Thursday, March 24, 2011

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars/Cookies

I love peanut butter cookies but am often looking for more ways to make things a little more healthy, including adding more fiber and cutting back on the sugar and hydrogenated oils. Recently, while shopping at one of my favorite bargain food shops, I came across a whole bunch of natural chunky peanut butter. Of course, I just cannot pass up a deal like this-- 99 cents for a jar of peanut butter!!! Since I have a strange son who has a thing for textures in his food and does not like nuts in things and my husband does not particularly like chunky peanut butter, I rarely buy it. However, I had a brainstorm a while back (another time I found some reduced chunky peanut butter on clearance) that I could use chunky peanut butter in cookies and baking and not need to add the chopped nuts separately. So remembering this, I bought a flat of the chunky peanut butter- full of plans about how to use it up. Well, it has been a little while, and I got a little sidetracked with other things. The other day, I saw all that peanut butter sitting begging to be used, and I decided I needed to get on the stick! Now, if any of you have used natural peanut butter to bake with, you know it does not give quite the same flavor and texture to things that the stuff with all that hydrogenated oil gives, but it is still good. Since I have been eating natural peanut butter all my life, I really do not miss the difference.

I made this recipe from the Bake It Better With Quaker Oats cookbook, which is full of winner recipes using oats. The recipe name was "Peanutty Crisscrosses". Because I really do not enjoy making cookies when I am pushed for time (which is most of the time), I often opt to make bar cookies. So I adapted the recipe into a bar cookie- I will give both instructions for those who enjoy slaving over those cookie sheets.


3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1 cup peanut butter- I used chunky
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar (I cut back the sugar to 1 cup- still good)
1/3 cup water
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats (quick or old-fashioned, uncooked-- I used quick oats)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, vanilla chips, butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips (or a combination of these- I used about 1/4 cup vanilla chips and about 1/2- 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips)- optional if making formed cookies
granulated sugar if making into formed cookies

Beat together the butter, peanut butter and sugar until creamy.  Add water, egg and vanilla; beat well. (I sifted the flour and baking soda together to make sure there were no lumps of baking soda not mixed in.) Add combined oats, flour and baking soda; mix well. Mix in the flavored chips, if desired.

If making into bar cookies, prepare a 9x13 inch pan either sprayed with nonstick spray or lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray. Spread out batter evenly in pan and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 25-35 minutes, taking them out before they seem completely firm or they will be too dry. If you are using a glass dish, lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees. Cool on a wire rack completely. Then you may drizzle them with a little glaze made from confectioners sugar and milk- put it in a sandwich bag with one corner removed (very small hole) and gently squeeze the bag back and forth over top of the bars. Cut and serve. Store in a tightly covered container. If you mistakenly overbake them, you can store them in a sealed container for a couple days with a slice or two of bread to soften them up.

To make them into cookies, cover the bowl of cookie dough and chill for about 1 hour. Then heat your oven to 350 degrees and shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet; flatten with tines of fork dipped in granulated sugar to make a crisscross pattern. Bake 9-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered container. Makes about 7 dozen.

Tip Junkie handmade projects

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hummus (Chickpea/Garbanzo Bean Dip)

Although almost every food blog or website has a recipe for hummus, I decided to add one of my versions to the mix.  This is a Middle Eastern food that is popular all around the world for good reason. It is extremely nutritious, and also full of flavor with so many different ways to vary it. It can be as simple or as complex as you wish. Another added plus is that it is so easy to make. If you have a food processor or  blender, you can whip this up in very little time. Traditionally, it is served with pita, but it is great with vegetables, crackers (I love them with triscuits), on sandwiches, chips, and the list could go on.


2  15 oz. cans of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2-4 Tbsp tahini (optional- this is a butter made of sesame seeds that adds to the creaminess of the dip)
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp. powdered cumin
1/4 tsp powdered mustard
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 - 1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp marjoram
3-4 palmfuls of chopped fresh parsley leaves
3-4 culantro leaves, finely chopped or 4 palmfuls of chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt (I like Goya Adobo with cumin or pepper)
2 raw garlic cloves, put through a garlic press or minced very finely
1/3- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
3-4 Tbsp olive oil (more or less)

Blend everything together, adjusting the oil and yogurt as desired until a creamy consistency is obtained. May need to adjust salt depending on your taste. Mix the dip well. Refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours for the spices to blend well.

 This makes approximately 4 cups- if cutting the recipe in half, you do not need to use exactly half of the spices in the recipe- it is quite forgiving and could probably stand to have a little more than half of the spices that are listed in small amounts.

* Another option is to use roasted garlic instead of fresh- put the garlic cloves in a foil packet with a little butter or olive oil in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or in a frying pan over medium heat on the stovetop until softened and golden brown. Then put through the blender with the other ingredients.

It is also popular to make this with roasted red peppers (various types), as well as sundried tomatoes, a little feta cheese-- let your imagination go wild.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt has such a universal appeal and is found in almost every nationality's cuisine. It is easily substituted for sour cream and is so full of beneficial bacteria essential for our bodies to stay healthy. If you strain it longer than you would for making Greek yogurt and keep squeezing out the extra liquid, you can make a yogurt cheese that is like cream cheese. I have wanted to make yogurt for many years. In fact, I bought a yogurt maker about 10-12 years ago. However, since I am a notorious procrastinator with my fingers in too many pots, it was not until recently that I decided I needed to give it a try. Part of the impetus was the rising cost of yogurt and the fact that they are full of sugar. Since my youngest is recently Type I diabetic, I decided it would be good to try making some with Xylitol, since I really do not care for the other chemically altered/produced artificial sweeteners.

Here is the picture of the type of yogurt maker that I used, which holds about 2 quarts or slightly more.

This is basically a small plastic pail with a handle and lid that snaps on tightly, then sets down into a styrofoam insulated tub with an insulated lid.  I have seen others write about putting the yogurt in glass jars with lids and wrapping them up in towels or newspaper to be stored in a small styrofoam cooler or some other type of cooler that is thick (insulated with foam). Others even use a heating pad underneath the pot of yogurt mixture for the required amount of processing time. Basically anything that will help insulate the yogurt for about 8-12 hours will do the job. One of my newly purchased recipe books entitled The Indian Slow Cooker even has a recipe for making yogurt in the crockpot/slow cooker.

Notice I have a thermometer there. It is important to get the milk hot enough to take care of unwanted bacteria, but not too hot to boil or even scald the milk. You will also want to be sure you have brought the milk back down to the right temperature (110-118 degree F, or 45-48 degrees C) or else the culture you add will be killed quickly. There is only a small window of temperature that is ideal for the yogurt bacteria to reproduce.

I used the instructions that came with my yogurt maker because it seemed so easy. For the starter, I bought a small container of plain yogurt with no other additives, preservatives or thickeners. It is recommended in my instruction booklet that you get new starter about once a month in order to prevent problems from an aging culture. I am not sure if this is affected by whether you make yogurt more or less frequently. I kept some of the original yogurt aside to use later and put it in the freezer until needed.


2 liters of milk (either homogenized, raw, 2 % or skimmed- I used 2%)
1/2 cup non-fat milk powder (optional)
2 tsp plain and unflavored gelatin (optional)
4 Tbsp plain yogurt or 1 packet yogurt culture

Put a 3 liter or 3-quart pot inside a larger pot filled with water (to make a double boiler). Pour the milk into the smaller pot and add the other ingredients, mixing together well. Heat the milk to 180 degrees F/ 82 degrees C, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, have a sink partially filled with very cold water. After the milk has reached 180 degrees, place the pot in the cold water and  continue stirring and checking the temperature. When it reaches 118 degrees F/ 48 degrees C, add in a packet of yogurt culture or 4 Tbsp of last prepared plain yogurt (or store-bought). Mix well.

Pour mixture into a container rinsed with boiling water. Cover and wrap it up with either towels or newspaper, placing it in a cooler or styrofoam container, or placing it on a heating pad covered with towels.

Curdling requires at least 3-5 hours (some say 7-8 hours). I started mine before bed and checked it about 10  hours later and it was perfect. The longer you let it set, the stronger flavor it may have. However, my yogurt was very mild flavored even being left for 10 hours.

When the yogurt has been allowed to set adequate time, you may test it by seeing how firm it is. If it is firm enough, then stir the contents and then put into other smaller containers that have been dipped in boiling water, if desired. Cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably longer.  When ready to eat, serve plain or with fruit, jam, fruit syrup or other sweeteners.

If you want a Greek-style yogurt, you may take a mesh drainer and line it with doubled cheesecloth. Put the yogurt into the cheesecloth, close it around the yogurt and then squeeze it tightly over the sink to express the extra liquid. You should then place it in a drainer sitting inside a larger bowl (making sure it sits up off the bottom of the bowl enough). Allow it to continue to drain for 2-3 hours. Then again take it and squeeze out any extra liquid. After that is complete, you may then remove the cheesecloth and store it in the refrigerator. The amount of yogurt will be reduced approximately by half from when you started, but it should be very thick.

Yogurt may be prepared from non-fat powdered milk, as well. To make 2 liters of non-fat milk, use 3 cups of milk powder and fill the remainder with water.  Gelatin delays production of liquid when the curd is cut into. Addition of milk powder increases firmness and nutritive value of the yogurt.

There is also a milk-reduction method I just learned about from a fellow food blogger on Spoon and Chopsticks.  Yogurt making is really not hard or time-consuming. It is so much cheaper and healthier to make your own. So be brave and give it a try. Don't procrastinate like I did!!!  Good luck.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Award!! and More

Wow! I was very surprised when I received the note from a fellow food blogger at Dulce Dough that she was passing on the Stylish Food Award to MOI-- among other people. What an honor- just 2 months into my blogging adventure! Thanks SO MUCH!!!  If you have not checked out her blog- be sure to head on over to Dulce Dough.  She has some wonderful recipes, as well as pictures, and I am hard-pressed to pick a favorite. However, I think the Black Forest Cake with Chocolate Ganache looks so good!

I really consider myself a newbie and still have so much to learn. It has been a fun journey, and I am continually amazed at what a bunch of talented people there are blogging and photographing their food. They have been so helpful and supportive and willing to share tips. When I first started blogging at the end of December, 2010, I was pretty naive and uneducated in food blogging. It was not until I started spending more time checking out other bloggers' sites that I realized I really needed to have at least one picture for my entries (imagine that!- on a food blog!!!). So now I am in the process of working through my early recipes and posting pictures for each one. (My poor husband's diet is really being sabotaged!) Anyways, I guess food is my new obsession. While I have always enjoyed food, cooking and looking at recipes, I never dreamed a couple years ago I would think about food all day-- and night, much less be writing and photographing it! I must give some credit to a post that has been such an incredible help with learning photography of food- check it out at Vegan Yum Yum . (I still have way too much to learn, but I'm having fun along the way.)

Well, back to the business at hand-

Following the rules of the award, I have to:

1.  Thank them, make a post, and put a link back to the person/s who gave me this award.
2.  Share 7 things about myself.
3.  Pass the award to 10 recently discovered great bloggers.
4.  Contact these bloggers and personally tell them about the award.

7 random things about myself:

1. I was home schooled for about 5 years until high school, then graduated as valedictorian-- out of a class of only one other person.

2. I love walking through cemeteries- to think, exercise without a lot of traffic and gawkers, as well as wonder about the people who are buried there.

3. I am the oldest of 5 children.

4. My husband and I (with the help of a few good men friends and family) spent about 2 1/2 years remodeling a house before we actually moved in-- and we are still together!!!!

5. My husband and I were initially introduced by a combined effort of mutual friends from New Zealand and Wellsboro, PA- we lived over 250 miles apart.

6. I have a tendency to be a procrastinator and have many unfinished projects.

7. I love to cook, but wish I had a magic wand to clean up all the mess.

10 blogs that I have recently discovered and want to pass on the award to:

(I follow so many blogs and would give this award to many, many different ones. However, I have tried to pick either newer blogs or some other ones I really like, and that have not received this award- as far as I can tell.)

I'm excited about all the great people I have met and will meet in the future. Happy cooking!!!