Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

Though at the moment we’re enjoying a very reasonable streak of 80 degree weather, those psychics we all call weathermen assure me that this won’t last – by Sunday the temperature will return to a staggering 95 degrees, and we’ll all sweat ourselves into puddles watching the fireworks. Such is life in the summer months. But I’m not complaining! At the end of the day, the bottom line is that I would rather slather myself with sunscreen and watch through the fiery humidity than spend even one extra minute in snowy winter weather. But when the weather gets this toasty, there are certain things my heart just yearns for. Things like beaches, cold beers, watermelon…and ice cream.

I’ve waxed poetic about my adoration of all things cold and creamy before, but the summer only amplifies my desire for it. I’ve tried to trick myself into forsaking my love for something a little less, um, fattening, but nothing else does it for me. Sorbet, frozen yogurt, Italian ice – they’re all very lovely, but they lack the smooth taste of velvet that ice cream has. In my mind, at least, nothing else comes close to satisfying the craving. It’s ice cream, or it’s nothing. And really, the first choice is clearly the superior one.

So  it’s kind of a miracle I haven’t attempted a custard-based ice cream before. Actually, it’s not that miraculous – I’m very, very impatient. And that extra cook-cool-refrigerate for two hours bit always put me off the custard base strategy that everyone else raved about. It was way easier for me to throw some milk and cream into the ice cream maker and let it just twirl away for a half hour. But now that I know when I’m missing? Now that I’ve experienced how much of a difference those three little steps make? Now, I don’t know how I’m going to go back.

Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream

Adapted from over here, at Cathy’s Kitchen Journey

2 cups whole milk, divided

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 tsp vanilla extract

10 Oreo cookies, crumbled

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl until soft and smooth. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, eggs, and 1 1/2 cups milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil (I took mine off pretty much the instant it came to a boil – see the very, very impatient mention above). Slowly and carefully add the hot milk to the cream cheese and beat until combined.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the mixture is cool (I did all of this on day one, refrigerated it overnight, and finished it the next day).

When you’re ready to make the ice cream, remove the bowl from the fridge and add the last 1/2 cup of milk and the vanilla to the mixture (it will be thick and custard-like already). Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions.

When the mixture is finished, scoop the ice cream into a bowl and fold in Oreo cookie crumbs. Store in a freezer-safe container.

Biscotti Friday, Feb 26 2010 

This post is a little late, I know, but so was my Valentine’s Day celebration.  See, two weeks ago, Boyfriend and I came to the realization that there’s a very, very good likelihood that our Valentine’s Day is just never going to happen on the same day as everyone else’s.  And for that, we have just one thing to blame: basketball.

Last year, before he quit and went back to grad school to get his Masters, Boyfriend was working at a sports arena.  You might be thinking to yourself That’s a pretty awesome job! and you might be right, had this arena housed a major league team or two.  Unfortunately, it was home primarily to a minor league hockey team that had, through a series of unfortunate ownership decisions, pretty much lost its fan base.  And needless to say, in the shadow of Philly, NYC, and AC, the arena also didn’t have a whole lot of luck landing great shows and concerts.  So Boyfriend was frequently stuck there for hours upon hours, in a suit, on the weekends, working whatever Disney on Ice show or outdated 80’s band was playing.  Such was the case on Valentine’s Day as well – only this time, the featured event was a high school basketball game.  Actually, scratch that – it was a high school basketball tournament; which meant that not only was it eating into my Valentine’s Day dinner aspirations, it was also lasting an entire weekend. And for being a sport I already hate pretty vehemently, basketball lost quite a lot of points that weekend, even though Boyfriend and I had already celebrated the week before, in anticipation of this situation.

This February 14th found us separated again, this time by an imminent NCAA basketball tournament consuming Boyfriend’s life up in Boston, and keeping me Boyfriend-less in New Jersey…a situation I remedied the following weekend by bribing asking him nicely to come home and go snowboarding with me for the weekend.  He agreed, because he knows better than to let basketball stand in the way of us being together.  Although, I’m sure the package of goodies I mailed up to him on February 12th didn’t hurt…

Vanilla Biscotti

Adapted (unrecognizabley) from All Recipes

These cookies taste exactly like sugar cookies, only crunchier.  They also travel extremely well, and earn you bonus points with your significant other…I’m just sayin’.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tbsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

3/4 cup sugar

5 tbsp butter, melted

1 egg

2 egg whites, separated

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 tbsp orange zest

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together and set aside.  In a separate, large bowl, mix together butter, whole egg, one egg white, vanilla, and orange zest.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, then stir until combined.  Add hazelnuts and mix into batter.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a log (about 12-14 inches long).  Place both logs on the baking sheet, allowing them a little room to rise.  Brush each with reserved egg white.  Bake until golden – about 30 minutes.  Cool on a rack.

Once cool, slice logs using a serrated knife and place (cut-side down) on the baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes, then flip cookies over.  Bake another 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are completely crisp and golden brown (but not burnt).  Cool on a rack.

Carrot Shortbread Wednesday, Feb 10 2010 

As you may have heard (since it seems to be literally the only thing the news stations around here are covering aside from the Toyota recall), the East Coast is getting walloped with snow.  And I don’t mean the kind of snow that fell so serenely in London at the stroke of midnight on my 24th birthday a few weeks ago (Good lord – has it really only been a month!?).  It’s the kind of sleet-rain-blizzard snow that not only means that the roads are a sheet of snow-covered ice, but that my entire family is off from work and school today because of it.  And with the federal government closed for the third day in a row, the majority of this region is quite literally snowed in.

I don’t know about you guys, but this kind of weather makes me want to bake.  I want to fill the whole house with the scent of butter and sugar, and feel the heat radiating from the oven all day.  I want to bundle up in my biggest, softest sweaters and pajamas and hunker down in the warm kitchen making snacks, while outside my window, Mother Nature makes a mess.  And this weekend (and this morning, because it’s still snowing, in case anyone was wondering), that’s exactly what I did.

And to make sure that the cookies wouldn’t be a total caloric nightmare, I used a recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks.  If you haven’t visited yet, you should.  Heidi makes the kind of food that you feel good about eating – completely natural, healthy, and delicious.  Using one of her recipes is a sure-fire way to guarantee success, and this one was no exception.  So if the rest of you are bored, snowed in, or just in the mood for some cookies, might I suggest whipping up a batch?

Carrot Shortbread

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

These cookies are not-too-sweet, not too heavy, and pretty much just right in every respect.  Because I lack the kind of perfectly stocked, 100% natural pantry Heidi has, I improvised a little here.  Forgive me.  I promise they were still 100% delicious.

1 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

5 ounces room-temperature, unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar (brown sugar is preferable, but white sugar will work fine here)

1/4 cup grated carrot

Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the flours, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.  Stir in the carrot, making sure it’s well-coated with the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until it’s pale yellow and fully incorporated.  Add the carrot/flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture, and stir/knead until everything comes together.  It’s going to be very, very dry, but it will come together.  Split the dough in half, roll it into two 1-inch-high slabs, wrap both in plastic and refrigerate for a half hour.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  Flour your work surface and rolling pin and remove one slab of dough from the fridge.  Roll it out until it’s about half the thickness you started at (about 1/2 inch thick), and cut shapes using metal (to get through the pieces of grated carrot) cookie cutters.  Lay on parchment-paper-lined bakinig sheet (they won’t spread, so you can lay them pretty close together).  Brush each cookie with a little milk, then bake for about 10 minutes (It’s a little tough to tell when these bad boys are done because the whole wheat flour makes them fairly brown to begin with – when they’re set in the center and the edges are just a bit golden brown, they’re done.).  Remove immediately and place on a rack to cool.

Cinnamon Cookies Wednesday, Dec 9 2009 

These cookies. Oh my, these cookies.  These cookies were many, many things:

1) They were delicious – nutty, light, cinnamon-spiced meringue-y goodness in fun shapes!

2) They were easy enough to make once I discovered that we had a coffee grinder, and that it grinds almonds far better than my teeny, weeny $20 food processor.

3) AN ENORMOUS PAIN IN THE YOU-KNOW-WHAT.

Oh. My. God.  They stuck to everything!!  My hands.  The board.  The rolling pin.  The cookie cutters. The bowl.  The parchment paper for heavenssakes.  And yes, this is after I threw such a tantrum that Mom coerced me into refrigerating them overnight to make the dough easier to work with.  I literally broke a sweat prying these bad boys off of their parchment paper-covered cookie sheet when they emerged from the oven, taunting me in all their stickiness.

“HOW DO I PRY YOU OFF OF HERE!?” I shouted in vain at the browned, puffed gingerbread men on the first cookie sheet.

We’ll never tellllllll…” they whispered back.

Fortunately, once I bit a few of their heads off in a vengeful rage, they were a lot less chatty.

Did I eff up the recipe?  Did I skip a step somewhere?  Who the hell knows – I certainly don’t blame Cakespy for my incompetence.  What I do know is that if (IF) you can get them off of the cookie sheet, they are delicious.  I mean, I can see why they’re famous.  I can also see why the more intelligent sector of the population buys them from a freaking bakery.  It’s ok friends.  One day I’ll learn.  One day.

Oatmeal Cookies Sunday, Nov 1 2009 

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Last Saturday, it rained.  Again.  All day.  I have a hard time being productive on a weekend when it’s raining (Ok, fine.  I have a hard time being productive on a weekend, period.  Better?), especially when I make brilliant life decisions the night before, like drinking and sleeping on Cousin’s couch, probably snoring so loudly that I woke up the rest of the house’s occupants.  And so the dirty laundry  – which, in case you’re wondering, is overflowing the hamper as well as the closet and laying squarely in the middle of my bedroom floor – did not get washed and my suitcase from visiting Boyfriend did not get unpacked.  Go ahead, tell me I’m a responsible adult.

 

Instead, I baked cookies.  Because there is nothing else in the world I find more comforting than puttering around the brightly-lit, warm kitchen in my pajamas, baking – except, of course,the aftermath, which is me, sitting in my warm living room, under a blanket and still in my PJ’s, watching sappy movies and eating cookies.  Man.  I lead one exciting life.  Aren’t you jealous!?

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Oatmeal cookies are a funny thing – people have very strong feeling about them that I’ve never quite understood.  You have the raisin-haters, the raisin-embracers, the don’t-go-putting-something-healthy-like-oatmeal-into-my-damn-cookies camp, and the why-are-you-making-oatmeal-fattening crew.  Personally, I’ve always loved them, which isn’t saying much, considering I pretty much like all cookies.  I do, however, remember being allowed to eat them for breakfast when I was younger (a ploy to force me to eat anything, since I was so incredibly picky and didn’t eat much when I was a kid – how times have changed!), so probably there’s still some subliminal preference hanging around my brain about these cookies being superior.  I don’t know, I wasn’t a psych major. I just knew that on Saturday, I wanted them.

 

I never make these the same way twice – sometimes there’s more butter, sometimes it’s replaced with something healthier.  Sometimes it has walnuts, while other times it’s almonds, or peanuts, or no nuts at all.  And the question of whether there will be raisins rests on whether or not my brother will be eating them, since he maintains that raisins taste like shit.  But he dips carrots in ketchup, too, so I don’t get too caught up in his opinion.

 

Regardless of your oatmeal-cookie preference, these are worth making.  And making soon. And also, just so you know, they survive pretty damn well in a Fed-Ex box traveling from NJ to Boston.  I’m just saying.

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Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and both sugars.  Once the mixture is pale yellow and combined, stir in spices, salt, baking soda, vanilla, and baking powder.  Mix, then add in flour and stir (or beat) until combined.  Batter will be very thick.

Add nuts and walnuts, incorporating throughout the dough.  Mix (by hand) all of the oats into the dough.  Spoon one teaspoon of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, flattening slightly.  These cookies don’t really expand or spread in the oven, So don’t bother leaving too much space in between.

Cook 8-10 minutes, just until set and cooked through.  Bottom will be golden brown.

Granola Bars Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

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When Boyfriend moved away a few weeks ago, I told him I needed his address.  His smartass answer was “Why? Are you going to mail me things?”  Well…yes.  As a matter of fact, I am.  And I think, probably, it’s going to become one of my new favorite hobbies: cook things that will survive 3 days in the mail.  It’s like a challenge.

So you’ll have to forgive the delay in getting to these granola bars, which I actually made last weekend.  See, part of the fun for me is that a) he doesn’t know what’s in the little care packages he’s going to continue to receive, and b) he doesn’t even know they’re coming (stifles excited giggle). And since he’s one of my few loyal readers (Hi Parents!  Hi Cousin!), he’d read about something I made and mailed, and then my fun would be ruined.  And I think we all know that I don’t like anything ruining my fun.

I’m really, really crappy at keeping secrets though, so he sort of knows that this one is coming.  He knows I’m sending him something, anyway, and by the time this posts (Thanks delayed posting!) he should have already gotten his presents and showered me with praise for my thoughtfulness (Wait – is that not the point!? Shit…).  What he doesn’t know is that I’m actually sending him a care package with these granola bars and  some spiced, roasted pumpkin seeds (along with some other goodies) plus the second present that I couldn’t keep my big damn mouth shut about (Really –  I’m a crappy secret-keeper.  Don’t tell me things.  This time, though, it was the peppers distracting me.  Not my fault: I couldn’t think through all the burning.  Ugh, the burning (shudders))

Some words of wisdom about the Smitten Kitchen’s riff on Ina’s granola bars: stick them in the freezer before you try to cut them.  Seriously.  The honey holds it together, but they crumble like crazy when you try to saw through them.  Oh, and read the label on the package of almonds that you buy – I have no doubt that the sliced almonds the recipe calls for would have worked out much better than the slivered almonds I bought.  Duh.  You’d think reading is the one skill I would’ve mastered after majoring in English in college, but alas, you’d be mistaken.

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Granola Bars

a la Ina, via the Smitten Kitchen

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal

1 cup sliced (I repeat, sliced) almonds

1/2 cup shredded coconut (you can add more, I just don’t really care for shredded coconut)

1/2 cup wheat germ

2/3 cup honey

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit – I just used what I had, and what I had was raisins)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the oatmeal and almonds for 10 – 12 minutes.  You’ll smell when they’re done.

Once they’re out of the oven, lower the temperature to 300 degrees, and butter a 13×9 inch baking dish.  I lined mine with parchment paper, which helped immensely in getting them out of the pan.

Mix the oatmeal, almonds, coconut, salt, raisins and wheat germ together in a large bowl, then add the vanilla, and finely the honey.  Once the honey is fully incorporated, pack everything REALLY REALLY TIGHTLY into the baking dish.  I found that using a square of parchment paper to really squish everything into the pan worked great here.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, and cool completely.  I recommend getting them out of the baking dish as a whole unit (once they’re cool), then sticking them in the freezer for about 30 minutes to make sure they cut easily.  They also store nicely in there, otherwise they get a little too crumbly.

Magic Bars Thursday, Aug 20 2009 

 

P1030793Is anyone else on a sugar high, or is it just me and my peanut butter bars and blondies?  It’s not even Christmas for goodness sakes!  But what with all the August birthdays (what was happening nine months ago!?) in my life – Boyfriend, Boyfriend’s brother, coworkers, friends – I’m in total baking mode (no wise-ass comments about the peanut butter bars being no-bake).  I seem to be going through butter and chocolate chips at an alarming rate, and last night was no different. 

 

I won’t lie and tell you I don’t love it though.  Baking is what eventually led me to enjoy cooking as much as I do, and it’s comforting to come back to it.  I always hear people say that cooking is easier than baking – just a little of this and that until it tastes delicious, no need for a recipe.  And now that I can do it, I agree.  But when I was younger, I wanted and needed thos instructions – the precise measurements, the exact directions – to feel confident that my creation would taste how it was supposed to.  The idea of just dumping things haphazardly into a pot to create a meal, though, terrified me.  How was I supposed to know what spices matched?  How spicy was too spicy (apparently my threashold is higher than most – Boyfriend’s nonwithstanding)?  At what points was I allowed to taste…did I have to change utensils every time I let one of them touch meat that wasn’t fully cooked?  How did I even know when the meat was cooked?  Which brings up the whole separate issue of me not wanting to touch raw meat at all – not to cut it up, not to season it, not even really to lift it (wrapped in plastic) from the grocery bag to the fridge.  Please bear in mind that I am not a vegetarian.  I love meat.  Cooked meat. 

 

But baking?  Baking I could do.  It took me years to scramble an egg by myself and I subsisted purely on ramen when I had to feed myself on the odd night in high school, but I could make a damn good blueberry muffin by the age of 10.  And eventually, I felt confident enough to (gasp) swap ingredients in recipes.  Don’t want raisins?  Don’t put them in.  Want to add walnuts?  Go ahead. 

 

As trivial as that seems, it was a big revelation to my tiny, fragile cooking ego.  If I could figure out what I wanted out of a baked good and adjust it accordingly, why couldn’t I do that with real food?  Combined with countless hours spent watching Ina and Giada make magic, and watching my own mother make delicious dinners in our kitchen, I finally started experimenting for myself.  And, years later, I still eff things up.  All the time, actually.  But honestly, that’s half the fun.  If everything turned out perfectly every single time, where would my funny stories come from? 

 

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Magic Bars

Adapted from too many places to count

 

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 stick of butter, melted (What?  This sounds suspiciously like the beginning of the peanut butter bars? I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

2 heaping spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

1/3 of a small can of sweetened condensed milk

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 

Mix melted butter and graham crackers in a bowl, then press into the bottom of an ungreased 8×8 pan. 

 

Sprinkle walnuts and chocolate chips evenly on top.  Heat peanut butter in the microwave until it’s pourable, then drizzle over the walnuts and chocolate.  Pour sweetened condensed milk over the top.

 

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top and sides begin to brown and everything’s bubbly.  Cool completely (ideally, refrigerate for an hour) before cutting into squares.

 

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Peanut Butter Bars Monday, Aug 17 2009 

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After we made the pan of blondies to take to Boyfriend’s party, I decided we needed to bring another dessert, too.  Probably we didn’t need to, as I knew there would be at least one cake there already (there wound up being two, and one was left virtually intact long after the eating had stopped), but I definitely wanted to.

The problem was, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work with.  We had plans on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday there was an impromptu overnight beach trip to celebrate the first summer weekend in recent memory where there was not a cloud in the sky.  So when was this magical, extra dessert going to get made? I had no time for baking, for preheating ovens or fussing with dough, no time for the whole toothpick-inserting procedure to check for doneness.  The answer: peanut butter bars.

This is the kind of dessert you make when someone asks you to be somewhere in two hours with something to share.  It takes literally 10 minutes to make, will entertain your boyfriend when you ask him to crush up a bag of graham cracker crumbs, and has zero baking time.  And did I mention they’re delicious?  So delicious, in fact, that I’ve made them twice in two days, and more than half of them were gone before we even got to dessert at Boyfriend’s party.

Need I say more?

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Peanut Butter Bars

Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 stick butter, melted (the original recipe called for 2 sticks, which will work more than fine, but it’s unnecessary, really)

2 cups confectioners sugar (I have a hard time believing you need the entire 2 cups, but I haven’t tried it with any less)

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup + 4 tbsp creamy peanut butter, divided

1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, mix butter, sugar, graham cracker crumbs and 1 cup of peanut butter.  Press into the bottom of an un-greased 9 x 13 pan.

Melt chocolate chips along with the rest of the peanut butter in the microwave, and spread evenly over the top of the crust.

Refrigerate for at least one hour, then cut into squares.

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Cranberry-Almond Blondies Wednesday, Aug 12 2009 

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I can count on one hand the number of desserts I’ve made in my life that do not involve chocolate.  Actually, I can count them using less than half of one of my hands: they are cherry cheesecake and oatmeal-raisin cookies.  You know those people who review recipes for things like flourless chocolate cakes and dark chocolate tortes and say they’re “too rich?”  Or that “you’ll only be able to take two bites?”  Yeah, I’m not one of them.  Those are the desserts of which I will request seconds.  Generally speaking, I gravitate towards the most decadent-looking, chocolate-laced confection on the dessert table, which is hopefully covered with a one-inch-layer of chocolate ganache.  You can see that my taste buds are highly refined.

 

P1030653Which is why I was planning on putting some chocolate into the blondies Boyfriend helped me bake up last night for the party his aunt is hosting this weekend as a joint birthday/going away celebration for him, his brother, and his cousin – all of whom are leaving for school in the coming weeks one year older.  But then I got caught up in the fact that the store didn’t have the dried cherries or the pecans I wanted (see if I ever go back there again), and in my efforts to locate them (which, you can tell by the title, I clearly did not), I completely forgot about getting the dark chocolate.  Ugh.  And if there’s one thing I am, it’s too lazy to make more than one trip to the grocery store on a weeknight – so we went without the chocolate.

 

And quite honestly, I didn’t miss it.  While I do still aspire to make a version of these with dried cherries, very dark chocolate, and toasted pecans (swoon), this recipe is a winner no matter what you put in it.  The only problem I can see is that there’s no way an 8×8 pan of these is enough. 

 

 

Cranberry-Almond Blondies

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, via the Smitten Kitchen

 

8 tbsp butter (1 stick), melted

1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided

1 cup packed brown sugar (I was forced to use 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 3/4 cup of white because we couldn’t find the new box of brown sugar until after the blondies were in the oven. Obviously.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup of chopped almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 pan.  Place chopped almonds on a baking sheet, and bake for 5 – 10 minutes (until they’re toasted brown – not burnt – and you can smell them).  Set aside to cool. 

 

Mix melted butter with brown sugar (in my case, white and brown sugar) until smooth.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Add salt and 1 cup of flour, mix until well blended.

 

In a small bowl, mix the cranberries with remaining flour and toss to coat (this keeps them from sinking into the batter and winding up lining the bottom of the dish – Ina taught me this and I love her for it).  Add cranberries and toasted nuts to the batter, and mix until incorporated. 

 

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the middle is set.  Don’t overbake them – if anything, take them out a litte before the perverbial toothpick would come out clean.  Gooey is better than dry.

 

Cool completely, cut into squares (mine made 18 small bar cookies). 

 

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