Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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The weather has been gorgeous lately and I have been able to fire up our backyard grill a few times already this season. The longer, warmer days make me feel like summer is right around the corner. We’re planning outdoor activities for our weekends and starting to think about miniature summer vacations to go camping, hiking, canoeing and tubing in the area.

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Last weekend, Kyle and I met up with some friends at Dominion Riverrock, which is an outdoor sports and music festival in Richmond, VA. We spent hours outside in the sun, watching demonstrations and competitions for various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, bouldering, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, trail running, and even dog jumping! It was amazing to be surrounded by people with so much love for the outdoors. It got us thinking about planning a camping trip this summer. Do you have any ideas for must-see spots to share?

Because my mood and the weather always influence my kitchen adventures, I made a campfire s’mores-inspired sweet treat to fuel our research and planning. These peanut butter s’mores cookies are soft, chewy, and packed with peanut butter flavor, with little bits of graham cracker and chocolate mixed throughout, and soft marshmallow middles (which is exactly what I’ll have, if I don’t stop eating these cookies).

I used one of my favorite basic peanut butter cookie recipes from chocolatecoveredkatie.com and modified it to dream up this unique combination. When enjoyed in moderation, they are quite delicious!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all natural applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Sucanat (or substitute brown sugar or Turbinado if you prefer)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips
  • 1 rectangular regular size graham cracker (4 sections), crumbled
  • 12 miniature marshmallows

Preparation:

  1. Combine peanut butter, applesauce, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, combine Sucanat, baking soda, flour, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and stir to combine until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips and crumbled graham crackers.
  4. Roll the dough into about 1-inch balls. Push a miniature marshmallow into the center of each cookie dough ball, and re-roll into a sphere. This should make 10-12 cookies.
  5. Chill dough balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Transfer dough balls to a lightly greased cookie sheet and space 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

How do you enjoy the great outdoors this time of year? Have any tips on cool camping or hiking spots?

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How Melissa’s Produce Got Chile Peppers Into My Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I recently received an email from Melissa’s Produce, proclaiming that Hatch Chile Season is upon us! I had no idea what a hatch chile was, but already I was excited to find out. Within a few days, I had a box full of hatch chiles and a cookbook sitting on my desk, along with some information about this short-lived seasonal pepper. Because I had so much fun learning about and experimenting with these versatile peppers, I want to share my hatch chile experience with you.*

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Hatch chiles are grown in New Mexico and harvested for just a few weeks each year, in late August and early September. They range from mild to hot, and they taste best roasted, with their thick skins peeled off. I learned all of this while flipping through the cookbook in my office, when my coworkers asked me why I had a box of peppers sitting on my desk. I had the samples shipped to work, and consequently I left the office that day with just half the peppers in my possession. The other half went on to other experiments in five of my coworkers’ homes. I can only imagine that by now they have been grilled, roasted, stuffed, and chopped into a variety of dishes.

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A few local Kroger grocery stores partnered with Melissa’s Produce to host hatch chile roastings over the last two weeks, and I visited one last weekend to see the pepper roasting in action. There were samples of three heat levels to help shoppers decide which peppers to buy: mild, hot, and extra hot. The hot ones were my favorite, but a lot of people preferred the extra hots. While there, I saw several people buy whole cases of peppers and then have them roasted on-site for free. I opted to roast mine myself, in two batches. The first batch of mild peppers that were delivered for free, I roasted under the broiler in my oven. The second batch of hot peppers that I purchased at Kroger (for $1.40 per pound!), I roasted on a charcoal grill.

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After roasting, it is best to peel the peppers (with gloves!) to remove the skin and seeds, slice them, and freeze them for use over the next few months. Another way to experience hatch chiles in the off-season is to stock up on the hatch chile powder now, and then toss it in soups, stews, chili, and enchiladas into the fall and winter months. I froze six peppers after roasting and peeling, and I cooked with the rest, using the Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook.

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I could not believe how many great recipes were in this book, all using hatch chiles, and I was very glad to see that most of the recipes were vegetarian. The book covers all types of dishes, including breakfast, snacks, soups, stews, sides, entrees, desserts, and even beverages! I am looking forward to trying that hatch chile margarita!

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So far I have used the hatch chiles in black bean tacos and in chocolate chip cookies. I used the mild peppers in the cookies and couldn’t even taste them. The cookie recipe is seriously good – great flavor and consistency, not too soft, not too crunchy. However, next time I think I will use the hot chiles to balance the sweetness of the cookie because I was a little bummed that the cookies did not taste as weird as they sounded. The cookbook really opened my eyes to how versatile these peppers are, and I am glad that I stocked up when I did because I am looking forward to continuing to test recipes from the book and create more of my own.

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* I did receive a free box of hatch chiles and a cookbook when I expressed interest in learning more about the chiles and testing the recipes for my blog. As always, my opinions are all my own, and I never recommend a product without testing it first.

Blueberry Lemon Ginger Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Guys, these are good. Really good. And too easy. It makes me nervous that these are so easy to make, because I am afraid that homemade ice cream sandwiches are about to become a staple in my freezer.

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At just a few bites each, it’s hard to stop at just one. But if you have enough willpower around treats to have just one (I don’t), then they’re the perfect size for a quick dessert (or, you know, breakfast), with enough sinfulness to satisfy your sweet tooth but not so much to make you feel guilty.

It starts with four ingredients and ends in five steps.

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Ingredients:

1. 1 cup of vanilla ice cream

2. 1 lemon

3. 1cup fresh blueberries

4. 30 ginger thin cookies (better make it 35 in case some break)

We used Soy Dream non-dairy ice cream to make it vegan. You could use real ice cream or frozen yogurt instead.

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1. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and let it sit on the counter until softened.

2. Grate the zest of one lemon. Set the lemon aside and use it for lemonade (cliché) or a salad dressing or something.

3. In a food processor, combine blueberries, lemon, and ice cream. Pulse until the berries and lemon are thoroughly combined.

4. Use a small spoon to put about 2 tablespoons of ice cream mixture on a cookie, then top with another cookie to make a sandwich. Place sandwiches in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet.

5. Freeze sandwiches for 30 minutes or more, then serve!

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Makes about 15 sandwiches, depending on how many cookies you break or eat during the process. Way too easy, right? These ingredients taste so good together that it’s tempting to just throw them all in a bowl and eat them with a spoon. Which would be totally fine, but not as dainty.

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Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and OXO Giveaway

Being in the midst of the holiday season means that we are also in the season of giving, the season of baking, and the season of eating delicious treats until the buttons on our pants pop off. That is why this giveaway couldn’t come at a better time. As the days  left in December fly off the calendar and we prepare for a new year, let’s continue the giving and keep baking while we’re at it.

I recently received some information from OXO about their charity, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Founded by two OXO employees, this organization raises money to fund research on new therapies for pediatric cancer. By baking cookies and holding bake sales, supporters around the country raise funds that are then matched by OXO through December 31st of this year. Check out their website here: OXO Good Cookies.

As a part of my recent foray into the world of baking, I developed my first cookie recipe, and I think this is the perfect occasion to share it with you! My Mocha Coconut Cookies are inspired by my sister, who once had a love affair with a Starbucks Frappuccino of the same name. I created this recipe for Meghan, who is a bit of a philanthropist herself. Throughout college she worked with her sorority to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She is a proud cheerleader for my Dad’s efforts with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Ever since she was a little girl, she has felt a responsibility to protect and nurture all creatures, great and small. Especially the small. From taking in stray kittens to rescuing stray broccoli (“baby trees”) from the grim fate of being tossed in the garbage disposal, Meghan sweats the small stuff, so to speak.

I think Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a charity Meg would really get behind, so I hope that she is honored to share the dedication of the recipe with this great organization. Boyfriend-tested and coworker-approved, this one is a keeper. These delicious cookies are light and fluffy like a dollop of whipped cream and rich and chocolatey like mocha syrup. To top it off, they include that tender flake of coconut and bitter hint of espresso that makes Meghan’s favorite (non-alcoholic) frozen drink so delightful.

Meghan’s Mocha Coconut Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tsp coconut extract for true coconut lovers
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first six ingredients, flour through salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy.
  4. To the butter and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and coconut extracts.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips and flaked coconut.
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated over for 12 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

And now for a gift to you! OXO has been generous enough to provide me with an additional FREE Be A Good Cookie spatula for one lucky veg:ology reader. Let me tell you, this spatula is the bomb dot com. It is perfect for cookies and all my sweet treats lifted off the baking sheets with ultimate ease. And I’m going to throw in a few cookie ingredients to sweeten the deal.

There are two ways to get entries in the contest to win a Good Cookie gift pack, complete with an OXO Be A Good Cookie spatula and an assortment of my favorite cookie ingredients:

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite type of cookie to receive one entry.
  2. Visit www.oxogoodcookies.com and register your own bake sale to benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer*. Leave a comment on this post with the name you registered your bake sale under to receive two additional entries.

The deadline for entries is Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 11:59 PM. I will use a random number generator to select and announce the winner on Wednesday, December 28th. Good luck and happy baking!

*OXO has pledged to match the proceeds of all bake sales held through December 31, 2011. However the fun does not stop there; feel free to register a bake sale in 2012 and continue the giving into the new year.

Holiday Break

So I haven’t really posted in about a week because it has been the craziest week ever! I finished my Christmas shopping, visited family on a daytrip to DC, accepted an offer for a new job, and left my job at A Comedy of Errors, Inc. (not the real name of my former employer). It all happened pretty quickly and ended pretty awesomely. Add to this whirlwind a recent and ongoing investigation of the mysterious appearance of fruit flies in my home, and you have a recipe for A TON of eating (and drinking ;)) out. There just wasn’t much cooking to share and no time to share it with you.

drug of choice

So picture this scene: 6:50 AM, Starbucks. I patiently await the arrival of my soon-to-be supervisor while I sip a hot cappuccino. By 7:15 AM I have signed an offer of employment before the sun has even risen over our fair city. At 7:25 AM I am resigning from my position at A Comedy of Errors, Inc. to the shock and dismay of my coworkers. By 7:35 AM I have been all but escorted off the premises. This is what happens when you go to a competitor, and I expected it, but here I am all dressed up with no place to go. So I went to take my pre-employment drug test.

But then what?

I am off work until January 3rd. I have been working 45-60 hours a week for the last six months. So what do you do with a two-week holiday break before it’s back to work in January? Well I channeled my college self and figured out exactly what to do with myself.

I made eggnog cookies.

I had a celebratory beer.

I walked a mile for this Snow Goose

Or two.

With a sketchy character and a menu that featured a star-studded cast of brews.

I did a lot of victory dances and whimsical swinging around various objects in my urban environment.

I watched videos online.

I had some delicious beers with some more sketchy characters, who also had big career accomplishments to celebrate.

 

I know this is the wrong glass for this beer but I had to be festive.

I made nut bark for some dear friends!

Seems like I'm having a moment with the blue striped tea towel. Let's just go with it.

Nut Bark

Melt 12 oz semisweet chocolate chips over a simmering pot of water. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl that is placed above, not in, the hot water.

 

Makeshift Double Boiler

Spread the melted chocolate out on a 9×13 baking dish lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle two cups of mixed nuts over the chocolate and gently press them into the chocolate with a large spatula.

Pop the whole sheet into the freezer or refrigerator for about 30 minutes. When completely cooled and set, break the bark into various sized pieces.

I have been on break for two days and I think I’m starting to get the hang of the relaxation thing, although I have been quite productive. Eleven more days to go. How will I spend all this free time?

Pumpkins, Persimmons, and Pomegranates. . . Oh My!

In case you hadn’t noticed, I get a little obsessed over pumpkins this time of year. During one of my last pumpkin adventures, I decided I needed to find some more seasonal fruits and vegetables to obsess about. Lucky for me, the very next day the folks at Ellwood Thompson posted on their website that they had just gotten in some local persimmons. I was intrigued so I stopped by the bin on my next trip there.

Of course I brought a few home. After some preliminary research on the internet, I determined that these delicate little fruits were far from ripe. They hibernated in a paper bag on the windowsill while they got nice and ripe over the next few days.

This gave me plenty of time to find out what I had gotten myself into.

I discovered that persimmons come in astringent and non-astringent varieties. I also determined that I had bought a mixture of the two (oops!). The fuyu, non-astringent persimmon, is short and squat like a tomato. They are considered non-astringent because they ripen faster and can be eaten sooner in the ripening process. Fuyus can be consumed while the fruit is still relatively firm but are still edible when it becomes soft. The hachiya, astringent persimmon, is longer and heart shaped. You have to be careful with these persimmons because they are inedible before ripening. They have a high content of tannins and can taste very bitter if eaten too early. I found a few accounts of people who ate astringent persimmons before they were ripe and they consequently experienced an allergic reaction on their tongues and cheeks. I was starting to get nervous. I let those persimmons hang out for awhile until I was absolutely sure they were ripe.

Persimmons can be eaten raw, and one popular way to enjoy them is with their tops cut off so that the flesh may be scooped out with a spoon. They are also added to a variety of dishes, including pies, cakes, puddings, and even curries. These fruits, whose botanical name diospyros means “food of the gods,” are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene. I was surprised to find out that persimmons are a source of lycopene. They are not packed with it, but they contain a significant enough amount of lycopene that this fact was mentioned in several of the articles I read. There is a lot of information about lycopene in this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

I am familiar with lycopene as a chemical present in many cancer-preventing superfoods, like tomatoes and pink grapefruit. However one thing that really stood out to me was the role of lycopene in the treatment of exercise-induced asthma. Researchers have found that a lycopene-supplemented diet may help the reduce the instances of exercise-induced asthma in people who are already at risk for this condition. As a lifelong sufferer of exercise-induced asthma, I was overjoyed to hear that tomatoes could help me conquer that next resistance level in the 25th minute of my RPM cycling class at the gym, right when my lungs are usually begging me  to take it easy. I’ll take all the help I can get!

When the persimmons were finally done ripening, I tried one raw and tossed two into a batch of cookies. The raw persimmon was sweet and fleshy. It tasted like a cross between a mango and an apple, and the consistency was that of a large grape or an overripe mango. This is what the fuyu looked like with its top off (uh oh).

With the two hachiyas, I made persimmon cookies. I adapted the recipe from AllRecipes, substituting 1/2 cup of dried cranberries for the raisins, and reducing the amount of chopped walnuts from 1 cup to 1/2 cup. You may view the original recipe here, and I have copied my version below for your convenience.

Persimmon Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe persimmons, pureed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Dissolve baking soda in persimmon pulp and set aside.
  3. Sift flour, spices and salt together, set aside.
  4. Cream together butter or margarine and sugar until fluffy, beat in egg and persimmon. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in nuts and cranberries.
  5. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

Don’t forget one final step: watch those cooling racks like a hawk, or risk having all your warm cookies pilfered by your friends and family.
I really enjoyed learning about and working with the persimmons and I am looking forward to using them more in the future. At least this little orange fruit kept my mind off of pumpkins for a little while. Next I will tackle pomegranates. I have been experimenting a lot in preparation for an upcoming dinner party, so expect a week’s worth of pomegranate recipes very soon.
FYI: This post has been brought to you by the letter P.