Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello again! Bet you didn’t think you’d see another post from me this week! As promised, I began ramping up my cookie production this year and will possibly post twice as much this month. It’s a little nerve-wracking but I am up for the challenge!

When planning this month’s #CookieCraziness (isn’t my hashtag for this year’s cookies awesome?), one of the top cookies was a peanut butter one. I LOVE peanut butter, so this was a no brainer. However, plain peanut butter cookies can be boring and monotonous. I’m not into that with my cookies, so chocolate chips were the obvious solution.

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Peanut butter cookies aren’t necessarily a Christmas-y cookie. Like, when I think Christmas cookies, peanut butter ones are the furthest from my mind. Everyone else thinks of chocolate and peppermint everything. I usually go with sugar or gingerbread, which I’ll get to sometime later. I don’t know but I feel like peanut butter doesn’t even have an appropriate season. All the more reason why it belongs (in cookie form) with the holidays.

The main ingredient in these beauties is the peanut butter; the star of the show! Consider using chunky peanut butter in these cookies for added texture and to add on to the PB taste. I’m not about that chunky PB life, though; I love natural and smooth peanut butter. I get the huge jars at Whole Foods all the time because I make granola for my Greek yogurt regularly. Obviously, I need to have tons of the stuff on hand at all times because when I’m not making granola, there are PB&Js to be made (with grape jelly exclusively).

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According to the recipe, there’s supposed to be a double hit (or triple if you opt for chunky) of PB; the second by way of peanut butter chips. I once bought a couple bags of those from the one time they had them at Trader Joe’s. They were so good, I can’t even recall what I made with them. I had chocolate chips leftover from making these, so I used twice as many chocolate chips in this batch.

Now, let me just praise the actual cookie dough for one second. A DREAM to work with. Came together beautifully and handled like a dream. I’ve never seen such clean scoops of cookie dough come out of my mixing bowl. Barely any scraps and no sticking! Speaking of sticking, I used my new silicone mats for my half sheet pans. I had to get a pair because my parchment paper never fits. Can I just tell you how much I love them? I love them. Absolutely adore them. Cookies slid off no problem, they’re easy to clean, and look cute too. SO glad I got them!

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The cookies were INSANE. I found myself eating all of the scraps and several cookies before they even made the plate; they’re THAT good. Very peanut buttery, with the chocolate chips as backup. Think of PB and chocolate as partners in crime, or good cop/bad cop except they’re both the good cops. They just go together! The cookies themselves are soft but sturdy, with a little crunch from the granulated sugar they’re coated in before baking. You can even still see the traditional fork marks from the slight smush they need before going into the oven. They were as dreamy as their own cookie dough. When the cookie dough works, you just know the cookie will too!

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to consider peanut butter cookies as a holiday cookie. They may not scream Christmas but folks will be screaming with joy upon eating them this season. Either way, I think these non-conventional holiday cookies belong on your cookie roster.

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#CookieCraziness posts:

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies – barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 36 cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup peanut butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • Granulated sugar for rolling/sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment (or those nifty silicone liners). Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a small bowl, place a good amount (maybe a 1/4 cup; separate from the amount needed to make the cookies) of granulated sugar for rolling the cookies later.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is smooth. Add the egg and mix until fully combined. Finally, add the milk and vanilla.
  3. Add the dry ingredients and stir until completely combined. With a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Using a cookie scoop, a tablespoon, or two teaspoons, drop the dough into the bowl with the granulated sugar. Completely coat the dough ball and transfer to the prepped baking sheet. With a fork, gently press the dough down but do not flatten completely. You can press the cookie with the fork twice, each in a different direction, to get the signature pattern.
  4. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown around the edges. The cookies may look under done but they are. Let them cool on the pan for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Lucy’s Tips

  • I preferred baking them 12 minutes for a sturdier cookie that was still soft and slightly chewy. For a lighter cookie, aim for the lower amount of time. 
  • If you don’t feel like pressing with a fork, any smooth (or not smooth) surface can work. For example, a spoon, shot glass, offset spatula, etc. Just don’t go crazy pressing them down with anything!
  • I got 36 cookies with a #50 disher/scoop. Amounts of cookies vary depending on the size of the scoop/disher/spoon. The bigger the disher/spoon/scoop, the fewer the cookies. 
  • To make these extra festive, consider rolling them in colored sugar!

Granola Bars

Granola bars, to me, are the perfect snack. Granted, I wouldn’t eat them alone as a snack but they go so well with a piece of fruit or alongside a sandwich for a quick lunch. When I started college, I made sure I always had something on me and granola bars were my go-to. I had my first energy cereal bar from the school store one day in class. I’ll never forget that because it was a bit of an experience. I sound like a crazy person even saying that I had an ~experience~ with a granola bar but entertain me for a minute. I never had one of those before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I even remember the flavor; chocolate brownie. For comparison’s sake, I imagined that it was supposed to taste like a brownie so that’s what I used to figure out if it was tasty or not. I loved it. It had all my favorite things; chocolate, oats, and sugar so what’s not to love? I went back to my school store several times after that to try the rest of the flavors. I even looked up their website to see what else they had to offer and went on the hunt for all the flavors at different stores.

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Now, I don’t think I’ve met a bar I didn’t like because I think I’ve tried all of the different brands and kinds of bars out there. Every single one that I’d come across, I’d look for them in stores and try them. Honestly, I still do that. I love trying different things like that, just to see what all the hype is about. Anything from cereal bars, meal replacement bars, and even protein bars have gone across my lips. The best part about trying all these bars, aside from the variety, was their portability. I needed to have one in my bag at all times in order to stop any impending hunger signs on the spot, even after graduation.

These days, I still carry some sort of bar in my bag; along with a giant bottle of water and maybe even an apple. I even buy my favorites in mass quantities so I have something to snack on while at work. However, since my folks are away and my stash is quickly depleting, I decided to make my own.

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Now, these were a long time coming. Even before I bought my last box of bars, I had been thinking about making my own. The only thing stopping me was that I couldn’t decide what to put in them! See, granola bars are a grab bag of stuff. Besides the required oats and nuts, it’s basically a free for all. I took what I had in my cupboard and went to town. These aren’t inherently healthy but I like to think that because they’re homemade, it cancels out. I tried my best to keep it sorta healthy but that factor is up to the eater to decide. I put all my favorites in here; oats (which are a given and required), raisins, cinnamon, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and nuts. I kind of cheated with the nuts because all I had were some nut clusters, which I chopped up and threw into the mix. Then I switched the butter for some melted coconut oil; one of the trendy fats that are really good for your body on the inside and outside. I also used agave; a sweeter and less viscous alternative to honey. And just for funsies, I used half brown and half white sugar.

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I wasn’t expecting these bars to be this delicious, in all honesty. Reminiscent of these things but baked and better! Mine got nice and toasty in the oven, which added some crunch and a touch of extra nuttiness. Swapping the butter for the coconut oil was genius too because there was just a slight coconut-y taste; it made me wish I had shredded coconut to add to it! The raisins added some much needed fruitiness and chew, while the nuts added another element of crunch, and the chocolate chips just added chocolate. After trying the first bite, I couldn’t stop thinking about other flavors and mix ins I could shake up this recipe with! They are seriously one of the best homemade bars I’ve had (and made), and I can’t wait to take them everywhere with me.

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Granola Bars – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1 2/3 cups quick rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup oat flour made from 1/3 cup finely ground rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups combines of dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup natural, smooth and unsalted peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup agave
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.
  • Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, vanilla, melted oil, liquid sweeteners, and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry until the mixture is evenly moistened and crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing them in firmly to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.
  • Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges. Cool the bars in their pan completely on a cooling rack. Once cool, use a serrated knife,  bench knife, or really sharp chef’s knife to cut the bars into squares or bars. To store, wrap the bars individually in plastic or stack them in an airtight container.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Word to the wise, the bars get stiff in the fridge and may be hard to eat. If you have time, let them sit out for 10 minutes or so before eating.

Coconut Popsicles

It has gotten too hot to bake. I never thought I’d type those words! I mean, even in this sweltering heat, I am still planning on firing up the oven at least once a week. It’s still too hot to bake but I’m still planning on it! As a sort of apology to my folks for the extra heat, I made popsicles.

We already know about my family’s love for coconut, so this flavor was a no brainer. Another reason why I chose coconut? I’m supposed to be in the Dominican Republic right now and I really miss it. My family and I used to go every two years for a whole month. The last time we went was July 2012, so technically we should be there right now. Things have changed so much that it wasn’t possible this year. It breaks my heart that I wasn’t able to go, and to keep up with tradition (because y’all already know how I am about that) but I will return one day.

As I mentioned in previous coconut themed posts, we get to eat a lot of them during our stays in D.R. It’s one of the top five things I love to do when I’m there, besides actually being there. When we’re not eating fresh coconut or drinking its water, we like buying popsicles. If you think New York City summers are hot, you are wrong. Summers in D.R. are at least five times hotter. It sounds strange but I swear the sun over there is closer than it is here in the city. It gets so hot and humid during the day but the advantage is that it cools down at night; unlike nights in NYC.

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In that humid heat, a popsicle is like a godsend. We don’t make them ourselves because the electricity over there is so ridiculously unstable. Instead, we buy them off fellow Dominicans who are trying to make an honest living. Any flavor popsicle is refreshing in that heat but the popular flavor is obviously coconut. I tried my best to recreate the fresh flavors we’re used to when we go visit my mom’s house but it wasn’t exactly easy. I don’t have access to fresh coconut to make my own shreddies or coconut milk but the canned stuff seemed to work just fine. I don’t know if you have noticed but popsicles are ridiculously hard to photograph! I haven’t figured out how to make them photogenic or how to capture that essence behind a pop, and am planning on figuring it out. Until then, enjoy these gifs of the process!

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My parents and I were pleased with these pops. I’m just not sure if they liked them because they were refreshing or because of the taste! These popsicles are super creamy and slightly sweet. The specks of shredded coconut are a lovely textural surprise; adding to that coconut flavor. The pops took me back for a quick second to two summers ago; when we’d sit with my cousins, neighbors, and my grampa on the front porch to eat popsicles. It’s that moment of silence when everyone is just savoring the ice cream and kind of forgets about the fact that they’re melting (both the person and the pop) that I miss so much; that second where everyone is collectively together enjoying a moment of refreshment. I miss my vacation for sure but at least I can have a small piece of it here.

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Coconut Popsicles – adapted from PureWow

Makes 6-8 popsicles

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 cups of coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded coconut

Directions:

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring the milk and sugar to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cool slightly. Stir in the coconut milk, vanilla, rum and shredded coconut.
  3. Carefully pour the mixture into ice-pop molds. Press sticks into the center of the pops and freeze until solid, 3 to 4 hours (overnight is best).

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Use your food processor to finely shred the coconut before stirring into the milk for these pops
  • The original recipe calls for coconut water instead of regular milk
  • Amp up the coconut flavor by using a super small amount of coconut extract; a little bit goes a long way!
  • Run the popsicle mold under cold water for a few seconds before attempting to remove from the mold

 

Kitchen Experiments: Orangettes

Orange is definitely one of my favorite flavors. Along with the other citrus fruits, oranges are full of freshness and flavor. One of my favorite things to do is actually peel an orange by hand. I like to get my fingers in there and just pull back the peel, and watch the orange oils just leak out and get all over my hands. It’s like nature’s perfume! Obviously I’m no stranger to oranges but it wasn’t until recently that I experienced a dark chocolate covered candied orange peel. I instantly fell in love. I was never really one to eat any kind of fruit with chocolate; not even the super popular chocolate covered strawberries. It just wasn’t my thing. I liked my fruits and chocolate separate when I was a kid, and never thought to try them together until adulthood. Blame the ‘refined palate’ I’m now claiming because I’m game to chocolate with fruit, and the darker the chocolate the better.

Back to the candied orange. It was definitely an experience and an eye opener. With the whole “do it myself” kick I’ve been going through, I knew I could probably pull this off. I used this recipe as a guide and got going.

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Making orangettes is super simple but very time consuming. It can take all day, but the majority of the process is just waiting. To get started, grab some oranges and carefully remove the peel off in segments. I like to cut off the top and bottom of the orange; trying to take away as little as possible of the actual orange. We just want a little opening into the pith. From here, I score the peel four times around the orange, and then use my hands to carefully remove the peel. Oddly enough, we actually want the pith. Ideally, when eating an orange the pith isn’t edible but for this purpose, we need it as it helps hold the sugar and gives the orangette its structure.

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After peeling the whole orange, slice the peel into strips. Try to make them as even as possible, but don’t fret if they’re not. I find that the thicker the slice, the better but this also takes longer to dry later. Play around with the sizes and thickness until you find what you like. After you have your strips ready, bring a pot with water up to a boil. Place the strips into the boiling water and blanch for five minutes. Rinse the peels and repeat the process two more times. This process is done to get rid of the bitterness found in the peel, and helps soften them up for the next step. For this part, I changed out the water each time and blanched them a total of three times. I’m sure it isn’t necessary to change the water each time, but I did for extra security.

After the last blanch, place an equal amount of water and sugar into your pot and bring to a simmer. Essentially, this is a simple syrup, and is what turns regular orange peels into orangettes. Amounts of water/sugar can vary, depending on how many orangettes you plan on making. For the one orange I used, I made my simple syrup using two cups of water with two cups of sugar. I did this for two reasons; one of which was because of my failed first attempt. The first time I tried to make these, I didn’t use enough water and sugar; the strips were touching the bottom of the pot. On top of the fact that they were sticking, I had the heat a little too high and ended up with caramelized orange peels. It could’ve been good but it was NOT what I was looking for.

Peels in syrup

Peels in syrup

When the syrup is at a simmer, put the peels in the pot and keep at a simmer for an hour. Yes, I know. A whole hour. Don’t stray too far from the pot, either. It needs to stay at a simmer or else you’ll end up with my first attempt’s result. Not good. While you wait, eat the orange you now have laying around if you haven’t already. This is also a good time to think about what kind of chocolate is best to dip the finished orangettes in. Personally, I’m a fan of dark chocolate. In this case, it goes very well with the orangey sweetness of the orangettes against the bitter tones of a dark chocolate. Bittersweet and semisweet also work extremely well, but you can use what you like. For this instance, I used semisweet.

Now that the peels have been simmering in the syrup for an hour, it’s time for removal. Carefully lay out each orangette atop of a cooling rack. Place a baking sheet under the rack to catch the syrup drippings. Right now, you should have a pot full of orange simple syrup. That was reason number two! Save the syrup and use it to sweeten tea, cocktails, or even lemonade.

Here comes the hard part: more waiting! The orangettes need to be completely dry before dipping in chocolate. For me, it took several hours; I didn’t really note how long it actually took. After they’re completely dry, they should be a little sturdier and less sticky. Melt the chocolate of your choice, either on a double boiler or carefully in the microwave. Dip each orangette, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. At this point, you have creative license to dip them however you want; either completely, halfway, or a simple drizzle. For the non-chocolate lovers (ahem, my folks), toss the orangettes in some granulated sugar but only before serving! The orangettes tend to soak the sugar up and they get kind of wet and sticky; not cool.

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Orangettes are just plain awesome.  They’re sweet, chewy and intensely orange. The slight bitterness of the semisweet chocolate goes so well with the sweetness of the orangette. I mean, chocolate and orange just love each other. Pity it took me this long to figure that out. Now that I think of it, these would make an awesome gift. Honestly, I’m just thinking ahead to Christmas! Too soon, maybe.

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I’m positive this method isn’t just limited to oranges, and could produce awesome tasting candied lemon peels (lemonettes?) or lime peels (limettes, obviously). Try them with different combinations of chocolate; like limettes covered in white chocolate or lemonettes in milk chocolate. The options are endless and sure to produce a delicious result.

Orangettes – adapted from Handle the Heat

  • 1 large orange
  • 8 cups of water, divided
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4-8oz of semisweet chocolate chunks, melted
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top and bottom off of the orange. Score the peel four times, rotating the orange after each score. Gently remove the peel with your hands, trying to get the peel to come off in one piece. Slice the peels into uniform strips.
  2. Set a medium sized pot, and bring two cups of water to a boil. Blanch the peels in the boiling water for five minutes. Pour the peels into a colander, and rinse off with cold water. Replenish the pot with two more cups of water and bring to a boil again. Repeat the above process for a total of three times.
  3. In the empty pot, combine two cups of water and two cups of sugar over low-medium heat. Stir the sugar until it is dissolved, and bring to a simmer. Place the blanched and rinsed peels into the simmering syrup and continue to simmer for an hour.
  4. Carefully remove each peel and place on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. You can discard the syrup or keep it to sweeten drinks or tea; just place in a jar or other container and cool before refrigerating. Allow the peels to cool and dry completely, which may take several hours.
  5. After the peels have dried out, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or gently in the microwave. If you’re microwaving, melt the chocolate in 30 second increments; stirring each time. Do not scorch/overheat the chocolate. Dip each orange peel in the chocolate, and set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Allow the chocolate to set before enjoying.
  6. Alternatively, toss the dried orange peels into granulated sugar, instead of chocolate, before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • This is a whole day kind of project. Start early!
  • Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to change the water after each blanch. If you test this, please let me know!

 

No Bake Energy Bites

It’s January, which means that troves of people made the exact same New Year’s resolution; “I want to lose __ pounds this year!” No offense to those who make resolutions, but let’s be real for a second. How many people who make this resolution actually stick it out? Come January, everything and everyone is all about the diets and the “cleanses” and “detoxes.” After touting the “enjoy and indulge” messages of months prior, everyone seems to be on the same boat about losing the holiday weight gain. After a couple weeks (or even days), most people want to give up and give in.

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I personally know how hard it can be to stay on track, especially after the holidays, but seeing and hearing all this “diet” talk does the opposite of motivating. See, diets, “cleanses” and “detoxes” are all about restrictions. It’s all “Don’t eat this for x amount of time, don’t eat this kind of food after a certain time, don’t eat anything but this drink for the next week.” It’s too stressful to try and stick to all these guidelines, which are really just set ups for failures.

A healthy lifestyle is not about restricting. A common misconception people have about living healthy is that no one ever eats sweets; that it’s all fruits and veggies all day. Granted, it’s mostly that but a small part of it is about enjoying yourself and living your life stress free (at least about food). That’s the healthy part!

Anyway, these no bake energy bites are an awesome and relatively healthy snack that are as easy to make as they are delicious. All the ingredients in these babies are actually good for you! Oats are a great complex carb, which means they’ll keep you full a bit longer. The peanut butter and the coconut are both full of good fats, even though the coconut is slightly sweetened. Honey’s a natural sweetener that is okay in moderation. And chocolate is surprisingly good for you if you use the right kind! Dark chocolate is the “healthiest,” touting plenty of antioxidants; depending on how dark the chocolate is.

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One of the standout ingredients on the list is the ground flaxseed.  Not only is it a great source of dietary fiber, but it is laden with micronutrients (like Vitamin B), omega-3 fatty acids, and even more antioxidants. It’s a great addition to most baked goods and is awesome (and tasteless) in these energy bites.

When you finally get sick of hearing about all that diet talk and are ready to jump ship, remember that it’s a race rather than a sprint. A healthier lifestyle includes all of the things life throws at you, including these little bites of energy that’ll help you tackle the rest of the day!

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No Bake Energy Bites – adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Makes 20-25, depending on size

  • 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/3 cup honey, maple syrup, or a honey/agave combo
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Stir all of the ingredients in a bowl, making sure everything is thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove mix from the refrigerator, portion and roll into equally sized balls about 1 to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; they should keep for about a week (if they last that long!)

Lucy’s Tips:

  • I chopped up a small 72% dark chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s, in lieu of chocolate chips. Use whatever you have on hand!
  • I used a disher to scoop these out. Each ball came out about 1 1/2″ in diameter. 
  • This recipe is infinitely adaptable. You can use a variety of mix ins and nut butters; anything to suit your tastes!