Monday, September 28, 2009

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

There's nothing better than home made cookies, served warm right out of the oven. I don't know of anyone who doesn't absolutely LOVE them. I always like to time them so that I'm walking out the door minutes after I take them out of the oven, and then I cover them with a clean dish towel to keep them warm. When I arrive at a party with a tray of cookies, everyone always says "OH! they're still warm!!!". How divine is that? Sometimes I'll even whip up a batch and bring them to the Ritz if some of my friends are opening a show. It's just my way of saying "Have a great show! And just maybe it helps to calm some opening night jitters. Isn't it amazing how something as simple as a warm cookie can have such an effect?
Quick true story....a few years ago, when I was selling my condo, I always made sure I had some cookies baking whenever a potential buyer came over for a walk through. As soon as they'd walk in, they'd smell the cookies baking and feel right at home. Clever, huh? And guess what, it worked liked a charm! My condo sold in just over 2 weeks! So keep that in mind the next time you go to sell a house!
This was the recipe I used. It's definitely my go-to recipe for oatmeal cookies. I've tried several other recipes, and this one wins.
You just can't beat 'em!

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350°F.
In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Even though the recipe only calls for a cup of raisins and a teaspoon of cinnamon, I always add more. Remember what my Mom always used to say: "Do you like a lot? add a lot!"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings

I was watching Everyday Food and the theme of the episode was one-pot recipes. As soon as I saw their recipe for chicken and dumplings, I knew I wanted to make it. I figured, why not right now? So I dropped what I was doing, went to the grocery to buy the ingredients, and made it for dinner that night. It was SO good! I LOVED it!
A week or two later, I decided I wanted to make it again. The only problem was that I didn't write it down and I couldn't remember exactly what the recipe was. I thought, no problem, I'm sure I can find it on their web site. So, I googled it, and yes, I did find a recipe for Chicken and Dumplings, but it wasn't the same recipe! What's up with that?? Wouldn't you think the website and the TV show would be the same? Apparently, it isn't. Anyway, I decided to make it anyway, figuring I could just guess my way through it. Once again, it turned out great, although I'm positive that I did a few things differently. I probably would've tweaked their recipe anyway to make it the way I like it. So here's the recipe, just as I made it. It's easy and simple and delicious and comforting and the dumplings are light and fluffy. Some people might wait until winter to make this one, but it's just too good to wait that long! It's great any time of the year!

1 stick butter
1 large onion, coarsely chopped.
3 or 4 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
1 lb bag of baby carrots
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 32 oz container chicken broth
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 box (10 oz) frozen peas

Melt butter in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, and thyme. Saute for 5 to 10 minutes, until everything begins to soften. Give it a good stir. Add flour and continue to cook for a few more minutes, stirring often to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Add chicken broth and stir to break up any clumps of flour.
Trim chicken of any excess fat. Cut each thigh into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on how big they are. Nestle each piece of chicken down into the stew until just submerged. Place cover on pot, and let it cook for 15 minutes. Stir in frozen peas. Now it's time to make the dumplings.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tbs any favorite fresh herbs (thyme, basil, parsley, dill, etc)
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup milk

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and chopped herbs in mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Combine egg and milk, mixing well. Pour into well in flour mixture and stir with a fork until just blended. Don't over mix! Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the surface of the boiling stew. Cook 10 minutes uncovered. Cover pot and cook another 10 minutes.

You can use dried herbs instead of the fresh ones. Just use half as much.
I like a LOT of vegetables in stews, so I added a a whole bag of carrots and a whole box of frozen peas. Add as much (or as little) as you like!
I love using boneless thighs for this recipe because they stay tender and juicy. You can certainly use boneless breasts, though, if that's what you have on hand.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Banana Bread

When you think of banana bread, you think of old-timey home-baked goodness. It's moist, sweet, and comforting, especially when it's hot out of the oven. This is a great way to use up your extra leftover bananas as they get really speckled and soft. That's when they're perfect for baking! Try this recipe the next time you want to make your whole house smell heavenly.
You'll love it!

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure rum extract
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
1 c. pecans or walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350F.
Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs and mashed bananas. Add extracts. Sift together dry ingredients and add alternately with the milk. Blend well. Stir in nuts or any extras (if using). Pour into greased 9x5x2 loaf pan. Bake about 40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

The rum extract is a really important ingredient here. Don't forget it! And if you can't find rum extract, brandy extract will work just as nicely.
This recipe doubles easily and the baked loaves freeze really well.
Why not make two and freeze one?
Also, feel free to add any extras you like, such as chocolate chips, chopped nuts, peanut butter chips, or fresh blueberries.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rigatoni alla Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce for pasta originating in Bologna, Italy. It's traditionally served over tagliatelle, but I decided to serve it over rigatoni instead. Since the sauce is so hearty, I decided that it needed a hearty chunky pasta to go with it.
This is my version of a classic Bolognese. I hope you'll give it a try. It's SO worth the time! Just put the pot on and let it simmer all afternoon.
You'll love it!

4 strips thick bacon, diced
1 large onion
3 ribs celery
2 large carrots
3 or 4 large button mushrooms
6 garlic cloves
2 pounds ground beef chuck
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup red wine
1 can (14.5 oz) beef broth
2 cans (28 oz ea) crushed tomatoes in puree
Rigatoni, Tagliatelle, or your choice of pasta

In a Dutch oven, cook bacon until it begins to crisp. Leave some of the rendered fat in the pot and drain the rest. Finely mince the onions, celery, carrot, mushrooms, and garlic. Add them to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add beef; season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes.
Add milk, wine, and broth. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Stir in tomatoes; simmer gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve over cooked rigatoni.

-Instead of chopping the vegetables by hand, I just threw them all into the food processor and pulsed it until everything was finely minced.
-I used evaporated milk because it's less likely to break in the sauce, but you can use whole milk if you like. I wouldn't use a milk with a lower percentage of fat.
-Let it simmer for a minimum of two hours. The longer it simmers, the better it is. I usually let it go for up to 4 or 5 hours. Just be sure to stir it from the bottom up to be sure it's not burning on the bottom.
If your sauce becomes too thick, just add a ladle of pasta water to loosen it up a bit.
-This recipe makes a huge batch, so serve some for dinner, then put the rest of the sauce into containers and store them in your freezer for up to two months.