Apr 202014

Oatmeal chocolate-chunk cran-pecan cookies

Do you remember that chain letter than went around in the wee days of the internet? The one with the recipe for Neiman-Marcus cookies? It’s probably still circulating, but I came across it almost twenty years ago (woah — time flies!) and every bloody time I walk into a L’Aroma Bakery in Anchorage I think of that email. You see, I’m difficult to impress when it comes to bakery cookies. Most are too huge and way over-baked. Plus, in what is likely a cost-cutting measure, the cookies are usually missing something delicious and they fall flat on their faces on the palate.

But L’Aroma is different.

I’m also not usually a huge fan of oatmeal cookies, but their version — which uses cranberries instead of the archetypal raisin — will sucker-punch you with their sheer deliciousness and you won’t even mind.

So, the point is that many of us have a list of “I want this recipe for my very own” from our various favorite haunts. L’Aroma’s oat-cran cookie is definitely on the short list. (Oh, the other stuff on the short list? The triple-berry scones from — of course — L’Aroma* and the chocolate-chip cookies from A Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek, CA.) Would I pay $250 for the recipe? Well, given that The Hubs and I are prone to taking foodcations to Anchorage every year and we certainly spend more than that on just getting there, it doesn’t seem unreasonable. And since we can’t go this summer (which is killing me), maybe I should just cajole them into selling their recipe instead — it would be cheaper than a trip up there.

Failing that, I have this recipe. No, it’s not exactly the same as my L’Aroma favorite since there are pecans and chocolate and the flavor is a bit different, but these cookies are almost as good. But let me tell you, this is almost the recipe That Never Was. For some reason, I had to do battle with these cookies FIVE TIMES before I finally got the better of them. I referred to one of my failures — attempting to make brown sugar at home — already, but the other failures generally had to do with forgetting how to read a measuring cup and over-baking (which really surprised me, given that these sorts of errors don’t usually happen in Cook’s Illustrated recipes, especially when they have an admonishment that says “Do not over-bake!”). But I have emerged on the cookie gauntlet successful, after learning to stock my freaking kitchen with the right kind of sugar, rembmering that fluid ounces and tablespoons are NOT the same thing, and pulling out every trick I know to maximize a cookie’s chew. Now that I’ve done the behind-the-scenes work, I implore thee: go out and bake these too!

* When we were last in Anchorage last summer, The Hubs and I pulled off The Great Scone Heist, in which we hit every singe location in the city that sold the scones and bought them out so we could freeze them and take them home with us. If you understand how quickly each morning the residents and tourists buy out those scones, you’ll be impressed by our feat. Also — and this is a total digression here — whenever I go to the Kaladi Brothers Coffee (Alaska’s far-superior answer to Starbucks) in Seattle, I’m always slightly disappointed that they don’t carry L’Aroma pastries like their more northerly locations do.

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May 262013

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with maple syrup

It’s been an interesting week here in Casa de Om-nom Sauce. I had finally gotten the hang of this whole dairy-free thing and we had seen real improvement in The Babe’s symptoms. Things still seemed off though, so I decided, for kicks, to eliminate soy too to see if that helped, since a decent chunk of babies who are allergic to dairy also have issues with the omnipresent legume (and the only advice my kid’s doctor gave me was to wean and try a formula that is like $100 a can). It turns out that while eliminating dairy was not too tricky, soy is a different beast. Soy, it turns out, is in everything (thanks a lot, poorly-targeted far-subsidies). While this is not a big deal at all at home because we make everything from scratch and thus bypass soy additives, dining out is a different matter. I could eat out at restaurants I trust with dairy-elimination, but eating out with soy? Ridiculous and bordering on impossible, unless you have a really good server who is willing to interrogate the kitchen staff. Luckily, I have a fabulous relationship with the people at Olive, an Urban Dive, and I trust them and they’re willing to work with me (to the point that yesterday they joked about making up a special menu just for me) so The Hubs and I can still enjoy our weekly brunch date. But I digress.

So one of the huge bummers of populating elimination-diet-land is that breakfast options are severely limited. I started really missing pancakes, waffles, and crepes, but knew myself well enough to know that if I just tried to make simple substitutions, the recipes wouldn’t work as well and I would feel deprived. (See: vegan cheese. Yes, I miss cheese horribly but I don’t eat the fake stuff because I would be very disappointed in it and would feel even more deprived.) There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to make something up.

Banana-pecan oat pancakes

Going into my kitchen experiments, I knew that without buttermilk, that ethereally light texture would elude me. So I decided to forget everything about traditional pancake recipes and employed a few tricks I’ve used before. A friend of mine who eschewed gluten made pancakes using homemade oat-flour. Intriguing: let’s give that a try. I remembered that I had once made pancakes with mashed-up bananas and loved the result, so I put that into the bag of tricks. I knew I’d be using almond-milk instead of dairy, and in my experience it doesn’t “sour” well when you add lemon juice, so I decided to skip an acidic ingredient and use baking powder instead of baking soda. And I love toasted pecans, so I decided for kicks to add them to the oat-flour. Before I knew it, I was Frankensteining together my first batch, expecting a learning experience (code for disaster), but I ended up with something not only edible, but eminently delicious! Yes, I have tweaked the original formula that I basically made up on that first Saturday morning, but this is very, very similar to my beginning experiment. The results are not only something that I love to eat, but are food that people who can eat normal dairy-laden pancakes also enjoy — and I hope you do too!

Banana-pecan oat pancakes with almond butter

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Jan 132013

Overnight apple-cran steel-cut oats

Let’s face it: very few of us have tons of time in the morning to cook breakfast. Sure, many of us would love to have a hot breakfast in the morning, but the reality is that when push comes to shove, what we actually would prefer to do is to slap the snooze button a few more times.

Until recently, breakfast was a huge priority. I would always cook something, usually involving left-over veggies scrambled into an egg with some home-made toast and beans. I would still love to be doing that because it’s an incredibly delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast, but with a baby in the house now it’s just not realistic. However, I’m not willing to turn to cereal because I just don’t like it and it’s not remotely filling.

To my happy surprise, I discovered that steel-cut oats and slow-cookers are totally BFFs. This is happy because I can make a week’s worth of healthy and flavorful breakfast for a total time investment of about five minutes, which is how long it takes me to measure everything out, chop up the apples, stir, and turn on the slow-cooker. I haven’t historically been a fan of this appliance, but something like this could totally change my mind.

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Feb 262008

Note: While I have decided to leave this recipe on here for posterity’s sake, I really can’t endorse it anymore. This was posted six years ago, and I’ve since decided that low-fat diets are bad juju. If I were to make it again today, I’d replace fat-substitutes (such as the applesauce) and processed fats (such as the canola/safflower oil) with whole-foods ingredients and natural fats. Vive real food! — Stacey, April 2014

Muffins get a bad rap, and none more so than bran muffins. See, regular muffins are sugar-and-oil fests, full of empty calories, and most bran muffins are healthy but, well, made of twigs. Can there be a happy medium between these two extremes?

Of course there can be! Enter my breakfast-on-the-go juggernaut, the 150% whole grain banana nut muffin! Now, you may be asking yourself how the hell something can be 150% whole grain, and here’s your answer: grains are made up of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm. White flour and other processed grains get poo-pooed (and deservedly so) because the nutritious and tasty germ and bran are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm which, while semantically being a complex carbohydrate, is treated by your body just like sugar, a simple carbohydrate. While most muffins are made of only white flour, this recipe is made up of whole-wheat flour (germ, bran, endosperm), oats (again, germ, bran, endosperm), wheat germ, and oat bran. Lots of good-parts-of-the-grain yumminess, see?

Muffins like ducks in a row

An astute reader like yourself may have picked up on the fact that while a couple of those ingredients are the fiber- and nutrient-rich parts of the grain, they do not in fact contain all three parts. So I guess it’s not technically whole-grain, but really, when you’re only removing the bad stuff and keeping the good stuff it’s easy to see that it has way more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, so it’s like an endosperm with twice the bran and twice the germ, and hence, 150% whole grain! Don’t argue with me on this one, I majored in math and I’ll come up with some convoluted argument to prove that It Is So.

So that’s enough science geekery, let’s stop talking nutrition and start talking yumminess!
This recipe is awesome because it manages to be low-fat without tasting overly low-fat. Yes, when you bite into these muffins you can tell that they are healthy and nutritious, but they are still wonderfully moist and flavorful. That’s because applesauce, oil’s favorite understudy, has gotten its chance to shine in this recipe, and when it teams up with the bananas you get a moist, remarkably un-twig-like consistency. When you add in things like toasted pecans, flax, raisins, and the grains, you get a complex flavor profile that keeps your tastebuds happy.

These are ideal for early-morning athletes and snooze-button-hitters since they are easy to take with you and eat, ensuring you get those morning calories your metabolism needs to function properly throughout the day. I always eat one on the way to swimming in the morning and if I think there’s a chance I won’t get to eat my daily oatmeal I always bring along a couple extra to tide me over until lunch. That’s another benefit to this muffin’s ingredients: in addition to being flavorful, they also keep you full for a long time. So what’s not to love? Skip that chemical delight breakfast you were going to grab on your way out the door and eat one of these instead!

Be wary of pretty muffins my Dad makes, but I swear these are good!

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Nov 012007

Imagine 100% whole grain bread bought from the grocery store: bland, bitter, gross.
Now, I’d like you to completely forget that.

Instead, I’d like you to imagine a bread that’s fluffy, tender, mellow, rich, and complex.
That bread is also 100% whole grain. The difference? It’s been made by hand with a secret ingredient — cooked oatmeal. This bread is outstanding for all purposes but makes a singularly spectacular sandwich — especially when paired with homemade roasted chicken, red leaf lettuce, and tomatoes.

As I write this, there are a couple of loaves rising in the kitchen. I practically start to salivate when I think about the utter sensory bliss that this bread will bring about. I often wonder why I bother making any other recipes at all — this one is that good. It’s even better when you use fancy leftover oatmeal that’s been cooked with cinnamon and buttermilk – the cinnamon complements the bread in a savory way somehow and manages to not remind you at all of sweet cinnamon raisin bread, and the buttermilk conditions the dough to give it a special tenderness. It’s just utterly fabulous and unique – you won’t find anything like it in a bakery!

I first got trapped in this recipe’s tractor beam one day while flipping through my favorite baking book, Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. Here’s what the author has to say about this particular bread:

“When … made with rolled oats, the bread is light and bright; it has a rich creamy flavor — very subtle, but with great warmth… You get bread good for toast, good for any kind of sandwich. We consider this one of the best basic breads for everyday eating.”

Hear, hear! They speak the truth — this bread performs as advertised! Let me know if you need convincing… you may just end up with a loaf or two on your hands.

Take a bite out of this wonderful loaf
Nikon D50

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Oct 092007

Pumpkin spice cookies

This recipe is one that’s been near and dear to me for nearly my whole life. My Mom originally clipped it out of a newspaper and it’s grown up with me, going through different changes as I changed too.

Originally we made these cookies huge and round with little pumpkin stems and lavished icing and sprinkles upon them like festive, sweet, sticky jack-o-lanterns. Needless to say, they never lasted long.

My copy of the beloved recipeYears later as my brother and I grew out of the whole Halloween thing, these cookies stuck around (of course!) Now that having a good smooth icing canvas was no longer necessary, chocolate chips made their way into the cookies. They marred the formerly glasslike (well, for a cookie) surface but dude, it was chocolate. Yum! My parents would send these cookies to me in my care packages at college, and they brought back memories of childhood the way that only really good comfort foods can do.

They just might be the best cookie ever.

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Jun 232007

Irish steel-cut oats

I’ve always been a breakfast person. Not really in the way that many other Americans are, where they like lots of bagels and cereals and other really unhealthy and non-nutritious foods, but more in the way that I like to get something healthy in my tummy that will stick with me until my mid-morning snack. This is sufficiently different, versatile, receptive to substitutions, and, of course, yummy, to meet all of my needs. They do take longer to cook than their gloppy rolled cousin, so I cook a week’s worth at a time and reheat as I need it. Nowadays it’s impossible to open my fridge without finding a massive batch of these oats, just waiting for their turn to be consumed.

And just look at them! It’s easy to see why!

Oatmeal with pomegranate seeds

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