Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - made June 20, 2010 from Monster Cookies by Helen Witty

I'm cleaning out my cupboards (and drawers) of ingredients in preparation for my upcoming move so I'm intent on using up my ingredients. Hence you may be seeing a lot of recipes involving peanut butter, oatmeal and/or chocolate chips.

This one is from a cookbook my cousin Bernadette gave me years ago for its chocolate chip cookie recipe. I tried this peanut butter recipe for the first time and got good results. It's a nice, basic peanut butter cookie recipe. I don't know that it's a real standout amongst all my other peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipes but it's pretty good. If you underbake it, it's very soft and moist. If you bake it just right, the edges are a bit crisp and the middles are more cakey. I like to underbake it even though it makes for a more fragile cookie. I had a bag of combined peanut butter and milk chocolate chips so that's what I used. It worked pretty well. I didn't have any orange juice on hand so I made these with water but someday I'd like to try the orange juice version and see what the difference is.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup chunk-style peanut butter
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons orange juice or water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 to 1 ½ cups (6 to 9 ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F, with an oven rack in the center position. Lightly grease one or two baking sheets if making small cookies. For the larger sizes, cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease it lightly. (You’ll need extra sheets of lightly greased foil for subsequent batches.)
2. In a mixing bowl (using a wooden spoon) or in the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter with the peanut butter until the mixture is soft. Beat in the brown sugar, then the granulated sugar, beating after each addition until the mixture is light. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the orange juice or water and vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the flour mixture into the creamed mixture, then stir in the chocolate pieces.
4. To make 9-inch maximonsters: Divide the dough into four equal portions. Using a 7-inch pot lid or round baking pan as a pattern, mark with a fingertip a circle onto the greased surface of each foil-covered baking sheet. (If you have only one baking sheet, form the dough for subsequent cookies on sheets of greased foil, then slip each in turn onto the cooled sheet after baking.) Heap each portion in the center of the ring marked on the foil. With your hand or a rubber spatula, pat the dough for each cookie out into a neat circle inside the marking. Bake the cookies one at a time. If you want to bake fewer than four maximonsters, measure out 1 cup of dough for each one (shaping them as above) and form smaller cookies out of the rest (steps 5 and 6). Bake each maximonster in the preheated oven for about 15 to 16 minutes, or until it is golden brown and the center is just firm. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes, then slide the foil, with the cookie, onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5. To make 6-inch monsters: Measure the dough for each cookie in a 1/3 cup measure, with the top leveled. Place three portions of dough on each foil-covered baking sheet, spacing the cookies well apart. Flatten each mound just under a 4-inch diameter with your hand or a rubber spatula. Bake for about 14 minutes or until done as described for maximonsters in step 4. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes, then slide the foil, with the cookies, onto a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To make 2 ½” cookies: drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the greased baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, and flatten the mounds slightly with your hand or a rubber spatula. Bake the cookies for about 14 minutes, or until done as described for maximonsters in step 4. Cool the cookies on the sheet briefly, then lift them with a spatula onto a wire rack to cool completely.
7. When the cookies have cooled, wrap or bag them, or place them in a tightly covered container, and store at room temperature for a few days. Refrigerate or freeze them for longer storage.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce - made by Ellen on June 19, 2010 from Williams Sonoma's Asian cookbook

This is another recipe Ellen made for our picnic. This is the kind of thing I love eating but would never make. One look at the ingredient list would send me running, not to the grocery store, but for the hills. For a non-cook like me, it's just too intimidating. Give me a baking recipe with the same number of ingredients and complexity and I'd take it on without blinking. But real food? Nah. Fortunately there are better cooks out there than me so I don't have to go without :).

1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 ½ cups coconut milk
½ cup fish sauce
5 tablespoons chopped palm sugar or brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus 1 tablespoon chopped stems
1 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon each peeled and chopped fresh galangal and chopped lemongrass
1 fresh red hot chile, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus oil for brushing
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon shrimp paste
1 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted and minced

1. Cut the chicken strips 4 inches long by 1 ½ inches wide. In a large bowl, stir together ½ cup of the coconut milk, ¼ cup of the fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of the palm sugar, the cilantro leaves, and the curry powder. Add the chicken strips and stir to coat evenly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to overnight.
2. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill, or have ready a stove-top grill pan. Place 12-15 wooden skewers, each 9 inches long, in water to cover and let soak for at least 20 minutes.
3. In a mortar, combine the shallot, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, chile and cilantro stems and grind with a pestle, gradually adding 1-2 tablespoons water to form a paste. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the 1 tablespoon oil. Add the shallot-garlic paste and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 cup coconut milk and simmer until thickened, 7 – 10 minutes. Add the remaining ¼ cup fish sauce, remaining 2 tablespoons palm sugar, lime juice, shrimp paste and peanuts and cook until the peanut sauce thickens, 5-7 minutes.
4. Drain the skewers and remove the chicken strips from the marinade. Discard the marinade. Weave 3 chicken strips lengthwise onto each skewer. If using a stove-top grill pan, preheat it over high heat. Brush the grill rack or grill pan with oil. Place the skewers on the rack or pan and sear the chicken until golden brown on each side, 4-5 minutes per side. If using a charcoal grill, move the skewers away from the direct flame, cover the grill and cook until the chicken is opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. If using a grill pan, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the chicken stand for 5 minutes. Arrange the skewers on a warmed platter and serve the peanut sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings

Korean Barbecue Beef

Korean Barbecue Beef - made by Ellen, June 19, 2010 from Williams Sonoma's Asian cookbook

My cousin Ellen marinated and grilled these beef strips for our family picnic last week and they were yummy. I first tried them when she made them for her mom's birthday last month and when she asked what she should bring to our picnic, my instant response was, "well, I liked the beef and chicken you made before". :) (Chicken recipe to follow). She was nice enough to scan the recipes for me so here they are. I'm not likely to make them but someone else might. The beef was very good, flavorful and pretty tender.

1 ½ lbs beef tenderloin, about 5 inches thick
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
5 green (spring) onions, minced, plus shredded green onion for garnish
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and crushed
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Cut the beef across the grain into slides 1/8 inch thick. Working on a cutting board, use the side of the blade of a chef’s knife or cleaver to mash together three-fourths of the chopped garlic and the 1 tablespoon sugar, forming a paste. Place the paste in a bowl and stir in 3 tablespoons of the light soy sauce, the dark soy sauce, the 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, all but 1 tablespoon of the minced green onions, the ginger, 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds, the black pepper, and 1 tablespoon water. Place the beef in a shallow bowl and pour the marinade on top. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
2. Meanwhile, make a dipping sauce. On a cutting board, use the side of the blade of a chef’s knife or cleaver to mash together the remaining chopped garlic and ½ teaspoon sugar, forming a paste. Place the paste in a bowl and whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, the chile sauce, the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil, the reserved 1 tablespoon minced green onions, the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 1 tablespoon water. Set aside until ready to serve.
3. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a stove-top grill pan over high heat.
4. Brush the grill rack or pan with the canola oil. Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry. Discard the marinade. Working in batches, arrange in a single layer on the rack or pan. Sear, turning once, until crisp and brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Wipe and oil the rack or pan between batches if necessary.
5. Transfer to a warmed platter, garnish with the shredded green onion and serve at once with the dipping sauce.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - last made June 18, 2010 from

I have 2 go-to recipes for chocolate chip cookies. These are my ultimate comfort food and have the added advantage of being super easy to make. I've blogged about one of them before( but realized I never included the recipe. The other one I haven't blogged about at all simply because all this time I thought I had already posted it but a search revealed nothing. So I'm about to correct one of those mistakes (will fix the other one later by adding the recipe).

I got this recipe from someone on one of my fitness boards who posted the link from At the time I first tried it, I was on my never-ending quest for a chocolate chip cookie recipe that could be baked in a non-convection oven and not spread too thin. I wanted thick cookies a la Specialty's ( with great flavor and texture. This one had it. And it's even easier to make than my other go-to recipe because you melt the butter, add the rest of the ingredients, stir it up, and you're done - no messing with a lot of creaming and mixing. What I do after the dough is mixed is portion them out into cookie dough balls, line them on a plastic lid/cover and freeze in the freezer until firm. Once they're firm, I put them in freezer bags and bake them off whenever I need to. Now, these do spread so don't line them up too closely together. You can make the dough balls as small or as large as you wish but when you make them for the first time, I recommend making gigantic cookies just to get the full effect :).

These cookies come out crisp at the edges and chewy moist goodness in the middle. For the ones I made for our family picnic last weekend, I coarsely chopped Hershey's Kisses to use as the chocolate chips and that worked really well (not the same ones pictured here). No need to chop the kisses too small since you want nice big chunks. Here's the link to the recipe: I don't know who ElizabethBH is but kudos to her for a fantastic recipe.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Family picnic - June 19, 2010

(thanks to Camille for the cake)

June 19, 2010 - We had a family picnic with my mom's side of the family to celebrate my maternal grandfather's centennial. He died in 1986 at the age of 76 but had he lived, he would've been 100 last month. To honor him, we gathered together. My mom's family turned out several good cooks and when we get together to eat, we eat. And it's all good. I didn't cook except for a few desserts but here's the pictorial of some of the dishes just to give you an idea. There were 24 of us and we made a good dent in the food.

My cousin Christine brought appetizers - these were filled with cream cheese and artichokes.

My mom made ribs

And pancit palabok
In addition to the centennial cake, Camille & family brought fried chicken

And chow mein

My cousin Ellen brought chicken satay that we grilled
And Korean barbecue beef that she grilled

Ellen's dad, Tito Mimil, grilled an 8-lb trout he had caught in the lake of the same park we were picnicking at - marinated in lime, cilantro and other good things

And there was more but I didn't get a picture of it all: Tita Helen made a peanut-sauce noodle dish, Tito Lito brought Goldilocks mamon and cupcakes, someone brought bibingka, Tita Girlie and Ken brought pecan pie tarts, and I made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies, and the aforementioned pecan tassies. Which, according to everyone else, I was wrong about those being just "okay". Everyone who tried them liked them and the only complaint I got was there either wasn't any left to parcel out after the picnic or they went home with someone and the others didn't get a taste. My parents liked them better than my butter pecan tarts (huh) and I had to make another batch this morning to bring for them since demand exceeded supply. Fortunately I still had the leftover filling so it was just a matter of making more tart dough and toasting more pecans.

All in all, a good day and lots of good eats.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pecan Tassies

Pecan Tassies - made June 18, 2010 from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking by Martha Day

We have a family picnic tomorrow and naturally, I'm bringing desserts. I made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting already and I'm going to bake chocolate chip cookies first thing in the morning tomorrow. I asked my cousins what they'd like me to bring and my cousin Christine asked if I made "those pecan tarts with the cream cheese crust." As soon as she said cream cheese, I knew she meant pecan tassies. They're like my butter pecan tartlets but with cream cheese in the crust. I'd never made them before so this seemed like a good opportunity to try something new.

Unfortunately I've been packing up my baking books in preparation for a move sometime this summer so I didn't have a lot of books to sift through looking for a recipe. Fortunately, one of the baking books I hadn't packed yet was the Practical Encyclopedia of Baking. I've had this book for so long that I don't remember when and where I got it or even why. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever made anything from it. Not that I recall anyway. But it did have a recipe for pecan tassies so this was my chance to finally use the book.

They were easy enough to make. I didn't bother rolling out the dough since I'm used to making tarts and it was easy enough to shape by hand in the mini muffin cups. The dough recipe makes the right amount of tarts but the filling recipe makes too much filling - you could probably halve the filling recipe and still have enough for 24 tarts. I toasted the pecans first like I always do when I bake with nuts then let them cool while I chilled the tarts. The recipe said to bake them for 20 minutes but I confess I forgot and left them in for an extra 4 minutes (I was blow drying my hair and lost track of time - oops). But the tarts survived my neglect and were a nice golden brown when I took them out.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed in them though. They tasted okay but my butter pecan tartlets are better. The crust was light on these and the filling wasn't too sweet. Which is fine unless you like a more dense shortbread crust (which I do) and a sweeter filling (which I do). They're not bad and hopefully they'll be all right for tomorrow's picnic. But I have to tell Christine someday I need to make her the butter pecan tartlets and see if she likes them better.

4 ounces cream cheese
½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup flour

For the Filling
2 eggs
¾ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup pecans

1. Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 350˚F. Grease 2 12-cup mini-muffin tins.
2. Cut the cream cheese and butter in pieces. Put in a mixing bowl. Sift over the flour and mix to form a dough.
3. Roll the dough out thinly. With a fluted pastry cutter, stamp out 24 2 ½-inch rounds. Line the muffin cups with the rounds and refrigerate while making the filling.
4. For the filling, lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the brown sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, and add the vanilla, salt and butter. Set aside.
5. Reserve 24 undamaged pecan halves and chop the rest coarsely with a sharp knife.
6. Place a spoonful of chopped nuts in each muffin cut and cover with the filling. Set a pecan half on the top of each.
7. Bake on the hot baking sheet until puffed and set, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve at room temperature.

Gooey Baby Ruthy Brownies

Gooey Baby Ruthy Brownies - made June 15, 2010 from Brownie Mix Bliss by Camilla V. Saulsbury (or as I call them: Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Snickers Brownies)

I'm diametrically opposed to brownie mixes. I used to bake with them when I was first learning how to bake and thought they were great. But once I started baking from scratch, I turned up my nose at mixes. When my friends tell me how much they're enjoying a Duncan Hines brownie, my baking soul shrivels up (yeah, Kendra and Rebecca, I'm referring to you two). So why, you ask, did I buy a book called Brownie Mix Bliss when all of its recipes use a brownie mix as a base? I don't know. Something about it being a baking book and I have a sad addiction to cookbooks.

In any case, I have tried a few recipes from this book and they've been okay. Nothing spectacular so far and they all have the same basic ingredients with the recipes varying by the add-ins. In this particular case, the add-ins were a cream cheese swirl and Baby Ruths or Snickers. I used Snickers. I also substituted buttermilk for the water and, since I was out of milk and wanted more of a peanut butter flavor to complement the Snickers, I added a few spoonfuls of smooth peanut butter to the cream cheese layer.

It all sounds like it should make a killer brownie, right? Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out the way I had hoped. The peanut butter add-in to the cream cheese layer wasn't enough so there wasn't that strong of a peanut butter taste after all. The Snickers chunks were a little too heavy with the texture of the brownie as the texture was soft and almost cakey as opposed to something more dense that would go well with Snickers. So for me, this was just okay. People at work seemed to like them but we know how picky I am. These were just average to me.

1 19.5 – 19.8-ounce package brownie mix
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup water
3 large eggs
3 2.1-ounce chocolate-covered peanut-caramel nougat candy bars (e.g. Baby Ruth or Snickers), coarsely chopped
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons milk

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F (325˚F for dark-coated metal pan). Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Spray the bottom only of a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray (or foil-line pan).
2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the brownie mix, oil, water and 2 of the eggs with a wooden spoon until just blended and all dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in chopped candy bars. Reserve 1 cup of the batter. Spread remaining batter into the prepared pan.
3. In a medium mixing bowl beat the cream cheese and brown sugar with an electric mixer set on medium until blended and smooth. Beat in milk and remaining egg. Spoon and spread over brownie batter in pan (need not cover completely). Dollop reserved brownie batter over cream cheese layer. Use the tip of a knife to swirl the batters for a marbled effect.
4. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted 2 inches from side of pan comes out clean or almost clean (do not overbake). Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Cut into squares. Store in refrigerator.

Makes 24 large or 36 small brownies

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cookie Jar Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Cookie Jar Oatmeal Raisin Cookies - made 6.14.10 from The Family Baker by Susan G. Purdy

Trying to make some time to bake, especially as I'm trying to use up ingredients before I move sometime this summer and because I have some dinners coming up and baking for friends that I'm meeting is as natural as breathing. This is a quick and easy oatmeal cookie recipe from Susan G. Purdy that turned out pretty well. The edges are crisp, there's a hint of cinnamon in each bite and it's chewy with oatmeal like a good oatmeal cookie should be. With my aversion to raisins, I left them out and added semisweet chocolate chips instead. Chocolate and oatmeal are a great combination. Although let's face it, chocolate and cardboard would probably be a good combo too. As would chocolate and anything. You get the picture.

I substituted 1/2 cup of butter-flavored shortening for 1/2 cup of butter. That kept the cookies from spreading too much and gave them crisp edges. The taste wasn't really altered but you could make the recipe as is with all butter and I'm sure they would taste good like that too.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups uncooked old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (not instant)
1 cup packed seedless raisins

1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 350˚F. Leave the cookie sheets ungreased or cover them with baking parchment or wax paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.
2. In a large bowl using a sturdy spoon or an electric mixer with paddle attachment if available, beat together the butter and sugars until smooth and well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Stirring slowly or with the beater on the slowest speed, work in the flour mixture completely, then the oats and raisins. The batter will be very stiff. You can make the batter several hours ahead, cover and refrigerate it at this point.
3. Drop the batter onto the cookie sheets by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart and bake 12 to 16 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown (the longer they bake, the crisper they will be). Cool the cookie sheets on a wire rack for 2 or 3 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the rack to cool; or slide the baking parchment onto the wire rack to cool the cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 50 to 55 cookies (2 ½-3-inch diameter)

Chocolate Making: From Conching to Tempering to Molding - then Eating

Things have been crazier than usual lately so I haven't had much time to keep up with this blog. But I want to finish the chocolate making process I started writing about. I left off at the milling stage. After milling (or juicing as Julie from Cotton Tree Chocolate called it), the chocolate paste is transferred to a conching machine which kneads and smooths the chocolate, improving the texture and flavor. Here's what a conching machine looks like sans the chocolate:

But of course it looks better with chocolate in it:

Chocolate is typically conched for 2-3 days at a temperature between 140 - 167 degrees, depending on the company's process. ETA: oops, forgot to note that this is the step where the other ingredients are added to make the final chocolate product: emulsifiers, sweeteners, milk products for milk chocolate, etc. It isn't just pure chocolate that gets conched.

After conching, the chocolate must be tempered in order to work with it properly. Tempering refers to bringing chocolate to a certain temperature in order to stabilize the crystals. From conching, you'd need to cool it down to 104 degrees. If you're starting with solid chocolate bought from retail, you'd need to melt it first, get it to the proper temperature then cool it down to its working temperature. Dark chocolate has a higher working temperature than milk and milk higher than white. When I was in culinary school, we would melt the chocolate and heat it to the proper temperture then stir it to cool it down and add the "seed" chocolate which was a solid piece of the same kind as the melted chocolate (i.e. semisweet chocolate seed into melted semisweet chocolate). The melted chocolate "copied" the stable crystals in the solid chocolate and aligned themselves correctly.

Chocolate has to be tempered correctly in order to keep its smooth texture and avoid bloom. If you ever see a grayish-white film on chocolate, it's not mold but likely the chocolate has bloomed, meaning it melted at some point and when it hardened again, the chocolate was out of temper so the fat rose to the top - that's the grayish stuff.

At Cotton Tree, they had a small tempering room that was kept chilly and boy did it feel good to be in there out of the heat and humidity. Annika (pictured below) works at Cotton Tree Chocolate and showed us what to do with the tempered chocolate.

This is the melted chocolate in the chocolate tempering machine. The machine keeps the chocolate in motion by stirring a paddle through it and keeping it at its working temperature. It's at the right temper for it to be molded into bars without blooming when it solidifies.

Annika gave us a "syringe" that we plunged into the pool of tempered chocolate in the chocolate tempering machine and once we filled the syringe, we emptied it into the molds. Each syringe had to contain a certain amount so that each bar is made with the same amount of chocolate. The molds are placed on a vibrating machine so as they're filled, the vibrations even out the melted chocolate so the molds fill evenly.

Once the molds are filled, they're left to cool then are packaged up. As part of our tour, we each got to fill 3 chocolate bars worth of molds which we marked with our names. Annika packaged them up once they were cool and we got to take them home with us.

The finished product - Cotton Tree Chocolate. I was hot and sweaty so clearly I wanted to go back into the tempering room :).