The ‘unemployment 20’

Remember when you were a freshman in college and gained the ‘freshman 15’? A not-so-fabulous side effect of the unintended life of leisure is what I like to call the ‘unemployment 20’. Home all day, a little depressed (ok, sometimes more than a little), and guess what is just a few steps away….the FRIDGE! The bank account may have been shrinking, but my pants?? Face it, there are just so many ways you can wear leggings and tunics before a moo moo begins to look appealing. And since buying new clothes was not in the wallet, figuring out ways to keep enjoying cooking real food yet keep it on the leaner side was the way to go. That said, what I try not to do is fill my body with ‘fake’ food. There is just no way I can convince myself that a package of sugar-free fat-free hot chocolate and ‘whipped topping’ (isn’t that in the same category as ‘cheese food’?) is going to taste even remotely like real chocolate mousse. Plus, I think I read somewhere that whipped topping has the same ingredients as bathtub caulking. That’s why I’ve tried to include calorie counts in my recipes – if you know what’s going in, you know how much has to be burned off. Oh, and if I list a recipe without calories, you really don’t want to know… trust me on this. Just remember what Julia said: “everything in moderation, including moderation!”

TIP: I’ve found that a small kitchen scale is your best friend when trying to watch what goes in the mouth (and what lands on the hips and ass). It helps you keep track of portion size and are relatively inexpensive ( a decent one is less than $40). It’s also a great tool for baking, since measuring by weight is always more accurate, and many recipes from outside the US (the UK in particular) are listed by weight measure rather than cups.

Carrot-Ginger Dressing (adapted from Food Network magazine)

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 TBSP chopped peeled ginger
  • 1 TSP packed light brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP rice vinegar
  • 1 TSP fresh lemon juice
  • 2 TSP soy sauce (low sodium if you have it, regular if you don’t)
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional: 2 TSP sesame oil – I leave this out because I have a friend who is severely allergic to sesame and it’s just bad manners to feed something to a guest and then watch them swell up like a balloon at the Macy’s parade….entertaining, yes — polite, no. You can substitute another oil if you want, and the dressing tastes just fine without too.

Put the carrot and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Reserve ½ cup cooking liquid, then drain the carrot.Put the cooked carrots and reserved cooking liquid in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the ginger, brown sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce and 1 pinch of salt (and sesame oil if using). Blend again until smooth. Keeps in a jar in the fridge a good long time. Calories: about 15 per 2 TBSP.

Suggestions for uses: Salads, obviously, and goes particularly well on a hearty green like spinach. Toss in some cut up leftover chicken, your favorite crunchy raw veggies, maybe some sliced grapes or apples and a few toasted almonds and you have a great lunch or light dinner. This is also a nice light dip or sauce for grilled shrimp, fish or tofu.

Pumpkin ginger scones (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s “Recipes for Health” column at NYTimes.com)

Makes 12 scones

  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1/4 TSP ground ginger
  • 2 TSP baking powder
  • 1/2 TSP baking soda
  • 4 TBSP cold unsalted butter (half a stick), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin purée, well drained
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 TBSP maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or butter and flour sheet). Sift together the flours, salt, ginger, baking powder and baking soda. Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse 3 or 4 times to mix the dry ingredients. Add the butter to the food processor, and pulse several times until it is distributed throughout the flour. The mixture should have the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

TIP: if you don’t have a food processor you can do this by hand using a pastry blender or two knives to ‘cut in’ the butter’. Even easier is to freeze the ½ stick of butter, and when you are ready to add to the flour mixture, grate it on the holes of a box grater and mix into the dry ingredients. The point is to get little pieces of the cold butter throughout the mixture.

Beat together the pumpkin purée, buttermilk and maple syrup in a small bowl, and scrape into the food processor or bowl. Add the ginger, and process or mix just until the dough just comes together. (Over-processing makes tough scones, and tough scones make the Queen angry.) Scrape onto a lightly floured surface, and gently shape into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into six squares, then cut the squares in half on the diagonal to form 12 triangular pieces. I sometimes brush the scones with a little milk, cream, whichever is handy, and sprinkle each lightly with a pinch of raw sugar for a little crunch – doesn’t really add more than a few calories/scone. Place on the baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: 12 scones. These will keep for a couple of days well wrapped or in a cookie tin and freeze really well too. Calories: approximately 145-150 calories per scone.

This recipe is VERY adaptable to whatever you’d like to put in it. If you don’t like pumpkin and ginger, below is a variation I came up with. Want to change it up a bit? Use orange zest and dried cranberries instead of lemon zest and currants. Or substitute the cranberries with chocolate chips. It’s like the ‘little black dress’ of the scone world!

Lemon currant scones

  • 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ TSP salt
  • 2 TSP baking powder
  • ½ TSP baking soda
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon (about 1 ½ – 2 TBSP)
  • 4 TBSP cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ pieces
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried currants

Follow the directions for the pumpkin ginger scones above, adding in the lemon zest to the dry ingredients before pulsing or whisking so the zest is evenly distributed throughout the mix before you add in the wet ingredients.

Brew up a pot of tea, get out your favorite jam, and Bob’s your uncle! (FYI, I made these lemon scones at 5AM, switched on the BBC and watched Wills and Kate on their big day…. a bit daft, perhaps, but I’m just a shoe-lovin hopeless romantic!)

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One thought on “The ‘unemployment 20’

  1. Yup! I’ve tried those scones and they are killer – especially to scone junkie like me. That
    carrot ginger dressing is next….I know I could love that over a fresh salad with walnuts and apples, or grapes and cashews, or…..whatever. Keep up the good ideas, I’m happy to be your
    tester.

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