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.

Chocolate Brownie Bars

FullSizeRenderA combo of Hershey’s cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate chips give these bars a rich, chocolatey appeal, and are pretty quick to throw together. I clipped the original recipe from a magazine ad for Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk (the same one where I got the delicious Squirrel Bars recipe previously posted), and they were called Triple Layer Chocolate Bars. Now, I’m no Einstein when numbers are involved, but I couldn’t come up with three distinct layers in these. My co-workers called these “brownie bars” when I brought them in to work, so let’s go with that. (My husband was kinda “meh” about this particular recipe, and I could see he wasn’t going to finish off the pan, so that’s why my colleagues were summoned for a second opinion. People, I’ve created a monster! His standards for baked-goods has risen significantly since I first met him, scarfing down a sleeve of Oreos after his Arby’s roast beef sandwich.)

These aren’t super sugary sweet, and hold together fairly well because of the sweetened condensed milk in the middle. They’re an easy picnic or potluck take-along, so give them a whirl and see what you think. Just don’t offer any to my husband Rich. I’m sure you can find a more appreciative audience.

Makes 20 bars

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (1 package, plus 2-3 more crackers)*
½ cup cocoa, divided into ¼ cup and ¼ cup
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter (1 stick), melted
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips, or 1½ cups of same

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine graham cracker crumbs, ¼ cup of the cocoa, sugar, and melted butter in medium bowl. Stir until butter is thoroughly incorporated. Press into bottom of 13″x9″ baking dish. In medium bowl attached to electric mixer, beat sweetened condensed milk, flour, egg, vanilla, and baking powder. Stir in nuts and pour mixture on top of graham cracker crust. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Bake 25 minutes or until set. Cool before cutting. Store tightly covered.

*NOTE: Use gluten-free graham crackers to make these if you’re GF.

Also, I wondered if maybe a step was missing in this recipe. Usually a graham cracker crust recipe has you baking the graham crackers for 10 minutes or so before adding other layers. That would make these have more distinct layers, and would make for a crispier crust. I might try that next time, and will update the process here if I do.

S’More Cookies

FullSizeRenderIf you love s’mores, then you’re in for a super sweet treat! These cookies have all the fun flavors of a campfire-toasted marshmallow sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate, but you don’t have to burn a bunch of logs to make them. I’m posting these early in the season, before all the BBQ gatherings and 4th of July festivities begin, but make a mental note to bring these to your next big outdoor bash. I found this recipe on Midwest Living’s website, and couldn’t resist trying it, given that I’m a bit of a s’mores fanatic. This recipe feeds a crowd—it makes a whopping 3 dozen cookies, and you can’t stack them because of all the delicious gooey-ness on top. So it’s best to make ’em and bring ’em to be consumed right away! And don’t worry, they will be. (Unless you’re feeding your gluten-free friends, in which case, they won’t be touched. Gotta know your audience!)

Makes 32-38 cookies

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 salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme
32-38 Hershey’s milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped

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.

IMG_1588While cookies are baking, open large Ziplock bag and spoon in all of the marshmallow creme, concentrating it in one corner of the bag. Snip a small piece off corner of the bag, to make a pastry bag for piping creme into centers of cookies. Remove cookies from oven and make a slight impression in hot cookies with the back of a spoon. Pipe a dollop (about 1 teaspoon) of marshmallow creme into indent in each cookie, and top with a Hershey’s kiss, point size down.

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 have a large baking sheet that has a lid, and that’s the perfect container for storing and transporting these cookies.

No-bake Chocolate, Pretzel, and Peanut Butter Squares

FullSizeRenderIt takes longer to type the name of these salty-sweet treats than it does to make them. My friend Sherie made these for the book club babes last time she hosted, and since she’d used Trader Joe’s gluten-free pretzels, all her GF friends were delighted to have sweets they could eat! Then when I was dying for a wheat-free cookie or a bar last week (that didn’t taste like sawdust), I asked her for her recipe. She’d found it on foodnetwork.com, recipe courtesy of country star Trisha Yearwood. My only adjustment was to use Nestlé’s semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate, as that’s what I keep on hand.

All you need for tools is a big bowl for stirring, and a 9″x13″ pan to chill them in. No oven! All you need for ingredients is butter (of course!), pretzels, confectioner’s sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. I found an 8-ounce bag of Snyder’s gluten-free pretzels at Kowalski’s, but I’m sure there’s a good brand at just about any grocery store. The original recipe didn’t call for GF pretzels, so use whatever kind of pretzels your little heart desires, my Valentine. 

These were so easy! (In fact, your kid’s pet hamster could probably make them, unsupervised.) I thought I was making these treats just for me, but my husband loved them, too. In fact he liked them so much he ate half a pan, all by his lone self in two days time. BOOM! He told me someone broke into the house and ate them. They didn’t touch the TV and computers, but ate my bars. Imagine that! Smart thieves.

Ease rating: Judy easy (anyone can make them!)

Makes 20 bars

1½ sticks (¾ cup) butter, melted
2 cups (8-ounce bag) pretzel rods or sticks, crushed into crumbs*
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
1¼ cups smooth peanut butter, divided
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large bowl, stir together melted butter, pretzel crumbs, confectioner’s sugar, and 1 cup of the peanut butter. (Recipe calls for smooth, but I only buy chunky, so there are visible peanut bits in my chocolate “frosting.”) Press mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9″x13″ pan. Combine the chocolate chips and the remaining ¼ cup peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl or 2-cup measuring cup and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir, and microwave for additional 30 seconds. Stir again, until peanut butter and chocolate are smooth and creamy. If needed, heat for another 15 or 30 seconds, until all chocolate chips are melted. Spread over peanut-pretzel layer. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares. Do not need to keep refrigerated once chocolate has cooled. Keep covered, and store at room temperature.

*NOTE: Gluten-free pretzels have a unique texture, and do not crumble quite as easily as regular pretzels. You can try crushing them by putting them in a Ziplock bag and using a rolling pin to pulverize, but I found I needed a food processor to crush them into crumbs.

Chocolate Cherry Christmas Mice

FullSizeRenderThese darling little mice are adorable additions to any Christmas cookie platter, a welcome relief from all the buttery treats. My Mom introduced these into her Christmas baking ritual a couple decades ago, and has made them faithfully every year since. If you decide to make these, just know they are a labor of love—this is a time-intensive food project! But we all feel it’s well worth my mother’s time to make ’em. (Heeheehee) Chocolate cherry mice have become such a fave with certain family members, that Mom made my nephew Gebre his own personal box of critters for Christmas one year. (The kicker is, she doesn’t even like the chocolate-cherry combo!) When my niece Mikaela was really little, she once asked my Mom, “Are you making those rats again for Christmas, Grandma?” Guess this is one case where it’s OK to have rodents in your kitchen.

IMG_1271While this isn’t really a kid-friendly project, you could enlist the help of youngsters to unwrap (and not eat) the Hershey’s kisses you need for the mouse heads. You will need to have all your supplies out and in order to be ready to assemble these. Once done and cooled, they can be frozen, but preferably not stacked. My mother stores her sweet treats in an old (but clean!) film reel canister, the perfect thing for storing these in the freezer. If you didn’t have the advantage my Mom had of working in an AV department and scoring a find like that, look around for other large, flat containers for storage.

Roughly 48 mice

2 bottles (8-ounces) maraschino cherries with stems, rinsed, drained, and dried with paper towels (FOR BODY AND TAIL)
12-ounce bag of Hershey’s kisses, milk chocolate (or dark), unwrapped (FOR HEAD)
7-ounce container of Baker’s dipping milk chocolate (or dark), heated per directions on package*
100 sliced almonds (FOR EARS)
Tube of red gel decorating frosting (FOR EYES)

Have a baking sheet lined with wax paper ready for assembling mice. Holding cherry by stem, dip cherry and part of stem into melted Baker’s chocolate. Hold above container to let excess chocolate drain off cherry for a few seconds. With other hand, hold Hershey’s kiss by point end, flat side up. Lay two almond slice “ears” on top of Hershey’s kiss, and press on to cherry and allow chocolate to pool around “ears” and “head.” Hold Hershey’s kiss “head” onto cherry for a few seconds until it appears it is cooled enough to stay on it’s own. Once all the mice have been assembled, add two beady eyes to each mouse with the gel frosting. Store cooled mice in airtight container. Freeze.

*NOTE: You will need to reheat dipping chocolate occasionally as you work. If it thickens as it cools, do NOT add water to chocolate!!! It will turn into a solid brick. Add a bit of shortening and heat to make it creamy again.

Flourless Fudge Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_1131This treat has a trick—no gluten, but when the GF crowd needs a cookie, this rich chocolatey wonder fills that craving for baked goods. With only 6 ingredients and none of them being flour, it’s hard to believe the thin batter will actually bake up into anything resembling a cookie, but it does. Word of warning: lack of flour does not equate healthier. This recipe is mostly sugar, with a few eggs for binding things together. So they toggle somewhere between a cookie and a meringue. I tried these after finding the recipe online, and it had been posted and reposted by a few bloggers—chocolateandcarrots.com had gotten it from keepitsweetdesserts.com, who had gotten it from recipegirl.com. It appears Lori Lange of recipegirl.com deserves the credit for creating the original recipe, so I’ll stop there. She used bittersweet chocolate chips in her recipe, which I’ve never seen in the stores (only bittersweet sold in squares for baking), so I used Nestle semi-sweet morsels, a kitchen staple. At least it’s a staple in my kitchen—how about yours? 

(Also pictured here are Ginger Crinkles, a previously-posted fabulous fall or holiday cookie, with sugar and spice, and everything nice. Not gluten-free.)

Makes 16 cookies

Rating: easy

3 cups confectioners sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, or Hershey’s cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 large egg whites, at room temperature (or use 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (a necessity, not an option, for this recipe.)

In a large bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar with cocoa powder and salt. Whisk in two egg whites and vanilla, and beat just until the batter is moistened. You want a thick and fudge-like batter consistency. If it seems too thick, add another egg white, then a 4th one if it still seems too thick. (Or start with the two egg whites, and add in one whole egg, yolk and all.) Gently stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter onto the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake about 14 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto wire racks. Let cool completely, then peel cookies off parchment and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. (But they won’t last that long.)

Black Bean Brownies

IMG_1093If it wasn’t in the title, you wouldn’t believe the secret ingredient in these moist and chocolatey gluten-free brownies was a can of black beans! I found this recipe on food.com, and it  had been raved about by many-a reader. I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet, and have been going crazy for some baked goods, preferably something that didn’t taste like ground chalk had been used in lieu of flour. (Those of you who’ve had to avoid gluten for a while know what I’m talking about…) This looked intriguing, and as it only makes a 9″x9″ pan, I figured I didn’t have much to loose if they were nasty. But surprise, surprise! They weren’t a waste of ingredients or time—they went together in just minutes, and tasted pretty good.

IMG_1080The first time I made these, I added both a teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to the mix, as other reviewers suggested it would make them more cake-like. That was too much leavening, and they tasted metallic. (They also sunk in the middle, another sign of too much soda or powder.) I dusted them with powdered sugar instead of frosting them, and as my co-worker Darin said, they looked so rich and dark, you expected a little more chocolate taste than you got. (Darin is SUCH a whiner… Not!) So the next time I made them, I frosted them with half a recipe of buttercream frosting (from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container), and that gave me the rich chocolate flavor I was lusting after. Using only 1 teaspoon baking soda worked better, too. The next time I make them, I think I’ll try them without any soda, and see if they come out fudgey, or just gooey. 

Note that you will need a blender or food processor to have success with this batter, and you’ll want to puree until no grains of bean remain before baking. Other than that, this recipe is a piece of cake! Or more accurately, a chunk of brownie. 

1 (15½ ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar

Buttercream frosting

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until completely pureed. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting or cutting.

For frosting, cream butter in medium mixing bowl, using wire whisk attachment for mixer. In separate medium-size bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. Add about half of sugar and cocoa to creamed butter, then drizzle some milk into bowl and stir. Add the rest of sugar/cocoa, and the vanilla, and as much milk as needed to make frosting a good spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies. Lick bowl, spatula, beaters, etc. Wipe face to remove evidence.