Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

If the forecast for this weekend holds, I think Marc and I are going to have to go hiking.  We haven't really been since we were in Maine back in June (which, by the way, is solidly in first place on my list of favorite places to hike, or do anything, really).  So maybe that's partly the reason we haven't gone lately is that I figure the first post-Maine hike is going to be a let down.  Or maybe because our summer got seriously disrupted by having to move 1,260 miles across the country.  Or partly because I have been forced to be low key a lot since we moved here due to medical treatment.  Or because we live in Kansas now, and where do you go to "hike" in Kansas?  If you know the answer to that question, please drop me a line because I'm not trying to be snarky, I just genuinely don't know.  At any rate, I think it's long overdue, and surely we can find a good trail somewhere, even in the flat lands of the Midwest.

In the past, I have found out the hard way that adequate snackage is vital on a hike.  A few times I have not done a good job of preparing for a hike or a lengthy paddle in the kayak and hit the proverbial wall with quite a thud.  One time, paddling on the Hudson River up in New York, I got so tired halfway through that Marc had to tie a rope from his boat to mine and drag me back up the river, against the current.  He's quite a guy, isn't he?  Without him I guess I would have just floated all the way down to Manhattan and on out to sea.

About a month after the incident where Marc towed me back up the river like a derelict tugboat, we went to Maine for the first time, and since the menu of activities consisted mainly of hiking and kayaking, I got smart and made some snacks ahead of time.  Enter this oatmeal cookie.  I've never been a big fan of oatmeal cookies in general, I think because they usually have raisins in them, which are not my favorite.  But I discovered this recipe, another gem from Grandma Marguerite, that she wrote out by hand into the aforementioned cookbook that she gave me for Christmas one year.  I am sure she just clipped it out of a newspaper or a magazine and I have no idea how old it is.  In contains instant vanilla pudding mix, which isn't usually something I would bake with, but the thing that really caught my eye about it was that the traditional raisins had been swapped out for chocolate chips.  SCORE.  Figuring that the sugar would give us quick energy, the oats a little bit longer lasting energy, and the chocolate would just be awesome, I decided these would be perfect for our outdoor activities.  It's gotten to the point now where they are nearly as quintessential of a hiking companion as our dog, Maggie.

Overall, this is a pretty traditional cookie recipe, what with the creaming of the butter and the sugars, etc.  As I said, I would not usually bake with instant pudding mix, but every time I try a new recipe, I pretty much make it the way it's written the first time and I don't tweak it until the next time, if I feel like it's got potential.  In this case, I loved the cookie so much as is that I made very minimal changes.  So, yes, I even left the pudding mix in.  The only things I did differently were that I upped the amount of brown sugar and decreased the white sugar, since brown sugar is more moist and therefore gives a more chewy texture.  Another improvement to the texture was my choice of rolled oats as opposed to quick cooking oats, which also have a more oaty flavor, in my opinion.  I also nixed the second egg white in favor of just a yolk, again hoping for more chewiness.  My last change was to increase the size of the cookie.  The original called for using 2 teaspoons of dough, which seemed utterly laughable to me.  I went for a hardy 2 Tablespoons.  At this size, you'll get about 30 big, fat, chewy cookies.  You could also throw in about a cup of nuts, if you like.  I have occasionally put in pecans for a bit of protein.  Go bake a batch and then take a hike.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I grew up in a house where you underbake cookies so that they stay soft as long as possible, so that's what I did here.  They will bake all the way through and be safe to eat, but they will be soft.  If you want them a little more done, have at it.

1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 pkg. (3.5 oz.) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flour, dry pudding mix, baking soda and salt until well combined.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together with a mixer until fluffy.  Beat in egg, egg yolk and vanilla.  Stir in dry ingredients with a sturdy wooden spoon.  This is a really stiff dough and it will take some muscle to get it all combined.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if using.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Drop cookies onto the sheet using 2 Tablespoons of dough at a time and use your palm to flatten them out a little.  I only do 8 cookies at a time on a baking sheet because these are big cookies.  That said, they don't spread a whole lot so you could probably get away with a few more on a sheet if you want.  Eight is a safe number, though.

Bake one baking sheet at a time for 10 minutes.  Allow the cookies to sit on the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing and placing on a cooling rack.  Don't skip this step or they will be too soft to move and will fall apart.  Makes about 30 to 32 large cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Crumb Topped Cherry Pie

I lit my oven on fire last week.  It was pretty exciting.  I had made something that spilled over and then forgot to clean it up.  So last Friday when I was rushing to get everything done for Marc's big birthday dinner, I turned the oven up to 425 to pre-bake a pie crust for his pecan pie, not even thinking about how the much hotter temperature was definitely going to burn up that goop that was laying in there.  I was sitting at the table working on my cellular biology homework (I hope you're reading this, Dr. Kincaid) when all of sudden I smelled smoke.  I muttered to myself, "Oh that's right, the oven has crap in it...." and turned around to see a flickering orange light in the oven window.  I opened up the door to find several piles of flaming debris; the flames were actually licking the bottom of the rack that was in the middle position.  I very calmly closed the door and walked in a circle while deciding what to do, and opted for grabbing the PUR water pitcher from the fridge and just dumping some of it in the oven to douse the flames.  A mushroom cloud of smoky steam billowed out and the flames were gone.  Tragedy avoided.  But then of course my hair smelled like smoke, and I wasn't going to go to school smelling like burnt oven detritus, so I had to take a shower and by then I was out of time to make the pie until I got back from school later that afternoon.

Luckily, I knew that making a big birthday dinner on a Friday night on a day when I had to go to school meant I would be running behind, so I prepared myself by going with a pre-made pie crust.  And the flames in the oven turned out to be quite a boon.  When I got back home, after reading the note that I wrote to myself and taped on the oven that said "DO NOT TURN ON UNTIL YOU CLEAN," I just opened the door and easily picked up the big chunks of burnt whatever, leaving an incredibly clean oven!  It was just like running the self cleaning cycle, except quicker and more exciting!

If I'm going to use a pre-made crust, I will only use the kind that you just unroll and put into your own pie pan because they actually taste quite a lot like a homemade crust.  The ones that are frozen into an aluminum pan are a non starter for me.  With the unroll and bake kind there are 2 in the package, so that left me with one that needed to be used after the pecan pie was done.  Hmm.... What kind of pie can I make that only takes a single crust?  Cherry!  With crumbs!  I saw this idea in one of my old cookbooks and immediately loved the concept.  It reminded me of the cherry dump cake my dad makes in a Dutch oven when he goes camping.  YUM.

So you're thinking, "so she's ok with pre-made pie crust, does that mean she's going to use a canned pie filling here?"  Oh. Hell. No.  Canned pie filling is a travesty.  For one thing, in any given can there are about 3 cherries and the rest is glop.  Furthermore, the glop is so sweet that it makes your teeth hurt.  Of course all my old cookbooks call for fresh cherries and then pitting them when making a cherry pie.  But this is October, which is lacking in fresh cherries, and I'm too lazy to pit them anyway, so I did use canned cherries, but then made my own filling out of them.  The filling is based on an old newspaper clipping that my mom has in her collection, and then I made a crumb topping along the lines of what you might find on a Dutch apple pie.  The result tastes wonderful, but I'm not going to lie - it makes a pretty sloppy looking piece.  Especially if you try to cut it before it has cooled thoroughly.  And when I say thoroughly I mean, like, for many hours.  So if you are really trying to impress someone and you want something that makes a beautiful presentation, this ain't it.  But the somewhat sweet, somewhat tart taste might just make you not care what it looks like.

Crumb Topped Cherry Pie

As I said, I used a pre-made pie crust but if you'd like to make one from scratch and don't have a recipe on hand, you can use the crust recipe from my peach pandowdy recipe.  Just make sure you roll it out big enough.  If you want your pie to set up more and make a little bit more presentable slice, you could try upping the tapioca by another tablespoon or so, but I would recommend that you first grind it in a food processor because you will definitely notice little white globules in the finished pie if you put in much more than I called for.  In fact, I noticed a minimal amount in my pie.  So if the idea of seeing any tapioca in there at all bothers you, you might want to grind it anyway.  (Measure first, then grind.)

One other note -  I know some pie plates are shallower than others so you may want to place the whole pie on a baking sheet when it goes in the oven just in case you have some bubbling over.  I did that, but mostly because I was gun shy about lighting the oven on fire again.


3 cans red, tart, pitted cherries (14.5 oz. each)
5 Tbs. cornstarch
1 to 1 1/4 cup sugar (use the lesser amount if you like it fairly tart)
dash salt
2 tsp. almond extract
3 Tbs. butter cut into 3 pieces
2 Tbs. instant tapioca

Crumb Topping

1 cup flour
6 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. almond extract
dash salt

Preheat the oven to 375.  Put the pie crust into a pie pan and crimp the edges.  Line the crust with a few layers of foil and fill with pie weights.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden.  Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

Drain the cherries and reserve 1 1/4 cups of the juice.  (This will probably  be close to all of the juice but you should still measure to make sure.)  Set the cherries aside.  In a saucepan, combine the sugar, salt and cornstarch.  Whisk until there are no lumps of cornstarch.  Add the cherry juice to the saucepan and whisk to dissolve the sugar and cornstarch.  Cook over medium to medium-high heat, whisking often, until it boils and thickens and the juice turns from cloudy to clear.  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and almond extract.  Once all of the butter is melted, stir in the cherries.  Add the tapioca and stir until well combined, let sit for 15 minutes.

For the crumb topping, mix all topping ingredients together and stir until well combined.  Use a fork to break up any large lumps.

Once the crust is done baking, remove the pie weights and fill the crust with the cherry filling.  Sprinkle with crumb topping and bake at 375 for another 40 to 45 minutes until the topping is golden brown.  If the pie crust starts to brown too much, you can use a pie crust shield to protect it.  Allow to cool for at least 2 hours before attempting to slice it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guest Post: Grandma’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup

Post by: Regina

[Regina and I work together, and got to know each other because there was a printer right outside of my cube.  Every time she came to pick up a printout we would chat for a while, and somehow managed to still chat even after we both had our cubes moved.  Well, technically the cubes are still in the same place but we were moved.  When work is slow we can easily spend the better part of the day looking for and emailing recipes to each other.]

I’m not actually sure of the provenance of this recipe.  It could in fact be a recipe from one of my own grandmothers.  At any rate, it’s a really tasty soup if you don’t mind that it takes the better part of a day to make. 
I have swapped out 2 cans of cream soup with a homemade version.  It adds another pot and a bit of time, but it is such an improvement.  I’m lactose intolerant, but with this substitution I was able to recreate the original soup, only tastier.   All of the veggie amounts below are rough.  I tend to use more than the amounts listed in the recipe so my husband and I don’t develop scurvy.  You can also use a slightly larger chicken, but increase the cooking time accordingly.  

Grandma’s Chicken and Dumpling Soup
Chicken broth: 
3-4 pound fryer chicken, cut up
6 cups cold water
3 chicken bouillon cubes (or 1 heaping Tbsp of chicken soup base from Penzeys)
6 peppercorns
3 whole cloves

Soup base:
Homemade condensed mushroom soup (recipe below; equal to 2 cans of creamed soup)
10 3/4 oz chicken broth
1 cup diced celery
1.5 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 large chopped onion
1 cup diced potatoes
1 bay leaf
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 tsp season salt

Condensed mushroom soup:
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (or margarine)
8 small mushrooms, minced (or run through food processor)
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk (soy works fine)
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups AP flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, well beaten
2 Tbsp melted butter (or margarine)
2/3 cup milk (soy works fine)

Place fryer, water, bouillon, peppercorns, and cloves in a 5 quart dutch oven.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is just cooked through.  (Chicken will cook again later so don’t get too paranoid). 

Remove chicken from the pot and let cool. 

Add soup base ingredients to pot. 

The condensed soup can be made at this time.

  • Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-high seat. 
  • Add minced mushrooms and cook until softened.  Season with salt and pepper. 
  •  Sprinkle flour over mushrooms and whisk to combine.  Cook this mixture for about 5 minutes, whisking often. 
  • Add milk and broth to the mixture and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. 
  • Once everything has thickened to a creamy consistency, remove from heat and add to the soup base. 
Simmer all soup base ingredients for 2-3 hours over medium-low heat.  During that time, remove chicken from the bones and add the shredded chicken to the pot.  To avoid overcooking the chicken I tend to add it during the last hour of simmering.

30 minutes before you want to eat, make the dumplings.  Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and pepper together. Add egg, butter, and milk to the dry ingredients.  You may need to add a bit more milk to make a moist, stiff batter.

Make sure the soup is at a low boil.  Drop teaspoons of batter into the soup.  The dumplings should be in a single layer and cover the entire pot.  Put the lid on immediately after dropping the last teaspoon.  Cook for 18 minutes without lifting the lid.  When you do open the lid, give the dumplings a poke.  If they seem solid they are done.

Eat. In my family whoever gets the whole peppercorns or cloves has to wash dishes that night.  My parents still don’t own a dishwasher. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Open-Faced Egg Sandwich

So right after school was done kicking my butt (or at least the kicking had slowed down), my medical appointments started kicking my butt.  I've been off my feet a lot lately by doctor's orders, which means there's been much less cooking going on in our house than usual.  Actually, what's really been going on is probably something akin to what happens every week in Laura's house, where I made a big potful of something and we ate out of it for several days in a row so that my husband wouldn't have to work too hard to get dinner on the table.  This was self serving, too, because it also meant I didn't have to tell my husband what to do to get dinner on the table.  Sometimes that's almost more exhausting than just doing it myself, even though he means well.  :)  Luckily I've been sitting on this recipe for a while, so while I'm hanging out here on bedrest, or couchrest, as it were, for the remainder of the day, I thought I might as well share it.

I've mentioned before how much Marc and I love to have a big, guilty pleasure breakfast on the weekends, but besides things like sweets and simple carbs - coffee cakes, doughnuts, griddlecakes, etc. - most of my old cookbooks don't have much to offer as far as breakfast recipes.  Marc would always prefer to have a lot of protein in his big weekend breakfast, especially if that protein is in the form of bacon.  And cheese.  And eggs.  And then more bacon.  After a lot of paging through old books, I did find a few breakfast casserole and strata recipes, but it's nearly impossible to make something like that for 2 people, and I wasn't interested in eating it forever.  A little more scouring revealed several breakfast sandwich and scrambled egg recipes in a few old books from around the 30s and 40s.  One scrambled egg recipe contained oysters.  Another contained sauteed corn.  I decided I didn't know how to modernize something that sounded quite that repulsive, but was glad to hear that people were scrambling eggs back in the day because I knew I could work with that.  One book had a recipe for an egg sandwich and eggs benedict on the same page and hence the idea of an open-faced egg sandwich crept into my head.  That, plus the memory of a great meal at a bed and breakfast in the Poconos a few years ago created this tasty dish.  At this particular bed and breakfast, the scrambled eggs had herbs and a hint of garlic in them, and in this case, I actually gave in to a convenience product to get that same effect.

Open-Faced Egg Sandwich

I made this as 2 servings, but you would need to be pretty darn hungry to eat the whole thing.  Marc didn't have much trouble finishing his, but I could have probably shared mine with someone, especially if we'd had a little fruit salad or something like that to go along with it.  (As it was, the dog was happy to help me finish it.)  So I guess the point is it's probably not enough for 4 people as is, but a little more than needed for 2.  If you're interested in trying to make croissants from scratch, good on ya'.  I haven't tried that yet and luckily the grocery store bakery does a fine job of doing that for me.

2 croissants
1 Tbs. butter
4 eggs
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbs. soft cheese spread with garlic and herbs (I used Alouette Garlic and Herb Light)
4 strips thick cut bacon

Lay the croissant on the counter and place your palm flat on top of it.  Use a bread knife, held parallel to the counter, to cut each croissant in half horizontally.  Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet until no longer foaming.  Place all 4 croissant halves, cut side down, in the skillet and cook over medium heat until they are nicely crisped.  Remove from the skillet and set aside.

In the now empty skillet, cook the 4 strips of bacon to desired crispiness and drain on paper towels.  Cut each slice in half.

Beat the eggs along with the salt and pepper.  Drain the grease from the bacon out of the skillet and pour in the egg mixture.  Add the 2 Tbs of cheese but do not just throw in 2 big gobs.  Spread it out around the pan so it can melt into the eggs evenly.  Scramble the eggs to desired doneness.

On each plate, place a bottom and top of a toasted croissant and place 2 of the halved strips of bacon on each piece.  (So each of the 4 croissant pieces will be covered with one piece of bacon, except that the bacon strip has been cut into 2 halves.  Got it?)  Evenly divide the scrambled eggs over all 4 croissant halves and serve immediately.

You will need a fork to eat this; you can't really pick it up.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stewed Apples

School has been kicking my butt the last few weeks, hence my lack of posting.  But I have no complaints because I can't imagine a better reason to be kept out of the kitchen than learning about bacteria.  If that sentence makes no sense to you, enroll in a microbiology class and tell me it's not fascinating.  So I've been away for too long and we've eaten too many frozen skillet dinners in that time, but for good reason.

Two really awesome things happened since I last posted.  One, Don't Ask Don't Tell officially bought the farm.  Good riddance to a hateful, discriminatory policy, in this lowly military spouse's opinion.  Two, fall arrived!  Let the apples roll!

As soon as I saw Jonathan apples at the store I knew it was time for stewed apples.  Jonathans are wonderful to cook with.  They are often as sweet as candy, and they break down into a great chunky applesauce type texture.  The combination of Jonathans and Granny Smiths together make for perfect stewed apples.  Incidentally, the next time I went to the grocery store after the Jonathans made their appearance, the Honeycrisps had arrived, which are one of my favorites for eating out of hand.  Man, I love apple season!

The combination of brown and white sugar might seem a bit fussy, but it's a great pairing.  The brown sugar gives a lovely caramely type flavor, but cutting it with the white sugar makes sure the flavor of the apples can still take center stage.  Finished off with a little cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, it's like apple pie in a bowl.  These apples make a great side dish to a fall supper.  I served mine with cider glazed pork chops and roasted sweet potatoes and carrots.

Stewed Apples

3 cups peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples, about 3 apples
3 cups peeled and chopped Jonathan apples, about 3 apples
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup apple cider
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
Pinch fresh ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes or until the Jonathan apples have broken down and the Granny Smiths are softened.