Tangy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

My neighbor brought over a pint of strawberries the other day that were way on sale at our local grocer, presumably because they had less than a day left in their natural life before going mushy. Since I happened to have picked up a pint of my own from the same grocer that same morning, I decided to use them for a little treat for our two households to share, and I came up with these bars.

Typically, oatmeal bars are made with jams instead of fresh fruit. They are also often very sweet, but I cut about half the sugar that is recommended in other recipes and topped the bars with a drizzle of yogurt glaze. The result is a mildly sweet and tangy oatmeal bar that won the hearts in our homes that night.

2 cups rolled oats
1  c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/4 c. jam (I used a homemade cranberry jam with a very nice tang, but raspberry or strawberry would be fine)
sprinkling of sugar (optional)
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/8 to 1/4 c. powder sugar, to taste
1 t. vanilla

Pre-heat your oven to 375° F. Using the butter wrappers, grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a knife, your fingers, or the pastry blade on a food processor, cut or rub the butter into the oat mixture until a coarse mix is formed that will stick together, but is not over-blended. Press two-thirds of the oat mixture evenly into the bottom of your greased dish and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the sliced strawberries with about a teaspoon of sugar, just to get the juices flowing. Then add the jam and stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Spread the strawberries evenly over the half-baked crust, then sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over the top. Return the dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes more, until the filling is bubbly and the top is browned. While hot, drizzle the yogurt mixture over the top of the bars with a spoon or small piping bag – you may not use it all, so reserve the rest to eat over granola or fresh fruit.  Allow to cool completely before cutting and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

TDB Chocolate Chip Cookies

There’s nothing quite like taking a careful bite of a chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven, trying to avoid the hot, oozing chocolate morsels. It’s nothing short of heaven, in my opinion. I love to make cookies at home as they are fairly easy, don’t take too much time to bake, and my children always enjoy rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in the process. Needless to say, we bake a lot when the weather turns cold and we’ve exhausted all of our museum options!

Of course, you have your unadulterated basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, however, I add a couple of ingredients that I believe put this cookie over the top- in a good way! Drum roll please……. oats and instant espresso powder. Trust me, the espresso powder is barely noticeable in the cookie’s taste, but boy does it add a dimension of flavor that is irresistible! If you’re really feeling adventurous, add 1/2 tsp. of ground ginger, too. Cookies are a wonderful food medium to experiment with, as once you have the important ingredients in a good ratio, you can tweak subtle taste variations nicely.

Yield:  16 cookies (more if you make the cookies smaller)

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 c. brown sugar
3 Tbl. granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. whole oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix the butter and sugars together in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat 30 seconds, or until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla for 30 seconds longer. In a small mixing bowl, sift together the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt with a whisk, making sure there are no clumps. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until you have formed the dough. Mix in the chocolate chips.

On a greased cookie sheet (you can simply use the butter’s wrapping to apply the left-over butter to the sheet), scoop about 1 oz. balls of dough, placed about 3″ apart. I tend to place a finger into the center of each dough, which produces a little dent, resulting in a cookie with a better overall appearance after baking is complete. Bake about 6-8 cookies at a time for 15-20 minutes.

When the cookies have baked through, remove them from the sheet with a spatula, and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack. However, I usually can’t wait until they have completely cooled, and I certainly don’t expect you to, either!

Halloween Cut-Out Cookies

Halloween: a holiday filled with fun costumes and way too much candy. Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a child. I loved to be able to dress up each year and wander around my neighborhood, ringing door bells, and filling my bag with more candy than I could possibly consume in a month, let alone one evening. My brothers and I would empty our bags when we returned home, comparing our booty and trading each other for more of our favorite candy bars and treats. Of course, at the end of the day I would always end up with a belly ache!

Each year I am always faced with a Halloween dilemma of sorts. How do you allow your child to participate in a holiday where the main goal is to score as much candy as possible, while limiting their intake of sweets? As a general rule, I don’t buy candy or junk food for my home, except on rare occasions. And when at all possible, I try to buy sweets that are made naturally, with no artificial coloring or flavoring. However, on Halloween, I certainly don’t want to be the mother who bans her children from eating any of the candy they received while trick-or-treating. I tend to allow them a certain amount, and make them save the rest for later, hoping that as the days go by they will lose interest and eventually forget their stash. Hey, at least I am trying!

Last year, I began a tradition of baking sugar cut-out cookies for trick-or-treaters who came to our door on Halloween. Ok, I admit it’s more work than going to the store and buying bags of candy and chocolate. But it makes me feel good to know that at least something in those trick-or-treater’s bags is not filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients. Fortunately, sugar cookies are not too difficult to make, and you can get your children involved with the process, as well. I buy clear or colored cellophane bags with twist ties to distribute the cookies in on Halloween. Depending on the size of the cookies you make, you could even use the small goody bags most stores sell for Halloween candy. Topping decorations are limitless.  If you have loads of time on your hands, you could always ice the cookies, but the cookies are simply delicious on their own. I usually sprinkle a bit of orange dusting sugar, but if you prefer to forgo any coloring, simply add some grated orange zest.

This recipe works well for Christmas cookies, as well, which are always a welcome small gift you can give to neighbors and friends around the holidays. What I love about this cookie recipe, which was passed down from an old family friend, is that it is not your typical sugar cookie recipe. It puffs up quite a bit more and has a lighter consistency than the standard, dense sugar cookie. Enjoy….. and Happy Halloween!!!!

Yield: 80 small cookies

2 c. sugar
3/4 c. whole milk, preferably organic
2 tsp.baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. vegetable shortening, preferably organic
3 1/2-4 c. flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature, preferably organic

Mix all the dry ingredients into a medium size bowl; whisk together. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the shortening and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the milk, starting and ending with the flour. If the dough seems too wet after you have added 3 1/2 cups of flour, add another 1/2 cup, or until it holds together nicely. It’s ok if it seems a bit loose, as you will need to refrigerate the dough for about 2 hours, or even overnight, which will firm the dough. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each portion of dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4″ thick. Cut the dough with various shaped cookie cutters. Place the cookies onto a greased, or parchment lined baking tray. Mare sure to leave about 2″ between each cookie, as they tend to rise quite a bit. If you are going to use sprinkles, sprinkle them on top of each cookie. Place in the oven, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Place onto a cooking rack.

Orange Ricotta Cookies (with carrot added….shhhh!)

This is one of my favorite little cookies – so smooth and not overly sweet.  It’s another one that came from my aforementioned super-baker neighbor, Olive, and her treasure chest of recipes.  The original recipe was without the added produce, but I felt that it needed a little flavor, and I love to sneak healthy vegetable purées into unsuspecting desserts, so voilá, we now have something tasty to feel not quite so guilty about.

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

8 ounces ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup puréed carrot (steamed and processed until smooth in a food processor)

zested orange peel from one small orange

In a large mixer, at low speed, beat the sugar and butter together, then beat on high until light and fluffy.  At medium speed, beat in the ricotta, vanilla, and eggs until well combined.  On low, add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat until a soft dough forms.  Add the carrot and orange peel, and beat on low until just combined.

Drop small spoonfuls of dough on a lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes.  Do not over-bake.  When they start to brown on the bottom, they are done.

The delicate flavor of the orange makes these a perfect choice when serving brunch.  The sweetness of the carrot is barely discernible in the overall taste, but it enhances the color of the dough to match the flecks of orange peel and adds a nice boost of Vitamin A!  No topping is needed, but if you like, you can add a glaze on top consisting of 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and enough powdered sugar whisked in to slightly thicken it.

Tea Time Tassies

Where I used to live, I had a neighbor named Olive who is arguably one of the most skilled bakers I have ever met.  Before moving away, I was lucky enough to score some of her best cookie and cake recipes, many of which have become staples in my house.  There is a bounty of recipes available online for this tried and true classic, but everyone who has tasted this version gives it rave reviews.

Ingredients:

Mix together as for a pie crust…

1/2 pound butter

6 oz. cream cheese

2 cups flour

Nut filling – combine all the following ingredients…

1 1/4 cups ground walnuts (shredded coconut may be substituted as a variation)

3/4 cups brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 Tbsp. melted butter

Cream together the cream cheese and butter, then, using your hands, mix the flour to a pie-dough-like consistency.  (Alternatively, you can mix the butter, cream cheese and flour together in a food processor until a soft dough forms.)  Refrigerate the dough for 20-30 minutes.  Begin tearing little chunks of dough, rolling them into balls the size of a quarter.  Place the balls into ungreased mini-muffin pans, and, using your thumb, press down to line the bottom and sides.  Add about 1 teaspoon of filling to each crater of dough, making sure not to fill them more than about halfway.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just starting to brown.  Cool slightly, then remove from the pans while still warm.

Eat them fresh or freeze them for a later time.  Either way, they’re delicious!

Brownies….with (or without) Coconut

Let me preface this recipe by telling you that it is in no way healthy for you. However, it has been known to lift my spirits, particularly around “that time of the month.” A friend of mine tweaked this basic brownie recipe when she went through culinary school, and honestly, it’s one of the best darn brownies–the thin crust on top and the gooey center–I have ever eaten…..seriously. Not to mention that if you’re stuck with only a few hours before some unexpected dinner guests are to arrive, this dessert is a good option, as the ingredients do not need to be at room temperature prior to baking. If you have the ingredients stocked in your pantry, you’ll be good to go in about 30 minutes flat.

I’m not sure what possessed me to add coconut to the batter last night, but I may just never go back to the original brownie recipe- ever. The coconut takes this brownie to a whole new level! In my opinion, the coconut mellows out the brownie, which can be overwhelming with chocolate for some people. Of course, you also can omit the chopped chocolate pieces in this recipe if you’re trying to be “good”, but there’s something about that liquid chocolate that melts into your mouth when you take a bite, that I can’t live without. So I say, keep em’ in!

Since Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and you might need a decadent dessert recipe, these brownies would do nicely. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you could cut the brownies into heart shapes once they’re cooled.

1/2 c. + 2 Tbl. flour

1/2 c. + 2 Tbl. dried cocoa

1/2 c. dried, unsweetened coconut  

1/4 tsp. salt

3 lg. eggs

1 1/4 c. sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter

3/4 c. chopped chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly butter a 9″ square baking pan; set aside. Mix dry ingredients together in a small bowl with a whisk;  meanwhile, on low heat, bring the butter to a low simmer. Add eggs, sugar, and vanilla together in a large mixing bowl. Once the butter is hot and bubbling, pour it into the bowl with the egg mixture. Slowly add the dry ingredients; mix thoroughly. Stir in the chopped chocolate; pour into baking pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven. The brownies should be slightly cracked and bubbled on top; cooked, but still slightly gooey in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.