Southwestern Cooking: Mesquite

Since we’re back to the blogging business with Arizona’s second (albeit smaller) shutdown, I decided to revisit my first blog entry from the first shutdown. I attributed my dalgona coffee’s successes to having the appropriate kichen hardware available. For my first blog post in the second shutdown, I decided to go the opposite direction: how successful can I be following a recipe which calls for specific kitchen hardware but instead I work it manually? This has brought me to today’s blog post: mesquite chocolate chip cookies.

What’s mesquite? Let’s talk about it:

According to Wikipedia, mesquite is a type of small leguminous tree that is native to the southwestern US and Mexico. The mesquite tree is a common southwestern desert ornamental plant, due to its durability to survive drought. (It is also surprisingly an invasive species in its own native land.) The tree’s wood, fruit pods, and sap have a long legacy of uses with the southwestern indigenous people’s cultures, widely ranging from shelter, furniture, medicinal uses, and culinary staples. Outside the tribal nations, mesquite maintains an ubiquitous presence in southwestern cuisine.

The scent of smoked mesquite wood is known to be tangy and sweet, which has led to its popularity with smoked BBQ. Mesquite is a staple southwestern BBQ flavor that Tucson Foodie posted an article in February 2020 listing BBQ restaurants in Tucson, with many places featuring mesquite wood. Additionally, local distillery Whiskey Del Bac has a line of whiskeys where the malted barley is smoked using mesquite wood.

Mesquite flour is created from milled dried pods. It’s known to have high protein, low glycemic content, and gluten-free. Mesquite flour has a slightly sweet and nutty scent, which shows up in baked goods. It is easily accessible in Tucson, whether you mill your own dried pods with a local harvester or buy a bag of the flour from a local retailer. When I bought a 1 lb bag of San Xavier Co-op Farm mesquite flour at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, the bag included the Tohono O’odham language’s name for it – “wihog cu:i” (wee-hawg chew-ee). After doing some research, I found the individual word translations into English:

  • wihog” is “bean pod” (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
  • While I couldn’t find “cu:i“, I did find “kui” (koo-wee) for “mesquite tree”. (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
Mesquite flour has a grittier texture than standard all purpose flour along with a dull yellowish hue (but not as yellow as cornmeal).

Let’s bake some cookies!

I was introduced to mesquite flour this past year through a local business named Arizona Baking Company, who released a mesquite chocolate chip cookie mix. I tried it out, pleasantly liked it (Lauren and I once ate half a dozen in one sitting at our office, during the pre-covid era), and decided that I was going to learn how to make them myself. I’ve made cookies before, surely I can do this too, right?

Mesquite chocolate chip cookie recipes were an easy enough find, so I made the first one I saw on Google (source: David Lebovitz)… which strongly recommends using a stand mixer. My problem: my stand mixer is currently located in Los Angeles (one of many woes in my LDR). However, the recipe says I can still do it manually. So, ready to blow some steam after a long day and very determined to eat mesquite chocolate chip cookies, I set forward to trying this recipe manually. For the blog’s viewing pleasure, I have also included in pictures from my attempt.

One of the things I learned about baking better is to weigh your ingredients instead using measuring cups. I originally bought this huge brick of Amish Country butter from the grocery store to make my own ghee, but discovered when I got home that it’s actually salted butter. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I used it for baking. Unsalted butter is better for baking, but salted butter is fine so long as you don’t add in the additional salt listed in the recipe.
The ingredients overview shot. The rag on the bottom of the mixing bowl is for keeping the bowl in place (a tip I picked up from Serious Eats). Using a wooden spoon because we’re going manual style.
Creaming the butter required me applying many stabbing motions with the wooden spoon. This was the first step where using a stand mixer would make things easier. The rag worked well holding the bowl at the bottom.
Churned in the sugars and eggs with the creamed butter, then adding some vanilla extract.
Added in the mesquite and all purpose flour mix. The dough starts getting a bit tough to mix with the spoon.
By the time I add in the oats and chocolate chips, the dough is too difficult to mix with the spoon. This is where the stand mixer would work very well. The recipe recommends putting your hands in to mix it, so I went with it. It’s very sticky.
Final results: tastes great! My hand, wrist, and forearm are kinda sore, but these chocolate chips are totally hitting the spot. Tastes like a nutty chocolate chip cookie without any nuts incorporated.

Comments about mesquite flour: Since it’s a gluten free flour alternative, it does suffer from the gluten free baking problems where it spreads out and is flat. There is also a bit of a gooey texture to the cookies. Experimenting with the baking times, we found that increasing the time in my oven for a couple more minutes helps brown it a bit more and gives it a less gooey texture. Letting it sit out to slowly finish out cooking and cooling does help with a firmer texture. But, as always, your miles may vary based on your home oven. (I’ve learned that the reason ovens cost so much is their ability to maintain a steady, consistent temperature)

Would I do this again manually? yes, assuming my cravings are strong enough such that the physical labor doesn’t bother me. The reward is definitely worth the effort. But if I had a stand mixer, all bets are off – I’m using the stand mixer.

SONG OF THE DAY

Speaking of stand mixers, the most commonly known stand mixer is from KitchenAid. I bought a Professional 500 5QT model off Tucson craigslist back in 2015 for $100. It was barely used, making it an even better deal. According to Kitchenaid’s website, the first stand mixer was invented in 1919.

While I occasionally imagine myself being at the level of a French pastry chef, there’s nothing Parisian about mesquite. However, mesquite does grow in Texas and there exists a city of Paris, Texas.

So, with that a date and location applied to this entry’s theme, the song of the day is “Paris 1919” by John Cale:

John Cale – Paris 1919

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 44: Award-winning Video Game Music

This may surprise people, but did you know that a video game theme has won a Grammy award? In 2011, the main theme of Civilization IV, “Baba Yetu” (Swahili version of The Lord’s Prayer), won a grammy award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). The composer is Christopher Tin and features the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Here’s the song, it’s a great listen (despite the video game graphics of 2005):

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Baba Yetu

This song also made to America’s Got Talent in 2018, where it was awarded the Golden Buzzer:

Angel City Chorale Choir – Baba Yetu – America’s Got Talent 2018

Before starting my PhD, I was living in Los Angeles and I found out that Christopher Tin had a small classical recital one Friday evening in Santa Monica. I attended it with Aldo, and we met Christopher Tin afterwards (he is super nice!). I own a copy of each of his albums, “Calling All Dawns” (which also won a grammy in 2011 for Best Classical Crossover Album) and “The Drop that Contained the Sea”. My favorite song from his second album is “Waloyo Yamoni”, which translates from Lango (Uganda) into “We Overcome the Wind”. It’s also features the Soweto Gospel Choir, just like with “Baba Yetu”.

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir – Waloyo Yamoni

SONG OF THE DAY

Christopher Tin has a new album coming out this August. I supported it on Kickstarter when it was announced 2 years ago and it became the highest funded classical music Kickstarter ever. I’m hoping they’ll do a west coast (particularly Los Angeles) live concert for this album in the future, so I can go attend it in person. Therefore, the song of the day will be the first song that has come out for this album, which also happens to be the main theme for Civilization VI:

Christopher Tin – Sogno di Volare (“The Dream of Flight”)

To be honest…I don’t play any of the Civilization games. Never have been a turn-based strategy player. Now, if you want to talk about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’m totally in.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 42: Green Thumb

One of the things I have been pursuing with little success through my PhD is trying to keep plants alive to their first birthday (or sometimes their half-birthday). I usually do well enough in the cooler months, but with summer comes me traveling, intense heat, and the monsoons that months of progress go kaput. To add insult to injury, strong winds have blown off off a succulent plant from my balcony not once, but TWICE.

At one point, I had given up on becoming a plant parent that I bought a chocolate silicone mold with succulent shapes. If I can’t grow a plant, I’ll make a “plant” out of matcha chocolate. Except I learned that sharp corners in chocolate molds are regions where air bubbles like to form, no matter how many times I tap the mold to push the air bubbles up. Even with chocolate, something I have some level of confidence, I cannot make plants look great! Talk about additional insult to injury.

I tried a few times, but my succulent matcha chocolates don’t look so happy.

On one of my shopping trips around the start of quarantine, I noticed that green onions were not as readily available (they are now though!). Luckily for me, I already had a pack of green onions from Trader Joe’s beforehand. They come with their roots attached, which let me to my next thoughts – can I regrow them and if so, is it low enough maintenance for my incompetence? After reading through a few food blogs, I found the simplest way to regrow green onions was to keep the white base part with the roots, put them in a glass of water, and set them by the window for sunlight. So I did that – put them in mason jars on my kitchen windowsill that faces west. I switch the water in the glass daily in the early afternoon, when the sun starts to shine towards the kitchen window.

And you know what? After 4 days of this, the green onions started to grow!!

Green onions, day 4 in water by windowsill

After consulting with MagAO-X DM whisperer and #1 plant parent, Kyle Van Gorkom, I resolved to try out potting the green onions in soil. I decided to experiment with this by transferring half of the green onions to potted soil outdoors and comparing it with the other half in a mason jar indoors. I would say I was trying to be a scientist, but the reality is that I didn’t want to bother microwaving the soil to kill the gnats.

Outdoor green onions,day 1 indoor/outdoor experiment (day 7 total)

After 10 days, I compared both green onions and they pretty much grew like weeds! They’re so beautiful! I chopped them off and ate them with cold soba noodles for lunch. I sampled both the green onions from outside and inside and they both pretty much taste the same: oniony.

Green onions, Day 10 indoor/outdoor (day 17 total)

It’s been 30 days (37 days total) since this green onion experiment began. I’ve gotten 2 harvests from each of the green onion sets. I’ve also extended it to include some leek, which was used when making bone broth. The mason jar set isn’t looking as brilliant as before, so it’s likely time to retire it and bring on a fresh batch from the market. The outdoor plant is starting to wilt a bit, I’m assuming from the weather heating up. When this experiment started, the weather was still in the 70-80F range, but it’s in the high 90’s these days. I had one onion dry up considerably, meaning I need to adjust the watering. I may need to start increasing watering everyday from every other day. I’m also thinking of pulling out a couple dried out onions to transplant the leeks.

Green onions, day 30. Indoor top, outdoor bottom. Look how long the roots grew!

To turn full circle on this post, I want to post another achievement: remember the succulent that fell off the balcony back in March? They got re-potted over a month ago when I started the green onion experiment. I’m proud to say that they’re thriving well and have not fallen off the balcony after being transferred to a heavier pot.

The poor traumatized succulent has been revived!

SONG OF THE DAY
This post has been brought to you by the color green. Green is roughly in the 500-550 nm wavelength range. Therefore, today’s song is I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers:

The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

ta-da-da-ta, ta-da-da-ta…

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 41: Forks and Knives

The days have cooled down a bit, no more peaking above 100F. I’m enjoying being able to keep my blinds open while I work in the daytime. Once it becomes consistent days of being above 100F, then the blinds have to be closed at all times.

One of my quarantine purchases has been getting a bicycle trainer. It attaches to the rear tire and transforms my bicycle into a stationary bicycle, perfect for indoor exercise. With quarantine approaching 2 months, it’s about time I stopped using that as my excuse for not exercising. Please excuse my messy apartment…

The best part is that the whole contraption folds up, making more room in my apartment when not in use.

With a bike trainer, you can adjust the resistance at the back. I usually cycle with my bike on higher gears and a bit of resistance, which means after 30 minutes I’m sweaty and ready to get off the bike. The best part of exercising is that I feel I have earned my meals. Or at least that’s what I tell myself to convince myself that exercising is important.

SONG OF THE DAY

I was digging through my music library recently and pretty much rediscovered Beirut. I first heard of Beirut about 8 years ago, when my friend sent me songs and we would listen to them together. He’s a postdoc now at NIST. I look forward to visiting him in Colorado in the future and we can listen to Beirut together again. Here’s one of my favorite tracks by Beirut:

Beirut – Forks and Knives

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 34: Chocolate drink and TV commercials

This week, MagAO-X was scheduled for its 2020A observation run at LCO. LCO is still closed according to recent updates, MagAO-X is still hanging out at the XWCL in Steward Observatory, and everyone continues to work from home. I decided to write this post about something that pleasantly surprised me when I visited LCO for MagAO in 2017B – seeing Milo at the dining hall. According to Wikipedia, Milo is a popular chocolate drink in Oceania, South America, Southest Asia, and parts of Africa.

Milo brings back memories of my childhood, when I relocated to the Philippines for 3 years. I had grown up drinking Nesquik chocolate milk in the US, so finding a similar brand was a godsend for homesick child self transitioning to a drastically new environment. I remember the TV commercials focusing how drinking Milo makes an athletic child. It was the late 1990’s and being a child, it means these commercials were full of truth, right? (Adult me is skeptical)

A Milo Philippines TV commerical from 1999-2000

Decades later, this theme still continues:

Translation (from Tagalog): Your skill? None from the ball. None from shoes. It’s at your daily energy. (Then some English portion) Excel at flavor, for the skill of champions.

Let’s take a look into some other countries’ advertisements:

Milo advertisement in Chile
Milo advertisement in India
Milo advertisement in Malaysia

It’s been a few years since I’ve had Milo, so I bought some while grocery shopping at LeeLee’s International Market. I mixed it up with milk and drank it for breakfast. It tasted different than what I remembered in my childhood. I immediately suspected the milk – we mixed Milo with hot water and milk powder instead of fresh milk. I mixed the Milo with some excess milk powder I had lying around from a recipe experiment, and it tasted a bit closer to my childhood!

If I really wanted to replicate the flavor from my childhood, I would have also used Birch tree milk powder as well.

Back then, it was uncommon in the Philippines to have fresh milk, since long-term refrigeration is not reliable. Living in Quezon City, power outages happened all the time, from the seasonal small signal 1 typhoons (which once cancelled school for 4 days in a row) and overall infrastructure issues. There was also one significant days-long power outage that occurred allegedly due to jellyfish. Additionally, fresh milk is expensive in the Philippines because it must be imported. Even though the milk is not refrigerated when purchased, it must be refrigerated upon opening the container. It’s been almost 2 decades since I returned to live in the US full-time and 5 years since my last visit, so maybe it’s more common these days.

1 Liter fresh milk at Philippines grocery store, December 2015. I did the math, and given $1 USD ~ P46 PHP at the time, it comes out to being equivalent to $6.91/gallon.

Last comment about Milo – the flavor varies based on country of manufacture because the palate balance is localized by region. The Chilean Milo tasted different from the one I bought at LeeLee’s (Singapore manufactured). Therefore, the Milo sourced from a Hispanic market versus an Asian supermarket versus your neighborhood small African market, will each taste different. I’m told there’s also a difference in the Milo produced between Indonesia and Malaysia.

SONG OF THE DAY
To keep with the sports theme of Milo, the song of the day is my favorite FIFA Club World Cup (La Copa Mundial) official song – Shakira’s “Waka Waka” from the 2010 tournament in South Africa. This quarantine got me reminiscing the times of sitting in bars with friends and enjoying the crowd energy while watching live matches of La Copa.

Shakira – Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Official Song of 2010 World Cup

Here’s the Spanish version as well:

Shakira – Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – Spanish version

Along with “Waka Waka” playing in the airwaves, there was also media frenzy about Paul the Octopus. The magnitude of superstition around world cup matches is on-par with scientists applying for funding (Source: SMBC)