Monster Cookies (Flourless!)

IMG_1239Let me introduce to you the ultimate cookie mash-up: oatmeal cookie meets peanut butter cookie meets chocolate chip cookie…meets M&M cookie! Phew. It’s no wonder they’re called monster cookies with all that goodness loaded in (although I’ve heard rumors that the name actually comes from a bakery that made mass–monster–quantities of these cookies). While my past few posts have featured recipes with some considerably strange ingredients, these monster cookies feature the exact opposite. Most of their ingredients are pretty typical for cookies–sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, salt, baking soda–but there’s one common cookie ingredient missing…flour!IMG_1234

That’s right. The quick-cooking oats and three whole eggs hold these monster cookies together just fine, and they have the best chewy texture. I was worried that the lack of flour might result in flat pancake cookies, but they also stay tall and thick. In fact, you’d be wise to pat them down a little before baking, because their shape holds up really well in the oven. I made them extra-large because no way was I making regular-sized MONSTER cookies, and seriously, each cookie is like a meal in itself! The peanut butter and oats offer such a fantastic texture and flavor, and the chocolate chips and M&Ms bring in a nice dose of richness. IMG_1232

For those of you gluten-free folks out there, here is a cookie that you can eat too! Just make sure to use gluten-free oats, and you should be all set. My gluten-free mother, who has long since resigned herself to forgoing homemade cookies, was astounded to hear that she could actually eat these. At first she thought I was teasing her! Nothing like a pleasant surprise in the form of a monster cookie. 🙂 IMG_1236

Ditch the flour and make yourself a batch of these overloaded monster cookies. You’ll never have to decide between peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookies again!IMG_1241

Monster Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 & 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 & 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

4 & 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup M&Ms

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line or grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and eggs until smooth. Mix in the butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and salt until well-combined. Stir in the baking soda, oats, chocolate chips, and M&Ms.

Roll the dough into balls (mine were about 1.5 tablespoons each) and place 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Slightly flatten each ball with the back of a spoon or the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are set and the edges are light golden-brown. Don’t overbake! Cool the cookies for 2 minutes on the cookie sheets before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

*Note: the dough balls can also be frozen and baked for 12-14 minutes (without thawing!) as desired.IMG_1244

Recipe adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

IMG_5366If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my many years of baking, purchasing, reading about, talking about, and eating food, it’s that “healthy” means something different to just about everyone. Yes, we can probably all agree that deep-fried Twinkies have a very low chance of ever making it into the “healthy” category, and I’ve never met a person who has labeled fresh broccoli as “unhealthy,” but there is still a crazy level of disagreement when it comes to clean eating. I’ve read diet books that forbid the consumption of bananas, grapes, and watermelon due to their high sugar contents, but the vending machine in my residence hall back at school has a “fit pick” sticker pasted on Grandma’s Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies. There are also “fit pick” stickers on bags of low-fat pretzels and salted peanuts, which are scorned by others for their simple carbohydrates and high fat content, respectively. Sometimes it seems like there’s just no winning.IMG_5348

All that being said, there is winning when it comes to this recipe! I’m going to refrain from trying to convince you that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars are “healthy” (because, yes, there are real milk chocolate chips and gobs of peanut butter in them), but I will say that they have no flour, no butter, no white sugar, and no un-pronouncable additives or preservatives. What they do have is a soft, slightly crumbly crust made from oats, maple syrup, and peanut butter–side note: pure maple syrup+peanut butter is one of the best unlikely combos ever–and a thick, smooth filling that consists purely of chocolate and peanut butter. I personally think these bars taste best when eaten straight from the fridge, but you can also freeze them to make them last longer. Although if you’re anything like my family and me, the bars will be devoured in record-breaking time whether or not they’re hidden away in the freezer. I recommend saving yourself the trouble by keeping them thawed in the fridge and at-the-ready for eager consumption. Even if you decide that these Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge bars aren’t 100% healthy, they are certainly 100% delicious…and when it comes to desserts, that’s what really matters, right? IMG_5340

Oatmeal Chocolate Fudge Bars

Yield: 16-25 bars (depending on how large you cut them)

2 & 3/4 cups quick-cooking oats (220g)*

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pure maple syrup**

1/4 cup + 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, divided

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 ounces chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)

Directions:

Line an 8×8″ pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a short overhang, and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, 1/4 cup peanut butter, water, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the oats and salt.

Scoop about 2/3 of the oat mixture into the prepared pan and press it down firmly and evenly with the back of a metal spoon. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine the 1/2 cup peanut butter and chocolate chips. Microwave for about 40-60 seconds, stirring after each 20-second increment, until the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate mixture over the oat layer in the pan and spread evenly.

Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture evenly over the melted chocolate, and carefully press it down. Chill for at least an hour, or until the chocolate is firm. Carefully lift the bars out of the pan while holding onto the foil or parchment paper, and cut into squares.

*I only had old-fashioned rolled oats on hand, so I just pulsed them about 20 times in my food processor. Using old-fashioned oats by themselves will change the texture of the bars, making them more crumbly.

**Honey or agave nectar can be substituted for the maple syrup. If you do use maple syrup, make sure you are using PURE maple syrup (not regular pancake syrup).

Recipe adapted from Chocolate Covered KatieIMG_5349

Healthy No-Bake Cookies

no-bakecookiesMy first batch of no-bake cookies can only be described as a disaster. I was in middle school at the time, and my friend and I were lounging around her house trying to decide what to do when her mom suggested no-bake cookies. I had never heard of them but was all too willing to try them out. The recipe called for butter, peanut butter, sugar, vanilla, oatmeal, and milk…I’m pretty sure that was it. Total health food! Luckily our pre-teen metabolisms could handle it, and we got right to work.

The standard recipe for no-bake cookies is pretty simple: melt the peanut butter, butter, and sugar; stir in everything else; drop the mixture onto cookie sheets. Let it set up, and you’re done. Fool-proof, right? Not so much…

My friend and I divided the task of measuring ingredients, and peanut butter fell onto my side. “I think there’s a jar of Skippy in the cupboard,” she said, and I obligingly skipped over to the cabinet. Sure enough there were two jars of peanut butter, one farther back than the other. I chose the emptier one in the back, if only to help her family use it up. As soon as I screwed open the jar I noticed a funny smell, but I didn’t say anything. My family always bought natural peanut butter that you had to stir, so I figured Skippy just smelled a little different. That was my first mistake.nobakecookies2

I scooped out the appropriate amount of peanut butter and dumped it into the saucepan along with the other ingredients. Five minutes later we were forming the mixture into little balls and placing them onto a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. I’ve always been a “taster” when it comes to baking (my justification is that any incorporated germs are killed by the heat of the oven…and let’s just pretend the no-bake thing doesn’t exist) so I definitely snuck a pinch or two of the dough. It tasted…bad. Not a little bad, a lot bad. It’s a taste that I now know can be described as rancid nuts (shocker, right)?! Seeing my expression my friend tried it too, and made the same disgusted face as I had.

“Why didn’t you tell me the peanut butter smelled funny?” she asked. “We could have used the other kind.”

“Well, uh…” I started to reply. “I don’t know.” Satisfying answer for sure.

We threw out the entire batch and sadly resumed our lounging around. But fear not, because we definitely made a successful batch at another point in time! I think I probably put her in charge of the peanut butter…

And now we have reached the end of the road where I stop talking about my crazy life and cut to the chase. THESE no-bake cookies are just about as easy as the originals (if not easier) but they have the benefit of actually being good for you. Yeah, there’s chocolate, but it really doesn’t count since the rest of the ingredients are so healthy. That’s how it works–you heard it from me! They’re pretty darn good too, considering the lack of butter and sugar. They definitely aren’t as sweet as “regular” cookies, so if you aren’t used to that you can definitely add in a couple tablespoons of sugar or additional honey. Also, the riper your banana is, the sweeter the cookies will be. Bananas FTW! Always.

But yeah. These easy-healthy-delicious cookies are winners, at least in my opinion. We’ve got chocolate, peanut butter, honey, AND banana all in the same place, which can only lead to good things. Just make sure your peanut butter’s not rancid, okay? Great. 🙂

nobakecookies3Healthy No-Bake Cookies

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 small ripe banana, mashed (1/3 cup)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup milk (any kind)

3 cups quick-cooking oats

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Place the peanut butter and mashed banana in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth, then remove from heat. Stir in the honey, cocoa powder, milk, oats, cinnamon, and salt until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into rounded tablespoons and place on a lined cookie sheet. Press each mound of dough down slightly until the desired shape is reached. Chill for at least 2 hours before enjoying. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

(Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)

Easy Peanut Butter Blossoms

IMG_2257So I gained some important new knowledge this week. I babysat for two of my favorites on Thursday (I’m home for the holidays!), and as I played chauffeur from school to dance practice the backseat conversation shifted to Santa Claus.

“An elf called us,” I was told. Moonbeam, I believe his name was, had some very important information to relay. “Santa is gluten-free this year. The elf told us this, and elves know everything about Santa…because they are tiny.”IMG_2259

I was fascinated to learn not only that Santa Claus is now gluten-free (although should I really be surprised, given the explosion of gluten-free in the western world?) but that elves are knowledgeable because of their size. Not because they are magical, not because they are mythical, not because they live in the North Pole or have pointy ears or are master toy makers…no. Elves know everything because they are tiny. Makes total sense…or at least, it probably would if I had the ability to experience logic as a five-year-old does. I kinda miss those days.IMG_2261

Regardless of how Moonbeam got his information, I think we had better pay heed. I bet there are lots and lots of gluten-free Santas out there this year who would be more than happy to receive a plate of cookies that he (or, um, she) can actually eat! Luckily, I have the perfect solution! These peanut butter blossoms are some of the easiest cookies I know how to make…and the recipe might possibly be sneakily listed in about four of my other blog posts, in slight variations. It goes like this: 1 cup of peanut butter. 1 cup of sugar. 1 egg. Stir. Scoop. Bake. I like to add a little baking powder and vanilla just because I can’t stand leaving a good recipe alone (and it adds a little lift and flavor), but you don’t necessarily have to if you want to go with the 1-2-3 easy approach. I’m willing to bet that Santa won’t care either way ;).IMG_2266

Of course, it never hurts to add chocolate to a peanut butter cookie! Am I right, or am I right? I turned these into peanut butter blossoms (one of the quintessential Christmas cookies!) simply by pressing a chocolate kiss into each cookie. The chocolate definitely takes them to the next level, and it makes them look pretty, too. If you know a gluten-free Santa (or are one yourself!) I would definitely share Moonbeam’s knowledge with the little bakers in your family. Even if you don’t think Santa will be stopping by your house next week, you should still make a batch of these peanut butter blossoms! They’re soft, chewy, full of peanut butter flavor…and are gluten-free! Elf-approved for sure. 🙂IMG_2268

Easy Peanut Butter Blossoms

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

2 dozen chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking powder, and vanilla. Scoop the dough into tablespoon-size balls and drop onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until tops are set. Be careful not to over-bake, because the cookies will continue cooking as they cool on the sheets. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the top of each cookie. Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Flourless Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_0245So. Let’s overlook the fact that this recipe might possibly be interpreted as cheating, since I already have two variations of these cookies here on the blog, and just roll with it. Because seriously, guys, these cookies are good enough to be posted three times! They’ve always been one of my go-to recipes for their a) minimal ingredients, b) quickness, c) easiness, and d) gluten-freedom (I was gonna say “freeness,” but “freedom” has the upper hand of actually being a word.)

While you can stick to my original 3-ingredient recipe and make these with 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 egg (yes, that’s all!!!), I prefer to use this recipe with its little adjustments. It goes against my nature as a baking addict to just leave a good recipe alone, so naturally I’ve come up with some tweaks. First of all, using half brown sugar and half white makes the cookies especially chewy and flavorful. Brown sugar FTW! Secondly, I add vanilla to pretty much everything (including my oatmeal while it’s cooking–if you haven’t tried it, DO!), so of course I had to include it in these cookies. The baking powder is just for a little extra lift, and I’m sure the chocolate chips need no explanation. Chocolate should never need an explanation–remember that.IMG_0242

These cookies are the perfect recipe for a college student with a limited budget, limited time, and a limited kitchen (namely myself), or anyone else who wants cookies that are fast, easy, don’t require a grocery store trip, and/or are gluten-free. Despite their lack of flour (and other usual cookie ingredients), they’re some of the best cookies I make. In fact, they’re the only peanut butter cookies I ever make! What more could you want than a perfectly chewy, slightly-crisp-around-the-edges, ultra-peanut buttery cookie with chocolate chips? Actually, I can think of quite a few things, but for all intents and purposes the proper answer here is “nothing.”IMG_0250

Flourless Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or baking mats and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except for the chocolate chips until well-combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. (At this point, if you like thinner cookies, you can slightly flatten each ball of dough or make a criss-cross pattern with a fork.)

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies are set around the edges and the tops are no longer shiny. Err on the side of underdone! Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake

IMG_3232It all started with a rainy day. Instead of waking up to clear skies and warm beams of sunshine, which is what the middle of July should look like, I woke up to 100% cloud cover, pouring rain, and a desperate need for the extra blanket that I had recently shoved into my closet because it had been sitting uselessly at the foot of my bed for two monthsI shouldn’t complain too much, since so far we’ve had a b-e-a-uuutiful summer in this normally-gray corner of the northwest (knock on wood!) but now that I’ve gotten a taste of sunshine I crave it all the time! Sunshine allll the days. No rainy ones allowed. (I should probably consider moving.)

IMG_3213

Aside from making me sad and cold (and in all honesty, giving our parched island a nice dose of moisture), all of that dreary rain put me in a baking mood. I had no inclination to venture outside and the kitchen was calling. We had a big container of strawberries in the fridge that I knew were approaching the end of their days, so I decided to bake them into something while they were still fresh. The only question was, what to make? Cake came to mind….not a giant frosted fancy layer cake, but a simple one-pan snack cake. I love to call cakes baked in square pans “snack cakes” because then of course they’re justified to be eaten as snacks. Or breakfasts, for that matter…

I thought about making a strawberry-lemon cake, but seeing as we didn’t have any lemons I couldn’t figure out a way to make that happen. My next idea was a vanilla bean cake with fresh strawberries, but I had just used some of my precious vanilla beans in a batch of blueberry muffins and figured I should branch out a little. Then my eyes fell upon the jar of peanut butter in our fridge and an idea was born….peanut butter cake filled with diced strawberries! Just like pb&j, but with real fruit instead of jelly. Because fresh summer fruit always trumps jelly in my mind, just sayin.IMG_3218

I found a recipe for a peanut butter-jelly coffee cake that I morphed into my Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake. Essentially it’s a soft, rich peanut butter cake studded with juicy pieces of strawberries and topped off with a drizzle of melted peanut butter. It can be served at room temperature or chilled, and tastes a lot like the classic pb&j that we all know and love. You can adapt this to your heart’s content, maybe using raspberries instead of strawberries, adding chopped peanuts to the cake, making a full-on peanut butter frosting, or going the true pb&j route and swirling some warmed-up jam into the cake batter.

This cake definitely brightened up my rainy day! The combination of peanut butter and strawberries may sound a bit odd, but they taste amazing together. My Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake is a great little twist on the classic peanut-butter-and-jelly, and it will leave you wanting more!

IMG_3221

Peanut Butter-Strawberry Snack Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk*

1 cup diced strawberries

3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, for drizzling (optional)

*You can make your own buttermilk by pouring 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup and adding enough milk to equal 1/2 cup. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to curdle, then proceed with recipe.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8″x8″ pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, use an electric mixer to combine the peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and vanilla, mixing until well-combined. Stir in the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternating increments, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir just until no flour streaks remain, being careful not to over-mix. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-32 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. While the cake is cooling, melt the additional 3 tablespoons of peanut butter (I used my microwave and it took about 30 seconds, stirring after every 10). Using a spoon, drizzle the melted peanut butter over the warm cake.

Let the cake cool completely, then slice and enjoy!

(Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod)

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

IMG_2533“Did you MAKE these?!” my father asked with his mouth full, turning the the half-eaten object in his hand from side to side with an expression of glee.

“Um, yes.” I replied.

“What is IN them?”

“Dad, they’re banana slices dipped in chocolate. And frozen. That’s it.”

“Really?!”

“Really.”

“You could sell these at [name of expensive restaurant in our town] for lots and lots of money. Seriously, serve them up on a fancy platter and no one would ever know the difference.”

“Haha.”

IMG_2539

All jokes aside, these frozen chocolate banana bites have serious show-stopping potential, despite their short list of ingredients and the minimal effort involved in making them. All I did was melt together some dark chocolate chips with a little peanut butter (because in my world, where there is chocolate, peanut butter must follow), dunk banana slices in the mixture, and sprinkle a little shredded coconut over the tops. Then I froze them. Thirty minutes later I had a Tupperware full of delicious chocolatey treats that my family couldn’t believe I had created all by myself. Of course in reality it was probably the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life, practically kinda sorta.IMG_2540

These really are some of the easiest treats I’ve ever made, but they taste so fantastic! According to my (questionably hyperbolic) father, they just might be “the best” things I’ve ever made. The frozen banana tastes remarkably similar to vanilla ice cream, tucked inside a shell of dark chocolate with just a hint of peanut butter. The coconut sprinkled on top was the icing on the cake for our family, but if you aren’t a coconut fan (oh, the horror!) just leave it off. Although you probably didn’t need me to tell you that, you intelligent people you.

So basically, in a matter of 15 minutes you can be popping these babies in the freezer. No sink full of dirty dishes, no oven heating up your house, no excessive amount of time suddenly robbed from your day. And you get a ton of frozen chocolate banana bites out of it. You’re welcome!IMG_2556

Frozen Chocolate Banana Bites

2 bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch disks

1 cup chocolate chips

1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter*

Shredded coconut, for sprinkling

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper or aluminum foil. Set aside.

Place the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (or use a double boiler if you have one). Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Working quickly, use a fork to dip each banana slice in the melted chocolate and coat it entirely, then transfer to the prepared cookie sheet. When all the banana slices are covered in chocolate, sprinkle with shredded coconut if desired.

Put the cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has hardened, and then transfer the banana bites to an airtight container. Enjoy these straight out of the freezer!

*If needed, you can omit the peanut butter and melt a teaspoon of butter or coconut oil along with the chocolate instead.