It occured to me recently as I was preparing for the day that I was on my 6th straight box of cereal without having an alternative for breakfast. (unless you count sleeping through breakfast) This was a problem. Variety is the spice of life and provides some welcome balance. Plus, cereal was beginning to get really old. Enter steel cut oats.

The Cauldron Boils.... Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats are the super heroes of the oatmeal family. Everyone knows oatmeal is good for you, being high in fiber and proven to help lower cholesterol; but steel cut oats are also whole grain and have a lower glycemic index to boot. Steel cut oats are from the inner part of the oat kernel (known as the groat) that have have been chopped into smaller pieces. Your classic rolled oats is the groat that’s been steamed, rolled and flaked. Quick cooking oats are the same as rolled oats except chopped.

Steel cut oats offer a nuttier flavor and have a chewier texture than rolled oats. Rolled oats sometimes can resemble a paste or porridge. Steel cut oats are thicker. Creamier. The only down side is the time it takes to cook. Because it’s less processed you’re looking at approximately 30 minutes to cook. I think it’s well worth the effort. Give this recipe a shot or any variation that you apply to your regular oatmeal. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Steel Cut Oats with Apple and Coconut

Steel Cut Oats with Apple and Coconut
Adapted from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
If you like your apples crisp like me, then add them at when serving. Otherwise, add with the oats and coconut.
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup steel cut oats
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 large apple; chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (if you can only find sweetened, opt out on the sugar)

Put the water, cinnamon stick, salt and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil. Add the oats and coconut (and potentially the apple); simmering for 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with milk, ground cinnamon and additional sugar to taste.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites, My Favorite Christmas Cookie

Well, my co-contributor Chef Edwin is going to smack his forehead when he sees this post, but I can’t let that stand in my way, right? I’m still stuck on Christmas, and I have the leftover Christmas cookies and constantly expanding waistline to prove it!

pumpkin oatmeal bites stirring in oats

It seemed to me like more people than ever were baking for Christmas this year, and I had no qualms about sampling everything that came my way. From leftover Bake-A-Thon 2008 treats, to sweet, melt-in-your-mouth Baklava from a friend at my mom’s office, to moist spice cake from a new significant other on my husband’s side of the family… my Christmas holiday consisted of enjoying delectable new desserts. Thank you, everyone!

pumpkin oatmeal bites stirring in chips

I’d like to share with you a recipe that I brought to Bake-A-Thon 2008 this year, but I also made it again on Christmas Eve with my mom. It has been a favorite of mine for years. My mom originally found it in a Better Homes cookbook; I have adapted it to include more pumpkin and more chocolate chips which I think makes them even more moist.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites

Readers, I know you may be tempted to think that I’d love any recipe that includes pumpkin, regardless of how it tastes – and I can see why you would think that based on my history here. But truly, this recipe has everything you could want:

1)You only need two bowls to make these cookies.
2) You do not need any fancy tools, appliances or decorating devices.
3) They’re not overly sweet.
4) Because of the pumpkin, they stay incredibly moist after several days. They’re also great for mailing (which I tested this year).
5) If you use high quality chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli), the chocolate adds a perfect amount of sweetness.
6) It makes 120 cookies. 120! Let’s face it, when you’re baking Christmas cookies you’re probably looking to make more than one dozen.
7) They contain 3 cups of oats and pumpkin is a super food, so you can pretend that you’re eating healthy.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites and Morgan

This is the last time I’ll say it for the rest of the year, I promise – give pumpkin a chance!

Edwin and I would love to know what kinds of Christmas cookies you baked this year, and which ones were well received. Please share your favorites with us!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bites
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens, Cookies for Christmas (1985)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl with a mixer beat butter until softened. Beat in brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, then pumpkin.

Add flour mixture and beat until combined. Stir in oats and chocolate chips (use a thick, sturdy spoon. I’ve broken flimsy wooden spoons while stirring in all the oats before!).

Use a teaspoon measure to scoop onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool for 1-2 minutes, then move to a wire rack. Cookies will cool quickly. Makes about 120.

Merry Christmas!


Magic Bars

We hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday with family, friends and lots of food! Have a save and fun day! Thanks for reading.

Christmas Crab

Merry Christmas,
Edwin & Heather

Bake-A-Thon 2008 – Love In Edible Form

December is a special time of the year for many of us. Whether you’re celebrating the religious or secular aspects of the season, there’s a bit of magic in the air. It’s a time to enjoy family and friends, to reflect on the year, to simply remember what’s important in life.

Finishing Touches

Part of that for me is making sure the important parts aren’t drowned out by the unimportant. I talk specifically about the rampant commercialism that seems to go hand in hand with the holidays. I’m sure this is nothing you haven’t heard before. We all want to express our love and appreciation for those special people in our lives and somehow this has evolved into purchasing gifts for them. This isn’t to say a symbol in material form is inherently bad, but it’s easy to get caught up in a belief that love must be expressed in through a price tag.

Rugelach FunRaw Cookie Dough

I have many people in my life that I am truly grateful for; people that are hard to imagine without. And I want to tell them this. I want them to know what they mean to me and that I am thinking of them; whether they be someone from my past who I’ve fallen out of touch with or someone new and still getting to know. And I want to do this without attaching a receipt to the act or making them feel obligated to do the same. (How many times have you received a gift from someone only to feel a twinge of regret for having not bought them one as well?)

White Chocolate Cherry ChunkiesRugelach Slicing

I started a tradition last year with some friends that I call Bake-A-Thon. Bake-A-Thon is a day in December where a bunch of my fellow baking enthusiasts (Heather included) and I get together to bake cookies for the entire day. After all the baking is done and the cookies have been cooled, we divvy them up and send them to out respective loved ones. This is our way of taking our passion and using it to show our love and appreciation for those special people in our lives.


Bake-A-Thon 2008 took place this past weekend and went even better than last year’s. Each baker selected one cookie recipe and together baked several batches from each. This year’s line up was Lebkuchen, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Rugelach Pinwheels and White Chocolate Cherry Chunkies. We all had fun and the cookie turnout was immense. Bake-A-Thon will be a tradition for years to come.

Our Bounty

Holiday Bark, Play With Your Food

Making Holiday Bark is almost more like making art and playing with your food than it is cooking or baking.

When I was younger I used to absolutely love sketching, painting, collaging, sculpting, or any other artsy activity that I could just spend hours completely focused on. I seem to have lost this hobby in the daily grind somewhere after high school, but I still miss it and have hopes and plans to pick it up again someday (though, no day like the present, right?). Making Holiday Bark helps me get my artistic fix, and in delicious, edible form!

marbling holiday bark

Making any kind of bark candy can be as simple or as detailed as you make it. If you have kids, they will probably love attempting to help mix and swirl the chocolate (and get it all over their faces). If you’re setting out trays of food for a Christmas or New Year’s party or would just like something fun to bring to work, this is a very attractive option.

In its simplest form, you can get away with using only two kinds of chocolate and one kind of nut or flavor. No cooking or baking is required, though if you’re really looking to unlock the full flavor of the nuts then you may want to heat them in a shallow pan until warm and fragrant. You can even make bark while waiting for Christmas cookies to come out of the oven.

Basically, when you think you might explode if you have to make one more Christmas cookie – Holiday Bark to the rescue.

And, if I left this part out, it tastes and smells heavenly. Don’t forget to use ingredients that you enjoy and just have fun with it!


Holiday Bark

8 oz white chocolate, chopped
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2.25 oz (or ½ cup) hazelnuts, chopped
2.25 oz (or ½ cup) pecans, chopped

Place chopped white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Place semi-sweet and bittersweet together in another microwave safe bowl. Microwave bowls separately for 10-15 second intervals, stirring thoroughly after each interval until melted. Do this until both bowls contain melted chocolate. (I’ve been told that if I don’t use a double boiler to melt chocolate that I’ll burn it, but I haven’t burned it yet! Don’t worry.)

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Stir in nuts to the bowl containing semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate. Spread the chocolate and nut mixture on the parchment paper using a rubber spatula. Drop spoonfuls of white chocolate over this, and swirl the chocolates using a fork or skewer (I used a fork because the nuts make it a little tougher to swirl).

Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour until hard. Break bark into large chunks and store in your refrigerator until serving.

I really enjoyed last week’s experiment with a lentil loaf, but having been so successful forced me to ask what an appropriate accompaniment to it should be. Mashed potatoes were the obvious choice, but was there anything I could do differently? That’s how we roll here at DinnerCakes.


Now, there’s nothing wrong with white potatoes. As I’ve mentioned before, they are fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium and high in vitamin C. However, they also have a somewhat high glycemic index and, well, they aren’t exactly low on the calorie scale either (a fact that is always on my mind this time of year). Enter the cauliflower. This sucker is the ultimate competitor for the white potato. It too is fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium and has even more vitamin C than the white potato, providing you 100% of your daily vitamin C need with just 100 grams. And to top it all off, less than half the calories of the white potato. K.O.

Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes"

Cauliflower mashed potatoes is a pretty well known substitute and is incredibly easy to make. It’s so easy that I’m almost ashamed to write about it (almost). With a food processor and some common kitchen ingredients, you’re good to go. Without a doubt, I will be doing these again.

Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”

1 head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 milk/cream/water (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons parsley

Cut the cauliflower into florets and steam for until tender; approximately 10 minutes. Don’t worry about overcooking. Once ready, transfer to a food processor along with the butter, thyme and parsley. Chop until smooth. If you like a creamier consistency, considering adding milk, cream or even water a bit at a time, continuing to process.

Stuffed Shells with Beef, Shedding New Light on a Old Classic

Unlike Edwin, I am not a flexitarian. However, my husband Morgan and I try to limit ourselves to lean meats such as chicken or fish. We rarely eat a strictly vegetarian dinner and once every few months, we break down and cook with beef.

Stuffed Shells filling with spinach

I was inspired by a recipe I found on – these stuffed shells are a little different than the kind you might typically find. Aside from the addition of beef, the blogchef recipe replaces ricotta cheese with mozzarella. It also removes the usual spinach and adds dry red wine.

Stuffed Shells Ready to Go in the Oven

But because I’m not a flexitarian, I need to get my vegetables wherever I can. I added half a bag of fresh spinach leaves, more garlic, and a can of Hunt’s diced tomatoes with green peppers, onions, and celery. I also left out the red wine and parsley.

This recipe isn’t very difficult, but stuffing the shells gets a little time consuming. It’s very filling and makes an enjoyable and attractive winter meal for both the holidays as well as the weekly dinner rotation!

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells with Beef
inspired by

1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (8oz) bag shredded mozzarella cheese (fresh is always better, if you don’t mind grating)
1 bag fresh spinach leaves
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg (beaten)
1 (26 oz) jar of spaghetti sauce (I use Paul Newman sauces)
1 (15 oz) can Hunt’s diced tomatoes with green peppers, celery and onion
Grated parmesan cheese, as desired
24 jumbo pasta shells (cooked according to package directions and drained)
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook shells according to package directions. In a large skillet, brown ground beef, garlic and onion. Drain off excess grease (if you really want to cut down on even more fat, you can actually quickly rinse the ground beef, but you risk losing flavor). Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl, combine meat, shredded mozzarella, beaten egg, breadcrumbs, fresh spinach leaves, salt and pepper.

In a 13×9 inch oven safe dish, add half the spaghetti sauce and half the canned diced tomatoes.

Stuff the cooked and drained shells with the meat/cheese/spinach mixture and place on top of the sauce in the oven safe dish. Pour the remaining spaghetti sauce and diced tomatoes over the stuffed shells. Sprinkle with parmesan as desired.

Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve.

There are days when soup simply won’t do. Days when the hunger is ravenous and you really need something to sink your teeth into. It is on these days that I often find my vegetarian repertoire unable to meet my needs and I find coming back to my carnivorous ways. (What? I’m not strictly vegetarian. It’s allowed.) “No more!” I exclaimed last week. It was time for a better solution; something hearty and filling. Of course what better to be a part of said solution than lentils in the form of a tasty “meat” loaf.

The Color Red

I loved Mom’s meat loaf as a kid, always taking a thick slice to go with my extra large helping of mashed potatoes and corn. (Corn goes with everything. It’s been proven.) Delicious. It’s been a while since I’ve had that glorious loaf of meat and it occurred to me that this might be part of the problem with my current diet: not enough comfort food. There was (is?) a significant lack of balance.

Looks Great, Doesn't It?

The term lentil loaf does not sit well with me. There are just too many… connotations with the word ‘loaf,’ however that is exactly what this is. I scoured the wonders of the internet for inspiration, including my personal hero, Alton Brown, to concoct this delicious recipe. I was very pleased with the result. The only significant issue is the texture. This recipe is not as solid as a traditional meat loaf, but won’t fall apart as you cut into it with your fork. Perhaps another egg would help…

Lentil "Meat" Loaf

Vegetarian Lentil “Meat” Loaf
adapted from Alton Brown and My Vegan Cookbook.
3/4 cup green lentils; cooked and drained
1/2 cup brown rice; cooked and drained
3 cloves garlic; minced
1 yellow onion; chopped
1 large carrot; chopped
1 red bell pepper; chopped
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs, corn meal or vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 325°.

While the lentils and and rice are cooking saute the garlic, onion, carrot and bell pepper in a pan on medium heat until onions are translucent; approximately 5 minutes. Let cool then chop in a food processor into finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and chop the lentils (once they’ve cooled) in the food processor into a paste.

Combine all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl then move to a glass baking pan, forming it into a loaf. Bake for 45 minutes until heated through.


On Monday my office had a white elephant gift exchange, something like Secret Santa except the gifts are meant to be inexpensive and sometimes humorous. I’ve never participated in one of these before, so I was pretty excited and a little nervous. I heard that in our office the gifts were usually a mix of gags and real gifts, so I opted for a something in the middle.

Thumbprint Cookie dough

I acquired a wonderfully tacky Christmas cookie jar from my mother-in-law. Imagine a very shiny and bright red, green and gold round Christmas tree ornament, except enlarged about five times. I thought this would be a perfect white elephant gift, remembering the quote, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” But I was nervous that maybe this was TOO silly.

So to “sweeten” the deal, I scoured my cookbooks for a Christmas cookie recipe to fill the cookie jar with, something classic that would appeal to multiple people, but something that I wasn’t already planning on baking. I settled on a great, versatile recipe found in one of my old Kraft Food magazines.

Thumbprint Cookies, PecansThumbprint Cookies, mixing nuts

I’ve mentioned before that Kraft has some very useful recipes, especially for people strapped for time or those trying to get into cooking and baking but aren’t sure how. This particular cookie recipe can make four variations of cookies, all using the same basic dough recipe but with minor variations. I chose to only make one kind this time – Thumbprints Cookies.

Thumbprint Cookies, dough balls

Because I still fear the scale, I substituted fat free cream cheese in place of regular. This probably wasn’t the best decision because, well, fat tastes good! If you’re making food for others you want it to shine, and I broke one of my cardinal rules by substituting. To make up for this and sweeten the dough a bit without adding more sugar, I added a teaspoon of ground anise seed. Anise seed is expensive, but I’m always willing to blow my budget a bit when holiday food is involved. The anise seed was very aromatic and added a distinctive, but not overpowering, sweetness.

Thumbprint Cookies, indented

For future confections, I need to make a rule that I will never post about baked goods the same day I make them – I always enjoy them more the next day! I’m glad I reserved judgment on these cookies. My husband really loved them right out of the oven, but I think they got even better after they set. It’s rare when I find a cookie my husband really gets excited about; these are a keeper!

Thumbprint Cookies, ready to eat

Blackberry & Apricot Thumbprint Cookies
adapted from Kraft Foods Magazine

1 package cream cheese (8 0z, I used fat free)
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened (3/4 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tsp. anise seed, ground
blackberry and apricot jam (or jam of your choice, but the apricot is excellent)

Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Add flour and baking soda gradually. Mix well. Stir in pecans and anise seed (you can grind the anise seed by putting it in a bag and hitting it with a tenderizer). Make sure it’s well-blended. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes (make sure you do this so that the butter doesn’t get to soft; you don’t want your cookies to fall flat in the oven).

Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a 1/2 tablespoon measure, scoop dough in 1 inch balls, rounding dough into balls. Place on parchment lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Indent the dough using your thumb. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven. The indentations may have risen in the oven, just push it down as needed and carefully fill eat cookie with jam. Continue baking for 8-10 minutes.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Think back to the past few weeks in the kitchen and ask yourself which vegetable was used most often. Chances are it was the onion. These suckers are the fundamentals of many recipes, adding a subtle but crucial flavoring to much of what we eat. Plenty of dishes start with the sauteing of onion, celery and carrots, forming what is called by its French term “mirepoix.” Yes, I have worked with many an onion in my time and look forward to many more in the future. Thank you onion, for your awesomeness.

Hollow Red Onion

As amazing and functional as the onion is, it’s often not the star of the show. The onion serves as the background, the ingredient that helps other ingredients shine. In some meals people may not even know the onion is there. There are cases, however, in which the onion does take center stage, and these roasted stuffed onions are a perfect example.

Vegetarian Roasted Stuffed Onions

Vegetarian Roasted Stuffed Onions
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

6 large red and yellow onions
2 celery ribs; chopped
2 garlic cloves; minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon butter
8 ounces baby spinach; coarsely chopped
2 cups italian bread; cut in 1/2 inch cubes and lightly toasted (croutons work in a pinch)
8oz can of lima beans; drained (optional)
1/2 stick of butter; melted
1/2 stock of any kind (turkey, perhaps?) or water

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Onion shells: Cut 1/2 inch off the top of each onion and just enough from the bottom so it stands upright. Hollow out the onions using a melon baller; leaving all but 2 or 3 layers. I find the easiest way to do that is scooping out a bit from the center then working out to the edge. Once you’ve got the proper diameter, dig down a bit more and work out again. Repeat until near the bottom.

Place the onions in a glass baking ban with 1/2 cup of water, tightly covered with foil. Roast until the onions are tender, 25-30 minutes. Remove and let cool

Stuffing: While the onions are roasting, take about 2 cups of the scooped out onion and coarsely chop. Saute in a large pan over medium heat with oil, garlic, celery, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes; until soft. Combine with lima beans, butter and stock in a mixing bowl. Let cool enough to handle.

Remove the onions from the baking pan and pour out any excess water. Stuff the onions with your filling until it is heaped up on the top. Take any leftover stuffing and place in the baking pan as “bedding.” Trust me, it’ll still be delicious. Bake onions for about 20 minutes or less, until heated through.