Friday, April 19, 2013

Practically Perfect Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I lived in France for sixteen months. Some would consider that country to be the food capital of the world, and I would probably agree--I ate some delicious things (especially pastries) during my time there. However, a few months after my arrival, I noticed a persistent craving that wouldn't go away, and that I could not satisfy.
Why? Because there was no peanut butter in France.
That was over twenty years ago. Things may have changed since then, but at the time, peanut butter was not to be found on the shelves of French grocery stores. I did happen upon some once, in an Asian import store, but besides being super expensive, it was a natural, no-salt, no-sugar, goo, with the taste and consistency of mud.
Another thing I craved was a good-ol' chocolate chip cookie. That was a craving I could almost satisfy with a fairly close approximation. Their brown sugar was strange, though, and chocolate chips weren't to be found, either. I made do with chunks of semi-sweet chocolate, which was delicious on its own, but, for some reason, didn't give the same result.
Perhaps that sixteen months of deprivation is the reason I devised this recipe. It satisfies both cravings at once, and is my all-time favorite cookie.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10-12 minutes

1 cup margarine
1 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips

Yield: 64 cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together the margarine, peanut butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add dry ingredients. Mix until just combined, then add the chips and mix until chips are evenly distributed. Drop dough with a medium scoop onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, being careful not to over bake.

Note: butter could be substituted for the margarine, but the dough will spread more during baking and result in a crispy rather than a soft cookie.

Using a scoop make for a nicely formed, uniform batch of cookies

Still warm from the oven, peanuty, chocolate-melty yumminess

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grandma's Welsh Rarebit, Written Down at Last

When my Grandma migrated from England to the United States, she didn't bring many material possessions, but she did carry of wealth of stories, traditions and recipes in her head. Of her recipes, Welsh Rarebit was one of my favorites.
Exotic though it sounds, Welsh Rarebit is basically a cheese sauce, with, in Grandma's verison, the slightest hint of mustard. It can be served over toasted bread or English muffins or with a myriad of other possibilities.
The problem with Grandma's recipe was that it remained in her head. She wrote many of her other recipes down but not that one. When I was growing up and wanted to make it, usually on a summer afternoon for lunch, I'd run next door to Grandma's house.
"Grandma," I'd say, "how do you make Welsh Rarebit again?" She'd explain the procedure. "Wait," I'd say, "isn't there an egg in it?"
"You can add one if you'd like," she'd tell me.
That's the kind of recipe it was, a vague sort of this, this, and this. And possibly this. And that's the way I've always made it--until now.
Since I'm determined to pass a copy of my recipes onto posterity, I've written it down, some of its vagueness still intact.

Cook Time: 10 minutes
A recipe from Grandma Harris, to be served over brioche, toasted bread, English Muffins, or with eggs and ham, Eggs Benedict style. Also good as a pasta sauce.

1 1/2-2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2-2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 to 1 teaspoon mustard to taste
2 cups shredded cheese
1 egg, optional
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pepper, to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour. (One and a half tablespoon of each for a thinner sauce, two, for thicker). Cook and stir for one minute. Add the milk and stir with a whisk until the mixture begins to bubble and no lumps remain. The process can be sped up by heating the milk first in the microwave. Add the mustard and cheese. Cook and stir until the cheese melts. If using the egg (it enriches and thickens the sauce even more), crack it into a small bowl and beat it. Add a small amount of the hot sauce in with the egg to temper it, then pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat for two more minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

It can be served like this: over a toasted English muffin.

Or you can stack a few things on top. Ham, for example.

 Followed by poached eggs. (Seen here in the tray from the egg poacher I got for Christmas. Love it!)
 And then the sauce on top. A cheesy version of Eggs Benedict. My family's favorite way.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

This one's Tried and True: Creamy Beef and Bean Enchiladas

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25
Heavily adapted from a recipe by Mama Maria's Tortillas

1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 (15-ounce) can beans, black or pinto, drained   
3 ounces light cream cheese
1 (16-ounce) jar salsa, divided use
1 1/4 cups shredded cheese
10-12 wheat flour tortillas
3/4 cup light sour cream

Yield: 10-12 enchiladas
Brown ground beef with dried onion. Drain. Add beans, 1 cup of the salsa and the cream cheese. Heat and stir on medium until the mixture is hot and the cream cheese has melted. Add 3/4 cup shredded cheese. Mix well. Remove from heat. Spoon mixture into tortillas and roll up. Place in lightly greased, 9 X 13-inch casserole dish. Stir together remaining 1 cup of salsa and the sour cream. Spread over the top of the enchiladas. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until hot and bubbly and cheese has melted. To serve, garnish with additional sour cream, salsa and/or chopped olives, if desired.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movie Quote Rescues Christmas Present

I enjoy making things for Christmas. No, let me rephrase that. I enjoy having made things for Christmas. The actual making of them can get stressful. But I've always managed to finish my projects on time with a minimal amount of hair pulling. Until this year.
My husband and I had made our nieces a puppet theater and wanted some hand puppets to go along with it. A search of the internet wasn't promising. The people puppets were too expensive for how many I wanted--at least one for each of the three girls. And then I saw a pattern. Yes! I could make some.
So it was that three days before Christmas I still had puppets to make. I cleared my schedule for the day and began.
Of the six puppets on the pattern, I'd decided to do three--a king, a queen, and a knight. I'd bought some cool-looking shiny fabric for the crowns and the knight's armor. And therein came the first problem. Said shiny fabric was the most awful stuff I'd ever sewn with. It was tissue-thin and unraveled at a glance. When I turned the first puppet right side out, the fabric had slipped out of the seam, which made gaping holes in the arms and crown.  I had to turn the puppet back out and resew--again and again and again. After multiple attempts I still hadn't caught it all.
Three hours of work, still without success. I was ready to throw His Majesty out the window, where he would lay buried in the snow until Spring.
"I'm going to give up." I told my husband. "This is not worth it."
I fully expected Jeff to support me in my attempt to abandon ship. He's usually all for relieving stress in my life. Instead he said, "Never give up. Never surrender."
Really? I'm ready to impale myself on a seam ripper and you're quoting Galaxy Quest at me?
Well, it worked. I launched another attack and finally, the king was born. He wasn't perfect--his crown had shrunk by a third--but he was complete.
Puppet two, the queen, went a little more smoothly. I'd learned a few things. Puppet three was almost simple. I finished the knight and even created a shield for him, all with time to spare for an episode of  Studio C before bed.  
Here are the finished products. With their sweet, innocent smiles, you'd never know what devils they were to make. Apparently, the theater and puppets were the hit of Christmas morning. And to think, it was Galaxy Quest that saved the day.