Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

IMG_2624The chocolate-peanut butter duo is always a hit IMHO (in my humble opinion), so when my future daughter-in-law requested a cookie with that combo, I was ON IT. We found this winner on the McCormick website, and it appealed to me because I didn’t have to run to the grocery store for anything. Now, I don’t usually have peanuts on hand, but I’d just made the previously-posted chicken peanut stew, so I had a jar handy. Other recipes I ran across had chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups or other non-staples in them. 

Ashley and I really liked these! They aren’t achingly sweet, which they would be if you were to use chopped candy bits. They were a good balance—chocolate cookie spiked with peanuts and peanut butter flavor. YUM. So the girl my son is marrying has great taste! Both in food… and in men. 

2 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 package (10-ounces) peanut butter chips
1 cup chopped dry roasted peanuts

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugars in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and then vanilla, mixing well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Stir in peanut butter chips and peanuts by hand.

 

Drop by rounded tablespoons about two inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes or just until cookies are set. Cool on baking sheets for five minutes. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

Chewy Chocolate Ginger Cookies

IMG_2622Double-doses of ginger—fresh and ground—amp up the flavor in these chocolate and spice morsels. These came from Martha Stewart’s website, and I’ve done some updates as dear Martha sometimes takes things a step too far—like  lining every baking sheet with parchment paper and chilling dough not once, but twice, etc. I made them as I’ve recorded below, and they were just fine! And a lot less labor-intensive.Given the amount of spices and overall richness of these cookies, my taste testers thought they would be best served warm with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. But try them yourselves, and you be the judge!Makes 1½ dozen cookies

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in 1½ tablespoons boiling water; set aside.

Beat butter with brown sugar until combined. Add fresh ginger and mix on high until butter is light in color. Beat in molasses. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Slowly add to butter mixture, with baking soda mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Stir in chocolate morsels by hand. Scoop teaspoons of dough and roll into balls. Roll dough balls in ¼ cup granulated sugar and place 2-inches apart on baking sheets. Transfer to oven and bake until surfaces crack slightly, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Torte

IMG_2594Avoiding wheat? Here’s a sweet fudgy treat just for you. My co-worker Nita went the extra mile for my birthday recently, digging around online to find a gluten-free cake option. She lucked out when she stumbled on this treasure, because it’s the rare flourless baked good that actually tastes GREAT!

So many gluten-free cakes and cookies taste like A) glue or B) sand. I’d given up trying to make gluten-free cakes or cookies. Better to just eat a chunk of chocolate or handful of peanut butter M&M’s to assuage the sweet tooth! In fact, another co-worker once texted me, asking what local bakeries had good gluten-free muffins. I texted back, “There is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin.” Mary’s response was crying laughing emoji and “Seriously, where can I get good gluten-free muffins?” And I texted again, “Good gluten-free is an oxymoron. I’m serious, there is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin!” (I’m kinda proud of myself for using “oxymoron” in a text. No need to dumb down our vocab just cause we’re using our thumbs, now is there? crying laughing emoji…)

But Nita found an exception to the rule (on allrecipes.com, flourless chocolate cake II), and I think you’ll love this quick and easy recipe as much as I do. I’ve made it a couple times now—for one of our famous November family birthday parties (4 outta 7 have b-days that month), and again for my book club. Raves all around.

Makes 8 Servings

4 – 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter, and dust with cocoa powder (this keeps it entirely gluten-free).

Put chocolate and butter in a large glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, and repeat for an additional 30-60 seconds as needed to melt chocolate. In large mixing bowl, combine melted butter and chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla, and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve right away with ice cream, or let cook completely and serve next day.

TIP #1: Cover with dish towel or loose foil if keeping overnight. If covered with plastic wrap or tight tin foil, it will get soggy.

TIP #2: Anyone else have trouble cutting brownie-like treats? They seem to get all crumbly and fall apart as you try to slice them, and even the sharpest knife won’t help. My fellow book clubber, Sherie, said she always cuts brownies and gooey bars with a plastic knife, so I tried it. VOILA! It worked like a charm. #kitchenhack

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

IMG_2423What’s the best way to get your daily dose of vegetables? In a cake, I say! OK, you’re not going to win any “Nutrition Expert of the Year” award by throwing zucchini in a dessert, but you will win people over with this moist, delicious creation. I went on a bit of a zucchini bender last weekend, after my co-worker Nita brought me a gourd the size of a baseball bat (well, half the length, but otherwise the comparison is accurate…). Her mother had pawned the monster off on her, and she brought it to me, rationalizing that a foodie would accept the challenge of how to make use of massive amounts of the veggie. And she was right.

So this was the first of three new recipes I tried in order to use up the behemoth. I found several variations of this on allrecipes.com, and added in the cinnamon and cloves per a reviewer’s comment. How was it? DEE-licious. I will definitely make it again! And my taste-testing co-workers concurred. They all thought these bars/cake were great. No one minded the added fiber in the dessert—it only made it all the more moist and memorable.

Serves 12-16

½ cup milk
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cloves
½ cup butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan. Mix the milk and vinegar in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to sour the milk.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl on medium to high speed. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture alternately with the soured milk until all ingredients are combined. Fold in the zucchini. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Ice cream or whipped cream topping always a welcome addition, but not required. Cover with foil if serving next day.

Salted Nut Bars

IMG_2384Fans of Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls will love these easy stove-top bars that taste pretty darn close to the candy bar. In fact, people who are kinda “meh” about the candy bars even love these—like my future daughter-in-law, Ashley, who helped me make a decent dent in a pan of these recently.

As my oven is dying a slow death right now (kind of a problem for a food blogger… Go Fund Me, anyone?), I’m looking for stove top and grill options in our meals and desserts. The recipe for these bars was given to me by my husband’s cousin, Trudy, after she brought them to my mother-in-law’s memorial service, and I begged her for it. Before you berate me for asking for a recipe at such a solemn occasion, you need to know this—My mother-in-law was the original foodie, even though that term wasn’t used in her day. Everything Marynona baked and cooked was delicious, and she served up her great food with a heaping helping of warm hospitality. She would have been touched that a couple of her relatives were bonding over food and sharing recipes at a service being held in her honor. Really.

So back to the recipe! This doesn’t fit with my usual desire to cook with fresh, natural ingredients, and avoid extra sugars. In fact, I think that the butter and peanuts are the only real food ingredients in these, unless you count the sugar that the marshmallows are made of! But when you need a hit of salty and sweet, these do the trick in a snap.

Makes 20 bars

4 tablespoons butter
1 (10-ounce) package Reese’s peanut butter chips
1 (10-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (16-ounce) jar dry roasted peanuts

Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish. Sprinkle half the jar of peanuts in the bottom of the pan. In large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add peanut butter chips and stir to melt those as well. Add sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine. Add whole bag of marshmallows, and stir until they are coated with peanut butter chip mixture, but do not let marshmallows melt! Gently spoon mixture over peanuts in baking dish, and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the rest of nuts on top and press in with back of large spoon. Refrigerate until firm; cut into squares.

NOTE: Once these are firm from refrigeration, no need to refrigerate again. Trudy had a note on her recipe that says, “these freeze well”, but I’ve never tried that. I’m kind of a “make it and take it” kinda gal—as my family and co-workers will attest. My baked goods don’t usually last long enough to need to be frozen for future consumption.

Green Tea Pound Cake

IMG_2180This moist cake tastes like pound cake, but there’s not a trace of butter used in the batter. The surprising green hue comes from matcha green tea powder, which has very little flavor component to it—at least the powder I used wasn’t terribly potent. And why was I testing a cake recipe using green tea powder? Here’s the back story. 
Hosting students from other countries has expanded our culinary tastes, encouraging us to try all sorts of unique foods. We’ve grown especially close to one of our students, Kana Miyamoto, from Japan. She loved that she got to stay in the home of a foodie, and we loved that she was game to try everything we offered her! After her last visit, she sent me a box full of food-related items unique to Japan. I’ll need a translator to figure out what some of the packets are… But there was a bag of matcha green tea powder that had some English on it, so I searched online to find something to do with it. A cake similar to this is posted on several sites, so I’m not sure of the recipe’s origin. 
FullSizeRenderAs for “selling” this recipe, don’t know quite what to say. My co-workers said “it tastes like pound cake” as they gobbled it up. I offered it with Reddi-Wip® as a topping, because, well, whipped cream makes everything better. It was good, and I’ll make it again, maybe increasing the amount of matcha. As I said earlier, the green tea powder didn’t have much flavor, and my cake wasn’t as green as others pictured online. Given that it uses olive oil and Greek yogurt, it’s a slightly healthier version of the traditional pound cake.* Slightly. So play the “it’s good for you” card when you serve this to guests. That always works, right?
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
½ cups olive oil (either regular or extra virgin)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½-1 teaspoon almond extract (depending on how much almond flavor you want!)
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Prepare a 10-cup Bundt pan by spraying it with Pam, or greasing and flouring the pan. In medium bowl, combine the flour, matcha powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt and sugar until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the olive oil and vanilla, and combine. Gradually add in the flour mixture until blended. Add the remaining flour and fold just until combined. Don’t overmix.
Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let sit for 15 minutes and then invert onto serving plate and let sit until completely cool. Sift powder sugar on top of the cake and enjoy!
*NOTE: I’ve read that pound cake got it’s name because it originally used a pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar.

Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars

unnamedThe sweet-tart combo of strawberries and rhubarb is to die for, in my humble opinion. And since my rhubarb is threatening to take over the world this spring, I’m trying to find new and creative ways to use it up. When I saw a recipe on Better Homes & Garden’s website for bars using my favorite fruit duo, I said, “I’m in!” Then once I started perusing the recipe, I realized 1) the pan/batch was waaaaaaay too small to serve my family or co-workers, and 2) it looked strikingly similar to my blueberry breakfast bars previously posted! (Which DOES make a large enough batch to serve my family or co-workers…)

So I kinda combined my blueberry bar recipe with the BH&G recipe, and I think we’ve got us a winner here, people! Rhubarb is a little more finicky fruit than the berries, though. So it took a little trial and error to get it simmered the right length of time, and make sure the sugar ratio was on point. Now I’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is bake up a batch!

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour*
¾ cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
3 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease an 11″x17″ pan with butter and set aside. In large bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine. Add melted butter and stir until all of oat mixture is combined with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Press remaining oat mixture in bottom of prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While crust is baking, combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, water, and ginger in large saucepan and heat on high. Once mixture starts to boil, turn to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rhubarb should start breaking up, and it should thicken up. Add strawberries and return heat to high. Once it starts to boil again, turn down to medium and simmer for 3-5 minutes. In small bowl or cup, combine cornstarch and water. Drizzle in to rhubarb and strawberries and stir until mixture thickens up a bit. Pour on top of baked crust and sprinkle with reserved oat crumbs. Bake for additional 30** minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

*NOTE: I’ve started using Costco’s Ultragrain flour, which is a non-GMO flour and may be tolerable to those who are sensitive to gluten. But it’s not for those with celiac disease!

**Next time I make these, I may try baking these 40 minutes once crust is topped with fruit. Rhubarb seems to require a longer baking time than berries, peaches, pears, etc. I was concerned about the top burning if I did them longer than 30 minutes, but I think they would have been fine.

Chocolate Pasta with Pecans and Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-1Hey people—I’m baaaa-aaack! Not that you’ve been waiting with baited breath for the latest forknifespoon.com posting or anything…I’m well aware I’m no Pioneer Woman! Been a tad cray-cray at my new job lately (my offspring LOVE it when their 50-ish mother gets all hip with the jive talk), as I’ve been trying to update our website and didn’t have a minute to spare. Now that it’s up and running, I can get back to an occasional recipe post.

Also, I have to say, I tried several new dishes in January and February that were bombs, and I won’t share what NOT to make with you. But this unusual chocolate pasta dish from Nigella Lawson is worth trying. I’d gotten Pappardelle’s chocolate pasta from my sister Judy for Christmas, because she knows I like to try weird ingredients and new recipes, but she’d apparently forgotten I’m not doing gluten. So I served it to a group of couples who had no dietary restrictions, and they said it was delicious! It’s more rich than sweet—like the Europeans eat, not the sugar-crazed Americans. You wouldn’t eat it every day or serve in place of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, but it was fun for something different. So, thanks Judy, for pushing my culinary buttons a little!

Serves 6

8 ounces cocoa or chocolate pasta
Pinch or two of salt
1 cup unsalted pecan nuts, roughly broken up
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream, plus more (optional), to serve

Fill a pot with water to make the pasta, and heat on high. When water starts boiling, add a pinch of salt and the pasta, and cook, setting a timer for 2 minutes before the package instructions say pasta will be done. Put a medium non-stick frying pan on the stove and tumble in the pecans, then toast them over medium heat. Once you can smell the pecans toasting, remove from heat and place on a cold plate.

Stir butter and sugar together in the frying pan over low heat, until you have a hot, thick syrup. Carefully, pour in the cream. Stir, and let the caramel mixture bubble up, then add the toasted pecans and a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat.

Just before draining the pasta, dip in a cup to remove a little pasta-cooking water, then toss the drained pasta into the frying pan with the dark and nutty caramel sauce, adding a tablespoon or two of the cooking water to help coat the pasta. Stir to combine before dividing between bowls. Serve with a little extra cream in a small pitcher to pour as you eat, if you wish.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

FullSizeRender-2Move over, sea salted caramel. You’ve had your 15-minutes of fame. Try this decadent gingerbread caramel sauce, a crazy crossbreed of fresh gingerbread cookies and rich caramel. This ice cream/cake sauce was posted on Martha Stewart’s site as an “under 30 minutes” holiday recipe. I latched onto it because it’s a gluten-free option that looked like a good Christmas gift for co-workers and friends. But I couldn’t give it away without knowing if it was actually tasty, so I did a test batch. How was it? Absolutely, positively, DEE-licious. I couldn’t stop licking the stirring spoon! When my friend Suzie texted me that her husband was smearing it on his breakfast toast just to find a base other than ice cream, I had to applaud his ingenuity. You go, Paul. Sauce it up.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a good photo of the sauce in action, as the ice cream melting under the warm sauce made a mushy mess in the bowl. That reminded me of my days working as an art director on Pillsbury cookbooks, and all the tricks we had to pull to get a shot of ice cream under hot studio lights. Here’s rule Number 1 in the food biz—if you’re selling ice cream, you must use your ice cream in the photo. No stand-ins. This required forming dozens of perfect scoops of ice cream, then putting them on dry ice for several hours. Then you had mere moments to pour the sauce and get your photos done. I had to blow through a straw onto the sauce to keep it from frosting over on the hyper-frozen ice cream, while the photographer furiously clicked away. So much work! But what fun to finally get the shot.

Food biz rule Number 2—if you’re selling the sauce but not the ice cream, you can use a salted dough (similar to Play-Doh) that mimics ice cream in appearance. A couple scoops of the salt dough handled the sauces well, and wouldn’t melt under the hot lights. It made for a much easier photo shoot day! Since I didn’t have any stand-in ice cream on hand, my shot above is of my sweet little jars all sealed and labeled for gift-giving.

Makes 6-7 half pints

3/4 cup molasses
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1-1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger

In Dutch oven, combine sugar, molasses, and ½ cup water. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil. Continue to cook and stir constantly for 4 to 5 minutes (about 250 degrees on a thermometer, if using). Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Ladle into clean half-pint jars; wipe rims of jars to remove any excess sauce. Put on fresh, clean canning lids, and screw on top. Cool jars in refrigerator. (Jars may seal due to rapid cooling.) Once opened, sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; reheat before using.

NOTE: I found it works best to have all your ingredients measured out before you start making the sauce. The butter and the cream will make the sugar mixture splatter when added to the pot, and may cause it to cool too rapidly. I turned the heat back on to low to get the butter to melt at this stage. Also, it’s best to sift in the spices and salt, otherwise the cinnamon and ginger tend to clump because the sugar mixture is so hot. As far as the salt content goes, I think the 1½ teaspoon salt was a little much, and will back it off to 1 teaspoon in future batches.

Oatmeal Apple Pie Cookies

FullSizeRenderLove apple pie or apple cobbler, but would like those flavors in a bite-sized portion? These apple and oatmeal cookies give you a hint of all-American apple pie without the hassle of making pie crust, something I personally have never mastered. (Whoever coined the phrase, “easy as pie” was nuts, in my opinion.) Since the cinnamon, oats, and apples have a fallish feel, put these on your list to try when the air gets crisp, and the leaves start to turn colors.

Oat-laden baked goods are a favorite with my sons, so the S’more Cookies previously posted got rave reviews the first time I made them. But my son Justin was kinda “meh” about the combo, only because he’s not super into s’mores. (I know, I know…what on earth is wrong with him?) He thought that the cookie base would be better with apples and a cream cheese frosting, and when he texted me a reminder of his suggestion one weekend, I said I’d give it a whirl. 

I was a little unsure about the order of the filling and frosting—should I fill them first and then frost after they were cool? Or drop in some frosting and then top with the apple pie filling? So I tried it both ways, then taste-tested on my family (plus my son Mitch’s friend Karl, one of my most ardent food admirers). They had no preference, gobbling both with equal enthusiasm. But they did vote for the ones with pie filling on top as they had a stronger apple flavor. They also said they really, really liked these because they aren’t an achingly sweet cookie—more in the vein of an apple granola bar. How do you like that! Tested by a discerning taste-testing panel before being posted. You’re welcome.

Makes 24-32 cookies

For cookie dough:
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (about 15 squares)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

For frosting and filling:
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar (aka: powdered sugar, Tom…)
Drizzle of milk, 1-2 tablespoons
1 (21-ounce) can of apple pie filling

Preheat oven to 375°. In medium bowl, combine oats, flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat again. Add granulated sugar and beat until butter and sugars are light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until eggs are incorporated. Add milk and vanilla and beat again. Slowly mix in the oats and flour mixture with the mixer until all ingredients are combined.

Cover bowl of dough with plastic wrap, and chill for 1-4 hours. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.* Drop spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes.

While cookies are baking, make frosting. Put cream cheese in small mixer bowl, and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners sugar, and beat on low until combined. With mixer still on low, drizzle in milk and vanilla, and once the liquids are incorporated, return to high and beat until frosting is creamy. Set aside.

Open can of apple pie filling, and use long thin knife to dice apples while still in the can. Remove cookies from oven and make a slight impression in hot cookies with the back of a spoon. Put a generous tablespoon of frosting in the indent, and then add a dollop (another tablespoon) of apple pie filling on top of each cookie.

Return cookies to oven for 3-4 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely before storing.

*NOTE: I ended up making these without parchment paper ’cause I forgot to use it, and they were fine! Needed a good, stiff spatula to get them off the pan, but the parchment paper wasn’t as necessary as I thought.