Saturday, March 29, 2014

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

A friend recently asked if I had a coconut oatmeal cookie recipe. When I didn't have one, she told me she improvised one from an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe, and I decided to do the same. The delicious result is not too sweet, a little crunchy, a little chewy, with bursts of coconut and chocolate. These cookies feel healthy enough to eat for breakfast (which I did this morning!), and they are my new favorite oatmeal cookie. Somehow the raisins in oatmeal raisin cookies are too cloyingly sweet for me.

I tried three different kinds of coconut, and my preference is unsweetened coconut flakes, available online and at some specialty kitchen stores. Dessicated coconut resulted in a yummy flavor, but the texture was too dry. Regular sweetened, shredded coconut was also good, so feel free to use it if you have it on hand or prefer a sweeter cookie. Similarly, you can use semi-sweet chocolate chips if they are more to your taste.

unsweetened coconut flakes


Coconut Oatmeal Cookies, High Altitude (4500 ft)

Adapted from Trout Dale Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies in Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy

1 1/2 c plus 1 1/2 T all-purpose flour
generous 1/4 teas baking soda
generous 1 teas salt
1/2 teas cinnamon
1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teas vanilla extract
3 c rolled oats
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1 c unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350F. Place parchment paper on cookie sheets, or spray with nonstick vegetable spray, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In an electric mixer, using a paddle attachment, beat the butter until soft and creamy, then beat in both sugars. Beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture, then the oats, then the chocolate chips and coconut.

Drop the dough onto the prepared cookie sheets by the heaping tablespoon, about 2 inches apart. Bake on center rack for 13 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overcook; they will become too crispy! Cool cookies on a wire rack.


Coconut Oatmeal Cookies, Sea Level

Adapted from Trout Dale Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies in Pie in the Sky: Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G. Purdy

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1 teas salt
1/2 teas cinnamon
1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1 c sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 teas vanilla extract
3 c rolled oats
1 c bittersweet chocolate chips
1 c unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350F. Place parchment paper on cookie sheets, or spray with nonstick vegetable spray, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In an electric mixer, using a paddle attachment, beat the butter until soft and creamy, then beat in both sugars. Beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture, then the oats, then the chocolate chips and coconut.

Drop the dough onto the prepared cookie sheets by the heaping tablespoon, about 2 inches apart. Bake on racks that divide oven into thirds for 12-16 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overcook; they will become too crispy! Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Better Than a Box: Easy Chocolate Cake

I remember my mom, Betty, (an excellent pie baker) baked only three types of cake while I lived at home. This is the chocolate cake recipe she used and that I used when I first started cooking. For some reason, I haven't baked it for decades, but I made it for company this past week and am puzzled that I abandoned the recipe for so long. Maybe its simplicity belied its good flavor. Since this cake isn't cloyingly sweet combining it with raspberry coulis, fresh (or frozen) raspberries, and bittersweet chocolate sauce (and a little vanilla ice cream, optional) made a scrumptious dessert.

Easy Chocolate Cake is superior in every way to a cake mix, and nearly as little work. With some cake mixes costing almost $15, it is also a money-saver. In college I remember seeing people mix it entirely in the cake pan so even the clean up was easy. (I know I tried it back then but can't remember how easily it came out of the pan. I'll let you know sometime when I test it.)

I know this recipe works well for high altitudes (and have baked it at 4300-5600 ft). I've been trying to remember when I cooked this cake at sea-level and although I don't trust my hazy memories, I believe it works at low altitudes, largely because a nearly identical recipe was recently featured on Food52. That recipe adds 1 T vanilla (which would probably be great) and suggests ramping up the chocolate flavor by substituting coffee for the water, which would make it less easy for some cooks, although an instant coffee powder would work here.


Better Than a Box: Easy Chocolate Cake

Source: This was my mom's go-to recipe. I'm not certain of its origin.
Yield: one 9X13 cake or two 8X8 cakes or two 9-in round cakes

3 c flour
2 c sugar
1 teas salt
1/2 c cocoa
2 teas baking soda
2/3 c oil
2 T vinegar
2 c cold water

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir wet ingredients together and add to dry ingredients. Mix until no streaks of dry ingredients remain. This can be done by hand or in a mixer, but if you use a mixer stop while there are still some dry streaks and stir by hand until everything is incorporated. If you stir your cake batter too much you'll encourage the formation of gluten which will make it rather tough.

Bake in a 9X13 pan for 35-45 minutes or until poking it with a toothpick shows no batter or crumbs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pork, Black-Eyed Peas, and Chard with Pickled Red Onions

Growing up without southern roots, I didn't know much about black-eyed peas until I was an adult. Even then, it has been a slow journey because I wasn't exposed to them much until I found them on the menu of Dixie Bones Barbecue, in Woodbridge, VA. When I grew the legume to "fix nitrogen" in my corn patch, I began to understand why it became an important culinary and agricultural product in southern United States. Now I keep a look out for recipes which use them either fresh or dried. This recent discovery is fantastic with the pickled onion garnish but would still be good without it.


Pork, Black-Eyed Peas, and Chard with Pickled Red Onions

Adapted from: America's Test Kitchen's  The Best Slow and Easy Recipes
Serves:  8


The original recipe called for collards, the traditional accompaniment to black-eyed peas, but I didn't have any in the garden so I substituted chard. I am certain almost any green can be cooked in this dish, just know that cooking times vary depending on the green. Chard (and to a greater extent, spinach) can't take long cooking in the oven but thicker, chewier leaves need it. Just be aware of the difference. Maybe I'll grow collards so I can try them out sometime.

Also, ATK advises cooks against substituting canned or frozen black-eyed peas. I agree with recommendations to avoid canned (they would end up as mush) but I think you can use frozen (I've used home frozen black-eyed peas) but don't soak them. I just add them instead of soaked beans although I only guessed on the amount in the substitution--about twice as many frozen as dried.

One more thing, if you like the idea of the pickled onions being bright pink, you may want to prepare them first so they can sit out while the rest of the dish cooks.

1 pd dried black-eyed peas (about 2 2/3 c), picked over, rinsed, and salt-soaked overnight or quick-salt soaked (see below)
2 pds boneless country-style pork ribs (I couldn't find them so I got 2 1/2 pds with bones--you may want to remove the bones before serving)
4 oz bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 medium red onion, minced
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 T)
3 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 c water
1 bunch chard, leaves stemmed, halved and sliced crosswise
2 bay leaves
1 recipe Sweet and Spicy Pickled Onions, below

Adjust your oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 300F. Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid, and rinse well. (At this point you can add frozen black-eyed peas.)

In a large Dutch oven cook bacon until crispy; remove from pan and set aside. Raise heat to medium-high.

Pat the ribs dry and season with salt and pepper.  Brown the ribs on both sides, reducing the heat if the pot begins to scorch. If you have a splatter screen, use it ; otherwise, you'll have a greasy clean-up. Transfer the ribs to a plate.

Pour off all but 2 T fat in pot. Stir in the onion, celery, and 1/4 teas salt and cook, stirring often, until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the broth, water, black-eyed peas, and bay leaves, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to a simmer. (If you are using collard greens, they may be added at this point.)

Nestle the ribs, along with any accumulated juices, into the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover, place the pot in the oven, and cook until the black-eyed peas and the pork are tender (a fork poked into it will meet little resistance) about one hour. Remove pot from oven and stir in the chard. Return to the oven for 10 minutes until the chard is wilted.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve, passing the pickled onions at the table.

This dish can be cooked a day ahead, but add the chard when you reheat it, which can be done on the stove-top rather than the oven.

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Onions

1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/2 c sugar
jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (the recommended amount is 2 chiles, but I used 1/2 of one chile which resulted in a mild pickle)
1/4 teas salt

Heat the vinegar, sugar, chiles, and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat. Stir the onions into the hot vinegar mixture and cover loosely. Let cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. The longer the onions are in the vinegar, the more pink they become, which I find attractive. If you think you'll have left overs, you may want to keep the onions in the vinegar while storing in the refrigerator.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Potato Leek Soup

In some parts of the country, it seems like eternal winter, but here in Utah it's been mild and lovely for weeks. Before the chill is completely gone from the air, here's a favorite soup recipe.

This soup is simple yet delicious, and it means that I'm always on the lookout for beautiful leeks in the winter. Like most leek recipes, this soup uses the lower white section of the leek, so the more white there is, the more you can use in the soup. So beautiful leeks to me have long lower white sections. The chives or green onions as a garnish are technically optional, but they significantly enhance the taste so I highly recommend them.

It's best served with a loaf of crusty bread--beer bread is a good option.


Potato Leek Soup

Source: my Aunt Sandy Boizelle, via the Spackman Family Cookbook

2 celery stalks, thinly sliced (optional)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2-3 leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced 1/8 inch thick (don't use the tough green part, just the white part)
3 cans (about 4 1/2 c) chicken broth
1 can of cold water
1/2 c whipping cream
2 T butter
1 teas salt
1/4 teas pepper
chopped chives or scallions

Combine potatoes, leeks, chicken broth, and water in a large heavy pot and cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 35-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Without draining off broth, mash vegetables in the pan with a potato masher. The original recipe says to mash until quite smooth, but we like it a little chunky. Add cream, butter, salt and pepper and heat just to boiling point but do not boil. Serve with chives or scallions to sprinkle on top.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Melanie's Spinach Salad

Recently I was asked to bring a salad to a potluck. I remembered this delicious old favorite that came to us from my Aunt Melanie and although I managed to overdress the salad, people seemed to like it quite well. If you haven't used jicama before, it's a tuber and looks like a big, misshapen potato. The white insides taste slightly sweet and clean and crisp, providing lovely texture to this salad.


Melanie's Spinach Salad

Source: my Aunt Melanie, of Melanie's Biscochitos fame

Jicama, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c-3/4 c slivered almonds (I used sliced in the picture, and you can chop whole almonds, too, but I think the sugar sticks better to slivered almonds)
3 T sugar

Toast the almonds in a skillet over medium heat for 5 or so minutes. Then remove the almonds and heat the sugar without stirring until it begins to melt. Once most of the sugar is liquid, but before it turns brown and burns, add the almonds to the skillet and stir well. Pour the nuts onto a sheet of wax paper to cool and harden. Break up any large clumps of nuts.

To assemble, start with spinach and add jicama and oranges to your taste. Dress the salad--to your taste, the dressing recipe makes a lot--and top with caramelized almonds.


1/2 T orange zest
1/4 c orange juice
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 T sugar
2 T white vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 c salt

Mix well together. (This dressing is amazing with freshly squeezed orange juice!)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

French-Style Pork Stew

A couple of weeks ago I watched America's Test Kitchen on PBS. The following is one of the featured recipes from the episode "French Style Dutch Oven Dinners." It is quite a meaty stew and in the future I think I will use less meat and add more cabbage and potatoes. But I will post it as appears on the website. I encourage you to search out the ham shank or hocks (or a left-over ham bone) since this ingredient adds both flavor and a silky mouth feel.


French-Style Pork Stew

Adapted from: America's Test Kitchen
Serves: 8-10 (easily halved if needed)

6 parsley springs, plus 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
3 large sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 teas dried thyme)
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 bay leaves
1 T black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
5 c water
4 c chicken broth
3 pounds boneless pork butt roast (or shoulder) trimmed of fat and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 meaty smoked ham shank or 2-3 smoked ham hocks (1 1/4 pounds)
2 onions, halved through root end, root end left intact
4 carrots, peeled, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (waxy potatoes are better than russet)
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 head savoy cabbage, shredded (8 cups) (savoy has a milder flavor but you can substitute regular cabbage, if necessary)

Preheat oven to 325F. Cut a 10-inch square of triple-thickness cheesecloth. Place parsley springs (fold or break to fit), thyme sprigs, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and cloves in the center of cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with kitchen twine. (If you don't have cheesecloth, I suggest you tie the herb sprigs and bay leaves together with twine so they can be removed later. Smash the garlic and substitute ground pepper and cloves, although I'm not certain on amounts--use only a little powdered cloves.)

Bring water, broth, pork, ham, onions, and herb bundle to simmer in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, skimming off scum that rises to the surface. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook until the pork pieces are tender and a skewer inserted in the meat meets little resistance, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the ham to a plate. Add the carrots and potatoes to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and return to the oven. Cook until the vegetables are almost tender, 20-25 minutes. When the ham is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, and using 2 forks, shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones.

Add the shredded ham, kielbasa, and cabbage to the pot. Stir to combine, cover, and return to the oven. Cook until the kielbasa is heated through and the cabbage is wilted and tender, 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the chopped parsley. Ladle into bowls and serve with crusty bread. The stew can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Mike's Treats

I made these treats often during the years that my kids were teenagers. They were a hit at fundraisers and requested often for other occasions. In addition to its long-standing place in our nuclear family cooking history, the recipe has an even older connection to the Peterson side of the family.

I grew up in the most kid-friendly spot in United States. My dad and mom were one of the many American couples who married in the decade after WWII. When my dad got a job teaching at Carbon College in Price, Utah, they bought a little concrete block house in a neighborhood of affordable homes populated by other couples just like them. The baby boom was in full swing and our small street was home to about 45 children so my brothers and I always had friends to play with. Mothers stayed at home and watched out for all the kids on the street, not just their own, so to us it seemed we played outside without supervision. Our street was the last street in a small town offering open space for exploration.

My brother Joe's best friend was Michael Bryson, who sadly died of Hodgkin's disease before he turned 20. Years later, Mike's sister lived nearby another of my brothers, John, and his wife, Linda. She shared a recipe for one of Mike's favorites with my sister-in-law who shared it with me. Like his family, we refer to this confection as Mike's Treats.


Mike's Treats

Source: Linda Peterson
Serves: it depends on how big you cut them

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
4 c crisp rice cereal
1 c bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 c butterscotch chips

In a roomy saucepan, heat the sugar and corn syrup and bring to a simmer, cooking just until the sugar dissolves (if you let it boil too long the cereal layer will be too hard).

Remove from the heat and add 3/4 c creamy peanut butter and mix well. Add 4 c cereal and stir well. Press into a buttered 9X13 pan. Set aside. Over a very low heat, or in the microwave, melt together butterscotch chips and 1 c chocolate chips. Be careful that no water gets into this mixture or it will seize (no fun). Spread the melted chips over the cereal layer and allow to cool before cutting with a sharp knife.

Notes about chips:

Most of the time this recipe has been in my possession, I've made it with semisweet chocolate chips, but recently I've found I prefer using bittersweet chips. Mixing semisweet chips with butterscotch results in a milk-chocolate topping which is too sweet and lacking in chocolate flavor. Betsy has also found that Guittard Butterscotch Chips are the best to use if you can find them.