Bag O’ Cookies

Unless you are on a REALLY strict diet or are allergic to chocolate, it’s my belief that you should have a small stash of chocolate somewhere in your house. I’m not saying you should indulge in full-size candy bars. But a little bite of something dark and decadent can go a long way in improving one’s mood.

In my case, it’s an inherited belief. DotMom ALWAYS had a stash of chocolate somewhere in her kitchen. Whether or not her kids knew its location is debatable. I’m pretty sure she had public stashes and secret stashes that we never found.

For many years, the public stash consisted of these cookies, for which I am about to share the recipe. Or at least the recipe as I remember and may have slightly embellished over the years.

Because she raised a couple of picky eaters among her three children, DotMom was always trying to find ways to incorporate ingredients she deemed healthy into things she knew we would eat. So, in her chocolate chip cookie recipe, there was oatmeal — because my brother and I weren’t about to eat it for breakfast.

And in this particular no-bake cookie, there is granola. This recipe made its appearance in our household at the height of the granola craze — probably in the 1970s. Granola was the ultimate health food at the time. So she put it in cookies.

I have no idea if she came up with this chocolate drop cookie on her own or borrowed the idea from somewhere. But there was almost always a stash of these cookies in the refrigerator at 406 Galena St.

And now, there is quite often a gallon-sized plastic bag full of these cookies in the back of my refrigerator. Each little cookie is the perfect little chocolate-craving-satisfying morsel of goodness.

As far as I know, DotMom never wrote this recipe down. And for the most part, it’s one of those that’s just been in my head for the last 40+ years. Recipes such as this one are largely the result of eyeballing the ingredients.

But for you, I am writing it down as I sneak another one from my own refrigerator stash. To get through another windy and rainy day will definitely require some chocolate.

No-Bake Chocolate Craving Cookies

One 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
One 12-ounce bag butterscotch chips
3/4 cup chopped nuts (I often use toasted pecans, because I have them on had, but I have also used dry-roasted peanuts; any favorite nut will work.)
1/2 cup English toffee bits (optional — this is my contribution to the recipe, but not necessary)
10 ounces (approximately) of a basic oats and honey granola — I use Cascadian Farm

Prepare a couple of sheet pans by covering with either parchment paper or waxed paper.

Dump the chocolate and butterscotch chips into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute; stir. Continue to microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring between, until the chips are all melted and smooth.

Add in the nuts, toffee bits if using, and then gradually the granola, stirring to coat, until it is all coated in the chocolate mixture and there doesn’t appear to be much excess chocolate.

Use a teaspoon to drop small bite-sized mounds of the mixture onto the prepared sheet pans. I usually get 90-100 cookies by making them quite small — the perfect bite!

Place pans in the refrigerator or freezer until the chocolate is completely firmed up. Place cookies in a gallon-size plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. They aren’t necessarily pretty, but they are crunchy and delilcious!

Mama Mia! Now that’s a spicy meatball!

A mixture of ground beef and ground pork was used in this batch.

With Easter just a week away, I should have been making Ham Balls, our family’s traditional holiday entree. But in the midst of the current pandemic, my mind wasn’t on the holiday ahead when I decided to make something that would generate a few meals out of the freezer. So instead of Ham Balls, I made Freezer Meatballs, aka Make Ahead Meatballs, or as I have titled them here, Mama Mia Meatballs.

I sometimes succumb to taking the easy way out and buy premade meatballs from the grocery store freezer section. But these are so much better and so worth it when you end up with the makings for several meals in the freezer.

I probably have shared this recipe  before, but it is worth repeating, especially during this time when people can’t eat out and are looking for meal ideas. I suggest you stockpile some of these instead of paper products!

This recipe makes a pretty big batch of meatballs. But it’s an easy one to divide in order to make a smaller batch or add to for a really big batch. It’s basically 1 egg and ½ cup of bread crumbs for each pound of ground meat. This time I used a combination of pork and beef equaling about 3 pounds of meat.  

Mama Mia Meatballs

4 pounds lean ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, or combination)

2 cups Italian-seasoned bread crumbs

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 eggs

1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the meat, bread crumbs, chopped onion and garlic. In a small mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Pour over meat and combine thoroughly but without overmixing.

Use a large cookie scoop to form the meat mixture into balls, being careful not to pack them too tightly. Place on parchment-paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven so that meatballs brown and caramelize on the bottom. Turn over and bake for about 5 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and place on paper toweling or cooling rack. Once cool, place back on a baking sheet that has been lined with clean parchment paper and put in the freezer until frozen solid.

Store in freezer bags or containers.

I use these mostly to make spaghetti and meatballs or meatball sandwiches, but have also done Swedish meatballs with a cream sauce and egg noodles. I remove the number of meatballs I need from the freezer bag and drop right into the sauce to cook. 

Makes about 80 meatballs.

Meatballs ready to go in the oven.
A cookie scoop helps make the meatballs of uniform size.
The cooked meatballs are placed on clean parchment paper and frozen in a single layer before being transferred to freezer bags.

Baking up a storm

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies have a big hit of cinnamon and a hint of heat.

As I look out the window of our house right now, all I can see is a sea of white. Yes, our part of the world is in the middle of a whiteout, a blizzard, a snowstorm. It’s downright nasty outside, and only rarely does a vehicle venture down our usually well-traveled street.

Most businesses are closed, and the snow continues to fall thickly from the sky, only to swirl around in a haze, deposit briefly on the driveway before the wind catches it once again.

I did go into work for a while today until the threat of getting stuck in a snowbank finally sent me on my way home. And there is some work that can, of course, be done from home on this snowbound weekend.

But a Minnesota blizzard brings out the baker in me. I felt the need to preheat the oven and figure out what would satisfy the need to bake something …. something … something chocolate! Aha! There’s a brownie mix in the cupboard. What can I do with that?

The result of that pondering came out of the oven just a little bit ago, and of course Hubby Bryan and I have already stolen a little corner out of the still-steaming pan of semi-molten goodness that I’m calling Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies. Sooooo good. And soooo satisfying on this blizzardy day.

This recipe is the result of looking up brownie mix hacks on the Internet and my own “what can I do with that” ingenuity. And I highly recommend the approach. There are any number of online sights that offer hints for making a boxed mix taste more like made-from-scratch. I utilized a couple of those ideas, threw in some cinnamon and chipotle — yes, chipotle — powder for a hint of heat, as well as half a bag of toffee chips found in the cupboard. Here’s the resulting recipe, upon which I nibble as a resume looking out at the snow-covered world outside. My urge to bake is satisfied.

Note: I had some fresh high-quality Penzey’s (my favorite spice company) Vietnamese cinnamon in the cupboard. I suspect it’s a bit more potent than the run-of-the-mill grocery store cinnamon. If your cinnamon is generic or past its prime, you might want to up the amount to 2 1/2 teaspoons.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies

1 box dark chocolate brownie mix
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Scant 1 teaspoon ground chipotle powder or chili powder
4 ounces brickle toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the brownie mix, eggs, milk, oil and butter until just blended. Stir in the cinnamon, chili powder and toffee bits.

Spread the batter evenly into a greased 9- by 13-inch pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into squares.


Pa rum pa pum rum

A recent conversation in the office at the Nobles County Historical Society got me thinking about favorite Christmas recipes. Our family recently donated a copy of the Dorthy Rickers’ “Mixing & Musing Cookbook” to the NCHS collection, and I was showing a co-worker some of my favorite recipes.

DotMom was, of course, an avid Christmas baker. There were baking binges that resulted in sugar cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprint cookies filled with lemon icing, chocolate-mint brownies, cranberry cookies … I’m sure I could think of many more if I continued to search my memory — or paged through the aforementioned cookbook. Once I got my driver’s license, I was pressed into service delivering trays of such goodies to friends all across town.

My own baking isn’t nearly as extensive. I don’t make dozens of cookies to share. I tend more toward crafted gifts than baked gifts.

Still, there are a couple recipes from the book that I tend to make each and every year, either to share with co-workers or for dessert at a holiday gathering. In recent years, more often than not, it’s been the rum cake from page 251 of “Mixing & Musing,” that’s been my must-have holiday baked good of choice.

Back in my days as Lifestyles editor at the Daily Globe, many companies regularly sent out product samples. One memorable year, a well-known liquor company sent me one of their commercially-made rum cakes, which was liberally doused with the libation. Since many of my co-workers were aware that this package had arrived, I dutifully contributed it to the potluck table on holiday treat day. I think more than one person got a little tipsy off that cake. 

So, if I bring my own rum cake to such an event, I make sure to cook the syrupy glaze thoroughly to burn off most of the alcohol.

What I like about this recipe is that it’s festive without being outright Christmasy. It’s impressive without being complicated. It also gives me an excuse to use my bundt pan. It fits perfectly on the “Season’s Greetings” plate I inherited from DotMom.

And, of course, it’s delicious.

I have experimented a bit with the recipe, mainly due to happenstance. When grocery shopping a couple years ago, I accidentally grabbed a cheesecake pudding mix instead of vanilla. I didn’t want to go back to the store, so I used the cheesecake flavor and found it to be delicious. I also didn’t have enough white rum one year, so substituted spiced rum for part of it with good results. So feel free to use whatever rum variety you have on hand, as long as it fits with your preferred flavor profile. You just might get darker streaks through the cake with either dark or spiced varieties. 

Pa Rum Pa Pum Rum Cake

½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 package yellow cake mix

1 package instant vanilla or cheesecake pudding

½ cup rum 

½ cup oil

½ cup water

4 eggs

For glaze:

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

¼ cup rum

¼ cup water

Spray a bundt pan thoroughly with cooking spray. Sprinkle with chopped nuts if desired.

Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, ½ cup rum, oil, ½ cup water and eggs. Beat for 8 minutes. 

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Serve the Rum Cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

Meanwhile, combine the glaze ingredients in a small pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Use a skewer or clean knitting needle to poke holes in the hot cake. Pour the hot glaze over the cake while still in the pan, allowing the mixture to run down into the holes and sides of the cake. Cool for about 30 minutes before removing from pan.

Get serious about sides

Where do turkeys go to dance?

The Butterball!

Why did the turkey cross the road?

To prove it wasn’t chicken!

Why did they let the turkey join the Thanksgiving band?

Because it had the drumsticks!

Last year, when I was working as a paraprofessional in a first-grade classroom, I would have enjoyed sharing these Thanksgiving-themed jokes with my students. I always tried to remember silly jokes to tell them during lunch hour in the cafeteria.

Now that I’m working for the Nobles County Historical Society, I don’t have as much call for jokes such as these, so you get to be my audience and groan at these Thanksgiving puns.

But I take one aspect of the Thanksgiving meal very seriously — the side dishes.

So here, once again, as has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition, are my two favotie make-ahead Thanksgiving side dishes. If you haven’t tried stuffing/dressing in the slow cooker, or refrigerator mashed potatoes that can be made ahead and stay good in the refrigerator for days after the big feast, you are missing out on an opportunity to make the cooking for Thanksgiving a little easier on yourself.

And while those recipes are repeats, I’m including a new recipe for using some of the leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. It comes from my sister Margaret Hinchey of Englewood, Co. While having dinner at some friends’ house, the hostess, Susan Mroch, mentioned that her favorite leftover turkey recipe is Turkey Curry, so Margaret asked her for the recipe, then made it herself a few nights later and reported that it was indeed delicious.  She even took a picture of it that I’ve shared with the recipe.

Slow Cooker Stuffing

In 1 cup butter, saute 1 cup chopped onion and 2 cups chopped celery. Remove mixture from stove and stir in 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning and 2 teaspoons dried sage.

In a large bowl, combine 12 cups dried bread pieces with the butter-vegetable mixture.

Beat 2 eggs and combine with 3 to 4 cups chicken broth; pour over bread and stir well to combine.

Place mixture in slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. (I turn it up to high for about 1 hour in order to get the crispy stuff around the edges.)

Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes

Peel 5 pounds (10 large) potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender; drain. Mash until smooth (no lumps).

Add 6 ounces cream cheese (or lower fat Neufchatel), 1 cup dairy sour cream (I prefer the light version or Greek yogurt), 2 teaspoons onion salt, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Beat until light and fluffy. Cool. Cover and place in refrigerator.

May be used anytime within 10 days. Place desired amount in a greased casserole, dot with butter and bake in 350 degree oven until heated through, 30 to 60 minutes, depending on size of dish.

Turkey Curry

3 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1 large clove garlic, chopped

4 to 6 mushrooms, finely chopped

2 to 4 tablespoons curry powder

Turkey Curry

¼ cup flour

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups turkey broth

1 cup heavy cream

3 cups cubed turkey

Saute the celery, onion, garlic and mushrooms in the butter until tender. Stir in flour, curry powder and tomato paste. Whisk in the turkey broth.

Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add in the cream and turkey and bring to a boil. Serve with rice.

Candy + cupcakes

Sometimes ingredients you have in the cupboard come together to make something magical.

Such was the case last week, when I decided to experiment with some cupcakes for a birthday celebration at work. I had volunteered to bring something sweet and had cupcakes in mind. But what I had in the cupboard was a brownie mix. Brownie cupcakes? I pondered the possibility and did a little Internet sleuthing.

Sure enough, there were a multitude of posts about cupcakes made with a brownie mix. But one especially caught my eye, because it incorporated peanut butter cups into the batter for a surprise in the middle of each cupcake.

And guess what else I had in the cupboard? Halloween candy — a variety pack that included peanut butter cups. But the assortment also had peppermint patties, so why not try some mint ones, too? Both varieties were delicious and were gobbled up quickly by the birthday crew.

I haven’t tried other candy bars but any creamy chocolate-based bar that would melt would likely work: Snickers and Milky Way bars seem like other good options,

You probably still have Halloween candy in the house, whether it’s your child’s stash of goodies or the remainder that didn’t get passed out to trick-or-treaters. Either way, this recipe is worth diving into the stockpile.

If you are using the Halloween-size miniature candy bars, use half of one for each cupcake. Or if you’ve got the really small miniature peanut butter cups, use a whole one per cupcake.

Candy Bar Brownie Cupcakes

One family-sized brownie mix (I used Pillsbury)

eggs, per box directions

oil, per box directions

water, per box directions

9 Halloween-sized miniature peanut butter cups or peppermint patties, cut in half

Line 18 muffin tins with cupcake liners. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare brownie batter according to package directions. If you want more cake-like brownies, add an extra egg.

Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full of batter. Press a candy bar half into each cup until it is submerged in batter. Use a toothpick or spoon to smooth some batter over the top of the candy if necessary.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes; do not overbake. Let cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

To- MAY-to, To-MAH-to

The pile of tomatoes on the countertop has reduced in size by half. The remaining ones will soon be blanched and put into freezer bags for some down-the-road use,

I know from gardener friends that many of them are dealing with an overabundance of tomatoes. That’s how I came by the countertop pile — I didn’t even plant a patio tomato this year, The tomatoes are all courtesy of gardening friends who have shared the wealth.,

One such friend is Vicki Klaassen of Little Rock, Iowa. Vicki is the bookkeeper at the Nobles County Historical Society, where I am now employed as executive director. Vicki planted what appears now to be an excessive number of tomato plants, and she has been both preserving them for future use and eagerly sharing the bounty.

Now I’ve never been brave enough to try canning any garden produce. I have memories of my mother doing some canning, most notably the overwhelming smell when she “put up” tomatoes or made homemade tomato juice to be canned and the cloud of moisture that hung over the kitchen. It was a hot, smelly and labor-intensive process, it seemed to me. (Can you see my nose wrinkling in disgust?) Thus, I’ve never been inclined to attempt it myself.

I’m more of a freezer — and even that in limited quantities. But I do like the idea of having the basis for a quick-to-the-table meal stashed in the freezer. So when Vicki raved about a spaghetti sauce recipe that she made in the slow cooker and then froze in containers, I eagerly asked for the recipe.

Now I have four containers of from-scratch spaghetti sauce in the freezer and a smaller pile of tomatoes on the counter.

The most interesting part of the spaghetti sauce is the method Vicki used: She put the mixture in the slow cooker and cooked it all night long with the top off the slow cooker so the liquid would evaporate and the sauce would thicken. I wasn’t brave enough to leave the slow cooker on high all night with the top off, but I did leave it on low and then turned it back up to high for a while the next morning. The sauce did indeed thicken nicely, so much so that I will likely thin it out a bit before serving, either with some water or maybe a little red wine.

So here’s the sauce as I made it. Vicki and I have talked about exchanging cartons to see how our versions compare. She processed her tomatoes, skins and all in the food processor; I chose to blanch and peel mine before processing. I added crushed red pepper flakes, she has oregano in hers.

Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

12 cups tomatoes, which have been cored, seeded and run through the food processor (I also peeled the tomatoes by cutting a small X in the bottom of each one and dipping into a pot of boiling water. The peel should slip off easily. Vicki says this step is not necessary — she processed the tomatoes peel and all.)

1 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons dried basil

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/3 cup sugar

Three 6-ounce cans tomato paste

3 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with a small amount of water to make a slurry

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker, stirring well to combine. Cover and cook on high until the mixture comes to a good simmer. Remove lid from slow cooker and continue to cook until mixture has thickened and color has deepened, either overnight on low/medium as I did or for at least 4 hours on high.

Let sauce cool, remove bay leaves, then package in freezer containers or bags; label and freeze.

Key Lime Pie on a stick

Yesterday it was hot and humid.

Today it is rainy and a bit cooler — but still humid, of course.

Yesterday I craved something citrus and frozen on a stick.

Today since it’s raining, I have time to write about something citrus and frozen on a stick.

But I know — despite all the back-to-school sales and school supplies dominating the store aisles — that there are still some warm summer days ahead. And today might be a good day to stock up the freezer with some frozen confections for those hotter days.

Personally, I’m a sucker for anything citrus, particularly when it is hot outside. So when I saw this recipe — and thought about how I could tweak it a bit to suit my own tastes — I knew I had to make some of these pudding pops. The resulting product is refreshing and indulgent at the same time. It’s like having a piece of Key Lime Pie on a stick.

But I can also see the possibilities of other flavors, using other flavors of pudding, of course, and rummaging through the cupboard for some other add-ins. Staying in the citrus realm, there’s lemon, of course, with lemon juice and zest. But I could also envision chocolate or butterscotch with mini chocolate chips, or how about strawberry cheesecake, with some pieces of strawberry mixed in?

Here’s my version of Key Lime Pudding Pops. If you can’t find the cheesecake pudding mix, vanilla works, too — just not quite as decadent.

Key Lime Pudding Pops

One 3.4-ounce package instant cheesecake pudding mix

3/4 cup milk

⅔ cup key lime juice (or regular lime juice if key lime not available)

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest

In a bowl, combine the pudding mix with the milk and lime juice, whisking thoroughly. Stir in the condensed milk and lime zest.

Pour mixture into popsicle molds or paper cups. (I gave mine a very light coating of vegetable oil spray.

Freeze until solid. To unmold, run under warm water, or I’ve found that it’s easiest to unmold just one or two by dipping just the ends into a small glass of warm water for about 30 seconds.

Makes 10-12 pudding pops, depending on mold size.

Hamming it up

The first slice of quiche, hot out of the pan, is golden brown on top.

Ham is, hands down, my favorite holiday meat leftover.

There are just so many things to do with leftover ham, and you’re not running up against a tight expiration deadline as you are with leftover turkey. A smoked ham, such as we fixed for Easter, lasts at least five days in the refrigerator if wrapped to prevent dehydration.

If we have a lot of leftover ham, I’m apt to make ham balls, a Rickers family specialty. If it’s a cold night, I might indulge in a batch of scalloped potatoes and ham, a pot of potato and ham soup or ham and noodles. When the weather is warmer, sliced ham is the base for a fantastic sandwich or diced for a chef salad.

This year, after seeing a Facebook post about quiche, I decided to make that egg dish my first leftover meal post-Easter.

I’ve cooked quiche infrequently over the years. I’ve sometimes made a rendition in which the crust is formed out of hash browns: You toss 3 cups hash browns, either frozen that have been thawed or the refrigerator type, with ¼ cup melted butter and then press it into the bottom and up the sides of a deep-dish pie plate or quiche pan. Bake in a 425-oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool slightly before moving ahead with the filling.

This time around, however, I went the more traditional route, using refrigerated pie dough as the crust.

After some trial and error over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that heavy whipping cream makes all the difference in achieving a luscious custardy base. Milk or half-and-half cream just don’t cut it.

As far as the other elements of the filling — meat, cheese, vegetables — I recommend using whatever you have on hand. I went the true leftover route, chopping up another Easter remnant, cooked asparagus, along with the ham, cheese and green onions.

After-Easter Quiche

1 refrigerated pie crust (from a 2-crust box– freeze the second one to use later) or use the hash brown crust method above

1 cup ham, diced small

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese (or whatever variety you prefer)

2 green onions, sliced

1 cup heavy cream

7 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove crust from packaging and unroll into your pie plate or quiche pan, pressing it into the bottom and up the sides, crimping the edges. Use a fork to prick the dough to prevent bubbles.

Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans to prevent the crust from shrinking during its first baking. (This is called blind baking. Since I have a quiche pan, I placed a slightly smaller sized cake pan on top of the parchment and weighed it down.) Bake for 15 minutes; remove weights or beans and bake for 5 minutes more. Let cool slightly.

Layer the onions, ham and cheese evenly in the bottom of the crust. Whisk together the eggs and cream, adding the salt and pepper to combine. Pour egg mixture over the filling in the pie crust. It should come up almost to the top edge of the crust. (I set the pan inside a baking sheet in case it cooks over in the oven. Never has, but I don’t want to tempt fate.) Use a pie crust shield or put strips of foil over the edge of the crust to keep it from getting too brown.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until just set in the middle. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Sweet memories

Grandma Alice (left) and Grandpa Harry Rickers (right) stand among the hollyhocks while their son, Donald (my dad!), hides in the flowers between them in a photo dated 1928.

Since my grandfather, dad and uncle were all professional photographers, I suppose it’s natural that I am enthralled by old photographs. I have devoted an entire wall in our house to displaying some classic black-and-white images of people and places that are near and dear to my heart.

One of my favorites is the one I’ve shared here: Dated 1928, it shows my Grandma Alice, Grandpa Harry and their young son — my dad, Don — standing among the hollyhocks at Great-Grandma Wohlenberg’s house in Everly, Iowa. You have to look closely to see my dad, as he’s hiding behind the flowers.

As I pass by this photo in the hall gallery, the image conjures up memories of Grandma Alice, a remarkable woman. She was a businesswoman before that term was commonly used, running the photography studio while Grandpa Harry focused on the photos.

At the studio, she was all business, but there were other things that distinguished Alice. For one, she had beautiful penmanship, which she used to keep the business records and record names on backs of pictures or on negatives. At home, she also wrote notes that she put inside or attached to all her treasures, noting the item’s provenance as she knew it. I still have some keepsakes with little slips of paper in that meticulous handwriting, recording that the pitcher was a wedding present or the small glass vase was won at a card party.

But the sweetest memory for all of Alice’s grandchildren is her cookies. Grandma was an avid baker and there were always cookies in a yellow tin on the cabinet, whether at their summer home at West Lake Okoboji or the tiny apartment where she and Grandpa Harry lived in their later years.

The best cookies, in my opinion, were the gingersnaps. They were both crispy and chewy at the same time. Grandma Alice  baked other varieties, of course — oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, snickerdoodles — but I was happiest if the yellow tin contained those gingersnaps.

Alas, I did not inherit Alice’s talent for making gingersnaps. Mine never turn out as delicious as my memories. So I quit trying and focused my efforts on creating the best peanut butter cookie instead.

The key to these peanut butter cookies is the oatmeal, which adds a chewy factor to what is normally a crisp cookie. The cinnamon adds depth to the flavor profile.

Here are a few tips that help make these cookies worthy of storing in a yellow tin:

  • Since peanut butter is sticky stuff, I never measure; I eyeball the amount and throw in an extra spoonful, just in case. They always turn out, no matter how much goes in.
  • Chilling the dough isn’t absolutely necessary, but I think it makes it easier to work with. The dough will remain quite soft, even after chilling.
  • Use a cookie scoop for uniform cookies. I like a medium scoop, which is the No. 40 scoop.
  • For quick cleanup, line your baking sheets with either a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. The parchment is particularly handy, as you can just throw it away when done.
  • When using a fork to flatten cookies before baking, dip the tines in water between cookies to keep the dough from sticking.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup peanut butter

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies go into the oven.

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons milk

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 heaping cups quick oatmeal

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugars and peanut butter. Add in eggs, vanilla and milk. Combine the flour, soda, salt and cinnamon and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the oatmeal just until combined. Chill dough in refrigerator.

Using a cookie scoop, place balls of the dough onto ungreased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Use a fork dipped in water to flatten each ball of dough in a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar, if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned on bottom.

Makes about 50 cookies.