My brave Vermont quest to bring together food-love and mom-life.


You Put What in Breakfast Cookies? 3

Posted on May 28, 2009 by crankycheryl


Ten years ago I couldn’t imagine a life that necessitated rules like, “You are only allowed to spit outside the house, and pick your nose inside the house.”  And I couldn’t have known that I’d be sneaking healthy food into my children with clever marketing and techniques more appropriate for public relations than running a family.

But all things in life seem to intersect at some point, and I am where I am, feeding wild monkeyboys with whatever I can, trying to interrupt the cereal-pancake cycle of breakfast.  So why not Breakfast Cookies?  After all, the only real difference between a muffin and a cupcake and a cookie is some combination of height, frosting and marketing, no?

So I found this recipe on CD Kitchens (you’ll recognize the picture as mine), and adapted it slightly.  It’s good, certainly healthier than a lot of the stuff we call breakfast food (purple & blue poptart, anyone?), and boy did I feel like a rock star of a mom when I heard the boys bragging that they were eating Cookies For Breakfast.

Banana-Oat Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from CD Kitchen, as submitted by Kasie of Milwaukee
20 cookies

  • 1/2 cup sunflower butter or tahini (the original calls for peanut butter, but using one of these will let you bring them into a nut-free zone)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ripe medium bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 c. pureed squash or pumpkin
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or chopped dried apricots


In a large mixing bowl, beat peanut butter and butter with electric mixer 30 seconds. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Beat in egg and vanilla until mixed. Beat in bananas, baking soda and salt.

Mix in flours and flax. Stir in oats and dried fruit. Drop by 1/4-cup measure 4 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Spread to 3-inch rounds.

Bake in 350F oven 15 to 16 minutes, or until edges are browned. Let stand 1 minute. Remove; cool on wire racks. Serve in 24 hours or freeze.

A Spate of Chocolate Cakes 0

Posted on March 20, 2009 by crankycheryl

march-1-family-food-034February and March are birthday season around here, and it seemed like every time I turned around I was making someone or other a chocolate cake.

One thing I noticed is that, whichever recipe I used, it said to alternate adding in the dry and wet ingredients.  This is a frequent instruction, and one I sometimes ignore (don’t you?), but I found myself wondering why we were being instructed to do so.  So after a quick search I found this on the Charlotte Baking Examiner’s site:

Why not just add everything at once? Why not mix quickly? Introducing water (as water or milk) can start to activate the gluten in the flour. We want some gluten activation so the cake doesn’t fall apart, but we don’t want so much that we end up with a chewy cake. Mixing half the dry ingredients in first, when there is very little water in the batter (only from the egg whites) allows you to mix thoroughly and have only minimal gluten development. Adding the liquid in two stages and mixing in between allows a little more gluten to develop without ruining the emulsion that you took pains to make [… ] Adding the last of the flour at the end smooths the batter out, and since you’re adding it at the end, you won’t have to mix very much, so you end up limiting gluten formation that way, too.

Ah.  This is a very geekily satisfying piece of information to get.  But also a bummer, because now I won’t be able to ignore that instruction as readily.  At least when it comes to Cakes That Matter.

So two of the cakes were the 1995 Joy of Cooking’s Devil Food Cake Cockaigne, which is reliable and very good.  But then I had a cohousing-sized birthday cake to make, and I turned to my very favorite dessert cookbook:  Abigail Johnson Dodge’s The Weekend Baker for her Chocolate Cake for a Crowd.

Chocolate Cake for a Crowd
reprinted from Abigail Johnson Dodge’s The Weekend Baker
Makes one 2-layer chocolate sheet cake, or 16 to 24 servings.

I made this for 40, so I did 1.5 times the recipe, cooked part in a bundt pan, and the rest in a half-sheet pan, which I kept as a one-layer cake in the pan and then frosted.  This made it possible to bring a proper birthday cake to our table for our friend, before slicing the sheet cake for everyone else at that cohousing meal.  It was the momos dinner, by the way, so you can imagine how food-giddy we ended up.

I usually abbreviate everything possible when I’m reprinting a recipe, but I can’t bear to do that with something from Abby Dodge.  Her recipes are just so thorough and thoughtful and practical that I’m faithfully transcribing as is.

Do aheads:

  • The cake layers can be prepared through step 3, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month before proceeding with the recipe.
  • The frosting can be prepared as directed in step 4, covered, and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day or refrigerated for up to 3 days (bring to room temperature before using) before proceeding with the recipe.
  • The cake can be prepared through step 5, covered loosely with plastic wrap so as not to mar the frosting, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe.  [If you can imagine having a refrigerator in which you could store a giant iced cake for 3 days, your home is very different from mine.]
  • The cake can be garnished as directed in step 6, covered loosely with plastic wrap so as not to mar the garnish, and refrigerated for up to 6 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

For the cake:
3 c. cake flour [I used all-purpose, and felt ultra-justified in doing so since I now know how to limit gluten formation]
1 c. unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process), sift if lumpy
2 1/4 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 c. granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. sour cream [I used plain, low-fat yogurt]
1 c. boiling water

[I’m including Dodge’s frosting and garnish here, though I’ve transcribed the easy, delicious, and flexible Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze/Frosting from the JoC after, which is what I used and is pictured.]

For the frosting:

15 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
20 T. (2 1/2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
3 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
2 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
3/4 t. salt

For the (optional) garnish:
[Though she doesn’t say it, I’m sure Dodge would want us to wait until right before serving to wash, dry, slice and decorate with the fruit so it can be as perfect as possible for serving.]
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and well dried
1 pint raspberries, rinsed and well dried
2 nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced
8 – 10 small strawberries, rinsed, well dried, hulled, and cut in half lengthwise
3 or 4 fresh mint sprigs
1.  To Make the Cake
Position an oven rack on the middle rung.  (For smaller ovens, adjust 2 racks in the center third of the oven and switch the pans halfway through baking.)  Heat the oven to 350.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of two 9 x 13 inch baking pans (Dodge says, “I prefer straight sided metal baking pans , rather than glass baking dishes, to give a cleaner look to the finished cake”), and line the bottom of each with parchment.  Lightly dust the pan sides with flour, tapping out the excess flour.

2.  Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt onto a paper plate or medium bowl.  In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer (either a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer) on medium speed until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat until well blended.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the vanilla with the third egg.  Add one-third of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended.  Stir in half of the sour cream.  Add another one-third of the flour mixture and mix just until blended.  Stir in the remaining sour cream.  Add the remaining flour and mix just until blended.  Pour in the boiling water and mix until blended and smooth.  Immediately scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing and spreading it evenly.  Tap the pans gently on the counter to settle the contents.

3.  Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of each layer comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes.  Transfer the cake pans to racks to cool for 15 minutes.  Run a think knife around the sides of the pans to loosen the cakes.  Invert each cake onto a large rectangular rack, lift off the pans, and peel away the parchment.  Let cool completely.

4.  To Make the Frosting
In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter.  Beat with the electric mixer (stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or handheld mixer) on medium-high speed until very smooth and creamy.  Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat on medium speed until blended and fluffy.  Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until the cake is completely cool and ready to be frosted.

5.  To Assemble the Cake
Using your hands, gently brush away and excess crumbs from the layers.  Carefully place 1 layer, top side down, on a large, flat rectangular serving plate or cutting board.  To protect the plate or board from smears during frosting, slide small strips of parchment or foil under the cake to cover the plate or board.  Using a metal spatula or the blunt edge of a knife, spread about 2 cups of the frosting evenly over the layer.  Place the second layer, top side up, on top of the frosting.  Be sure the sides are lined up and then press gently on the layer.  Apply a very thin layer of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs.  [This, incidentally, is called the “crumb coat” and it’s the secret of good-looking frosted cakes.] Set aside for about 5 minutes (chill in the fridge, if possible).  Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

6.  If you are using the garnish, decoratively arrange the fruits on top of the cake.  Garnish with the mint sprigs.  Serve immediately.


Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze or Frosting
Reprinted from The Joy of Cooking (1995/6th edition)

1 cup [This will frost a 1-layer 8- or 9-inch cake, so I tripled it to accommodate all that cake to cover.]

In the top of a double boiler or in a microwave on medium heat [or if like me you have neither of those, one pan sitting on another that has simmering water in it] stirring often, just until the chocolate is melted and smooth:
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped [Please don’t keel right over in a dead faint if you’re a more serious cook than I am, but to me this instruction always equals chocolate chips.  Unless I’m out of those and I end up chopping up some random chocolate bar or something.]
6 T. water, coffee, or milk
Pinch of salt (optional)

Continue to stir (do not beat) until perfectly smooth.  Stir in:
1 – 2 T. liqueur (optional)
For a pourable glaze [nice over a bundt cake] let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the mixture cools to 90.  For frosting, let stand until spreadable.  If the frosting becomes too stiff, set the pan in a larger pan of hot water and stir gently with a rubber spatula; or remelt and cool to 90 to use as a glaze.  Keeps for up to 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks refrigerated.  Or freeze for up to 6 months.  Soften or melt before using.

Apple-Pear Cake 1

Posted on March 12, 2009 by crankycheryl

After a spate of chocolate birthday cakes, I thought the next baked snack ought to be something different.  So I asked the littler monkey if he wanted to help me make an apple cake.   He said, “I LOVE apple cake!” and waddled off to get the little step-stool so he could see the counter.

I started pulling ingredients out of the fridge and the cupboard, and he got a green plastic snake spoon out of the drawer so he could help with the measuring and stirring.

Apple-Pear Snack Cake

[The spice mixtures are approximate, as they were measured with the aforementioned green snake spoon as it was slithering in and out of the mixing bowl.]

Preheat the oven to 350 with a rack in the center of the oven.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Whisk together thoroughly:
2 c. white whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached white flour
2 t. baking soda
2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. dried orange peel (optional)
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. baking powder

Toss together:
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 large pear, cored, and cut into 1/2″ dice
2 T. brown sugar

Beat together in a medium bowl:
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 1/2 c. sugar or brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c. pumpkin or butternut squash puree

Fold the pumpkin-egg mixture into the flour mixture and beat together just until combined and fairly smooth.  Stir in the apple and pear, then pour into the prepared pan.  Bake until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  Cool in pan on rack, then cut into squares and serve.

The cake is nice, not too sweet, has a moist texture and keeps and freezes well.  In spite of this, the little monkey has declared “I don’t waaaaaaaant [sob] apple cake [sniff],” when it’s been making snack appearances.  His brother is content to eat his piece as well, and so it goes.

Why It Matters 0

Posted on March 05, 2009 by crankycheryl

I thought I had finally demonstrated my cooking nuttiness this week when I looked down in the sink one evening and saw every one of my 8  (8!) wooden spoons there.  There was the one from starting the sponge for sourdough bread, the one for the cake, the one for its icing, the oatmeal, the custard for the cohousing dinner, plus whatever else I’ve already forgotten.

But I realized that I didn’t feel nutty.  I was tired, but I felt kind of great.  And it made me realize that there’s something I haven’t yet said here:

I cook for the joy of it.  For the satisfaction and simplicity of feeding those I love.  For the pleasure of necessary thriftiness.  Because it’s art and craft and creation and primal and needed.

For me, cooking all the time – the daily grind of it, and the fanciest flights – is life.  To do it with a glad heart is to try to keep my own best self close.  That I can make people happy and engage in the organic magic of bread-making and fill the house with the smell of chocolate or melting butter and evoke memories and even save money is a pure and needed joy.

So every day, here we are, slogging along through money worries and perpetual lateness and ADHD and cabin fever and the rest of it.  But every day we can come back to this quiet, necessary, open-hearted act of creation and sharing.  And if that doesn’t make it all somehow worth it, I don’t know what could.

And in that spirit, I’m sharing some recent, unblogged creations:

Cranky Cake 1

Posted on March 01, 2009 by crankycheryl


“Hey monkeys.  What would be in Cranky Cake?,” I found myself asking the other day.  The older tyke thought for a moment and started listing.  “Flour … milk … eggs …sugar … baking powder … salt …” What about flavor, I asked.  He told me, “Bananas.  And chocolate!  Lots of chocolate!”  Hmmm.  So I asked, “So Cranky Cake is a banana cake with chocolate chips in it?”  They told me yes.  And then we made it.

Cranky Cake

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease 3 8 x 8 square pans, or (as I did) 1 8 x 8 square, and one 9x 13, which was just the right capacity.

Whisk together thoroughly:
1 1/3 c. white whole wheat flour
1 1/3 c. unbleached white flour
1/3 c. ground flaxseed
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. powdered dried orange peel (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together until lightened:
5 T. + 1 t. butter
2/3 c. sugar (keep the sugar at the ready – see below)

Add to the butter and sugar:
1/4 c. olive oil
1/3 additional cup of sugar

Then add in:
4 eggs
3 mashed very ripe bananas
1 T. molasses
1/2 c. squash, pumpkin, or sweet potato puree
2 t. vanilla

Mix together until smooth and very well blended.  (I usually use an immersion blender.)

Fold into flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until thoroughly combined.  Stir in:
4 c. semisweet chocolate chips.

Scrape batter into pans and spread evenly.  Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  Let cool in the pan and then cut into squares or slices to serve.

No-Knead Bread 0

Posted on January 03, 2009 by crankycheryl


My to-do list for the week is impossible.   My degree of overwhelmed gives me a special love for anything effortless – like the fact that by 4:30 tomorrow afternoon, this blob will have turned into sourdough, and by the time the monkeyboys have gone to bed, the oven will be heating to make a pair of beautiful crusty loaves.

Though I’m pretty sure I was the last foodie to have discovered No-Knead Bread, maybe it was actually you.   If you haven’t yet tried it, you can visit Mark Bittman’s blog and check it out.

New posts on my Blog! http://c… 0

Posted on December 15, 2008 by crankycheryl

New posts on my Blog!

The Chocolate Oatmeal Cupcakes 0

Posted on December 15, 2008 by crankycheryl

I’m equally compulsive and ambivalent about inserting stealth ingredients into the foods my kids eat. I don’t own the Jessica Seinfeld book, but I’ve heard it hotly contested – this idea that the best way to get vegetables into kids is to hide them in things they already love. After all, if the only cauliflower that tykes encounter is pureed in their beloved mac & cheese, how will they ever learn to really eat it?

It’s a good argument. And one I probably would have made before I met my strong-willed children. Maybe yours are different, but mine only eat things they actually like. And now that the 3 year old has discovered that he has his own identity, he likes to exert it by liking the opposite of everything his brother cares for.

Here is a list of the vegetables they’ll both happily eat in their pure form:

Well … this is a slight exaggeration. They both like marinara sauce.

After years of self-examination and head-shaking, I’ve decided that I do actually want them to consume vitamin A and fiber and things. So I stealth vegetables into baked goods. I did it long before Mrs. Seinfeld’s book, and I’ve got a few tried and true methods.

So when it was cupcake time the other day, I pulled out my 2nd most frequent technique: the pureed-spinach-in-chocolate-maneuver. Here’s the recipe, which I based on the Joy of Cooking’s Oatmeal Sheet Cake:

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder (dark if possible)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon powdered dried orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup steamed or thawed frozen spinach, very well drained
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vani.lla

Combine the oatmeal and hot water and let them stand for 20 minutes.

All of the rest of the ingredients should be at room temp. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease or line the cups in a cupcake tin (if memory serves, this will make 12 full size and 24 mini cupcakes).

Whisk together the flours, soda, spices and salt. In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugars until they’re lightened in color and texture. Years ago I learned that this step is the crux of baking – where your texture and rise and everything happen. Don’t wimp out here!

Add the eggs and vanilla and use a blender or immersion blender to mix in the spinach until it’s pureed to smithereens. And in the oat mixture, then the flour mixture. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 – 25 minutes. Let cool briefly in the pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

I frosted the larger ones with dark chocolate fudge frosting, and then showed what a complete sucker I am by adding rainbow sprinkles, along with the M&M-ish sunflower seed candies that my little guy painstakingly removes from each one. The minis I left unfrosted so as to be more appropriate for morning snack, but then a friend absconded with them to a D&D game and that was the last I saw of those.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that these cupcakes don’t quite reach the level of Bad Ass. They’re a little bit crumbly, and the oatmeal makes the texture a little weird/chewy. But they’re chocolatey and reasonably full of nutritious things and the monkeyboys eat them so they’ll probably make repeat appearances.

But First: Bread 1

Posted on December 15, 2008 by crankycheryl

All right. The cupcakes are done. Here’s a picture of one, even (they’re full size by the way, just being held by a friend’s enormous hand). I’ll share the recipe and talk about them tomorrow. But right now, I’m eating the whole wheat pumpkin bread we made yesterday and am reminded how much I adore this recipe from “have cake will travel.”

I’ve made this a lot. Bread is one of the few things that both my wild monkeys will deign to eat (though one only as toast or a sandwich, one only with butter and untoasted), so I tend to pay a bit of attention to it. In the summer, we get Gerard’s bread with our CSA share from the Intervale. The rest of the year we’re on our own and I like to make our own good stuff as much as possible. And now that both crazy beasts are old enough to help, it’s even a rockin’ good family time – for the 6.25 minutes that I can capture their attention.

So yesterday when I got home from yet another grocery store trip to discover that I hadn’t bought bread (but at least I had had the sense to backtrack for the milk I missed before we checked out the first time), we scrubbed up and got to work. As I was tossing ingredients on the counter, I discovered that I only had half the squash puree in the fridge that I had thought. Rather than making only one loaf (I always double), I decided to toss in 3/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce instead.

Another adjustment that I’ve gotten in the habit of is using 2/3 whole wheat white flour, and 1/3 unbleached white. The bread is great both ways, but I like the slightly lighter version that you get if you use some white flour.

For some reason, this time it just didn’t rise quite as well as usual. I’m sure I should have done the oven-on-f0r-one-minute trick to get it off to a nice warm start, but I didn’t. So I gave it a good long time rising, and it eventually came out of the oven looking great – not as golden as when made with all the suggested pumpkin, but a nice color anyway.

And sitting here eating the bread abandoned by the monkeyboys as they’ve scurried off to their day, I must admit it tastes as good as ever.

Ignoring the naughty black for… 0

Posted on December 13, 2008 by crankycheryl

Ignoring the naughty black forest cookies beckoning from the kitchen. Late! Bad yelling cookies!

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