granola bars

chocolate granola 7

I don’t know how best to say this in order for you all to understand the significance: My youngest son can now eat granola bars!

You may be thinking this isn’t big news or noteworthy, yet it is. He has a severe tree nut allergy, and there is not a granola bar available for purchase that is safe for him to eat. Because of this he hasn’t had a granola bar since before his diagnosis, which was about 4 years ago. But now, thanks once again to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, he has granola bars daily! And this makes him happy.

Since I started making these, we always have granola bars in the house. Not only are they easy, but the ingredients are not expensive, and are easy to keep stocked in my kitchen.

I’ve made these in different variations, and my son has declared his favorite are the ones with cocoa as well as chocolate chips that aren’t melted in the mix. I prefer the ones without the cocoa. They’re all good … but we each have our favorite!

Below are the two variations I’ve made lately.

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Chocolate Granola Bars

1 3/4 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

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Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats and cereal.

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Add cocoa. Stir well to combine then remove from heat.

Add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats and cereal. Stir well to combine everything into a big sticky bowl of yumminess.

chocolate granola 1

chocolate granola 2

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

chocolate granola 3

Top with chocolate chips. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even and to push the chips into the granola a bit.

chocolate granola 4

chocolate granola 5

Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

chocolate granola 8

Note: I like cutting them into 1×1-inch pieces — a few of these are perfect for my son’s daily snack at school. Also, for Valentine’s Day I used plastic heart cookie cutters (large and small) and, as you can see, I got the cutest heart shaped granola bars! Since I make these granola bars weekly, I’ll start cutting them using other cookie cutter shapes that I have just to make my son’s daily school snack a little more fun.

Another note: In addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Remember to add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

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granola 11

Granola Bars

2 cups quick oats *Note: Important to use quick oats and not old-fashioned.

1 cup crispy rice cereal

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

~

Line a 9×9 (or similar size pan) with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips.

Note: If you don’t want the chocolate chips to melt from the heat of the liquid, keep them to the side until after the mixture is pressed into the pan (as I did in the above batch). 

granola 2

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the butter, honey, and brown sugar. Stir well and often.

granola 1

Once bubbles appear, simmer and continue stirring for about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir.

Pour this mixture over the oats, cereal, and chocolate chips in the large bowl. Stir well to coat all the oats and cereal.

*Update: I’ve made these so often now that I’ve changed my favorite version. Adding the chocolate chips at this point is not my favorite way of making these anymore. I prefer to add them at the end, as in the first example. By the way, if I were to add other ingredients, such as chopped pretzels, I might add the chocolate chips to the oats and cereal, because I’m not sure how well it would all stick otherwise.

granola 3

granola 4

Spread the mix into the pan lined with parchment paper.

granola 6

Place a sheet of parchment paper on top and press firmly to make the mixture even.

Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

granola 7

After the 2 hours, slide the parchment off the pan onto a counter and cut into whatever size and shape you want.

granola 8

granola 9

granola 10

Note: As noted above, in addition to — or in place of — the chocolate chips, you could add chopped dried fruit and/or crushed/chopped pretzels and/or raisins. I wouldn’t add more than a total of 1/3 cup of these items. Add them to the oats and cereal before pouring on the butter and honey mixture. 

candy cane kiss cookies

candy cane kiss cookies (1)

Today I made a large batch of chocolate kiss cookies, but used the Hershey’s Candy Cane kisses instead of chocolate ones. Usually I make a batch of each to give as gifts, but this year we ate all the plain chocolate kisses before I had a chance to make the cookies!

These are very festive and colorful and cheery…. A perfect cookie for the holiday season!

The recipe is the same as for the chocolate kiss cookies — just the flavor of kisses is different — so I’m not reposting that recipe (you can click the link above to go directly there). Instead I’ll offer you the photos from the photo shoot I did this afternoon. Those cookies are so photogenic!

candy cane kiss cookies (7)

candy cane kiss cookies (6)

candy cane kiss cookies (5)

candy cane kiss cookies (4)

candy cane kiss cookies (3)

candy cane kiss cookies (2)

Christmas cookies

It’s that special, magical, yummy time of the year…. Christmas cookie time!  

As Christmas approaches I’m getting my recipes in order and stocking up on flour and chocolate and eggs. During this time of year I like to make lots of cookies and put a few of each on festive trays to distribute to neighbors and friends and teachers.

I don’t make all the cookies on the same day. Instead I freeze some, such as the gingersnaps and butter cookies, as described here.

frozen balls of cookie dough

These are the cookies I’m planning on making for this cookie-giving season:

cocoa cookies

cocoa cookies 6

butter cookies

butter cookies (4)

shortbread cookies

shortbread cookies

chocolate kiss cookies

kiss cookies (6)

hidden kiss cookies

cookie close up

gingersnaps 

gingersnaps

And a non-cookie as well:

candy cane bark

candy cane bark

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Okay, your turn…. What kind of cookies are you planning on making this holiday season? What’s your favorite cookie?

gingersnaps

Other than the turkey leftovers and a few slices of pie, Thanksgiving is over. This means it’s Christmas cookie season now! Yesterday we made these gingersnaps — my favorite!

food with pictures

gingersnaps

Okay, here’s a fact: I could give up sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies, and any other cookie, but not gingersnaps. I’m sure no one has ever asked me this question, but if they did, gingersnaps would be the one cookie I took with me to a deserted island, if I could only pick one kind. They are that good.

Yet, I forget about them. During the Christmas season I make them and enjoy them, but then the holidays come and go and spring arrives and I don’t make them again for months and months. Why? I have no idea.

It is now Christmastime, and today was a “make cookies” day and I made both butter cookies and these gingersnaps. I am a happy girl right now, with two containers of yummy cookies to enjoy with my evening cup of tea.

*Note: I’ve had this recipe for at least a…

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my favorite chocolate chip cookies

chocolate chip cookies 2

I posted this recipe a long time ago, but am posting it again because they’re so good. I think it’s safe to say this is my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Tonight I made these so that my daughter could have a few to use as the base for a cheesecake parfait (that recipe will be posted soon). It was also one of those days where you realize life is short, so I decided chocolate chip cookies for dinner was a good decision. Everyone agreed (no surprise there).

*Note: This recipe comes from the cookbook Cook This Not That! I made a few very slight changes to their recipe.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 stick butter, softened

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips OR 1 cup semi-sweet (regular or mini) chocolate chips (*I prefer the mini ones)

sea salt, optional (*we sometimes add this, and sometimes we don’t)

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Heat oven to 375F.

In mixer bowl, thoroughly mix butter and sugars until creamy.

Mix in eggs and vanilla.

Add baking soda, salt, and flour. Mix until dough comes together. Be careful not to overmix.

Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookies sheets. (*I put parchment paper down on the cookie sheets.) Leave space between each cookie.

Bake until edges are golden and until the middles are just barely set. (*The book does not list a time. We set our timer for 8 minutes, and check the cookies at that point…. so I’d say 8-10 minutes.)

Remove from the cookie sheets (having them on parchment paper makes this step in the process so easy … simply slide the paper off the cookie sheet, onto a counter). If desired, sprinkle with a bit of the sea salt. Cool.

*Note: Depending on how the planets are aligned, I get between 2 and 3 dozen cookies. The original recipe calls for larger cookies, and therefore makes only one dozen.

chocolate chip cookies

vanilla bean cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

vanilla bean cupcake 1

Last Thursday during lunch time I received this text from my teenage daughter (FYI: At our local high school the students are allowed to use their cellphones during lunch period):

do we have vanilla beans?

My response:

No

Then this text from her, two minutes later:

I want to make vanilla bean cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

My response to that:

Yummmmmmy

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My daughter has never made vanilla bean cupcakes. Nor have I. We don’t even have a recipe for vanilla bean cupcakes. I’m not exactly sure how the idea for these cupcakes popped into her head last Thursday, but I’m very glad it did.

So, after school that day she stopped at the grocery to pick up vanilla beans, butter, and cream cheese. At home she searched for recipes online and after reviewing a few picked this one (minor changes were made, as noted below). Later that evening she made the vanilla bean cupcakes and the next day after school she and her friend made the cream cheese frosting and frosted the cupcakes. Then we ate them (well, not all of them, but enough). It was a good day.

The cupcakes were light and delicious and yummy. Now I’m looking forward to her next food related text.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

(The original recipe states this makes 16 cupcakes, by filling the cups just over half full. Instead we filled them just under half full and made 24 cupcakes.)

1 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 3/4 cups flour, sifted (original recipe called for cake flour, which we did not have)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup whole milk

~

Heat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean, using the back of a spoon to break up the clumps and to infuse the flavor into the sugar.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the mixer.

To this add the vanilla bean/sugar mixture. Mix all until well combined.

Add butter. Mix on low speed for three minutes.

In a small bowl whisk until smooth the eggs, sour cream, oil and vanilla extract.

Add the egg mixture to the flour/butter mixture. Beat on medium speed until combined.

While on low speed, slowly add the milk.

The batter will be thin.

Using paper liners (or silicone liners, if you prefer) in muffin tins, fill each one about 1/2 full (as noted above, you may get anywhere from 16 to 24 cupcakes, depending on how much batter goes into each one).

Bake for 14 minutes. Use a cake tester or wooden toothpick to test if they are done. They won’t be golden brown, so do no go by sight to test if they are done … trust the toothpick! Continue to cook for one minute more, if need be, and then test again. Repeat a time or two if the toothpick comes out wet.

When the toothpick is clean, remove muffin tins from oven and transfer each cupcake to a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

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Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup), at room temperature

8 ounces Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature

approximately 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (*Note: My daughter states “I don’t measure vanilla extract” and is surprised others do.)

3 to 4 cups powdered sugar

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Beat butter and cream cheese in mixer on medium/high speed until well blended.

Add vanilla and continue to mix for a couple minutes.

Gradually add powdered sugar until desired consistency.

*This recipe was found on the Kraft Brands site, a link to it is here, though they use less vanilla extract in their recipe (and I assume they measure it as well) and is similar to the recipe I’ve posted previously, found here.

vanilla bean cupcake 4

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frozen cookies

frozen balls of cookie dough

No, this isn’t a recipe for frozen cookies. Instead it’s a time-saving hint for making cookies during this busy time of the year (or anytime you need/want lots of cookies).

Last week I made gingersnaps and butter cookies, twice. For one of the batches I made them according to the recipe, then took about two dozen or so of the prepared dough balls and put them in plastic zipper baggies. For the butter cookies I did not roll them out, as directed in the recipe, but instead made them into 1-inch balls and rolled each in colored sugars. Then into the freezer the two bags went. Today I took them out of the freezer and let them thaw on the counter (though they could be placed in the refrigerator for a few hours instead).

cookie dough to freeze

Now I’m heating the oven, and putting the dough balls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Because the cookie temperatures are different, I’ve started at 375F and am baking the tray of gingersnaps first. Then when they are out of the oven, I’ll increase the temperature to 400F and bake the sheet of butter cookies.

thawed cookie dough

Yum! Fresh hot delicious cookies without having to start all over again!