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Baking isn’t a sure thing. I’ve heard it’s a science but since I’m not an exact measurer and English was my best subject, my talents lie more in unpretentious, candid culinary storytelling and sharing goods from my kitchen when they turn out to be delicious.

Enter banana bread. Other than the rare few who don’t like anything baked with brown bananas, people will generally accept the offering of a fat slice of tender chocolate chip banana bread.

chocolate chip banana bread

If you’re on the baking end, banana bread recipes are typically easy-going and tolerant of even the most novice bakers. But somehow I found a way to bake a deep, doughy sinkhole in my most recent loaf. The problem wasn’t the recipe.

chocolate chip banana bread

I tried to be too fancy by placing thin slices of bananas down the center of the loaf before sliding it into the oven. Why? Because one of my favorite muffins, banana chocolate chip, from Kowalski’s Markets has a few crunchy bananas baked on top and I wanted it to be like that. But I think the mushy rows of bananas on top wouldn’t really bake—I even turned the broiler on at the end! I finally had to take the bread out of the oven because the top was getting too brown.

I think I tried doing this once with banana chips but I can’t remember how it turned out. Maybe I need to wait until the bread is half or three-quarters baked and then toss banana chips on top. Or perhaps a baker from Kowalski’s Markets will tell me their secret.

chocolate chip banana bread

To top off my fiasco, I was planning to share the bread with my sisters that day so I needed it to cool down quickly. After the bread cooled for an hour or so, I stuck it in the fridge and next thing I know, there was a cavernous sinkhole down the center. The upside of this story is that this recipe is a keeper (if you don’t add mushy banana slices to the top). It is magnificently tender and chocolatey.

I only slightly adapted the recipe from one of my go-to recipe and entertaining blogs Reluctant Entertainer. My additions to Sandy’s Sour Cream Banana Bread include a cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom, and using white and brown sugar.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

1 cup mashed overripe (brown or spotted) bananas, about 3 bananas

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Heat oven to 350° and grease a 9-inch loaf pan or line with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy (about 4 minutes).
  3. Beat in eggs.
  4. Stir in bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Beat on medium-low until incorporated.
  5. In a separate medium bowl stir together flour, cinnamon, cardamom, soda, and salt.
  6. Gradually and slowly beat in the flour mixture in three batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each, but be gentle—overbeating the batter will create a tough banana bread. It’s fine to see some flecks of flour still.
  7. Fold in chocolate chips.
  8. Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean (or with only melted chocolate).
  9. Cool 15 minutes then remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Store at room temperature in airtight container up to four days.

Sweet, sinking wishes,

Staci

Why didn’t it even cross my mind? All hockey season long I see signs posted on entrance doors of rinks everywhere: “No outside food or drinks allowed.” My hockey mom mojo was out the window as Sunday I was just a cheer aunt with peanut butter cream cheese brownies and chewy cocoa peanut butter chip cookies to share with my family.

Cocoa Peanut Butter Chip Cookies | Random Sweetness Baking

When we stopped at the arena doors so the security guards could check our bags, I thought they were checking for guns and knives.

Katera Wildfire Cheer

But as soon as she spotted the unconcealed plastic bottle of water in the side pocket of my camera bag, the guard informed me that no outside food or drinks were allowed in the arena. I thought she was talking about my overstuffed canvas bag of chocolate and peanut butter treats but she didn’t even notice. She kept her eyes on me until I ditched my water but I made it through with the bag full of cookies and brownies to share with my family.

Hailee

But I was mortified when I was driving home. I took a bite of cookie and the sugar consistency was like gasping in a mouthful of sand after too many cocktails on the beach during spring break. I’ve made these cookies a lot since the time they disappeared before Christmas supper in 2013 and they’ve never been like that.

cream cheese peanut butter brownies

I went to bed thinking about it and woke up in the morning knowing exactly what went wrong. The recipe calls for 1¼ cups of softened butter and for some reason I forgot one whole stick of butter! I guess that’s what I get for unintentionally smuggling goodies into the cheer competition.

Chewy Cocoa Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

2 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups butter (2 and a half sticks), softened

2 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

10-ounce package (1-2/3 cups) peanut butter chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir together and then gradually add to butter mixture; beating until well combined. Stir in peanut butter chips until distributed evenly into the cookie dough.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9 to 10 minutes. Do not over-bake. The cookies will not look like they are done but they will puff up a little when baking and then they’ll drop when they are cooling. They are soft with a little crunch around the edges.

Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and then move them to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Sweet buttery wishes,

Staci

Like speed limits, recipes are merely suggestions for when normal conditions exist. But who defines normal conditions? Maybe you never have a box of Chex cereal (or three) in your cupboard when you have the hankering to make traditional Chex™ Muddy Buddies™ so you have to think outside the box. Why not make puppy chow, also known as people chow, with the traditional peanut butter, chocolate chips, and powdered sugar but use your favorite cereals?

people chow puppy chow

In my most recent batch, I folded in Golden Grahams, Corn Pops, and Corn Chex cereals for an even tastier version of puppy chow. I planned to toss in chow mein noodles but I forgot to add them. Did you know that if you store puppy chow in an airtight container in the refrigerator it stays crunchy longer?

hodgepodge people puppy chow

You might also like Corn Pops Clusters

Corn Pops Clusters

If you have a box of Golden Grahams cereal, reserve four cups to make what will become a fight-over-the-last-piece family favorite: Marshmallow Creme Crunchy Graham Brownies.

marshmallow creme crunchy graham brownies square

Of course there’s always a special version of Chex Mix Like You Mean It.

Staci's version of Chex mix

Hodgepodge Puppy Chow with Corn Pops, Golden Grahams, Chex, and Chow Mein Noodles

9 cups of a combination of your favorite cereals and maybe chow mein noodles

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups powdered sugar

  1. Put all the cereal in a large bowl.
  2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat melt chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter together. Stir until melted and creamy. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Pour chocolate mixture over cereal and toss until all the cereal is drenched in chocolate.
  5. Using a 2 or 2.5 gallon plastic zipper bag, dump in 1/2 cup powdered sugar, chocolate coated cereal, and top with remaining 1 cup powdered sugar. Seal bag and shake it like a Boggle game until everything is coated with powdered sugar (everything in the bag, not your kitchen).
  6. Spread the cereal mixture onto a sheet of wax paper until cooled.
  7. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

May your recipes feel like suggestions,

Staci

I like fudge. I eat fudge once in a while. One time, I ate too much fudge from a fudge shop in Hawaii or Nisswa, Minnesota—I don’t remember which—and I got sick. My favorite flavor is amaretto. I don’t recall the last time I made fudge (or if I ever have).three chocoate fudge recipe

But this Christmas I saw a three-chocolate fudge recipe in Jason’s mom’s Taste of Home magazine and I was randomly inspired to make a pan.

three chocolate fudge

View three-chocolate fudge recipe on Taste of Home. I like this recipe because you don’t need a candy thermometer. Just follow the instructions carefully by bringing the sugar, butter, and evaporated milk to a boil and then continue cooking it for five minutes. As just a personal preference, I reduced the pecans to 1 cup instead of 2 cups and I used pecan cookie pieces. It makes a lot of fudge so be ready to share.

If you are ever in Brookings, South Dakota you should definitely eat fudge at Choco Latte. Where’s your favorite place to get fudge?

Sweet square wishes,

Staci

She doesn’t like potatoes but Country Grandma is the queen of stirring up delicious gravy, and pretty much any other down-home Midwest comfort food served at a farmer’s table. When it came time to make gravy this Christmas, I had an abundant amount of reserved ham cooking juices but I didn’t have a recipe or a plan for making the gravy. Should I use flour or cornstarch? Broth or milk? My sister Heidi suggested I ask Country Grandma, the queen of gravy, to show me how she makes hers.

ham gravy v

Thankfully she obliged by stepping into the kitchen and showing us how to make ham gravy with milk and cornstarch. She eyeballed it so I’m hoping the mental notes I’m posting will be enough for me to remember how to make it next time.

ham gravy

Also known as Ma T, Country Grandma (Judy Thomssen) is grandma to my nephews—the T Boys. Before Grandpa Ron died, they farmed near Lake Benton and raised a son, Will, who is married to my sister Heidi. (Yes, that makes Judy Heidi’s mother-in-law and we love her company!) When the T Boys were little, Ron and Judy lived in the country and my mom lived in town so they nicknamed Judy Country Grandma. Can you imagine a farmer’s wife not liking potatoes? But my sister was right—Country Grandma is the queen of gravy and she is welcome in my kitchen anytime. I want her to come back and show me how to make her beloved meatballs, and the hamballs I just heard about.

The T Boys in 1998 (Trav, Garritt, Cody)

The T Boys in 1998 (Trav, Garritt, Cody)

Country Grandma’s ham gravy recipe – the eyeball method

Grab what you need:

equal parts whole milk and water

cornstarch (liquified to a paste with ice water so you don’t get cornstarch floaters in your gravy)

ham cooking juice to taste

pepper

Make the gravy:

In a large pot over medium-high heat, whisk milk and water to boiling. Pour in cornstarch and stir constantly until thickened. Add ham cooking juice to taste, starting with a smaller amount and adding from there. (It’s easy to add more but you can’t take it out if you add too much.)

Serve over mashed potatoes. Store leftovers in refrigerator and serve hot over fried leftover mashed potatoes or toast.

Salty swine wishes,

Staci

It’s not like chocolate and mint don’t go together when the skies are sunny and blue and the grass is tall and green, but there’s something festive about a platter of cocoa mint cookies reflecting the dancing lights of a Christmas tree surrounded by family and friends.chewy cocoa mint marshmallow cookies

If you’re from the Midwest, you can see how these chewy cookies resemble a Minnesota snow pile—our snow gets plowed into towering mounds of snow which melt into piles of dirt and muck (the cookie), school gets called off and kids build frolicking snowmen out of sticky snowballs (teensy marshmallow bits), and then a fresh blanket of snow falls, turning everything into a sparkling winter wonderland (dusting of powdered sugar).

marshmallow mint cookie ingredients

You’ll want to check your grocery store soon for the HERSHEY’s mint chocolate chips because I can only find them during the Christmas season. (If you live in my neck of the woods, I buy them at Hy-Vee. I can’t find them at Wal-Mart.) You can use any mint chocolate chips you want, I just like that these are actually semi-sweet chocolate chips. The Mallow Bits are usually in the hot chocolate aisle. But my local grocery store thinks they are seasonal so I couldn’t buy them there last summer. Small town, one grocery store problems…

chewy cocoa mint marshmallow cookies

I found that if you leave the cookies sitting out, the teensy marshmallows on top get crunchy – just like I like them! You can store the cookies in an airtight container but the marshmallows will get soft. (Only leave the cookies sitting out a day or two or they won’t be chewy anymore.)

Chewy cocoa mint marshmallow cookies

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

2 cups sugar

1-1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

¾ cup Andes Crème De Menthe Baking Chips

1 cup mint chocolate chips such as HERSHEY’S semi-sweet mint chocolate chips

2 (3 oz. each) bottles tiny marshmallow bits, divided

powdered sugar for dusting

Make the cookies

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In large bowl beat sugar and softened butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
  3. In separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir together and then gradually add to butter mixture; beating on low just until combined.
  4. Stir in Andes baking chips, mint chocolate chips, and 1 cup marshmallow bits until distributed into dough evenly.
  5. Roll dough into balls. Flatten balls lightly and press into bowl of marshmallow bits, pressing bits gently into dough so they stick when baked.
  6. Place marshmallow side up on ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake 9 to 10 minutes. Do not overbake. The cookies will not look like they are done but they will puff up a little when baking and then they’ll drop when they are cooling. They are soft with a little crunch around the edges.
  8. Cool 10 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack. When cookies are completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.
  9. If eating within a day or two, keep uncovered – this allows the marshmallows on top to get a little crunchy. If you like the marshmallows soft, store in airtight container.

Sweet minty wishes,

Staci

He works hard, puts on more miles than a NASCAR driver, and since the end of summer Jason has been spending time with his dad in the hospital and working on a project that has taken him from home all but a couple of days each week. And after more than 13 years years together, I still miss him when he’s gone and I pray for his quick and safe return. When he does make it home, I like to have a homemade meal ready—like Once a Month Beer Chili Spaghetti or Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Hamburger and sometimes even dessert like Key Lime Cheesecake or Cherry Crunchobblerumble. But the next morning when he fills two thermoses and two travel mugs with coffee and heads for the door, I like to surprise him with a bag of soft peanut butter cookies.

soft chewy peanut butter cookies

I don’t know if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but something keeps him coming home.

Jason and Staci

See this recipe on food.com.

Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup plus a couple spoonfuls creamy peanut butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2-1/2 cups flour

turbinado sugar or regular granulated sugar for cookie tops

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Cream softened butter for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add sugars. Cream with butter on medium-high speed for 4 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl.
  4. Add peanut butter and beat on medium until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl.
  5. Beat in eggs. Pour in vanilla.
  6. In a separate bowl, stir together baking powder, baking soda, and flour. With the mixer on low, dump in about 1/2 a cup of the flour mixture (to the dough) and mix just until combined. Then stir in the remaining flour mixture in two batches, stirring just until combined.
  7. Roll into balls and roll in sugar. Flatten the balls on the cookie sheet and make a crisscross pattern with a fork. Sprinkle on a little more sugar.
  8. Bake 7-9 minutes or just until the edges start to turn light golden brown and the cookies begin to crack. They might not look completely done but if you leave them in the oven until they brown completely, they won’t be soft. I actually like to make large cookies – 6 to a cookie sheet – and they need to bake for about 10-11 minutes.
  9. Cool on rack.

My routine for these cookies goes something like this: the day before I want fresh cookies I make the dough and put it in the refrigerator. The next day, I let the dough sit out for about half an hour and then I follow steps 7-9. In addition to the cookies for Jason, I like to give a few to my sisters and keep a few in the freezer for emergencies. (Remember we live in the country and can be snowed in for days.)

Sweet wishes for the road,

Staci

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