Thursday, September 15, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've stated before that Peanut Butter and Chocolate are my very favorite food combinations. I would eat anything that came with those two things. So, last night when Mr. E was expressing his extreme need for a cookie (OK, he wanted the dough), he suggested making some cookies that appeared on his cousin's blog. THEY WERE INCREDIBLE! I  loved them. They immediately went into my permanent collection of recipes. 

What is so great about them is the peanut butter flavor is subtle yet perfect. It's just the right amount. I don't usually like PB cookies for that reason. The peanut butter flavor is so strong, it's almost artificial. But, in these it was just the right amount. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Oh, and by the way, I added much more chocolate chips than called for. I always do!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar 
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips 
Bake at 375 degrees for 8 - 10 minutes.  Makes 5 dozen cookies.

The only changes I made was that I halved the recipe--we certainly do not need 5 dozen cookies around here. And I added a dash of vanilla. Every chocolate chip cookie recipe needs it. Oh! And when you measure out your peanut butter, whether you do 1 cup or 1/2 cup, make sure it's a HEAPING cup! 

Doing the Can Can

Over the past two or three years, I've tried to learn about canning.  I've read books, searched the Internet, and tapped the experience of friends and neighbors.  My family can't quite understand why I like it.  My mom and sister (yes, my blog partner Mrs. E) tease me about it calling me a "pioneer."  Despite their teasing, they are more than happy to gobble up jars of goodies that I bring them when I visit.  Not to mention Grandpa C (my mom's Mr.) LOVES it when I make him homemade peach jam.

I love the look of canned items.  I've even taken some pictures to blow up and hang in my kitchen someday.  When I go to the state fair each year, the canned items are some of the things I look most forward to seeing.  I love the colors and the varieties of foods--although the canned meats usually looks disgusting.  This year, the grand champion of canning entered 39 different items and won 26 blue ribbons.  Look at all her hard work:

I find all those jars mesmerizing and beautiful.  I'm sure others would find it crazy!

Since my family has been requesting strawberry jam for a while, I unpacked all my canning supplies a couple months ago when I finally found some strawberries on sale.

(Did anyone else notice that strawberries never really went down in price this summer?  UG!)

For my strawberry jam I use the non-pectin recipe from the Ball canning book.  It's a great overall canning recipe/guide book that you can pick up for 5.00-6.00 at almost any store that sells canning supplies.  The drawback to non-pectin jam is that you have to cook it for a while and you get less jam from the batch because your mixture boils down.  I started with 12 pounds of strawberries and only ended up with 9 pints of jam. It's not a lot to pass out to the family, but it will do.  I like the texture of boiled down jam better than pectin jam because it's not so "coagulated."  With boiled down strawberry jam, the texture is just perfect to use the jam as ice cream topping too.

Let me just interject here that freezer jam appears to be a lot like boiled jam in texture to me, but I never make it.  I simply do not have the fridge or freezer space to store a lot of jam, so I have to go for preserved jars. 

A couple of weeks passed by and I got an urge to try a new jam...PLUM!  I watched local sales and found plums on sale for 50 cents a pound.  When I told my mom I was going to make plum jam, she told me my grandma used to can whole plums.  I consulted my canning book and decided to give them a try as well.  Mr. C can't get enough plums during the summer so whole fruits seemed like the perfect item to attempt.  Between calculating what we'd need for jam and whole fruit, Mr. C and I decided to buy 40 (yes 40!!!) pounds of plums.

Our kitchen was OVERFLOWING!

(Don't you just LOVE my new gigantic colander?!  THANK YOU IKEA!)

One Friday afternoon, with Mr. C's help, I decided to do 10 quarts of plums.  Can you spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R?  It was a horrible experience.  We could hardly get any in the jars, I couldn't get the air bubbles out, the syrup half boiled out of the jars, and worst of all, the finished product looked disgusting.  The whole adventure was, well, disastrous.  After staring at the jars for a day, I decided they were horrible and there was no way I was wasting precious food storage space on them.  So, I opened every jar and recycled the plums.  Instead of turning 20 pounds of plums in to jam, I was now back at my original 40.  40 pounds of plums for jam!  Can you even imagine?  Needless to say, I made jam for DAYS!

It was a ton of work, but I must say the final result was more delicious than I anticipated it would be.  Mr. C was so enthralled by it, he ate a piece of bread with plum jam every day for two weeks.  Not only that, he put some on barbecued ribs and it was FANTASTIC.  I ended up with 28 half-pints and 16 pints of this newly discovered treasure.  This gives me plenty to hand out to the family, keep for us, and give away (can you say "hello Christmas gifts!").

(If you're wondering what the orange jars are, it's peach jam that I made at the same time as the plum to restock Grandpa C's cupboard.  He just loves it!)

In case you want to try this delightful treat, I am putting the recipe at the end of this post.  Plums are still a great price right now, so I encourage you to give this one a try.

At the end of the plum overload, my neighbor called saying the house next to her had an apricot tree (just typing that makes me smile thinking of singing "popcorn popping" with my niece!) FULL of fruit that the owners did not want.  We spent two days picking and I ended up with three overflowing laundry baskets.

It took me a few days to get them all canned in to halves and jam.  By the end of about the fourth day, I was so sick of apricots that I will not cry if I don't see a fresh one for a while.  Even after canning 17 quarts of halves and 20+ jars of jam, (and eating a few along the way each day) I still had apricots to give away.  GOOD RIDDANCE!

Remember my whole "I love boiled down jam the best" comments from earlier?  That went out the window with the apricots.  I did my first batch of apricot jam by boiling it down, but after an hour I still couldn't get it to the thickness I wanted.  I was too burned out from 40 pounds of plums and probably double that in apricots to deal with boiling anymore.  I went to the store for some pectin and didn't look back.

22 pints and 4 or 5 half-pints later I was finally done!  My kitchen windows were full of jars for days.

In total I think I made roughly 60+ jars of jam (along with the 10 canned and then un-canned quarts of plums and the 17 quarts of apricots) and went through almost 50 pounds of sugar.  Want to hear the funniest part of it all?  Mr. C and I really do not eat a lot of jam!  Oh well.  It's been great for learning, I have all my neighbor/work gifts done for Christmas, and I have 2 1/2 cases of jam and fruit to take to my family next month!  Plus, who knows...maybe some year I will be taking a picture of my own canning blue ribbon at the fair!

As promised, here is the plum jam recipe from the Ball canning book:
Plum Preserves
5 c pitted tart plums (about 2 1/2 pounds)
4 c sugar
1 c water
Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pot.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly almost to a gelling point.  As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat.  Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 15 minutes (or 25 if you're in a high elevation like me) in a boiling-water canner.  Note: I cut my plums in fourths.  Yield: about 5 half-pints

Side note: I have FANTASTIC recipes for canned spaghetti sauce and salsa that I will be posting as soon as my tomatoes finally ripen so I can use them!  I'm hoping that happens in the next couple weeks!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In case you are wondering...

...what happens when you accidentally hit the side of your oven door "just right" with a glass measuring cup, this is it:

If you think you are looking at one million pieces of shattered saftey glass, you're not.  You're looking at 10 million!  And the circular space on the front left corner area is where my naked foot was during the rainshower of glass.  Delightful!

As a side note, the glass measuring cup didn't have so much as a chip out of it.  Go figure!

For the Hostess Who Wants To Be The Most-ess

Let me start this post by saying that I certainly do not consider myself to be "The Hostess with the Most-ess." In fact, quite the opposite.

About four months ago my mom and three of her sisters came to stay with me and Mr. C for a night before we all headed to a conference. I was SO excited to have them all come stay!  I always have grand ideas of being the perfect hostess offering the most comfortable beds, delicious warm cookies for snacks, and a breakfast that makes my guests feel as if they are on vacation at a resort. Then reality clubs me on the head--HARD!  The reality of my accommodations is that I can't offer overly comfortable beds. In fact, my mom and one of her sisters had to sleep on air mattresses in my craft room. I didn't serve warm cookies as a snack either since we'd eaten ourselves silly at a family party that day.  Breakfast, however, I had a little more control over. I don't really have the funds, nor did we all have the time, for a resort style breakfast, but I did get up early to make fresh muffins to serve alongside some fresh fruit. That, my friends, is where this post takes muffinland.  But first, a little flashback.

Eight or so years ago my good friend Cheryl bought a muffin cookbook with cover art that matched her kitchen decor perfectly.  Year after year I looked at that book sitting happily on it's little kitchen display shelf hoping someday I'd find a copy to add to my (ever growing) collection.  It must have been meant to be!  About a year ago I was wandering around a local thrift store perusing the cookbook shelves of the book area--my most favorite thing to do there.  As my eyes went back and forth along the shelves looking at all the titles (wondering how so many copies of Cooking the Costco Way could possibly be donated to one store), there it was in all it's glory!  The muffin book I had been wanting for YEARS was just waiting for someone to take it home.  It was in perfect condition.  In fact, I could have sworn it was a brand new book that had never even been cracked open.  Want to know what the best part was?  The 2.00 price tag on the front!  You can bet that book went home with me that day and is living happily ever after on one of my cookbook shelves.

Now, back to the present...or the recent past.  You know what I mean.
When I knew that I wanted to make my visiting family members a nice breakfast to help them start their day off right (shoppers need good nourishment in the mornings!), I turned to my muffin book.  I wanted something hearty...breakfast in a muffin.  I also wanted flavors that were different than something my guests could have found at a local bakery or convenience store.  As I flipped through the pages of my thrift store treasure, I decided "Ham and Cheese" muffins fit the bill perfectly.  Just to make sure the recipe was going to suit my guests, I made a test pan a few days before their arrival and subjected Mr. C to a taste test.

Want to know how good they were?  Let me just say that the one dozen muffins I made were gone by the end of the day.  (I'd like to say Mr. C ate most of them, but I'd be lying.  I'd be thinner, but I'd be lying.)

So, just in case you haven't come across this book at your local thrift store, here is the recipe to tide you over until you do.  (Incidentally, as I type this blog, Amazon currently has used copies as cheap as 3 cents.  GO BUY IT!  It has chapters like "For Chocolate Lovers," "Variations on a Cake," and "Garden Variety."  There is even a recipe for Peanut Butter Bacon Muffins!)  As usual, on the flip side I'll tell you about two changes I've made to the recipe and something I have discovered after making this recipe a few times.   

Ham and Cheese Muffins (makes 12)
1 egg
2 T sugar
1 c sour cream
1 T oil
1 t prepared mustard (see my note below)
1 1/3 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 c diced cooked ham
1/2 c shredded Swiss cheese (see my note below)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg.  Add the sugar, sour cream, oil, and mustard.  Mix well.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Gently stir in the ham and cheese.  Fill greased muffin tins.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until muffins are brown.

OK, now for my changes.  They aren't big ones, but they've made a big difference in the taste of the muffins at our house.  First, the mustard.  One teaspoon just isn't enough in my opinion.  The first time I made the recipe for Mr. C to taste test, we couldn't even tell the mustard was in there.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not so in love with mustard that I need to feel like I'm eating a hot dog or a pretzel, but the flavor is a nice compliment to the ham and cheese so I like having a hint of it.  To remedy that, I put in a full tablespoon (and sometimes even a bit more) rather than a teaspoon.  If you do that, I don't think you'll be disappointed...or even be assaulted my mustard flavor.  My second change is the cheese.  I don't use Swiss and I don't use half a cup.  For me, Swiss does not have a strong enough flavor to use in this recipe.  I ALWAYS use cheddar cheese (mild, not sharp, but use sharp of you like it). Also, half a cup isn't enough to taste either.  I ALWAYS use a full cup.

Remember when I said I have discovered something after making these muffins a few times?  Well, this is it: these muffins do not stay fresh for a super long time.  In fact, not even for a little bit of a long time.  Mr. C and I have found that we prefer these muffins when they are still warm out of the oven.  If you can't have them that way (which we sometimes cannot), I would suggest not making them more than a day in advance of when you are going to eat them.  By day two, they are on the fast track to stale-ville.  If you have to make them more than a day, pop them in your freezer and keep them fresh that way.  That's what I do when I make them for Mr. C to take to work for breakfast.

When all was said and done I didn't end up feeling like the "Hostess with the Most-ess." Although, one of my aunts asked for the muffin recipe and another said, "I'm coming back to this hotel!"  I hope that means they enjoyed themselves.  I was delighted to have them here and it gave me a great excuse to try out a new recipe.  We'll see if they want to check back in to Hotel C again next year!