Recipe: Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies

It’s a known fact that I am awful when it comes to all things kitchen-related. I am notorious for messing up Minute Rice, for example. Anyway, when Pete and I were flipping through the latest issue of Everyday Food, he was super excited when we came across a recipe for “Chewy Caramel Mystery Cookies.” I decided to attempt to be a domestic girlfriend for a day and bake him some delicious cookies to come home to.

Let’s start with my trip to the grocery store. I went to Giant in search of several things—caramels (such as Kraft) being the main ingredient I was lacking. I spent well over an hour staring deep into the soul of the candy, baking and Halloween aisles in an attempt to find plain caramel candies. I didn’t want chocolate covered caramel or Werther’s Original, I just wanted caramel bits, people. I even pathetically trudged around the produce area in hopes of seeing some by the apples or nuts. No such luck. So, I did what any smart person would do—I drove to a candy shoppe. I figured if shop has an extra “pe” on the end, they must mean serious business and they sure as heck would sell plain caramel.

Nope. They sure as heck didn’t sell plain caramel. They had chocolate covered caramel, vanilla covered caramel, caramel stuffed inside things, but no actual plain caramel. The employee suggested I try making my own, to which I responded silently by giving him a mouth agape “What do you think I’m made of?” face and walked away (not before buying two Cow Tales because they are my favoritest).

I decided to make a trip to Walgreen’s (my least favorite pharmacy on the planet) and managed to find Werther’s plain caramels. Not caramel stuffed chocolate, but just plain caramel! I felt like I won the lottery and flailed. A lot. I had spent nearly two hours trying to hunt down caramel. Martha needs to strongly consider putting an asterisk next to ingredients that take a half of a tank of gas to locate.

Anyway, in case you want to try to make some of these cookies, here are the ingredients (if you can’t tell, I’m thrilled):

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup caramels, such as Kraft (le sigh), about 20, halved
  • 1 cup roughly chopped assorted miniature chocolate candy bars, such as Mr. Goodbar, about 16
  • 3/4 cup small button-shaped chocolate candies, such as M&M’s, for decorating

Alright, so step 1. Preheat the oven to 350 with the racks in upper and middle thirds.

*As a side note, I’d like to point out that our oven is now functioning for the first time since we moved in over four months ago. “Why was your oven not functioning, Shannon?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Turns out that when we moved in, we had fossilized mice in the drip pan of our (the previous homeowner’s) fridge. The pan was impossible to remove, so we sold it on Craigslist like total scum (we are going to hell in a handbasket, but if we’re lucky, the basket will have delicious caramel candies inside of it).

Anyway, when we tried turning our oven for the first time, it smelled like rotting corpses and crayons. We tried to get to the bottom of the smell, but had no luck finding the source and the oven wouldn’t turn on to self-clean. We figured a gang of mice made a little home (judging from the abundance of sunflower seeds) and were mummified up in that shiz. So, we procrastinated on getting it fixed and have been creatively using our convection oven. Being the most perfect girlfriend that I am, I called some oven repair guys and got our oven back in working condition (and torched whatever mummified friends may have still been lingering). I even managed to haggle the guys to take $100 off, so I must have inherited some of my dad’s bargaining genes after all.

So, that being said, we have an oven again! We won’t have to deep fry a turkey for Thanksgiving, thank goodness.

Ok, back to the recipe. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.

In a large bowl, using a fancy electric mixer (or the one your grandparents gifted you in the early 90s that they won using comp points from Atlantic City), beat butter and sugars on high until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Beat in eggs, scraping down bowl as needed.

With mixer on low, beat in flour mixture in three additions until combined. Beat in vanilla. Or if you’re me, flip out because some asshole only left a drop of vanilla extract in the bottle (that would be me) and improvise by replacing it with almond extract instead (that’ll taste the same, right? sigh).

Fold in caramels and candy bars. If you have to search for “how to fold” on YouTube, you might want to give up at this point. Or if you’re like me, you can just get distracted by the latest episode of America’s Next Top Model All-Stars and spend the next 20 minutes getting lost in the insanity of Tyra Banks while chopping candy.

Step 2 (Martha only makes two steps in her instructions, even though each step has like 50 sub-steps…). Using a 1/3-cup spring-loaded scoop, drop dough, 2 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. This is where I said “a spring-loaded whatchamadoozer?” and promptly decided I didn’t need one. Thus, the massively oversized cookies. The recipe supposedly makes 18 normal-sized cookies, but I made 13 giant-sized ones. Tomato, tomahto.

Anyway, bake that sheeeeeyit for 8 minutes.

Remove from oven; immediately press candies onto cookies, then rotate sheets and bake until golden around edges and set in centers, about 8 minutes. So, I am getting senile in my old age and seconds after pulling out the baking sheets, I forgot which way they were originally placed on the racks and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which way to rotate them. Yep.

Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool, or just shovel them into your face. I will admit, these things are majorly frumpy looking, but I thought they tasted pretty yumtastic. I saw one of them had been bitten into and asked Pete what he thought and he gave me a guilty “It tastes like ass, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings because you just spent over an hour trying to be domestic” face. Then he tried to persuade me that he actually likes them, but I know better. He made the face I make when I realize we bought the wrong type of toothpaste and instead of brushing my teeth with fresh, minty goodness, I have to spend the next month convincing my teeth that orange-flavored, cough-drop-y toothpaste is their new favorite thing.

Oh well, I guess I deserve some points for trying (insert defeated Eeyore face here _____). I hope someone else attempts this recipe out and lets me know if they have any luck finding caramels.


Black Bean Burgers with Beet, Red Onion & Orange Salsa

Let me just preface this recipe post by saying that before my relationship with Pete, I never properly cooked. During family gatherings or holidays, I dreaded potentially having to bring an item of food or help out in the kitchen. I was the girl who went to the grocery store the day of a 4th of July barbecue to buy whatever version of potato salad they still had left in stock. I liked the idea of cooking. I had shiny kitchen gadgets! I dog-eared recipe books and favorited baking websites, but that was the extent of my energy spent in or around the kitchen. My meals consisted of chicken tenders with fries, frozen pizza, ground beef burgers or if I was feeling really energetic, ground beef tacos! It came as no surprise that my cholesterol was through the roof during this time.

I remember when Pete and I had one of our first “dates,” he came over to my apartment and we made dinner together. We walked hand in hand at the local ACME while browsing fresh produce. I remember thinking to myself “Have I ever had basil? Do I like basil? What if he makes me this amazing basil-centric dinner and I hate the main ingredient?” I was a twenty-five-year-old who had never ventured far from whatever aisles had processed cheese, snacks and meat. The evening ended with us making caprese salad (turns out I love basil) and some amazing, Ricotta-based pasta dish which Pete conjured up.

After that evening, I was officially ecstatic about food. I looked forward to spending time together with Pete, cooking meals and trying out new recipes. He surprised me with a subscription to Everyday Food, which may or may not be one of the most thrilling times of the month when we receive a new issue in the mail. I love thumbing through the mini magazine to jot down a grocery list for the weeks ahead. Since we began living together, our diet has gone in more of a vegetarian direction. That’s not to say I won’t instantly eat a bacon-infused cheeseburger if given the chance, but for the most part, our fridge is stocked with vegetables and on occasion, seafood.

That being said, we had been anxious to try out a black bean burger recipe as of late, to see if they would be worthy of future backyard barbecue shenanigans. We found a recipe on Everyday Food for the burgers, which we combined with a beet, red onion and orange salsa recipe from Epicurious. Pete’s mom had recommended the salsa recipe, and after sampling some of it at her house, I was looking forward to making some of my own to top on our burgers.

I began by heating one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and adding onion, red pepper and garlic. Once they were translucent, I added cumin and ketchup and cooked everything for a minute before adding them to a food processor along with a wee bit of rice and beans (specific measurements can be found on the link mentioned above).

After making sure the ingredients were well combined, I transfered them to a large bowl and added breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of hot sauce.

I mixed a bit too much for our two burgers, so I made them extra thick. I’d recommend flattening them out more, but overall they worked out well and (surprisingly) didn’t fall apart.

Meanwhile, I was boiling beets for the salsa recipe, which called for olive oil, lemon juice and honey to be mixed into a small bowl.

Once the beets cooled off, I chopped two to add to the salsa bowl.

Finally, I mixed in chopped orange, red onion and pitted green Greek olives and stirred everything before seasoning with salt and pepper.

Here is a glimpse at our black bean burgers with spinach salads, which included goat cheese, beets, walnuts, pomegranate craisins and avocado slices with balsamic vinaigrette. I apologize for the blurry photos, I was in a rush to devour my dinner and didn’t snap the most flattering pictures. Also, what may appear to be a pitcher of urine in the background was in fact lemon/orange-infused water, I promise. Anyway, our final verdict was that we’d definitely like to offer these for upcoming barbecue shindigs, along with a “normal” option for those Ron Swanson-esque meat lovers out there.

I’d like to start sharing more of our cooking adventures now that we are settled in at our new home, so brace yourself for more foodie posts in the future! My friend Kerry, who is a culinary god in my (somewhat biased) opinion, introduced me to Foodgawker, where I have become hooked on “heart-ing” recipes to store away for upcoming meals.

So tell me, has anyone else become more enthusiastic about cooking because someone important in their life has influenced them in the kitchen?

Everyday Food: Grocery Bag

Top (L-R): Spicy Black Bean Soup, Parmesan Chicken With Mushrooms and Brussel Sprouts, Sesame Beef

Bottom (L-R): Turnip and Sweet Potato Gratin, Chicken Cutlets With Mustard Greens and Roasted Squash, Pasta e Fagioli (recipes by Everyday Food)

*Thanks to Pete for snapping these photos with his iPhone before meals

Every month, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food has a weekly dinner planner, which Pete and I have been taking advantage of for the past few months. We add the “shopping list” of ingredients they provide to our normal grocery list and plan a week’s worth of meals alongside the magazine’s Monday-Friday schedule. I enjoy cooking dinner with Pete this way because it steps us outside of our comfort zone of eating chicken nuggets and personal pizzas and forces us to ask questions like “What do mustard greens look like?” or “How do you chop an acorn squash?”

Everyday Food makes scheduling a week’s worth of meals simple and enjoyable and gives us time to work together after a stressful day at the office. Plus it makes our taste buds happy to try something new and exciting every month. Sometimes there are recipes that we’ve mentally marked as “never again,” but for the most part, we finish our dinners with a smile.

What are some of your favorite cooking blogs or magazines that give you inspiration?

Recipes: White Bean Stuffed Portobellos

For whatever reason, my domestic side kicked in recently when I began to cook for the first time. Ever. As part of my “30 before 30” challenge, I’ve been trying at least one new recipe per month for a year. Our oven is now deceased, so while we wait for the landlord to bring it back to life, we are making do with our stove top (which still works!) and convection oven. Before our oven kicked the bucket, I made the following recipe from a recent issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, which I now have a monthly subscription to, thanks to Pete! Be sure to keep in mind that the portions allow for enough food for a delicious lunch with leftovers the following day.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a tasty wintry recipe we can cook on our stove top? We can only eat so much grilled cheese, stir fry and pizza before our tastebuds get bored.

White-Bean Stuffed Portobellos
4 Servings

6 large Portobello mushrooms, stems discarded
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) cannelli beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 thick slices crusty bread (from a 1-pound loaf), crusts removed
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 bunches spinach (about 3 pounds total), trimmed and washed


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place mushrooms, stem side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons each lemon juice and oil. Brush mushrooms with oil mixture; season with salt and pepper. Roast mushrooms until tender and beginning to release their juices, 15 minutes. Flip and drain juices from sheet. Reserve 2 mushrooms for tomorrow’s lunch. Increase oven to 450 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high. Add half the garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add beans, 1 teaspoon thyme and ¼ cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost evaporated, 3 minutes.

In a food processor, pulse bread until coarse crumbs form. Add 1 teaspoon oil and 1 teaspoon thyme; pulse to combine. Top each mushroom with 1/3 cup bean mixture. Reserve remaining beans for lunch. Divide cheese and breadcrumbs among each mushroom. Return sheet to oven and cook until breadcrumbs are golden brown, 5 minutes.

In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high. Add remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Gradually add half the spinach (reserve remaining spinach for lunch), season with salt and pepper, and toss until wilted. Add lemon zest and 1 teaspoon lemon juice and toss to combine. Serve spinach alongside stuffed mushrooms.

Nutrition facts (amount per serving): Calories: 329; Total fat: 11.7 g; Protein: 13.5 g; Carbs: 46.4 g; Fiber: 13.7 g.

Pistachio Baked Salmon Recipe

As part of my “30 before 30” challenge, I’ve decided to try to tackle at least one new recipe every month. This means the recipe has to be somewhat of a success to count toward the challenge. For instance, the basil and dill eggs I managed to catch on fire the other night would not count (we have a glitchy burner that has no concept of “low heat,” which I was not aware of).

Last week I was in the mood to cook Pete dinner (this rarely happens as he is almost always the maker of dinners), so I headed to the grocery store and flipped through an issue of Taste of Home magazine. I decided to make the Pistachio Baked Salmon, which sounded easy enough.  That was before I realized most cooking magazines assume you have a food processor and a grocery store that sells unshelled pistachios. Needless to say, I spent a good 35 minutes taking the shells and skin off of pistachios and chopping them up, but it’s not like I had anything better to do while watching Bethenny Getting Married. Anyway, below is the recipe for you fellow salmon lovers out there! I think it was pretty darn tasty, especially since I am notoriously known as the girl who can’t even microwave Easy Mac without the smoke alarm going off (note to self: next time, add water).

6 ServingsPrep/Total Time: 25 min.

6 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
1 cup pistachios, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon pepper

Place salmon in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients; spoon over salmon.
Bake, uncovered, at 425° for 12-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 fillet equals 505 calories, 28 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 100 mg cholesterol, 194 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 39 g protein.

Check it out, it even vaguely resembles the magazine photo!

Are there any others out there who are helplessly trying to tackle the kitchen after years of microwaveable dinners?