Double chocolate oatmeal cookies

For me, a surefire way to make an already good recipe involving chocolate even better is to add more chocolate!  So here we are with some chocolate chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies.  
When in doubt, I make cookies.  It's baking therapy - the simple act of whipping up a batch of chocolate-chip cookies always soothes me and makes me feel useful.  Then you realize you also have the bonus of fresh homemade cookies to share with your family and to tuck away into your cookie jar for times when someone needs a treat!
Chocolate-chip cookies and oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies are ones I make often because it's something no one ever gets tired of.  In fact, they're things we eat and often feel caught off-guard by in how good they are...they make us remember how nice and satisfying a simple cookie can be.  So I embrace all my cookie-making and eating moments.  This time, I jumped on the chance to try a batch of double chocolate oatmeal cookies. 
They're dark, soft, chewy, sweet and chocolaty...it's hard not to love them so basically, I heartily recommend making a batch, soon!



Chocolate mint bars

One thing leads to another...after making revel bars, I thought I'd make another bar dessert that I've had on my list for a long time: chocolate mint bars.  Since St. Patrick's Day is coming up, a touch of green seems appropriate right now.  Clearly, I embrace all kinds of excuses to make treats!
I had my son in mind for these because he is a big fan of the chocolate + mint combination. These 3-layer treats feature a base layer of chocolate cake/brownie, followed by a cooling and sweet layer of mint frosting, topped with (my favorite part) a chocolate glaze. 
The chocolate mint bars I made are a result/collaboration between a couple of recipes. I based them off of both recipes from Hershey's (this one as well as this) and one from Cooking Light.  Typically, you'll see chocolate syrup used for the base layer but I found a Hershey's recipe that used cocoa powder instead, which I preferred.  I scaled the recipes down and made a few tweaks here and there.  In the end, I had an 8x8" pan of these minty chocolate bars that I've been meaning to try for ages. 
It's clearly all about the layers, which marry together so well.  Bite into it and the first thing that hits me, and what lingers, is that creamy chocolate glaze on top...that's my favorite part.  And the minty flavor is always refreshing and works so well with chocolate.  It's a time honored classic for obvious reasons.  So call it frosted mint brownies or mint chocolate cake you can eat with your hands...either way, it's a tasty little treat!



Grits in the morning...breakfast/brunch inspiration

You know how much I love a good weekend breakfast or brunch (a lot!).  I look forward to filling the dining room table with food and sitting down for a leisurely meal with my husband and son.  The little man finishes and usually takes off after a while but my husband and I linger at the table for a long while just chatting and enjoying a few cups of coffee.
Above all else, I like eating and being at home these days.  But I also make it a point to go out once in a while (especially on Sundays for brunch) and take advantage of some of the amazing restaurants available to us, as we live so close to NYC.  I try to mix things up and in our latest outing a few weeks ago, we went to Amy Ruth's in Harlem. It's known for soul food and, specifically, the fried chicken and waffles.  We'd been there many years ago but thought it would be a nice change to head there again.
We had a good breakfast at Amy Ruth's and our favorite dish turned out to be the smothered fried chicken, served with white corn grits and eggs.  I realized I'd never cooked grits despite how much I love similar things like porridge and oatmeal.  So I was inspired by that breakfast outing to cook grits for breakfast back home!  I love when inspiration strikes.
Here we have breakfast of grits, bacon and eggs, with a side of toast.  Nothing too out of the ordinary but so hearty and satisfying.  One of the things I liked about the grits at Amy Ruth's was how it was a great blank canvas for the smothered chicken.  I asked the server whether the grits were cooked with water or milk and she told me, as I suspected, that it was made with just water.  I was happy to hear it and I did the same at home.  You can source good stone-ground grits but for a novice like me, I settled for the quick cooking kind easily found in a canister.  You know what?  It tasted just like the one at the restaurant.  

You don't always get inspired eating out but it's such fun when it happens.  I keep a little list of restaurants to try out for brunch and I'm hoping for some good meals as well as a little inspiration to take back home every now and then.



Revel bars (oatmeal-fudge cookie bars)

This has been a bit of an odd winter for us, with abnormally warm temps that suddenly dip into the very low double-digits.  I find that with the swing in temps, my cooking/baking as well as eating habits have been jumping all over the place, too.  So when the weather turned cold this weekend, I took it as an excuse to bake up something hearty.  I turned to my "to-try" list and decided to make a batch of Revel bars.
I never had these cookie bars growing up and I don't know exactly how the name, Revel Bars, came about but I have to assume it's to assure us that we will be very happy eating them.  My knowledge of them comes from having seen them on blogs (including this delectable peanut butter version from Tricia at Saving Room for Dessert, which I would have gladly made if my fellas are as into peanut butter desserts as I've become).  The bars always look drool-worthy and I've had them on my "to-bake" list for some time... 

And how could they not be drool-worthy when Revel Bars are basically oatmeal bar cookies with a chocolate fudge-like center!
You make a relatively basic oatmeal cookie dough, press two-thirds of it into a baking pan for the base, then make a simple chocolate fudge layer by melting sweetened condensed milk with chocolate chips and butter.  The fudge gets spread over the cookie base and then you dollop the remaining oatmeal cookie dough on the surface before baking it altogether for about 25 minutes.  
I suggest starting these early in the morning because you need to allow time for cooling.  The cookie bar needs to cool completely in the pan so the fudge layer sets up and the bars are easy to slice.  When they're finally ready, I think you will revel in these as much as we did.  

The cookie bars may be rich but they aren't achingly sweet.  I adore the texture - the oatmeal cookie portion is chewy while the fudgy layer adds an extra dimension of richness, creaminess, as well as chewiness of its own.  These are fudge oatmeal cookies in bar form and great for a crowd, for sharing in general.  
There's something about bar cookies/desserts...somehow, they're almost always good and generally rich.  These Revel bars were aptly named and were a hit with us and friends we shared them with!


Baked chocolate chocolate-chip donuts

It's been a while since I last used my little donut pan (maybe due to the lack of snow days) so I thought it was time to take it out for a spin.  Baking a batch of donuts also served the purpose of helping me use up some of the buttermilk in my fridge. Whenever I buy buttermilk to make pancakes or a cake recipe, I'm on a mission to put as much of it to good use as possible.  
Baked chocolate chocolate-chip donut with peanut butter glaze/icing
Well, the buttermilk went towards a very good mission here.  These baked chocolate chocolate-chip donuts are essentially a fun way to enjoy a few bites of chocolate cake! Handheld, portable, fun, and, most importantly, tasty - they made me glad I hadn't forgotten about my little donut pan.
We already love chocolate chip donuts but hadn't tried chocolate chocolate-chip ones until now, and we may have found a new favorite.  I used Christina's recipe from Dessert for Two and it turned out great; I love the lady - when she says the recipe makes 6 donuts, it really makes donuts!  And they're tasty little things - moist chocolate cake rings imbedded with mini chocolate chips.  The donuts are good enough on their own that you almost don't need a glaze.

Have fun with the glaze! 

Much as I could eat these donuts all on their own, you have to admit that the glaze on a donut (like icing on a cupcake) is half the fun and most people wouldn't want to go without it...so add a little extra flavor, and have fun!  I loved Christina's original recipe of making mint chocolate chip donuts (and I knew my son would love it) but I had a strong hankering to make peanut butter glaze.  Really, there are many varieties you can make by simply tweaking what you add to the powdered sugar for the glaze - it can be anything from a little maple syrup, to cocoa powder, fruit juice, or peanut butter.  It's fun to customize!  
I have to fess up to the obvious: my peanut butter "glaze" was more of an icing. I have trouble gauging just the right consistency for my donut glazes so I thought I'd experiment with making it a little thicker and spreading the icing onto the donuts. Since they are called "frosted" donuts and we're basically looking at chocolate cake here, a thicker icing totally works, right?

Besides the peanut butter glaze/icing, I also felt like making a coffee glaze for these donuts...so I did!  I glazed 2 of the six donuts from my batch with a coffee glaze (pictured on the round plate below; you can tell it's a thinner glaze there).  The coffee glazed donuts were quite popular at my house!
In front, donut with a coffee glaze
And you know something?  These donuts were so enjoyable, they disappeared so fast, and I was feeling so guilty about not making the mint chocolate chip donuts my son really wanted that I made a second batch in the same week!
Mint chocolate chip donuts, with a mint glaze
I'm glad I did!  The mint chocolate chip donuts were much-appreciated by the little guy.  It tasted a bit like you're having chocolate chip ice cream somehow!  And so I've now learned...a dozen baked chocolate donuts is totally reasonable for a family of 3 to enjoy in a few days!


Multigrain pancakes and making buttermilk pancakes with a twist

The topic of pancakes comes up quite often here, and frankly, I'm at it again!  There are a million variations to everything and I'm happy to try as much as humanly possible when it comes to food. That goes for pancakes and other things.  The way I look at it, it's a good thing we eat so often!
For today's "pancake talk", let's chat about two things...

Multigrain Pancakes

Let's start with these multigrain pancakes, a recipe that caught my eye in the latest issue of Cooking Light.  I'm reluctant to label things with titles like "healthy" or not (to my way of thinking, use common sense and enjoy everything in moderation) but it's more than fair to say these are a terrific, feel-good, option when it comes to pancakes.  It's made with both old-fashioned oats as well as white whole wheat flour.
The only unusual step in making these pancakes is first soaking old-fashioned rolled oats in buttermilk for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.  This gives the oats a chance to soften and bloom slightly (very smart).  The process is easy enough but I was a little skeptical about how these would turn out...would they actually taste good because not only are we using oats and whole wheat flour, there's no butter/oil in the batter and just a tablespoon of maple syrup to sweeten the batch.
Well, my family and I were very pleasantly surprised.  Somehow, these pancakes turned out creamy in the center (thanks to the soaking process, according to Cooking Light).  Soft and fluffy, they were perfectly tasty.  They might not be very rich in flavor on their own but paired with some fresh berries and/or bit of maple syrup, it is a very well-balanced pancake breakfast!  You can also follow Cooking Light's cue of making a nut butter sauce to go with these (more on that later...) for a fantastic, healthy pairing.  

My son finished his 3 pancakes in no time and I was impressed with how much he liked them.  These pancakes are both kid- and adult-approved!

Making buttermilk pancakes, with a twist

Now for this second segment of our pancake talk, I didn't try a new recipe per se...I tried a new technique.

I recently read this article from Food52 about a genius tip on how to make fluffier buttermilk pancakes.  I'll cut straight to the chase and tell you the "trick"...you know how you separate an egg and beat the egg white to fold into a pancake/waffle batter to make an extra fluffy result?  Well, this tip suggests you put the whisk down and skip the whipping, and simply stir in the egg white at the end of making the batter.   
I don't know about you but I don't often take the extra step of whipping egg whites when I make pancakes because it's extra work and cleanup.  This idea of stirring in the egg white without whipping sounded like a perfectly easy twist to try, so I did. Instead of using the recipe provided, I took a basic buttermilk pancake recipe I often use at home and simply followed the technique of separating the egg and reserving the white to stir into the batter at the very end.  
I had some blueberries on hand so I made blueberry buttermilk pancakes.  I'm afraid I didn't go so far as to do a side-by-side comparison to show you (you can see a comparison at Food52but I can tell you that we had a very fluffy batch of pancakes using this egg white technique.  My husband definitely thought they were fluffier than usual.  I don't know if it's positive thinking on my part but I also thought they were fluffier than the norm.  It sure doesn't hurt to give it a try so the next time you make pancakes, consider making them with this little twist and see what you think (I'd love to know)! 

In conclusion, all these fantastic pancake recipes and cooking techniques give us more reasons to enjoy pancakes for breakfast.  That's a very good thing!



Easy chocolate hazelnut cookies - small batch, in a flash

It's the day after Valentine's Day and I found myself in the kitchen making chocolate cookies.  We seriously don't need more chocolates or treats after indulging (more than usual) the day before but I couldn't help myself.  I got my hands on Christina Lane's latest book, Sweet & Simple, and these chocolate hazelnut cookies were just too easy and promising to resist.  In my defense, it takes hardly any work and results in a very reasonable 6 cookies, which are sure to vanish quickly.
I hope you had a sweet Valentine's Day!  I loved seeing all the expressions of love and chocolate everywhere leading up to it.  And speaking of things I love - I'm a big fan of small-batch baking and while I often just scale down recipes/divide them in half, I adore so many of Christina's recipes from her books and her blog, Dessert for Two! I've made many of her recipes - both sweet and savory, often on repeat. So I was eager to dig into her latest book, and it didn't disappoint.  It's got all the straight-forward, simple recipes for small-batch baking that I've come to love.  
So despite our tummies being sufficiently filled with chocolates and biscuits (and with more standing by in our cupboards), I made room for these cookies, which are seriously easy and fast to make.  Follow the recipe exactly and you only need 6 ingredients (Nutella/chocolate-hazelnut spread, sugar, egg, flour, chocolate chips, and salt for sprinkling), a few minutes to mix everything up, and 10 minutes in the oven. I had time to "complicate" matters slightly...
I decided to add some chopped toasted hazelnuts into the dough along with the chocolate chips (I used miniature ones).  I always keep a jar of mixed nuts in the kitchen to snack on everyday so I just went and pilfered some of the hazelnuts for these cookies (I was in the mood for some extra texture and I think nuts help balance the sweetness).  Instead of all-purpose flour, I used white whole wheat flour (these cookies are so moist, they can take it) and rather than sprinkling the baked cookies with sea salt on top, I added a pinch into the dough. 
In a flash - I had 6 fudgy, moist, chocolate-hazelnut cookies on my counter. They are chewy and sticky (my husband likened it to marzipan), and on the sweet side so the hazelnuts were a welcome addition of texture and flavor as a bit of a contrast. Because these cookies are so fudgy in the center (thanks to the chocolate-hazelnut spread), you might want to be a little patient and allow the cookies to cool and firm up fully before removing them from the baking sheet.  
My husband brought home some sweet strawberries for me on Valentine's night (incidentally, I took a few and dipped them in dark chocolate; they were so good and easy to do, making me wonder why I'd never done it before!).  And so I thought a few strawberries with one or two of these cookies would make a well-balanced snack/dessert.  I hope you agree.


Almond paste waffles

This breakfast comes to you fresh from yesterday's snow day.  We finally had a snow day!  I didn't think I'd say or think this but I missed having a snow day this winter and was actually hoping for one - emphasis on "one".  Well, my wish came true - snow fell and we were all home, from school, from work, and got a chance to enjoy a little hush and quiet, and to huddle around in the house on a weekday (before it was time to get busy and start shoveling).  
With a snow day, it's important to have plenty of food!  It's also a great time to try a new recipe.  For me, I jumped at the chance to make these almond paste waffles!  

If there are a few food items I really love, it's got to include things like chocolate, eggs, almond paste, nuts in general, and sweet potatoes.  Almond paste is right up there.  We love it in baked goods and I've used it in all sorts of ways but not in waffles so when I saw almond paste waffles on Food52, I couldn't wait to try it!
These waffles turned out crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with a bit of chewiness to its texture, and nice almond flavor.  It's basically how almond paste waffles should taste, I think.  

Almond paste is incorporated into the waffle batter by stirring/dissolving small pieces of it into some warmed milk and butter.  I used whole milk instead of the buttermilk listed in the recipe, and I would strongly suggest the swap out because buttermilk has the tendency to curdle when heated.  I didn't have buttermilk on hand so I made a proxy using milk and white vinegar; the homemade buttermilk quickly curdled as I heated it and I had to restart using milk instead.  You might have less of an issue using actual buttermilk rather than my substitute but I'd bypass the risk and go with milk.
To amp up the almond flavor, I added a touch of almond extract.  The batter is on the thick side and when cooked, you end up with familiar waffles that have a distinct almond flavor and a little chewiness that we really like.  Ironically, the waffles tasted a lot like this almond bread I adore and which I happened to have made a loaf of just 2 days earlier!  It's been an almond breakfast kind of week!
As you know, Valentine's Day is coming up.  How about having an early celebration this weekend with a nice breakfast on Sunday?  If you have an almond lover among you, these almond paste waffles might be just the right treat!  Otherwise, you can always make a batch of chocolate chocolate-chip waffles instead!



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