February 28, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl Cookies

National Peanut Butter Day may or may not be tomorrow. I'm not sure if it's an actual holiday, but I have definitely heard some rumors. Even if it's not a thing, you can use the idea as an excuse to indulge in jars and jars of peanut butter. I know I will.

These cookies taste similar to the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I posted a while ago, which are basically chocolate chip cookies with peanut butter mixed into the batter. These cookies are a little different, but definitely in a good way because they have swirls. They just look so pretty, and you get a lot more chocolate. You have to make two doughs to get the swirl, but it's worth the extra effort.

The first dough is a chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough. No, that's not a typo. It's chocolate cookie dough with chocolate chips mixed in, hence the two chocolates. The second dough is a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough like the one in the recipe I published earlier. It's not the same dough because I doubt it would bake similarly to the chocolate chocolate chip dough, but it tastes about the same. I just add chocolate chips, but some chopped toasted peanuts would be crunchy and delicious, too, especially if you use salted peanuts, which would add an interesting sweet and salty contrast.

The peanut butter dough doesn't bake quite as quickly as the chocolate chocolate chip dough, though, so you get to pick if you want regular peanut butter cookies mixed with crispy chocolate cookies or regular chocolate cookies with gooey peanut butter cookies. Another option (which I took full advantage of) is baking a few plain ones (one type of dough/not swirled) of each. You can bake the chocolate chocolate chip cookies a little less or the peanut butter chocolate chip ones a little bit more so you get the same texture in both. It also lets any cookie lovers with nut allergies try some as well (just be careful not to cross-contaminate with measuring spoons, cookie scoops, etc.). These cookies are absolutely addictive, and everyone should be able to try them.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies:
1 Stick Butter, Softened
½ Cup Sugar
½ Cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1 ⅓ Cups Flour
½ Cup + 2 T Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt
2 T Milk
1 Cup Chocolate Chips

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:
1 Stick Butter, Softened
½ Cup Brown Sugar
¼ Cup Sugar
1 Egg
¾ Cup Peanut Butter
1 tsp Vanilla
½ tsp Baking Soda
1 ⅓ Cups Flour
¼ tsp Salt
1 Cup Chocolate Chips

For the chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and milk. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, then stir into the dough mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Scoop into 50 walnut-sized balls and chill until firm.

For the peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough, beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the peanut butter, egg, and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, then stir into the dough mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Scoop into 50 walnut-sized balls and chill until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Roll a ball of each dough together. Bake for 10 minutes or until set and golden.

Makes 50
Recipe Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

February 18, 2014

M&M Cookies

If you're like me, you've been lusting after the discount candy left over from Valentine's Day. It took all my willpower to walk away from those new cookie dough oreos at Target, but I was only able to tear myself away because I knew I had these M&M cookies at home. I used plain mini M&Ms, but you can use the special Valentine's Day M&Ms or any other variety you happen to like. I'm pretty sure the salty-sweet combination of pretzel M&Ms in cookies would be fantastic. If you want nice big chunks of chocolate, you can use regular M&Ms or even jumbo M&Ms, but I find that the mini ones add just the right amount of chocolate.

The cookies themselves are soft and chewy with just a tiny bit of crispiness around the edges. It's a modified sugar cookie dough, which means that I took a typical sugar cookie and gave it a twist. I use the same proportions of brown sugar to granulated sugar as I do in my chocolate chip cookies, so they are chewier and have that hint of caramel flavor that you can only get from brown sugar. There's also a little bit of cornstarch, which makes a huge difference in texture (in my opinion). If you want a crispier cookie, you can always leave them in the oven for a few extra minutes, but I personally love soft cookies.

Whether you had a valentine or not, you can always enjoy the aftermath in the candy aisle. I stock up on chocolate bars and Hershey kisses, but I make sure to buy a few bags of M&Ms to bake with. Although these cookies are enjoyable year-round, you can't beat a handful of M&M cookies to eat with your Valentine's Day candy.

2 Cups Flour
1 T Cornstarch
¾ tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 ½ Sticks Butter, Softened
½ Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 T Vanilla
1 Cup Mini M&Ms

Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. Beat the butter, sugar, and brown sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the M&Ms.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill until firm.

Heat oven to 350°F and line cookie trays with parchment. Place the balls of dough on the prepared trays and bake until golden, 10-12 minutes.

Makes 30
Recipe Adapted from Rachel Gurk

February 12, 2014

Spicy Honey Lime Chicken Skewers

There are few things that will impress your Valentine's Day date more than a delicious home-cooked meal. You've probably got dessert covered (if not, you can try any of these recipes), but what should you make for the main course? Definitely something flavorful. It's got to be creative, but it can't be too crazy. It also has to look presentable. After all, you eat with your eyes first. Luckily for you, I have the perfect idea--spicy honey lime chicken skewers. You probably have most of the ingredients already, and it is incredibly easy to make.

All you have to do to impress your date is cut up some chicken, stick it in a marinade overnight, and grill it up the next day. There's even a three-ingredient sauce that you literally just stir together. The marinade focuses on three main flavors: sweet, spicy, and sour. There's a bit of saltiness as well from the soy sauce, but the components all work in harmony to make a delicious dish.

I like lime as my citrus for the sour component, but oranges would be amazing, too. I find that I need about two limes to get enough juice and zest for the recipe, but I recommend buying one or two extras to use when plating. Honey gives a hint of sweetness, which cools off the spiciness, and it makes the chicken caramelize beautifully on the grill. The skewers will get pretty dark, but make sure you don't burn them. As for the spiciness, I find that the Sriracha is irreplaceable. If it's not enough heat for you, feel free to throw in some pieces of habeñero or jalapeño when you blend the marinade together.

I thread the chicken onto skewers for a more impressive presentation, but cooking skewers can be a bit tricky. If you use wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water for a few hours before grilling. It reduces the likelihood of them catching on fire or burning. Metal skewers will work just as well, but they retain heat longer, so be careful not to burn yourself when eating. I choose to cut up an onion to keep the chicken pieces from sticking together and help them cook better, but you can substitute your favorite vegetable or forgo one entirely.

If you want to bypass the trouble of cooking skewers, you can always use the marinade on whatever cut of chicken you want and either sear it or roast it. You can even heat up a wok and cook small pieces of chicken that way, too.

I whip up a quick and easy sauce to serve with the chicken for a little extra flavor, but it consists of the three main flavors in the marinade to complement the chicken rather than distract from it. It really doesn't get easier than whisking honey, lime juice, and sriracha together. I personally prefer a sriracha to honey ratio of two to one with a splash of lime juice, but you can taste it and adjust the proportions to fit your taste. Although this is such a simple recipe, it is bound to impress your date!

3 T Soy Sauce
1/3 Cup + 1 T Honey
1 T Oil
1 tsp Lime Zest
3 1/2 T Lime Juice
4 Cloves Garlic, Chopped
2 T Minced Ginger
2 1/2 T Sriracha
1 1/2 lbs Boneless Chicken Breasts or Thighs
1 Yellow Onion

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, pulse the soy sauce, 1/3 cup honey, oil, lime zest, 3 T lime juice, garlic, ginger, and 2 T Sriracha until smooth.

Cut the chicken into small pieces and toss with the marinade. Let sit overnight.

Cut the onion into large pieces. Alternate pieces of onion and pieces of chicken on wooden skewers.

Combine the remaining honey, lime juice, and Sriracha.

Grill the chicken skewers until deep brown and cooked through. Serve with sauce.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

February 8, 2014

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies

I have decided where I want to go to college, and, though I won't tell you which one, the school's color is red. I decided to celebrate by making red velvet crinkle cookies, which are also perfect for Valentine's Day. You can make them for your significant other. You can whip up a batch for your potential valentine. You can make them for yourself, wrap yourself in a blanket, and watch a Netflix marathon while inhaling a few dozen. I won't judge.

To me, what makes red velvet desserts red velvet is a hint of cocoa, a splash of buttermilk, and a good dose of red dye. Red velvet cake (or cupcakes) is a classic, but the flavors translate easily to cookies. The texture is cakey but still crisp on the outside from the powdered sugar, which magically creates a thin shell that shatters when you bite into it. The powdered sugar also adds a hint of sweetness; the cookies themselves aren't particularly sweet, so the combination is delicious.

The trick to the crinkle part of crinkle cookies is the powdered sugar (it's  kind of the not-so-secret ingredient in the recipe). Everyone kept saying how fancy the cookies looked and asking how long it took me to make them. Honestly, you just roll the dough in powdered sugar and they bake like that without any extra effort on your part. As the cookies puff up and expand in the oven, the powdered sugar sticks to the original surface of the dough, resulting in crackly patches of sugar. Just make sure you coat the dough generously in the powdered sugar so that you get distinct white patches.

3 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 1/3 Cups Sugar
3 Eggs
2 T Buttermilk
1/2 T Vanilla
Red Food Coloring
3/4 Cup Powdered Sugar

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the buttermilk, vanilla, and dye. Stir in the flour mixture.

Chill the dough for 1 hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Scoop the dough into balls. Roll in the powdered sugar, place on the prepared trays, and bake for 10 minutes.

Makes 40
Recipe Adapted from Prevention RD

February 5, 2014

Cranberry Cake

It's almost that time of year again--Singles Awareness Day. You thought I was going to say Valentine's Day, weren't you. Nope. Just let me be bitter and eat my discount chocolate on February 15, ok? Go ahead and cook for your valentine; I'm sure he or she will love it. Don't worry, I'll be cooking too. That's why I'm posting this recipe, isn't it? The only difference is I get this cake (and whatever else I make) all to myself and you have to share. Ha.

This recipe is a great way to use up any cranberries you hoarded in your freezer over the winter. Personally, I like to stock up since cranberry season is relatively short, so I now have quite a few bags in storage. I've made this recipe a few times to perfect it, and I'll share a secret: this started out as a cranberry upside-down cake. In fact, I still prepare it as an upside-down cake with a caramel on the bottom, a layer of cranberries, and the cake batter on top. However, the cranberries usually rise to the top and the cake soaks up the caramel, leaving it even more moist. So if you want to flip the cake over to see if it stayed an upside-down cake with the layer of cranberries still spread on the bottom, go ahead. The cranberry juices will seep into the cake and make it taste even better. If your cranberries don't want to cooperate, you'll just have a cranberry-studded cake with a hint of caramel flavor.

The cake itself is faintly vanilla. You can substitute almond extract for half of the vanilla and sprinkle some toasted sliced almonds on top. I tried using some orange extract, too, but nobody in my family is a huge fan of citrus. Although I'm sure it tasted wonderful for orange lovers, the hint of citrus from tossing the cranberries in a splash of orange juice was just enough for me.

Cakes are always impressive, and you don't even have to frost this one. I serve it with homemade whipped cream (it's easier to make than you think) and garnish with sugared cranberries and a few shavings of orange zest. As I said earlier, some toasted almonds would be delicious and beautiful as well. This cake will definitely impress your valentine (upside-down or right side up) or provide the perfect dessert to celebrate Singles Awareness Day.

1 ½ Sticks Butter, Softened
1 Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 ¼ Cups Fresh Cranberries (9 oz)
¼ Cup Orange Juice
1 ½ Cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla (or 1/2 tsp Vanilla + 1/2 tsp Orange or Almond Extract)
2 Eggs
½ Cup Milk
¼ tsp Cream of Tartar

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a 9” cake pan with parchment and grease.

Melt 4 T butter in a small pot over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour into the prepared pan and cool.

Combine the cranberries and orange juice in a small bowl and toss to coat. Spread evenly in the pan and drizzle with any remaining juice.

Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the remaining butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla, then beat in the egg yolks. Add half of the flour, the milk, then the remaining flour. Gently fold in the whites in three additions.

Spread the batter over the cranberries and bake until browned and cooked through, 30-45 minutes.

Makes 1 9" Round Cake
Recipe Adapted from Amanda Hesser