Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies: Comfort Food Calling

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Life in Dubai means traveling a lot, exploring as much as possible within a direct flight radius. I started 2017 in California, and since then visited the Taj Mahal in India and went skiing in Kazakhstan. It’s only February. I love our adventures and trying local specialties wherever we go. I can’t say I loved the fermented horse milk in Kazakhstan, but hey, I tried it. Whenever I come home, I unavoidably go through a powerful comfort food craving phase. Usually that means allll the pasta, and a lot of baked goods.

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Which brings me to these cookies! Soft, chewy, sweet, pumpkin spicy cookies. This recipe is based on a good friend’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She makes them every time my college girlfriends get together, or we make them together. They’re always amazing, and I can only speculate that they’re the magic glue of our long term friendships!  So she gets all the credit for introducing me to this magic formula. Also she’s a doctor so she knows what’s good for you. I just made a few tweaks to put pumpkin and spices in the mix. I was skeptical at first about keeping the chocolate chips in with the pumpkin, but you’ll just have to trust me that pumpkin apparently goes with everything.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 48 Cookies

1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Canned Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Cloves
2 cups Whole Oats (not steel cut or quick cooking)
12 oz (1 bag) Chocolate Chips
Sea Salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Allow the butter and egg to come to room temperature. Cream the butter and combine with the sugar, egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and oats. Add dry ingredients gradually to the butter mixture, mixing well to combine. Finally add in the chocolate chips and mix together.

Usually by this point I’m nearly full because I’ve tasted so much dough…but I shouldn’t recommend that because of raw eggs being bad or some such nonsense…

Spoon the dough into evenly sized balls on a cookie sheet, pressing them slightly flat into, you know, cookie shape. If desired, sprinkle the dough with a bit of sea salt before putting in the oven. Bake at 375F for 8-10 minutes. If I’ve learned anything by moving so much lately, it’s that ovens vary wildly. Start low on the timer and check for doneness.

Let cool and enjoy with milk (of the non-horse variety)!

©Cook it Pretty 2017

Boozy Irish Cupcakes

THIS IS IT! The best cupcake recipe on earth, and the only one you really need. I suppose they would be inappropriate for a child’s birthday. But otherwise, I have every cake-baking occasion covered for you with this single recipe.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
One of those occasions is of course St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, you don’t usually make cupcakes for this holiday? Well, you should. Because THESE cupcakes are made with the same ingredients as an Irish Car Bomb shot, which I know you have consumed on at least one March 17th in your life. That means Irish whiskey, Guinness, and Bailey’s. Mixing these things with chocolate is a good idea.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
It will result in a beautiful, boozy, chocolaty mess as pictured above. First you incorporate the Guinness into the chocolate cake batter. Then you fill the cupcakes with whiskey ganache, and top them with Bailey’s buttercream frosting. Bailey’s. Buttercream. I’m always trying to think of more things to frost with this, because it is downright incredible.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
It would be a shame to only use this recipe once a year, which is why I have also used it for loved ones’ birthdays along the way. No one turns down booze and chocolate. No one you want to be friends with, anyway. So yes, the cupcakes are sitting on a decidedly wintry, holiday-ish plate because I last made them for my husband’s December birthday. But you should definitely make them for St. Patrick’s Day, or Equinox, or your friend’s bridal shower, or to celebrate your half birthday.

Boozy Irish Cupcakes | Cook it Pretty
I tell people that if I have made them these cupcakes, I definitely love them. Not only because of the gift of deliciousness that they are, but also because they’re a little extra time consuming with the whole ganache filling step. But definitely, definitely worth it.

The recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, with a couple Cook it Pretty tips:

  • The amount of whiskey in the ganache is totally dependent on your taste. I always add a bunch more than the recipe calls for. If I’m making a boozy cupcake, I want to be able to taste it. Since most of the beer cooks out in the cake part, this is the place where you’ll really taste a little alcohol. Taste as you go!
  • This also applies to the Bailey’s frosting, which is my favorite part. Start with the recommended amount, then add a little more to your taste. The flavor is awesome.
  • The trickiest part of this recipe is the coring and filling of the cupcakes. I actually own a coring tool for this sole purpose, which is made for apples but works perfectly for cupcakes too. You’ll need something like this to make the recipe work. Mine looks like this:

Cupcake Corer | Cook it Pretty

  • I use the ziplock bag with the corner cut off trick instead of a piping bag to get the ganache into the cupcakes.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Put the “cores” you remove from the cupcakes into a bowl, drizzle with leftover ganache, and dollop some frosting on top for a super delicious reward for all your hard work.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

All the Pumpkin Pie Things

Pumpkin Pie Filling | Cook it Pretty
I made a big batch of pumpkin pie filling at Thanksgiving time and froze the leftovers. I knew I could use it for something delicious when the craving struck. So recently I opened my freezer to discover a small pack of puff pastry squares. Light bulb moment: Heyyyyy that sounds like instant pumpkin pie to me! I decided to cut the squares down to fit a mini muffin pan. Bite sized instant pumpkin pie…even better.

Mini Punkin Pies | Cook it Pretty
I didn’t waste time trying to make the crust pretty, I just kind of threw them in the tin, filled with the excess pie filling, and started baking. While I am the biggest fan of home made pie crust you know, especially my Mom’s, this was just. so. fast. Which makes it kind of irresistible, doesn’t it? Filling I already made and dough I don’t have to fret over? Pretty close to instant gratification for all your pumpkin pie craving needs.

Even after that mini pie feast, I still had more filling left. Also in my freezer, old-ass bananas saved for just such an occasion. Substitute a cup of pumpkin pie filling for one of the two eggs in my go-to banana bread recipe, reduce the sugar a tad to balance the already sweetened filling, and BAM – Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread.

Pumpkin Spice Banana Bread | Cook it Pretty
That’s two pretty major leftovers baking success stories in a row. Both delicious, quick, and easy. What’s your latest brilliant use of leftovers?

#TBT: Remember When Thanksgiving Happened?

It’s 2015! While most people have already received that memo, I need to do a throwback to reflect on Thanksgiving 2014. It was a unique holiday – our first time celebrating in our new Dubai home, our first time hosting as a couple, and our first International Friendsgiving. It was so memorable to share an American holiday with friends from all over the world. For me it was the perfect mix of old traditions and new twists.

International Friendsgiving | Cook it PrettyI focused on the mains like turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie and we went potluck style for the rest, menu as follows:

Roast Turkey with Herb Butter rub
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Classic Herb Stuffing
Gravy 2 ways
Mama’s Pumpkin Pie
Spiced Fig Sangria
Aussie Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Mac n Cheese
Belgian Truffle Mashed Potatoes
Belgian Potatoes au Gratin
New Zealand Glazed Fruit Cake

Highlights: (1) Our turkey was beautiful. Juicy and delicious! Watch this 5 minute video next time you roast a turkey. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. (1a) One of the best things I learned while hosting this year is that my soon-to-be-husband is a turkey breakdown master. (Look at those butchering skills in the first photo!)

Roast it Pretty(2) This cranberry sauce from The Kitchn is a winner. I was worried about straying from my Mom’s classic cranberry relish, but I opted for a cooked version because I don’t have a food processor here. I doubled the recipe and added a granny smith apple. Bomb. Also, great to make a day or two ahead.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce(3) I officially love stuffing, and while I will still call it stuffing, Paula Deen tells me it’s actually dressing since I don’t cook it inside the bird. My European friend called it a savory bread pudding, which I may also start using because it sounds so much fancier. I combined tips from two recipes which were both of the traditional onion/celery/sage variety. Made it mostly ahead and did a final bake the day-of.

Planning and Stuffing | Cook it Pretty(4) Pie. Our Moms are amazing. This being in charge and cooking all week thing isn’t easy (you can do it, but it’s work). The man learned a few things about making a smooth gravy, number one being it wasn’t as easy as his Mom makes it look. Same goes for me with the pie crust. I’ve made pie alongside my Mom countless times, but the magic of her ease with it just isn’t there when I do it on my own! There were nearly tears, and many texts and emails were exchanged with Mom along the way, but two pumpkin pies happened. The crusts didn’t look perfectly manicured by a longshot, but they were GOOD. Some of our guests said they’ve always heard so much about pumpkin pie but had never actually tasted it. How fun that their idea of pumpkin pie will be shaped by my Mom’s family recipe.

Mama's Pumpkin Pie | Cook it Pretty

I loved tasting what everyone else made and sharing some American traditions with them. I was thankful for the day, for our friends, and for the leftovers for many days to follow. Shame we only have one day a year dedicated to gratitude, I’m ready for another feast with loved ones already!

I Miss My KitchenAid. And Other Concerns.

I recently got started with blogging because I finally had the time. But doing a cooking-focused blog while I’m in a new foreign kitchen (and country) without most of my previously acquired tools and appliances has its challenges.

A couple months before I knew I would be moving to Dubai from San Diego, I finally got the KitchenAid stand mixer of my dreams. Aqua sky.

Aqua Sky KitchenAid

So beautiful, and so helpful. At the time, I was in the habit of making a new flavor of cupcake for all my loved ones’ special occasions. Like these:

White Chocolate Raspberry Surprise Cupcakes

White Chocolate Raspberry Surprise Cupcakes. Recipe from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures.

As I nursed hand cramps from making that frosting fluffy (WITH A FORK), I dreamed of the stand mixer that would crank those puppies out in record time. When I finally got the dream machine, I made chocolate lava cakes for my love for Valentines day, and by then we were engaged and starting to talk moving plans.

Chocolate Lava Cakes

Brings a tear to my eye…

That was the KitchenAid’s initiation and swan song. Life happened and I only got to use that beautiful mixer once before packing her up and putting her in storage. Aside from outlet issues, that thing weighs a ton. I already had 5 suitcases and unacceptable baggage fees.

Martha's Chocolate Lava Cakes

I used Martha’s recipe, and it was incredible.

So here I am in my new foreign kitchen. My stove is studio sized, electric, and doesn’t heat evenly. My oven is in Celsius and uses weird symbols instead of words like ‘Bake’. My fridge is not large. I don’t have a toaster and hate my microwave. My working triangle is…obtuse.

I haven’t had occasion to make celebratory cupcakes for anyone here yet. But when I do, I will miss my Aqua Sky beauty and surely notice that I don’t own a muffin tin (yet).

I’m learning to appreciate that I can still produce meals that my man appreciates in this nearly gadgetless kitchen. It’s not like I’m rubbing sticks together over here – my counters are granite and quite spacious, for one – I’m just adjusting, restocking, and newly appreciating what’s in storage back in San Diego.

I have tried to gather up the most important basics. I learned my vital kitchen essentials are as follows:

Large mixing bowl
Multiple cutting boards
At least one decent sharp chopping knife
One small serrated knife (cherry tomatoes, I’m looking at you)
Med-large skillet
Pot large enough for spaghetti
Spatula
Measuring cups/spoons (that aren’t metric)
Baking sheet

While I miss my mixer dearly, I have managed to bake most of my life without it, so I suppose it can’t be on the essentials list. I definitely don’t want to live in a world without this tomato knife though:

Thank you, Crate & Barrel.

Thank you, Crate & Barrel.

I’m not producing elaborate Thanksgiving dinners every day or using fancy techniques for anything. I’m just trying to make simple healthy food that tastes good as often as possible. I’ll slowly start branching out, but for now I’m accepting my limitations and working with the basics. I have already surprised myself with some kitchen victories (more soon).

What can you not live without in your kitchen? Tell me in the comments!

All Rhubarb Everything

A special treat on my recent US vacation was baking with my Mom. We knew we wanted to make something together, and for some reason I had rhubarb on the brain. I realized I had never worked with rhubarb myself, as much as I have always loved my Mom’s tart and sweet rhubarb crisps. I didn’t even know how to shop for it. Time for some lessons with Mom, which turned into TWO amazing rhubarb recipes: Rhubarb Crisp & Rhubarb Mojitos.

5 large stalks weighed about 2lbs

Pink celery.

We were a little late in the standard season, which is usually May. Apparently the Pacific Northwest has a second summer season, and we were lucky enough to find some healthy looking stalks in Northern California. Make sure the stalks don’t seem rubbery or dried out – they should be heavy and taut. I love that something that looks like magenta celery turns into such delicious sweets.

Stewing the rhubarb with sugar and water

Stewing the rhubarb with sugar and water

We chose a method that requires simmering the rhubarb in sugar and water to soften and sweeten it up before adding the crisp topping and baking. The topping we ended up with tasted like a big oatmeal cookie on top of the tart rhubarb filling, and the combination was perfectly satisfying.

The fantastic bonus of this stewing method is that you’re essentially making rhubarb simple syrup. We wound up with about 1 1/2 cups of gorgeous, hot pink sweetness once we strained out the rhubarb filling. We couldn’t let it go to waste, so we decided to turn it into Rhubarb Mojitos!

Baking, making cocktails, and toasting to sweet kitchen success with Mom made for a wonderful summer afternoon. Today I’m thinking of her on her birthday and looking forward to our next kitchen collaboration!

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb Crisp

Filling:
4 cups chopped rhubarb (about 5 large stalks or 2lbs)
1 1/2 – 2 cups granulated sugar (1 1/2 for tarter, 2 for sweeter)
Water (just enough to cover the rhubarb in the pot)

Topping:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large pot, simmer the rhubarb, water, and sugar over low-med heat until soft (about 7 mins). Strain the rhubarb and add filling to glass or ceramic baking dish. Retain the liquid for later use.

Combine the brown sugar, flour, oats, butter, and spices in a bowl. Spread the mixture over the top of the rhubarb filling.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes (until the top is golden). Top with vanilla ice cream or enjoy straight up.

Rhubarb Mojitos

Rhubarb Mojitos!

Rhubarb simple syrup (leftover from rhubarb filling above)
Ice
Rum
Mint leaves
Club soda
Lime wedges

Simmer the liquid from stewing the rhubarb for an additional 15 minutes if needed (do a taste test to see if the rhubarb flavor is strong enough for you, or if it needs to cook down/concentrate a little more). Let cool and refrigerate.

Muddle a few mint leaves and lime wedges in the bottom of a glass. Add ice and pour over 1-2 oz of rum. Add rhubarb syrup, to taste. Top with club soda and squeeze in more lime if desired. Garnish with more mint, lime, or raspberries.

Toast to your genius & enjoy!

I got it from my Mama

Since the dead of summer in Dubai is comparable to the dead of winter in the Midwest (in that it’s dangerous to leave the house and you rely on climate-controlled environments to support life), you have similar cravings for comforting activities such as curling up on the couch to watch movies and baking. Therefore, today we’re making banana bread!

BananaBread done

Bake it Pretty.

Ok, so not everything I cook comes from Pinspiration on the internets. I have a secret baking weapon: my Mom. I love that she learned to bake bread and pies from scratch from her mother and grandmother, and I’m thankful that she wanted to keep that tradition alive by baking with us as kids. Such a lost art these days.

I have at least a little bit of the baking touch in my blood, though I would never presume to say I could ever do it as well as she does – at the drop of a hat, without reference to a recipe, with your initial monogrammed on the crust. Hate to break it to you, but any pie she didn’t make basically sucks. She’s a master of light and flaky pie crust and hand-kneaded bread. She mocks your bread maker (lovingly, of course). We are all born with bread makers, and they’re at the ends of your arms.

Beard Bread Page

This recipe has been used a few times.

When she does want a recipe, she looks to the classics. I have a copy of the well-loved banana bread page from her 1970s “Beard on Bread” cookbook folded up among my collection of hand written recipes, and use it often.

James Beard’s banana nut bread is delicious and simple, and to me it tastes like home. I make it every time I have more than one too-old banana. It’s a great excuse to bake for no occasion at all. No kneading or bread maker required.

Banana Bread Coffee

Breakfast perfection.

It’s so yummy fresh out of the oven, but somehow even better the next day (I wrap the loaf in foil overnight). Moist and delicious! I think the honey is the secret ingredient. The man’s review was classic: “We need some more old-ass bananas.” Noted. Thanks Mom!

James Beard’s Banana Nut Bread

1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
2 large or 3 small super ripe bananas, peeled
1½ cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I like walnuts or almonds)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream the butter (easiest if you think ahead and let sit at room temp for a while before). Add sugar and honey and beat until creamy. Add eggs, then thoroughly mix/mash in the bananas (I happen to enjoy the stress-relieving properties of smashing bananas with my hands, but use whichever method you prefer).

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together and mix into batter thoroughly. Add nuts if you got ’em.

Butter a standard sized bread pan and pour in the batter. Bake 45 mins – 1 hr, checking that it’s cooked through by inserting a knife into the center and seeing that it comes out clean. I usually set the timer to check at 45 mins because the loaf size (and therefore baking time) will vary slightly based on your banana content.

Let cool & enjoy!