cranberry white chocolate chip cookies (plus a few baking tips)

Snow day #4 and counting…

These cookies are definitely among my favorites to bake (and eat). The dried cranberries make me think fall/winter but obviously they’re great all year round. Deb Perelman of  Smitten Kitchen modified the standard Quaker Oats recipe and came up with my favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. I made a few changes to give them a wintry twist and I hope you like them!

cookie

This recipe makes 50 small (think two or three bite) cookies

2 sticks of salted butter, softened but not melted
1 and 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt (regular table salt, not coarse salt)
3 cups rolled oats
1 and 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup of white chocolate chips (more or less to taste)
 
Mix butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time and mix until fully incorporated.

Add vanilla and orange zest.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet on low t0 medium speed until fully mixed.

Stir in oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips.

Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.  Colder dough makes thick, chewy cookies. If you use the dough right away, the cookies will be flatter and crispier (this is the case with pretty much all cookie recipes).

Preheat the oven to 350.  Scoop out rounded teaspoons of dough about two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake cookies for 12-15 minutes until they’re lightly browned on the edges. Try really hard to let them cool a little so as not to scorch your mouth. Good luck with that.

For the ones that you’re not immediately eating, cool for five minutes on the sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack.

A few baking tips:

  • If you don’t have the time to soften butter by leaving it on the counter for hours and hours, microwave it in a bowl in ten-second increments until it’s very soft to the touch.
  • Never measure out an ingredient over the stuff you’re making. For example, don’t pour out a teaspoon of salt over a bowl of flour. Whatever you’re pouring out will inevitably spill and then your measuring is shot.
  • Make sure the baking sheet is cool before you put the next round of dough on it; otherwise, the butter in the dough will start melting before you’ve even put it in the oven and you’ll end up with weird, flat cookies.

S’mores Bars – Because s’mores weren’t fattening enough

This is the second s’mores-style dessert I’ve written about, which is strange because I’m honestly not that impressed by s’mores. The first one I wrote about here and they’re delicious and cute for parties. These s’mores bars are more rustic (to use a term Barefoot Contessa loves) and very easy to make.

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I found the recipe for these via Pinterest at The Apron Gal’s blog.  I had a little mishap in doubling the recipe last time and wound up with not nearly enough dough to make the top layer, so I did the fluff layer before the Hershey bar layer, and I flattened little pancakes of dough and scattered them over the top. As you can see from the picture, there are big pieces of exposed chocolate and marshmallow, but I actually think I like that better than a smooth layer of dough. Hooray for happy accidents!

A few tips:

  • To save a little time, you can buy graham cracker crumbs already made in the baking aisle by cake mixes.
  • The dough for this is very sticky – wet your hands with cold water before trying to spread it in the pan. Then the dough won’t stick to your hands as much.
  • Really grease the pan and try to leave a border of dough without marshmallow fluff. When the marshmallow gets on the side of the pan, it hardens and is tough to get out.
  • If you can’t flatten the dough in a Ziploc bag like the recipe suggests, it’s no biggie. (I never bother)
  • Definitely stick with Hershey bars and don’t try to jazz these up with fancy chocolate. The distinct taste that a Hershey bar has is what makes these taste like s’mores.

Happy fall baking!

Best Kitchen Gadgets Under $20

The kitchen is a room that is easy to fill with expensive goodies. Appliances (big and small), fancy knives, pots and pans – thousands of dollars spent faster than you can say Crate and Barrel.  The good news is that there are tons of useful, fun tools and gadgets that aren’t pricey but still making cooking easier. Here are some of my favorites:

Microplane Zester ($15.95) – a must-have for zesting citrus fruits, you can also use this for fine shavings of chocolate and cheese.

Citrus Reamer ($3.95) – while it certainly doesn’t have the power of a large electric juicer, this little sucker makes it surprisingly easy to get tons of juice out of citrus fruits. This is a favorite of mine when making cocktails!

Steaming Basket – an easy way to gently cook vegetables and it’s invaluable for making baby food!

Liquid Measuring Cups ($11.95) – did you know that liquid and solid measuring cups aren’t the same? It’s true. One cup in a dry measuring cup is different than one cup in a liquid container.  It makes a big difference when baking because you need precise measurements. This measuring cup from Crate and Barrel is pretty with its green markings, don’t you think? Pyrex and Anchor make sets of these in different sizes for very reasonable prices.

Cookie Dough Scoop ($12.95) – If you bake cookies with any regularity, using a scoop helps keep the cookies a consistent size so everything cooks evenly. It also keeps your hands clean (that is until you start eating cookie dough).

 What about you, fellow home cooks? What low-cost gadgets and tools are invaluable to you?

Be a Good Holiday Guest

If you’re lucky enough to not be the host for the upcoming holidays, do your host a favor and bring a thoughtful gift!

If you can bake, try Martha Stewart’s lime meltaways. I blogged about them here.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake is really impressive and not too challenging. Food Network has the mini-cakes version that appeared on her show, but the whole cake, which is made in a bundt pan, is found in Barefoot Contessa Parties.

If you’re not really a baker but you can turn on an oven and you own a spoon and an 8×8 pan, you can make some jazzed up brownies. Start with a box of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate brownies and get cracking.  Peppermint Brownies are perfect for the holidays and a cinch to make. Pour half the prepared batter in the pan, layer six large peppermint patties across the pan (or a bunch of smaller ones) and cover with the remaining batter.

Nothing goes better with brownies than peanut butter so microwave a few tablespoons of peanut butter for 15-30 seconds to soften it, pour three stripes across the batter and run a knife perpendicular to the peanut butter to swirl it through. Wowee zowee.

If you know your hosts are wine drinkers, choose a bottle for them to enjoy when they’re not crazed with guests. And please, step away from the white zinfandel! If you’re a wine novice, ask the salesperson for a suggestion and don’t be afraid to communicate your budget (even if it’s $10), there are a lot of good choices at every price.

Of course there are many great websites with beautiful gifts. Check out Terrain, Wisteria, Beekman 1802, and for gorgeous personalized photo gifts that are surprisingly well-priced, you can’t beat Pinhole Press. I bought a ton of gifts there this year.

Happy Holidays!!

Recipe Share

Hey all – I’ve been a busy bee in the kitchen lately trying new some recipes and whipping up some of my favorites. Nothing original, just scouring the web and tweaking where necessary. I thought I’d share and hopefully inspire you to get your booty off the couch and in the kitchen!

Ina Garten’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup – Great for summer because you can eat it cold.  In a few months enjoy a happy winter weekend by eating it warm with a grilled cheese sandwich. Yum. My tweaks: use half the salt it calls for (Ina Garten if you’re reading this, your cardiologist called, stop using so much salt) and use low sodium chicken stock. Slightly annoying that you have to run this through a food mill. If you don’t have one you could get around that step by removing the tomato skins after you roast them and then running the soup through a blender for a few seconds. You won’t get quite the same consistency, but it would be ok in a pinch.

Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Veronique – This is chicken salad jazzed up with green grapes and tarragon. I typically don’t like tarragon because it has an anise (licorice) flavor, but it really works here. Again, go easy on the salt. This salad is great on a crispy ciabatta bread.

Giada De Laurentiis’s Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetable – This was surprisingly SO good. The recipe calls for two zucchini and two squash but just use two squash (unless they are freakishly small). There was no way four would have fit in the pan. I didn’t have the dried Italian herb mix it called for – actually that’s not true, I found a jar of it that expired in 2008 – so I just made my own. I combined dried thyme, rosemary and oregano and it was fine. I also used plain mozzarella instead of smoked.

Ina Garten’s Tabbouleh Salad – I made this for the first time about a month ago and I’ve made it four times already. I can’t get enough of it and it’s actually healthy. Great on its own but even better in a warmed up pita. When I saw Ina G make it on her show, she used chicken stock instead of water so that’s what I did the first time. Never again. The chicken flavor was a terrible match for the lemon, herb and vegetable flavors. Since then I just do what the original recipe says and use boiling water. Aside from a little bit of olive oil, there is no fat because it’s just herbs, veggies, and wheat bulgur (very healthy grain that has the consistency of couscous). I also like to add a little avocado just before serving. That negates the no fat thing but come on, it’s avocado!

And of course you can’t forget dessert… Ina Garten’s Peach and Blueberry Crumbles – so good and perfect for summer because you can use up those peaches.  I will definitely tweak this for fall and winter with other fruits (pear and apple?). This one I actually got around to taking a picture of before I put it in the oven but I was so overwhelmed by the delicious smells coming from the kitchen that I forgot to snap a picture of the finished product. Let’s just say it was bubbling and delicious looking. I also did not have the small ramekins that the recipe called for so I made four LARGE crumbles instead of six reasonable portions. I had no trouble finishing the larger one 🙂

 

PB Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

I’m involved in a cookie swap tomorrow so I headed over to Tasty Kitchen to find some inspiration. These immediately caught my eye and after making them this morning, I can tell you these are perfect for cookie swaps, holiday parties and lonely Friday nights.

The recipe said it would yield 36 cookies but it made 72 for me. Weird! Yes, I made them a little smaller than usual because I used a mini scooper to portion out the cookies, but they’re definitely not half the size of regular cookies. Anywho, that’s one of the reasons that this recipe is perfect for a cookie swap.

Ingredients:

1 cup of salted butter (2 sticks), softened but not melted

1 cup of creamy peanut butter

1 cup of granulated sugar

1 cup of light brown sugar

2 extra-large eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt (Original recipe does not call for this but I think it should have. So there.)

1 bag (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips

1.5 cups broken up pretzel pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Break up pretzels in a ziploc bag and set aside.

Microwave butter for 30 seconds until it’s softened. Add to the bowl of an electric mixer and combine with both sugars and peanut butter. Mix until well combined.

Add both eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture until everything is incorporated. At this point my mixer started growling at me like, “Don’t even think about adding one more ingredient to this bowl.” Add the chocolate chips and pretzel pieces and stir together to combine. Apologize to mixer.

This was the first time I used my mini-ice cream scoop (this is not the one I actually have, but you get the idea) to portion out the dough and even though my cookies came out a little funny looking, I would do it again. It was cleaner and faster and I licked my fingers a whole lot less.

Bake at 350 for 10-13 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned on top. Let them cool for a minute on the pan and then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy with milk!

Peach Cobbler

Fresh peaches are such a treat and now is a great time to get them. To tell if they’re ripe, smell the spot where the stem is (was). If it smells peachy, it’s good.

A few years ago I went to see Katie Lee Joel do a cooking demonstration at the Viking Cooking School (formerly Loaves and Fishes) in Garden City. At the time she was married to Billy Joel but in case you hadn’t heard, it didn’t work out. Big surprise there.

She was gorgeous and friendly and lovely. I bought her cookbook and one of my favorite recipes is the peach cobbler. The topping is more like a biscuit than a crumble and the focus is really on the peaches. Unfortunately, there is a typo in the recipe so I’ve had to make some executive decisions. The ingredient list calls for one and one quarter cups of sugar, but the directions only have you use one cup. I think the biscuit could be a little sweeter so I decided that the extra quarter cup should go there.

The cookbook is decent, but you can definitely tell that it’s her first one. For example in this recipe it says 4-5 peaches, peeled and sliced. Ok, how thick should they be sliced? Thinly sliced? Thick wedges? Also, peaches are practically impossible to peel, so how about a trick (which I included below, courtesy of Ina Garten)?  If you like southern food, it’s worth a read, otherwise, you can just borrow mine.

Ingredients:

5 peaches

1.25 cups of sugar

1 cup of flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup of milk

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon of cornstarch

3/4 cup of boiling water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

To prepare the peaches, bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop the peaches in for 30 seconds. Take them out and put them in a bowl of very cold water to stop the cooking. When they’re cool enough to handle, the peels should slide right off. WARNING: Naked peaches are very slippery! Be careful when you’re slicing them. Slice the peaches into 1/2 inch wedges. Place them in an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, the baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the milk and melted butter and mix together. Evenly pour the batter over the peaches.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining sugar with the cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle it over the batter. Evenly pour the boiling water over everything. This will mix with the dry ingredients to make a nice sauce for the peaches.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top starts to brown. Serve warm. I’ve had it for breakfast for the past three mornings – it’s fruit!