Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in Review

2017 was a bit of a rough year at The Messy Apron. I missed the first two months, getting no posts in whatsoever, being overwhelmed with my day job. That day job got even worse in the fall, when I accepted a promotion that totally ate my life.

If there is a silver lining to that particular cloud, however, it is that there was a greater concentration of good stuff that got onto these pages. I was surprised at how many of the recipes that I did manage to test, photograph and post were for really delicious dishes. From cakes and breakfast foods to salads and even jam, I had a lot of fun playing with my food this year, and I’ve missed being able to put more time into doing just that. Here is a list of 9 of the absolute best recipes posted from January to December 2017.

I’ve never really thought that a Messy Apron year had a “Recipe of the Year” before now, but I’m ready to name one for 2017: Lemon Layer Cake! With lemon curd sandwiched between lemon-infused white cake layers brushed with Limoncello, it’s truly, madly deliciously delicious.

Another fabulous and much simpler cake: Rhubarb Pudding Cake. This was one of the most popular recipes (based on clicks) this year.

Marmalade Baked French Toast is a warm and comfy bread and butter pudding infused with cream cheese and orange marmalade. I’m sure it could be varied with your favorite sweet jams and preserves.

And speaking of jam, this Easy Apricot Jam is simple to prepare, but could make you look like a kitchen pro. I also used the same basic recipe method to make lovely jams with other summer fruits.

I love hearty, main-dish salads and this Lentil Salad with Curry Lime Yogurt Dressing was a pleasantly spicy and creamy surprise.

Many recipes I tried this year were fabulous finds on Pinterest. This Shrimp and Pea Macaroni Salad is one such delicious adaptation for The Messy Apron.

These Orange and White Chocolate Cookies were some of the most satisfying eats I produced in the sweets department (and I have high expectations for cookies.)

I’d love to have these Barley Flour Scones on my breakfast table or ready to accompany an afternoon cup of coffee more often. 

Last, but not least on the list is Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal.

Of course, there were a few other things I mucked about with over the last 12 months, including homemade sourdough bread (actually pretty great!), a cranberry marmalade that wasn’t quite right, and some cookies that needed a tweek or two. And what’s to come on The Messy Apron? If I had my way and my time was my own, a lot of big changes. I’m afraid to promise you these things, however, because my time is way more limited than I would like. Sigh.

I do have a cranberry cheesecake pie to tell you about, and I’m going to collect together some archive recipes for winter salads and other winter vegetable favorites. I want to tell you about a peanut butter version of the baked oatmeal above. I have two new cookbooks I want to dig into. I’m trying to use social media, like The Messy Apron Blog Facebook page more effectively. One thing is for sure: seasonal cooking curiosity with a bit of a messy spin will carry on!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

As you probably know, I love making cookies and trying new cookie recipes. And this is the best time of year to do it! These Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are the result of my latest successful cookie adventure.

These may not look like Christmas cookies, but as far as I’m concerned, any cookie I make after Thanksgiving is a Christmas cookie. The recipe is a pretty basic, easy-to-execute drop cookie, no more difficult to make than the average oatmeal cookie or chocolate chip cookie or peanut butter cookie. I love all three of those cookie styles, and this one has a little, or maybe a lot, of each, which means they’re totally delicious!

I think you could vary these in many ways to your personal taste. I like the ratio of brown sugar to white sugar, so I probably wouldn’t mess with that, but other flavors could surely be swapped in. You may be able to use a different nut butter, like almond or cashew, or a different chocolate, like milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, or bigger chocolate chunks. The chocolate could be left out and perhaps replaced with dried fruit or toffee bits, too.

While I like fancy cookies with swirls and sprinkles and frostings and other embellishments this time of year, I will definitely take a humble-looking but delicious drop cookie on my holiday cookie tray. These are wonderful and worthy, loaded with multiple classic cookie ingredients, and if you need them to look more Christmas-y, feel free to put a pretty bow on them.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Based on a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens Baking

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups rolled oats
1 12-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. In the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer (or another large bowl if using a hand mixer or stirring by hand) combine the butter and peanut butter. Beat together on medium speed until fluffy. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy.

2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until well combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Whisk or sift together to combine well.

4. Add the flour mixture a little at a time to the butter mixture, beating on low speed until just combined. Stir in the oats on low speed. Stir in the chocolate chips. If necessary, complete the final stirring with a sturdy spoon or rubber spatula.

5. Cover or wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or up to 2 days. If planning to store for a longer time, freeze wrapped dough in a freezer safe bag or container.

6. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Scoop about 2 tablespoons dough for each cookie on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing at least 2 inches apart.

7. Bake at 350 F for 8-11 minutes or until golden brown on the edges and set in the middle. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies. Store in an airtight container or freeze baked cookies or unbaked dough well-wrapped for up to 3 months.

Friday, December 8, 2017

10 Favorites with Fresh Cranberries

One of my favorite winter ingredients is the cranberry. Of course, you can’t do much with just one, so they are available in nice quantities for adding to recipes. They’re super tart and maybe a bit bitter, but with plenty of sugar and spice, their flavor is great. Whether I’m enjoying them as the main ingredient in a side-dish sauce surrounded by other traditional holiday meal components, or stirred into baked goods for a pop of intense flavor, I love reaching for a cup or two of fresh cranberries all winter long.

While I truly believe that there’s a special gilded resting place in every form of afterlife for the inventor of the Craisin, I’ve limited this list to recipes made with fresh cranberries. Of course, cranberries freeze very well, keeping their shape even after thawing, and keeping basically forever due to their high acidity. You can consider the frozen cranberry a direct substitute for a fresh one.

Here are 10 favorite recipes from The Messy Apron Archives that feature these pretty red jewels:

Cranberry sauce is a must on a holiday table and there are many ways to vary it. This basic Cranberry Sauce can be made with different juices or even wine.

Cranberries are great with apples and are really a wonderful addition to Apple and Cranberry Crisp, and they’re delicious in this simple Cranberry Apple Oatmeal Coffee Cake, too.

I like to stir cranberries into muffins like these Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

They’re even great stirred into Cranberry Walnut Cornbread and served with a hot bowl of chili (like this one).

Of course, cranberries can star in desserts, too, like these pucker-y tart Cranberry Bars

Puree cranberries in a blender with vinegar, oil, and some other savory ingredients, and you have a fresh and lovely Cranberry Vinaigrette, which is good on a green salad or in a heartier winter salad with grains.

I have plenty of new recipes and ideas I hope to try using perky crimson winter cranberries. I hope you’re inclined to enjoy them as much as I do in the months to come!