out my fridge weekly will help me to see what's lurking in there that should be used up soon before it goes bad. Now, I really should check the freezer...
But again, I digress, because I started out this post talking about cookies.

So, Jake and I spent the afternoon baking chocolate chip cookies, and we had fun doing it. But, every time I have baked cookies in the last six months (which is probably a grand total of four times), they have turned out totally flat. And this time was no exception. Here, see for yourself:

I really don't understand what the problem is that causes my cookies to go flat. They seem fine until the start to bake, and then they just spread. And these last four batches of cookies were made by me in three different kitchens (in three different states, for that matter), with different recipes, different ingredients, different tools and different baking sheets. The only thing they had in common was me. Apparently, I bake flat cookies. But this didn't used to be a problem, so what about me, or my technique, has changed? I honestly don't know. I don’t let the butter melt; in fact I usually have a hard time waiting until it’s room temperature, so if anything, it’s over-chilled. I put the dough in the fridge in between batches, so that it stays chilled. I let the cookie sheet cool completely between batches. The only thing that I can think of is that maybe I over mix the dough? Because the butter is too cold, I have to work harder to mix it with the sugar, which adds more air into the dough, which causes it to spread more and flatten in the oven? I don’t know, but it’s the only theory that I could come up with. I may have to make another batch just to test my theory.

But, I should say, I think I might actually like the flat cookies even better- chewy in the middle and a little crispy around the edges. YUM!

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