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Frying Pan Cookies

As you’ve probably gathered by now, I really, really love to cook. And, if you’ve ever seen me cook, you know that when I do, I like to utilize, in the words of my boyfriend, “Every goddamn dish in the house.”

I also happen to be one of those people who, when completed a task, likes the mess to go away on its own – I’m done with it. I don’t want to look at crusty baking sheets and flour-spattered counters for more than five minutes after the cookies come out of the oven – but I also really, really hate doing dishes.

In my fantasy world, this is where I’d be saying something cheeky like “This is where my boyfriend comes in,” and I don’t blame you for jumping to that conclusion yourself (unless of course, you know TJ…).

So instead of using this space to praise my thoughtful boyfriend, who always rewards my baking and cooking by offering to do the dishes, I’m going to take this time to complain about the fact that somehow, mine seemed to have skipped that gene that everyone else’s boyfriend seems to have – that gene that makes men know that in the end, they’re far better off if they just break down and wash the dishes.

Watching TJ do the dishes (on those rare, fleeting occasions) is a painful, agonizing process. First comes the nag from me: I turn on my sweetest possible voice, bat my eyelashes a few times in his general direction, and ponder, ever so slightly, if he would mind doing the dishes.

Then comes the grunt of acknowledgement from his side of the room.

…Forty minutes pass…

This is when I start to get grumpy. I probe him again, a deeper, darker inflection to my voice as I ask him again, if he could do the dishes.

It continues like this until either a) I get really angry and start doing them myself, or b) he gets the hint and finally walks over to the sink, washes a dish or two, then gets bored and goes back to whatever foolish thing he was doing before, leaving me to either a) nag him again, or b) do them myself.

So you can see why a recipe called Frying Pan Cookies caught my eye when I was sifting through a pile of my grandmother’s old recipe cards a couple of weeks back. Cookies you can make in one simple skillet? I was hooked.

I’ll be the first to admit that the cooking method is not the only unconventional thing about these cookies. They’re not really cookies at all, actually, more like sweet little balls of sugar, Rice Krispies and chewy chunks of dried fruit. But they’re fun to make, yummy to eat and, most important, all you need is one glorious, easy-to-clean skillet.

Tools

Large frying pan
(Okay, you also need measuring cups and spoons and a wooden spoon to stir. But that’s it!)

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped dried cherries, cranberries or dates (for less sweetness, go for unsweetened)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Pinch sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups Rice Krispies (I used the red and green kind to be festive!)
1 1/2 cups dried shredded coconut

Instructions

In a large frying pan, add 2 eggs and 1 cup sugar. Mix until well combined. Stir in dried fruit, butter and salt. Place on low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and Rice Krispies. Let cool slightly. Spread coconut out on a large cutting board. Form Rice Krispie mixture into 1-inch balls and roll in coconut.

Tip: If you have trouble getting the cookies to bind, sprinkle just a few drops of water onto cookies and roll into balls with damp hands.

Enjoy!
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Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls

Working for a food magazine that promotes healthy eating kind of means you have to, well, you know, eat well. Practice what you preach and all that.

It hasn’t really been a huge shake-up in my life, this conscious decision to embrace healthy foods. I’ve always been a pretty decent eater, more often inclined to eat fresh, whole foods than pre-packaged goodies.

Case in point: When I was eight or nine years old, my bedtime snack of choice was green beans – a big old can of boiled and buttered green beans. Healthy, right?

My sister likes to jokingly accuse my parents of having reserved the healthy food in the fridge for me, relegating her to the packages of chips and cookies that lurked in the cupboards of our childhood. I would deny it, but I can vividly remember my spoiled-little-sister grin when my dad would announce the Red Delicious apples were “only for Little Miss Bean” (I swear my nickname had nothing to do with my green bean snacking…).

So I’ve been eating especially well lately – it’s hard not to when you spend a good part of your day at work reading and writing about the dangers of eating poorly. I’ve even cut back on baking, that weekly ritual of creaming butter and sugar that my boyfriend swears caused him to lose his “hockey body” – whatever that means.

The results have been encouraging. My skin’s cleared up quite a bit, I have enough energy to run regularly and my boyfriend’s lost more than 20 lbs. I’ve been proud of my new lifestyle, boasting to my friends and family how they ought to try it too.

That is, until tonight.

Somehow fate would have it that just as my healthy lifestyle started to really pick up, I would stumble upon a photo of these dastardly delicious cookie bowls, ingeniously made by flipping a muffin tin upside down and covering the convex moulds with dough. Something deep, deep inside of me insisted that I had to have them.

And then, of course, I had to find something to put in the bowls, and what better than creamy homemade vanilla ice cream? And it only made sense to stuff the leftover cookie dough into the ice cream maker too. Doing otherwise would have been a flat-out waste. Right?

I have to promise myself that this temporary relapse into gluttony is just that – temporary. That once I get my fix of these crumbly cookie bowls and smooth and creamy ice cream, I’ll get back on track.

Here’s to hoping…

Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Chocolate Sugar Cookie Bowls
Makes about 9 bowls and 1 litre ice cream

Tools

Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Electric hand mixer or stand mixer
Rubber spatula
Cutting board
Rolling pin
Kitchen knife
Muffin tin
Ice cream maker

Ingredients

Cookie Bowls
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp potato starch
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Olive oil cooking spray

Ice Cream
1 cup whipping cream
2 cups half and half
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chip cookie dough

Instructions

Prepare cookie bowls:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar. With an electric hand mixer, beat until fluffy. Alternatively, use a stand mixer on medium speed.

While mixer is running, add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips. Reserve 1/2 cup dough, and form remaining dough into a large ball.

Dust a cutting board and rolling pin with flour. Turn dough out onto board and roll into 1/4-inch thickness.

Turn a muffin tin upside-down and mist with cooking spray. Cut out circles of dough large enough to cover the inverted holes of your muffin tin (TIP: I use a pizza cutter, as it allows me to make smooth circles). With a spatula or the flat edge of a large knife, lift circles of cookie dough from board and place over top of inverted muffin tin holes, cupping dough around holes to form a cohesive cup. If needed, patch any holes or tears with additional batter. Remove excess dough from around the cups.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges begin to turn golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then carefully pry cookie bowls from tin. Turn right-side-up and transfer to cooling rack.

Prepare ice cream:

(NOTE: Most ice cream makers require you to freeze the ice cream maker bowl for up to 12 hours before use.)

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except cookie dough. Turn ice cream maker on and pour cream mixture into bowl of maker. Churn according to maker directions, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, form reserved cookie dough into pea-size balls. Ten minutes before ice cream is complete, add cookie dough while maker is running.

Spoon ice cream into cookie bowls and, if desired, garnish with additional chocolate chips.

Enjoy!

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Cherry Squares

My boyfriend’s been having trouble sleeping lately. He’s had too much roaming around in his head over the past few months that the idea of resting still with his thoughts seems lost on him.

I shouldn’t blame him, but sometimes I do – like at 2 am, when he’s keeping me awake with all his tossing and turning. It’s hard not to become a raging lunatic when you’ve been lying next to an eggbeater, your eyes burning into the back of your head from that distinct combination of frustration and fatigue. It’s even more difficult not to consider slipping a sedative in his supper when I’ve just spent all day exhausted because of his incessant bed-spinning.

The last three months have been his most difficult. He left his job back home to move to Ontario with me. We were naive enough to think that finding a new job here, in one of the biggest cities in the country, wouldn’t be that hard for him. Yet he waits, every day, to hear back from one of the couple dozen applications he’s sent out, hoping for good news. I come home from work, and he’s so lonely it’s sad. You can tell I’m the only human face he’s seen all day, because he’s so anxious to show me everything he’s done that day.

Then the night comes: he tries to numb his mind with video games and podcasts, but nothing seems to be able to calm him down enough to sleep. Eventually he nods off, but rarely before 3 am.

We tried over-the-counter drugs, with weird names like Sleep ‘N Relax, and even weirder ingredients, like catnip. They worked for the first few nights, although I’m tempted to think it had more of the placebo affect than anything else. Within a week or two, he was back to his irregular routine of 5 am bedtimes and 2 pm mornings.

Last week I was doing some research for work when I came across an interesting find. Cherries, apparently, are a natural sedative. Deeming this a far better solution than slipping some concoction into his pasta sauce, I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work and bought a bag of cherries. I knew that if I were to get him to eat them, I’d have to slip them into something he would find appealing. If anyone would have a good cherry dessert recipe, I knew it had to be my grandmother. After a little sifting through her old recipe tins, I found it. Scribbled on a blue recipe card was the answer to my problem: cherry squares.

Tools

2 medium mixing bowls
pastry blender
rubber spatula
9-inch baking pan
hand mixer

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, cold
pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole fresh or bottled cherries
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 – 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine flour and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, mix in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add salt and spread onto the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking pan to form a bottom crust.

With a hand mixer, beat eggs. Add remaining 1 cup brown sugar and beat until well combined. Stir in cherries, vanilla and coconut. Using a rubber spatula, spread cherry mixture on top of bottom crust in pan. Bake for 35 minutes, until squares are solid and lightly browned.

Enjoy!

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Pull-Apart Rolls

Growing up, you always think the hardest thing about love is finding the right person.

It’s practically bred into us since we were kids. No one dares tell the story of Cinderella’s happily-ever-after, because in reality the end isn’t nearly as fun as the beginning.

No one ever tells you just how hard the rest of it is. You grow up watching your parents fight from time to time, and you rarely see them kiss, but you never really consider the fact that they’re in a relationship; they’re always just your parents.

Love takes a lot of patience and adjustments – there’s no way any two people can survive together without changing some integral part of their personality. There’s no such thing as loving someone just the way they are – it’s about accepting who they are and willing to work through their shortfalls. It also takes a willingness to change.

I was a very different person when I started dating TJ seven years ago. My most noticeable and proudest adjustment has been my temper. My tendency to fly off the handle was something TJ picked up on pretty much immediately, and I’ve been working toward toning it down ever since.

We’re still working some things out, and will be for the rest of our lives. One of the biggest adjustments we’ve made recently is finding a balance between his lack of cleanliness and my obsessive-compulsive need to organize. He has a tendency to leave his socks all over our apartment, or to leave empty rolls of toilet paper on the stand without replacing it with a new one. Sometimes I get frustrated and rearrange his stuff (which he absolutely hates), or I’ll get grumpy and start nagging.

You have to make a lot of compromises, something I’ve never really had to make before meeting him. I can’t just live my life freely if I want it to involve him; every step we take needs to be calculated with each other in mind.

Sometimes I get angry with him for having to give up my neurotic need for an immaculate apartment, or for having to consider our finances as a whole before making any big decisions. And I know he gets mad when he can’t just throw his coat wherever he wants or eat barbeque chips for supper.

But no matter how loud we yell or how heavily we stomp away, we both know it’s worth it. Because I know that I’ll always be able to take my make-up off and stuff my hair in a bun at night and have him tell me I’m beautiful. Because I know that after I’ve had a hard day, I can come home and cry on the couch and not worry about him thinking less of me. Because I know that no matter how hard I fall, he’ll always be there.

Sometimes I get sad when I think of how carefree the early days were, or I get nostalgic when I see a new couple flirting together for the first time. But that stuff’s easy: anyone can put on a push-up bra and dole out sweet remarks. It takes real love to stick with someone after the mascara’s smudged off.

I waited a long time to try this recipe, mostly out of fear that I couldn’t possibly make rolls (breads tend to intimidate me). But after having a particularly nasty fight with TJ last weekend, I stormed into my kitchen, hauled out the mixing bowls and went to work. They worked out really well, and after a lot of compromise on both of our parts, so did we.

The recipe is from Canadian Living.

Tools

measuring cups
measuring spoons
medium saucepan
mixing bowls
wooden spoon
fork
wooden cutting board
two 9-inch round baking pans
cooling racks

Ingredients

2 tablespoons  sugar
1-1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup warm water
2-1/4 teaspoon (one package) active dry yeast
1 egg
4-1/2 cups flour

Instructions

After gathering ingredients, remove one teaspoon of sugar from required amount and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat milk, butter, salt and remaining sugar until butter is melted. Let cool.

In large bowl, add warm water to the remaining sugar and whisk until dissolved. Sprinkle in yeast, then let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in milk mixture and egg.

Stir in four cups of the flour, one cup at a time, using the bread attachment on your stand mixer, or with a fork. Turn onto lightly floured cutting board and knead, adding as much of the remaining 1/2 cup flour as necessary until smooth.

Grease a large bowl with margarine or butter. Place dough inside bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise for 1-1/2 hours in a warm place.

After dough has rise, punch down. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and divide into 20 pieces. Shape each into a ball.

Place 2 balls in the centre of each of two greased 9-inch round metal cake pans. Surround each centre with eight balls. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until they’ve doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Dust with flour.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes, or until rolls are golden on top. Let cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan to rack and let cool.

Enjoy!

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Tortellini Soup

A year ago today, I did something I never thought I’d ever be able to do. I started a blog.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I wrote that first post about chicken noodle soup. I was sure no one but my mom and dad would read it, and I never imagined I’d be sitting here a year later writing my 39th recipe with no plans of slowing down.

I was kneading dough for my grandmother’s shortbread cookie recipe when I got the idea to write a book about my newfound love of cooking, and its ability to connect me to the woman I thought I’d all but lost a chance to know. It was kind of a breakthrough moment for me, at a time when I knew my future was coming whether I wanted it to or not, and decisions needed to be made about the next few steps I’d take.

Writing a book seemed a little far-fetched for me at that point. I was 21, in my fourth year of university and in the midst of battling a fairly intense bout of depression. The commitment of writing a book seemed far too much for me to handle.

“Why don’t you start a blog?” my boyfriend asked one evening, shortly after we’d watched Julie and Julia.

I think I responded with something like, “Yeah, maybe,” code words for, “Probably not, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Then I was sitting on the living room couch one Friday night when it popped into my head.

“Stuck in Thyme,” I blurted out to TJ. “I could call my blog Stuck in Thyme.”

I still don’t know where that name came from. I suspect it has something to do with a sketchy little sign for a mending service in the top window of a run-down building next to my orthodontist. That’s the only reasonable explanation I’ve been able to muster up.

But I think it’s the idea behind the name that makes the most sense to me. At the time I started this blog, I was suffering from depression, severe anxiety and an even worse lack of confidence. But when I baked, I was me. I wasn’t some girl on pills that needed frequent naps, I wasn’t a twenty-something in knots over the future, and I wasn’t sad or angry or disappointed in myself. I was just a girl adding flour and eggs to chocolate chips in order to make cookies.

Cooking was and still is exhilarating. It’s the one time of day when I don’t have to be thinking; thoughts come naturally. Cooking challenges me; some days recipes come together effortlessly, other days they’re disasters. But after each screw-up, I’m always wondering what went wrong, and what I can do differently next time. I’m by no means an excellent cook, but I do believe I’m getting there, albeit slowly.

To date, this blog’s been viewed more than 5,000 times in the past year. It’s a modest accomplishment, but considering my doubts that no one aside from my direct friends and family would ever want to read my stories, it makes me incredibly grateful.

For Stuck in Thyme’s one-year anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to make another hearty soup. This one, fortunately, is much simpler than chicken noodle from scratch, but it’s every bit as good. It comes from one of my favourite cooking blogs, the Tasty Kitchen Blog.

Tools

large saucepan
measuring cups
measuring spoons
cutting board
large kitchen knife
wooden spoon

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, with juice
salt and pepper to taste
9 ounce package of tortellini
3 cups chopped spinach
parmesan cheese

Instructions

In a large saucepan, fry oil and garlic for five minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then add tortellini. Cook until al dente, about 10 – 12 minutes. Add spinach and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, and serve. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

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Hot Mama Surprise

My mom says I give her a hard time on my blog, and since she’s one of my biggest fans, I’ve decided it’s time to give her some love.

As a general rule, she hates to cook. And bake. More than anything, though, I think she just hates the mess that inevitably ensues. I’m fairly certain her ideal supper involves beans, wieners, a cast iron pot and a big ol’ wood stove.

There was a time when she did like to cook, right after her and my dad got married. It was before my sister and I were born, before two fussy little redheads vetoed everything she attempted to cook in favour of chicken nuggets and freezer fries. It was also before her job became consuming, and she had more time to spend on experimenting with food.

The truth is, I actually think my mom’s a pretty great cook. She makes an amazing lasagna, and no matter how hard I try, my gravy is never as good as hers. Nothing’s ever quite as good as Mom’s.

Every once in a while, though, she’d come home from work exhausted, plop down at the kitchen table and utter those three unforgivable words.

Hot. Mama. Surprise.

It’s impossible to describe Hot Mama Surprise, mainly because it changes according to whatever we have in the cupboards that given week, hence the ‘surprise.’ Ground beef, macaroni noodles and vegetable soup always seemed to be key ingredients, and crumpled soda crackers often adorn the top.

The only good thing about Hot Mama Surprise was watching my mom make it. There was such ease and comfort to the way she would haphazardly rummage through the cupboard, select the perfect can of vegetables or soup and pour it into the frying pan, somehow sure that this was going to be the batch that would make all others pale in comparison.

The stove would be a wreck; blobs of tomato sauce and cracker bits littered amongst the burners as she wielded her wooden spoon through the air, then swirling it around through the casserole with such purpose.

Then, when it was finished, she would slop it on our plates and smile.

“It’s Hot Mama Surprise,” she would say. “And I’m the hot mama.”

Last week, I got the tingle to try something new for supper, so after digging around in the depths of my kitchen, I surfaced with penne noodles and a heck of a lot of cheese. I surfed around on the internet for something I could concoct, and came across a baked cheese penne recipe that looked pretty good.

It started out okay. I made the cheese sauce, boiled the pasta, and prepped the bowl. Then I realized I had a bunch of ground beef that should be used, so I thawed it, cooked it and tossed it into the mix. I crumbled up some bread and tossed it on top to make a crust, and by the time it was cooked, I was a little bit scared.

I had just made Hot Mama Surprise. Well, not technically Hot Mama Surprise, but it was the same idea: combining a bunch of surplus ingredients into a pot, covering it in crumbs and baking it with cheese on top.

I actually liked it. Next time, I might make more sauce and thicken it up a bit, but it was a pretty cozy casserole to dig into on a cold fall evening. And I have to admit, it did feel kind of nice to carry on my mom’s tradition.

Tools

large saucepan
frying pan
medium saucepan
measuring cups
measuring spoons
whisk
wooden spoon
cheese grater
9” x 13” glass baking pan
colander

Ingredients

4 cups penne
1 package ground beef, thawed
1 packet beef stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 + 2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cups bread crumbs
cheddar and parmesan cheese to top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fill large saucepan with water and bring to boil with a pinch of salt. When boiling, add penne noodles and cook for 13 minutes or until el dente. While pasta is cooking, brown beef in frying pan on medium heat. In a mug, add three tablespoons of water to two tablespoons of flour and mix to form a paste. Stir in beef stock and add to cooked ground beef.

Melt butter on low heat in medium saucepan. Bring heat to medium-low and gradually add six tablespoons of flour, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps. Warm up the milk in a microwave, then slowly whisk into butter mixture. Add both cheeses, melt, and sprinkle in salt and pepper.

Drain pasta in colander. Butter the baking pan and add pasta. Pour in cheese sauce in and stir. Add ground beef and combine. Top with bread crumbs and shredded parmesan and cheddar cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!