Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough November 14, 2015, recipe adapted from Being Spiffy
The holidays are coming up fast and I’m inevitably getting pulled back into the kitchen. I haven’t even really been gearing up for my usual baking so this isn’t even the start of my holiday baking. I’m still debating how much of my “usual” I’m actually going to do now that I’ve gotten out of the habit of baking during every moment of my spare time.
But I am getting requests, namely from my nieces as they head for their holiday gatherings. One of my nieces is more of a cook and she doesn’t bake while the other one is the baker and doesn’t cook. But they each asked me for cookie dough to bring down to their respective gatherings and I was happy to oblige. For my niece who’s the cook, she wanted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for her boyfriend’s family. Actually, we had to compromise since she wanted the traditional oatmeal raisin cookies and we know how I feel about raisins. Not that it should’ve mattered to me since all I had to do was make the dough and I wasn’t going to be the one eating them, raisins or not. But still. You know, because raisins.
I have bags upon bags of chocolate chips (thanks, Costco) so I had to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookie dough. I don’t have a go-to recipe for oatmeal cookies so pinterest was once again my friend. I went with this recipe based on the picture alone and because it met my criteria for oatmeal cookies: more oatmeal than flour and it had more brown sugar than granulated so I knew it would provide the right caramelized/brown sugar overtone I look for in a good oatmeal cookie.
I baked a taste test cookie in my little convection toaster oven and it turned out fairly well. I think I took it out a minute too soon and ate it at slightly warm temps when I would’ve been better off baking it a trifle longer and waiting until it was almost fully cooled. Despite that, this was still a good cookie if you like oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Not sure I’ll remember it in a month as it doesn’t stand out to my jaded taste buds but it was still good. And my niece liked it too.
1 cup butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 small package Jell-O instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups flour
3 cups oatmeal, old-fashioned or quick
1 cup chocolate chips
  1. In stand mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Add Jell-O and mix until combined. 
  2. With mixer still running, add eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla.
  3. Pour in dry ingredients and blend until no streaks of flour remain. 
  4. Add oatmeal and chocolate chips, stirring in by hand or using the lowest setting on the mixer. 
  5. Using a cookie scoop, portion dough into golf-ball size balls. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight. 
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Space frozen cookie dough balls evenly on baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges just start to brown and middles no longer look raw or shiny.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Samoa Cookie Bars

Samoa Cookie Bars - made November 15, 2015, adapted from Crazy for Crust
Before I became such a cookie snob, I actually did at one time eat Samoa cookies from the Girl Scouts. During that time period when my nieces were little and were selling them for their troop. I like the flavor combination of shortbread, caramel, chocolate and coconut but as for the cookies themselves….well, cookie snob here.
But my snobbery is turned to advantage when it means I make my own version from scratch. I got this one from Crazy for Crust and it’s a simple, straightforward recipe. It’s a combination of a samoa bar cookie and a magic cookie bar. The magic cookie part being the coconut, chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk and the samoa part being the shortbread crust and the caramel bits as well. 
The only thing I changed is I went with only 1 ¼ cups of flour rather than 1 1/2, mostly because at 1 ¼ cups, the dough was still crumbly and even though it stuck together when I squeezed handfuls of it, I was afraid adding another ¼ cup would make it too dry. But there was still enough crust mixture to make a credible bottom layer. It was more like loose crumbs than actual dough but that just makes it easier to spread evenly in the pan and pat down. The crust does come together in baking so don’t worry if it doesn’t go down as a fully combined bottom layer.
The caramel bits were a nice touch although be warned that once they’re baked and cooled, they do become really chewy caramel. If you have dessert consumers who don’t have strong teeth or jaws, you might be better off melting the caramel with a little milk and making that the layer directly on top of the shortbread crust then covering that with coconut and chocolate chips before pouring the sweetened condensed milk on top. The only thing I would do differently next time is I think I would bake the bottom crust a little longer than 10 minutes. At 10 minutes, they were still rather pale-anemic looking and not even the edges were lightly browned. Subsequently, I ended up baking the whole thing a little longer after I’d added the rest of the ingredients because I wanted to make sure the bottom crust was done. But that meant the caramel baked longer as well, hence the chewiness after it had cooled. So I think it’s better to bake the crust an extra few minutes then cut a few minutes off the baking time for the second baking.
I thought this was a good homemade version of the Samoa cookie; it’s easy to make and serve and honestly, my snobby taste buds say they taste better than the GS Samoas.
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (adjust based on feel of the dough)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup Kraft caramel bits
1 can (14 ounces) regular sweetened condensed milk
  1. Line a 9x13” pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Beat butter in a stand mixer until smooth. Mix in flour, sugar, and salt. Beat until the mixture is crumbly. It’s done mixing when you can press it together between your fingers and it sticks together. 
  3. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. 
  4. Remove hot crust from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips, coconut, and caramels.
  5. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden around the edges. Cool completely before cutting. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Vanilla Cinnamon Buttermilk Pancakes

Vanilla Cinnamon Buttermilk Pancakes - made November 15, 2015 from The Chunky Chef
I confess, I’m not discerning when it comes to pancake recipes. I like a good pancake as much as the next person but I’m not super picky about them. As long as they’re light and fluffy and have good flavor, that is. So I’m fairly agnostic when it comes to trying out pancake recipes. I typically only make them on weekends because that’s when I wake up and realize I don’t have any food in the house because I mostly eat at work or out with friends.

Fortunately, though, I have enough baking stock that I usually have the ingredients needed for most pancake recipes so it’s only a matter of minutes to find a new recipe and whisk it together.  This time around, as someone recommended on my last pancake post, I also tried not overheating my frying pan so I can get that smooth golden look for each pancake. Turns out how hot my pan was or wasn’t didn’t matter when it came to creating or not creating the vein-y looks in my pancakes. What mattered more was how the butter melted in the pan before I poured the batter over it. Same if I tried nonstick cooking spray.
Ultimately, the one way for me to get that smooth golden look all over the entire pancake was not to spray the pan or melt butter into it. Fortunately I had a nonstick frying pan so the results weren’t too disastrous and the pancake didn’t stick but it also didn’t flip over as gracefully as I might’ve wished. Regardless, once I was done obsessing about how to make it look a certain way, I was able to eat a couple. They were good. I don’t think they’d necessarily stand out in my mind as a go-to pancake recipe but only because I’m not that snobby about my pancakes. They’re good, they helped use up some buttermilk and they were easy to make. That’s all I ask of weekend food.
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  1. Combine dry ingredients together in one bowl.
  2. Whisk together buttermilk, vanilla, egg and melted butter.
  3. Pour into dry ingredients and mix lightly with fork only until barely combined.
  4. Heat frying pan or griddle. Pour batter into rounds. Cook on one side until bubbles form all over. Flip over and cook until both sides are golden brown. Serve warm.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Smashburger - dinner on October 31, 2015
I’d heard about Smashburger from other foodies so like any good foodie lemming, I wanted to try it for myself. Much as I like burgers, I only like certain places for burgers, namely the ones that let me build my own. Because I’m such a picky eater. As in, a good burger to me is the burger and the bun. I add a slice of cheese if I want to get really crazy. Do not put condiments on my burger or I’ll never eat it. No pickles, no onions, no tomatoes either. Nothing but meat and bread. I’m okay with leaf lettuce as long as it’s not chopped like coleslaw.
You can imagine the inner eye rolls I probably get whenever I order a burger off the menu and ask for it “plain”. So I’m always pleased to find a place where I can build my own burger and don’t feel like I have to defend my plain choices. Plain eaters, rejoice, because Smashburger is such a place. They have pre-built burgers you can order but, similar to the Counter, they also let you pick and choose what you want on your burger. Or in my case, ensure they leave off what I don’t want.
For this inaugural visit, I went with the brioche bun, a 1/3-lb burger, a slice of cheese, a slice of leaf lettuce and a fried egg. That’s walking on the wild side for me. But it had everything I liked and nothing I didn’t like. Consequently, I enjoyed my burger a lot. It’s just the right size if you’re hungry, not too big or too small, and the burger was tasty. Not thin like a fast food burger but not so thick that you couldn’t eat it without feeling like a pig.
Smashburger also offers sweet potato fries which naturally I had to get. I always like sweet potato fries better than regular fries. Unfortunately, their sweet potato fries weren’t as good as their burger though. They weren’t quite cooked to mealy perfection and needed a couple more minutes in the deep fryer. They were still good but could’ve been better.
Still, this is a good place to go to for burgers and quite reasonably priced. I walked out with a burger and fries for just over $10.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving (non-traditional) desserts

These desserts are part of our Thanksgiving tradition but they’re each a spinoff from what might be most people’s traditional dessert bounty. If you’re already planning ahead to what you want to serve next week and are looking for something a little different, you might want to give these a try.

Instead of pecan pie, I make butter pecan tartlets – easier to consume and serve and, after a full turkey meal, much better portion control than a piece of pie without sacrificing the good elements of a pecan pie.

I’ve never liked pumpkin pie but that’s no reason not to have a pumpkin-based dessert like this Pumpkin Upside Down Cake with caramelized pecans and cranberries.

I’ve nothing against apple pie but when there’s a lot of baking going on and I don’t want to deal with the intricacies of pie crust, I go with apple crumble bars made as apple cobbler and it’s always the biggest hit at the post-dinner table.

If you can’t bear to have dessert that excludes chocolate, this Black & White Pudding Cake is super easy to make, served warm, is decadent and goes beautifully with vanilla ice cream. In fact, the ice cream might be mandatory.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Icebox Treats

Icebox Treats - visited October 24, 2015
So when you’re already full from pizza, the thing to do is go out for ice cream cookie sandwiches nearby. At least it’s the thing to do if you’re me and my cousin Christine. Especially since Icebox was on the Top 10 list of ice cream places in the South Bay. Yes, I know, me and my foodie lists. But with the plethora of places to eat around here (lucky me), you have to have some kind of criteria because there isn’t enough time, money or waistband room to go to them all.
If I thought Cicero’s was in a weird location by being in a strip mall, Icebox is even more peculiarly located by being at the corner of an office block attached, semi-attached or just in front of an apartment building. Super weird! It’s not like you’d get a lot of shopping mall traffic. But hey, they made the list so off we went.
Their retail concept reminds me of Cream in that you can pick your cookies and your ice cream flavors and they’ll make you an ice cream sandwich. The girl behind the counter even asked if we wanted our cookies warmed up. (YES!) Or, if you want something smaller, you could opt for macarons instead of cookies for your ice cream sandwich. Novel idea. But since I don’t like macarons, I stuck with the cookies: chocolate chip on one side and snickerdoodle on the other. 
They offered some standard ice cream flavors like chocolate and vanilla but there were also Filipino flavors like ube (purple yam) and mango, making me wonder if the owners were Filipino. I went for one of my classic favorites: coffee almond fudge. 

Having a full-size ice cream sandwich after eating pizza was not my smartest decision because I didn’t have enough room for it. In hindsight, I should have also gone with vanilla ice cream as the coffee almond fudge was more chocolate than coffee so it was a little too rich for me. Vanilla would’ve been a little less overwhelming to my taste buds. Lastly, next time I’d get the snickerdoodle for both cookies in the sandwich because it was softer, easier to eat and went better with ice cream. 
Overall, Icebox was good. I don’t know if they would stand out against Cream but if you’re not like me and want a macaron ice cream sandwich, they have something Cream doesn’t offer.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Restaurant Review: Cicero's Pizza

Cicero's Pizza - dinner on October 24, 2015
I’m still on a quest to hit all of the Top 10 Pizzerias in South Bay. Fortunately, one is near where my cousin Christine and her family live so we were able to arrange to meet for dinner there. Now, y’all know I’m not a fan of the thin crust pizza. For me, it’s thick crust all the way with some chewiness to it because, you know, bread.
But Cicero’s made the Top 10 so I was trying to be open-minded and everything. It was in a weird-to-me location of being in a strip mall next to a chain grocery store. Like the typical cookie cutter place I would likely pass by because you don’t want to take the risk it won’t be good because it looks so strip-mall conformist. But thank goodness for the internet and social media whose recommendations I can cautiously and optimistically take. Because if I hadn’t, I would’ve missed out on really good, thin crust pizza. 
Because that’s what Cicero’s was. My prejudice against thin crust pizzas is they’re either often soggy (because thin crust) or have the chewy consistency of cardboard. Or what I imagine cardboard would be like to chew on. Not so with Cicero’s. It was good! Crispy but not hard with just enough chew that it wasn’t quite a flatbread pizza but an honest-to-goodness thin crust pizza. We went with the all-meat combo (for my cousin and her son) and the Canadian bacon and pineapple for me and her husband. Although rest assured I had both and enjoyed both.

Cicero’s has a casual atmosphere. You go up to the counter, place your order, they take your name, you seat yourselves at a table then when your order is ready, they call out your name and you go back to the counter to pick up your pizza(s). While the inside of Cicero’s is still more strip mall than upscale or downscale pizzeria, their pizza is anything but strip mall. It’s really good pizza. I’m already looking forward to going back.