Oatmeal Cocoa Chocolate Chip Cookies

Did you ever bite into what you thought was an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, salivating with anticipation, only to discover that those “chocolate chips” were … raisins?! That might be great for some people, but I am not riding the white flour-butter-and-sugar-laden cookie train just to arrive at oats and raisins. But I do absolutely love a fresh, homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and so does my husband. Last night, he requested a dose of homebaked comfort, but couldn’t decide whether the aforementioned cookie would ring his bell, or if it was a chocolate cookie he craved. No problem, we can have the best of both worlds. I threw together this recipe, and proved it.

  • 1 C softened butter
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 3/4 C cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 C regular oats
  • 16 oz. chocolate chips (I used half dark chocolate chips and half semi-sweet, with a few additional white chips for garnish)
  1. Combine first four ingredients, beating well.
  2. Mix together all remaining ingredients except chips, then stir into butter mixture.
  3. Mix in chips.
  4. Bake 9-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. So good!

Gingerbread rockin’

Moist, decadent and great with beer

I’m a big fan of making up my own recipes, because I get to combine several of my favorite things into one creation. Christmas is the traditional time to enjoy gingerbread, which I love. I also happen to adore chewy, robust molasses cookies and craft beer. So let’s put them all together and top them off with spiced cream cheese frosting, shall we?

This layer cake incorporates the zing of both ground and fresh ginger, a hearty helping of molasses and one cup of dark beer. As for which to use, choosing the beer is half the fun, so I’ll leave that up to you. I used a homebrewed porter, but any dark ale will do. To accent the flavors of brown sugar and molasses, if you’re from Michigan you might try Scotty Karate from Dark Horse. Dragonmead’s Under The Kilt Wee Heavy would also fit this bill. Whatever you choose, seeking out an ale brewed in your region will bring some local flavor to your cake.

Wassail! Gingerbread Ale Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1/4 t ground cloves
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 C unsalted butter (omit pinch of salt if using salted butter)
  • 1 C dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 t minced fresh ginger
  • 1 C molasses
  • 1 C scotch ale, stout or porter
  • 1 C chopped pecans, optional
  1. Whisk together dry ingredients (first seven ingredients).
  2. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Add minced ginger and molasses and blend well.
  3. Alternately add dry ingredients and beer to butter mixture, about 1/3 at a time until finished. Stir in pecans if desired.
  4. Pour batter into two buttered 8” round cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes in a preheated 350 oven.
  5. Allow to cool about 20 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and allow to cool completely on racks.

Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 C butter, softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 C crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)
  1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter.
  2. Mix in the vanilla and spices, then gradually stir in the sugar as needed until desired consistency is achieved.
  3. Center one cake on plate or cake stand; frost top with 1/3 of frosting.
  4. Top with other cake, frost top with 1/3 of frosting and then frost sides with remaining frosting. Finish with crystallized ginger if desired.

Tomatoes: summer’s rubies are still gleaming

Last year, which was the first summer in our home, our garden suffered greatly from poor soil and extensive shading by surrounding trees. Not to be defeated, my husband built a lovely raised-bed garden in a new location this past spring, and filled it with rich compost. With my due date fast approaching, I wasn’t much help, but he did a great job by himself. The result was a bountiful garden which yielded glorious fruits and vegetables, including enough tomatoes both to work into practically every meal and to preserve for the months ahead.

Now, with winter almost a month away, it is a joy to reach a jar of ruby-red, homegrown organic tomatoes off our pantry shelf. While they are an ideal backbone for comfort-food dishes like chili and venison stew, they also star in another of life’s simple pleasures, homemade tomato sauce.

I was in my early 20s before I’d every attempted to make my own tomato sauce. I was inspired, however, by a beautiful cookbook I’d received as a gift, The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. This is one of those beguiling cookbooks in which enticing recipes are interlaced with personal insights and pleasing vignettes (and yet the results never feel cloying). You get the feeling that each meal Anna creates is a celebration in itself, and you can’t help but get caught up in the vibe and want to fly to the kitchen, grab a spatula in one hand and a spoon in the other and go in search of food nirvana.

So, I was gung-ho as I completed each step for Anna’s tomato sauce, from peeling the tomatoes to roasting them to simmering away for hours. The results, of course, were heavenly,  the thought of committing once again to such an undertaking, daunting.

Over the years, I developed an easy, pared-down recipe for tomato sauce that still demands a good long simmer, but with very little prep time involved. It works equally well for a bumper crop of garden tomatoes or with jarred tomatoes. The deep, rich, tantalizing result is an asset to everything from the humblest pasta to the most elaborate lasagna.

Summer Rubies Tomato Sauce

Just do this: throw 3-4 pounds tomatoes, quartered, stem area removed (or 3 cups jarred undrained tomatoes or 28 oz. canned); 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks; and 6-8 plump cloves garlic, peeled, into a blender. Purée, working in batches if necessary; pour the results in a pot and simmer gently with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and rich.

(Additions such as 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste; salt and pepper, to taste; 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil; and 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley are all optional. Stick with the basic trinity of tomatoes, onion and garlic and you can’t go wrong; remember, you’re not being lazy, you’re a purist!)

Acorn squash

Butternut squash gets all the love. Yet it was acorn squash we grew in the garden, so acorn squash I had to work with. Truthfully, I’d never eaten acorn squash before, other than maybe in an upscale restaurant. Turns out, acorn squash roasts up deliciously and also makes a satisfyingly wonderful soup.

The one drawback of acorn squash is its natural packaging; the rind is not as easy to vanquish as that of other squashes, due to its deep ridges. I found that quartering it and then going to work with a vegetable peeler eventually did the job.

I’m a fan of what my husband and his longtime friend once dubbed “the overtaste:” the more flavor, the better, with no danger of ever being bland. So when I set out to make my first-ever acorn squash bisque, I kept adding and adding the flavor. I’m passing along the resulting recipe, which yields a tasty, creamy soup. The recipe itself is meant to be doubled or tripled. I made this several times, and jarred the results for future winter evenings.

Acorn Squash Ginger Bisque

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large acorn squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
1 medium white potato, roughly chopped
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
2 T honey
1/2 t fresh sage
1/2 t fresh thyme
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt (to taste)
1/4 t nutmeg
3 C organic vegetable broth

  • In large, heavy-bottom pot, gently heat olive oil.
  • Add in squash, potato, onion and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender.
  • Add garlic and ginger, cook two minutes, then add all remaining ingredients plus 1 cup of stock, and stir well.
  • Carefully transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth, adding broth as needed to puree and to reach desired consistency. Work in batches if necessary.

Thanksgiving dessert, featuring Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Pie

With cherries pictured on top, without on the bottom, both surrounded by other Thanksgiving treats

Yesterday was a wonderful Thanksgiving, with a cornucopia of delicious food shared by much-loved family members. The dinner spread was rivaled only by the dessert options. My dessert contribution was a Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Pie, a new twist on a “Turkey Day” classic. For the pie, I used dark cherries that my husband and I picked in Jackson County this summer, and I then pitted and froze. Make this pie, and I predict that second helpings will be in your future.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Pecan Pie
3 large eggs
1 C light corn syrup
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C butter, melted
1 t vanilla
1 C chopped pecans, plus pecan halves for garnish
1 C dark chocolate chunks, plus extra for garnish
1 C pitted and halved frozen cherries, thawed

Mix all but cherries together.
Pour about 1/2 of mixture into 1 deep dish/4 C volume 9” pie shell (I like the refrigerated take-and-bake kind, prepared to package directions).
Add cherries in an even layer, then top with remaining pecan mixture.
Use additional pecan halves and chocolate chunks for garnish.
Protect crust edges from burning with aluminum foil or a pie crust shield, then bake in preheated 350 degree oven 35-45 minutes.

Peach recipes

Peach Chutney

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 one large sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 T chopped ginger
  • 1/2 C apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 t chili flakes (depending on heat of jalapeno & personal taste)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t allspice
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 t cumin
  • 1 t coriander
  • 1/4 t turmeric
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 10-12 medium peaches, peeled and diced
  1. Heat oil, then sauté onion, garlic, jalapeno and ginger until softened.
  2. Add vinegar, brown sugar, and all other ingredients except peaches and bring to a boil.
  3. Add peaches, reduce heat and simmer until peaches are soft.

Makes 2 quarts

Peach Barbeque Sauce

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 one large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 8-10 peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 C apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 C bourbon
  • 1/4 C honey
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T ketchup
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t molasses
  • 2 T packed brown sugar
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 1/2 t dry mustard
  • 1 t fresh ground pepper
  • 1 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 t salt
  1. Heat oil, then sauté onion, garlic and jalapeno until soft.
  2. Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil, then simmer until peaches are soft.
  3. If desired, puree half of mixture and return to pot to mix.

Peach Blueberry Pie

  • 3/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 1/4 t ginger
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 1/8 t almond extract
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice
  • 4 C skinned chopped peaches
  • 1 C blueberries
  1. Combine first five ingredients.
  2. Stir together last four ingredients.
  3. Add dry mixture to fruit, then pour into two 9” pie crusts.
  4. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 30-45 more minutes, depending on oven.