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If my best friend Darya hadn’t been killed by her husband when she was 22, we would have celebrated her 44th birthday last month. She was Lutheran. My Grandpa Elroy died quite a few years ago. He was Baptist. My sisters and I grew up with the teachings and influence of a Protestant church. They both belong to different churches now.

monster cookie bars

 

I’ve spent the past 14 years attending Mass and holy celebrations with Jason and his family. Last fall I decided to convert. This Easter I will be baptized into the Catholic Christian church. As I’ve been attending Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes, I’ve been thinking about what happens to us when we die. Of course, I want to spend my eternal life in heaven with my family and friends, no matter their Christian religion. I want to be in the presence of Darya’s spirit again. I want to eat hard butterscotch candy with my grandpa. I want to hang out with my kids and my sisters. If we get to kiss in heaven, I want to kiss Jason each heavenly morning. So however we need to live our lives on earth to get to heaven, let’s be there together.

monster cookie bars

What does that have to do with a big batch of monster cookie bars? It was my turn for treat night at RCIA the week of Darya’s birthday. People loved these, especially Father Andrew. I gave him an extra one to take home. It was a compliment that people came back for seconds.

Cookie dough balls ready for freezer

Read about how I got this recipe and how I freeze cookie dough balls in Your IT guy knows how to make monster cookie bars and strips.

Monster cookies and bars

2 sticks softened butter

2-1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

2 cups white sugar

2 cups brown sugar

4 teaspoons baking soda

6 eggs

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla

9 cups quick-cooking oats

2-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups plain M&M’s

Heat oven to 350°. Prepare pans. If you want to use all your cookie dough at once, you can make one 13×9 pan of bars (baking time takes about 20-25 minutes) and at least two dozen large cookies (baking time takes about 12-16 minutes). Or, you can make two 13×9 pans of bars. Or if you only want cookies, you can make at least six dozen enormous cookies, a few more dozen if you make smaller cookies.

  1. In large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream softened butter and peanut butter together.
  2. Add white sugar and brown sugar, beating until well combined.
  3. Add baking soda.
  4. Add eggs and beat well.
  5. Pour in corn syrup and vanilla. Continue mixing until everything is incorporated well.
  6. At this point, you should be able to add at least a few cups of the oats and still use your mixer. But once the dough gets too heavy, stop using the mixer and continue adding oats stirring the batter with a wooden spoon. Use your sexy arm muscles.
  7. Stir in the M&M’s and chocolate chips.

If you are making bars, spread half of the dough into a 13×9-inch pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until nice and golden brown. If you take the pan out before they turn golden brown, the middle will not be done.

For cookies, baking time depends on how large you make them. Place on cookie sheet. Using the back of a spoon, gently push down the dough a little bit so that they spread out instead of baking in one mound. Bake at 350° for 12-16 minutes, or until golden brown. I like to sprinkle just a tiny bit of pink Himalayan salt or sea salt on mine when they come out of the oven.

Sweet heavenly wishes,

Staci

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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

1/2 teaspoon salt

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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There were only two checkouts open at our local, monopoly of a liquor store and the lines felt as long as a Pioneer Woman book signing at the Mall of America. When I saw a rep giving out samples of Kringle Cream, there was no way I was stepping out of line to try his teeny cup of rum-based cream. But soon the guy had us passing samples to each other through the line as he was digging for his last bottles and we were begging for seconds. I added it to my ongoing liquor store shopping list and headed out.

butterscotch Kringle Cream cookies

I picked up a bottle of the sweet liqueur just a few weeks later because I wasn’t sure if it was just a Christmas holiday thingyou know, because it’s called Kringle.

Kringle Cream

As it turns out the Kringle name comes from a hand rolled Danish not Kris Kringle, which means we should be able to keep it stocked in our pantry all year long. (Store Kringle Cream in the refrigerator once you open the bottle. If there’s any left of course.) 

back of Kringle Cream bottle

A few days ago I was thinking about how much I like the cream cheese dough for minty cream cheese cookies and how easy it would be to add booze and switch out the mint chocolate chips for a complementary chip or candy. Nutty Kringle seemed like the perfect liquor to combine with butterscotch and chocolate covered toffee pieces so I took a shot (1/3 of a cup actually) and made cookies. They are a keeper!

Butterscotch Kringle Cream Cookies

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1 cup butter-flavor shortening

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup Kringle Cream, or any rum or butterscotch cream liqueur

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups butterscotch chips

3/4 cup chocolate toffee pieces

(There are not eggs in this recipe.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium-high until smooth. Add shortening and beat until creamy.
  3. Add white sugar and brown sugar, beating until combined and smooth. Pour in Kringle Cream and beat on medium until incorporated.
  4. Starting with 1/4 cup flour, beat on medium-low and then add the rest of the flour in two batches, scraping down sides of bowl in between.
  5. Stir in by hand butterscotch chips and toffee pieces.
  6. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Press down slightly with the back of a spoon or your fingers. The cookies don’t spread as they bake so they are about the size that you place them on the pan.
  7. Bake 12-14 minutes or until just barely browned. Don’t over bake. The tops need to be baked not doughy, but when the tops are done, they are done. Remember the cookies have cream cheese and you want them to be soft.
  8. Cool 10 minutes in pan and then transfer to a cooling rack. Store at room temperature. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

If you like baking cookies with cream cheese, here’s my favorite White Velvet Cutouts.

Sweet boozy wishes,

Staci

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Since you continued reading even after seeing the title, I appreciate your sense of humor. Last week my sister and I decided we need a puking emoji (we suppose there’s one out there but it didn’t come loaded on our iPhones) and we would also like to see a new Facebook relationship status titled “married but he’s cheating on me.” We are confident it would be a commonly used selection. To be fair, if Facebook would like to make a “married but she’s cheating on me” status, we don’t discriminate.

On the sweeter side of the week, I made pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in a pan and Paula Deen’s Georgia toffee.

Georgia Toffee

Georgia Toffee

(from my all-time favorite Paula Deen’s Chocolate Celebration special 2008 issue)

13 graham cracker sheets

1 cup butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like to use the mini chips)

1 cup chopped pecans (I use pecan cookie pieces)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Line a 10×15-inch jelly-roll pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Place graham cracker sheets evenly over foil, breaking crackers apart as necessary to cover bottom of pan; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat; stir in condensed milk. Immediately pour evenly over crackers. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips and pecans. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting.

pumpkin chocolate chip cookie bars

The pumpkin bars are made using my son’s favorite soft pumpkin chocolate chip cookies recipe.

Pumpkin Chip Cookie Bars

1 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (this is my own addition)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups (12 oz) chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in the egg, pumpkin and vanilla. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread batter in a greased 15×10-inch jelly roll/bar pan. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting into bars.

These cookies are also quite fabulous as sandwiches with marshmallow maple cream.

I’ve got a classier post for you next time.

Sweet & sarcastic wishes,
Staci

 

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It’s not just that a giant skillet cookie takes less prep time than baking a few dozen cookies, there’s something cozier than a childhood teddy bear about scraping your fork across the bottom of a cast iron skillet, digging out a messy, melty triangle of chocolate chip cookie.

skillet chocolate chip cookie

Get my new favorite Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from Lori Lange at RecipeGirl.com. (In addition to the chocolate chips, if I have one on hand, I chop up a Hershey’s candy bar and toss it in.)

Lori’s cookbook, “The Recipe Girl Cookbook: Dishing Out the Best Recipes for Entertaining and Everyday” is always near the top of my pile. It’s because of her recipes for cinnamon roll pancakes, tomato-basil soup with garlic-cheese croutons, slow cooker french dip sandwiches with peppers and caramelized onions, blueberry-pineapple tequila punch, bacon-wrapped tater tots, triple berry salad with sugared almonds, roasted cauliflower with lemon-brown butter, pan-fried lemon-garlic rib eye steaks, and butterfinger brownies that you will love her book too.

I better go tell the rest of the family the cookie is ready to eat.

Sweet skillet wishes,
Staci

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I never should have messed with it. The cookie recipe that my family will probably publish in my obituary, already tasted like pumpkin spice and everything nice. So I’m not sure why I thought our beloved pumpkin chocolate chip cookies would be even more cherished by turning them into sandwiches with marshmallow maple cream and chocolate drizzle.

pumpkin chocolate chip sandwich cookies with maple cream

Don’t get me wrong, these palm-size sandwiches taste like everything that’s charming about fall. They are soft, with bites of chocolate and warm spices, stuffed with creamy maple filling and a drizzle of glossy honey chocolate sauce.

But my family has more than 10 years under its soft pants belt with this cookie and they just weren’t interested in a change. I came home with a full container, vowing only to make them again for strangers.

Marshmallow Maple Creme

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted sweet butter, softened

1 (7-ounce) jar marshmallow creme

2 teaspoons maple extract

Beat together sugar and butter with an electric mixer on high for 2 minutes. Whip in the marshmallow creme and maple extract on medium speed until smooth. Set aside at room temperature for up to two hours.

Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

1- 1/2 cups butter, softened (3 sticks)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (this is my own addition)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups (12 oz) chocolate chips

Bake the cookies:

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in the egg, pumpkin and vanilla. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Makes 10 dozen cookies.

Assemble the cookie sandwiches:

Turn half of the cookies upside down and spread a thick layer of marshmallow maple creme on the bottom of each cookie. Top each cream layer with another cookie, top side up. Drizzle each sandwich with honey chocolate drizzle (recipe below). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for two days.

Honey chocolate drizzle

1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 cup heavy cream

Pour honey and chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, slowly bring cream just to a boil. Tip hot cream into chocolate and honey; let stand for 1 minute. Stir until melted and smooth. Drizzle onto cookie sandwiches.

 
Have you ever messed with a beloved family recipe with not so raving results?
Sweet wishes,
Staci

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December is coming to an end and South Dakota Magazine will remove my favorite issue from the shelves, soon restocking and mailing the January/February edition. More than 45,000 subscribers will toss the holiday copy onto a towering stack of magazines or they’ll donate it to a local library. (Some might even throw it in the recycling bin. GAK!)

magazine layout

Although I didn’t frame it, the November/December issue of South Dakota Magazine will be my most treasured because it’s the first publication that printed my writing and my photos. The people who publish it are truly devoted to the history and future of my home state of South Dakota. They are storytellers and photographers – they are my kindred spirits. And more personally, I am honored to share a family recipe and a story about my Grandma Janet.

grandmas story

White Cookie Tradition
(Slightly extended version)

My grandma Janet has arrived at Christmas dinners carrying a tall plastic bucket delicately packed with thin, white cookies twinkling of fine sugar for as long as we can remember.

grandmas white cookies ©Staci Perry 2013

It wasn’t until a few years ago that we allowed ourselves to accept that grandma, who turned 87 in October, would not be the white cookie matriarch forever. She happily shared the recipe with us, which is particularly light on instruction, and said, “I don’t do anything special to them.” I knew it was time for me to learn how to make her signature cookies.

recipe card ©Staci Perry 2013

Shortly after she married my grandpa Elroy in 1945, grandma purchased a hefty Sunbeam Mixmaster electric mixer from a store in a town near their farm. She thinks they got it from Hanson’s Hardware in Astoria, S.D., which is also where they bought the only toaster her and grandpa ever owned.

The day grandma taught me how to make her white cookies, she pulled the faded rooster terry cloth cover off the mixer, releasing a flood of sweet memories into the kitchen. It was like peeling back the dusty cover on a hot rod after countless years in storage.

grandmas mixer ©Staci Perry 2013

She chuckled a little when I expressed amazement that with all the baking she has done in her lifetime it is the only electric mixer she’s ever used.

“I was happy when I got it because I did a lot of beating by hand,” she laughed.

Grandma almost crawled into the cupboard to unearth her favorite cookie sheet. “They don’t make them like this anymore and it’s the only one I have,” she told me as she handed me the heavy piece of stainless steel. She won the pan, made by Clydeware Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Ill., at a home party in the early 1950s.

grandma with cookie sheet ©Staci Perry 2013

As we baked that day, I pictured grandpa, with his hands the size of Little League gloves, grabbing a handful of grandma’s white cookies, his long legs pulling up a chair at the kitchen table, steeping the crispy round cookies into his steaming coffee until soggy crumbs floated to the top of the cup. It was one of his favorite cookies.

It’s no surprise – his mother, Ruth Moe, is the one who gave the white cookie recipe to his lovely bride. His father, Edwin Moe, made the richly marbled apple wood rolling-pin that grandma still uses.

rolling pin ©Staci Perry 2013

After almost 70 years of warmly saturating her home with the sweet scent of homemade goodies, grandma’s baking sheets have become almost too heavy for one oven mitt to hold, the dough is getting harder for aged hands to stir, and her kitchen counters have mysteriously gotten taller.

Although my first crack at baking grandma’s cookies taught me that it will take practice before they look perfect like hers, my kids devoured them when I got home. And grandma asked me to come back and make them again because she’d like to have more around. To me, that’s what baking and sharing is all about.

Now it’s my turn to give grandma a tall, plastic bucket overflowing with family tradition and sweet memories that will spread farther than a handful of flour tossed into the South Dakota wind.

Grandma Janet’s White Sugar Cookies

2 cups white sugar

1 cup vegetable shortening (NOT butter-flavored)

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream, room temperature

1 teaspoon baking soda

6 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

White sugar to sprinkle on top of the cookies

Flour for rolling out the cookies

Prep work: Bring the eggs to room temperature, approximately 30 minutes. At the same time, measure 1 cup of sour cream into a medium bowl and stir in 1 teaspoon of baking soda. The sour cream will begin to swell as the soda dissolves. Let set while the eggs are coming to room temperature.

Make the dough:

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat white sugar and shortening together until creamy.
  2. In a separate bowl, vigorously stir eggs with a table fork or small whisk until well beaten. Add to the sugar mixture and beat on medium-high until combined.
  3. Spoon sour cream into the batter and pour in the teaspoon of vanilla. Beat on medium-high for 3 minutes, turning off the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Into a separate large bowl, dump 6 ½ cups of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder, stirring together so the powder is dispersed throughout. Add the flour to the cookie batter 1 cup at a time, beating on medium-low speed after each addition until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is stiff. If it’s not firming up, sprinkle in more flour until stiff. Depending on how powerful your electric mixer is, you may need a thick wooden or heavy metal spoon to stir in the last few cups of flour by hand.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. The batter is ready when it’s firm and doesn’t stick on your finger. If the dough still seems sticky after refrigerating, stir in a little more flour.

Roll out and bake cookies: Preheat oven to 350˚. Grab a cooling rack, rolling-pin, two cookie sheets, and two spatulas (metal works best).

  1. On a heavily floured surface, roll a huge handful of cookie dough into a flattened 1/8-inch thick sheet, dusting with flour to keep it from sticking to the rolling-pin or counter as you rotate the dough.
  2. Cut the cookies using a lightly floured 2 or 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, turning the cutter slightly as you lift it off the dough. Slide a lightly floured spatula under each cookie to ease it from the surface and transfer it to a cookie sheet, lining cookies 1 inch part. (If the cookie sticks to the counter, there wasn’t enough flour on the rolling surface so add more next round.)
  3. Scatter a generous amount of sugar onto the tops of the cookies.
  4. Bake 7-8 minutes. The cookies go from white to golden brown in a matter of seconds so watch closely in the last minute. The whiter the cookies, the softer they are in the middle. For a crisper cookie perfect for coffee dunking, bake 8-10 minutes removing from oven as they turn a darker shade of brown.
  5. Transfer to cooling rack. Let cool completely before stacking cookies in an airtight container, where cookies will keep nicely for at least three weeks.
  6. Repeat in batches until the dough is gone. Makes approximately 7 dozen cookies, give or take the few you eat along the way.

If you really want to get your hands on this issue, it will probably be on the shelves for another week or so. You can follow South Dakota Magazine on Facebook and Twitter. And join me and 45,000 others who subscribe to the magazine.

Maybe I’ll get to share your story next…

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