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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cookies & Cream Cookies and a Thanksgiving treat

Holidays used to be all fun and no stress.  When you're a kid, life itself is pretty much all fun and no stress, but holidays are especially that way.  When you're a kid, all you have to do is show up and wonderful things happen.  People give you candy and let you run around in the dark on Halloween.   They feed you delicious food till you're ready to burst on Thanksgiving.   And on Christmas, there are toys and cookies galore!  Now that I am an adult, a little more is required of me than to simply show up.  There is candy to buy, costumes to be made, food to prepare, parties to plan, and presents to wrap.  But my favorite part of the holidays remains the same.  I love baking cookies.  This past Thanksgiving, in addition to the cheesy vegetable casserole I brought, I tried out a new cookie recipe and it completely won me over, not to mention everyone else who tasted it!

I can't let a holiday go by without baking something sweet, and since cookie season is upon us I decided to try these Cookies & Cream Cookies and bring them in little goodie bags for each family.  I happened across the recipe online and instead of taking its place on my mental to-bake list, this recipe simply demanded to be made.  In fact, I stopped at Wegman's that very day and bought the key ingredient, Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Drops.  It's hard to say why I was so compelled to make these cookies.  Maybe it was the use of yummy Hershey drops (I am a huge Hershey fan).   Maybe it was the chocolately-ness of the recipe (I am a huge chocolate fan).  Or it could be the opportunity to make cookies (I am a huge cookie fan).   Now that I think about, it's really quite obvious why I needed to make these! 

The recipe turned out amazingly good.  Really.  Really good.  I don't want to oversell these cookies... but... they tasted like they came straight from heaven!  There is no doubt in my mind that you will love them.  The Hershey Cookies 'n' Creme Drops alone are fantastic, and if you like cookies and cream, my recommendation is that you buy two bags--one for baking and one for snacking.  

With Christmas around the corner, I know I will be trying out new recipes and making old favorites.   There is holiday shopping to do and gifts to wrap and parties to plan.  But no matter how much holiday stress comes my way, I excitedly await baking sweet delights like these.   Enjoy!

Cookies & Cream Cookies
Slightly adapted from Cookies and Cups 

2 sticks butter (1 cup)
1 1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used regular size chocolate chips)
12 oz. Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Drops

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.

On low, slowly beat in cocoa powder until well incorporated.  Mix in your remaining dry ingredients. (I deviated from the instructions a little here and sifted together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl and then mixed them into the butter/sugar mixture.  They came out absolutely fine.  Next time I will try it the way Cookies and Cups instructs because her way only dirties one bowl.)

Fold in the Cookies 'n' Creme Drops and chocolate chips until evenly incorporated. 

Drop by large tablespoons on a parchment lined baking sheet.

I recommend under-baking these, so bake for approximately 12 minutes or until edges are set.  (I began checking at 10 minutes.) 

When done baking let cool baking sheet for 2 -3 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling. (I let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes.)

Update:  After making these a second time, and trying beating the cocoa into the butter/mixture before adding the rest of the dry ingredients, I find I prefer my method of sifting the dry ingredients together then beating them all in at once.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Duncan Hines Cookies & Creme Cake and Family Dinner

Once in a while my family, or whoever is in town and available, gets together for a family dinner. Sometimes, Dad makes his famous spaghetti and meatballs. Other times, Mom makes her famous roast chicken with gravy. There's always a little wine and a wedge of Jarlsburg cheese and crackers before dinner and a homemade dessert to follow (usually made by me). On rare occasions, such as last week, I actually attempt to cook dinner. Last week, I made salmon, spinach and brown rice (which were not remarkable), and Duncan Hines Cookies and Creme Cake (which was a big hit). But no matter who cooks or what the occasion is, there is something special about a family dinner.

It's funny that these little dinners should make such an impression on me. Nothing really momentous ever happens. The evening is underscored by a quiet baseball or football game, which Dad keeps on for the sports fans in the family. We sit and talk and play with the little ones. Our conversation keeps to family, the news, my mother's latest garage sale find, or my dad's latest home improvement project. No deep personal revelations. No impassioned speeches.

After dinner we clean up a little and have dessert. Then when the little ones are ready to nod off, we call it a night. My dad (who's a mush-ball, like me) and I always end up remarking to each other how nice the evening was, using the phrase "really nice" all too abundantly

If it's not the conversation or the food or any special occasion, then what makes these family dinners so special is just that--it's family.  It's dinner.  That's all you really need.  There is something sacred about breaking bread with your loved ones.  There is something comforting about sharing a meal.  As long as you're together that's all that really matters.

But a slam-bang dessert doesn't hurt either.  Last week, one of my favorite bakers, Duncan Hines, came through for me again.  I have yet to try a from-scratch white cake recipe that tastes as good as Duncan Hines, but I'm sure that's not going to stop me from trying out every delicious-looking white or vanilla cake recipe I find.  In fact, I have a recipe binder full of them.  When I find a winner I will post it.  But if you're looking for a simple, yet impressive cake, this is it.  Duncan Hines never fails.  And combine that with the goodness of Oreos, and you've got yourself a delightful dessert.  It's simple to make so go ahead and try this cake--it will make your next family dinner really nice.

Duncan Hines Cookies and Creme Cake

1 package Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix
3 large egg whites
1 1/3 cups water
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup cream filled chocolate sandwich cookies, coarsely chopped (I used slightly more than 1 cup and will probably try even more the next time I make this cake.)
1 tub Duncan Hines Creamy Home-Style Butter Cream Frosting (I used my favorite buttercream frosting recipe.)
additional cookies (optional)

Baking Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.  (I used 8 1/2 inch pans)
2.  Combine cake mix, egg whites, water, and oil in large mixing bowl. Beat at low speed with electric mixer until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in 1 cup cookies. Pour into prepared pans.
3.  Bake 28 to 31 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely.
4.  Fill and frost cake with frosting. Garnish with additional cookies, if desired.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Emily's Best Oatmeal Cookies and a Smile

Watch out, Chocolate Chip Cookies, there may be a new favorite in town!  This past summer an old friend of our family, Emily, visited us and brought her family, fond memories and... her White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies!  I have never had such a delightful surprise in an oatmeal cookie before.  Such a perfect combination of flavors, I had to get the recipe!

Emily is the daughter of my father's best friend.  She is one of three daughters, all of them older than me and two of them my brothers' ages.  Each summer our families would spend two weeks vacationing together on a lake, many years even sharing the same cottage.  And for a little girl with two stinky older brothers, spending two weeks out of every year in the company of these girls was heaven!

When I was just 6, the girls were young teenagers, and I was absolutely fascinated by them.  Their clothes, their hair, their makeup, their was all so new and interesting.   I was enthralled by the way they giggled, the way they turned their collars up, and the way they wore their bracelets. It was wonderful.  Although I love my brothers, I found the difference between them and these girls to be vastWhile my brothers mainly treated me to tickling, teasing, and other forms of big brother torture, these girls played Barbies with me and french-braided my hair.  They also seemed to have a magic power over my brothers, and commanded their attention in a way I couldn't understand. 

Of Emily, I remember her smile the most from those days.  She seemed to have the biggest smile on her face all the time, and to my childish mind, I thought that meant her life must be perfect.  When Emily came to visit us this past summer, I figured as an adult, I would see her differently.  But the smile was exactly the same, and again, I thought that must mean her life is perfect.  Although I find it hard to believe anyone's life is perfect, I am now of the belief that a smile can go a long way to giving that impression.   So, smile, folks!  :)

No matter if your life is perfect or not, I am certain Emily's Best Oatmeal Cookies would be a perfect addition to it.  Emily's recipe calls for one cup of mix-ins, so you could make Emily's Best Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies, or Emily Best Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, or whatever combination you can dream up, but the White Chocolate Cherry combination is truly amazing.  I recommend you start with that one.  And if these cookies don't put a smile on your face, then I'll eat my hat.  So, here it is:

Emily's Best Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup sugar + additional
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup mix-ins (see note)

1. Preheat oven 350 F.

2. Cream together shortening, oil, 1 cup white sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in water and vanilla extract.

3. Sift together flours, soda, and cinnamon. Add to sugar mixture and mix well.

4. Mix in oats and your choice of mix-ins.

5. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheets lightly coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Flatten dough with glass bottom coated with cooking spray and dipped in white sugar.

6. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly brown.

7. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Emily's note: Choose your own combination of mix-ins for this recipe.  Total amount should equal one cup.  Try dried cherries and chopped almonds, cranberries and white chocolate chips, walnuts and raisins or macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips.