The Cookie Jar: Peanut Butter Cookies

Around this time of year, most bakers and cooking websites all talk about apples. I already gave you one so, unless one of our other authors decides to indulge you, I’m afraid you’ll have to get your apple fix elsewhere. Here, my fellow ninjas, we will be talking about cookies.

That’s right, it’s time to bring out the recipes you’re thinking about making as Christmas gifts and giving them a whirl now. Don’t take a chance on that unknown recipe – sure, the picture looks good, but the outcome may be disappointing. The last thing I want is for anyone to be screwed when baking crunch time hits.

If you haven’t yet been to the grocery stores and noticed, the holiday cookie publications are already coming out. Now’s our chance to get in on the action. I usually pick up Martha Stewart’s (haven’t seen that one yet) and the Better Homes & Gardens cookie mags. We’ll be delving into those as we progress. Today, we’re starting off with a classic: Peanut Butter Cookies.

Why a classic? Well, a classic cookie is a sure thing. Also, I was in the mood for peanut butter.

Choosing a classic cookie recipe is a problem for anyone because there are always a million of them and it’s hard to tell which recipe would be better than the other. Not only that but, let’s face it, I’m not going to make twenty different cookie recipes and then subject myself to a taste test. I’m also not the greatest at making my own cookie recipes and, since there are pastry chefs in the world who far exceed my talents, I am happy to use theirs.

Still, with my cache of cookbooks, I have a million peanut butter cookie recipes. So then I narrowed it down to two peanut butter cookie categories: salt or sweet?

I’ve been on a juxtaposition-fix with my desserts for a little while now, where I like to have salt and sweet mixed in together with my cookies. The fixation came to me after talking to a friend who said his wife loved sweet, while he liked salty. It reminded me that a cookie that contains both wins over both palettes. A salty/sweet peanut butter cookie fits perfectly. If I were to go with a honey-sweet cookie, sometimes it can go too overboard on the taste.

We’ve talked before about Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking, From My Home to Yours, an award winning compilation of must-haves for any baker’s repertoire. This is where I dug out a fantastic recipe for a salty-sweet peanut butter cookies. It isn’t too sweet or saturated with peanut butter, and the texture is crisp on the edges and chewy on the inside. It has the added bonus of looking really beautiful when it comes out of the oven – something else to keep in mind for the holiday season.

I shared one other recipe from Dorie Greenspan and, after having delved into the rest of her book, I strongly encourage all AwK ninjas to pick up a copy. That said, this will be the last recipe of hers that I share on the site.

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan and Baking, From My Home to Yours

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter – crunch or smooth (not natural)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups chopped salted peanuts
1/2 cup sugar for rolling

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. As with all basic drop cookie recipes, the next step is to take the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ground nutmeg) and mix them together in a bowl. I’ve said before that I don’t do that – to me it’s an added step. I skip that and do extra mixing later.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter for about two minutes, until light and creamy. Add the peanut butter and mix. They will be light and fluffy goodness.

Resist sticking your fingers in that and add the eggs, one at a time, and mix for 1 minute. I did do the eggs separately because I really wanted to make sure the eggs were thoroughly combined and that the fluffy egg whites give me the most bang for my buck.

Add the dry ingredients. Because I don’t combine them separately, I add the smaller ingredients first (baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, salt) and the half cup of flour. I mix those thoroughly with my mixer, then I add two cups of flour and mix until it just disappears into the rest of the batter.

Mix in the chopped peanuts.

Now put the 1/2 cup of “rolling sugar” into a small bowl, or something you can use to roll balls of the cookie dough in. Using a spoon (I use a regular dining spoon) measure out a flat tablespoon of cookie dough and roll it into a ball. The important thing here is to try and get your cookies to be the same size. Don’t get lazy toward the end and start dumping whatever into your spoon just to get this baking over with! You’ll be disappointed later when you have a million different sized cookies. It just doesn’t look as good when you’re giving them as gifts.

Put the ball of dough into the sugar and roll it around, giving it a light coat.

Place the balls two inches apart on parchment or silicone covered cookie sheets. With a fork, press a crisscross pattern on the top of the cookie balls. Bake for about 12 minutes Usually I have to watch the cookies carefully after they go into the oven, but these kept to the time limit. To accomplish this, it’s important that you keep all of the cookies the same size, as I said earlier. When done, the cookies will be slightly colored and a little soft. Allow them to sit on the cookie sheets for a minute or two before transferring them to a cooling rack using a wide, metal spatula.

Get a copy of Dorie’s book, and don’t forget to keep an eye out for the holiday cookie publications!

Grandma’s Jewish Apple Cake

Now that October is upon us, it’s time to start breaking out the fall flavors. We’re going to start with some apple loving… which is weird, since I generally don’t like apples. It all has to do with when I was a kid. I got really sick one year and the doctor prescribed this medication that tasted horrible. My parents used to put it in apple juice or mix it up in apple sauce to make me eat it. I have loathed most forms of apple ever since. The only two forms that I do love (no, I’m afraid I don’t like caramel apples as they get stuck in my teeth) are apple pies and my grandmother’s Jewish Apple Cake.

There’s no finesse to this one. It’s a Bundt cake (link goes to wikipedia for nerdy factual fun about the Bundt pan and its origins) and extremely simple. Fresh apples that have marinated in cinnamon and sugar are interspersed throughout. A little bit of orange juice gives it great flavor. Jewish Apple Cake is awesome for potlucks and best served warm with a side of vanilla ice cream. When the ice cream melts a little and the cake soaks it up, there’s nothing quite like it.

And before you ask, here’s the answer to the question I always get about this recipe: I have no idea what makes it Jewish. Grandma passed down the recipe to us, and that was the name. If anyone can figure out why it’s labeled as Jewish, post below!

Jewish Apple Cake Apples
5 – 6 tart, firm apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Fill a medium mixer bowl with peeled and sliced apples, sugar and cinnamon. Cover and let sit while working on the rest of the cake. Stir periodically.

Jewish Apple Cake Batter:
4 1/2 cups flour
3 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
4 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice
6 eggs

Mix all batter ingredients together, using a rubber scraper to make sure all of the dry ingredients are included. Grease and flour tube (Bundt) pan. Pour 2 inches of batter in. Cover with approximately 1/2 of the apples. Pour remaining batter into the tube pan, then top with the rest of the apples.

That’s it. Here’s the pictorial version:

Step 1. Apples!

Step 2. Pour mixed ingredients in!

Step 3. More apples!

Step 4. More batter!

Step 5. Even more apples!

After you’ve topped this with the remaining apples, there’s also a lot of sugar and cinnamon mixture that gets poured on top. My Bundt pan is a little small, so I put a foil-lined tray on the bottom rack, centered beneath the cake. The tray captures any drippings that may come out while the cake is rising – something to be wary of, since cooked sugar is a pain to scrub off of a surface.

Bake on 350-degrees F for 2 hours. Let sit for 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Caution: If you let it sit any longer than 10 – 15 minutes, the cake will stick. Top with powdered sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream! Jeni Briton’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream would be a great choice.

Here’s the finished product. The nice thing about topping it with powdered sugar is that if some of your cake does happen to stick and you need to sort of put a chunk back on top, the sugar can sort of hide it. Not that any of us would ever do that, especially me, an experienced Jewish Apple Cake Baker.

Bon appetit!

Buttermilk Ice Cream: also, the story behind the name Citizen Chef.

As was promised here,  I now have Chef Tory’s permission to post recipes on the world wide intarweb!  His actual quote was “if somebody wants to take my job, they can be my guest!”  So here now is his recipe for Buttermilk Ice Cream, but first . . . a dissertation!

I have been a fan of the food at L’etoile for many years now.  In fact on a dish-by-dish basis, I would put the food there up against the French Laundry which was the premier dining experience of my life.  There is good food, and great food.  And then there is that other thing.  If you are a foodie you know what I’m talking about.  The foodgasm.  That swooning moment when you put it in your mouth and you melt a little bit, and you swoon.  And you curse the fact that you only have one tounge.  And your brain shuts down completely and you just swear over and over again until you can remember all the other words in the english language that this tiny little package of bliss had obliterated from your memory.  So I find out that there are cooking classes available, yeah I guess I might be interested in that.

I have since taken 5 or 6 classes, on subjects ranging from summer seafood to french classics.  They have all been varying degrees of awesome.  But my concern was, could these recipes be duplicated at home?  By that I don’t mean could a home cook acquire the ingredients and tools necessary to complete these dishes. I mean could I make something as good as Chef Tory?  Could I cook something foodgasmic??  The short answer is yes.  I have a small and slowly increasing stable of recipes that are that good.  But I have stated in the past that cooking is as easy as following directions.  Why then don’t all of these recipes turn out as good as Chef Tory makes them? 

Well as much as I hate disagreeing with myself, I am in fact wrong.  Or I was, but I’m not now.  Wrong that is.  Or I mean wrong that was.  I do still contend that you can get to journeyman-level cooking just by following instructions, buying good ingredients and not screwing them up.  But there is another level that great chefs are at, that I can obtain only infrequently and often by accident.  I think the difference is those chefs have an ingrained knowledge of what is actually happening when they are cooking that I lack.  I am not damning myself with faint praise, I fully admit that I am pretty damn good.  I have the basic chops, and more importantly a passion for cooking.  I’m down with the maillard reaction, I know why dijon mustard is in so many emulsified dressings.  I watch Good Eats.  But there are still machinations happening that are a mystery to me.  I can’t tell you why one of my dishes failed, or partially failed, but a real chef can.

That brings me to why I blog under the name Citizen Chef, or why I blog at all.  I know, you were hoping that would bring me to the recipe.  HAH!  One more paragraph to sit through, assuming you haven’t zipped to the bottom of the article three paragraphs ago. 

When Miss Macchiato approached me to start a food blog, I was reticent.  I consider myself a good writer.  Ok a very good writer.  And a good cook.  But there are much better writers out there, who are also real chefs.  BourdainRuhlman, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot.  And on the amateur front, French Laundry at Home.  Why add to this cacophony with my lesser opinions?  Then I realized the true value of the foodie movement.  Each one of us who cares about food raises the bar just a little bit.  We all elevate the conversation simply by having the conversation.  Eating is the ultimate shared expierience.  It is the only thing that each and every one of us is doing, and will continue to do until the day we die.  All other artistic endevors are optional.  Eating is mandatory.  Eating well should be mandatory.  Citizen Chef symbolizes to me, the theory that we are all of value.

Buttermilk Ice Cream

  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 10 egg yolks

Heat cream, half and half, buttermilk and sugar to a simmer.  Temper in the egg yolks.  Chill mixture and freeze.

This is a very simple recipe that has been just as good as Chef Tory makes it every time.  I do put it in an ice cream maker to keep the crystals small, but that is optional.  Mix some blueberries with lemon juice and honey and let them maccerate for a while and put them on top of the ice cream and it is out of this world.  I would suggest eating the ice cream the day you make it or the day after.  Any longer than that and it loses some of its’ buttermilk twang.

~Citizen Chef

Weeknight Cooking: Not 10-Minute Un-Szechuan Chicken

Okay, so I went on vacation to St. Thomas and when I came back I was in slacker mode. I’m still in slacker mode, but at least I’m back on the site and cooking! My return is marked with a new favorite weeknight dish that I’ve put on my weekly rotation. It’s another find from Recipezaar, but on the site it’s called 10 Minute Szechuan Chicken Recipe. We’re going to play Dr. Seuss today. There are two things wrong with this title, but we’re going to go with the obvious first. Can anyone spot what it is?

Can you guess what's wrong with this?
Can you guess what's wrong with this?

Here’s the answer:

Okay, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a 10 minute dish because, unless you’re an experienced serial killer, you need that long just to cut up the vegetables.

Freddie's next career: Sous Chef.
Freddie's next career: Sous Chef.

Carrot photo courtesy of Danny Smythe, Freddie photo courtesy of some movie site I now can’t find. Sorry.

Secondly, the dish isn’t spicy. The person who shares the recipe (and I apologize for picking this person out, because I have a few recipes from them and the dishes are great) admits that this dish surprisingly mild, due to it being a szechwan dish. The reason for that is because there isn’t any spice in the ingredients list!

Due to this, I have changed the title of the dish to reflect the appropriateness of the dish:

Not 10 Minute Un-Szechuan Chicken

1 tablespoon corn oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1 small zucchini, julienned
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bunch scallion, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces

Also, I added red pepper flakes as optional in case you want to make it spicy. It’s delicious without, but some days it deserves a little kick to it. If you do add the red pepper flakes, then you can change the “Un-Szechwan” back to “Szechuan.” What can I say, I’m a giver.

I served this with a cup of Jasmine Rice. As with all of my stir fry dishes, I started the rice before I started on anything else.

Feel free to add additional vegetables to this dish. I also added baby corn. It was awesome.

Heat the oils in a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat. Toss the cubed chicken breast in a bowl with the cornstarch to coat. Add the chicken and minced garlic to the pan and stir-fry until the chicken is lightly browned. Don’t cook the chicken all the way through – the dish is still going to cook for another 5 minutes or so, and you don’t want to dry out the chicken. If you only brown the outside of the meat, the rest of the chicken will continue to cook after the sauce is added. Reason being is that the sauce will be absorbed into the chicken during this additional cooking time, and the chicken will be moist. There’s not much worse than eating tough, dry chicken.

Add the remaining ingredients except the scallions. Cover and cook for three minutes.

Add the scallions. Cover and cook for two more minutes. Serve over rice.

Dig in!