Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tís the Season for baking; Two new recipes from Bon Appétit

I decided to mix it up this year and try some new cookie recipes.   Much to my delight the December issue of Bon Appétit was filled with cookie recipes.    I chose two and dove right in.  
FYI - When I cook, I tend to use recipes as a guide, but when it comes to baking it is best to follow the recipe closely.     

Here are the two recipes I tried......

Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel

Adding pretzels to the caramel gives these over-the-top bars a crunchy texture and salty-sweet finish.

Makes: 40




  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Peanut-Pretzel caramel

  • 4 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups 1 1/2"-wide thin twisted pretzels, coarsely crushed

·         Special equipment

A 13x9x2" metal baking pan




  • Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking pane with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang on long sides of pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Stir butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned bits form at bottom of pan 7–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until well combined and mixture resembles wet sand, 2–3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy and well combined, about 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients; beat until smooth (batter will be thick). Using an offset or regular spatula, evenly spread batter in prepared pan.
  • Bake blondie until golden brown, edges pull away from sides of pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 20–25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Peanut-Pretzel Caramel

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread peanuts over sheet in an even layer. Bake, stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, 5–7 minutes. Set aside.
  • Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is deep amber, 12–15 minutes. Add honey; return to a boil, stirring often, about 1 minute longer. Add butter; stir until blended. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously); whisk until smooth. Stir in peanuts and pretzels. Pour over cooled blondie. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.
  • Run a knife around short sides of pan to release blondie. Using parchment-paper overhang, lift from pan. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 10 bars. DO AHEAD: Chill for up to 1 week in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving.

My notes: 
  • Be careful to really watch the caramel; once sugar heats up it can burn quickly.   Mine was “deep amber” at 7 minutes and I probably should’ve taken it off the heat at 6 minutes.   
  • I would recommend cutting the bars into small bite-size pieces rather than brownie-size squares.

Verdict:  I thought these bars were really good, but they were really rich and filling.  This can be good and bad – I was able to refrain from eating a whole bunch of them, which is good for my waistline; but on the other hand I like having little snacky cookies laying around that I can snack on for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (hey, it’s the holidays which makes cookies for breakfast okay).   I’m undecided if I would make these again or not.    I will say they were a big hit with the various friends that I gave them to, so this is definitely a good one to make and share.  

Almond-Oat Lace Cookies

When quickly cooked on the stove-top and then spooned onto baking sheets, this simple batter bakes into delicate lacy crisps.

Makes: about 24



  • 1/2 cup whole natural unsalted almonds with skins
  • 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted



  • Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Line 2 rimless baking sheets with parchment paper. Pulse almonds and oats in a food processor until coarse meal forms. Set aside.
  • Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add both sugars and honey; whisk until blended and sugar dissolves, 1–2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add nut mixture, flour, and salt; stir until well blended.
  • Spoon batter by 2-teaspoon portions onto baking sheets, spacing 2 1/2" apart. Using your fingertips, pat cookies down to 1/4"-high rounds; push in any jagged edges to form smooth circles. Bake, rotating sheets after 6 minutes, until dark golden brown and cookies spread out into a thin layer, 10-–12 minutes. Slide cookies on parchment onto a wire rack and let cool.
  • Using a pastry brush, brush half of each cookie with melted chocolate. Let stand until the chocolate is set, about 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight in between sheets of parchment or waxed paper.
My Notes: 
  • Be careful when pulsing the almonds in a food processor as mine ended up too fine.   I would just pulse the almonds and oatmeal slightly so the cookies have more texture.  
  • Start keeping an eye on the cookies after about 8-9 minutes.  Mine ended up a little more done that I would’ve liked.
  • Make sure you space the cookies far enough apart on the cookie sheet before baking as they really like to spread out. 

My verdict:  I have made these in the past without the oatmeal and with sliced almonds and I think I liked those better.   These seemed a little greasy, like there was too much butter.    I thought they were just okay and probably won’t make them again.   

What are your favorite holiday cookies?    And how many do you bake?   Some people go all out with 5-10 different kinds and I'm curious what your cookie tradition is? 

I'm off to go make chocolate-covered pretzels and peanut brittle, which are my husband's two favorites.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crock-pot Chili

I just looked at my thermometer and it is 12 degrees outside today.   Yep, 12!   That is chilly; which makes it the perfect day for some spicy chili.   

My Mom used to make this chili recipe when I was a kid.   I’ve kind of added some things but the flavor is still there and it is a total comfort food.  The addition of brown sugar gives it a whole sweet and spicy thing that I love.  

This recipe serves 4-6.  (I tend to double the recipe so I can freeze half.)

  • Large can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup
  • One can of chili beans (You can use any beans you want; I don’t like kidney beans and personally like the softer texture of chili beans.)
  • One can of small, diced tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. of hamburger (you can use more or less depending on how much meat you like; I like a thicker chili and tend to use more meat.  You could also use ground turkey or any other kind of meat your little heart desires.)
  • One medium onion (chopped)
  • 6 Tbsp. Brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. Chili Powder

Optional Ingredients (feel free to add anything else that sounds good – there are no rules with chili)
  • Minced garlic (can sauté with the meat)
  • Cinnamon (just tried a chili with cinnamon in it and it gave it an interesting twist)
  • Hot chilies
  • Mushrooms
  • Green Peppers
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Salsa
  • Cumin

1)      Set the temperature on the crock-pot.
2)      Pour the soup, the beans, and the tomatoes into the crock-pot.
3)      Brown the hamburger.
4)      Cut up the onion and put half in the crock-pot and sauté the other half with the hamburger.
5)      Drain grease from hamburger and add meat to crock-pot.
6)      Add the chili powder and brown sugar (and any option ingredients)
7)      Stir and cover.

If you make it in the morning, then leave the crock-pot on low all day.  If you make it on a weekend afternoon put it on high for 2.5 hours and then low for 2 hours (it should cook for at least 4.5 hours – the longer the better).

Topping options
  • Raw onions (green onions, red onions, white onions)
  • Sour Cream
  • Shredded Cheese (I like Colby Jack or Mexican Cheese)
  • Jalapenos
  • Black Olives
Serving:  I like to serve my chili with the big Fritos or Doritos for dipping; or a side of cornbread.   

Leftovers:  I doubled my recipe this time so I could freeze individual portions.  It is going to be a long winter and it will be nice to have chili on hand to warm up on a whim.  

You could do lots of things with leftover chili; chili nachos, chili fries, chili dog, chili spaghetti, chili lasagna, etc…..  

I’ve made chili mac-and-cheese with the leftovers.   It is super easy and really good!
Just cook some elbow noodles, mix them with the chili and some shredded cheese and bake it in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.     


Friday, December 2, 2011

French Onion Soup for Two

Minneapolis has a dusting of snow on the ground and this cold weather makes me crave soup.   This week I was craving French Onion soup.   Hmmmm, so good.

Here is my recipe for French Onion Soup......

3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (peeled and thinly sliced)
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black or white pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme
3 cups stock (I use chicken but beef or vegetable stock would work also)
1 cup dry white wine (only cook with wine you would enjoy drinking)
1 baguette
1 chunk of gruyére (I love cheese, so my chunk was a big one) 

* Double the recipe for four servings.  It also depends on the size of the bowls you are using.  I used medium-sized ramekins and was serving the soup as an entreé rather than as a first course.  

1)  Melt 2 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat.   Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent (about 20 minutes).  * Make sure to turn your fan on or your house will reek of onions.
2)  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Sauté, stirring often, until onions are very soft and deep golden brown.  * Make sure to stay close and stir often because they can burn easily.   
3)  Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes.   
4)  Add the wine and stir to blend and absorb for about 2-3 minutes, then add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes.
5)  Preheat the oven to 425°.  Slice the bread into slices. (You can decide if you want thick slices or not, it depends how much bread you like in your soup.  I usually do medium slices.)   Butter both sides of the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Toast in the oven until both sides are golden brown (takes less than 10 minutes).   
6)  Place 2 slices of toast in each oven-proof bowl.  Set bowls in a baking pan, and then fill bowls with the onion soup.   Spread a thick layer of cheese on top of the soup and broil in the oven until the cheese is brown and bubbly.   
7)  When you take it out of the oven place the bowls on plates to serve.

Note on the cheese:  I have tried many ways to get the cheese right.  It gets so hot that it can tend to dissolve.  To help remedy that, I cut the cheese into thick slices and put those slices over the toast and then put some grated cheese on top of that.  If you have a trick, let me know; I’m still trying to perfect it.   

Serving:  When I make French onion soup, I usually serve it with a simple mixed green salad with a light vinaigrette.  I serve the salad with “croutons” I make when I toast the bread; 4 slices are for the soup and I slice the rest of bread thin and butter both sides and top with a thin slice of good cheese (I always have a random selection of yummy cheese in the fridge).   I also serve it with a glass of white wine; after all I had to open a bottle for the soup.