Monster Cookies and the Beast of Inspiration

For food writers, maintaining a balance can be difficult. Most of us would have the public to think we spend our days in a photogenic sequence of tasting, pondering, journaling, and then mess-free tinkering in the kitchen.

But if you’re doing it right, this is definitely not the way it goes for anyone. The ebb and flow of deadlines seems to collide with spells of failed recipes and technical issues: a leak under the sink, a downed internet connection, a flat tire when you need to drive to a special store to get a very specific ingredient.

This is why I don’t like to blog. Writing about the mundane inconveniences I face may be honest, but it’s not very engaging. And I don’t want to project an airbrushed (or filtered, as it were) image of what my daily life consists of. There’s a lot of typing and a lot of using the internet and a lot of cross-referencing different recipes. There’s a TON of grocery shopping and washing dishes and wiping down kitchen counters and sweeping flour and crumbs off the floor.  

And there’s cooking. I get antsy if I go a few days without cooking. I taught a pressure cooking class this weekend, and I’ve been developing recipes for a few different assignments the past few weeks, so I’ve been in the kitchen a lot, but yesterday I realized I needed to just get in the kitchen and cook for fun.

That’s where the balance comes in. If you don’t make space in your schedule to lavish in the sheer joy of making food with no agenda, then your writing and your recipes won’t be inspired at all. You have to put yourself in the place that made you want to get into food writing in the first place.

So a few days ago I blocked out several hours and made the food I wanted to make. I minced the cores and stems of some broccoli and cauliflower, and I cooked them in a skillet with some olive oil until they were browned in some parts and soft in others. I made a miso dressing and cooked some quinoa and made myself a big bowl of healthy stuff, because that’s what I like to eat.

And then I cleaned up and went to pick my daughter up from school. Out of the blue she asked me if we could make monster cookies, and I said yes, even though monster cookies had absolutely nothing to do with any of the assignments or independent projects I had going on.

We needed to get M&Ms to make monster cookies. Without M&Ms, they are a different cookie. We got the M&Ms. We made the cookies. I experienced the small triumph of my parenting identity and my writer-chef identity intersecting peacefully. Most of the time I feel them tugging at one another, keeping me from being fully present in any one role, but for about fifteen minutes I was right in the zone with Frances. It felt good.

I though the freestyle cooking and the cookie-making sessions would set me behind the following day, but I wound up tearing through my to-do list. I also decided I needed to type up the monster cookie recipe, because I tinkered with it a bit, and I was happy with how those came out, too. Frances was even happier, though.

Monster Cookies

Makes about 2-1/2 dozen medium cookies

I don’t know too much about the origin of these. Why are they called monster cookies? What region are they most identified with? I do know they are popular here in southeast Ohio, they don’t contain any wheat flour, and despite that they are probably not gluten-free, because I’m sure M&Ms contain gluten somehow, and monster cookies are not monster cookies without M&Ms. Packed with candy and sugar, they are not health food, but they are hearty and wholesome and rich and peanutty. This recipe is an adaptation of an adaptation, like a modern folk song. Like “Louie, Louie” or “Hey Joe.” I love songs like that, and I love these cookies.

·         4 cups rolled oats

·         1-3/4 teaspoon baking soda

·         ½ teaspoon table salt

·         1-1/2 cups peanut butter (chunky or smooth, processed or natural)

·         ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

·         2 cups light brown sugar

·         2 large eggs

·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·         12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips or chunks

·         12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) milk chocolate M&Ms

1.       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicon baking mats and set aside.

2.       If you’d like the oats to be a little more varied in texture, pulse them a few times in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, until some are powdery and others are still whole. Empty into a large bowl. Add the baking soda and salt and stir to combine. Set aside.

3.       In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine and peanut butter and butter. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until lightened, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla.

4.       Add the oat mixture, one half at a time, and beat at low speed. Beat in the chocolate chips and M&Ms (you may need to do this with a sturdy wooden spoon instead of the mixer). The dough will be greasy and a little soft, but not crumbly.

5.       Scoop out the dough in rounded tablespoons (about 1-1/2 inches in diameter) and place 12 to a sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking. The cookies will be lightly browned when ready, but their centers will still feel a bit soft to the touch. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep, tightly covered, for up to 5 days.