Got oats?

 cookies all done with text

If I were in Trader Joe’s during  an earthquake, and all of the power went out, I could successfully navigate my way to the tub of teeny, crispy oatmeal cookies stocked over the frozen deserts.  In fact, that is exactly what I would do, in turn plopping down to eat the whole tub, because in the dark, who’s gonna know?

Those cookies are a weakness of mine.  I crave them.  Trouble is, they’re too damn small for dipping in milk, or even to give you that true cookie satisfaction that comes with holding a full size cookie in your hand and taking a soulful, eyes-closed, hand under chin crumb scooping bite.

Well, this last week marked the first week in my online master’s coursework towards earning a Ms.Ed degree in administration and I was craving cookies like a blue furry Sesame Street regular, springing at every chance to make a batch.  I even found a way to incorporate a delicious batch of peanut butter bacon cookies into a training I gave at my elementary school (recipe coming soon).  Not to mention, when Pi day rolled around on Friday, I baked cookies for my students to use to practice finding Pi.  They’re round, so it’s justified.  But, with all of those cookies going around, I just couldn’t scratch my itch for the right cookie.  The Trader Joe’s cookie.  The full sized, crispy oatmeal cookie.  That, and I really didn’t know how to achieve that perfectly crisp and flat oatmeal cookie.  I have made oatmeal cookies in the past, and they were good and all, but they were all soft and chewy (not a bad thing, by any means, just not the desired effect).  Luckily, I remembered an oatmeal cookie recipe in a volume of America’s Test Kitchen from 2009 where the chef pondered the same query.  And I just so happened to have a giant jar of rolled oats.

oat jar

It turns out that in order to achieve that crispy, crunchy cookie, more white sugar is used than brown due to the lack of moisture that lends itself to a crispier cookie.  In addition, the use of more leavener than normal promotes a sort of blowout effect that puffs up the cookies to a certain extent, and then the gas bubbles burst resulting in a flat cookie.  Typically, this is viewed as a mistake, but in my case, it got the job done.

cookie bottom

The extra leaveners give the cookie a crisp (not hard) texture that is airy, buttery, and nutty!

Now that the flat and crispy was settled, I wanted to address another flavor issue.  How to make the cookie toasty?  Simple.  I toasted the oats in a skillet before mixing them in to the batter.

oatmeal cookie colage

Steps to toasty oatmeal cookie perfection. See how pale the cookie dough is? You would never expect such a lovely golden brown color in the end. And those toasted oats!

It gives the cookie a slight nutty/popcorny flavor that I love!  The more toasty you want it, the more you toast the oats.

I also had about a cup of dried black currants in my fridge, so I threw those in too.

cookie stack 2


Now I can turn my empty, sad cookie jar into a full and inviting cookie jar!!

empty jarfull jar

Give them a try.  I’m sure you’ll be pleased.  Oh!  And try heating them up in the microwave and having them with milk.

full jar 2

Crispy Toasted Oatmeal and Black Currant Cookies
Recipe type: dessert

A crunchy version of the beloved oatmeal cookie!
  • 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups rolled oats, toasted
  • 1 cup dried black currants
  1. After positioning a rack in the center of the oven, heat to 350°. Prepare three large baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. Begin by toasting the oats in a medium skillet over medium to medium-high heat, stirring and tossing occasionally, for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the oats are golden in color and begin to give off a nutty, toasted smell. Allow the oats to cool while you prepare the dough.
  3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg and vanilla. Beat on medium-low until completely incorporated. Scrape the bowl again and turn the mixer to low speed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. With the mixture still running on low, ad the toasted oats and currants and mix until incorporated. Give the dough a final stir.
  4. Spoon the dough (about 1½ tablespoons) out onto the prepared baking sheets and then roll each mound of dough into a ball between the palm of your hands. Using your fingers, press the cookies down gently until they’re about ¾ of an inch thick.
  5. Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies are deep golden brown, the edges are crisp, and then centers give just a bit when pressed, 13 to 16 minutes. It may be best to rotate the baking sheet half way in case there are any oven hotspots. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let cool completely (on the baking sheet).


Chocolate Dipped Bavarian Pretzels with Salted Caramel Drizzle

pretzel pics 3_ resized

My parents just got home from their ski trip to Switzerland and side trip to Barcelona to see my brother.  While they were away, Branden and I took care of the two cats, one bunny, one guinea pig, fish, and a million potted plants (as well as the above ground garden I am working on with my mom-photos of this and my patio garden coming soon).  It’s always a pleasure to house sit for my folks because they have a pretty big kitchen with all of the appliances that I simply can’t fit into my teensy apartment kitchen.  In fact, I cooked a pretty delicious pork shoulder roast with roasted vegetables for Valentine’s dinner.  Having the space to spread out was fantastic!

Big kitchen, house sitting, missing my folks, yadda yadda yadda, let’s get back to the topic at hand…..chocolate…and pretzels….and caramel…salted caramel…

As a bit of a housewarming for my parents return, I flipped on the TV, made a fresh pot of iced tea, turned on the lights, ordered pizza and left it warming in the oven, and dipped pretzels.  Bavarian pretzels.  Salted Bavarian pretzels, mind you.  I have had this hankering for salty sweetness lately.  Perhaps it’s something about my outlook on things lately.  I don’t know.  Whatever it is, I don’t mind it.  I think these pretzels are a great symbol for people, actually.  We are salty and sweet.  Many of us have a soft side that is elegantly tarnished with a bit of curt saltiness.  It gives us edge.  Who wants to change that?  No one should.

pretzel ing_012

Dipping things in chocolate should be prescribed for anxiety.  Well, in fact tempering the chocolate and then dipping into the chocolate should be the whole prescription.  Doctors orders!  Break it up, drop it in, stir it ’round, lick the spoon, stir some more, dip it in, so on and so forth.  So soothing.  I especially love watching the ribbons of excess chocolate flow from the pretzels (or strawberries, bananas, apples, anchovies, whatever).

meltin chocolate

As I was lulling myself into chocolate nirvana, I entertained thoughts and ideas about chocolate dipped pretzels being great treats for special occasions because they seem to resemble hugs.  Chocolate covered hugs with a bit of caramel and salt.  What a perfect way to welcome Mom and Dad home with open arms!

pretzel layout_010

pretzel bite_006

It’s important to try a few to make sure they’re not poison.

pretzel view_011

If you are enticed, first be sure to head over to The Brown Eyed Baker for her salted caramel sauce recipe.  I used it here and it’s amazing!  She also has a salted caramel apple pie that looks ridiculous (this is a good thing).  :)

chocolate dipped pretzel recipe

Cheers friends!

Chipotle Tomato Corn Muffins

cooked corn muffin with text

There are few foods more marvelous than corn.  Same goes for muffins.  This is why corn muffins are a much beloved dinner accompaniment.  It’s a weakness of mine.  When corn muffins are on the table, pardon my reach, I’m all over them.  Especially if they are a savory variety with bits of corn inside!

Enter, chipotle tomato corn muffins.

I came up with the idea for these muffins while creating a paste to use as a marinade for chicken.  The flavor of the tomato and chili spices, as well as a bit of tamari, was so subtly spicy and tangy that I thought it would pair well with something baked and somewhat sweet.  Pancakes?  Meh.  Waffles?  Getting warmer.  Cornbread?  Oooo!  Corn MUFFINS?!  Yes!!

muffin collage

Aren’t they cute?

I really like the recipe from Doug Matthews for Basic Corn Muffins because it’s easy to play around with.  I even added chocolate chips once and it was divine!  However, for this recipe, I cut down the amount of milk to make up for the moisture in the chipotle tomato mixture.

chipotle mix collage

This sauce is amazing! Can you say umami? Spicy umami?

You can even mix the chipotle tomato sauce just so it marbles the batter for a swirly muffin.  :)

mix it in_01 final

mix it in corn final

The recipe calls for one cup of corn. This is probably the most you should use for this amount of batter, but using less is always up to you.

Tomato Chipotle Corn Muffins

(adapted from Basic Corn Muffins by Doug Matthews

corn muffin recipe card

Apple pie. How insensitive…


apple pie serving 1

If there is one dessert to humble even the most risky and motivated kitchen amateur, apple pie may just be it.

“It’s Valentine’s Day!” she said.

“Why don’t I fix him an apple pie?”  she said.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult…” she said.

heh…so she said…

Well, she, being me, has been weighed, measured, and found wanting…specifically speaking…a crispier bottom crust.

sticky crust

Everything else, I must say, was quite delicious.

Before starting off I had done some light reading on the common mistakes when making crust as well as scouring through several crust recipes to see the basics.  Don’t overwork the dough, chill the dough in thick discs, be sure to have enough fat in the dough, chill the butter before cutting it into the flour mix, use ice water, etc.  Everything we’ve always been told by our mothers and grandmothers.

When I was finally ready to start, I felt confident.  I prepped, mixed, and chilled the dough in perfect, thick discs.  After the discs had chilled ( I allowed them to chill overnight), I pulled them out, ready to roll them into wonderfully round 13″ circles.  The only snag in my plan was how firm the first disc felt after I pulled it out of the fridge.  I could swear that it was simply too firm to roll out.  I allowed it to sit out for about 5 minutes before rolling.  Mistake number one.  As soon as I started rolling out the dough, it warmed and became very sticky.   It was ready to roll right out of the fridge after all!  I sprinkled a bit more flour and everything seemed OK from then on while rolling.  Only, I just couldn’t get my dough to form a nice, round circle.  It was more like an oblong rectangle.  I molded the edges into a more circular shape, rolled out the cracks, and moved on.  It fit into my pie pan, but certainly had some thin spots.  I questioned them, sneered at them, and then put them out of my mind.  There was no going back now without running the risk of overworking the dough.

My dimply, thin crust.
pie crust

My dimply, thin crust.

I chilled my bottom crust and brought out the second disc for rolling out.  I didn’t let this disk rest and it rolled out much more smoothly straight out of the fridge.  I stuck it back in the fridge to chill and mixed my apples.

I used my food processor to slice the apples into thin slices and doused them in lemon juice as per “Grandma standards” (rules and standards of cooking we may as well have picked up from Grandma along the way will be known as Grandma standards henceforth–in reality they may simply just be tips I have picked up along the way that I simply can’t link back to because I am not certain who REALLY deserves the credit or where I originally learned the information.  You understand.)  I used the juice from two lemons and then drained them into a colander.  In went the spices, sugar, salt, and such and I mixed, tasted, and mixed some more.

apple hands

It was now time to add the filling into the bottom crust.  I did this with a slotted spoon to drain any extra juices left behind from the apples of lemons.  On went the strips I cut for the lattice and back in the freezer for the last chill-out.

lattice crust b4 two lattice crust b4

After the final chill, I washed the crust with an egg and sugar mix, and stuck the pie into the 350 degree oven, setting the timer for 30 minutes.

a look in the oven

I would constantly open the oven door if the oven light weren’t there.

After 30 minutes, I covered the just browning crust with aluminum foil and continued cooking for 25 more minutes.

When time was up, I set out the pie on a wire rack to cool.  Boy, was it gorgeous!  I was proud of my creation and found reasons to take side trips into the kitchen later throughout the night just to look on my golden-brown success.

apple pie 4

apple pie 2

Four hours later, it was time to eat.  I pulled out a sharp knife and pie server and took the first slice.  The knife slid through the pie cleanly, with only a few flakes of the buttery lattice falling.  I slipped the server under the cut piece and lifted…..

eaten pie 1

It seemed as if the bottom crust had taken leave and left us with a wet, sticky filling and soft gooey dough.  That wonderful lattice crust was deceiving.  Nevertheless, I served the pie with homemade whipped cream (two cups heavy whipping cream, 1 cup sugar–added after the cream has been whipped into a frenzy and has stiff peaks, 1 tablespoon vanilla).

 pie serving 2

Now, let me be clear here.  It wasn’t a disaster.  Frankly, it was delicious.   The lack of a crispy bottom crust didn’t ruin the sweet and comforting flavor.  It simply didn’t add that extra bite that I love so much in “professional” pies.

Now, what went wrong?  What can we learn from this Tayler?

After doing a little research (this usually takes place in bed, propped up against a pillow surrounded by my go-to reference, and my tablet) I learned some techniques that should send me down the path to apple pie success.

1.  Adding corn starch to the filling adds thickness, making the apple mixture less “wet” and more “gooey.”

2.  Perhaps it is important for me to be sure to make a larger dough ball for my bottom crust, seeing as it needs to fit in the dish, as opposed to laying over the filling.  This may keep the dough from forming thin spots.

3.  A baking stone can be used to absorb moisture, promoting a more crispy bottom crust.

4.  By coating the bottom crust with egg whites, I am helping protect the dough from the moisture of the pie filling.  The egg whites expand, lifting away from the dough, making it difficult for the moisture to seep into the bottom crust.

5.  By prebaking the pie crust , I am preparing it for soggy fillings.  Genius!

6.  Perhaps a little longer cooking time is in order.  My go to reference say to start the pie at 425 degrees for 25 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 350 for 40-50 minutes.  Considering I only baked the pie for 50 minutes at 350 degrees, I will definitely try this next time.

And now I am on a mission.  I have set out on a journey to master the art of making a crispy-crusted (top and bottom) apple pie to dazzle even the most critical of audiences (myself, namely).  The road will be a long one, but I am equipped with some know-how that will serve as my arsenal for, at the very least, the next apple pie baking session.  Keep posted!

Happy cooking!