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Monday, September 22, 2014

Snickerdoodle Upgrades

Why mess with success? That was the initial comment from a friend when I shared my testing of some snickerdoodle variations. Then, she tasted the "experiments."

Ah, that's why. New taste sensations are always good for variety.

Yes, snickerdoodles may be a favorite cookie for just about any sweets lover, but how can you grow wrong if you update it with some fall flavors, including apple butter, or if you add in chocolate.

So today, here are two new ways to make these easy little cookies. And if you have hide-bound traditionalists who still want the old basics, you can split the chocolate variation recipe and just roll some of the cookie balls in sugar and cinnamon and flatten as always. Then you'll have two kinds of cookies to offer your family or guests!

I happened upon a great sale on a dark chocolate peanut butter blend at Costco, so that is what I used to top the chocolate version. Regular peanut butter or Nutela or a similar product would probably work just as well.

As I noted when I originally posted the basic mayonnaise snickerdoodle recipe (here: ), these don't have raw eggs (so the kids can nibble away at the dough with no worries) but there is egg in the mayo, so they aren't vegan. I have been doing some research on line, and it appears that vegan mayo can be substituted for regular mayo in most recipes. Frugal as I am, I have never bought the vegan version, but I would love to hear from anyone who wants to try one of these variations with vegan mayo.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Snickerdoodles

1 c mayonnaise
1 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon

chocolate drink mix powder (like Quik; NOT hot chocolate mix)
chocolate peanut butter

1.  Beat together the mayonnaise, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
2.  Sift the dry ingredients together and stir into the mayonnaise mixture, mixing until well-blended. The dough will have the consistency of play dough.
3.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the dry chocolate drink mix powder into a small bowl. Shape the dough into ping pong or golf ball-sized balls, and roll each in the powder until well coated. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4.  Using the handle of a wood spoon or other utensil with a large round end, make an indentation in each cookie. Place a small dollop of the chocolate peanut butter into the cavity in each cookie. (I used about 1/4 teaspoon but don't try to measure! That will be just too messy and not worth the effort.)

5.  Bake in a 350 degree oven about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Allow to sit for a minute or two on the pan before moving to a cooling rack, as they are very easily broken fresh out of the oven.

Autumn Snickerdoodles Variation

1.  Follow the recipe above, but substitute 2 t pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon.
2.  Roll the cookies in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon--about 1 t cinnamon to 1/2 c sugar.
3.  Place a small amount of apple butter in the indentations instead of peanut butter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Northern Style" Greens

If you are a gardener, you probably know that most greens grow best in cool weather. Why, then, does it seem as though these wonderful vegetables have long been most prevalent on the tables of Southerners? Growing up in the upper Midwest, we mostly knew of spinach from Popeye --and it would take more than the power of a cartoon hero to get us to really eat the slimy olive green things that came out of cans.

My parents did love beet greens, and the first beets from the garden were always tiny, picked more for the greens than the roots. Even though she sauteed them only lightly, my mother's best efforts to get us kids to take more than the mandatory bite were usually futile.

When we moved to central Appalachia many years ago, I was introduced to greens as a regular part of menus and learned to appreciate at least a little the slow simmered with ham hocks versions we were often served. But it wasn't until years later when I discovered how wonderful greens could really be if a few basic rules were followed:
  • Always use LOTS of onion and/or garlic
  • Use a small amount of oil (preferably olive)
  • Cut the stems from the leaves and cook them a bit longer than the leaves
  • Saute the leaves only until just wilted and slightly tenderized
...oh, and a splash of good vinegar is always a great addition--balsamic is best, but cider or red wine vinegars will also work.

There are  gradations in how strongly flavored (or bitter) different greens are, so you may want to start out with the milder varieties. Kale and spinach are now much more likely to be used in recipes, but they are still not often sauteed on their own. Mustard greens and collards are more of an acquired taste, but there is a wonderful kind of greens that I heartily suggest everyone become familiar with:


There are red, yellow, and green variations of chard, each of them beautiful to look at and wonderfully mild and even just a bit sweet. As with all greens, a touch of frost mellows the flavor, so the best time of year to buy these is right now, in fall and early winter. The preparation method I give below for chard will also work with just about any greens, but why not start out with these beautiful chard leaves if you are new to cooking with greens? I think you will be very glad you did.

As usual, this is more method than recipe. Amounts can vary according to your taste, so decrease or increase the onion and garlic as desired. Many people will want a dash of a favorite hot sauce and that is a good choice too. After you have tried this with chard (or beet greens--almost interchangeable), try moving on to one of the other kinds of greens so prevalent in the farmers markets and produce aisles right now.

Chard, Northern Style

olive or canola oil
onion, coarsely chopped
garlic, minced
1 bunch of chard, washed
salt to taste
hot sauce (optional)
balsamic or other vinegar

1. Prepare the chard by separating the coarsest parts of the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems coarsely. Roll the leaves into tight curls and then, using scissors (the easiest way) or a knife,  cut the leaves into coarse pieces. Set the leaves aside.

2. Measure the stems and use about the same amount of onions as stems.
3. Saute the onions and chard stems in a small amount of oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Make sure the pan you use will be large enough for all the leaves you will be adding.

4. When the onions are soft and translucent, stir in the garlic and then add the leaves.

Lower the heat to medium, cover the pan, and cook just until the greens are wilted and slightly tender. For most greens, this will be only 5 minutes or so. If needed, a bit of water can be added to the pan to avoid over-browning.
5.  Remove from heat and salt to taste. Serve with vinegar and hot sauce as desired.


Thanks to one of my loyal followers (who seems to be having a problem making comments here), I have been reminded that greens love, love, love, the addition of some cubes of feta cheese when served. You might also try a dollop of plain yogurt (Greek or regular), especially if you are drizzling the greens with hot sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Roasted" Green Beans

The green beans in my garden got off to a late start, but now that September has arrived, they are producing beautifully. One of our family's favorite ways to eat green beans is roasting in the oven, but the same results can easily be obtained by grilling and, I have discovered, by using my old standby cast iron skillet. One of the nice things about this method is that it works well for beans of all sizes, from the sweet and tender little pencil-sized ones up to the fat, lumpy ones that get missed under the leaves of the vines. (A friend of mine confided that she only plants the purple beans now, as they are so much easier to find when picking them in the garden.)

Whenever you have fresh green beans available, do try this variation from the steamed or (yikes) boiled kind that many people have come to expect from "string beans." Note that the "recipe" below is once again more method than measurement, scalable to whatever amount of beans you have. Just don't be surprised if your family eats far larger servings of these than you might be accustomed to serving.

I have included the variations for roasting or grilling the beans as well, but I wouldn't start the oven or grill just for the beans; it's just too easy to do these on the stovetop without needing to start another heat source.

Stove Top Roasted Green Beans

cast iron skillet, sized to allow beans to cook in a single layer (if you have a lot of beans, just do them in batches)
olive oil
green beans

1.  Put a small amount of olive oil in the skillet, enough to just put a thin coat of oil across the entire surface. Heat the pan with the oil over medium high to high heat until it begins to "shimmer." (If you are not familiar with this term, just watch the oil and you will see it start to have tiny ripple-like movements across the surface, indicating the oil has reached a good cooking temperature.)

2.  While the oil is heating, rinse and dry the beans and remove the stem ends. No need to take off the pointy "tails" of the beans. If some of the beans are quite large, you may wish to cut them lengthwise into two or three pieces.
3.  When the oil has begun to shimmer, spread the beans in a single layer in the skillet. Do not turn down the heat! Sprinkle the beans lightly with salt and allow them to cook for a few minutes before turning.
4.  Continue cooking until the beans are lightly browned and a little crispy and wrinkled on both sides.


Roasted Green Beans
1.  Heat the oven to 400 to 450 degrees (depending on what else you might have in the oven at the time).
2.  Cover a cookie sheet with foil (for easier clean up but not absolutely necessary). Spread the prepared beans (see step 2 above) in a single layer in the pan and drizzle with a little olive oil.
3.  Using a silicon spatula or your fingers (which is really the best way), toss the beans so that they are well-coated with the oil. Sprinkle salt over the top.
4.  Roast the beans in the oven about 5 to 8 minutes, until they are beginning to brown in spots. Remove from oven and turn. Return to oven and cook a few minutes more, until the beans are nicely browned, wrinkly and maybe even a little crisp.

Grilled Green Beans
1.  Prepare the beans as in step 2 for Stove Top Beans. Spread on heavy aluminum foil and put on the grill.
2.  Roast on the grill, turning as needed so that the beans are evenly browned.

Stove Top Green Beans and Other Vegetables

Cook the beans as directed above. When completely cooked, remove the beans to a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan as necessary and then saute onions and peppers, matchstick sized zucchini or yellow squash, and carrot slices as desired. Return the green beans to the pan to warm before serving.