Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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Brace yourselves, Internet. I’ve found a cookie recipe so simple that even I, perennial great-chef-bad-baker, have managed to produce a chewy, perfect cookie. Ever since the Great Cornbread Disaster of 2007 where I tried my hand at “fluffy” cornbread only to produce cardboard-like tack, I’d doubted myself when it came to anything flour-based. These cookies gave me my groove back.

Oatmeal raisin cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Beat butter and sugars until pale and fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla, then flour mixture. Mix in oats, then raisins.

2. Using a tablespoon, scoop 1 tablespoon of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing each scoop about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas

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It turns out I may be developing a sweet tooth after all. Cake and tarts and most pastries still do nothing for me, but these chocolatey frozen bananas are just right. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, they keep well for when a craving strikes. Plus, bananas are full of potassium, so these are kind of healthy, right?

Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas

Ingredients:

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons canola oil
Assorted toppings for coating bananas (toffee bits, chopped Butterfinger candy bars, or chopped salted peanuts)
3 bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1. Stir chocolate and oil in heavy small saucepan over low heat just until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes to cool.

2. Place each topping in separate shallow dish. Line baking sheet with foil. Arrange banana slices on foil. Using fingers, dip 1 banana slice in chocolate, coating completely. Shake off excess chocolate. Drop dipped banana in 1 topping. Using clean hand, sprinkle more topping over banana to coat; transfer to foil-lined sheet. Repeat with remaining bananas, chocolate, and toppings. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours, then serve.

Sholeh Zard (Iranian Saffron Rice Pudding)

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Happy Norooz! Last week ushered in the two week-long Iranian new year, a time for celebration, time spent around loved ones, and sweets. Lots of sweets. Most Iranian sweets are too strong for my taste, but I can never say no to sholeh zard. Traditionally prepared as alms during religious festivals in Iran, this dish takes me back to my (Californian) childhood. Whenever a holiday rolled around, my mom and family friends would spend an afternoon making huge pots of the fragrant, rosewater-flecked rice pudding. They would garnish the finished dish with beautiful Persian calligraphy using cinnamon.

I’ve since learned to make sholeh zard on my own, though my calligraphy skills are sorely lacking. This rich dessert is otherwise easy to make, but requires some attention. Just remember to check the pot frequently. You want your finished dish to have a thin pudding-like consistency, as it’ll thicken when it cools down.

Sholeh zard

Ingredients:

1 cup basmati rice
7 cups or more water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup rosewater

Garnish:

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash the rice, changing the water several times. Drain.

2. Combine the rice with 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil, skimming the foam as it rises. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes over medium heat until the rice is soft.

3. Add 3 more cups of warm water and sugar, cook for 25 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter, almonds, saffron water, cardamom, and rosewater. Mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook over low heat, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until the mixture is cooked and has thickened to a pudding.

4. Spoon the pudding into individual serving dishes or a large bowl. Decorate with cinnamon, almonds, and pistachios. Serve the pudding cold or room temperature.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

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The first time I cooked with tapioca pearls a few years ago, I ended up with a giant mess. I was trying to recreate boba tea, and I overcooked the small, translucent spheres and the whole thing dissolved into a gelatinous blob that adhered itself to the pot. After that experience, I stayed away from tapioca pearls – until now.

When I came across this recipe for a cool, tropical tapioca pudding first published in Sunset Magazine, and by the Bay Area’s very own Tim Luym, no less, I knew I had to give tapioca a second chance. Luym is the former executive chef of Poleng Lounge, a fun, street-food centered Filipino restaurant that’s no longer around, but I’d met Luym at an Anthony Bourdain book release a few years ago and his super friendly vibe and his amazing use of Southeast Asian flavors made an impression on me.

But I digress. Back to the tapioca. Thankfully, this dish turned out to be really easy to make. Just keep an eye on the tapioca pearls as they boil and take care not to overcook them. Use small, white pearls, not the larger, dark ones that you typically see in boba tea. I topped this pudding with toasted coconut, mango, and grass jelly, but lychees, kiwi, or pineapple will work just as well.

Mother's Day sushi brunch

Ingredients:

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
1 mango, chopped
1/3 can grass jelly, drained and chopped

Preparation

1. In a saucepan, cook tapioca in 2 quarts boiling water until only slightly chewy to the bite, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer.

2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan over medium heat, warm the coconut milk, milk, sugar, and vanilla, until steaming, 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Stir drained tapioca into vanilla mixture. Cook, stirring often, until tapioca pearls are clear and just tender, 3 to 6 minutes.

4. Let pudding cool, then chill, stirring occasionally, at least 1 1/4 hours. Stir in more milk if pudding seems too thick.

5. Spoon pudding into glasses or small bowls. Top with toasted coconut and fresh fruit.

Caramel Popcorn

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I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but when I set out this past Christmas to make everyone gift baskets of food goodies, I knew I wanted to include caramel popcorn. It’s salty, crunchy, sweet, and healthy (okay, maybe not healthy).

It’s also astonishingly easy to make, but make sure to have a huge bowl for mixing the syrup with the popcorn, otherwise you’ll create a mess.

Caramel popcorn

Ingredients:

10-15 cups plain popcorn
3/4 stick butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup salted peanuts

1. Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil. Lightly oil foil. Melt butter in a medium pot over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then boil, without stirring and making sure syrup does not scorch, about 6 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

2. Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir salt and baking soda into syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture in baking pan as thinly and evenly as possible. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.