Oatmeal Cookie Perfection

Oatmeal cookies, perfect cookies, butterscotch chips, butterscotch extract, robert deutsch

Oatmeal cookies need butterscotch. Who knew?

Before we start, let me tell me you I know about the recipe under the Quaker oats cap.  I’ve made it.  It’s good.  It makes great cookies and you’re looking for super simple, go ahead and make that one.

And I was fine with that cookie until I had a life changing event: eating an oatmeal cranberry cookie from Petsi Pies in Cambridge, MA.   So head-exploding was the sensation of this cookie that I was driven to the Interwebz to find a recipe that would create a cookie just like it.  Of course, the problem with trying to create a copycat recipe is knowing, at a basic level, what goes into it.  So I set out to find out if anyone had already tried to do it, or do something close. Sadly, I came up empty but you have to start somewhere.   After several batches, I found a good starting place at Frances & Ian.   Their recipe was very good, so naturally I started changing it immediately.

For starters, I was going to have cranberries instead of raisins.  But after eating Petsi cookies, I realized these were no ordinary Ocean Spray bag o’cranberries. I experimented with soaking them in vanilla for 30 minutes but no, that wasn’t it.  I tried unsweetened and non-sulfated cranberries. Still no. Then, I found apple-juice infused cranberries from Whole Foods and those seemed to be good enough– juicy, sweet, but not of sugar.

I needed nuts.  Frances & Ian didn’t have nuts, and walnuts are usually the go-to nut for oatmeal cookies.  I prefer pecans, but I was trying to create a copycat, so walnuts it was.

Cinnamon- the recipe originally called for 2 teaspoons but that seemed like too much, so I cut it in half.

If you know me, then you know of course I increased the vanilla and salt.

That elusive ingredient.   After months of trying to figure out what’s in these incredible cookies I had a revelation: butterscotch.   But in what form?  Extra brown sugar and butter?  Chips?  I tried it both ways.  First, I melted and 1/8 of a cup of butterscotch chips in a tablespoon of butter and added it to the creamed butter and sugar, and that’s what the picture is  of.    They were good. But I still wasn’t satisfied.  I don’t like the artificial flavored chips—so I found a butterscotch extract from Frontier that was all natural.  I added and 1/4 tsp but I think 1/2 tsp is the right amount.  You want it enough to be “heard” but not so much that it’s overwhelming the other flavors.

Texture.  My brother loves crispy cookies but I like them soft and chewy.  This is a seemingly impossible-to-placate schism for cookie lovers and bakers all around the world, but it can be solved easily in the way that grill masters satisfy their distinct needs in adult and child audiences.  Steak cooked rare comes off first; steak cooked medium stays in longer.    That’s one solution, but what I found was that by making the cookies BIGGER, as Petsi does, you can get a crispy outside and a soft inside, which is really the best of both worlds and makes everybody happy.

When I make them for myself, I use a 1.5 inch scoop, but when I make them for anyone else, I use a 2 or 2.5 inch scoop.  This makes them bigger, and more likely to achieve the crisp and chewy outcome.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar + 1 tablespoon
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½  tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • ¼-½ tsp kosher salt (I used ½)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • ½-1 scant cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup cranberries (I used apple-juice infused cranberries)

Instructions

Make sure you have butter and eggs at room temperature: cold is bad.

Mix together dry ingredients flour, corn starch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, prepare your cranberries, chopped walnuts and oats.

Cream sugar and butter, about 3 minutes if you need to time it.

Add your egg, and mix.  Then add vanilla and butterscotch extracts.

Then pour in your flour, baking powder, cornstarch, and cinnamon and mix just until combined.

Add the oatmeal, cranberries and walnuts.  Mix until just combined.

Remove from bowl and place in cellophane wrap for 30 minutes up till overnight.

After chilling,  take out and let come to temperature– this will help scoops melt into a more familiar cookie shape.  If you like mound-shaped cookies, then you don’t have to wait.

Scoop cookies onto parchment paper or silicon mat and bake for about 12 minutes at 350.   Depending on how crispy you like them (and how old your oven is) you might want to turn them around and give them another 3-5 minutes.

Important: these cookies need to “set up,” meaning that if you try to remove them from the tray before they’ve cooled you’ll have a crumbling hot mess on your hands, and likely everywhere.   Let them cool on the tray for at least five minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack for about five minutes.

Then, experience oatmeal cookie perfection.

General Rob’s Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken, General Gao's Chicken, Chinese Takeout, Quick Chicken Dish

Sweet, savory chicken that will delight your family. So much better for you than Chinese take-out.

My kids love General Gau’s/Tso’s chicken or Sesame Chicken as a dish from Chinese restaurants.  I always knew it was not a health dish, because it was likely rolled in flour and deep fried before being covered with a sickeningly sweet sauce.   I also know that any time you can make something at home, you have better control over exactly how bad it is for bodies, for teeth, and for wallets.

But the great thing for me about either going out for Chinese food or doing take out is that it’s something you can’t make at home.   But trawling through the Internet, I found a great recipe for sticky sesame chicken here from the website Creme De la Crumb.  The author Tiffany, took the recipe from a blog called Six Sisters Stuff, that called for using prepackaged popcorn chicken.      I of course, have tweaked it further because I can’t leave well enough alone.   I think 4 tablespoons of honey is fine (her recipe called for six) and I always insist on fresh steamed broccoli with it, so at very least I can kid myself it’s a balanced meal.

I made this this year for New Year’s Eve and it was a big hit!  I made it first with breast of chicken, but have since found that it can be made successfully with chicken thighs.  This is so far it is the only way to get my kids to eat chicken thighs and requires that I trim the fat aggressively.   Though it seems fancy, the dish is relatively easy to make and always comes out like the picture (above), which is actually my dish.  All the versions of this recipe produce such equally good-looking chicken dishes is really a testament to its ease. You can do it!

Even though this is dish is made at home, it’s still no diet-helper.  It’s double dipped in flour and corn starch, and the sauce features four kinds of sugar (honey, ketchup, white and brown sugars).  Still, it’s DELICIOUS and quick, and still great the next day.  It’s really all in the timing.  I recommend before you start, you set your rice in your rice cooker (this takes about 45 minutes) and trim and cut your broccoli.   If you are going steam or boil it, prepare the pot and the water.

For the chicken, I find it’s easier to do all your cutting before your dipping and coating.

There were some omissions or points of interest in Tiffany’s recipe that I had to either correct or fill in for myself. Her recipe called for “one tablespoon of oil.”  I tried that but found that I need a lot more oil to get the chicken cooked, and since I had to cook it in batches, I ended up using quite a bit more.  At the end, I had a skillet with oil in it, but clearly that wouldn’t have been the case with one tablespoon, hence my direction to pour off the extra oil (but not the charred bits of chicken-stuff. Keep that, it’s good).

That recipe also supposes I have a pan big enough to cook ALL of the chicken at once (since she never mentions taking it out).  That’s not the case, and so I ended up cooking the chicken in batches, and then placing it on a paper towel to dry while I did the next batch (four chicken thighs took three separate batches).   After all the chicken was done, I cooked the sauce and then returned the cooked and dry-drained chicken to the pan.

Lastly, she did not specify what kind of oil to use.  Usually I use canola oil for frying but in this case I added a little peanut oil  as well.   Did I say “not a health food?”   Though high in fat, sugar and carbs, unlike a take-out chinese meal, there were no other dishes, and no fortune cookies, so at very least that was a calorie saving.  And this week, we actually ordered the dish from our favorite Chinese restaurant and my kids voted mine better.  So to recap: cheaper, faster and more popular.  But still not a health food.

 

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, or 4 chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into small pieces.
  • canola and/or peanut oil
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 tablespoons corn starch
  • roasted sesame seeds
  • Scallions, washed green ends only
SAUCE
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon powered ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cold water + 2 tablespoons corn starch
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Whisk all sauce ingredients together, set aside.
  2. Arrange in three bowls, the beaten eggs, corn starch, and flour in sequence.
  3. Cut the chicken; dip pieces in egg, then flour, and lastly in corn starch.
  4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add chicken and cook, stirring throughout to ensure even cooking, 5-10 minutes until cooked though.  You’ll have to do it in batches.
  5. If you have extra oil, drain off some of it.
  6. Combine corn starch and water until dissolved.
  7. Add sauce to pan and bring to a boil.  Add corn starch mixture.  Stir until sauce thickens.
  8. Add chicken pieces, and stir until completely covered.
  9. Place in a bowl and cover with sesame seeds  and green onions.
  10. Serve with rice and broccoli.
  11. Feel immense pride.

New York Style Black and White Cookies: Baking for Harmony

Black and white cookies, chocolate and vanilla cookies, baking for harmony, martin luther king day

Black and white cookies are delicious when light, moist and redolent with lemon flavor and scent.

My wife is a teacher and asked if there was anything I could bake to represent Martin Luther King, Jr day.  After discarding many ideas, we concluded Black and Whites would be appropriate as a sweet treat for her classes.  Though in the final execution, some of them look more Yin-Yang looking than half moon, they taste great, and it’s possible that if people are eating something yummy,  they’ll be more receptive to learning.  In any case, my part of the curriculum ends when the cookies are done.

Black and White cookies have always been something I’ve wanted to make well, but until this batch, I’ve never succeeded in making them taste as good as the ones I had growing up in New York.

And in New York, great ones are everywhere.  Whether at your favorite red-and-white string bakery or facing down a 2AM sugar urge at a nearly-abandonded bodega, they were consistently delicious: moist, light, redolent of lemon and just the right smidgin of crackle in the icing.

When I moved to Boston I noticed they didn’t make them the same here.  They were crumblier, and almost always used frosting on both sides or sometimes just the chocolate side.  They were fat, and consistent with their name “Half Moon,” but not like the big almost sugar-cookie shaped delectable we often got at Zabar’s.   In Massachusetts there seemed to be no parameters constraining their size; in New York there were mini black and whites and regular.  Nothing in between. And that’s how we liked it.

Most of that has changed; you can find “NY Style” black and whites here in Boston proper now, and they sell pretty good ones in nearly any suburban supermarket.  However, my need to make them well was still powerful, and a request from my wife was all I needed to try again.

I did use the Zabar’s recipe (printed in my favorite New York cookbook and the NY Times) as the base, but also consulted with the Joy of Baking‘s version, which was similar but had a few more interesting ideas.  I found it necessary to double the vanilla (always) and double the amount of lemon extract.   It seemed using the prescribed amount ended up with no lemon smell or taste at all, and it is supposed to figure prominently in the flavor.

There was also an issue with the chocolate color.  Just using semi-sweet chocolate (chips, for instance) and adding to the frosting resulted in a light-brown color, but the New York style are nearly black, so obviously something needed to be done.  I found that adding  cocoa powder neatly darkened the chocolate and in addition helped it retain a nice chocolate taste.   Lastly, the corn syrup was necessary to keep it all not just spreadable but smooth.  My first few were not smooth and but I realized how to fix that and then I was happy.

In terms of the cookies, because the recipe described using “just enough flour to make them workable,” I held out about a half cup of the flour mixture from the final product.  This I think resulted in a lighter, less dense cookie.   The only other thing to note was that the cookies, to be true new york style should be flat, not half-spheres, so if you’re aiming for complete fidelity, the ice cream scooper might not be what you want.    I found silicon mats and parchment paper worked equally well.

New York Style Black and White Cookies

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

The Glaze

  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup  (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 ounce bittersweet and milk chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (more for chocolate icing)
  • 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder (for chocolate icing)

 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   (I found this recipe required more than two baking trays).

2. In a stand mixer, combine sugar and butter. Mix until fluffy. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and lemon extracts, and mix until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until mixed. Add dry mixture to the wet, DO NOT OVERMIX. Using an ice cream scooper, place heaping spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake until edges begin to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.

THEN:

1. Place confectioners’ sugar in a stand mixer. Gradually stir in just enough boiling water to the sugar to make a thick, spreadable mixture.  Add corn syrup and vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Adjust all those ingredients to taste.  You don’t want a grainy, sugary texture.

2. Add 1/3 the frosting to the top half of a double-boiler where you had previously melted the chocolate and corn syrup over simmering water. Warm the mixture, stirring, until chocolate is melted and frosting is smooth. Turn off the heat, but leave chocolate frosting over hot water to keep it spreadable. I used a spreader to coat using the vanilla, then a spatula to finish “smoothing” the warm chocolate side.  Let sit (if you can) to harden.  Let dry before eating, if you can.  I found the cocoa powder necessary to get the right chocolate color and the corn syrup to make it smooth.

Yield: 2 dozen large cookies.

Potato Pancakes You’ll Eat Standing Up

Potato Latkes, Potato Pancakes, Hanukkah Food, Chanukah Food, Jewish Party Food. Latke Recipe

Potato Latkes (aka Pancakes) that are crispy on the outside, heavenly on the inside, and delicious all over

If you are like me and spend most of your year avoiding potatoes and fried foods, then you will certainly love this potato latke recipe for Chanukah.

Most Jewish kids I knew regarded Chanukah as a special time, but somewhat less special than Christmas. And for many good reasons.  One, it often didn’t happen when there was no school.    Two, there weren’t any TV special cartoons about it.  And three, nothing that amazing to put in your mouth came out of it.  Sure, there was great food but nothing that made your head explode.   (I was somewhat shocked to realize that donuts are a traditional Chanukah food since they were never ever made or served when I was growing up).   Potato pancakes were served, but after you make these you’ll realize why not often.  They take a lot of work and they cause a lot of suffering (crying from onions; bleeding from the grater; burning from the oil; heartburn from inability to stop eating them).  And, they are by no means health food.   But they do remind us of one of the central ideas of Chanukah—which is that the oil we thought would last for one night actually lasted eight nights.   A great way I’ve found to make one night of oil last is to consume it by frying potatoes and onions in them and then they stay with me for at least eight days (or five if you go to the gym a lot).

Of course, I loved the latkes I ate growing up (with apple sauce), but I could never replicate them.  They would come out too fat, too potato-y, too flavorless.  After years of experimenting, I realized that when they are made right, latkes should resemble a crispy hash brown that you are invited to eat without silverware, ketchup or a side of eggs.   At my house, they never make it to table unless I have the discipline to start a long time before company comes.  Otherwise, we all just eat them as soon as they’re ready, and then no one wants to eat brisket, soup, or anything else (until later, when the donuts are served).

There was a post I found a few years ago called “Possibly the Best Latkes We Have Ever Eaten” by a NY Nosh (whose site was inexplicably replaced by a large picture of a leaf).  That recipe, (reposted here) called for boiling half of your potatoes which is a great concept but one that I believe results in some kind of crazy knish-latke hybrid which is delicious but not a latke.   So if you’re having friends from the Midwest in who’ve never eaten a potato pancake, by all means, go ahead make that one.  If you want a more traditional latke, this is the one for you.

On a tip from a friend, I started using half sweet potatoes.  I know that sounds like a crime, but it’s not.  They have almost the same exact consistency and a little bit of a sweet flavor.  It also makes them look more interesting, with their orange-and-white stripes.  If you can’t bear the violation of tradition, then use all-white potatoes.

Recipe  

  • 2 3/4 pounds potatoes (half sweet)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1.5 tablespoons matzoh meal or flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Salt for seasoning afterwards.

Directions:

In large bowl, grate potatoes and onion together.  This will help the potatoes not turn brown.

Once you’re done grating, you’ll need a separate bowl with which to squeeze EVERY BIT OF LIQUID OUT OF THE POTATO ONION MIXTURE.   So, you will have three bowls: one that currently has your wet mixture in it.  One that you will squeeze the liquid in to; and one where you will put the dried mixture.

This is important, because the one thing my mother-in-law taught me was that after you squeeze out the onion/potato mixture (and you wait) you’ll note that a white substance, like wet flour, forms and will remain, after you pour out the liquid.  THAT IS MAGIC STARCH. Scoop that up and mix it in to your now dry potato-onion mixture.

Then, add the egg, matzoh meal, salt and pepper.

Lots of recipes call for patties but I prefer using an ice cream scooper.  You pick the size, it’s your diet.

Drop scoops into hot oil.  It should sizzle when this happens.  Try a sample scoop to make sure.  You want your oil hot but not smoking.  It will take one or two (which you, the cook, will be forced to eat) to get it right.

I like to flip over the latkes and press them flat.  But you don’t have to.   When done, the latkes will have a crispy light brown look.  Remove them with a slotted spatula or tongs and dry on a paper bag (some people call for paper towels but I find them inefficient).    Salt them when they come off.    Hand to people who are standing near by.

Follow with a shot of apple sauce, or don’t, the latkes have already made the celebration special.

Isabel’s Perfect Holiday New York Style Cheesecake: Sinful and Gluten-Free

Cheesecake, Cream Cheese Cake, Perfect Cheesecake, Springform Cheesecake

Take your time with cheesecake; it will pay off with no cracks, a perfect texture, and a need to run at least 10 extra minutes on the treadmill.

If you are still searching for that perfect holiday dessert, I have one for you.   For both religious and secular celebrations (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Chanukah), this cheesecake is a winner.  Why? It’s a dairy dessert, served cold and it’s gluten-free (if you make it with corn starch, not flour). It  can be served with fruit or fruit topping or whipped cream.  It can be drizzled with chocolate or caramel. It pleases those who like something a little savory and those who like something a little sweet.  And as the un-ironically named Cheesecake Factory has discovered, you can throw nearly ANY other sweet ingredient in the wold into it without ruining it (well, almost). It’s a desert associated with NY (for lovers and haters) and also associated with luxury— often found at expensive restaurants and steak houses.

That makes sense, because as a make-at-home dessert, it’s a bit labor-intensive.

Although it likely originated in Greece, I grew up eating cheesecake at Junior’s in Brooklyn, NY, and in other places around the NYC area in the 70s.  Those velvety, creamy and hint-of-lemony cheesecakes were so perfect—in flavor, texture and appearance, that I never ever thought I could replicate it at my home.  I just assumed that was something you had to have a factory replete with big steaming pots and viking stoves to make.   That, and lots of mysterious-as-to-how-to-fold boxes and of course, a giant floor-to-ceiling spool of red and white string.

Then, years later, BFF Jill gave me her Mom (Isabel)’s cheesecake recipe.   It was authentic 70s and NEARLY perfect.   Like a lot of recipes from that time period, it suggests that you toss everything together (including—gasp—corn starch). It suggests you mix the ingredients on HIGH.  And it doesn’t tell you anything about how finicky Springform® pans really are. (If you bend one, you might as well throw it out IMHO).  Reportedly there are national and international variations on Cheesecake, but the recipe below produces a Cheesecake of the New York variety—dense, creamy and full of sour cream.

So after making it several times, I have concluded a few things that you might not know from the recipe.

1. Springform® Pans are not waterproof.  If you’re going to make a cheesecake, you should protect it.   There are a myriad of ways for you do this, with foil, inside, outside or both.   Either way, your goal is to make sure the water you are putting the cheesecake in to cook stays outside of the pan where you want it, not inside your cake, where it can nearly ruinous as water is for chocolate. You’ll thank me.

2. Cheesecakes and their ingredients  are sensitive.   For this reason, I don’t recommend you beat the ingredients on “High” in your mixer.  After you pour the mix into your greased Springform pan, knock it a few times to get out the air bubbles.  But after that, don’t run or jump near the oven, as it can lead to cracks in your Cheesecake.  If you kids, tell them not to run or jump near the oven either.

3. Do not throw unsifted corn starch into a full complement of dairy products.  Instead, add it to the lemon juice (or vanilla) and whisk it to create a slurry.  Corn starch likes to be in a liquid, and mixes better with the other ingredients that way.

4. This recipe doesn’t have a crust.  Jill and her Mom did not favor a crust.  I like a graham cracker crust. You have to find the one that works for you, but if you can’t find one, here’s a start.

5. It’s all about NOT cracking.  As you may learn, over-mixing, overcooking, under-greasing, and a host of rookie mistakes (some detailed here) will cause the top of your cheesecake to crack.  Now that obviously doesn’t change the taste at all, and if you’re wise, you’ll cut a cracked cheesecake out of sight of your guests.  But eventually it will become a point of pride to produce seamlessly crack-free top.   Until then, it’s still worth all the fuss.

Ingredients

  • 4 8-oz containers of whipped cream cheese  (as long as you bring it to room temperature it probably doesn’t matter whether you use bricks or tubs).
  • 16 oz sour cream
  • 1 stick sweet butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Let cream cheese, sour cream, butter and eggs stand at room temperature for approximately 1 hour.  (I take them out in the morning and make the cake in the afternoon.   Don’t start the cake too late, it has a multiple hour progression— it’s not 12 minute chocolate chip cookies).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a stand mixer, blend cream cheese, butter and sour cream together with sugar and vanilla.

Beat in one egg at a time. Continue beating until mixture is very smooth.

In a separate bowl, create a slurry with the lemon juice and corn starch.  Add to the other ingredients.

Pour mixture into a greased 9 1/2 inch springform pan. (I use butter, but use PAM if you like).  Place the Springform® in larger roasting pan filled with water about hallway up its side.

Bake for 1 hour until the top is golden brown. Turn off oven; let cake cool in oven for one hour.   Then cool on the countertop for an hour (but really until cool); store in refrigerator overnight if possible (and  24 hours wouldn’t kill you, either).  I cover it with plastic wrap.

Take out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving, unless you really like cold cake.   Celebrate your New York cred.   Enjoy the luxury life. And if celebrating a holiday, have a great one.

Kate’s Butter

As an adult and a parent navigating through this complicated world, I am always very appreciative when something gets a little easier.  The nice people at Kate’s Butter of Maine have now started to wrap their salted butter and unsalted butters in different color wrappers, thereby making it much easier to distinguish which one is for use on bread and string beans (salted) and which one in baking (unsalted). The salted is in a wrapper with red letters.  Seems like a little thing but it is so helpful when you’re pivoting between things (especially upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, et al) and you don’t really want to keep the sticks in the box (which I had to do).   So thanks Kate’s!  You do make the best butter on the market today!

Kate's Unsalted and Salted Butter

Kate’s Unsalted (Green) and Salted (Red) Butter

Old-Fashioned Apple Cake (with Frosting)

Frosted old fashioned apple cake with frosting brown sugar and brown butter

Frosted Old Fashioned Apple Cake with brown sugar and butter frosting

November is to apples what black is to bananas, i.e. nature’s alarm clock telling you it’s time to use ‘em or toss ‘em.  As that siren grew louder, I spied my pile of ever-softening honey crisp apples with despair. Decisive action was necessary. Taking to my trusty recipe network, I found Old Fashioned Apple Cake on King Arthur and got to work. Unlike my signature “Best Apple Cake in the World” which takes lots of time, prep and requires three major kitchen appliances to complete, this was going to be a walk in the park.

Aside from the ingredients already in my pantry (Apples, Flour, 9 x 13 pan), I noted in the comments section of the recipe where people had successfully added carrots and raisins to the cake and cream cheese and boiled cider to the icing.   (Boiled cider is on my list of ingredients that I pine for and will likely never have, because I never successfully get to the check out at King Arthur).

Sun-maid raisins, toasted pecans and baby carrots

Raid the pantry recipe: raisins, pecans and baby carrots make this apple cake delicious.

My inventory check revealed I had all those things, and I knew I needed to use them. Shockingly,the one thing I was missing was regular orange carrots. I had only baby carrots and a collection of strange colored carrots (white, red and dark red) that are fun to use in salads but have a distinctly different taste, and ergo not right for this project. I usually have a lot of dried fruit on hand,  but at the time the only raisins I had were little boxes that I used to throw in my kids’ lunch.  (They in turn, were likely hurled at their enemies, but never eaten). I had pecans, which I toasted to a nutty perfection but then did not include BECAUSE I AM NOT GOING TO COOK NUTS TWICE so don’t ask me to do it.  They stayed in a bowl and were eaten by passers by who continued to inquire what I was making, and more importantly, when it would be ready.  I used roasted, but untoasted pecans in the cake.

King Arthur advises you to “frost the cake while the frosting is still warm,” but I regarded that as Voodoo that results in runny frosting and ruined cake,  so I opted for the “chill first” method.  The comments in the recipe noted that cooling the frosting allows you to get a better handle on how sweet it will taste, and this is true– the first night the frosting tasted only a little sweet—despite being made almost entirely of two kinds of sugar.   As the days wore on, the frosting did start to seem like it was too sweet, and perhaps we would have been better glazing the cake instead of a full, pile-on frosting.

Frosted or not, this is a nice little cake that thanks to the ginger and nutmeg has a great fall taste profile and is a worthy of use of apples that have been rejected due to softness or lack of crisp appearance.   And remember, nature wants you to make cake.  Why else would she turn bananas black or the calendar to November?

King Arthur's recipe for Old Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Old Fashioned Apple Cake, just out of the oven.

Old Fashioned Apple Cake

  • 2 1/3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp or 1 tblsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large apples (this was about 4+ cups)
  • 1 large carrot or 4 baby carrots, shredded
  • ~1/2 cup raisins, craisins, currants or dried fruit of your choice
  • 1/2 cup diced pecans

Frosting

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ pan.  I used parchment paper and PAM.  You can grease and flour if you like.

1) Mix the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in one bowl.  Mix the sugar, butter and eggs and vanilla (in that order) in a stand mixer until satiny.

2) Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX).  Then add the apples and carrots.  Just combine (don’t OVERMIX!).  Chop and add nuts.

3) Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

4) Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

5) Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely; don’t remove the cake from the pan.

To make the frosting:

1) Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar and salt and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts.

2) Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl to cool for 10 minutes.

3) After 10 minutes, stir in the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Taste and add salt.  Beat on high; if the mixture appears liquidy, add more confectioners’ sugar. If too crumbly, you can add more milk or vanilla.   Chill frosting in mixing bowl.   This will give the frosting a chance to cool as well as the cake.  This is good for everyone. 

4) Frost the cake.  Keep a light touch; the frosting is very sweet.

Chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, Chicken Soup, Best Chick

My Grandmother’s Chicken Soup— The Cure for Everything Wrong in Life

Chicken soup, Jewish Penicillin, Chicken Soup, Best Chick

The soup begins life as a liquid-less amalgam of ingredients in a big pot.

During times of trouble, stress, sickness, sadness and lack of hope, there is little more soothing or healing than one’s grandmother.  And of all the grandmotherly things, chicken soup (often called Jewish Penicillin) is probably near the top.  (Her baking might be at the top, but it depends on the grandmother).    This recipe was handed down to me by my Grandmother Sylvia (and my Aunt Doreen) and I have successfully made it for holidays and sick people for about two decades.  It is alarmingly simple to make, as most of the work is in the shopping and prep.    It makes approximately 4 quarts of soup and feeds about 10 people as a first course.   It freezes perfectly, but you have to remember to add a little hot water when you reconstitute.  For the purposes of healing the sick, it is great to keep some in the freezer, because the last thing you want to do when you’re sick is wash and chop vegetables.

For about 10 years before I asked my family for the recipe, I tried my hardest to make chicken soup from a wide array of cookbooks, including the  New York Times and Silver Palette cookbooks.  They all contained funky ingredients like butter, white wine, garlic, vinegar, ginger, and never ever tasted like the soothing and simp broth I had at my grandmother’s house.  Don’t get me wrong, I think tweaking recipes is great, and there are endless variations on chicken soup which I celebrate.  But “Grandmother’s Chicken Soup” is a specific variation that needs to remain simple—and dairy free—among other qualities.

When I finally made my soup for my Aunt, she gave me two pieces of feedback— one, that cooking the soup too long (which I did) would make the chicken “fall apart”; and that using and removing whole onions keeps the soup clear.  Keeping the soup clear is very important if you intend to add matzoh balls or egg noodles— but as I am on a constant carb-watch, I don’t do those things. As a result of slicing the onions and leaving them in, my soup is kind of ‘atmospheric.”

Additionally, I found that the whole chicken legs are part of the final delicious, savory flavor, and that using only chicken breasts does not impart the same deep level of yummy soup satisfaction.   I can’t explain why that is, but don’t fault me for that–  even the scientists can’t figure out why eating chicken soup seems to help with the common cold (see NY Times article here).

This soup has been of one the stars of my cooking portfolio for years, and something people always ask me to make. At first I was reluctant because I wasn’t sure my grandmother would want that.  After all what’s the grandmotherly soup without the grandmother?  But I am sharing it now, and I hope that by sharing you too, can help heal the sick, feed the hungry, and give hope to the hopeless.   Or at very least, make a great first course at that pot luck dinner.

Ingredients 
  • 2 Whole Chicken Legs
  • 3 Skin on split bone-in Breasts/Chicken
  • 4-7 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
  • 3-6 stalks celery, cut into ribs
  • 2-3 parsnips, peeled
  • 2-3 yellow onions (my grandmother put them in whole and removed them; i slice them thin and leave them in).
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh dill (approx 1/4 cup of both)
  • 1-2 packages of Swanson Chicken Stock (I used to use College Inn but now I’m a convert).
Chicken soup, Grandma's chicken soup, Sylvia's Chicken Soup, Jewish Penicillin

Grandma’s chicken soup becomes savory, delicious, healing and ‘atmospheric.’

Directions

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces; lay without overlapping (as much as possible) in the bottom of a 5-7 qt dutch oven.  Place cut vegetables on top. Wash and chop herbs finely, squeeze out liquid and put on top.  Turn on heat.  When I can smell the chicken sizzling I pour in the chicken stock to about 3/4 full.   I add hot water the rest of the way.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for two hours.
Somewhere around the 90 minute mark I take out the chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and replace it (without shredding) in the soup.  After that, I remove the parsnips and discard. In the final analysis, If the soup is too thick I add hot water and if it’s too bland I add salt.   When done, remove the pot from the heat source.
When the soup cools (about 90 minutes), ladle into storage containers, and refrigerate or freeze.  Keeps in the fridge for about three days and in the freezer until the next person in your house gets sick.   When re-heating don’t overdo it or you might inadvertently dissolve the carrots, etc.   Serve with fresh bread, challah or soup nuts.   And always, always, give a grandmotherly smile of approval when they say they like it.  Sylvia would have wanted it that way.

Pretty F*#%in’ Good Blondies

Blondies, Brownies, Perfect Sheet Pan Recipe, Bake Sale Ideas, Robert Deutsch Bakes

You can’t eat just one of these incredible blondies. Don’t test yourself, you’ll lose.

If you’re going to strap on an apron and call yourself a baker so you can churn out highfalutin’ stuff, go ahead.  But you better be able to sing the hits, too, because the number of times a family baker has the time to make croissants or gets requests for baked Alaska are pretty small.  Instead, there are common calls for “what can you bake for the bake sale tomorrow?” or “do we have stuff for rice krispy treats?”   I have found that having a few major winners up my sleeve is crucial— chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and being able to whip up a quick pan of brownies is the key to a happy life in front of the stove and the flour-pot.

For a long time, despite their popularity, I derided blondies as color-challenged brownies that try to make up for their lack of chocolate by adding all kinds of stuff that doesn’t belong (nuts, flavored chips, etc.). But a few blondies in my life changed all that, and now I have a recipe of my own up my sleeve.  It’s really the America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated recipe– which has been repeated ad infinitum throughout the Internwebz measure for measure, but as usual, I added a few twists: coconut, cocoa powder and more salt.

Two caveats: One, I do not toast the nuts, as the original recipe instructed me to do.  I found repeatedly that toasted nuts taste great in salads, but not in baked goods– ESPECIALLY if you don’t have the time to let them cool down.  Unless you grow your own or buy them raw, the regular chopped nuts are fine.

Two, the recipes specifies 22-25 minutes of baking time but does not indicate that you when you take them out, they’ll be a gooey mess almost inedible due to lack of form and intensely hot temperature.    You have to let them cool and set, and when they do, they are so worth it. But patience is a difficult virtue to master.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (plus 1/8th tsp)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2  tablepoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
  • ~1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate shavings (Mine, from a Callebaut bar)
  • ~1 cup pecans,  coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan parchment or foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Combine and whisk the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In your stand-mixer or another bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar together until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients (including the chocolate chips, nuts, coconut) into the egg mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.
  4. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
  5. Blondie recipes insist you should “Bake until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch,” but I found that to be a non-working standard.  My blondies had a matte finish, and I sent them back in for another 10 minutes.   Nothing it seems, can hurt these blondies (EXCEPT FOR OVERMIXING), so cook them for 22 to 25 minutes. Then, let them cool completely for about an hour, if you can. Cut into bars, making sure you give yourself the first one.

 

Blondie Recipe from Cook's Illustrated,  Chocolate Chips, Perfect Blondie Recipe, Bake Sale Idea, Sheet Pan Cakes

Blondies don’t get respect but they’re worth it.

Hard Lemonade: The Best Tequila Drink for Non-Tequila Drinkers

Tequila, Beer and Lemon Drop Ingredients for this fantastic new cocktail

A tequila-beer cocktail for people who don’t like tequila or beer, made with only three ingredients.

#MARGARITAFAIL.

If you’ve ever had the pressure-filled situation of having twenty limes, a bottle of good tequila and a group of assembled guests waiting for delicious margaritas to come out of your kitchen (or bar) then the post is for you.

Because that’s happened to me. A lot.  And no matter what I do, I can’t get it right. The recipes I have tried, whether in books or web sites, fail to produce the same kind of yummy-give-me-more Margaritas that I have experienced at even the worst Mexican-themed bar or restaurant.

One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was that through knowing people who run restaurants, I gradually understood that in many cases, you COULD NOT produce results like you had in the restaurants.  This is because you weren’t using the same ingredients: they knew secrets about ingredients that make things retain their color (Chinese restaurants use sugar on their greens); had access to certain things you don’t (who’s got a vat of MSG, for instance?), and they use things you wouldn’t think of (I was surprised to find out steakhouses generously coat their steaks with butter to finish them…is that why they’re so good?).

But I had a great experience with a tequila drink at Hungry Mother in Cambridge.   The drink is no longer on the menu, but at the time it was called a #57. It was so spectacular that I couldn’t stop thinking about it days after I had it.   Even when I knew the ingredients, I couldn’t replicate it, so I wrote to them asking for the recipe. To their great credit, they sent it to me, but even after following their instructions, it wasn’t as good as it was there.   Atmosphere to blame, perhaps?

The original recipe was in ounces and called for 3/4 oz of Becherovka, which is a mysterious drink you are unlikely to have in your liquor cabinet; it comes from the Czech Republic is green and has a flavor that is hard to describe.  Ultimately, I couldn’t make my drink taste that good with it, so I dropped it out, and you know what?   I found that by removing the Becherovka, I got it the way I wanted it.  A great tasting,  Hard Lemonade flavored and simple (three ingredients) drink loved by people who don’t like either tequila or beer! (I can provide references if you doubt me).

Robert’s #57

Over ice, pour the following.

  • 2 oz Patron Silver Tequila
  • 5 oz Stirrings Lemon Drop
  • Top with Harpoon UFO White

Mix vigorously and serve.  Now, you might want to play with the ratios to get it the way you like it, and certainly if you are going to make a pitcher, math will be involved.  But I promise you, you will be asked to make it over and over again!