Thursday, October 16, 2014

Easy, Delish One-Bowl Oatmeal Cookies--Homey, Hearty, & Harking Back to the Past

When I was a child, my cousin who lived on the farm next to ours and I usually rode our horses after school. But when the weather was too rainy or chilly to go out, we often made cookies instead. Oatmeal cookies much like these were frequently our choice, partly because the very basic ingredients were staples in our families’ country kitchens. We also liked that the recipe ingredients were all mixed together in one bowl, and the butter didn't have to be softened and "creamed" first. This made it especially easy for us to ready the cookies quickly and without any adult supervision.

At the time we had no idea of the story behind what I've since come to think of as the "one-bowl wonder" cookie mixing method. In fact, I didn't learn of its history until last year, when I discovered a long-ago 1947 New York Times article written by Jane Nickerson, the newspaper's first food editor. Titled "News of Food: One-Bowl Method of Mixing Cookies Cuts Time for Task to Two Minutes," her feature credited the technique to the Quaker Oats test kitchen in Chicago. Nickerson noted that when she visited the kitchen, the director, Mrs. Reidum Kober, and her staff were "eager to report a new system of mixing cookies" that they had developed.

Nickerson added that "... any woman who has made one-bowl cakes knows why Mrs. Kober ... wanted to adapt this type of recipe to cookies. The system eliminates the separate creaming of shortening, which is so time-consuming, and cuts the conventional mixing time for cookies from ten (or more) minutes to two. All the ingredients are emptied into a bowl, beaten for a couple of minutes--and, presto, the batter is ready for baking. ...."  The story included the following recipe:
Quaker Oats 1947 One-Bowl Oatmeal Cookies
Into one bowl, sift 1 cup sifted enriched flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 3/4 cup soft fat, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla and about 1/6 cup of milk. (Fat must be soft--that is, at room temperature). Beat till smooth or about two minutes. On an electric mixer use medium speed. Then fold in with a spoon another 1/6 cup of milk and 3 cups rolled oats (uncooked). Variations: If desired, add a 7-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate pieces or 1 cup chopped dates or 1 cup coconut. Drop from a teaspoon onto a greased baking sheet. Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees F.) for twelve to fifteen minutes. Yield: four dozen."

I haven't tried the Quaker Oats test kitchen recipe, though I'm guessing it works perfectly satisfactorily--and will please those who like their oatmeal cookies soft and made with a goodly amount of rolled oats! (A number of  my friends have worked in corporate test kitchens over the years, and usually part of their mandate is to call for generous quantities of the company's product in recipes.) I expect that since the formula includes two eggs and also some milk, the cookies puff a bit from the steam and are on the slightly cakey side. Notice that the dough is dropped from a teaspoon to yields 40 smallish cookies; the era of super-sizing had not yet dawned!

 Old-Fashioned Farmhouse Oatmeal Cookies

Old-Fashioned Farmhouse Oatmeal Cookies
These cookies--which are not based on the 1947 Quaker Oats recipe and are, in fact, even  easier--are mild and comforting, crunchy-crisp, and generous in size. They are also attractive in a bumpy-nubby sort of way. Serve them with apple cider for a change of pace from milk.

The recipe my cousin and I used somehow got lost over the years, and I missed the cookies so much I eventually had to recreate them. Notice that my easy-peasy version calls for melting the butter in a saucepan and then stirring in everything else; this skips both having to fiddle with softening the butter and having to beat the ingredients at all. In addition, the oats and a small amount of water are stirred into the butter and allowed to stand briefly so the oats can hydrate. This keeps them from gradually sucking up all the moisture in the dough later and producing dry cookies.

These are as good (well, almost!) as the ones I remember. Oh yes, and they make the kitchen smell wonderful! The recipe is from my recent Simply Sensational Cookies cookbook, which is available here. I was pleased to learn that a New Jersey library system staff recently critiqued the book and tested a number of recipes, and then named it their  pick of the week; their review is here .

Simply Sensational Cookies
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
Scant 1 1/2 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed

Baking Preliminaries: Position a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease one very large or two regular-size baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray.

In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, stirring, until mostly melted. Remove from the heat. (Alternatively, in a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave the butter on 50 percent power, stopping and stirring every 25 seconds just until mostly melted.)

Thoroughly stir the oats and 1 tablespoon water into the butter. Let stand for 5 minutes so the oats can hydrate. Vigorously stir in the sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt until thoroughly incorporated. Vigorously stir in the egg, then the flour until very well blended. If the dough is very soft, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour. If it is still soft, let stand to firm up for 5 minutes.

With well-greased hands, pull off portions and roll into 1-inch balls. Space 2 1/2 inches apart to allow for spreading. With the fingertips, pat down the balls until about 2-inches and evenly thick in diameter. Bake (middle rack) 7 to 10 minutes, or until tinged with brown all over and barely firm in the center tops. Let stand on the pans to firm up 3 minutes, then transfer to wire racks using a spatula. Cool completely before packing for storage; keep airtight up to 10 days. Or freeze airtight for up to 1 month. Makes 25 to 30 3-inch cookies.

 For another "one-bowl wonder" recipe, check out the recipe pictured below, my Ultimate Chocolate Chippers here; they're from my Simply Sensational Cookies book also.

For other memories of my growing up on a farm, check out my peach crumb cake recipe here
and my apple crisp recipe here.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook Is Now in Softcover + an Inspiring Testimonial from a Dieter

Ruth & Nancy look at their new softcover edition
Available in Kindle & Softcover edition
My co-author, Ruth Glick, and I are excited to announce that The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook is now out in paperback. We are selling personally autographed copies at a discounted  price on our website here. The pic above shows us opening our very first copies as they arrived. (The book is also available at Amazon here, and Barnes and Noble here.)

 Both Ruth and I and our husbands have all lost weight using The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook, and truly believe that it will work for your, too. But, so you don’t have to take just our word for the effectiveness of the book, we will occasionally be interviewing others who are willing to share their success stories. Here's an inspiring account from Sally C.  She is a school guidance counselor who has so far shed 20 pounds using The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook.

Testimonial--Sally C. 

“For the first time in my life I want to be doing a diet—since it’s only two days a week, I can stay on it! And it really works!” Sally says enthusiastically. “I actually look forward to going through the book and choosing my diet day recipes because I love the rewards.” She likes the selection of good, easy dishes, saying they are “surprisingly tasty and filling.” She notes that now that the weather is cooling off she’s eager to try more of the soups in the book. “They look really appealing,” she notes. (You can try a sample soup from the book here.)

Sally started using The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook in February, and says the weight came off quickly at first: “I lost about 7 pounds right away!” The 13 additional pounds have dropped off more slowly—1 to 2 pounds a month—but at a steady pace. “The important thing is I’m still losing, not gaining and that is a wonderful new trend I feel I can stick with,” she explains.

As for her specific dieting approach, Sally says she likes to plan ahead each week for her diet days. “That gives me more control—I think less about food and am less tempted when I know what I’m going to eat,” she explains. She adds that she has found the recipes in The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook convenient and simple to make. Plus, she likes that the nutritional analysis and calories per serving are clearly displayed for each recipe, and that many include colorful photos of how the dish will look (as shown in the pic below right).

She says she also appreciates that the recipes include make-ahead and storage information. “I make the Guilt-Free Chili a lot and love that I can keep it ready in the freezer or refrigerator. Then I don’t have to worry about what to fix,” she says. She also makes ahead the tuna and egg salad sandwich fillings in the book and uses them as the base for main dish lunch or supper salads. Since she needs a quick-to-fix breakfast that will stay with her through her hectic mornings at school, she preps the night before and then quickly readies either the “two-minute egg breakfast or the egg-ham scramble” on most diet days.
Recipe photos-The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook

She says she has found the dieting tips and calorie-reducing techniques discussed in The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook helpful as well. “I’ve actually used many of the authors’ ideas on how to substitute ingredients to lower calories in my own dishes,” she says. “They’ve been a starting point for how I can make better choices and lighter recipes, and the suggested menus have given me good strategies for planning my diet day meals.”

“I can’t say I look forward to my diet days, because food is really important to me," Sally acknowledges. "But the day after I’ve done my diet day, I feel very proud of myself. I feel better emotionally because I’ve succeeded, where I never could before.” She adds that the diet allows her to feel more comfortable around food, because the book provides a clear structure that lets her keep her eating habits manageable. “I know I’m now on a steady path of losing weight, not gaining, so I can stop worrying all the time.” 

She also anticipates that as more pounds drop away, her arthritic knees, which already “feel much better when I do all the walking and steps at school,” will improve even more. (Researcher Stephen P. Messier, PhD, of Wake Forest University discussed the important link between weight loss and joint heath in the July, 3014, issue of “Arthritis & Rheumatism:” "For people losing 10 pounds, each knee … [is] subjected to 48,000 pounds less in compressive load per mile walked.") Sally’s own doctors are extremely pleased with her progress and have encouraged her to continue the regime—which she plans to do. 

 “I would recommend The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook book to anyone,” Sally concludes. “For the first time in my life I’m not yo-yo dieting. This book has given me an effective weight loss routine I can stay with that’s built-in to my life.” She mentions that it’s “fun” to be giving away some now baggy outfits and buying clothes in a smaller size.  She adds that friends and colleagues are noticing that she’s lost weight and have begun to compliment her: “I can also see the respect I’m getting from them for sticking with it and making a major change—that’s really, really gratifying." 

To purchase a personally autographed and discounted copy of The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook go here. For more details on the book and how the 2 day a week diet works, go here.  For a delish, yet low-cal sample soup recipe from the book, go here. 

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Honey Ice Cream--Re-creating a Vacation Treat at Home

I have been on an ice cream making (and eating) binge. Not because the weather is hot--it's not. Not because I'm working on an ice cream article or book--I'm not.

It's because I got hooked on a honey ice cream while on vacation in the Orkney islands this summer. I'd been told by a colleague, Stephanie Ridgway (who travels to the Highland Park Distillery on business there often), that I had to try the award-winning Orkney Creamery brand. This advice was excellent! The bucolic Orkney Island chain (off the northeast Scottish coast) has fertile farmland, and, apparently, the cows raised there produce particularly outstanding milk.

We didn't have any trouble finding Orkney ice cream. Perhaps because the company's products have won several awards for the best artisan ice cream in the UK, the brand is sold in a lot of Orkney shops, markets, and restaurants. When we were feeling a bit 4 oclockish after a hard day of sightseeing, we could usually find the individual Dixie-size containers for sale and polish off a cup. (Tip: Note that a handy mini-spoon is tucked right under the paper on the lid of the cups! I didn't realize this until I asked for a spoon; a clerk clued me in!)

 Besides the more typical flavors, the Orkney Creamery makes some unusual ones, like Toffee Swirl, Apple Crumble, and Orkney Fudge. This last contains a local fudge (also well worth sampling) with a deep brown sugar-caramel, not a chocolate taste. They are all good, but the honey flavor was addictive--a not-too-sweet base, with lovely little swirls of honey mixed in. I loved it so much I had create my own recipe.  After four testings I came up with this version. I wanted it to not only be good, but easy--and it is.

Honey Ice Cream  

You might be tempted to use a fancy, intensely flavored honey, but I suggest sticking with clover honey instead. It has gentle, middle-of-the-road taste that enhances and mingles with the other ingredients rather than overpowering them. By the way, I suggest starting with adding 1/2 cup honey to the recipe, which produces a base that is not too sweet. Then add in a little more to suit your taste.

Drizzling just a little honey over the servings to create honey sundaes is not only visually appealing, but delicious. Don't overdo it though, or the results will be too sweet.

2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided,
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup clover honey or other mild honey, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large non-reactive saucepan combine 2/3 cup milk, egg yolks and cornstarch and whisk until completely blended and smooth. Slowly stir in the remaining milk, then the cream and 1/2 cup honey. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, whisking constantly. Continue whisking and boil gently until the mixture thickens a bit, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then stir in the vanilla. Taste and, if desired, thoroughly stir in a tablespoon or two more honey for a little more sweetness. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to chill thoroughly and up to 24 hours, if preferred. 

Pour the mixture through a fine sieve set over a large bowl. Transfer the strained ice cream base into an ice cream maker and proceed according to the manufacturer’s directions. Turn out the frozen mixture into a well chilled 1-quart or larger freezer-safe storage container, drizzling in an additional  tablespoon or two of honey here and there; don’t stir it in well. Immediately freeze, airtight, for up to 2 weeks. If desired, drizzle a little more honey over the ice cream when you serve it.
Makes a generous 1 quart.

For another recipe inspired by my visit to the Orkney islands, check out my petticoat tails shortbread recipe here. 

To learn more about Orkney and see some pics of the beautiful scenery, go here.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Scottish Shortbread with Rose Water Icing, + a Little History of This Classic Sweet

I just spent a month in United Kingdom (a post about it is here) and overindulged by eating shortbread nearly every day. It's the fault of the B&Bs and hotels we stayed at--they routinely put out packages of these biscuits on our tea and coffee tray every day. We couldn't be rude and not to eat our complimentary goodies, right?  

All the commercial shortbreads we scarfed down were tasty--IMO even so-so versions of this fine old sweet treat are hard to resist! But the winner of the trip was a simple homemade version served with our afternoon tea at the noted Creel Restaurant right in the harbor at St. Margaret's Hope on the Orkney islands. As you can see from the photo below, the shortbreads looked plain, but they were fragrant, crisp-tender and, yes, decidedly buttery. And the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea on what was a chilly, windy, overcast day on the Orcadian coast.

Shrtbread at the Creel Restaurant
Ever since returning from the Orkney islands (located off the northeast Scottish coast), I'm been experiencing serious shortbread withdrawal. So, I've been making petticoat tails to keep the hubs and me supplied. Please note that petticoat tails refers to any shortbread baked in a large round and cut into pizza-like segments, regardless of its flavor or texture; the photo below shows a whole round cut into wedges. Two other shapes are also traditional--individual cutout or molded biscuits called shortbread rounds; or a dough rectangle cut into longish bars called "fingers."

Some historians believe that the odd petticoat tails moniker comes from the fact that the shapes look like the ruffled petticoats and skirts of medieval court ladies. It's a charming notion, and I was tempted to go with that! But then I came upon this comment about petticoat tails by Theodora FitzGibbon, author of The Taste of Scotland: "The edges are traditionally notched by pinching with the finger and thumb, and this is thought to symbolize the sun's rays, from the early days of sun-worship." She also mentioned a custom on Orkney of a decorated shortbread being held or broken over the heads of brides on their wedding day. I suppose that's comparable to tossing rice at the happy couple here in America!

 I also got interested in researching how long this favorite tea-time treat has been around in Scotland. According to lore--which is almost always more fiction than fact--Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), invented shortbread. In truth, if she deserves any credit, it's for sampling and popularizing the goodies and possibly for encouraging her team of French chefs to refine some of the quite diverse shortbread recipes that were in circulation in that time.

Petticoat Tails Shortbread
While some receipts were similar to what we now consider classic (those with only butter, flour, and
sugar), many other typical versions included spices and herbs, dried fruit, nuts, and more exotic ingredients. The first recipe below is reminiscent of modern ones, but second includes yeast (yes, a leavening!), rose water, and caraway "comfits." Comfits were  sugar-coated seeds and nuts, and were apparently the rage with 16th and 17th century cooks. They routinely tossed sugared caraway seeds into baked goods, not a taste in great favor today. They liked rose water a lot too; that charming addition inspired my fancy, fragrant rose-water icing topped shortbread recipe here.

Going back and really examining actual receipts of a period is always the best way to sort the "true" culinary facts from the myths, and the two 17th century recipes here reveal a lot of interesting details. First, notice that while the word short was already being used, these sweets were still being called cakes, not breads or even biscuits. Short and shortening are both old terms relating to the use of fat in baking; a short dough is one made tender, rich, and crumbly with a high proportion of fat, or shortening, usually butter. Gradually, most small, cookie-like treats or "little cakes" in Britain came to be called biscuits (cookies is a strictly American word), so it's curious that the name "bread" took hold.

Some historians think it's because these treats eventually replaced leftover toasted breads or rusks that were provided on the tea table. Which could be, but I'm waiting for some proof. I think it's more likely that the name bread was used to clearly distinguish these cakes from other kinds of tea biscuits. Doughs containing eggs were called biscuits; those that did not were called shortbreads. This distinction still holds true today.

Notice also that one recipe calls for rubbing the butter into the flour, the other for stirring flour into pre-melted butter. Occasionally, modern experts insist that only this or that method is authentic, but, clearly, early bakers mixed together their shortbread dough in a variety of ways. What the early British short "cakes" receipts do have in common is always calling for pure, sweet butter and never calling for eggs. If a short cake or short bread dough needed moistening to hold together, it was wetted with wine, rose water, or other liquid.

By the way, I looked through some 17th century English dictionaries to see what a "drudger" and a "squef" might be, but had no luck. Still, it's entirely possible to imagine how the recipes were prepared, though I haven't tried either one. If you are interested, thanks to Project Gutenberg, the whole manuscript of The Queen-like Closet by Hannah Wolley is available on-line.

Short Cakes Made at ye Bathe
Take a pound of flower & rube into it a half pound of flouwer butter very fine; then put in half a pound of flo sugar & wet it with white wine to a paste; the rowle it very thick & cut it round with ye top of ye Drudger, & knotch it round with a squef [sic]& bake them upon a tin."

Receipt Book of Mrs. Ann Blencowe, facsimile of 1694 edition

To make Short Cakes
Take a Pint of Ale Yest, and a Pound and half of fresh Butter, melt your Butter, and let it cool a little, then take as much fine Flour as you think will serve, mingle it with the Butter and Yest, and as much Rosewater and Sugar as you think fit, and if you please, some Caraway Comfits, so bake it in little Cakes; they will last good half a year. 
 The Queen-like Closet Or Rich Cabinet, Hannah Wolley, London, Printed for Richard Lowndes, 1672.

Since shortbread and tea are such a fabulous match, I've always imagined that these sweets were invented to serve at teatime, but that's not the case. Tea didn't officially arrive in Britain until 1662, when the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza wed King Charles II and brought chests of tea in her dowry. Shortbreads in various early forms had already been on Scottish menus for at least several hundred years. Still, tea and shortbread are certainly de rigueur nowadays, so feel free to go put the kettle on.

Petticoat Tails with Rose Water Icing
Petticoat Tails Shortbread--great with tea.

A batch of these makes an impressive gift or a highly memorable addition to a tea table. Of course, another alternative--which I highly recommend--is just keeping them around to nibble on whenever you have a cup of tea or coffee.

Tip: The rose water flavor is delicate. If you have your heart set on a more noticeable rose character, you can add a  few drops of rose extract to the dough and a drop to the icing. But use a light hand--it's potent!
Tip: It's important to use a tart pan or pie plate with the specified diameter of 9 to 10 inches. In a larger pan, the dough will spread out too much and the wedges will be too thin and fragile (and prone to breaking). In a smaller pan, they will be a little to chunky and hard to bake through in the middle, though lowering the heat to 275 degrees F and baking them 5 to 10 minutes extra will likely solve that problem.

1 cup (2 sticks) cool and barely firm unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons rose water, plus more if needed
Generous 1/4 teaspoon fine table salt
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour
Icing and Garnish
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted after measuring if lumpy
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons rose water, as needed
Very tiny dot of food color (preferably botanical), optional
Coarse crystal sugar for garnish, optional

Place a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 300 degrees F. Set out a 9- to 10-inch fluted tart pan or 10-inch pie plate. (If using a pie plate, line it with foil that overhangs 2 inches on opposing sides.) Set out a large (ungreased)baking sheet.

Combine the butter, granulated sugar,  rose water and salt in a large bowl. With a mixer on medium speed, beat about 2 minutes or until well blended and lightened in color, scraping down the bowl as needed. On low speed, beat in the flour until evenly incorporated. If the mixer motor labors, work in the last of the flour with your hands, but for tenderest shortbread keep the mixing to a minimum. If the dough is dry and crumbly work in a small amount of rose water.

Press the dough evenly into the tart pan or pie plate: If using the tart pan finish the dough edges by pushing it into the fluted indentations; be sure the dough edge is evenly thick all around. If using a foil-lined pie plate, press the dough evenly into the bottom and out to the edges until it is evenly thick at the perimeter. If necessary smooth the dough surface by laying a sheet of wax paper over top, then smoothing out and pressing down with your fingertips. With a table knife, carefully cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into 4 or 5 wedges. Set pan on larger baking sheet.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the shortbread is fragrant, lightly colored all over and not quite firm when pressed in the center top. Let the pan cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Meanwhile ready the rose water icing: In a small deep bowl, thoroughly stir together the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and enough rose water to yield a thin, smooth, fairly runny icing; add more rose water or more powdered sugar as needed. Add in a tiny dot of food color if desired. Using a pastry brush (or substitute a damp paper towel) dip into the icing and lightly and quickly spread it out evenly over the shortbread top; the layer will be thin. Immediately sprinkle crystal sugar over the top, if desired. Carefully retrace the cuts, then let the shortbread stand until completely cooled before lifting out and serving wedges with a long-bladed spatula. Store the wedges reassembled into a round in a large flat box or in regular storage container if preferred. Keep airtight at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Freeze airtight for up to 2 months.

Makes 16 or 20 iced petticoat tails (wedges).

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