Cookies!

There’s just something about the holiday season that seems to make many feel like baking; something about the cooler weather, friends and family visiting, and the lack of worrying about how one looks in a bathing suit seems to spell out a stronger desire for fresh-baked goods. I’m not immune myself, which is why I was testing out some new cookie recipes recently – Peanut Butter, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip cookies and a shortbread with jam cookie.  Both turned out well, but I’m partial to the first since it has a lovely combination of three types of cookies. The friend I was baking with preferred the shortbread. The results of both recipes have been disappearing faster than I would like from the kitchen, though, so I’m going to need to bake again before hosting my annual family get together.

Peanut Butter, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip Cookies (aka Everything Cookies)

Adapted from Peanut Butter Cookies IX on Allrecipes.com.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 rounded teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, white sugar and peanut butter until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture. Finally, mix in the oats and chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are golden. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

Notes: These were delicious as is, but I plan to try to improve them by adding some dried cranberries, fresh ground nutmeg, additional cinnamon, and or more chocolate chips.

Shortbread Cookies with homemade Cranberry-Berry Jam and Kiwi-Lime-Pineapple Jam in the front two rows, Everything Cookies in the back.

Shortbread Cookies with Jam

Adapted from Berry Shortbread Dreams recipe by Mildred Sherrer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup seedless jam (I used two types of homemade jam: Berry Cranberry and Kiwi-Lime-Pineapple)
  • GLAZE:
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in extract; gradually add flour until dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until easy to handle. Roll into 1-in. balls. Place 1 in. apart on un-greased baking sheets. Using the back of a 1/8 tsp measuring spoon, make an indentation in the center. Fill with jam.
  2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 14-18 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. While cookies are baking, combine glaze ingredients.
  3. When cookies are done, remove to wire racks to cool.  Use a fork to stir up the glaze again; drizzle over cookies.

Tips: The vanilla extract tints the glaze a light tan brown color. If you prefer your glaze to be a pure white, use almond extract or leave out the extract altogether. I used vanilla since I like how the taste complimented the jam and because I’m allergic to almonds. If your jam is very sweet, you might consider using a little less of it when filling in your cookies since it might overpower the delicateness of the shortbread, especially if you plan to top with glaze as well.

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Cheese Bake

After an afternoon of baking cookies, I was hyped up on sugar and in no mood to cook. Thankfully, hubby was ready to step in and make dinner adapted from a recipe he found online calling for 5 types of cheese in a baked macaroni dish (Original recipe: Wisconsin Five Cheese Bake found on allrecipes.com). Since we wanted to reduce the amount of ingredients we had to buy to make the meal, we adapted it to what we had in the fridge. You could easily sub in your favorite mixture of cheeses and whatever medium size pasta you have in your pantry.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (16 ounce) package bow tie noodles
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese mixture
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated cheddar
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add bow tie noodles, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the shredded cheeses. Remove about 1/2 cup for topping and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt and heavy cream. Season with parsley, Italian seasoning.
  3. Pour the ricotta cheese mixture and drained pasta into the bowl with the shredded cheeses and toss lightly. Don’t worry about mixing it too thoroughly, it will melt. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes, then turn the oven to broil. Broil for about 5 minutes to brown the top.

Final Results: Totally decadent, even with the minor fat reducing adaptations we tested. It did need some salt, so adding in garlic salt as the original recipe suggested to the cheese mixture would have been nice. It also could have used a little kick of something – perhaps a dash of tabasco to add some heat or a shake or two of cayenne or crushed red peppers flakes. I loved the crunchy bits on top, but if you don’t like a crunchy top to your baked pasta, don’t broil it at the end. The cheese will still be plenty gooey and creamy.

Here’s what the leftovers looked like packed up for hubby’s lunch the next day (I added some cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices to round it out).

Beef Chorizo, Black Bean, and Chicken Burritos

It’s been almost a year since I last posted, and what a year it’s been! We’ve added a new member to our family, and while my pregnancy was remarkably healthy for the most part, I dealt with an unusual form of morning sickness that not only made cooking difficult due to the smells, but also made it so I was not hungry at all. I tried cooking a handful of times during the pregnancy, but the dishes turned out pretty poorly (my first inedible dish!). But now, Baby Monkey is here in person, I’m able to eat again, and I’m cooking food that’s actually edible once more so I’m back to blogging about our experiments in the kitchen.

The following recipe was cooked by my husband (yay!). Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list or the fact that it isn’t a single pot dinner. The taste is well worth it – it has some heat, complex flavors and generous servings.

Beef Chorizo, Black Bean, and Chicken Burritos

Serves 4

Taken (with some minor changes) from Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals.

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 cups white rice
  • 3.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1/3 lb. Beef chorizo, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1.5 lbs. Chicken tenders, chopped small
  • 1 avocado, halved, skinned, and cut into small pieces
  • Handful grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

1. Heat medium size pan over medium heat with half the oil. Add 1/4 of the chopped onion, season with salt and pepper, and then cook for 1 minute. Add the rice, stirring to coat in the oil. Add 2.5 cups of the chicken stock and bring up to simmer. Cover the pot tightly, reduce heat to medium low, and cook rice for 15-17 minutes until tender. Fluff rice with a fork when it’s done.

2. While rice cooks, preheat large skillet over medium-high heat with remaining oil. Add chorizo and cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining chopped onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, and some salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes until the onions start to get tender. Add the chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until chicken no longer has any pink and is cooked through.

3. Combine avocado with the tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and mix to combine.

4. Add remaining cup of chicken stock to the chorizo mixture and bring it up to a bubble. Once it simmers, add the black beans and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (at least a few minutes).

5. Assemble burrito: Put handful of cheese on the tortilla, add rice, and top with meat mixture, then add some of the avocado mixture. Wrap and enjoy!

Fun with Cookie Cutters

Fun with new cookie cutters

Pita, low-fat salami, hard-boiled eggs, dried berries, grapes, mini-bell peppers stuffed with hummus or meat and cheese.

After finding a small tin filled with cute little metal cookie cutters, I’ve wanted to use them for ages, but we had some trouble opening the container. No wonder they were on sale! After denting the container a bit, we were finally able to access the cookie cutters. Next task – finding foods in our fridge that would be fun to cut. I used cheese, salami, and egg white cutouts as decorations.

Since this was packed for hubby, I used a bigger lunch box and a lot of highly caloric items to keep him filled up. The verdict: too many dried blueberries, but everything else went over well.

Rice Cooker Double Duty

Since November is a busy month for me, I was hoping to multitask using some of my cooking appliances. I’ve always been a fan of steaming some vegetables while I cook rice in the rice cooker, experimented with steaming dumplings, but when I came across some recipes that cooked entire meals in the rice cooker, I was intrigued. This lunch bento is the result of my first (and most likely last attempt).

I’m not going to include the recipes because none of them actually worked. The chicken and bell peppers were marinated in sesame oil with some pepper and salt, wrapped in foil, then tossed into the rice and water and left to steam with them. No matter how long I kept it in the cooker, the chicken remained raw in the middle, so I ended up giving up and tossing it in a skillet . Great end taste, but not worth the time and effort of seal up the chicken in a nice little foil pouch, especially since I ended up having to cook it in a pan anyways.

The savory egg dish was also incredibly delicious, but very ineffective in the rice cooker. It was flavored strongly enough that it tasted good both hot and cold the next day in our lunches. I just had to keep it in my rice cooker for 4+ cycles. It also puffed up to incredible heights while cooking. It might be that my rice cooker just isn’t strong/good enough, but I won’t be using it to cook anything more than rice or steam veggies again anytime soon.

Rice Cooker Multipurpose Attempt

Top Tier: Steamed Rice with Scallions and Kinpira, Bottom Tier: Sesame Chicken and Red Bell Pepper, Carrot Kinpira, Savory Quiche

White Wine Sangria

This is a dangerously addictive drink – easy to customize, easy to make, easy to drink. We used a bottle of buttery Chardonnay and it blended beautifully with the fruits. Author of the recipe is .

  • 1 Bottle of white wine (Riesling, Albarino, Chablis, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc).
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 3 oranges (sliced) or may substitute 1 cup of orange juice)
  • 1 lemon (sliced)
  • 1 lime (sliced)
  • 1/2 liter club soda
  • handful of hulled and sliced strawberries

Preparation:

Pour wine in the pitcher and squeeze the juice wedges from the orange,lemon and lime into the wine. Toss in the fruit wedges (leaving out seeds if possible) and add sugar. Chill overnight. Add ginger ale or club soda just before serving.If you’d like to serve right away, use chilled white wine and serve over lots of ice. 

Addition ideas: peaches, handful of fresh blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, a shot or two of gin, brandy or rum, a cup of citrus-flavored soda pop, ginger ale in place of the club soda.

We had a wine-lover coming over for lunch and had a tough time figuring out what to serve.  This was the perfect complement to a light, summer brunch/lunch including grilled chicken and lemon quinoa.  It might have been prettier served in wine glasses instead of tall tumblers, but these worked well.  One of the best parts was eating the boozy fruit as dessert.

Continued Adventures with Quinoa: Lemon & Herb Quinoa

I’ve made the Black Bean & Quinoa salad a couple times now since we liked it so much. It packs well in lunches, tastes good cold or warm, and was pretty easy to make. When planning the menu for today’s lunch however, I wanted to try something new since we had a guinea pig, I mean guest, coming over so I decided to play around with a Giada de Laurentiis recipe for Herbed Quinoa. After reading the reviews, I made some alterations to the recipe and came up with something everyone at the table agreed was a perfect summer luncheon dish (and would be ideal for a picnic or packed lunch). By swapping the chicken stock for vegetable, it’s a vegan or vegetarian dish. Here’s my version:

Lemon & Herb Quinoa

Lemon & Herb Quinoa

Ingredients:

Quinoa:

  • 2 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ¾ – 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ¼  cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • zest from one lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

For the quinoa: Put all quinoa ingredients in your rice cooker and cook as you would white rice. When the rice cooker switches off or to the warming function, dump the quinoa into a large bowl and fluff with a fork (as you would couscous).

For the dressing: In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley, thyme, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pour the dressing over the quinoa and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

Note: I made this dish the night before and kept it covered in the refrigerator. I tasted it right after mixing everything together and it was good, but the garlic (I was a bit generous in the serving since we love garlic) overwhelmed the herbs and lemon. By lunchtime the next day though, the garlic had mellowed and the herbs and lemon played stronger roles. It was delicious! We served it with Zucchini and Tomatoes (recipe will be posted later this week), green salads, grilled rosemary chicken, and white sangria (recipe will be posted later this week). We ate so much, we didn’t leave any room for the planned dessert (angel food cake with homemade berry sauce). I’m definitely looking forward to our dinner tonight of leftovers and the dessert!