These peanut butter cookies are truly the best I’ve ever had.  Sometimes I add chocolate chips and leave out the sugar-rolling step, which only adds to their awesomeness.  I use Smuckers Natural Creamy Peanut Butter.  This recipe is super simple, which makes these easy to whip up for a party or late night snack.  mmmm….cookie….nomnomnomnom

Peanut Butter Cookies – Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup granulated sugar (extra for rolling)
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ cups flour
Beat butter and peanut butter in mixer or large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking soda and baking powder and mix until combined. Beat in egg and vanilla.  Add flour and mix until combined.  If dough is too soft, chill for 30 minutes until easy to handle.  Shape into 1-inch balls and roll into granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet and flatten with the tines of a fork.  Bake at 375 for 8 to 9 minutes.

I am a sucker for crinkly-top cookies.  My favorite crinkly-top cookie of all time, the ginger snap, never fails to turn out tasty AND pretty.  The crinkly top on a ginger snap or snickerdoodle means the cookie is done, but it’s always best to take them out of the oven when they are a bit underbaked.  This way, the top and sides are just a tiny bit crisp and there is soft, chewy deliciousness right under there.  Whew! It gets me hungry just thinking about it!  The browned butter in these cookies makes them caramely and tender, but they tend to get hard the next day.  My solution is to bake as many as you can eat and freeze the dough, rolled and sugar-coated.  You can thaw them or bake them straight from the freezer by adding a few minutes to the baking time.  This way you’ll have warm brown sugar cookies ready to go, whenever you have a craving….which can be dangerous, but so very convenient.

 

 

Brown Sugar Cookies – Cooks Illustrated

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup Granulated sugar

2 cups Brown sugar packed

2 cups Unbleached flour plus 2 Tablespoons

1/2 teaspoon Baking soda

1/4 teaspoon Baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1 large Egg

1 large Egg yolk

1 tablespoon Vanilla extract

Heat 10 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers, until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.

Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute.

Divide dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone) 12 to 14 minutes. Do not overbake!

Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

There is a beautiful little town in Idaho, right on the border of Washington, called Moscow (that’s “Mos-coe” not “cow”).  Brian and I drove through it on our tour of the Northwest a few years ago.  It was late fall and this little town of 20,000 was hoppin’!  They have a beautiful downtown, full of bike stores and dog-friendly coffee shops.  The University of Idaho is in Moscow and just eight miles away lies Pullman, Washington, home of Washington State.  These two towns are separated by a paved bike path.  How cool is that!?   

Moscow’s farmer’s market was unbelievable! We bought peaches the size of our heads…no kidding!  Moscow is a part of the Palouse region of the northwest, defined by beautiful rolling hills of wheat and lentils.  In fact, the Palouse is the largest lentil-growing region in the United States.  During our visit, those hills were literally golden.  It was a bright, clear day and the blue sky, golden hills, and peaches the size of our heads left us reeling.  We were in love with Moscow, Idaho.  Every time I use lentils, I think of Moscow. 

This lentil soup is a winter staple for us.  It’s spicy, full of vegetables and packed with protein.  It’s great as a stand-alone dinner or even better along side a toasty grilled cheese.

lentil soup 1lentil 2   

Spicy Lentil Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

 1 medium onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, you guessed it…chopped!

6 cups water

1 cup dried lentils

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I love those Muir Glen Fire Roasted guys)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

A dash of cayenne pepper

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, onion and carrot. Cook 5 minutes, then stir in bell pepper and zucchini.  Cook another 3 minutes and add garlic.  Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes (until lentils and veggies are tender).  Season with salt and pepper.  Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf!

I admit I’ve tried many-a-pizza-crust recipe.  I’ve made honey whole wheat crust, plain white thin crust, even fluffy pan crust made with potatoes!  After all these crusts, most of which are admittedly delicious (I did have trouble with the fluffy pan crust…a little soggy for my taste), I’ve discovered the biggest problem with homemade pizza crust…time.  The rising, the kneading, the resting…on a weeknight, without planning ahead, I just don’t have the time, darn it. 

6

This flatbread cracker crust from smitten kitchen is my solution.  It’s ridiculously easy and cooks up flaky, tender and crisp.  It doesn’t hold a ton of toppings, so you have to be a little gentle.  Brian loves lots of cheese and pepperoni and it hasn’t failed to hold up, yet.  I love to sprinkle it with mozzarella, cut it into strips, and scoop my homemade tomato sauce on top.  It’s even a great snack to take to parties and…the best part…one pizza won’t take longer than 15 minutes!! Woohoo!

Flatbread Cracker Crust – adapted from Smitten Kitchen (makes 3 crusts)

1 3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (don’t use dried – it’s too sharp and hard for this delicate dough. I have used dried basil and it’s great!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing

Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on rack in middle.

Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.

Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece (keep remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) on a sheet of parchment paper or foil into a 10 or 12-inch roundish shape.

Lightly brush top with additional oil. Slide round (still on parchment or foil) onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds on fresh parchment or foil.

For pizza, add a small amount of sauce, shredded mozzarella and pepperoni.  Place directly on oven rack and broil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until pepperoni is crunchy and cheese is bubbly.  Be careful, this thin crust can easily burn under the broiler! 

pizza 1

For me, the best pizzas and pastas are 98 percent about the sauce.  I can forgive a slightly soggy crust or an overcooked noodle, but bland sauce…forget about it!  In the good old days of college, a box of spaghetti and a jar of Prego were an indulgence.  I remember how oddly sweet that Prego sauce was and, after a breakfast of Oreos and a can of Coke for lunch, the last thing I needed was sugary spaghetti sauce.  Seriously, it’s amazing what you’ll eat in college when you…A) have no money B) have no cooking skills and C) haven’t been to the dentist since you got your braces off in the 10th grade.    

The great thing about homemade sauce is knowing what’s in it.  You are the boss of the sauce!  My favorite kind of sauce is spicy, peppery and chock-full of veggies.  I’ve even added carrots for an extra dose of veggies(see…I’m making up for those Oreos and Cokes!).  I have to admit, it makes me feel like a real home cook every time I dip a spoon into simmering tomato sauce to give it a taste test.  I use this sauce for pizza, freeze the leftovers and break it out for pasta the next week.  It’s outstanding with a half-pound of ground beef and ground italian sausage.  Add what makes you happy.  You are the Sauce Boss!

2  3

 45 sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

1 small red bell pepper or 1/2 of a large pepper

1/2 red onion (I prefer red onions because of their bite, but feel free to use 1 whole sweeter white or yellow onion)

1/2 white onion

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large can of crushed tomatoes (I love the 28 oz. Muir Glen Fire Roasted crushed tomatoes)

a pinch of basil, fresh or dried (if fresh add right after serving)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

a pinch of italian seasoning (oregano, parsley, rosemary…whatever you’d like)

one bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

Coarsely chop onions and pepper and puree in food processor.  You can skip the food processor all together if you like a chunkier sauce.  Heat olive oil in medium-size sauce pan over low heat.  Add pureed veggies and simmer until soft, about 6-8 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, dried italian seasoning, red pepper and bay leaf.  Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.  Give it a taste test and add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

the rolls

I cannot take credit for this recipe as it’s a Meyer family specialty.  Those Meyers are darn good bakers…and builders…and artists…and just darn great people in general.  They were generous to share this recipe and, in between turkey, pie, and shopping, I managed to make these over Thanksgiving in Salado, Texas.  Holidays in Texas are always relaxing.  They’re a break from the cold and a definite change of scenery – full of live oaks, prickly pear cacti, and giant bronze stars hung over garages and front doors.  The people in Salado almost always wave, say ‘hello’, or tip their hat when they pass by.  The downtown is full of antique stores, tea rooms, local art, and a sweet old bridge that’s always lit up in white Christmas lights.  It’s almost impossible not to love Salado, just like it’s almost impossible not to love cinnamon rolls.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t love, or at least LIKE, cinnamon rolls.  Millie loves cinnamon rolls, but she wasn’t allowed to have one.  This made her so very sad….

sweet mirrie

Honestly, if I did hear someone say they didn’t like cinnamon rolls, I would dare them to try one bite of these (if they still didn’t like cinnamon rolls, I’d call them crazy and then I’d eat the rest of their cinnamon roll).

I tried an experiment with the filling, using brown sugar and cinnamon on half of the batch and sugar and cinnamon on the other.  No one could tell much of a difference, so use whatever you have.  This makes 20 fairly large rolls, so cut them smaller if you’d like more.

knead it

sugar rolling rolls sliced

Scald 2 cups of milk, add 1/2 cup of butter, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 3 tsp. salt.

Let this cool to about 110 degrees and add 2 packages or 2 tbsp. of yeast.

Add three eggs, 2 cups of whole wheat flour (see, they are kinda healthy!), and up to 5 cups of white flour.

Knead until smooth and let rise until doubled in size (2 to 3 hours).

Punch down and rise again.  I did this second rise overnight in the fridge and it worked out just fine.

Cut the dough in half and roll out each half into a large rectangle.  Generously spread softened butter on the dough and sprinkle brown sugar (or just white sugar) and cinnamon over the butter.  I didn’t measure this part, but I could have doubled the amount I used.  Next time, I’d put a thick layer of about 1/4 inch of sugar.

Starting at a small end of the rectangle, roll the dough into a long tube.  Cut the dough into 1″ to 1 1/2″ rounds and place on a buttered baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

prebaked the rolls closer

For the icing, I absolutely love this cream cheese recipe.  Combine one 8 ounce softened block of cream cheese, one stick (1/2 cup) of butter and a teaspoon of vanilla.  Mix in 3 to 4 cups of powdered sugar to taste.

Growing up, I only knew how to “cook” a few basic things.  I put those quotes around cook because I certainly wouldn’t call any of these things, or at least the way I made them growing up, “cooking.”  My staples were grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, spaghetti, cinnamon toast, and french toast.  Yes, I am counting cinnamon toast as something I cooked because, well, I ate it a lot and I had it down to an exact science….toast the bread, slather it in Country Crock, sprinkle the cinnamon first, then sprinkle sugar over all of the cinnamony spots, add a glass of super-chocolaty chocolate milk, enjoy as a late-night snack while watching M.A.S.H. or as a Saturday morning “breakfast” watching Hanna Barbera cartoons (Captain Caveman was my favorite).

 

I learned how to make french toast from my Grandma.  We used to play card games and board games all night…Yahtzee, Crazy Eights, Uno, Gin Rummy, Spoons, Pig (just like Spoons except you put your finger on your nose when you get four-of-a-kind), Speed (a crazy cool game of solitaire where everyone can play off of the aces in the middle.  My Grandma has always been the best at this!) and Kings in the Corner.  We sat at that dining room table all night long playing games.  In the morning, that table was cleared of all the cards, dice, tiny pencils, and spoons to make way for butter, syrup, and stacks of french toast.  I can’t remember the exact morning that she taught me how to actually make french toast, but I remember thinking how cool it was that eggs, milk, and cinnamon could make plain old white bread taste so darn good.  This new recipe from America’s Test Kitchen truly revolutionized my french toast.  Adding flour to the mix makes a batter that coats the bread without making it soggy.  If you have some time to make and use either one of breads from my previous posts, challah or brioche, this french toast will seriously knock your socks off! 

French Toast  for 4– America’s Test Kitchen

2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup milk
4 teaspoons vanilla extract                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             1 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg (optional)
2-4 tablespoons sugar (I opted for less here and I think this could even be left out if you were using brioche)
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 slices challah or brioche, ¾ inch thick,
or 12-16 slices day-old high-quality sandwich bread
Unsalted butter for frying
(1 tablespoon per batch)
Heat a 10 or 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly in a shallow pan or pie plate; whisk in the melted butter, then the milk and vanilla, and finally the cinnamon/nutmeg, sugar, flour and salt, continuing to whisk until smooth. Soak the bread without over saturating, about 40 seconds per side for challah/brioche or 30 seconds per side for sandwich bread. Pick up the bread and allow the excess batter to drip off; repeat with the remaining slices.
Swirl 1 tablespoon butter in the hot skillet. Transfer the prepared bread to the skillet in a single layer; cook until golden brown, about 1 minute 45 seconds on the first side and 1 minute on the second. Serve the French toast immediately or keep it warm in a 200 degree oven. Continue, adding 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet for each new batch.