Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received coupons for some Duncan Hines products in the mail last week. Part of my commitment to being a better cook includes not cooking anything that comes from a box, but I bent my rule a bit for this. Rather than making a cake according to package directions, I decided to make some of my all-time favorite (and all-time easiest) cookies: Chocolate Crinkles.

How easy are these things?

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Crinkles
Servings: about 30 cookies

1 (18 1/4 ounce) box devil’s food cake mix
1 (8-ounce) tub Cool Whip (thawed)
1 egg
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together. Batter will be sticky. Pour some confectioner’s sugar into a shallow bowl, coat your hands with it, and roll the cookies into 1-inch balls. Place cookies 2 inches apart on Silpat-lined sheets and bake for 7 to 9 minutes. Cool a bit on the cookie sheet before removing to wire racks to finish cooling.

See? Easy like you wouldn’t believe, right? Perfect for last-minute gifts, snacks for work, or just because you want something chocolaty. I shared these with my office last week and they were a big hit.

I’ve gone through life up until this point believing that making a pecan pie was difficult. I was so, so wrong. Not only is it not difficult, it’s ridiculously easy. Stupidly easy. You-could-make-this-pie-blindfolded easy.

Normally, pecan pies use corn syrup as a key component, but I don’t like corn syrup. Especially after reading the Princeton study. So I was thrilled when, browsing a magazine while getting my hair done last week, I came across a recipe for a bourbon-molasses pecan pie that replaces the corn syrup with sweet and smoky molasses. I’m a fan of molasses.

The basic formula for pecan pie is to mix up the filling, pour it in an unbaked pie shell, and bake until done. When Pillsbury came out with their ready-made refrigerated pie crusts several years ago, my grandmother said they were every bit as good as hers and vowed never to make another pie crust from scratch again. Summoning the spirit of grandma, I used Pillsbury pie crust for my pecan pie.

Here’s a shot of my pie before I put it in the oven:

Isn’t it pretty?

Bourbon-Molasses Pecan Pie
Servings: 8 to 10 servings.

1 unbaked Pillsbury pie crust
4 large eggs, beaten
1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses
3 Tbsp. bourbon
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
2 c. pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Unroll pie crust and press into a 9-inch pie dish. Pinch edges so they’re all pretty-like.

For the filling, in a large bowl, stir together eggs, molasses, sugar, bourbon, butter, vanilla and salt until combined. Reserve about 15 pecan halves, and spread the rest evenly in the bottom of the pie dish. Pour filling over the pecans. Arrange the reserved pecans in a decorative pattern on the top of the pie.

Using aluminum foil strips, cover the edge of the pie shell so the crust that’s exposed won’t burn before the pie is done.

Place pie on center rack of oven, with a foil-lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch any filling that bubbles over. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, removing foil strips after about 30 minutes, until firm around the edges and slightly loose in the center. Cool, then serve.

When you make this, and discover how simple it is, you’ll be stunned.

And now for the after shot:

A perfectly cooked, perfectly easy pecan pie with no corn syrup and a sweet, smokey flavor from the molasses. If you want to kick up that smokiness even more, substitute scotch for the bourbon. Serve warm with some ice cream for extra-awesomeness.

As I mentioned during my Donation Day post, I watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen wherein the chefs made “the best blueberry muffins.” Usually skeptical of such claims, I vowed to reserve judgement regarding the “bestness” of these muffins until I could make them myself. However, I know from experience that America’s Test Kitchen recipes usually are as great as they claim.

We got back from Colorado on a Friday, and Sunday I whipped up some blueberry muffins.

I stuck fairly close to the Test Kitchen recipe, although I did make a modification in that I used some pre-made blueberry jam.

The finished product looked like this:

Lynn’s Best Blueberry Muffins
Servings: 12 muffins
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

For the Lemon-Sugar Topping:
1/3 c. sugar (2 1/3 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated zest from 1 lemon

For the Muffins:
1 c. fresh blueberries (about 10 ounces), plus 1 Tbsp.
1 c. Trader Joe’s Blueberry Preserves
1 1/8 c. sugar (8 ounces)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
2 large eggs
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
1/4 c. Canola oil
1 c. buttermilk (see note)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the topping:
Stir together sugar and lemon zest in small bowl until combined; set aside.

For the muffins:
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Bring 1 cup blueberry preserves and 1 Tbsp. blueberries to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened slightly, about 5 mi. Transfer to small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl. Whisk sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.)

Use a large spoon to divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

The result? These really are the best blueberry muffins. Hands down. For reals. The topping is crunchy and a little sticky, the texture of the cake is not too dry and not too moist, they’re not too sweet and not too tart. These are the Mary Poppins of blueberry muffins – practically perfect in every way.

I ate one, Frank ate one, and I shared the rest with my co-workers for Treat Monday, who want to know when I’m bringing in muffins again. :)

To me, dessert combinations don’t get more perfect than lemon and blueberry. This time of year, blueberries are plentiful, so I picked up a pint at the market earlier this week and paired them today with some homemade lemon curd and those cute little graham cracker tartlet shells they sell in the baking supplies isle.

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Aren’t they adorable? Even more than that, they were just what I was looking for: something sweet, tart and delicious. This lemon curd is so delightfully lemony, and the blueberries add just the right amount of sweetness. And that graham cracker crust – does it get any better than a graham cracker crust? Sometimes, no.

Find the recipe here: Lemon Curd Tartlets

Friday evening found Mr. Awesome and me eating dinner at Michael Smith restaurant. We each opted for the five-course tasting menu, and were presented with a total of 10 dishes that were all beautiful and delicious. We had no idea what we would be served, which was exciting and fun. As each course came out we oohed and ahhed, and it was all we could do to not lick each plate clean.

His menu:

  • Braised Rabbit with house made potato gnocchi, shiitake mushrooms, leeks and shaved parmesan
  • Boston Bibb Lettuce Salad with cocoa almond, Roaring 40′s blue and buttermilk chili dressing
  • Pastrami Rubbed Yellowfin Tuna with carrot-farro risotto, roasted root vegetable and green peppercorn salad
  • Pan Roasted Eye of the Ribeye with celeriac pierogi, black trumpet mushroom and cippolini onion
  • Lemon Pudding Cake with blueberry jam and fennel and grapefruit salad

 

My menu:

  • Sweet Potato-Ricotta Ravioli with maitake mushroom, duck confit and mushroom consommé
  • Roasted Beet Salad with pumpkin dressing, pepitas and goat cheese
  • Pan Roasted Wild Striped Bass with rosemary peanut potatoes, sauteed spinach, calamari and red wine guanciale reduction
  • Grilled Rack of Lamb with chorizo and semolina dumpling, crispy brussels sprouts and huckleberry gastrique
  • Chocolate and Vanilla Torte with candied blood orange

I loved every plate that was set in front of me. The ravioli was tender and pillowy. The beets were both savory and sweet and went so well with the pepitas and goat cheese. The calamari was tender, the lamb was perfectly cooked and completely won me over with the inclusion of brussels sprouts. The cake looked like it was going to be super-sweet and dense, but was actually light and chocolaty, without being cloying. It was a fantastic meal that I won’t soon forget, and we’ll most definitely make this an annual occurrence.

A note for those watching their waistline – when partaking in a meal like this, just let go. If these are special-occasion meals, then indulging once in a while won’t hurt you. In fact, these types of experiences are great for the soul!

Between Michael Smith, Bluestem and Justus Drugstore, we’ve got most of our special occasions covered.

One more thing about our meal – I learned that, while their lemon pudding cake is good, mine is just as good AND contains hardly any fat.

I don't have a picture of my cake, so here's a lemon instead.

Lynn’s Lemon Pudding Cake
Servings: 4

1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 c. low-fat buttermilk
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
1/4 c. granulated sugar
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine the flour, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, salt, and nutmeg in a large bowl; add the buttermilk, lemon rind, lemon juice and egg yolks, stirring with a whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Beat egg whites with a mixer at high speed until foamy. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into the buttermilk mixture; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.

Pour the batter into an 4- to 5-cup souffle dish, or 8-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Place in a larger baking pan; add hot water to larger pan to depth of 1 inch. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Serve warm with fat-free Cool Whip, if desired.

Good any time of year, with just about any meal. For variation, you can fold in  1 1/2 cups of berries to the batter before pouring it into the baking dish. Or, you can cook some berries on the stove with a little sugar and cornstarch to make a sauce that can be poured over the cake when served. A great thing about this dessert is that it’s versatile, so play around!

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I whipped up a pretty little dessert over the weekend that is as delicious as it is lovely.

Also, it comes together really, really fast and is fairly healthy, too.

Jello. Raspberries. Cool Whip. Chocolate sauce.

Drool.

Fast, fruity and a little flirty.

Fruity, Flirty Raspberry Fluff
Servings: 4
WW Points+: 3 per serving

3/4 c. boiling water
1 package (3 oz.) raspberry or strawberry flavored Jello
2 c. frozen raspberries
1 1/2 c. thawed fat-free Cool Whip
Chocolate sauce, for drizzling

Add boiling water to Jello mix in a large bowl. Stir for 2 minutes, until completely dissolved. Add berries and stir until Jello starts to thicken.

Stir 1/2 c. Jello into Cool Whip with a whisk until well blended. Spoon Cool-Whip mixture into 4 serving cups. Top with remaining Jello mixture.

Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until set. Drizzle with chocolate sauce just before serving.

These little dessert cups are even better when served in something nice, like stemless wine glasses. They’re best when enjoyed with someone you love.

Perfect for Valentines’s Day, or any day!

On an episode of Good Eats a few years ago, Alton Brown introduced me to the foundation of a recipe that has been a favorite since the first time I made it.

It’s sweet.

It’s creamy.

It’s chocolatey.

It’s decadent.

It’s tofu.

What? Did I just say tofu? Why yes, yes I did.

You can make the absolute best chocolate pie with tofu. It tastes like a chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, without the dairy and less fat and with more nutrients.

Tofu is low in calories and fat, and high in protein, iron, calcium and vitamin E. The soy protein found in tofu has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride concentrations and the FDA has approved the claim that “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Chocolate + peanut butter + tofu = me oh my tofu pie deliciousness!

In short, this is one of the best desserts ever.

Eat more tofu.

Me Oh My Tofu Pie
Servings: 8

12 oz. block lite silken tofu
12 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 c. reduced-fat creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp. honey
1 prepared reduced-fat graham cracker crust

Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together in the microwave until smooth and blended. I microwave for 30 seconds, then stir, then 30 more, then stir, and so on until the mix is just right.

Combine chocolate and peanut butter mixture, tofu and honey in a blender and process until smooth.

Pour mixture into prepared pie crust and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Top with fat-free whipped topping and serve.

Don’t tell people there is tofu in this pie and they won’t have any idea. Or, you can spring it on them: “Surprise – you’re eating tofu… and LIKING it!”

It’s the best chocolate peanut butter pie you or they will ever eat, tofu or no.

For a variation, substitute 1/3 cup of coffee liquor for the peanut butter, and add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. You end up with a chocolate pie with a hint of coffee and an eensy weensy kick.

Regardless of the variation, the pie is really rich, so I actually get 16 to 20 servings out of one of these – a little slice goes a long way.

Sunday was Halloween, so we invited my parents over for dinner.

What’s the scariest dessert I could make? Soufflé, of course.

Why is this scary? Because I’ve never made a true soufflé. I make this lemon berry pudding cake (I’ll post that one day) that has some soufflé-like qualities, but it’s not exactly the real thing.

Since I found some super-cute fall-colored ramekins at Target (in the Dollar section!), I figured I’d put them to use and use my parents as guinea pigs.

I found a recipe for pumpkin spice soufflés in an old issue of Gourmet magazine and modified it to better suit my preferences. First, I halved the recipe to make four soufflés instead of eight. I also used skim milk instead of whole.

I also wanted to make a sauce to go with the soufflés. Again, I turned to Gourmet magazine and found a recipe for something called Bourbon Molasses Sauce.

The recipe required me to make caramel from scratch. I had never done this before.

Guess what?

I still haven’t. I went through 3 cups of sugar and two very sticky pans before I realized I wasn’t going to turn into Willy Wonka in the hour I had before my parents arrived for dinner. So I improvised a sugar/cornstarch/butter/vanilla sauce and added in some molasses and whiskey.

Guess what?

It tasted delicious.

Since I had never made soufflé, was cutting the recipe in half and wasn’t using whole milk, I did not expect the results to be pretty. Couple that with my failure as a caramel maker (twice), and I was so sure that these would be a semi-disaster that I didn’t bother to have a camera ready.

But then a Halloween miracle occurred in my kitchen.

My soufflés did their thing and turned out perfectly. Here is the grainy cell phone camera proof:

What the what? They're beautiful!

I poked a hole in the top with a spoon to pour the sauce in, and they stayed up!

Inside, they were light and airy, and the pumpkin spice flavor was incredible.

Spiced Pumpkin Souffles
Servings: 8
WW Points: 2 per soufflé

1/2 c. skim milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
3/4 c. plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided, plus additional for coating ramekins
3/4 c. canned pureed pumpkin – not pie filling
10 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together milk, cornstarch, spices, and 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then simmer, whisking, 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin. Transfer to a large bowl and cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in lower third. Butter ramekins and coat with granulated sugar, knocking out excess, then put in a large shallow baking pan.

Beat egg whites with salt in another large bowl using an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar a little at a time, beating, then beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks, 1 to 2 minutes more.

Fold one third of whites into cooled pumpkin mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Divide mixture among ramekins, mounding it.

Bake soufflés until puffed and golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Dust with confectioners sugar and serve immediately.

Pumpkin mixture (without egg whites) can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
Soufflés can be assembled 1 hour before baking and kept in freezer.

Baked soufflés can be repuffed if necessary in a 400°F oven 10 to 12 minutes (serve quickly, as they will deflate a little faster the second time around).

Don’t forget the sauce – it would go good with ice cream or bread pudding, too.

Lynn’s Whiskey Molasses Sauce
Servings: 6 to 8
WW Points: 2.5 per serving

1 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. whiskey
1 Tbsp. molasses
pinch salt

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Combine sugar and cornstarch, blend well. Add sugar and cornstarch mixture to boiling water; reduce heat to medium, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened.

Remove from heat and add the butter, vanilla, whiskey, molasses and salt, stirring until butter is melted.

The great thing about soufflé is that, while they taste decadent and sinful, they are really low in fat and calories. In fact, each of these, with sauce, has fewer WW points than two of those tiny fun-size chocolate candy bars kids fight over the day after Halloween.

Everyone loved the soufflé, and my mom suggested I bring them to her house for Thanksgiving.

Um, no.

But.

I am going to make them again tonight. Why not? It’s a Tuesday, and what Tuesday doesn’t need a soufflé?

I have a camera full of pictures of the cookies I made last night, but I haven’t unloaded them and won’t until maybe tomorrow. Normally, I’d post about something else, but these cookies are so good, I have to share them with you right now!

Instead of a picture of the cookies, here’s Grizz’s cute little Grizzlepuss nose.

It's smooch-worthy.

How cute is that? I mean, doesn’t it just make you want to fall over from the cuteness?

Grizz loves helping with projects. He oversees cooking projects from his place in a dining room chair. Sometimes, he gets more involved. He especially likes embroidery:

He's so helpful.

Once you get off the floor, you should replenish yourself by making my ginger molasses cookies. They’re a little sweet, a little spicy, a little crisp (around the edges) and a little chewy (in the middle). Even better, they’re not terrible for you – I just had one, and I’m considering having another!

…considering…

…considering…

It’s been decided. Another one will be consumed very soon.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Servings: about 20 cookies
WW Points: 1.5 per cookie

1 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 Egg
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. white sugar (for rolling cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, blend flour, baking soda and spices together and set aside.
In another bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg until well mixed. Then add the molasses and mix to combine.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix to combine, then stir in the crystallized ginger until blended into the dough

Using rounded teaspoonfuls (or not quite full tablespoons), form dough into balls and roll them in the extra 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, lightly flatten with the bottom of a glass and bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Allow to cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Some things to keep in mind as you make these. One, feel free to adjust the spices to your own tastes. I like the clove flavor, so there’s a bit of it in here. Two, rolling the cookies in sugar, then flattening the cookies with something flat (like the bottom of a drinking glass) are very important for the texture and appearance of these cookies. Take the time and you will not be disappointed!

I have a confession: I love sweets. Eating them, cooking them, staring longingly at them.

That’s not really a secret. I mean, you don’t get to be almost 240 lbs without having something of a sweet tooth.

One of the challenges of changing my diet for the better has been finding ways to satisfy my sweet cravings in a realistic way.

Enter Treat Monday.

What is Treat Monday, you ask? Good question.

A few weeks ago, I got the urge to bake something decadent. Not just cake mix + pumpkin puree baking, or whole-wheat carrot muffin baking, but ooey, gooey, butter and flour and eggs baking.

Serious baking.

Seriously fattening baking.

What’s a trying-to-be healthy girl to do when this kind of urge strikes? The only thing I could do – give in. But not completely.

I decided to find a recipe for something that I wanted to try a little of, make it on Sunday evening, and take the rest to work on Monday.

Thus, Treat Monday was born, out of a craving for a gooey chocolate chip cookie.

Sunday rolled around and I made some of the best chocolate chip cookies to ever have come from my oven (my Awesomesauce cookies are delicious, relatively healthy, and you can eat more than one without feeling guilty – these should be one and done).

I got the recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and followed it to the letter.

I'm a sucker for cookie dough.

The result was a cookie that was as visually appealing as it was tasty.

Did I mention that these are really big cookies?

Do not adjust your screen - these are enormous cookies!

That’s a standard sized cookie sheet, and only six of these bad boys fit at a time.

Big and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Servings: about 20 large cookies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

3 1/3 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as necessary.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate chips until incorporated.

Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, about 17 to 20 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cook on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

I’m not going to bother putting Weight Watchers points on recipes for Treat Monday. These cookies, and the other recipes I choose to make for Treat Monday are about moderation – eat one and share the rest.

And with these, you can really only eat one:

One is all you'll be able to eat!

Eat half, take a break, eat the other half. Or share one with a friend. And then share another one with another friend later.

Healthy living is all about moderation, which is why I love being able to make what I want, enjoy a little and share the rest.

Hopefully, my co-workers will remember to enjoy in moderation, too :)