Toll House Marble Squares

You're not supposed to mix the chips into the batter. But I misread and sprinkled some in. Don't be like me.

You're not supposed to mix the chips into the batter. But I misread and sprinkled some in. Don't be like me.

It's been awhile, dear reader. I know that, you know that, and while I'm ashamed to admit the way that I let 2016 get away from me, let's be real: it wasn't a great year for most of the world. On a personal level, I travelled more than I ever have in a single 12 month period (14 trips, 10 of them outside Scotland!), I quit a job that was leading nowhere and acquired a job in my field that I love (all within a week of each other!), and I planned & executed a week-long major event at my workplace- in fun news, I read more books for pleasure in 2016 than I think I have since high school (part of this was an escapism urge, and maybe better used elsewhere); Judson got his UK driver's license (a process that took him two years because of all the hoops we have to jump through) and a much-deserved promotion along with lucrative and fun freelance design gigs, and we got to see friends from all over the world here in Edinburgh.

So maybe that explains a little of why I was in and out of here all throughout last year. I can't claim burnout on something I had done for only a year previously, but starting a new job really took so. much. energy. and then I got used to being able to come home after a long day and relax with a book instead of trying to cook/photograph/edit/write/post and it was a nice change of pace. Previously, throughout the entirety of my adult life I've almost always been looking for a job, so now that I have a job I like, it was a pleasing change of events to not have anything I had to be doing. So with my birthday and the holiday season on the horizon in early November, I resolved to get back in the saddle and start cooking again. In fact, I had a whole celebratory post written about my birthday and the US election and how excited I was about both (I made tiny sugar cookies in the shapes of gingerbread ladies on election day, and I was STOKED). But then when I awoke to the news the next morning, my spirits were crushed and November became more about surviving than it was about writing.

On the bright side, these months off have allowed me to experiment more with the things I love to cook, and Judson and I have never eaten better. From duck & sweet potato rosti to brown butter kimchi ramen, from my (other) grandmother's cinnamon rolls and egg nog to the booziest cranberry sauce I ever accidentally made, it's been a good time to be a resident of the Cowan house.

But I've missed cooking these weird recipes and I've missed Eleanor. I miss engaging with the past in this way and I miss, honestly, the reminder that the world spins madly on. The reminder that other people (other women) have been through good times and bad for eons before me and that we'll continue to survive no matter what the future holds.

So here's a simple recipe for getting back in the saddle. Maybe you've never been much of a 'homemade' type person, maybe you hate cooking, maybe you're trying to cut out packaged foods in the new year, or maybe, like me, the kitchen is an old friend you've just been treating badly for the last few months. Here's a recipe that takes only a few minutes to whip up but will leave you pleased with your efforts and without too many dishes to clean, and your friends will think it's fab that you made them a home-baked dessert... if you decide to share.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. A blondie with dark chocolate chips-- what's not to love?

The recipe:

Toll House Marble Squares

the directions:

Heat oven to 190C/375F and grease 13x9-inch pan.
Cream butter, sugars and vanilla thoroughly.
Beat in egg.
Blend in flour, baking soda and salt, mixing just until combined.
Stir in walnuts, then spread in prepared pan.
Sprinkle chocolate chips over the mixture, then place in oven for 2 minutes.
Remove from oven and run a knife or a wooden pick through the chocolate chips to marbleise the dough.
Return to oven and bake 10 minutes until a pick inserted in the middle comes out with only a few sticky crumbs.

Yields 2 dozen bars.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, softened
¼ c + 2 tbsp sugar
¼ c + 2 tbsp brown sugar, packed
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 c flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ c walnuts, chopped coarsely
6 oz chocolate chips (semi-sweet)

Crazy Crust Apple Pie

Well, autumn is here and I'm stoked for it. I'll always be a summer girl at heart, but living in Scotland-- where the weather is always basically autumn-- means it's nice when the time of year matches the temperature outside. I don't mind the shorter days, the impending cold, or the tendency to hole up at home with a good book (or recipe), and I definitely don't mind how cosy everything becomes. So I figured, with autumn in full swing, it's time for the first apple recipe of the season (don't worry, there are definitely more coming).

But over the summer when I took my wee hiatus, I didn't do a lot of baking. Partly this was because I was so busy, and partly this was because no one wants to bake in the summer, and partly this was because I had a whole run of baking disasters right before the hiatus started... many of which I still haven't posted because they were so bad I'm just gonna have to redo them. (During one particularly low point during this spate of calamities, I whinged to Judson as I took yet-another screwed-up cake out of the oven that 'maybe I'm just a terrible baker and nothing I ever make will really come out well and all of my recipes are doomed to failure forever.' And instead of telling me that all of that was false like a best girl friend would have done, he just said 'well, it's good you're getting all this practice, I guess.' Needless to say, I was not pleased with that response... though I totally deserved it for the way I was whinging.)

So since I need to ease myself back into this 'baking all the time' thing, I figured I'd go with something a little simpler (note I didn't say foolproof, as I've long since learned that literally nothing in this box can be called foolproof). And this recipe, which doesn't involve pie crust (we've discussed how much I hate making crust, right?) and doesn't require peeling any fruit (hooray!) fit the bill just fine. While I expected it to be a little cake-like, I wasn't expecting what I got: a lovely balance of barely sweetened, crisp-edged cake with sweet, gooey, spiced apple filling, textured like a dumpling and so easy to whip up the whole thing was in the oven before I had even dirtied the kitchen at all!

A bit of a cross between an apple dumpling and sort of like an 'upside-down cobbler,' this is a perfect dessert for the non-dessert lover: not too sweet, a little spicy, and with the perfect balance of filling to crust. The fact that there's no rolling and the entire thing comes together in only one bowl are all just bonuses.

Note that the recipe calls for canned apple pie filling. Usually I would recommend making your own, but in this instance, I've made easily a dozen from-scratch apple pies in the last four years and I have never once had my filling come out thick enough to keep the 'self-making crust' from getting soggy-- so unless you really trust your filling skills, I'd say stick with the pre-made stuff. It'll make your life easier.

Also, am I the only one who has no idea what 'apple pie spice' is?

Pie filling is incredibly difficult to find in Scotland... or at least in my neighbourhood, so i was stuck with apple, cranberry and raisin filling. Don't worry, i picked all the raisins out before i made the pie.

Pie filling is incredibly difficult to find in Scotland... or at least in my neighbourhood, so i was stuck with apple, cranberry and raisin filling. Don't worry, i picked all the raisins out before i made the pie.

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Nothing this good should be this easy.

One year ago: Pina-Colada Cookies & Apricot Nut Drops

The recipe:

Crazy Crust Apple Pie

the directions:
Filling:

Preheat oven to 210C/425F.
Mix all ingredients of filling and set aside.



Crust:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, water, Stork, and egg.
Blend at lowest speed until mixture is combined, then continue mixing at medium speed until mixture is mostly smooth with only a few lumps.
Spread batter in 9 or 10-inch deep dish pie pan.
Carefully spoon filling into centre of batter, moving out toward the sides as needed, but DO NOT STIR.
Bake 25-30 minutes until crust is puffed and golden brown.

the ingredients:
the filling:

1 can apple pie filling (21 oz.)
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp apple pie spice or cinnamon

the (crazy) crust:

1 c flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ c water
2/3 c shortening or Stork
1 egg

Red and White Delight

First of all, how great is that name? It promises so much, I don't know how you could possibly be disappointed by the outcome, right? RIGHT?

We've had a lot of visitors this year, one of whom was kind enough to ask what we wanted from the US before she came, and when I started out by responding '...I know this is weird, but...' still jumped at the chance to bring me Jell-O, all the way from New York City. While flavoured gelatin exists in the UK, it comes pre-gelatinised in a format I can't really figure out, and every time I've tried to make it so far, pretty rough outcomes have emerged. Plus, there appear to be only two flavours: orange and red. So Karrie brought me all the flavours of real Jell-O I could think of to request, and it's been a fun year of experimenting ever since (stay tuned for EVEN WEIRDER Jell-O recipes to come!).

Here's a weird thing, though: while I really wanted to preface this recipe by saying it would be perfect for kids, when I was a kid, I would have hated it. Marshmallows were my least favourite candy as a kid (still not really high up on my love list, if I'm honest), and Jell-O, as far as I was concerned, might as well have been toxic waste. Which is probably why this two ingredient recipe took me a year and a half to get around to before I decided that, truly, I have no shame and today is the best day for Jell-O.

If you're like some of us and can't remember the last time you had Jell-O that didn't include alcohol (sorry, Mom), this might be a bit disappointing for you... or, possibly, a nice relief to realise that not all gelatin-based foodstuffs will have you on the floor before you can say 'SHOTS ALL AROUND!' Seriously, though: this 'recipe' is literally exactly what it sounds like: red Jell-O, layered with marshmallows, in a clear glass so you can really enjoy the layers. I can't say I really recommend making it unless you have a real affinity for gelatin (or are looking for a way to make your hair and nails stronger), but if you're coming down with the same chest cold I've been dealing with for the last week and a half, maybe this is just the thing to soothe your sore throat without packing on too many pre-winter calories. And speaking of calories, I think it's worth noting that the recipe for this dessert includes a notation that you should 'keep... miniature marshmallows handy on your pantry shelf' because they're perfect for salads. Seriously.

The verdict:

2 spoons out of five. I mean, it was a successful recipe, so I feel like it deserves more than 1 spoon, but... it's hardly even a recipe.

One year ago: El's Pound Cake (still a classic in the Cowan house)

the recipe:

Red & White Delight

the directions:

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water according to directions on package (mine required 1 ½ cups, but follow your own directions to be sure gelatin will set).
Pour into a loaf pan.
Chill until firm, then cut into cubes.
Alternate layers of gelatin and marshmallows in dessert dishes (or, in my case, rocks glasses) and serve to all your favourite kids (or... you know, kids at heart).

the ingredients:

3 oz package red gelatin dessert (strawberry, cherry, or raspberry are recommended)
1 bag miniature marshmallows (or, if you live in the UK, one bag of regular marshmallows, snipped into smaller bits)