Reese’s Pieces Cookies on Steroids

Do people in your life refer to items that are excessively good or over-the-top as “on steroids”?  You know, like when you make homemade ice cream with booze in it, it would be “ice cream on steroids” or seeing Dave Matthews at Red Rocks would be a “concert on steroids”.  Given this information, you’d think that we call these cookies “cookies on steroids” because of excessive deliciousness or the myriad of add-ins, but that’s actually not the case.

See, my poor husband came down with pneumonia last month and, as a result, was prescribed steroids to help him recover.  They worked really well, but a side effect of prednisone is that it makes you want to eat everything in sight.  He requested these cookies 36 hours after his diagnosis was confirmed and I’m pretty sure I saw him stack 8 of them on a plate as his “dessert”.

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These are sort of a riff on a double chocolate cookie and a peanut butter cookie.  My husband and I don’t typically keep candy in the house (a combination of not loving it and admitting to a lack of willpower), but Reese’s Pieces tend to be our downfall. The only thing challenging about chocolate cookies is that it’s hard to tell when they’re done.  I’d recommend baking only a half dozen on your first cookie sheet to pinpoint your level of doneness – you want chewy for these, not crispy.

Reese’s Chocolate Cookies

yield: 24-36 cookies depending on how large you make them.

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup Reese’s peanut butter chips (they look like tan chocolate chips and can be found in the same spot)

1 cup Reese’s pieces candy

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Mix in the egg and vanilla until combined.  Stir the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt together and add slowly to the butter and sugar until it forms a nice dough.

2. Stir the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, and salt together and add slowly to the butter and sugar until it forms a nice dough.

3. Fold in the peanut butter chips and most of candy until well-distributed (save a tablespoon or two of candy).  Note that if you’re using a stand mixer and add the candies into the mixer, the paddle will crush some of the candy.  This doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you, then stir in the candy by hand.

4. Scoop tablespoon sized mounds onto a cookie sheet and, if you’d like, stud the tops with the extra candies (this isn’t necessary, but it makes your cookies look prettier).  Bake for 10-12 minutes and allow to set for a few minutes before you remove them from the pan.

Note:

1. I do not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs.

2. I made homemade ice cream with booze this weekend.  It was life-changing.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

So, you’re looking for the easiest dessert you could possibly make that also tastes incredible?  Here it is.  It’s not fancy, it’s not difficult, and it’s not really cheesecake, but it’s the ultimate potluck dessert.  I send it to work with Ross often and none of it ever comes home.

Sopapilla Cheesecake

2 cans crescent rolls

2 8oz. packages cream cheese (low fat is fine, fat free is not), softened

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided

1/2 stick of butter

1T cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll out one can of crescent rolls (don’t break apart) and press into the bottom of a glass 9×13 baking dish.  You may need to manipulate it a bit to cover the whole bottom.

2. Beat a cup of the sugar with the cream cheese until fluffy and combined.  Using a spatula, spread the mixture all over the layer of crescent rolls leaving about a half inch border around.

3. Unroll the second can of crescent rolls and arrange to cover the top,  I press the edges together.  Melt the butter and pour over the top, stir the cinnamon and additional 1/4 cup of sugar together and sprinkle over the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

 

Toasted Coconut Cookies

When it comes to desserts, I have very little discretion.  The only things I truly dislike are flan and creme brulee (a texture issue), I’m not really a cake or cheesecake lover, and chocolate and fruit aren’t so much my jam, but, of course, if there’s a chocolate cake with fruit available I’m not one to exercise any restraint.  I will, however, skip the meal and go straight to dessert whenever there’s coconut involved.  Toasted coconut is one of life’s greatest pleasures – and, in my opinion, makes for a great garnish to any dessert.  A sprinkling of toasted coconut is great on ice cream, cupcakes, in a pie, and especially baked into a cookie.  These cookies go beyond a garnishing of coconut and really put the coconut on display.  The result is a crispy, chewy, buttery coconut cookie.

The original recipe calls for coconut chips, which I had trouble locating.  Usually I use sweetened coconut for toasting purposes because it’s cheap and easy to locate, but this time I bought a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes at Target and it worked really well.  The flakes were really fine and incorporated well into the dough.  You could use sweetened coconut if it’s all you have at the grocery store, but if you do, I would consider really backing off on the sugar (starting with half and tasting) or rinsing the sweetened coconut in a strainer and letting it dry out (apparently this removes most of the sweetness).  Unsweetened coconut is hard to find, but I generally can find it at Target or Trader Joe’s and stock up when I see it.

I also browned the butter, which is easy, but takes some time.  You could just use softened butter and skip step 1, but that sort of goes against my life’s mantra of “anything worth doing is worth overdoing”.  Browned butter is just so darn decadent and delicious that it’s worth the effort.  If you use regular butter, omit the 2T of water.

Toasted Coconut Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 Tbsp water

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp coarse salt

2 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

1. Cook the butter in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring frequently until it begins to foam and brown.  It will burn in no time at all, so once the foaming begins, keep a close eye on it and remove from the heat when it starts to smell nutty and turn brown.  Transfer to a small container (I used a glass pyrex measuring cup) and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours to solidify.

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Beat the butter, sugars, and 2T of water together until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, beat to combine.  Add the baking soda, flour and salt and mix until well combined.  Fold in the coconut.

3. Scoop the dough into 1T sized balls and bake for about 11 minutes until golden brown.  Allow the cookies to cool and set on the cookie sheet before transferring to a plate.  Store in an airtight container.

Easy Vanilla Ice Cream

Memorial Day, like Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that I never really “got” until I was an adult.  As a kid, I was fine with the day off from school, a few flags in the neighborhood, and a tasty barbecue, but really, there were no fireworks, no gifts, no parades to speak of, so it wasn’t anything special.  As an adult, it has become one of my favorite holidays, partially because it truly signifies the start of summer.  As a stay-at-home-Mom, with no end of the school year to trigger the “summer” vibe, I like that Memorial Day weekend marks the start.  We usually swim for the first time, eat watermelon, spend time outside in the heat (though this year it rained all three days), and, of course, it’s the first day of the year that I make homemade ice cream.

For me, ice cream is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Having spent two of the last three summers extremely pregnant, I acquired a whole new love for frozen desserts, and I felt like I was making homemade ice cream all the time.  I’ve made several vanilla ice cream recipes, and this one is undoubtedly the easiest, but it’s weirdly also the best.  During my second pregnancy in a bizarre nesting/hot/hungry rage I made several varieties in one day and hosted a blind tasting to determine the best – and Philadelphia style (no eggs) won out unanimously.

One way to make this easier is to purchase vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla beans.  I started using the paste many years ago and I haven’t purchased a single vanilla bean since.  The paste gives the correct look, taste, and consistency without the trouble (and expense!) of real vanilla beans.  The bottle may seem expensive, but it will last for a long time.  Pair this with some homemade chocolate sauce, a handful of strawberries, and some toasted pecans and it’s basically heaven.  This recipe makes the perfect amount for my 1.5 quart Cuisinart ice cream maker and serves about 6.   I purchased a second bowl for my ice cream maker a few years ago so I make 2 batches for a crowd.  As with all homemade ice cream, getting the ice cream to harden is difficult, so making it the night before so it can benefit from a night in the freezer gives it a great consistency if you aren’t into soft-serve.

Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk (I used 2%)

3/4 cup sugar

1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1. Pour the sugar, 1 cup of the cream, the salt, and vanilla bean paste into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved (don’t bring it to a boil, it doesn’t need to be that hot).

2. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the milk, the second cup of cream, and the vanilla extract until combined.  Place the bowl in the freezer or refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to chill.

3. Make the ice cream according to directions on your ice cream machine.  Mine usually takes 20 minutes or so and makes a soft-serve consistency.  Transfer to a container and move it to the freezer to harden before serving.

Crazy good cheesecake

Full disclosure: as much as butter, sugar, and baking are my “jam”, cheesecake is not my jam.  It’s not like cheesecake is gross to me (like flan), but as far as desserts go, it’s really low on my list.  To me, it’s too rich and often a lot more work to make than it’s worth.  That said, it’s one of my husband’s absolute favorite desserts so, because I love him, I make him a cheesecake every year for Valentine’s Day.  This year was our TENTH Valentine’s Day together, and though there have been some cheesecake winners in the past, this one was my favorite – to the point that I might consider making 2 per year.

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Cheesecake is an inherently difficult dessert to make, and this is no exception.  It’s a lot of work because there are four layers of goodness involved, but none of the steps are too challenging.  The chocolate-covered espresso beans aren’t crucial to the cheesecake and I’ve heard they can be hard to find, so if you can’t it’s no problem.  I found them in the bulk foods section of a local store, and I’ve gotten them at Trader Joe’s before.   Be sure to allow plenty of cooking and cooling time – you might even want to start a day early.  The cake is good for a solid week covered in the refrigerator (maybe more, ours was gone by then).

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Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

Crust:

2/3 package of oreo cookies

6T butter

1/4tsp salt

Ganache:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

20 oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped or buy it in chocolate-chip form – Guittard makes a great bittersweet chip)

1/4 cup kahlua or similar coffee liqueur

Cheesecake:

24 oz cream cheese (3 packages)

1 cup sugar

1.5 T flour

2 T rum

2 T instant espresso powder

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp molasses

3 eggs

Topping:

1.5 cups sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate covered espresso beans for garnish

1. Set the cream cheese out to soften.  To make the crust: twist the oreos in half and discard the cream.  Place the cookies in a food processor to make a very fine crumb.  Melt the butter and add stir the butter, oreo dust, and salt together in a medium bowl.  Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan completely covering the bottom and coming up about halfway up the sides.  Put the crusted pan in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pour in the ganache.

2. To make the ganache: in a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream to a simmer.  Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and, once the cream is simmering, pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts.  Add the liqueur and stir until incorporated.  Pour about half the mixture into the springform pan, just make sure the chocolate doesn’t come above the crust.  Reserve the rest of the ganache for topping.  Return to the refrigerator.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 with the rack in the middle.  To make the filling: beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth.  Add the flour, rum, espresso powder, molasses, and eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated.  Pour the mixture into the pan and place on a rimmed baking sheet before placing in the oven.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour – until the top is puffy and starting to pull away from the edge of the pan.  Remove from the oven, but leave it on while you prepare the topping.

4. To make the topping: beat the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  Carefully spread over the top of the cheesecake, using a spatula to smooth.  Return to the 350 degree oven and bake for 10-15 more minutes.  Allow the cheesecake to cook for at least half and hour, then pipe the remaining ganache over the top and garnish with espresso beans.  Be sure to pipe along the edge to give it a nice side view.  Then move to the refrigerator (or freezer, if you watch carefully) to chill for an additional several hours until completely cool and set.  Carefully remove the springform and cut with a sharp knife.

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Peppernuts

When I was 14, my mom, grandma, and I took a 3-day road trip to Iowa to attend Schmeckfest – a festival celebrating the cuisine of Germans-from-Russia, our ancestors.  I’m not sure how many teenagers would be willing to drive 16 hours each way with her mom and grandma to essentially eat a lot of food, but my love of food goes back to infancy, so naturally, I was thrilled.  Among the classic dishes served (strudel, kuchen, lots of sauerkraut), one distinct memory I have from the trip was eating peppernut cookies.

A cookie with pepper in it seems weird, I know (and weirder yet, these contain no nuts!), and the fact that you roll them out into little worms?  Weird, too.  But the thing is, you end up with these tiny, spicy, crunchy little cookies that you could seriously eat by the handful.  There are tons of peppernut recipes out there, but this is my favorite because there’s a lot of great spice happening.

I’ll also note that these are great cookies to make with kids because the worm-rolling is totally fun and uniformity isn’t really important.  My toddler also loves that they are the perfect size of cookie for a doll or stuffed animal.  Excellent at a tea party.

Peppernut Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 cups brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. anise oil

3 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp mace

1. Preheat oven to 350.  Stir the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and spices).  Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs and anise and beat for another minute.

2. Slowly add the dry ingredients.  If the dough gets too dry, add in a little water (you shouldn’t need more than 1/4 cup).

3. When the dough is workable, roll it into a long rope (a ‘nake, as my daughter calls it).  Cut the snake into small, 1/2-inch pieces, transfer to a baking sheet, and bake for about 8 minutes, until they just begin to get crispy.  Allow them to cool on the pan.  I let the cookies dry out overnight before transferring to a jar or airtight container.

Roasted Strawberry Coffee Cake

If Robin could eat one food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner it would be strawberries.  She requests them every time she is hungry and prefers them cut in half with the “leafs” cut off.  She can easily eat a half pound in one sitting, so we do try to limit her intake, but I pretty much buy a box or two every time we go to the grocery store.  Lately our strawberries have been fantastic at the store, and on sale!  To that end, I can make this coffee cake with things I have on hand.  It comes together really quickly and has the perfect coffee cake texture and isn’t too sweet.  You could really use any amount of strawberries you have – I used a 1lb carton with a few strawberries eaten out, but anywhere from half to a whole pound would work.

I baked mine in a cast iron skillet and I’d recommend you do the same, just for rustic appeal and because you don’t have to worry about greasing it.

Roasted Strawberry Coffee Cake

1/2 to 1 lb fresh strawberries

1T olive oil

2T maple syrup

1/4tsp salt

2.5 cups flour

1T baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/2tsp salt

2 eggs

1.5 cups buttermilk

4T melted butter (plus an extra T for the skillet)

1/2 tsp almond extract

1. De-leaf and quarter the strawberries. Whisk the syrup, olive oil, and salt together in a small bowl and toss the strawberries in the mixture until they are coated.  Spread the strawberries out on a baking sheet with parchment paper (unless you want to scrub strawberry goo off of your favorite cookie sheet) and bake for 40 minutes at 350.  Stick your cast iron skillet underneath the pan to heat up while the strawberries roast.

2. Stir the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a mixing bowl.  Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and almond extract together in a small bowl.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until smooth.

3. When the strawberries are done, turn the oven up to 400.  Melt the remaining T of butter in the bottom of the skillet and swirl it up the sides.  Then pour the batter in the skillet.  Spread the strawberries on top and return the skillet to the oven for 25 minutes or so.  Allow the cake to cool in the skillet.

Source: adapted from Joy the Baker