Archive for March, 2011

Soft Molasses Cookies

It’s cold today. Well, cold for March, anyway. It feels like Winter is boxed into a corner and swinging, making one last effort not to get knocked out by warmer air, chirping birds, and budding flowers.

This day, with it’s chilly obstinance, deserves a cookie. A soft, chewy, warmly-spiced cookie.

These cookies definitely fit the bill.  The flavor is pretty much unbeatable —rich and earthy with molasses and just the right hint of warm spice from the cloves and ginger. Their wonderful texture is achieved by pulling them out of the oven while the centers are still soft and puffy. As they cool, the centers fall, creating a moist interior and a perfectly cracked, sugary exterior. They’re also the ideal cookie size—big enough that you can be satisfied with just one, but not so large that you feel guilty about eating a few. They’re fun and easy to make with the kids, too. My kids’ favorite part about making these cookies, other than eating them, is shaping the dough into balls, then rolling them in sugar.

Rolling the cookies in sugar gives them a hint of crunch on the outside, especially if you use large, decorative sugar crystals. If you can’t find those, then turbinado sugar works just as well, too.

Of course, like any good cookie, the best part about making them is eating them. They’re wonderful warm, with coffee, tea, a cold glass of milk, or vanilla ice cream. The leftovers store well in an airtight container at room temperature and, theoretically, keep for about a week. In my house, though, they’re usually gobbled up and gone within a few days.

Soft Molasses Cookies

adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

  • 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine (to make these dairy-free, I use pareve margarine)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup large sugar crystals or turbinado sugar for coating the dough

Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses while mixing at a slow speed, then the baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Stir in the flour. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

Shape or scoop the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll them in the decorative or turbinado sugar and put them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes. The centers will look soft and puffy, which is okay. As long as the bottoms are set enough to lift partway off the cookie sheet without bending or breaking, they’re ready to come out of the oven. Cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Makes 40-ish cookies.

Ah, noodles. Who doesn’t love noodles? No-one in my house, that’s for sure.

Aviva, especially, is a noodle fanatic. She craves them, asks for them – udon, lo mein, soba, spaghetti, pad si ew. She rejoices when we get take out, knowing that she’ll get a good carb fix when the food arrives.

Her favorite noodle dish is Chinese lo mein. The only problem is that Chinese food isn’t exactly my favorite. I grew up in a small town full of pizza places, donut shops, and churches. We had to drive to the nearest city, Providence RI, for halfway decent Chinese food, so I rarely ate it growing up. When a Chinese restaurant did eventually open in my town, it was mediocre at best and very Americanized. They served bread on the table and all of the main dishes tasted exactly the same – salty and over-sauced. Plus, a few of my friends worked there during high school and, well, the more you know about the inner workings of a restaurant, the less you want to eat there.

By the time I tasted somewhat authentic Chinese food, I was an adult, a mother, a wife. I liked it, but I not as much as I’d already grown to love Thai and Japanese cuisines. It’s OK, though. I’ll play along with the occasional dinner in Chinatown or dim sum brunch, but it will never, ever be my first choice.

Aviva, on the other hand, would eat Chinese food everyday if she could. So, when I came across fresh lo mein noodles at my favorite local market, I bought a few bags, figuring I could make my own take-out and make Aviva really happy at the same time. While I was there, I also grabbed some yummy Chinese broccoli and shiitakes. That’s the best thing about cooking meals that you’d normally get from a restaurant – you can use as much of your favorite ingredients as you want!

When I got home, it dawned on me that I’d only ever made lo mein once before. I was 17 and had a boyfriend who could eat an entire order of it straight out of the take-out carton! So, I found a “lo mein style” pasta recipe from one of my mom’s many cookbooks and decided to surprise him by making it for dinner (instead of just ordering our usual pizza). He seemed to enjoy it, but he was 17 and growing. He probably would have eaten just about anything and liked it. It was the early 90s, too, so things like fresh ginger, rice wine, and hoisin sauce were not readily available in my small suburban supermarket. Consequently, I remember that lo mein tasting exactly like what it was – spaghetti with soy sauce, sesame, scallions, and mushrooms. Not terribly awful, but not really lo mein either.

So, with fresh ingredients waiting in the fridge, I went scavenging for recipes online, hoping to update my lo-mein-making skills. I ended up finding a few promising recipes and combining them to make my own version, an effort that proved to be much more satisfying and delicious than my first lo-mein-making experience. It’s a snap to make: just assemble your mis en place, heat the wok, and go! Taste-wise, it’s pretty close  to the lo mein you’d order at your favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s fresh and light, but the hoisin, soy, sesame, and shiitakes pack enough of an umami punch to satisfy that lo mein craving you have right now.

Grab your wok and get to it.

Lo Mein with Chinese Broccoli and Shiitakes

  • 1 pound of chicken breasts (you could also use flank steak, pork tenderloin, shrimp, or tofu), cut into bite-sized strips
  • 1 pound lo mein noodles or spaghetti, fresh or dried, prepared to package directions, drained, and set aside (do not rinse after draining!)
  • 1 pound Chinese broccoli or broccolini, washed, dried, and julienned
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms – wiped clean, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • vegetable or peanut oil


  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch


  • 1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought (if using store-bought, use the low sodium kind)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • a couple pinches of red chile flakes (optional)

Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients and add the chicken. Toss to coat. Set aside. Allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes.

Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, stir-frying until cooked through. Place it on a separate plate and set aside. Wipe the skillet or wok clean.

Add another tablespoon or two of oil to the wok/skillet and place back on the heat. Add the Chinese broccoli, shiitakes, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry until the broccoli is wilted, but still crisp-tender.

Add the sauce and noodles. Let cook for a minute or two so that the noodles can absorb the sauce, then fold in the chicken. Enjoy!