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    When a box of chocolates just won't cut it...

    I give you cookies.  Not just any cookies, mind you.  Barely crispy on the outside, soft and chewy in the middle, filled with gooey dark and milk chocolate… no wait… studded with chunks of white chocolate and dried cranberries… no wait… speckled with flakes of shaved chocolate and loaded with melted peanut butter chips… no wait… rolled simply in organic cane sugar for the perfect sugar cookie.  Can’t decide?  Let’s make them all, from just one basic dough, and serve them with three different flavors of warm chocolate ganache, for dipping.  You read that right.  We’re going to be dipping these fabulous cookies into white, milk, and dark, chocolate ganache, while we’re eating them.  Sorry See’s and Russell Stover, I’m afraid you’re out of your league this time. 


    Let’s get started, shall we?  Here’s what you’ll need for the basic cookie dough:


    • 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
    • 1 ⅓ cups sugar
    • 1 Egg
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 1 teaspoon distilled vinegar (don’t worry, it doesn’t flavor the cookies)
    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda


    Your butter should be room temperature before you begin.  If you’re like me, however, you probably forgot to pull it out of the fridge ahead of time.  No problem.  You can simply place it, with the wrapper still in place, into a bowl of warm (not hot) water, and leave it for 10 minutes.  That should soften it sufficiently.  Throw the butter into your mixing bowl and cream it until it looks like this:


    Add the sugar and continue to mix until they are well combined, and the butter is a nice light color.  Add the egg, vanilla, and vinegar, and mix until completely incorporated.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle attachment, and mix again.  In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flours, salt, powder, and soda, and add to the wet mixture.  Stir until just combined, scraping the bowl again, if necessary.  At this point, your dough should be soft enough to stir or knead in goodies, but not sticky to the touch.  If it is still somewhat tacky, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until the dough loses its stickiness, but don’t let it get too stiff to work with.  Remove ¾ of the dough from the mixing bowl, and set aside. 


    Pull out your box grater and a piece of whatever chocolate you like. 


    Grate about ½ of an ounce (if you’re using one like mine, 2 squares would have been plenty) on the fine part of the grater.  It should look something like this:


    Add the grated chocolate to the dough you left in the mixing bowl and stir until incorporated. 


    At this point, you have some decisions to make.  What I’m giving you here, is just a roadmap.  You can mix in anything that might strike your fancy.  My husband has a nut allergy, so you won’t find them in my recipe, but feel free to add nuts, dried fruit, or any flavor of chips you like.  Here is the group of add-ins I used:


    This is probably a good time to preheat your oven to 375°.  Divide the dough into 4 separate bowls.  To the dough with the chocolate flakes in it, I added peanut butter chips, and I didn’t skimp.


    To the first plain dough I added white chocolate chunks and dried cranberries.


    To the second, a combination of milk and dark chocolate chips.  (and white chocolate to some, as well)


    The last bit of dough I rolled into balls and dropped into a little bowl of sugar. 


    Just shake it around a little until it looks like this:


    Since we’re going to be dipping these cookies, smaller is better.  I rolled balls about the size of nickel.  Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet (it doesn’t have to be lined, but I like the easy cleanup), leaving a good two inches between them. 


    The ones in the picture are not spaced far enough, but they looked silly all spread out, so I moved them for the picture, and then spaced them back out.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. 


    I pressed a piece of white chocolate into the double chocolate cookie right when they came out of the oven.  Why not, right?  Now, while those cool down and set up a bit, let’s start on the ganache.  The ratio I’m using is ¼ cup of chocolate to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream.  A glass measuring cup makes this easy. 


    Microwave the mixture for 20-30 seconds and then stir until smooth.  Repeat the process with milk chocolate and dark chocolate, pouring each into its own bowl for dipping.  Surround the bowls with cookies, and serve with an ice cold glass of milk. 


    Plenty for sharing with your Valentine, but good enough for one to enjoy, just wrapped in a warm blanket (or snuggie, if that’s your thing), while reading your favorite romance novel. 


    CAUTION:  Chocolate ganache and books (of either the paperback or electronic variety), may not always get along.    


    What will you be eating this Valentine's Day?


    Hungarian Goulash

    Okay, yes, the name is redundant because yes, I know, goulash is a Hungarian word for stew or soup. But that’s what my mom called it and this is mostly (but definitely not) my mom’s recipe, so that’s what I’m calling it. My mom was a fan of the old Betty Crocker style of cooking that often involved things like bisquick and cans of soup. This is not one of those recipes. No recipes on this site are.

    Goulash is really a simple dish; no fancy ingredients or dexterous methods. It’s basic home food. So why my mom’s version included convenience foods is beyond me. This is also one of the cheaper ways to make something a little different than your typical beef stew.

    The ones I ate as a kid were simmered on the stovetop, but I was on a roll with the “once a month cooking” thing and my tiny stovetop was already occupied so I did this one in the crock pot.

    What you need:

    1 lb stewing beef, or some other tough-ish cut that will stand up to simmering

    2 tbsp flour

    Salt and pepper

    1 onion

    1 red pepper

    3 cloves garlic

    ½ tin (~1/4 c) tomato paste

    ½ tsp Wostershire sauce

    1 tsp paprika

    2-3 c beef broth (or water, if you don’t have any broth handy)

    1 tbsp vinegar

    1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)


    What you gotta do:

    Chop the onion and red pepper into pieces. Size and shape is your preference, if you make them too small they’ll disappear into the broth after simmering all day. If you’re trying to feed this to a kid, that might be a good idea actually.

    Finely mince the garlic.

    If it hasn’t already been done, trim any excess fat from the beef and dice into cubes. 1 inch or so should do.

    In a largish bowl, toss the beef with the salt, pepper and flour until it’s coated. Dump the beef into the crock pot. Don’t put the bowl in the sink just yet.

    Dump the garlic, onion and pepper on top of the beef, in the crock pot.

    In that largeish bowl that once had floury beef in it, combine the tomato paste, Wostershire sauce, paprika, stock (or water), vinegar, and brown sugar (if you’re using it). Stir gently until it’s kinda soupy looking.

    Pour the soupy tomatoey, brothy mixture over the beef and veggies.

    Put the lid on the crock pot, set it to high, and find something to do for 3 or 4 hours. Or set it to low and occupy yourself for 6 to 8 hours.

    I like mine over noodles, usually wide egg noodles, but I’ve seen it served over rice or potatoes too. I’ve even seen recipes that include potatoes and carrots and mushrooms and any other veggie that’s handy. I mean, really, it is a basic throw together dish, so you can add or subtract just about anything. The one thing you can’t do away with is paprika.

    Paprika is a dried and ground capsicum. Yup, it’s a pepper, kinda like cayenne, but it’s not as spicy, in fact, it’s more of a sweet pepper, and it’s got a kind of smoky flavour since they’re usually dried by smoking. Paprika is a natural food colourant (like when “natural colour” is listed in the ingredients) and sometimes used in henna so try not to get it on yourself. Or am I the only one who needs this kind of warning? It’s got betacarotene, which your body turns into vitamin A, and also has strangely high amounts of vitamin C in it, but that’s usually cooked off.

    The dish itself is a nice rich meal. It’s got almost no fat in it, but if you were to quickly fry that floury beef in bacon fat before putting it in the crock pot.... hey, I’m just sayin’.

    It freezes really well too. I did this as part of my once a month cooking thing at the beginning of the school year, and I got four meals out of it, 2 dinners and 2 lunches. I cooled the pot in a sink of water then ladelled the goulash into sturdy freezer bags. The medium size Glad brand ones hold a lunch and dinner if I make noodles to go with it. If you’re going to save it like this, lay the bags flat to freeze then, once they’re solid, stand them up like books on a shelf. Mine fit handily into the spaces on the rack in the freezer.







     And when you're too busy studying electrical circuts to make dinner, you can just boil some noodles and suddenly have dinner.