Saturday, June 20, 2020

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

Friends, please go make these cookies. Unless you can't eat peanut butter, and honestly? That just makes me super sad. You're missing out, and I'm sorry. Because these cookies are SO. GOOD. Especially if you liked eating the classic PB&J sandwiches as a kid. Or as an adult, I don't judge.

These cookies are big, bakery-style cookies. You're really probably eating like 2-3 regular-sized cookies when you eat just one of these. But they are so worth it. I adjusted the original recipe slightly to add in more jam. It felt like there was just a slight hint of jam in the original -- it was more of a peanut butter cookie. And still a delicious one at that, but to get a real PB&J vibe, I added a bit more jam per cookie and yes, I'd recommend the extra jam. You'll get more ooey gooey oozing, but do we have a problem with that? No. 

It's just so nice to eat this cookie and get to the peanut buttery, jelly filled center. And? It's not hard to make. You can be eating these cookies in about an hour from start to finish. Honestly, enough with the talk. Get on it!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies

Your favorite childhood sandwich turned into your new favorite cookie.

  • Abt 10 Tablespoons (162 grams) crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (253 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (265 grams) creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup (140 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 grams) light brown sugar
  • 8 Tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 10 heaping teaspoons strawberry jam or preserves
  1. Dollop the crunchy peanut butter into 10 equal-sized pieces (a little less than 1 tablespoon each) on a sheet tray or plate and freeze until ready to use.
  2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Either using a large bowl and hand mixer, or your stand mixer fitted with the blade attachment, beat the creamy peanut butter, sugars, and butter until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and make sure the first is fully incorporated before adding the next, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated, then roll the dough into 10 equal-sized balls and place on a parchment paper-lined (or you canuse a silicon liner) baking sheet.
  4. Working with one ball of dough at a time, flatten the ball into a 3-inch circle in the palm of your hand. Add in about 1 heaping teaspoonful of the jam, then a dollop of the frozen peanut butter. Carefully seal the dough around the peanut butter and jam and roll it back into a ball. Some of the jelly may ooze out slightly, and that's ok! Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
  5. Divide the dough among 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets and bake, turning once halfway through, until golden on top, 15 to 17 minutes. Cool slightly, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely before serving.
  6. *I don't like using two cookie sheets in the oven at a time, so instead I put all 10 balls in step three onto a cutting board, then did five for the first batch on one cookie sheet, baked those, and then the last five for the second batch on that same sheet. I'm leaving the original instructions in case you have two and prefer to do that, but just know you don't have to do it that way!
Adapted slightly from a recipe by Farideh Sadeghin

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Book Review: One of Us Is Next (One of Us Is Lying #2) by Karen M. McManus

ook Review: One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

Published: January 7, 2020

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 377

SynopsisCome on, Bayview, you know you've missed this.

A ton of copycat gossip apps have popped up since Simon died, but in the year since the Bayview four were cleared of his shocking death, no one's been able to fill the gossip void quite like he could. The problem is no one has the facts.

Until now.

This time it's not an app, though—it's a game.

Truth or Dare.

Phoebe's the first target. If you choose not to play, it's a truth. And hers is dark.

Then comes Maeve and she should know better—always choose the dare.

But by the time Knox is about to be tagged, things have gotten dangerous. The dares have become deadly, and if Maeve learned anything from Bronwyn last year, it's that they can't count on the police for help. Or protection.

Simon's gone, but someone's determined to keep his legacy at Bayview High alive. And this time, there's a whole new set of rules.

Thoughts: I remember being very enthralled with One of Us is Lying; it kept me at the edge of my seat with the mystery, and drew me in further with the characters. I also highly enjoyed McManus' other book, Two Can Keep a Secret, which is not related to this series at all, despite it making it seem like it with the name and the cover design. This actual sequel to One of Us is Lying, however, didn't hold my interest quite as much as those other two did.

I think the difference for me is that those others seemed to focus a lot more on the mystery than this one, which was more heavily about the relationships and romance. I wasn't quite as engaged with those relationships as I was in the other books either. I don't know why, exactly, because the characters are all likable and interesting on their own merits, there was just something that didn't quite hook me as much. 

Also, while there was certainly a mystery element from the beginning, it didn't really get moving until halfway through the book, which was maybe throwing me off in terms of pacing. It could be that I was going into it with some preconceived notions about what to expect, and was thrown off when it was taking awhile to get to those points. But it felt like it took awhile to get the mystery going, and then it got solved pretty quickly after that.

Nonetheless, I'll still look forward to McManus' other books since I enjoyed the other two so much.

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Review: Call Down the Hawk by
Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater

Published: November 5, 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Pages: 472

SynopsisThe dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.

Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . .

Thoughts: This is sort of a follow up to the previous Raven Cycle series by author Maggie Stiefvater. Mostly in the way that you have more background about the characters than if you hadn't read the other series. But you don't really have to have read it to start this one. With that series, I enjoyed the books more and more as they went on, and I have a feeling it will be the same with this one. Mostly because this book has a lot of introducing to do with new characters as well as characters that were recurring in the other books but not necessarily main characters. 

That's always a tough balancing act in follow up series like this one, because inherently readers are always on the lookout for the characters that they know and already love and have less patience for the new ones and their new situations to get to know. I certainly fall into that very easily. What is also interesting about the way she has written this book, is that it's very clearly continuing. It felt like I just stopped the story partway rather than finished anything. 

Somehow the book was just as long as some other books I've read recently, but felt much shorter, and perhaps that is partly because it really felt like things were only just starting to get going once it ended. So, I am looking forward to the next book, as it seems like things will really start moving. I'm being pretty vague here as to not give anything about the plot away, ha. 

Rating: 3.5/5

What I'm Reading Next:  One of us is Next by Karen M. McManus

Monday, June 1, 2020

Blueberry Cornbread

Blueberry Cornbread

What do you do when you go through your pantry and find that you have some cornmeal expiring in two weeks? Look up some recipes, of course! Now, the most obvious thing to make would be, of course, regular old cornbread. And seeing as this recipe didn't use up all of the cornmeal, we may have to make some of that as well. But I wanted to see if there was anything fun or different - and lo and behold, a slight variation on a typical cornbread!
Blueberry Cornbread

Seeing as you bake this in a cake pan, is it really still considered a bread? Or should it rather be called corn cake? I guess since it's not too sweet, I would necessarily call it a cake. To me, this qualifies as more of a breakfast item than a dessert item just based on that factor alone, but you could do it either way. I haven't tried it with the honey butter they recommend in the recipe, so perhaps that would make it more dessert-like if so. 

Blueberry Cornbread

You also may be wondering if blueberries and cornbread are kind of a weird combo. I'm here to tell you that, no, they aren't. It's got a nice bit of tang and sweetness, and also helps keep the cornbread moist whereas otherwise it can tend to dry out. I used frozen blueberries as that's what I had on hand, but it works with either frozen or fresh, just note the asterisks in the recipe and adjust accordingly.

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A different take on the classic cornbread with just the right amount of sweetness.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal, plus 1 cup (5 ounces)*
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 10 ounces (2 cups) blueberries**
  • *I would recommend measuring the cornmeal as different types of cornmeals are more ground than others.
    **If you use frozen blueberries, toss with 2 tablespoons flour before mixing in, and increase baking time to 45-50 minutes.
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease bottom and sides of light-colored 9-inch round cake pan, then dust pan with 1½ tablespoons cornmeal.
  2. Whisk flour, ¾ cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1 cup cornmeal together in large bowl. Whisk milk, melted butter, and eggs together in second bowl (butter may form clumps; this is OK). Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Stir in blueberries until just incorporated. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over top.
  3. Bake until golden brown and paring knife inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cornbread cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes. Run paring knife between cornbread and side of pan. Remove cornbread from pan and let cool on rack for 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Recipe from Cook's Country

Blueberry Cornbread

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Strawberry Cheesecake Bars

I know I just made another strawberry recipe, but what can I say, when you want strawberries, you want strawberries. Plus, they're in season, so can you really go wrong when you have delicious fresh strawberries that are naturally sweet? Nope. 

What can be a problem, though? When there aren't any graham crackers at the store due to the pandemic. Well, let's be honest, they had cinnamon graham crackers, but I didn't think that would go well with strawberry cheesecake. Solution? Make your own! If you're lucky enough to already have some whole wheat flour at home, anyway. Which I did. So I did. And? They tasted like graham crackers! Amazing. Did I notice a difference by making them homemade vs store bought in the cheesecake? No. So please don't feel like you need to do that if you can find them at the store. But, I've included the recipe below in case you want to go that extra mile.

Now, I've made this recipe before, but it was during that time when I was feeling too busy to post things to the blog (recipes seem to take the longest because of formatting blah blah). So, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to make this again. The original recipe will tell you to do this complicated foil hang thing in your 9x13 pan to easily take out the whole thing later on. That's really only if you're going to cut these into separate pieces to serve all at once, so I don't bother with it since we just keep it in the fridge and eat it over time, and you can just slice out an individual piece as you go. That means you also don't need to add the strawberry pieces on top, but if you're taking these somewhere, it certainly does make them more fancy schmancy.

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If you like strawberries and you like cheesecake, this is a no-fuss way to combine the two into a delicious bar version, no spring-form pan required.

  • 9 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces (see below to make these homemade)
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup (3.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling:
  • 1 ½ pounds cream cheese (3 8 ounce blocks)
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Topping:
  • 6 ounces strawberries, hulled (1 heaping cup), plus 5 hulled strawberries
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • For Homemade Graham Crackers:
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (4.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup (1.75 ounces) vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup (3 ounces) honey
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons milk
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. FOR THE CRUST: Process cracker pieces (see below if making from scratch) and sugar in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add flour and salt and pulse to combine, about 2 pulses. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened, about 10 pulses.
  3. Using your hands, press crumb mixture evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Using bottom of dry measuring cup, firmly pack crust into 9x13 pan. Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown around edges, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely. This will likely take about an hour.
  4. FOR THE FILLING: In clean, dry processor bowl, process cream cheese and sugar until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. With processor running, add eggs, one at a time, until just incorporated, about 30 seconds total. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add vanilla and process to combine, about 10 seconds. Pour cream cheese mixture over cooled crust. Bake until center is almost set but still jiggles slightly when pan is shaken, about 45 minutes.
  5. FOR THE TOPPING: Meanwhile, in clean, dry processor bowl, process 6 ounces strawberries and ½ cup sugar until pureed, about 30 seconds. Stir strawberry puree and sour cream in bowl until combined.
  6. Remove cheesecake from oven. Pour strawberry mixture over cheesecake (cheesecake layer should be completely covered). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is just set, about 15 minutes.
  7. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cheesecake cool completely, about 2 hours. Refrigerate until cold and set, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Slice remaining 5 strawberries thin and gently toss with remaining 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl. Garnish with 1 strawberry slice per 2 inches and serve.

    For Homemade Graham Crackers:
  8. Combine the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.
  9. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the oil, honey, and 2 tablespoons milk. Stir this egg mixture into the dry ingredients until you have a fairly stiff dough, adding more milk if necessary. Knead the dough gently until smooth.
  10. Wrap the dough and chill it until firm, about 1 hour (or longer, if it's more convenient).
  11. Adjust oven racks to upper middle and lower middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Divide the dough in half and, working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out about 1/16" thick onto a piece of parchment paper. Tip: place another piece of parchment paper on top of your rolling pin to prevent sticking.
  13. Transfer the rolled-out dough on the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
  14. Bake the sheets of dough for 10 minutes, one each on the upper middle and lower middle racks, rotating the pans after 5 minutes.
  15. Remove pans from the oven and use a rolling pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the sheets of dough into 3" x 2" rectangles; don't separate them, just cut them.
  16. Return the cut crackers to the oven, and continue to bake for 18 to 20 minutes.
  17. Turn off the oven, and open the oven door wide for 5 minutes. After the majority of the oven's heat has dissipated, shut the oven door, and let it cool down for 20 minutes with the crackers inside; this will help them become as crisp as possible.
  18. Remove the crackers from the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack, and cool completely.
  19. Store the crackers, well-wrapped, at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage. This will make about double the amount needed for the Cheesecake recipe.