Ann’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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When my brother was in high school and I was in college, I used to get home for summer just in time to see his tennis season, which he always dominated.  And since I usually had a lot of time on my hands with him at school and my parents at work, I would bake things for the team for every match.  Now, Pete’s a freshman at University of Chicago, playing for the tennis team there and doing just as awesome if I’m to believe what I’ve been hearing.  So, to continue my theme of baking something for other people during Lent, I’ve decided to revive that tradition and make a treat that I could mail out to him and his team.

The trick was trying to think of a treat that I could mail to Chicago without any serious repercussions to the treat itself.  I remembered that in college my roommate got a care package of chocolate chip cookies from a relative, and figured that would be an easy thing to send to Pete.  And of course, if I was going to be making chocolate chip cookies, I had to make the BEST chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had: Ann Mullins’ oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Usually, when people think of oatmeal in cookies, the go-to is oatmeal raisin.  I’ve always found oatmeal raisin cookies to be disappointing, especially since the raisins almost look like chocolate chips and then they’re squishy.  But, when you replace those raisins with chocolate chips, you have an instant masterpiece of texture and crunch.  And no one makes them better than Ann, who used to have them in a jar any time we were at her house for something.

So without further ado, my best attempt at making her cookies, which I hope Pete enjoys when they make it out to him!

First, cream together the shortening, brown sugar and white sugar until light and smooth.

 

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Then, beat in the eggs and hot water.  I just used my hottest tap water and spooned it in out of a measuring cup.

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Next add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and beat until combined.

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Blend in the whole oats – make sure not to use the instant oats since they won’t give the cookies the right texture.

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Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.  You can’t have too many chocolate chips, so I used heaping cups when measuring.

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Spoon the dough by the rounded tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  I use the double spoon method – scoop with one and push it onto the sheet with the other.  Make sure there’s enough room for the cookies to spread a little bit.

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Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to brown.  The middles of the cookies may still look pretty doughy – that’s OK, when they cool they will solidify.  Just make sure the edges are brown and you’re good to go.

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And now comes the secret to making them that perfect texture of a little chewy and crunchy at the same time: remove the cookies from the cookie sheet to newspaper to cool completely.  No wire racks.  The newspaper absorbs some of the cooking oil (which with a full cup of shortening isn’t insignificant) to dry them out just enough.

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These are one of those recipes I mentioned while making Magic Bars – I love them so much that I have to actively plan to make them when I can’t eat every last one.  Lent provided that opportunity for these cookies, which though I know would look great in my new cookie jar (thanks Mimi!), will reach more people if I send them to Chicago where Pete will (hopefully) share them with his teammates.  Go UChicago Tennis!

Enjoy!

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Ann’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 2 heaping cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Cream shortening and sugars until smooth and light.
  2. Beat in eggs and water.
  3. Add dry ingredients of flour, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Blend in oats.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350°F for 10-12 minutes until edges are golden brown.
  7. Remove to newspaper to cool completely.
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Lemon Squares

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Continuing on my theme of doing something extra for Lent, this week I baked lemon squares at the request of an art teacher at school.  I bring things into the staff room pretty regularly, but usually it’s just leftovers of things I make for others.  This time, the lemon squares are specifically for my fellow teachers.  And it’s finally spring, so yellow, citrusy treats finally feel appropriate.

I have never actually made lemon squares from scratch.  I think I didn’t realize there was a way to do it without a box mix.  And as I started looking through recipes, I wasn’t totally sure how to pick one.  I settled on the one that called for the juice of two lemons without being any more specific than that.  I have no idea how much juice you can get out of a lemon, so I didn’t want to mess with the ones that called for exact amounts.  Also, this recipe claims to be “The Best Lemon Bars Recipe”, so it had to be good.

First, mix together 2 cups of flour, butter, and 1/2 cup of sugar.  I hadn’t used my hand mixer in awhile, but was in a bit of a rush so I pulled it out.  That resulted in quite a bit of flour on my counter top since in its absence I had forgotten that it only has two speeds: fast and faster.  

 

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Then, press the mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 pan as evenly as you can.  One benefit to using 2 full sticks of butter is that there is absolutely no need to grease the pan.

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Bake the crust at 350°F for 20-30 minutes, or until the edges of the base are golden brown.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour.  This time I decided to go the hand whisking route since I didn’t want any more splatter.

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Whisk in the eggs until well combined.  I think it’s really the eggs that give lemon bars the great yellow color.

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Finally, whisk in the juice of two lemons.  I don’t have a juicer, but I am admittedly pretty good at getting the maximum amount of juice out of a lemon just by squeezing with my bare hands.  If you go this route, don’t forget to pick out any seeds that may have found their way into the batter.

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When the base is done, remove it from the oven and pour the lemon mixture over the top.  Return it to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  You aren’t really looking for anything in particular here – the bars will solidify as they cool.

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Finally, cut the bars into squares once cool.  I haven’t tasted them (obviously) but my doorman hasn’t come running up to complain since I gave him one, so they must be edible.  If you want to dust on some confectioner’s sugar on top, definitely wait until they are completely cool.  More sugar is never a bad idea.

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Enjoy!

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Lemon Squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 lemons, juiced

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, blend together the butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and flour until crumby and combined.
  2. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan.
  3. Bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining flour and sugar.
  5. Whisk in eggs and lemon juice.
  6. Pour over base after removing from oven.  Return to oven and bake for 20 more minutes.
  7. Allow to cool in pan before cutting into squares.

Irish Bread

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Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day!  So, naturally, I had to bake something for the occasion.  I looked through the recipes that I had stolen from my mom’s recipe box and found one for Irish bread, and the decision was made.  Funny enough, after I had already made the Irish bread, I got a call from Sandy (her recipes include Trout Farm Apple Pie and Oh Henry Bars) asking if I wanted an Irish recipe for my blog this week.  I told her I had already baked some Irish bread, only to find out it had actually been her recipe, and the recipe she was planning on giving me, that I had used.  Weird how things like that happen.

Anyways, I was in New Haven for the weekend visiting a friend still working at Yale, so I had the lovely Marj as a sous chef in this particular adventure.  She’d never had Irish soda bread (the horror!), but did approve of the end result enough to bring it to a parade viewing party today.  And though my mom does stand by the fact that Stop & Shop Irish Soda Bread is the best, this particular recipe definitely does its job as a homemade alternative.

First, cream together the sugar, crisco, and egg.  Marj has a blue stand mixer that we wanted to use, and I have to admit that although it’s no buttercup yellow, it was a nice color.

 

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder).  Another cool kitchen gadget of Marj (I’m sure you can see why we’re friends) was her flexible mixing bowl.  You just pinched the sides together to make a spout for pouring!

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Alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk to the bowl of the stand mixer, keeping it at a low speed and beating until well combined.

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Finally, add the caraway seeds and raisins (heaping amounts of both – you can never have too many caraway seeds in Irish bread) and stir until evenly distributed.

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Spread batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350°F for about an hour, maybe a little more, until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Allow to cool in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  I think Irish bread tastes better when you leave it out for a bit and let it get a little hard, but if you want to eat it warm, I’m not going to stop you.

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On another, unrelated, note: while Marj and I were waiting for the bread to bake, we were talking a little about Lent.  Marj doesn’t celebrate it, but mentioned that if she did, she would rather do something positive than give up something for the 40 days.  I was thinking about it later that day and realized that I liked the idea as well, but in addition to giving up something.  For the past two weeks, I happened to bake things for other people (my cake for Mimi and this bread for Marj), which made me think that I could have the counterpart to my giving up sweets be baking sweets for others every week of Lent.  So if you’re reading this and desperately in need of a treat that I could bake for you, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

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Enjoy!

IMG_0820  Irish Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup crisco
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg

Directions:

  1. Cream together egg, sugar, and crisco.
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  3. Alternate adding dry ingredients and buttermilk, beating after each addition.
  4. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds.
  5. Bake in greased loaf pan for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool in loaf pan for 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

 

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

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This weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to go back home to Massachusetts to celebrate my grandmother’s eightieth birthday party with a large group of our family.  I was even more fortunate to be asked to make the cake.  You see, a couple summers ago I took a Wilton cake decorating class with my mom.  We learned how to make all sorts of things and were definitely the superior mother-daughter team in the class.  As part of that class, I made a whole bunch of royal icing flowers just to practice, and stored them away in tupperware (they are just sugar and water – they don’t go bad).

Last week, I couldn’t for the life of me decide what kind of cake to make.  Did I go flourless? Should I just make a sheet cake?  Should I give up and order a cake from Veronica’s?  I settled on chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, but I still was unsure of how I wanted to decorate  it.  Then, on Friday, while I was making sure I had all of the ingredients together, I found my flowers!  And thus, my cake design was decided.

So, first thing you should do is prepare your pans.  I am always deathly afraid of losing a layer of my cake to being stuck in the pan, so I coat them pretty liberally with Pam baking spray.

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Next, cream together the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.

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Add the vanilla and egg to the creamed sugar and butter and mix well.

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Finally, add the flour mixture and coffee, alternating between the two and beating after each addition, until everything is combined.

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It should eventually look nice and cake-batter-ish like this:

 

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Split the cake batter evenly between two 8 inch pans and spread the top smooth with a rubber spatula.  Bake at 325°F for about 25 to 30 minutes with the pans in the center of the oven or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Keep an eye on the cakes during this time – they may be done sooner or later, I honestly didn’t keep time well enough since I was checking every 10 minutes or so.

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Allow the cake layers to cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out onto the wire rack to cool completely.  And I mean completely.  Because after this, when you start frosting, warm cake will ruin your day.

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To make the frosting, first beat the shortening until soft.  Use the stick of crisco rather than measuring a cup out of the tub – it’s easier.  Also, if you don’t plan on coloring the frosting, use the white crisco rather than the butter flavor.

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Then, add the vanilla extract and water and beat well.  Wilton makes clear vanilla extract and other flavorings.  Again, if you plan on keeping the icing white, you should be using these clear flavors rather than the stuff you buy at the store normally.

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Add the meringue powder and a full box of confectioners sugar and beat until smooth.  I recommend the towel-over-the-mixer method so you don’t have a sugar-covered kitchen to clean up after.

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Finally, if you need to adjust the consistency of the icing (it will be stiff at this point), now is your time to add more water.  For base icing, you should add another 2 teaspoons or so to make it less stiff.  For decorating, one teaspoon should do.  Full disclosure: I had to make two full batches of frosting to do this cake, so you may also have that to contend with.

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Before you can ice your cake, you need to level it.  Cake decorating class got me to buy this awesome leveler that makes life easy, but the same thing can be accomplished with a knife if you have a steady hand.

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It also got me to buy that cool turntable so that icing my cake is super easy.  Also not necessary if you don’t plan on spending crazy amounts of time on cake decorating.

Fill a piping bag with the frosting and spread it over the first layer, stopping about half an inch short of the edges, to create a middle layer of buttercream.  Use an offset spatula to smooth it if you’d like, but it will be between two layers so that’s probably unnecessary.

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Place the second layer on top of the first.  I used a cake lifter to do this, but I’m sure you could use a plate or VERY CAREFULLY use your hands.  You don’t want to lose a layer at this point to a tear down the middle – that would be sad.

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Finally, use the same bag to cover the cake liberally with frosting and a spatula to make it smooth.  If you are following my decorating exactly, it doesn’t have to be perfect since you’ll be adding stuff on top of it.  If you aren’t, you can decide your level of perfectionism.

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Now, I don’t think it’s totally worthwhile to go through the step-by-step instructions of how to do a basket weave or some of the other techniques I used.  If you’re interested, check on Wilton’s cake decorating website for some ideas.  Instead, I’ll just show you some pictures of the cake in the process of being finished.  That’s the fun stuff anyways.

This is how someone with seriously borderline OCD decorates a cake:

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Then I added my awesome flowers in a swirl and wrote in a little message for Mimi!

 

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Since it was Lent, I didn’t actually get to try the cake for myself, but I’m told it was edible, so I figured I could still post it.  Happy birthday, Mimi!

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Cake  

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/8 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cold

Directions:

  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract and egg and beat until combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and baking soda.
  3. Alternate adding flour mixture and coffee to butter mixture, beating after each addition.
  4. Split batter evenly between two sprayed 8 inch cake pans.  Bake at 325°F for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Decorate!

Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 7-8 teaspoons water
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder

Directions:

  1. Beat shortening until softened.  Add vanilla and water and beat until combined.
  2. Add sugar and meringue powder and beat until smooth.
  3. Add water to adjust consistency.
  4. Decorate!                         

Peanut Butter Honey Ice Cream

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Every once in awhile I make something that falls solidly into the category of too good.  Usually, I know it’s coming, and I plan accordingly.  For example, I know that I’m addicted to Magic Bars, so I made them while I was at my parents’ for a short period of time, knowing I could leave them behind.

Other times, when I’m trying a new recipe, I don’t see it coming, but I can quickly adjust by bringing all of the treats to work and knowing they’ll disappear quickly.

However, this time, neither of these options will work.  You see, this weekend I was all excited to try my ice cream attachment for my stand mixer.  So I looked through the recipes from KitchenAid included in the attachment, but they all had crazy steps including tempering egg yolks that I didn’t quite feel confident enough to tackle.  So I turned to my trusty Serious Eats writers, and found a no-egg recipe to try. (Serious Eats should be thanking me for all the shout-outs I give them.  Or they should hire me.)  It was easy.  Too easy.  Because the results are too good to be that easy to make.

If  you know me, you know I’m an ice cream fiend to begin with.  Literally all I need to be cheered up is some form of ice cream, preferably cookie dough ice cream with M&Ms from FarFars.  You also know that I love peanut butter.  I can actually just eat a spoonful of chunky peanut butter and be happy (don’t judge me, you know you do it too).  Put them together, and you have a dangerous combination to be readily available in my freezer.

Fortunately, Lent starts this week, and I give up sweets every year (don’t worry, I’ll still be baking, I just won’t be partaking).  At least after Tuesday I won’t be able to eat it.  Hopefully it keeps well for 40 days.

Anyways, here we go.  First thing you have to do is remember to put the freezer bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer for 15 hours.  I just put mine in overnight.  Don’t have an ice cream maker?  Get one.  Or just read on and live vicariously through my adventure.

 

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The next morning, or whenever you’ve decided to try this, put together the batter.  Put the half and half, peanut butter, honey, and sugar in a blender.

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Blend until very smooth.  My blender is ridiculously good for only having three buttons and I was able to blend on low for 45 seconds and be fine.

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Store the entire blender carafe in your refrigerator until thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours.  I just left it in all day while I went and saw a movie (Philomena was definitely worth the trip).

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Once the batter is ready, put the freezer bowl on the mixer and start the attachment on stir.  Kitchenaid was very specific about this, so I think you should listen to them.  Pour the batter into the bowl.

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Allow the mixer to run for 30 minutes, until the ice cream is of a soft consistency.  Mine was still fairly liquidy, but I figured 30 minutes was enough. Look at my mixer in action!  It’s still awesome to me.

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Scoop the ice cream into a shallow, airtight container and freeze for an additional 3-4 hours before serving.  I actually froze mine all night and the next day before trying it.

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When it’s done, you’ll know.  It will be ice cream texture.  Pretty easy.

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And this is my attempt at an artsy picture scooping the ice cream:

 

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A serving suggestion: ice cream tastes better out of a mug.  I discovered that in college.  Especially when the mug has a brownie in the bottom of it.  And if that brownie is a Trader Joe’s Guilt-Free brownie, you can put even more ice cream in the mug.  And add jimmies.

 

Enjoy!

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Peanut Butter Honey Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sugar

(Important side note: how could I not love a recipe where each ingredient is half of the one before it??)

Directions:

  1. Freeze freezer bowl for 15 hours.
  2. Blend together all ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 45 seconds.
  3. Chill batter in refrigerator for 3 hours.
  4. Start ice cream maker and pour in batter.  Allow to stir for 30 minutes.
  5. Transfer ice cream into shallow airtight container and freeze for an additional 3-4 hours before serving.