Jack-Approved Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookie

We have a neighbor named Jack who runs an organic vegetarian cafe. Every so often, I share with Jack some of my baked goodies. Jack is always grateful but sparing with his praise, but there is one cookie that he complimented and so his approval is especially memorable. If Jack says it's good, it must be good. I came across this recipe when someone gifted us with shredded coconut and I wasn't sure what to do with it. The original recipe from Ambitious Kitchen called for coconut oil but I like butter better. 

1 cup oats (original recipe called for quick oats. I used regular rolled oats just fine)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
¼ t salt (I omit this if I use salted butter which is sometimes the only thing available)
½ cup butter
¾ cups sugar
1 egg
2 t vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
2 t milk
100 g chocolate (original recipe called for chocolate chunks. I just used semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Mix wet ingredients, then mix in the dry ingredients, chunkier ingredients last. Bake at 350°F for 9-11 minutes. 

Frances' Chocolate Cake

"Oh yes," said Mother, "you may be sure that there will always be 
plenty of chocolate cake around here."
- A Baby Sister for Frances, Russel and Lillian Hoban

Every family ought to have their own go-to chocolate cake recipe, and this happens to be ours. I got it off the back of the packet of Ghirardelli's Premium Baking Cocoa and it's their recipe for their Grand Fudge Cake (or cupcake). One time I ran out of confectioner's sugar and discovered a way to make a nice chocolate frosting without it. 

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
½ t salt (I omit this if I use salted butter which is sometimes the only thing available)
1 cup butter 
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 t vanilla
2 large eggs
 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 9" round cake pans. In a bowl, sift together baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl,cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla and eggs. Alternately add flour mixture and milk (starting and ending with flour mixture) while mixing until smooth. Pour into the pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

No Confectioner's Sugar Chocolate Frosting

1 cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
¼ cup butter
¼ cup milk
1 t vanilla

Bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil for 1 minute. Turn off heat then add vanilla. Cool partially and then beat at high speed for 3 minutes. Spread on cooled cake. 

Southern Fried Chicken Karaage

Every book I've read set in the American South almost always has Southern Fried Chicken in it. I'm gastronomically curious as to how different this is from the fried chickens I've ever had. Someone passed on to me Amy Sedaris' I like you: Hospitality under the influence and saw how ridiculously simple her recipe is. Unfortunately, I don't have the buttermilk and lard that her recipe called for so I substituted yoghurt for buttermilk and just plain cooking oil for frying. I also used chicken breast and cut them into bite-sized pieces much like your regular Japanese karaage. The results were outstanding. My husband who used to be stationed at South Carolina declared this to be as good as he remembered. He requested this for his birthday.   

Chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
cornstarch and flour (1:1 ratio)
oil for frying

Marinate chicken pieces in yoghurt, paprika, salt and pepper overnight. Dredge in the cornstarch-flour mix. Deep fry until done. Serve hot.

Bring Out the Rice Zesty Chicken

Mark Bittman's gigantic cookbook How to Cook Everything is a kitchen essential. While I think some recipes are a bit off (ex. his pizza crust is way too salty - perhaps a printing error?), there are some absolutely sumptuous dishes.  This chicken dish is one of those I'm-glad-I-gave-you-a-try recipes. Plus it's an enjoyable book to flip to a random page to read and learn techniques and technical details about a food stuff or two. Mark Bittman knows food and he writes about it well. I liked this chicken recipe so much I scribbled "WINNER! Love the sauce." right beside it. 

1 T oil
2 lbs bone in chicken thighs, rinsed and patted dry
1 t minced garlic
1 T grated lemon zest
¼ t cayenne (I have actually never tried it with cayenne but if you like a little kick, you should!)
2 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
⅓ cup water
Juice of one lemon

Heat a skillet. Add oil, swirl, then add the chicken. Brown quickly on both sides. Remove the chicken but keep the oils. Add the garlic and cook until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients except the lemon juice. Stir. Return the chicken and settle it in the liquid in the skillet. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, turning once or twice until chicken is done, about 20-30 minutes. 

Put chicken in serving platter and stir in the lemon juice. Pour some broth over the chicken and pass the rest at the table. Everyone will be looking for rice to enjoy this delicious sauce with.

Tastes Better Than It Looks Salad

It was that or "Scraps from the Vegetable Pile Salad". That's because my husband says the taste of this salad is always a pleasant surprise. I personally think the color mix is wonderful and I like the fact that there is something for every one (i.e. the kids like olives, I like chickpeas, my husband likes cucumbers). Prior to discovering this recipe, I have mostly bought ready made salad dressing. The only salad dressing I would make (which doesn't really count) is mixing Stillwater Olive Oil Co.'s Raspberry Vinegar and Lemon Olive Oil -- it doesn't count because this vinegar is so good you can drink the stuff as is. Coming back, the tedious part of this recipe is the chopping and slicing but otherwise is quite easy to make and is great for parties. I usually make do without the feta cheese. It still tastes great even without. I also do not follow the second part of the recipe strictly. If I find only orange and yellow bell peppers on sale, that's what I use. No tomatoes, no problem. It's a very easy going salad recipe that always satisfies. 

2 t olive oil
2 T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 tsp oregano
salt and pepper

1 can chickpeas drained
1 red bell pepper cubed
1 yellow bell pepper cubed
1 green bell pepper cubed
1 small onion chopped finely
15 tomatoes halved
1/3 cup olives sliced
1-2 cucumbers quartered
feta cheese

Toss everything. This salad can be prepared a day in advance but same day preparation also tastes great. 

No Fuss Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm not sure I understand the fuss about ice cream makers/machines.Do I really need yet another equipment for my kitchen? Conclusion: No. I made this amazingly delicious, make-you-swoon raspberry ice cream without an ice cream maker/machine in less than 5 minutes (without the freezing time). The kids like to eat their morning pancake with a scoop of this. 

Half a package of frozen raspberries (I used unsweetened berries. You can put more or less berries)
½-¾ cup sugar
1 cup cream (I used soy cream just because I like that the resulting ice cream is less heavy than with regular cream, plus soy cream is cheaper. Using soy cream makes this dessert vegan)
1 t vanilla

Put everything in a food processor. Pulse a couple of times until well blended. Put in a bowl and freeze. Enjoy later when frozen. 

I-Don't-Like-Potatoes Potato Dango

A friend from the forest kindergarten the kids used to go to had a son who didn't like potatoes but her father grew a lot of them. She looked for a recipe that jazzed them up and modified their potato-ness and found a recipe for potato dango. Her son loves these. The first time I tried them, I was surprised by how chewy and tasty they were. She brought them to our  potluck event and they were not piping hot when served but were still exceptionally good and in fact were one of the first things gone at the buffet. This recipe makes about 10 pieces of potato dango (about 4 cm diameter). Double or triple the recipe as needed - you'll probably need to!

5 pieces small potatoes
2 T katakuriko or cornstarch (the more you put, the chewier they become)

2 T milk or soy milk
1 T mirin
2 T soy sauce
1 T sugar (optional)
Oil for pan frying

Mix the mirin, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and set aside. Peel the potatoes and boil them until soft enough for a fork to go through. Drain the water and pat dry. Mash the potatoes with a fork (I like to do it by hand). Add the katakuriko and the milk. Mix and mash well. Form them into round flat cakes about 4 cm in diameter and about 1 cm thick. Pan fry them in oil until slightly brown. When done, add the mirin-soy sauce-sugar mix and toss the potato dango in the sauce until nicely coated. Serve. 

Irreverent Cinnamon Rolls

The cinnamon rolls I knew were either make-your-teeth hurt sweet or too hard and dry (or sometimes, both!). I also used to think they were too difficult and cumbersome to make until I inherited my mother-in-law's autographed copy of Damn Good Food, recipes from Hell's Kitchen. Here's the introduction to the recipe:

"My dad hated small, hard caramel rolls, and he worked on this recipe for years until it was perfect. It's kind of an inovlved recipe, but he put a lot of time into it, so try not to fuck it up."

You have to love a recipe that's irreverent! I  found the odd cooking times quirky (i.e. 11 minutes rising time, 9 minutes simmering time, etc.). It turns out that making these rolls was not as difficult it looked and no, you don't have to follow the odd cooking times to the dot.  I have yet to try store-bought cinnamon rolls that are as good as these.

The original recipe pecan pieces cooked in butter and salt. As pecans are quite expensive, I usually make the rolls without them but for a real treat, sprinkle your rolls with pecan pieces before serving.

1¾ cups whole milk

⅓ cup honey
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 package active dry yeast
1 extra-large egg
2 t salt
4-5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 T cinnamon
4 cups caramel sauce (see recipe below)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Heat milk, honey, and shortening in a saucepan until lukewarm. Remove from heat and sprinkle yeast over milk mixture. After yeast blooms, pour mixture into a big bowl. Add egg, salt and 2 cups of flour. Mix with a whisk. Add remaining flour as needed until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Take dough into a floured table and knead until smooth and elastic. Cut dough in half. Roll each portion into a ball and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise until double in size about 35 minutes. When risen, punch down and let rest again for 11 minutes more. 

Mix granulated sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

Roll out each portion into a rectangle ½ inch thick. Using half the melted butter, brush the top of each portion and sprinkle sugar mixture evenly. Roll into logs lengthwise, like a jelly rol. From logs, cut individual cinnamon rolls, 1½  to 1¾ inch thick.

Pour half the caramel sauce into a 2 x 10 x 14 inch pan. Arrange rolls in the pan, cover with a kitchen towel and allow to double in size. Remove towel and place the pan in the middle of the oven rack and backe 25-31 minutes in 350°F  or until golden brown. 

Remove the pan from the oven and brush the rolls with the remaining butter. Invert the pan, separate the rolls and serve by laddling the remaining caramel sauce over each roll.

Caramel Sauce
3 cups heavy cream
3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
Place cream and sugar in a saucepan and slowly heat to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer and stir until thick about 9 minutes.

Feeling Rich Mousse Chocolat

I always thought that chocolate mousse requires gelatin to firm it up until a French friend showed me how to make mousse chocolat with just three ingredients (none of which included gelatin) and sent me home with a bar of dark chocolate straight from France. It is one of the easiest desserts to make that never fails to impress. Indulge in the chocolate decadence.

4 eggs
100g butter, melted
200g dark or semi-sweet chocolate

Separate the whites from the yolks. Beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. Melt the chocolate (I often steam my chocolate). Mix the yolks, melted chocolate, and melted butter with a whisk until smooth. Fold this mixture into the egg whites. Pour into serving containers and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

Taste of Hong Kong Shrimp Rolls

One of the things I miss most living in Japan is good dimsum. Manila boasts of many Chinese restaurants with Cantonese chefs serving authentic Hong Kong style dimsum. My favorite is the affordable Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan. Here in Japan, I have learned to make my own dimsum and these shrimp rolls satisfy my periodic craving. They're extremely easy to make and require only a little oil for pan frying (I use extra virgin olive oil). Yes, they are as good as they look.

1-2 pcs hanpen (Japanese style fish cakes)
200g fresh uncooked shrimps, peeled, devined and chopped finely
½ onion chopped, or 6 stalks spring onions, chopped
1 T katakuriko or corn starch
1 packet stock granules or ½ t Bragg's Liquid Aminos
pepper to taste
10 pcs (1 pack) spring roll sheets
oil for frying

Put the hanpen in a bowl and mash with your hands. Add in the shrimps, onion, katakuriko, stock granules, and pepper and mix well. Wrap about two tablespoons or less of filling in a spring roll sheet. Pan fry until golden brown.

Vanishing Tonkatsu

Every now and then, I get a craving for something fried. While I love tempura, I find them too messy to make. I  am more than happy to pay 500 yen for a rice bowl topped with assorted fresh tempura at the tempura chain Tenya. Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) on the other hand hits the spot and is quite easy to make -- my four year old prepared the pork pieces herself (she does everything before the frying part). You only need as much oil to cover the pieces on a flat frying pan. Chop into bite size pieces before serving and watch them disappear before your eyes.

3-4 pieces of pork chops or pork loin (boneless), thinner slices cook better and faster
salt and pepper to taste
flour for dredging
1 egg beaten
dried breadcrumbs
oil for frying
Worcestershire sauce

Season the pork in salt and pepper. Dredge with flour. Dip in the beaten egg, then coat with bread crumbs. Pan fry in oil until done. Keep the heat low so as not to burn the outside and flip the pieces midway through. For the sauce, mix Worcestershire sauce and ketchup in a 1:1 ratio.

I Swear It's Not Store Bought Niku Jaga

Niku jaga (braised meat and vegetables) is to the Japanese as adobo is to Filipinos. It is a good hearty fare that reminds one of home. This is one of the easiest Japanese dishes to cook and it's a great one-pot dish that's got protein and veggies in it. I once invited a friend to come over for a simple dinner of niku jaga and rice. She insisted that my niku jaga must have been store bought. She has placed an order for a huge batch that she can reheat at home.

1 T oil
250 g beef or pork thinly sliced
1 onion sliced into rings
2 potatoes, cut into wedges
2 carrots, cut into wedges
1 pack of ito-konnyaku or shirataki, boiled in water then rinsed
1¼ cup water
3 T sugar
2 T sake
3 T soy sauce
1 T mirin

Heat oil in a pot and fry up the meat. Add the ito-konnyaku or shirataki, onions, potatoes and carrots. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add sugar and sake. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Add soy sauce and mirin. Simmer until all the liquid is gone. Serve with seven spice.

Un-Mapo Tofu

Growing up, a visit to a Chinese restaurant is often not complete without an order of mapo tofu, one of my dad's favorites. Mapo tofu, being a Sichuan dish, is typically spicy and I remember we would order it with instructions to make it "mild." When the dish arrived, my dad would add chili peppers to his portion and work up a good sweat eating. Now I have learned to like the spiciness of a good mapo tofu dish but my two kids are too small to tolerate even a little spice. And so I cook this un-mapo tofu, a kid-friendly version that's still tasty but without the characteristic red hot chilies. 

2 cloves garlic, minced
about 5 stalks spring onions, chopped, save some for garnish
2 T sesame oil
100 g ground pork 
1 t chicken stock granules
1 T sake
2 T mirin
1 T soy sauce
1 T oyster sauce
1 block tofu, sliced into cubes  (I like using soft tofu) 
1 T katakuriko or corn starch dissolved in 2 T water (this is your thickener)

Saute the minced garlic and chopped spring onions in the sesame oil. Add the ground pork and cook until done. In a small bowl, mix the next 5 ingredients (you can quickly do this while the pork is cooking) and pour it into the pan. Mix to heat through and add water if necessary. Next toss in the cubed tofu and be careful as you work to coat it with the sauce. Thicken the sauce with the katakuriko or corn starch dissolved in water. Remove from heat and top with spring onions.

Not Your Dad's Red Lentil Curry

I have never cooked lentils before and never had them growing up. We recently received a big sack of red lentils and I had absolutely no idea what to do with them. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything came to the rescue (Every home should have this book!). I went with what looked like the easiest lentil recipe: lentils with curry or dal. Bittman had a basic recipe and a variation and because I couldn't decide which one to do, I combined them and used whatever spices I had and omitted some that I didn't. The result was so good my husband who didn't like lentils before* said he's now converted and can eat this everyday, twice a day even.  I don't think that big sack of red lentils will last us very long.  (*His dad used to cook lentil soup which they dreaded, thus, Not Your Dad's).

1½ cups red lentils, washed 
4 cups stock (if making this vegetarian, use vegetable stock; I like chicken stock though)
salt and pepper to taste (some stocks already contain enough salt)
1 T curry powder (Mark Bittman has a curry powder recipe but I just used ready-to-use curry powder)
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground cinnamon
¼ t ground cardamom
½ t ground cumin
2 T butter
1 T minced garlic
1 T grated ginger
cilantro, chopped for garnish

Put everything except the last four ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat cooking gently and stirring occassionally until lentils are soft and mixture thickens. Heat butter in a separate skillet and add the garlic and the ginger and cook until they almost begin to brown but not quite. Remove from heat and pour everything including the butter into the lentils and mix. Top with chopped cilantro.

My husband also likes to top this with shredded cheese.

Excited to try this recipe? Get red lentils from iherb now here.