It’s fun. So, that’s what I was doing this morning when I opened the pages of Cook Yourself Thin, a Lifetime television cookbook I picked up at the library that came out in 2009. Apparently, there is (or was)both a British and an American show by the same name, but I wouldn’t know because I do not have television.
Quick aside: I’m not bragging when I say this. Often I long for television. To see the piercing eyes of John Stewart or know who Stephen Colbert is currently wagging his finger at would give me great pleasure on a late night after my children are in bed and my brain-numbing pleasure seeking time has been hard-earned by a day of listening to “Moooom!! Tell Lucy to stop looooooking at me!!” or “Moooom, Essie is poking me agaaaaain!!” I long for a simple 30 minute television show in which an entire mildewy basement is effortlessly transformed into a gorgeous playroom complete with a playscape and foam floors and neatly stacked bookshelves (maybe mostly because I envision being able to lock my own children in a playroom like this for hours on end while I leisurely eat bonbons in my jammies on the couch upstairs and watch more television). I long for a large screen upon which to mindlessly watch Carrie and the girls parade around New York City in outfits that the average girl from Brooklyn would have to save a lifetime to buy. I’m just sayin’. I wish I still had a television. I miss television the way low-carb dieters miss potatoes. I know it isn’t good for me but I still want it.
Getting back to the matter at hand: at the beginning of the adorable cookbook Cook Yourself Thin there is a cosmo-esque quiz that helps you to understand your own eating/ cooking habits. I took this quiz in the same manner I take all cosmo-esque quizzes which is to say outwardly, I didn’t take it very seriously but that secretly hoped it would reveal to me the inner workings of my own consciousness so that all my life’s problems would be immediately solved. As it turns out, inner workings were revealed (or at least confirmed). What did the book tell me? “You love food and home-cooked meals. Some of your favorite recipes have been in your family for years, and just the smell of them makes you feel safe and happy.” Amazing!! They nailed me (though I would venture the guess that most people in the world can be characterized by this sentence – and don’t even get me started with those freakish people who don’t like food – that will have to be addressed in another post entirely).
Either way, this revelation immediately reminded me of the 14 long text-messages I sent to my friend Crystal this morning to walk her through the ingredients and process of making Chocolate No-Bake Cookies. These cookies are a Stevenson family tradition. I remember my brother Robert actually making them more often than anyone, when I was a child. He perfected the recipe and could make these cookies quickly and expertly. They would cool to just the right hardness and never be too crumble-ey. He taught me about the importance of timing and how to get the peanut butter in right away as soon as the concoction was off the stove. But this recipe was my Mother’s first and the recipe I have in my personal cookbook is written in her own beautiful, looping script (my mother’s lovely looping cursive would make a 1940’s 3rd grade teacher weep for joy). Of course, my mother got the recipe from someone else but I don’t know where. I might do a little family digging to see if anyone knows. My first step would be to find out if they came from my mother’s family (The Edwards) or my father’s family (The Stevensons). But I digress…
Now, if you are any kind of cook, I know you realize how very easy the process of making no-bake cookies is and may be alarmed by the necessity of 14 long texts on the subject. However, my friend Crystal once forgot to boil the potatoes before trying to mash them for a thanksgiving dinner so… I felt my directions needed to be quite explicit (the truth about Crystal, of course, is that she’s a wonderful cook and is capable of turning out her own treasured family-heirloom recipes whenever she’d like – but she just doesn’t want that secret to get out because it might tarnish her extremely muscle-ey reputation as an MMA fighter and Professor of English with high expectations and standards– but again, we’ll have to refute the old “the-ability-to-cook-is-associated-with-girliness-and-therefore-weakness” issue in another post entirely).
Wasn’t I talking about Chocolate No-Bake Cookies? So…the reason my tough-as-nails friend Crystal wanted the recipe from me was that I gave her an entire plate of these cookies the night before for her birthday and her and her 9 year old son, Griffin (I call him “Professor Griff” – word!), ate them ALL that night! Stomach ache aside, they wanted more.
And I can’t blame them. Chocolate No-Bake Cookies are the single food in this world that give me the momentary sensation that my mother has me wrapped up in a big hug and I’m seven years old again squeezing myself onto her lap. I actually involuntarily close my eyes whenever I take the first bite of a freshly made No-Bake.
For me, this is the go-to recipe on bad days or sad days or need-to-feel-my-mommy’s-hug-again days. There have been times in my life (like the last several years) where I’ve made these cookies maybe 2 or 3 times in a year and other times (like the few months that my husband and I were separated a few years ago) that they were a weekly staple.
But these cookies aren’t just for curing sadness. They can also make a good day just that much better too. Yesterday, it occurs to me, when I made them with my children, it wasn’t out of any kind of sadness or badness in our lives, just a desire to see their smiling faces while they watched the cookies cool. It was also just very fun to “help” my 4 ½ year old daughter make them. Watching her stand on her little white kitchen stool stirring a pot of bubbling gooey chocolate was a genuine insight into why my mother had six children – because children bring an unexpected, unexplainable joy into your life that (however hard earned) is worth all the chocolate no-bake cookies in this world.
But, of course, the real beauty about these cookies is that they are extraordinarily easy to make and require only a few ingredients most of which are on hand in almost any well-stocked kitchen. And once you get the oven on and the butter begins melting and the cocoa joins in, your kitchen will be filled with the comfiest, warmest fragrance. It’ll just smell like home. That’s all.
Of course, a trick I’ve had to learn all on my own – that my mother never really got around to teaching me– is to get rid of these cookies (not by eating all of them) as quickly as possible because for food-lovers like me (and most members of my family –and, honestly, friends, really, it’s hard for me to trust or be friends with those aforementioned people who just don’t like food – but again, more on that later…) these little chocolate monsters (I’m using the word “monster” in the friendly sort of way that Elmo uses it) will call to you like sirens however thickly you wrap them up or however deeply you tuck them away in a cupboard. As long as you and the cookies are in the house together, you will be eating them. Now, on a day when you need the extra calories (like yesterday, I did a “run-through” of the sprint-distance triathlon I have coming up so I needed ONE these cookies on top of the other extremely healthy and vegetable-filled foods I was eating) or you just plain don’t care (because it’s the first day of your period or your husband just left you or you have to grade 70 5-page essays before tomorrow morning) by allmeans, have at it. But on a regular day when making the cookies was just a sweet, fun thing to do with your kids and you’re able to keep your emotional eating to a sane minimum (doesn’t it seem like when I say “you” here I should really just be saying “I”?), let everybody have one (maybe two) then package them up & give them away to friends and neighbors and co-workers or your mailman or whoever will take them.
Caution: Under no circumstances should you let your 4 ½ year old daughter sneak and eat FIVE of these cookies while you rock out to Florence + the Machine and clean the kitchen generally ignoring the fact that you ever gave birth to two beautiful children in the first place because all that is going to happen is that later when you want her to go to bed, she’ll want to dance to Lady Gaga and read 5,000 books and the hole your son dug in the backyard during your “absence”will be big enough to place a body (hmmm… maybe he’s trying to tell you something) and they will both be covered in the dirt they rolled in making bath time that night a super joy.
You’ve been warned. Here’s the recipe. The first dessert served in MoJo’s Kitchen:
Chocolate No-Bake Cookies
½ cup milk
½ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup peanut butter
3 ½ cups oats
Prepare a space for dropping the cookies by spreading wax paper or aluminum foil over a table or chopping block or counter space – someplace big enough for roughly 30 cookies. I also like to measure out my peanut butter & oats before I start because timing is so important and you have to mix them both in quickly at the end.
Put butter, milk, and sugar in heavy-ish sauce pan and cook over medium heat – stirring frequently – until the butter melts then stir in cocoa powder with a whisk. Stir continually until mixture boils and continuing to stir constantly let it boil for 1 minute (important to keep stirring or else it will burn!). After 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and pour in vanilla (it will bubble a bit), then stir in peanut butter and once peanut butter is fully mixed in, stir in oats until they are thoroughly mixed in. Drop the mixture by spoonfuls (as big or small as you’d like) onto the prepared space. Let the cookies cool (20mins to an hour -- depending on temperature and humidity of your kitchen) and enjoy!
Some Notes & Variations:
You can use any kind of milk for these cookies. Obviously the richer the milk, the richer the taste but they still taste amazing made with skim milk.
You can also easily make these cookies vegan (I went vegan for six months after my son was born because I couldn’t stand the thought of eating anything that was “born” to anything else – then, I got over it which
I sort of feel makes me a bit of a cannibal but, again, I digress…) by just substituting the milk for soy milk or almond milk and substituting the butter for butter-flavored crisco or some other non-dairy margarine (earth balance, I think, makes a really good one too). They still cook, cool and “harden” the same way but sometimes they stay a bit softer.
You can also use any kind of oats. When I was a kid, my family always used those quick quaker oats because that’s what we used to make oatmeal in the morning but now I always make them with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free (My husband has Celiac disease – legit – we’re not just on the “gluten free” wagon, which, again, is another thing you don’t want to get me started on) Rolled Oats which are much heartier. I prefer the heartier version. The heartier the oats the more filling these cookies are (so you eat fewer of them – hint hint).
I’m reading this great cookbook called The Improvisational Cook right now too that, as the name suggests, encourages improvisation in the kitchen so when I realized we only had 1 cup of sugar yesterday -- after we had melted the butter in with the milk– I improvised! I added ¾ cup of brown sugar and ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar to my 1 cup of regular white sugar and we put that in for our 2 cups instead. It was perfect! In fact, my son swears that this recipe is even better than the old one and I have to agree they had a slightly richer, deeper taste (I’m attributing that to the brown sugar) but it feels like a betrayal to call them “better” than my mother’s recipe so let’s just call them an interesting variation.
I warned Crystal not to try to make these cookies “healthy.” She likes to do that to recipes. MoJo’s kitchen is going to be loaded with very healthy dishes for you. This is not one of them. As cookies go, it’s not the worst thing to eat in the world. Made of all simple, whole ingredients that are “real food,” I would MUCH
prefer my children sneak and eat FIVE of these cookies than eat the processed garbage that comes in a bag or box from the store – but, packed with butter and sugar, no we’re not going to call these health food. Still, they are high in fiber and because of the peanut butter, protein, so one is not a terrible indulgence. Making them“healthy” however is disastrous to the taste. Generations of Stevenson women have tried and failed to make a tasty, calorie-free, fat-free chocolate no-bake cookie. It ain’t happening. Let yourself go. Allow yourself the old fashioned wholesome indulgence of one of those cookies – then, quickly pack the rest up and give them to the next Mormon or kid-selling-magazines that rings the doorbell.
In the meantime, Vaya Con Dios & may you cook & eat with Love!