I can’t believe how much I look forward to these posts! I love to cook on my own, don’t get me wrong, but getting to cook with one of your best friends (and my oldest friend for that matter, going on almost 22 years of friendship) and see actual moments of what it is that made us friends to begin with, that’s something extra special! And with that, I present: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes with a Homemade Boozy Carmel/Caramel Sauce!
So I do have a springform pan to make full cheesecakes, but you know what, nothing gets any cuter that mini cheesecakes! And especially since a certain future husband doesn’t like cheesecake, making a full one doesn’t seem like the best way to go. With the minis, I can bring them to work in my little cupcake carrier, which I did, and shared my delicious treats with everyone else! But these turned out SO good and they are light, fluffy, and so creamy! The added caramel sauce was also just the right amount of sweetness, and with that splash of bourbon in there, it elevates the cheesecake to a whole new level of scrumptious!
With regards to the caramel sauce, Alex decided to double the caramel recipe, and also decided to throw in some bourbon (this was an optional part of the recipe). Being the follower that I am, I thought, WHY NOT! So I went to our bar and took a gander at what we had in stock that would lend itself nicely to the sauce that wasn’t too inexpensive, too expensive, and happened to already be opened. Now, I should mention, Frankie is a whiskey fan, particularly bourbon, so a lot of our selection (outside our ever steady Jack Daniel’s for mixing) is pretty fancy, but I didn’t want to use Jack (sorry Jack drinkers) because I felt it was going to smell too boozy, if that makes sense? So I grabbed the bottle of Noah’s Mill that was 3/4 empty anyway and added a solid splash to the sauce. As I was telling Alex all of this, and showed her my bottle, she told me to shut up, ran away from her kitchen, and came back with her own full bottle of Noah’s Mill (for she and her man are also fancy bourbon drinkers as well). This, this is why we are friends. #greatmindsthinkalike
Now, we did notice a few differences between our batters, which might have been due to the equipment used? Mine was a little on the runny side, and I used my stand mixer, plus a hand mixer to smooth out some of those leftover lumps. Alex’s was firmer, and she had used an electric whisk, and at the end, both of ours turned out very similarly in terms of appearance. Weird right? I know we couldn’t taste each others, but both of us found our own cheesecakes to be very moist and creamy! The caramel on top was also incredibly delicious, with the bourbon being helpful in cutting a bit of the natural sweetness of the sauce. I also particularly liked and preferred brown sugar to white sugar in a cheesecake and these recipes were incredibly delicious together! A home run to be sure! I even brought all of mine to work with me, and all of them were gone, gone, gone by lunchtime. If you’re in the mood to bake this weekend, definitely give this combination a try! Until next week’s cooking with friends! — Cooking Maggie
Dear Readers: My apologies for my incredibly late delay in a post…it’s been a busy last couple of weeks with some updates to announce! The first: Cooking with Friends will premiere for the very first time on Tuesday, April 17th, and will be posted later that evening or the next day (depending on how quickly I can get myself together). The second: I have gone ahead and updated my recipe page so that it is clear where my recipes are coming from. Not that anyone has complained (no one has, honestly), but this is a personal choice because it looks, at a glance, like it’s all me, and I don’t want that, that’s not what I stand for. And even though I want folks to go through the specific blog that talks about that specific recipe, I also thought it fairly annoying to have to scroll through the blog post to get to the recipe link, so I also added a direct link to every recipe that I can’t claim to their designated blog. If there are adaptations that I made, I’ve added a star so you can decide how you want to approach the recipe. Just trying to make it easier for my readers, you know. The third: I have also updated (a little) my cookbook page as well, but I know I have more recipes to add, so take a looksee! And with that, let’s dig in, shall we?
This past Good Friday was a company holiday for me, which meant a day to stick around home with Tuggs! It also meant that I actually had time to unbox the lightbox I had bought…oh…about six months ago…and I rearranged one of the tables in my dining room to be completely dedicated to taking food photos! I had thought to set it up in my kitchen, but I don’t have enough counter space as is. Anyway, here we are! TA-DA! The very first photos from the lightbox!
If any of you have heard or follow Pinch of Yum, not only does she have GREAT healthy, low cal recipes to die for, but she actually has a really lovely and informative post about taking photos with artificial light. I actually bought her setup when I got my camera, and if you haven’t noticed, these are the best photos I’ve been able to turn out! (See side by side of crab cakes below. UGH I CAN’T EVEN!)
And especially since I was just coming off of Whole30, I wanted to make something that wasn’t going to be…too hard on our system, but at the same time, I wanted to make something that had been on my to-bake list, especially with my kitchen aid mixer having been neglected all month, so that’s how I arrived at funfetti cupcakes, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Overall, you can ABSOLUTELY tell that these are not from a box – the cake itself is super moist and about as white as you get, and they weren’t bad, but they were VERY sweet, which I know is a weird complaint, but that’s only because we’ve been on an almost zero sugar diet for the last few weeks and it was just a little bit of a shock to the system. Still, a really wonderful first non-Whole30 recipe to try out! YUM!
The week after Easter was very much filled with dinner with friends on Monday and Tuesday, then a singular night in (crab cakes), and then a comedy show Thursday night were we got to see Frankie’s groomswoman Emily Fightmaster kick butt and take names in Second City’s e.t.c. 42nd Review, Gaslight District (yeah, shameless plug, but I love her to death and she is PHENOMENAL, so go see her while you can)! So there was minimal time to write, minimal time to cook, and then we whisked ourselves off to Buffalo to get REAL into wedding planning (menu, photographer meeting, ceremony site visit, and so on), which left even less time to catch up and pull something together for you all! Hopefully a two-fer recipe spill will set everything right again, especially since it’s one of my favorite dishes: curry! Red Thai Curry to be exact, but with my own spin to it. The recipe on it’s own, great, BUT, as I’ve noticed with any curry recipe that claims authenticity and quickness, it’s just not…where it needs to be. The same could be said for this recipe as well, and this is purely with regards to the spices that were just…not there. I’ve included the link below BUT the added spices and veggies are written below, along with my other notes!
I love potatoes in my curry and I haven’t had peas in a month, so I couldn’t leave them stuck in my freezer for another moment longer, are all underneath! That being said, I also halved the onion/peppers as well to compensate for the amount of pot space I was swapping them out for. And you know what, so long as the sauce, the actual base of the curry is there, YOU can add and remove and swap WHATEVER you want! Don’t want chicken? Try duck! Or pork! Curry is great like that.
USE FULL FAT COCONUT MILK! I feel low fat is just too watery, and a little dose of good fat does you good in the long run anyway.
I used ½ the peppers and onion because I wanted to add 2 red potatoes (cubed small) and ¾ cup of peas (swapped out for the beansprouts, which I don’t happen to like in curry).
Add an extra ½ teaspoon of salt & pepper to the dish before stirring in the peas.
To sauce, add ½ tsp turmeric, 2 teaspoon cumin, 2 tsp coriander
To kick up the heat, add in 1 serrano, deseeded, cut in half length wise, and thinly sliced! We used fresno chilies the first time and it didn’t have the kick I wanted, but no biggie! If my grocery store had the little red chilies, I would have used one of those, with a backup chili in case of extra needed heat.
My apologies again for taking so long to get back to you, but I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me, and I hope you’ll check back on Tuesday for the first COOKING WITH FRIENDS! Happy Eating Everyone! (I know I am!) – Cooking Maggie
I don’t know WHY I bothered trying three different grocery stores, but when it came to finding party sized samosas, spring rolls, and spanikopita, ONLY TONY’S HAD SOME! Seriously?! Ugh, and I think I may have posted about Tony’s when I was making Empanada’s and how Tony’s was the only place that sold the premade empanada wrappers…so I hereby solemnly promise, on my honor, that I will only go to Tony’s for all my International food needs. If this promise seems repetitive, my apologies, but sometimes a good reminder can go a long way. But Christmas is my favorite time of year because this is when Frankie and I throw our only party of the year, and it’s definitely a highlight! We also go ALL OUT! I mean, we’re taking catering from Spiro’s up in Waukegan, a special cocktail, a pony keg of Spotted Cow, appetizers made by yours truly, and some appetizers not made by yours truly because I have spent whole parties in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up, and sometimes, not making everything yourself is okay, especially if it means getting to spend more time with your guests, am I right?!
This year’s menu looked like this:
Drinks: Make-Your-Own Moscow Mule’s (using antique spirit pumps filled with Tito’s, the Dog Lover’s Vodka), Spotted Cow (purchased from Tenuta’s Deli in Kenosha; their price for the keg was exceptional, even though I think their deposit is a little steep, but you get that back as soon as you return the empty keg, so only a temporary hurt on the credit card), and access to other spirits that our guests may prefer if beer and Moscow Mule’s don’t sit well with them.
Appetizers: Baked Brie with Blackberry Jam & Apricot Jam (now, these are SUPER easy to make on your own at home, BUT I happened to find two of them premade from Jewel, for a little less than I would have paid to make it from scratch, so I thought, what the heck! And most grocery stores should sell the premade bakable brie in the special cheese area), my famous Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers, standard cheese tray that included gruyere and white cheddar cheese with water crackers, and spanikopita (purchased frozen from Tony’s), chips & two kinds of salsa (pico & blended). I also had some frozen vegetarian spring rolls & Tostino’s Pizza Rolls for any 2am hunger crunches too, but ended up not needing them! And yes, I did say 2am. This year, most of our guests left at 2.30, and the final guests left at 3.30 I believe, so I guess everyone enjoyed themselves!
Dinner: Catering from Spiro’s: Make Your Own Italian Beef/Bomber’s complete with dipping au jus, bread, sweet peppers, and giardiniera; Cathy’s Baked Chicken (always a favorite and can be stripped from the bones to be made into a casserole or soup afterwards; Greek Salad; Mostaccioli (penne & red sauce). This is where we splurge the most, but it’s worth it to see everyone happy and full! And the key for us is to start saving for our party starting January 1st of every year. Also, no joke. We put a little bit away every month and whatever we have at the end, that’s our entire party budget!
Dessert: Funfetti Cupcakes (a normal addition) and Gingerbread Sheet Cake Bites with Stabilized Whipped Cream made by Ed (he had them cut into bars, but we thought bites would be better for a larger group, and then we topped the whipped cream with just a sprinkling of cinnamon), and this was an AWESOME addition that may become tradition after how well it went over with everyone! I even plan to take a crack at this myself over new years with my new Kitchen Aid Mixer, which was a fabulous Christmas present from my future in-laws, and I cannot WAIT to try that sucker out! (Recipes are linked.)
Decorations: Honest to goodness, almost EVERYTHING came from the Dollar Store. No joke because honestly, people don’t come to your parties to analyze your decorations or wonder if it’s Crate & Barrel or Pier 1. They are there to spend time with the people who matter in their lives and just be joyful! So I firmly believe that any home can look beautiful with a budget, and while I hesitated with revealing my secret, I actually am really proud of what I have put together in years past, which is why they keep appearing in years future, and why I decided I wanted to share! The potpourri, Dollar Store. The red candles on my wine glasses, and the wine glasses themselves, Dollar Store. The fake garland, which I think I will replace with something juuuuuust a little nicer next year, Dollar Store. Most of the bigger ornaments, Dollar Store. The small ornaments, Walgreens (yup, you read that right, Walgreens) and I add to them every year for about $20…each year the patterns change, and if they can be integrated with some of the setups I already have, done deal. And all the other decor we’ve accumulated over the years were from mine & Frankie’s family, and some are even Christmas gifts! My rule of thumb is that you should be able to use what you have to decorate your house without breaking the budget. I think the only things I splurged on where the gold & silver plates for the wine glasses, which I bought at Target for $12 each I think? But if you find something similar for less, do it!
The big kicker this year was that Frankie & I got our very first Christmas tree together, and it was a momentous occasion! Sure, it’s not enormous, but it was perfect for our apartment and the space we had to work with! And using all the ornaments we’ve received from friends & family over the years, including a large set of straw stars made in Haiti by Frankie’s mom, we were able to really deck the tree out! And on top, well, that’s Frankie special from our favorite Urban General Store, Enjoy. If you haven’t been, definitely go next time you’re in the Lincoln Square area! They are one in a million for all things interesting and unique, and I mean, you can’t find a more unique tree topper than this one!
And that’s it! Another Christmas party for the books, and a great anticipation for next year as it will be the first Christmas party that Frankie & I will throw as a married couple, which, can I just say I am SO excited about?! EEK!!! But if you’d like to share your own decorating hacks or favorite appetizers to serve! I’m always looking for new ways to keep our parties interesting and would love to hear what you do! Hoping you all had a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year! — Cooking Maggie
My apologies dear readers for the delay. This season has been a busy one, but with Christmas only a week away, and all of my gifts now safely in transit or arrived at their various locations, I am able to finally breathe and get back to a more normalized schedule! Oh, and did I mention I was in New York City just a couple weekends ago to see Stephen Colbert live for Frankie’s birthday?! Because I was in New York City just a couple weekends ago to see Stephen Colbert live for Frankie’s birthday!! AND I GOT TO SEE BOBBY FLAY!!! AHHH!!! (Okay, that’s my one alotted school girl squeal out of the way.) But boy oh BOY was that a show to remember! And if you like Colbert and watch both Thursday, December 7th and/or Friday, December 8th’s episodes (we got to be the audience for both days, which was an added OH MY GOSH!! moment), Frankie & I are sitting FRONT ROW all the way to the right (right in front of Stephens desk)! And we’re somewhat coordinated/matching: me in a green sweater dress with maroon tights, and Frankie in his Christmas green plaid shirt with maroon khakis. And then we walked almost 28 miles total over the course of our one day in the city eating and drinking our way into food coma happiness! And before I forget, all the spots we ventured to are up on my recommendations page—while I would love to write more about the spots we ventured to, I have neglected some of my drafted blog posts for too long, so I had to prioritize, but feel free to comment/ask questions about the spots listed if you’d like to know more! Now, with housekeeping out of the way, onto this yummy little nugget!
The first time I made this, it was maybe the second week of my Graduate program, and I was a complete newbie to Chicago on top of feeling, well, a little homesick. How many of us, in times like these, have turned to food to help abate those bottomless cravings for home? And naturally, that’s where I turned as well. One of my favorite desserts to eat is Apple Crumble, and especially during the winter time, this was the most comforting thing to dig into while snuggled on the couch with White Christmas basically playing on repeat on our TV all season long. But given that it was the apex of summertime, and the last thing I really wanted to do was bake myself alive in my studio, or try and finish an entire casserole of apple crumble by my lonesome. So instead, I decided to miniaturize the recipe and remove the casserole dish entirely. May I present, mini baked apple crumbles!
Now, what makes this dish so easy is the lack of equipment that you need to use. Granted, I’ve now lived in the city for about six years and have since found myself owning an apple corer (very helpful) and a melon baller (slightly helpful, but I don’t really ball melons on a daily basis, so it’s a tool I don’t use as much), but you can EASILY cut/core/scoop out your apple with a paring knife and a spoon. Then after that, mix up your crumble (I usually use a knife because it won’t get as much filling stuck to it), pack them in, and bake the apples for about 20 minutes, which I think is the sweet spot between overly soft and not soft enough. You can cook it for a little less if you don’t like super soft apples, or a little more if you want it softer. And then voila! It’s warm, it’s sweet, it’s tart, and it’s just oh so good! Oh, and did I mention how easy it was to make? I’m realizing that the more complicated the recipe, the less likely I am to make it, especially during the week, so here is to easy and delicious!
Sorry again for the delay, but definitely keep an eye out for future posts in the coming week regarding Christmas Cookie making (with a guest appearance by none other than Momma Sully!) and the best baked garlic chicken you’ll ever have! Oh, and some Cooking-Maggie-fied Ragu Pappardelle! It’s all in the works, I PROMISE! OH, and I have some exciting developments for the blog in 2018, so keep an eye out for that announcement as well!
Wishing you & yours a very Happy Holiday! – Cooking Maggie
3-4 apples, cored & sliced in half
¼ cup melted butter
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat) or gluten-free ‘flour’ of your choice
1/2 cup brown sugar (or white sugar with date syrup or molasses or agave syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350°F
Remove some of the inner apple, leaving a little center hollow
Mix remaining ingredients together in a large bowl
Fill all apples with the mixture, covering the tops.
Bake for about 15-30 minutes, depending on preferred apple softness, until golden brown/apple swells.
Fall = Baking Fever! I know I’ve really dropped the ball on the baking challenge I had set for myself at the beginning of the year, but with Fall officially upon us, all I want to do is fill my kitchen with warmth and the smell of baked pies and cake!! Basically, I want my home to smell like BAKED GOODS GALORE!! So, to start off my baking fever, I started with something a little on the healthy side! BANANA CAKE!
I’ve been on a banana binge now that I’m doing breakfast smoothies (two recipes on the way, I promise!), so I definitely had a handful lying around to put to some good, delicious use! I love Banana Bread, but I wanted to push the envelope a little more and do something I hadn’t tried before. I used this recipe specifically because it came with a video, which for the baking-challenged such as myself, was VERY helpful for me in knowing what was the right consistency and there was a really helpful note regarding baking time because all ovens are different with cooking time.
The cake was delicious, but after a bite, realized it could have used a few more minutes to bake (I only baked for 60 minutes, and the toothpick came out clean, but wasn’t as brown on top as I would have likes, whereas 65-70 would have put it to perfection), and I should have whipped/mixed my batter just a little longer so it got more air into it (the cake was a little on the dense side). But overall, amid the lessons I am still learning about baking—which is okay because I do like to learn new things every time I make something new—this recipe is easy to make and pretty hassle free (especially if you cheat and use store bought icing instead of making your own, which I did because I was baking at night and after a long day, sometimes those little outs are the way to go)! Plus it looks really pretty! More baking to come, especially a funfetti cake, strawberry cream scones, and more cheesecakes! Not very fall, but baking nonetheless! — Cooking Maggie
AH! Okay, I think I have caught my breath enough now to finally sit back down and get a post out (thank you for being patient!). I promise to have a few recipe blog posts soon, though cooking at the new apartment has been slow with all the celebrations and traveling and visiting family (with a sprinkle of wedding dress shopping on top! EEK!), I can at least talk about Israel and share some of the photos! But let me start off by saying, WHAT. A. TRIP! Holy smokes! Not to mention how great it was to see Gaya! 8 years…that was the last time we saw each other, and honestly, the video Ram (her now husband) took of our reunion, which was a complete surprise to her, captures just how long overdue this reunion was.
Also, yes, that was Ram laughing in the background because we were told we weren’t allowed to hug in that spot…but whatever, I was there! ACTUALLY THERE! And what a wedding! We spent all of Wednesday getting the venue all decked out and ready for the following BIG day. The wedding was going to take place in Ram’s parents BEAUTIFUL and spacious backyard, which Gaya’s family & friends all pitched in to cultivate the space into this grove of sunflowers and orange trees, and it all felt totally like a vineyard or part of an estate, rather than a backyard. I mean, the guest list was over 300 people, and everyone fit comfortably, just to give you an idea of how big a space it was! And the way we all pitched in to decorate it? Honestly, this couldn’t have been more beautiful! And frankly, I think the funniest, but smartest thing that happened that night were the headphones everyone got at around…11 or midnight (honestly, I lost all track of time because I was having so much fun celebrating Gaya’s marriage and getting to catch up Gaya’s family, some of her family friends that I had met in Hong Kong ages ago, and another one of my close friends from high school, Tal)!! But these headphones, basically, think sound canceling headphones for newborns at sports games or major holidays that involve lots of fireworks. Everyone got a pair, put them on, and kept right on dancing because the music that the DJ was playing was coming through on the headphones! So you’re all dancing to the same music, but all the neighbors hear is the soft thumping of feet on the dance floor! INSANE!
I definitely teared up and cried a handful of times! Oh, and let me just touch on the food, which unfortunately I have ZERO photos of, but let me break it down just a little. Buffet Style, two ends that meet in the middle where all the meat was, and four smoking stacks in the back that cook said meat. There are five or six different salads (that included vegetables like celery root, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, chick peas, cucumbers, and a ton of herbs, most of which I helped slice, wash, peel, and cut for most of the day before, which also left my fingers with a slightly orange tinge to them), so many roasted vegetables (onions, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes), bread (baked and grilled pita, white bread to sop up the sauces, rolls), and then there was the meat (ribs, steak, lamb). And by the time you emerged from the line, you had this plate that was completely covered and would not require a second round. By then, I was starving, so naturally my initial thought to take a photo of it, which wouldn’t have come out even if I tried, just never materialized, BUT no doubt I can steal a photo of the food from Gaya once she gets all the photographs from her photographer. (GAYA SEND ME PHOTOS!) And then there was also dessert, but I was, then, so stuffed that I couldn’t have fit dessert into my belly even if I had tried, and missed it all together. BUT we made up for it on Saturday when Gaya & Ram took me out and about in Jaffa for a one-day food tour, since we needed Friday to clean up pretty much all of the wedding and just rest!
Jaffa: the southern and oldest part of Tel-Aviv, and is also an ancient port city in Israel. We stuck around the beach to start, then headed down into the area to walk around the port itself! But naturally, we started the food tour with the best, THE BEST, hummus in the world at Haj Kahil. Gaya & Ram did most of the ordering, but everything was so tasty and delicious! I’m including a comment with all the images to show what we ordered below, but honestly, it was absolutely the best hummus I have ever had in my life! Creamy, almost buttery even, rich and smooth! *drool* You just can’t find anything quite like it here in America, not to mention that their olive oil that’s drizzled on top is absolutely OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! It’s got a depth of flavor that you have to really hunt for in your every day grocery store in America, you know? And the ful (a fava bean puree) that went with one of the hummus plates we ordered added an earthy, slightly salty layer of flavor, and this really light texture to the creamy hummus!
OKAY! So that was everything that we ordered, but let me just say! Those falafels? UNBELIEVABLE! They were actually soft and moist in the middle, while still holding that solid crunch on the outside! UNREAL! I don’t think I’ve EVER had such yummy, perfect falafels in my life, since most of the ones I’ve tried have been super dry on the inside. The secret? TWICE QUICK FRIED! That’s right! They double fry these bad boys very quickly, which allows the oil to first cook them, but stay trapped inside these delicious little suckers without drying them out when they go in for the exterior crisping factor. YUM YUM!
So then, afterwards, it was on to the dessert that I didn’t get to experience at the wedding: KNAFEH (kin-ah-fey)! Knafeh is a Middle Eastern cheese pastry that is soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and topped with kadaif (kah-deef) which are thin noodles made of flour and water that is poured through a sieve onto a hot cooking tray. They look like hairs OR for some deserts in the Middle East, they are made to look like a birds nest! You can find these noodles in some baklava too!
So after filling our second stomachs with some much needed dessert, it was off on a walking tour along the streets of Jaffa (where we got to see a lot of the cool graffiti that is painted on a lot of the walls around the city, the beach (where a sand castle competition had been held the day before), and to the Jaffa port to view a few art installations, an arts pop up craft store (where I purchased a few knick knacks and hand printed cards), and some of the stalls around the port! Even for just a day we were able to see so much which was an absolute delight! Obvious this was only the tip of the iceberg, but still a good chunk for only having one day to see what I could before heading back to Chicago!
And to top off this incredible trip, we made sure to meet up with Tal for dinner in downtown Tel Aviv at a burger joint called Susu & Sons, and boy oh boy were those burgers something to write home about! I got a double cheeseburger with bacon (yes, I said bacon) and guacamole with a side of onion rings! At first I was only going to get a single patty, but Tal said I had better go big or go home, so I went big and got the double! I knew I wasn’t going to finish it all, which was totally fine, but it was such a good burger! The bun was solid enough to hold all the fillings, but soft enough to not overpower the burger itself. The meat was so juicy, but not fall apart juicy, and the guacamole was rich and creamy, which is how I like my guac, and how can I forget the bacon? Perfect crisp, as it should be! And those onion rings were so yummy! The batter was soft, and not too oily, and the onions were soft and not so cooked that they were mushy and weren’t able to bite through. NOM!!
It’s been about a month since this trip, and some days I’m still trying to process the experience and the memories, making sure to remember all the finite details as best I can, but what I still can’t fully wrap my head around is how much fun I had and how incredibly unique and vivacious Tel Aviv was, how much more there will be to see when I go back again, which I have ever intention of doing. And even though this trip was more about seeing Gaya than seeing Tel Aviv, I know I got to see some incredibly beautiful parts while I was there and couldn’t have imagined a more memorable trip! Until next time Israel!
So, we are still not totally unpacked, and likely won’t be for some time. Why is it so much faster to throw things into boxes than it is to pull things back out again? Yes, organizing is one of my most favorite things to do in this world, but at the same time, our dining room and bathroom are taking FOREVER to get to everything! Not to mention I’m still jet lagged out the whazoo, so it’s all I can do to just make something yummy to eat before my body starts to feel like a million pounds. Safe to say, I am definitely struggling just a little bit (a lot). BUT that being said, everything is coming along, and our neighborhood couldn’t be more perfect for us right now! Oh, and did we mention that Tuggs loves his new doggie pool in the backyard? Because this little guy is in heaven!
But with it being summer, and most days warm as get all, the last thing we ever want to do is click the oven on to make anything, even the sweet stuff like pies or cupcakes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, what’s a July 4th without a little Cherry Pie? (Not a typical July 4th, that’s what!) But sometimes, it’s just too hot to even contemplate turning on that dastardly cooking device, so when that happens, what do you do? You stick to making something that requires almost no heat, that’s what! And again, turning to my ever delicious Smitten Kitchen, have I got the dessert for you: Rice Krispie Treats! Universally loved by most, if not all, for being soft and chewy, and not too sweet around the teeth, this is a really great go to treat for those really warm days where the thought of an oven alone makes your skin sweat (gross). And naturally, being the kitchen whiz that she is, Ms. Perelman has turned this on its head in the best way ever! BROWN BUTTER! I’m going to say it again for you, and you let me know if your mouth hasn’t begun to water yet. Brown. Butter. MM!
Now, the way to get your brown butter is to go low and slow, and to keep your eyes on it at all times! And I do mean at all times, stirring often enough that it doesn’t brown too quickly, which equals burnt butter instead of nutty deliciousness! And this is precisely why I have zero photos of the browning process (Frankie was not at home otherwise I would have put him to work on snapping the color transformation). BUT, you should be able to smell it as it browns, getting that almost toffee-like sweetness as it cooks and darkens. And this will absolutely take your rice krispies to the next level! See the darkness mixed with the marshmallows (pictured below)? THAT’S what you’re looking for! Not too dark that it then becomes bitter, but not too light that it doesn’t impart that nice new layer of flavor to the rest of the mallows & cereal!
I plan to try making a caramel to drizzle on top next time around (but perhaps more in fall weather so that I don’t have to stand over my stove any longer than I absolutely have to), and try my hand at Salted Caramel Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats. (What a delicious mouthful!) Oh! And now to quickly address the controversy between large marshmallows vs. mini marshmallows. Now, large marshmallows, I think, have a higher gooey content to them that a mini just can’t compare to, BUT they take longer to melt completely, so if you’re not careful, you risk taking them too far over in the cooking process. As for tiny marshmallows, I do have to admit that these are my preferred way to go, mostly because they don’t take as long to completely melt, so there’s no risk of over cooking. And in addition to that, I never let them melt completely anyway, ensuring that there will be some marshmallow chunks within the treat for added gooey factor! A good idea might be to do a 75% mini and 25% large to enhance the gooey mallow chunk factor, but for now, my mini mallow way has been working for me and you know what they say, don’t fix what’s not broke.
JUST LOOK AT THAT! Mm mm good! OH! And throwing a little sea salt in there REALLY adds a delightful little pop on the tongue to be sure! So smart! And then the rest is heat free easiness! Just form your rice krispies into a pan, let it sit for an hour until completely cool (overnight is best, but you know, when they look that good, how can you not help yourself, right!?), then enjoy! Though, I will give another tip for ease of forming. Vegetable Oil. Lightly spray your spatula or wooden spoon (or hands if you’re not afraid of getting a little bit dirty) and that’ll help prevent sticking! I’ve even gone so far as to make little Pumpkin Rice Krispie treats for a Buzzed Broadway Halloween Themed show, and boy were they super tricky to mold without the help of a little oil on the hands! I’ll be making them again this year, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some decorative holiday treat ideas! But these treats are SUCH a great idea and will definitely get your guests talking about these delicious bites of joy! — Cooking Maggie
Part 3: Nope, this is not it…and browning butter? Yeah, definitely not a fan of that. I didn’t even get to baking this batch because 1) I couldn’t stand the smell, or taste, of the butterscotch embedded in the batter, and 2) My batter basically hardened like a caramel…ugh, baking is hard ya’ll. I’m telling you! SO, there will be one more baking session, since I had to toss the solidified mass I had managed to create, and stuck two sticks of butter on a plate to soften up over the next 24 hours…I swear, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
Part 4, The ACTUAL Final Act: Okay, I’m officially done making chocolate chip cookies, that’s for sure. Maybe most cookies actually…I just don’t think I’m a cookie person, BUT I know I can make cupcakes like a boss, and I had mentioned that bitter chocolate cake that I have my eye on, so I’m going to see if my baking strengths lie in other categories…though, now that I think about it, I don’t think I have made a cake in…maybe ever? At least not from scratch…But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this entire experience, I’ve learned how NOT to make chocolate chip cookies, which is something in itself.
With this batch, I did the butter traditionally, softening it using a cool trick because my kitchen is almost the second coldest room in our home! The trick: Fill a tall glass—big enough to fully cover a stick of butter—with water, and microwave until hot. Dump out water, and cover a standing stick of butter with the glass. Leave for about 5 minutes before checking to see if it needs more time, but as soon as it’s soft, get it in the bowl and start to cream. Ta-da! And I adjusted the sugars, just as I had mentioned I would, which I think allowed the cookies to stay soft, just how I like them! There’s structure around the edges, but it’s soft in the middle. But since I was going on my second batch of batter in 24 hours, I stopped caring about making each scoop PERFECT, and the ones I just scooped & plopped onto my pan, those were the ones that turned out the best I think…oh! And I also realized, when I was trying to prepare a second round of trays to go in, while my first batch was baking, that I liked the cookies that were baked on parchment paper MORE than the ones I baked on my silicone pads! WHO KNEW THERE WOULD BE A DIFFERENCE!? As I understand it, parchment paper is better for crisper edges, and that’s I think why I like the parchment paper better. I like it when there’s a little structure/crispness to the edges, but the cookie stays soft and gooey in the middle. Those are the best, and that makes them great for dunking into milk, which is my favorite way to eat a cookie! YUM!
So, without further adieu, I would like to present my FINAL go-to Chocolate Cookie Recipe! Bye bye cookies, hello cake! —Cooking Maggie
Chocolate Chip Cookies Thank you Mama!
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups oatmeal, slightly ground up
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 10oz bag of chocolate chips (roughly 1 1/2 cups, but you can add less or more depending on your preference for cookie chocolatey-ness)
Preheat your over to 375°F. Prepare your baking sheets with either parchment paper, or silicone pads. (See blog note above about the difference between parchment paper & silicone pads.)
Cream together butter & sugars.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just till incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, add all the remaining dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon or whisk, then add the dry to the wet just a little at a time, mixing to fully incorporate before adding more (so you can gauge if you have enough versus too much).
Scoop 3 tablespoons work of the batter on your sheets (about 1-2 inches between each ball), and bake for 8-9 minutes.
Let cookies rest on cookie sheet until completely cool (I even let them sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then let them set out over night). Then ENJOY!
Now that I think about it, I should have asked my mom for this recipe YEARS ago…this is where I should have started, because these cookies? ALMOST PERFECT! [So, yes, there will be a part 3, but no recipe for this post…I want to share the final recipe when I’ve tested it to perfection, but will include the changes I plan to make so you can always back track what’s in here to what Not almost perfect in the way I remember eating them in high school after I’d get home, dipping two (okay, maybe three) cookies into a big glass of milk, but perfect in the way that they’re what I was aiming for when I started this whole Chocolate Chip Cookie journey.
Part 1 Cookies: Too rich, too soft, too thick. I know, it’s pretty much how I like my cookies too, but the richness just stuck with you, a little cloying, that’s what I’m trying to say. This batch? Well, first off, I had more confidence behind my actions. Definitely just put my head down and baked those cookies, trying to not get so caught up in what I was doing and just making them. Secondly, I was A LOT more aware of what my cookies were doing, and instead of blaming myself for doing something wrong, I was thinking about how the ratios were impacting how the cookies were coming out. I already know the sugar ratios (this recipe, 1-1 cup of white to brown, is off, and would have been less crispy/brown around the edges if it had been 1 1/2 to 1/2 brown sugar to white sugar – since my research has shown that brown sugar = chewy, and white sugar = crispy). And it would have helped if I had cooked them about 2 minutes less (12 minutes total), so I’ve already noted that a 9/10 minute cook time should be most appropriate (cooking one pan on the bottom, one on top, and rotating up and down, back and forth, halfway through of course). I also did a microwave soft butter (so some was melted, some was not, but my research has also shown that in most cases it doesn’t make the biggest difference), but next time, I’m going to completely melt and brown that sucker! It should add a nicer brown color to my cookies too, so I’m excited to try that out!
Next, my mom added oatmeal to her recipe, but recommended (like she did from the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I did) to grind them up a little first. Now, here I did screw up, because instead of grinding them separately (because I thought my mini food processor was in the dish washer, when in fact, my lunch bag was hiding it), I threw it into my blender with the other dry ingredients. Nope. I got oatmeal flour, and even if I had blended the oatmeal first in the blender, it would have likely done the same where my processor would have just broken it up a little more. So that was on me, but I’m making these suckers again this weekend, so I’ve got that on my radar NOT to do again.
Then, after reading this step on numerous occasions, I did add my eggs into my batter one at a time so that they mixed and emulsified with my other wet ingredients better. And I had my scoop this time for PERFECT little balls of joy! They were all the same, which now makes that step one less thing for me to be nervous or anxious about! [My new favorite, delightful little contraption!]
So now, here’s where I’ve chosen a side based on how I’ve seen these little cookies perform in my oven. I did NOT let this dough rest in the fridge this time around, and I won’t do it again. While I was thrilled these cookies spread as beautifully as they did, I do realize that the chill factor does prevent them from getting as thin as they did. Not that this batch wasn’t delicious, they were more to my taste (albeit not as soft as I would have liked them to be), so I’m on the right track, but now it’s just about getting the ratio right. When in doubt, everyone should know that momma does in fact know best!
Like some couples, Valentine’s Day is not really a big deal for Frankie and I. Sure, we like to do something small and romantic for just the two of us to mark the occasion when it comes around—like making dinner and sharing a bottle of wine and getting flowers from my man, which always makes me happy—but honestly, we spend every day loving one another to our fullest and finding ways to make the other feel special and appreciated. I mean, Frankie HARD CORE cleaned the ENTIRE apartment last Friday, which is huge because normally that’s what I end up doing on the weekends, so if that doesn’t say “I love you” I don’t know what does…and he always leaves me messages when he gets stuck cleaning our bathroom too, which I think makes him even more incredible of a partner!
And of course, we do gifts if we’re up for it, and this year, especially after a rather rotten 2016, I was definitely up for it, and VOILA! I presented him with an authentic, autographed Duncan Keith jersey! He seemed pleased by it! But my favorite part is getting to make something yummy that we can enjoy and share! So, of course, that is a perfectly good reason to experiment and challenge myself! Naturally, for someone who doesn’t do a lot of baking or dessert making in general, I decided to play with the ever popular, and my absolute favorite thing in the world, CHOCOLATE!, after being inspired by the Valentine’s themed episode of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network!
Normally, I don’t like to reveal my final creations, but I am way too proud to not share!
Without further ado, may I present, my Valentine’s Day dessert cup!
I used Smitten Kitchen’s chocolate mousse recipe, and while it was definitely an involved process—so much whipping!—it was so worth it! Oh, and please note, while some use their spatulas like it were an extension of their arm, I’m a wooden spoon kind of girl, and actually preferred that for the final folding of all the ingredients!
The mousse was rich, but not heavy, and so incredibly decadent that you can’t just scarf this down (not that you would, but I’m just saying). You have to take your time with each bite, you have to make sure you have licked every last chocolatey smear on the spoon before you go in for more, and when I decided to top it with blueberries and raspberries (my favoritebs of the berry family), that helped to cut through some of the richness. A little reprieve if you will! I mean, I love my chocolate, but sometimes too rich a chocolate can become too much, and there’s something incredibly luscious about the way chocolate marries so well with fruit. And before I get to the cute little chocolate cup I made, my mom, who has made mousse on a couple occasions, did recommend that I should use a piping bag to squeeze it out so that it looked smoother (for next time of course because there’s barely any left right now).
But as to why I wanted to experiment in the first place. DESSERT CUPS! And by that, I mean chocolate cups! Now, I definitely made these cups to be WAY too big, and would next time pick some smaller balloons, but I essentially followed what was done on the episode of Worst Cooks in America. Mine didn’t look the same though because, I realized later, I didn’t let the bottom of my balloon drip off as much as I should have/dipped them in too far. Just place/dip a little and roll. How I did it (dip a lot and roll) caused my cups to turn out a little heavy and uncrackable with a spoon, which is no fun! And I noticed that when I did beautiful sprinkles, because there was so much covering the balloon, they were falling towards the base. So, what I would also do next is make one balloon at a time (and have included that note in the recipe below), sticking each in the freezer to set better before moving on to the next one so my sprinkles stay where I wanted them in the first place! I’ve also considered including a rubber band to make the edges a little neater as well, but that’s just an idea for now.
But overall, I mean, it is one of the prettiest desserts I’ve made thus far this year, and certainly one of the most involved. I had to be so careful not to over whip, to not just mix, but actually fold my mousse in on itself over and over till it was beautifully combined! I mean, it was exhausting and I definitely ended up bailing on my steak & veggie dinner for a Penne Arrabiata instead. But I want to perfect these dessert bowls, knowing this was not my last attempt at them, and already have ideas for using different chocolates and maybe trying to make some chocolate decorations too! I don’t know, but I’m excited at the prospect! Next week though, my baking instincts are leaning towards something perhaps not so sweet…banana bread maybe!
So my fellow love birds, if you’re looking for something fun and delicious to do at home with your sweetheart (or with your pet, because I mean, this little pup’s been giving me all sorts of love this week), this was way too much fun to not do again!
Sending a ton of love, happiness, and delicious bites your way, Cooking Maggie!
Optional: FINE toppings, such as sprinkles or chopped nuts
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, nestled on a pan of barely simmering water, till smooth. Prepare some parchment paper on a baking sheet (you can keep it in place by putting some drops of water on the baking sheet).
With the back of a spoon, make little discs a few inches apart from each other to act as a base for the dessert cups.
Spray the bottom of the balloons before you dip them.
OPTION 1: Pour chocolate into a dipping cup or bowl that fits the balloons you’re working with. Dip balloons in, wait for some of the bottom run off, add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.
OPTION 2: Keep the chocolate in the large bowl, and dip/roll the balloon so that you cover as much as you want of the balloon with the chocolate. Add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.*
Stick your balloon bowls in the freezer to harden. When chocolate has set, use a needle to pop a small hole in the balloon so it will deflate and you can pull it out of the cup. Then fill with whatever you want!
Remaining dessert cups can hang out in the freezer for up to four days!
*Note: try to do this as quickly as possible, especially if you’re using sprinkles or light/fine toppings, because they will run down to the bottom. If you want to take your time, do steps 2-6 for each balloon on their own to make sure the sprinkles stay where they are.
So, I wasn’t expecting to expand my cookbook shelf so soon, but as I was perusing Barnes & Noble for a couple copies of Goodnight Moon for a couple of couples I know who are expecting (it’s my most favorite children’s book ever, so it’s one of my go to gifts), I figured I would check out the cookbook section, not really planning on finding anything. Well, that did not turn out to be the case…Barnes & Noble currently has a GREAT sale on Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs(as shown) for 50% OFF! Yes, 50% off, or rather 60% off if you are part of the B&N Member Program (like Mama Sully is)! So how could I not jump at this amazing deal? Simple, I couldn’t, so I didn’t! Ta-da! The sale is still going on now (as of February 10th!) so if you’ve also got this on your to read/buy list, GO GO GO! I have not had the chance to peruse it yet, but I’m very excited to!
However, this week’s baking challenge was cheesecake! Now, I know not many people like cheesecake (Frankie being one of them), but I happen to adore them, especially ones made for our monthly office birthday celebration by one of my coworkers! She makes all sorts of delicious flavors and they’re always gluten-free, which makes these cheesecakes even more incredible! So of course, when I decided I wanted to make my own in mini (because I don’t have a spring form pan yet, and since Frankie isn’t a fan, it would just be me eating the whole thing unless I brought it into work), I picked her brain a little before I even attempted to make it!
Important thing #1: Put a pan of water in the oven while it preheats and during the baking process! My coworker said that this will keep the oven humid and prevent cracking (which for small bites, was not likely to happen, but for future reference as well when baking a big one)! And important thing #2: Get the eggs & cream cheese to room temperature (you can even heat up the cream cheese for about 10-15 seconds), which also helps prevent cracking and makes the blending easier.
And this was so easy! Like…way too easy! As in, watch me make this again and try some additional modifications to make them even more delicious! So if you’re looking for something delicious and easy, TA-DA! Look no further! Enjoy my fellow bakers and munchers! Cooking Maggie Out!
Revision 2/13/2017: Upon further conference with my cheesecake guru at work, she made mention the following tips. 1) Add your eggs in one at a time, and mix at the lowest settings. And 2) If you want a creamier cheesecake, use 1/4 cup sour cream per 8oz cream cheese, OR 1/8 cup heavy cream per 8oz cream cheese. These additions will be reflected below.
Revision 6/7/2017: And upon further reading and munching, you can also turn this recipe into no bake by first removing the eggs, and then swap out the 1/2 cup regular sugar for 1 cup powdered sugar and add 1/2 cup sour cream and 3/4 cup heavy cream, and you can add a tablespoon of regular sugar to the crust, but this is optional [tested and approved by my friend Ms. Carly Jo! She even brought me some and boy are they creamy and tasty!]
Creamy Mini Cheesecakes
Ingredients: For Graham Cracker Crust
1 Cup Graham Cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons butter, softened
16 ounces cream cheese (2 bricks), softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more to taste)
1 bunch fresh strawberries
Optional: 1/2 cup sour cream OR 1/4 cup heavy cream (if you want a creamier cheesecake)
Prior to Baking: let eggs and cream cheese sit on counter to get to room temperature for 1-2 hours, OR heat cream cheese up in microwave for 10-15 seconds.
Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place a pan with water in the over during the preheating and baking process.
Add cupcake liners to cupcake/muffin tin. Place graham crackers in a food processor and pulse/blend into a fine crumb. Mix crumbs with softened butter, blending with a fork or cut the crust with your fingers (which is just a fancy way of rubbing the crackers and butter together between your fingers). Set aside.
Blend cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl, mix until soft and creamy. (You can use a fork or an electric mixer on low.)
Add eggs (ONE AT A TIME) and sugar, (and sour cream/cream if using), and mix on the lowest setting until well combined. Add vanilla and mix for 3-5 minutes until creamy and soft. (Note: if using an electric mixer, mix for only 1-2 minutes.)
Add 1-1 1/2 tablespoon of graham cracker crust mixture to the bottoms of each cupcake liner, pressing firmly with spoon or finger until firm and level. Then add about 2 large tablespoons of cheesecake batter, distributing any remaining. (There should be enough of both mixtures to make exactly 12 mini cheesecakes.)
Place the cupcakes in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
Remove the top of strawberries, and either halve or slice them (making sure there are enough for 12), then set on top of cheesecakes for garnish.
It’s baking time! Last week’s brownies were a big hit, so I thought this week, since Frankie was craving them just a little, I would make Oatmeal Raisin cookies! Not the most complicated thing to make, but I’m working up to it! My hope is, one day, I’ll be making adult birthday cakes (or Funfetti cupcakes) from scratch rather than from a box! I mean, I have the cake tower, courtesy of a lovely work friend who didn’t have a use for it, so now I just need the cake!
But back to these cookies! Now, I’ve tried the Quaker Oats Vanishing Cookies, and I know they are [usually] everyone’s go to, but my thing is, even when I follow the recipe, my cookies end up cooling to a hardness I don’t really like in any kind of cookie. I like them soft and chewy, and it got me wondering if there was something I wasn’t doing right, or did I just over cook them, which would be on me, but I’d like to think I’m not that hopeless of a baker. So I started to hunt around for other cookies recipes that would produce true soft, chewy, oatmeal raisin cookies (that were also fully cooked!) and I found one thanks to Sally’s Baking Addication!
The trick? MOLASSES! I think that adds just that extra sweet, gooey note that the Quaker Oats recipe is missing. So now, I can’t make these cookies without molasses. It’s that one thing that’s missing, that really plays up the brown sugar and scrumptiousness of these cookies! Oh, and there’s a full tablespoon of vanilla extract, which I happen to have a homemade bottle of in my cupboard that a couple of friends made as a Christmas gift! It even got me into thinking of making some of my own, and when you find adorable bottles to make them on Amazon, I mean, how could you not want to get crafty in the kitchen?! Plus, it looks super easy to do, so perhaps that’ll be a future experiment, and it’ll give me a nice excuse to go to my favorite spice shop: Savory Spices.
If you don’t have a spice store nearby (which I recommend just doing a quick google search for, because I’ve found that their quality and price for any spice is always better than it would be at your grocery store), check this place out! They will mail spices to your home—and likely throw in a spice mix sample too—and they offer bagged refills so you don’t have to always buy new jars or containers! And their labels offer super great tips on how to use them, sometimes including an actual recipe for them (and many recipes on their website)! So, if you’re looking to up the ante on your spices, I highly recommend seeking out your own small spice shop if you can that guarantees a fresher quality of product.
Now, because I’m always looking for tips and tricks, here’s one I didn’t know about/hadn’t really tried before: soaking my raisins in warm water for 10 minutes. According to Sally, this is just to plump them up a little bit, and frankly, I think it was a great way to thicken these cookies a little too and keep the raisins nice and chewy during the baking process!
The last tip I have actually comes from Mama Sully! I was telling her about my baking task this week and she told me to try putting my oats in a food processor to break them down a little before mixing them into my batter. She said it would also help with making sure the cookies spread out nice and evenly, rather than making oatmeal lump cookies. Now, being that I’m all for trying new things, I soaked my raisins, I broke down my oats, and wouldn’t you know it, they came out BETTER than when I hadn’t done either of those things! (It’s the little things that make me, and my man, happy.) Soft, chewy, and just sweet enough that it’s not cloying. These are by far the best batch I’ve made, so if you’re looking to spice up your own go-to recipe, here are some ways to do it!