Monday, March 31, 2008

Mom's Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies

Last week I shared with you my dad's double chocolate brownies, so this week I'm featuring a favorite recipe from my mom. Her Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies are definitely a comfort food for me. Unfortunately there are not pictures for this post right now (although I hope to share some soon - I have exciting picture-related news). However, even without an illustration, these are great cookies. Especially if you eat them the day they're baked (which usually isn't a problem!).

Mom's Oatmeal Chocolate Cookies

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups oatmeal, uncooked
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mini Hershey's kisses

1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
2. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Stir in flour mixture; mix well. Stir in oats and chocolate.
3. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Double Chocolate Brownies

I am about to share an old family recipe with you. Okay, actually it might not qualify as "old," but it is a family recipe . . . my Dad has been making these brownies for as long as I can remember. They are very rich and fudgy - and very delicious! Although they are easy to make, we usually reserve them for special occasions.

I think this recipe would be easy to change if you like a little variety. For example, you could use chocolate chunks, dark chocolate chips, or white chocolate chips. You could add nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts, etc. Coconut, if you like. Heath toffee bits, peanut butter chips . . . just about anything. Whatever you do add, I would probably not exceed 1 1/2 cups total of add-ins.

Double Chocolate Brownies

3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter (unsalted)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. water*
optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Line 8 or 9-inch square baking pan** with foil; grease foil.
2. In a small saucepan, melt butter. When butter is completely melted (but not yet brown), remove from heat; add 1 cup chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate chips have melted and mixture is smooth.
3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, eggs, vanilla and water. Stir until combined. Add chocolate mixture and stir/whisk until well blended. Gradually stir in flour mixture; add remaining 1 cup chocolate chips. Pour into prepared baking pan.
4. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing.

* You could substitute 2 tbsp. flavored liquor - I bet Kahlua would be good in these!
** An 8-inch pan will give you thicker brownies and may require an additional minute or two of baking time. I used a 9-inch pan and because they are so rich and fudgy, I thought they were thick enough! My dad uses a 9-inch springform pan and slices the brownies like a tart, which also works well.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


My kitchen experiment this evening was kind of, well, bittersweet. I was experimenting with agave nectar, a natural sweetener (from the agave plant). Agave nectar, which is becoming more and more widely available, is a good substitute for sugar or honey, especially for diabetics and low-glycemic eaters. I'm not an expert on the science behind it, but apparently it does not create a spike in blood sugar like honey and sugar will do. But back to the baking . . .
I picked my favorite banana muffin recipe for this experiment, because I didn't think using agave would compromise the texture of the muffins (and I also had three over-ripe bananas in my way in the freezer). After figuring out how much agave nectar to use - thanks to internet research, a kitchen scale, and a little math problem - I quickly mixed up the muffin batter. As my Kitchen Aid was working, I noticed a faint smell that reminded me of alcohol. I thought maybe it was because I froze and thawed the bananas . . . but then I realized agave is used to make tequila, so perhaps that was the reason (who knows).

So how did the muffins turn out? The texture was great, not noticeably different from the original. The flavor was good, but not sweet enough. Not quite bitter, but also not sweet enough to be a "sweet muffin."Warning: this is where the healthful recipe you've been reading about takes a radical detour . . . called CREAM CHEESE FROSTING. I wanted to share these with my husband and a few others, and thought they might not get into the bittersweet thing, so I whipped up a mini-batch of cream cheese frosting and turned the muffins into cupcakes. . . another foodie trend, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum from low-glycemic index diets!Overall, this recipe made wonderful cupcakes, and I think the muffins would have been good alone if I had increased the agave to the full 3/4 cup (see below). I'm definitely going to experiment more with agave nectar . . . next time I hope it doesn't end with cream cheese frosting!

Banana Muffins sweetened with agave nectar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
3/4 cup agave nectar**
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium bowl (or your mixer bowl), beat together banana, Agave Nectar, egg, butter, and cinnamon. Pour banana mixture into flour mixture; stir until just combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
3. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

* I use Bob's Red Mill. If you can't find whole wheat pastry flour, or simply don't want to use it, substitute all-purpose flour.
** My initial research on baking with agave nectar . . . excluding wikipedia . . . indicated I should use 3/4 parts agave for every 1 part sugar the recipe calls for. This recipe called for 3/4 cup sugar . . . so I weighed 3/4 cup agave nectar, which was 8 oz., then used 3/4 of that amount (which equals 6 oz., if you're mathematically challenged like me) . . . as indicated above, the muffins weren't very sweet, so next time I'll use a full 3/4 cup agave nectar.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's Cooking?

Last week, I posted a short blip about what I was planning to cook . . . so if you're paying attention, you might wonder what happened to the white chili and the guacamole cilantro lime cheeseburgers.

I made the white chili for lunch on Friday. It was fine, kind of like tortilla soup without any tomatoes.

I didn't make the guac-cilantro-lime burgers. Our four-legged foodie friend apparently thought it would be cool to try an avocado . . . I didn't get a picture of this stunt, but here is a picture of Piper in her favorite hangout . . . the back of the couch . . .

What's cooking this week? Who knows! I know I'm going to make an apple pie, and I have a few friends visiting Saturday who have started building the case for another batch of focaccia. Other than that, I need to take inventory to see what I need to use.

Oh, I'm also looking for some really good soup recipes - so if you have one, post a comment or e-mail me, please!

A portrait of spring pasta

Pasta with lemon cream, asparagus, peas, and prosciutto is not very photogenic. I took several pictures and couldn't get a good one. I finally had to rely on the watercolor and overlay editing features . . . so the pic above is kind of a . . . photograph/digital watercolor hybrid.

I enjoyed this pasta. Ken, aka Mr. Meat & Potatoes, did not. The original recipe did not include prosciutto, but I added it just for him so he couldn't write it off because it was meatless. Although the addition didn't make him like the pasta, it did add an element of saltiness, which I appreciated.

Pasta with Lemon Cream Sauce, Asparagus, Peas, and Prosciutto
8 oz. uncooked pasta (I used linguine)
1/2 lb. asparagus, cleaned and chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Optional: Dash of ground red pepper
3-4 slices prosciutto

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting fat. Add asparagus during the last minute of cooking time. Place peas in a colander. Drain pasta and asparagus over peas; set aside.
2. Place prosciutto on a baking sheet, bake at 450 degrees 8-10 minutes, or until it becomes crisp.
3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sautee one minute. In a small bowl, combine broth and cornstarch; stir until well blended. Add broth mixture to pan and bring to a boil. Cook one minute or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add pasta mixture to broth mixture; toss gently to coat. Stir in prosciutto. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.

Per serving (without prosciutto): 351 calories; 11.2 g fat; 11.5 g protein; 52.9 g carb; 4.9 g fiber; 35 mg chol; 7 points. I think the prosciutto would add one additional point.

Monday, March 10, 2008


I can't even begin to describe this focaccia. It was so good I want to throw around words like fantastic, wonderful, amazing, outstanding, incredible . . . but I'm afraid no amount of multisyllabic words will help you understand, so I think you should make it yourself. Yes, even if you "can't make bread" or "don't have the patience" or whatever excuse is stopping you from trying this recipe. If you start with the right ingredients and follow the instructions, this recipe will guide you through the process, and it's sure to make you feel like a professional bread baker when you taste it.
I found the recipe on Annie's Eats (via Amber's Delectable Delights, and originally from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart). I'm not going to post the recipe here, so you'll have to check out Annie's blog or Amber's blog to get it (trust me, it's worth the extra click or two)!
I will add a few tips . . . first, my gas stove is too hot to simmer the oil and herbs together (I fried . . . literally . . . the herbs), so if you have a gas stove, I recommend using a double boiler - or just combining the oil and the herbs without heat. Second, I floured my silpat and used it as a spot to fold, stretch and shape the dough. When it was ready to transfer to the rimmed baking sheet, I just picked it up and placed both silpat and dough in the pan, eliminating the need for parchment paper.
Finally, the focaccia keeps fairly well - but it is definitely best to eat it the day you bake it! Oh, and don't cut into it too soon after you take it out of the oven (even though you will REALLY want to)!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

My new favorite containers

Earlier this winter, my flour container cracked. The thought of replacing it had been lingering in the back of my mind, but hadn't yet made my priority list. However, last month I went to visit my (bride-to-be!) friend Erin and had the opportunity to stop at Bed, Bath & Beyond . . . and look what I found . . .

This, my friends is one of Oxo's new storage containers. And I LOVE it. It has an airtight seal, and true to Oxo's easy-to-handle design mission, it is very easy to use. Sometimes I get it out of the pantry cabinet just to pop the handle, hear the air seal work, and marvel at how wonderful it is. Just kidding! But it is a fantastic container and I'm hoping maybe more Oxo containers will make their way to my pantry cabinet (hint, hint). If you're not looking for new pantry storage containers, sorry to bore you . . . but if you are, I highly recommend these.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Super-fast mini meatloaves

This recipe is absolutely perfect for a quick, tasty dinner. It is easy to prepare and bakes in a fraction of the time a normal meatloaf would require. I thought it was really good. I'm still not 100% sure what Ken thought; our conversation went something like this:

Me: "How do you like the mini-meatloaf?"
Ken: "It's kind of like a hamburger."
Me: "Okay, on a scale of 'I-never-want-to-eat-this-again to lets-eat-this-every-week,' what do you think?"
Ken: "I'd give it an 8."

I'm not sure where that fits into the scale I gave him, but I think this will become a regular at our house (especially if I can formulate some nutrition info).

Mini Meatloaves
1 pound ground beef (at least 85% lean)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs, available at most grocery stores)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Mix equal parts (2 tbsp. of each should do it) of:
barbecue sauce
spicy brown mustard
tomato paste (or ketchup)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil; lightly brush with olive oil.
2. In a small bowl, mix together sauce ingredients.
3. In a medium bowl, mix together beef, egg, panko, 1/2 cup cheddar, salt, and pepper. Form into four 2x4-inch loaves; place on prepared baking sheet. Brush each with sauce mixture. (Optional: use an additional 1/2 cup shredded cheddar to top sauce mixture)
4. Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes, or until loaves are cooked through.

Tip: After baking sheet is removed from the oven, (with your oven mitts still on) roll up a kitchen towel and place it under one side of the baking sheet to allow liquids to drain away from the meatloaves.

Adapted from Everyday Food.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gourmet's Pear-Almond Tart

Yes, this is it . . . the "beautiful thing" from Gourmet magazine I've been teasing you about since last week. I made the tart on Saturday (along with the lemon bars, pork chops with apple & sage sauce, and biscuits . . . thank goodness for help from Amanda). Throughout the various stages of preparation, this tart earned several different names . . .
First, "High Maintenance Tart," because it had so many steps and the preparation seemed a bit fussy. Second, "Supermodel Tart," due to its high-maintenance status, but with the promise of astounding beauty. Third, "Punk" . . . when the crust misbehaved. Fourth, "We-should-have-read-the-instructions-before-starting-this" tart, because then we would have realized that the recipe clearly stated it would take four hours from start to finish. Fifth "Quadruple-Baked Tart," as it required a return trip to the oven after every step of preparation.
Finally, it came out of the oven and we snapped a quick picture before we sliced into our masterpiece. We didn't get to try it right away because I had to get to a basketball game and Amanda headed home with her portion. Based on the appearance of our creation, at this point it became "Gourmet magazine obviously has staff with baking skills - or photoshop skills - that greatly exceed ours" tart.

So how did it taste? I'm probably not the best person to ask. It was certainly good, but I think I was a little jaded by the 4-hour prep time. I was expecting something spectacular. I ate one slice, Ken ate a couple. We shared the rest with his parents and brothers on Sunday. Today, his mom asked me for the recipe for "That other pie," meaning not my signature apple pie, but the pear-almond tart with multiple names. And she's not really into lots of new recipes. So apparently, four hours excluded, it was really delicious.

If you find yourself with time on your hands and want to try it, the recipe is on the Gourmet website. There is also a picture of the tart, so you can see how Gourmet makes it look so beautiful.

What's Cooking This Week

I have come across several delicious-sounding recipes lately . . . resulting in a huge 'to-cook' list! Here are a few I'm planning to make in the next week:

White Chili
Mini Honey-Mustard Meatloaves
Guacamole Cilantro Lime Cheeseburgers

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pork Chops with Apple-Sage Sauce + Biscuits

If a prize for "ugliest sauce to accompany pork chops" existed, I think the apple sage cream sauce featured in this post might win. It smelled and tasted great, but left a lot to be desired in terms of presentation. I tried to hide it with a sage leaf and also tried to distract you with the colorful salad greens. Sloppy appearance aside, the pork chops with apple sage cream sauce made a great Saturday lunch.

Pork Chops with Apple and Sage Cream Sauce

4 boneless pork loin chops, 3/4 inch thick
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
salt and pepper (preferably freshly ground)

1 medium Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced into wedges
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin (about 1/2 cup)*
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup apple cider
3 tbsp. applejack or brandy
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. minced fresh sage leaves
3 tbsp. light cream cheese
2 tsp. cider vinegar

1. Pat pork chops dry with paper towels, then season each side with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a 10 or 12-inch skillet (use one with a lid) over medium-high heat until just smoking. Lay the chops in the skillet and cook until light brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the chops over, reduce the heat to medium, and continue to cook until the center reaches 130 degrees (with an instant read meat thermometer), 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Transfer chops to plate, cover with foil and allow them to rest until the center reaches an internal temperature of 140-150 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, add apple, onion, and 1/4 tsp. salt to the oil/drippings left in the skillet, return to medium-low heat, and cook, covered, until the onion has softened, 8-10 minutes. Stir in cider and brandy, scraping up the browned bits in the skillet. Stir in the broth and sage; bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes.
4. Pour any pork juices accumulated on the plate into the skillet. Whisk in cream cheese and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in vinegar; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over pork to serve. Four servings.

Per serving:
Pork chops only: 330 calories; 15 g fat; 110 mg cholesterol; 0 g carbs; 44 g protein; 0 g fiber; 8 points. Sauce only: 90 calories; 2 g fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbs; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 2 points.
* I substituted shallots for onions
Source: The Best Light Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated

I also made "Secret Trick 1860 Baking Powder Biscuits," from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking. This was my first attempt at making homemade biscuits just for the sake of making homemade biscuits. I've made shortcake biscuits several times, which are conceptually similar, but never plain biscuits. I have a long list of things I want to make from A Passion for Baking, and decided to start with this recipe. The results? They were easy to make but were more bitter than I prefer. A shot of honey on top helped, but in my opinion, a good biscuit should be able to stand alone. I suspect the baking powder is to blame, but I am afraid the biscuits would not rise enough if I reduced it. I plan to continue my quest for a great biscuit recipe, but in the meantime, here is the recipe:

Secret Trick 1860 Baking Powder Biscuits
1 tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 tbsp. shortening
3-4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. In a measuring cup, stir whipping cream and lemon juice together; let stand a few minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stack two baking sheets together and line top sheet with parchment paper (I think you could use just one if you have Airbake double-walled baking sheets). Arrange oven rack to upper third position.
3. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in butter and shortening to make a coarse, grainy mixture. Drizzle soured cream over mixture and stir lightly with a fork to blend. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 8-10 times until mixture is just rollable.
4. Pat or roll out to 1-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch disks. Place on prepared baking sheet; brush tops with milk, cream, or melted butter. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes.

Source: A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman

When life gives you lemons . . .

. . . make lemon bars

I know the old saying is "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but to be honest, lemonade just didn't sound like a good way to use the lemons life gave me (specifically a bag of big, juicy organic lemons). However, I wasn't sure exactly what I did want to make. I looked to my Luscious Lemon Desserts cookbook for inspiration, and came up with four options for my most recent poll. Although I was secretly hoping the lemon pudding cakes would win, lemon bars received the most votes.

I added lemon bars to my (overly ambitious) list of things to make this weekend . . . thank goodness my friend Amanda came over to help (and to fill me in on the tropical vacation she just returned from . . . lucky girl).

Classic Lemon Bars

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus additional for dusting
2 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
pinch of salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3 large eggs
1/4 cup plus 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of 8-inch square baking pan.
2. Whisk together 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Knead dough in bowl until it begins to come together.
3. Transfer dough to prepared baking pan, press it evenly into bottom of pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack while making filling.
4. Whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, the remaining 2 tbsp. of flour, and the baking powder in a small bowl.
5. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer on high speed (in a medium bowl) for about 2 minutes, or until tripled in volume. Reduce mixer speed to low; add sugar mixture and beat until just blended, scraping down side of bowl. Add lemon juice and beat until just blended.
6. Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake 18 to 20 minutes, until the filling is just set in the center. Let cool in pan on wire rack.
7. Just before serving, lightly sift powdered sugar over bars and cut into 2-inch squares. Store in an airtight container.

Notes: The filling mixture will not be very solid when you pour it on top of the crust - don't worry about it! They will turn out great! Also, this recipe is a good candidate for lining the baking pan with foil (and greasing the foil) so the bars lift out easier - mine stuck to the sides of the pan.
Source: Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham