Category Archives: Cookies

Click Here to Start Launch and Power Button Start Cookies

This past week, we celebrated the release of my husband, Denis’, debut novel, Click Here to Start.

This awesome book cover was illustrated by Octavi Navarro.

The book chronicles twelve year old Ted, who is a whiz at Escape the Room Games, and his two friends, as they cleverly figure out what is behind the clues left by Ted’s great uncle – a WWII veteran of the Nisei Brigade from Hawaii. Ted is sure there is something valuable to be found in his late uncle’s apartment, and he has to use his gaming knowledge to do it. Along the way, the trio realizes there are other people searching for the same “treasure”, and they may not be so “friendly”. Ted and his friends have to use their wits and brains to solve the mystery – and ultimately, themselves, in this fact-paced, kid friendly novel.

The audio book, produced by Listening Library, was released at the same time, which was very exciting! It’s narrated by Greg Watanabe, an actor and comic. He does a wonderful job! I love how he’s able to do the different voices of all of the characters, whether they are male or female, young or old, from Hawaii or from the mainland… He gives each of them a distinct personality.

So far, the book has gotten such positive reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, kidlit bloggers, teachers, librarians, kids. It was named a School Library Guild Section and an Amazon Best Books of the Month Selection.

“As addictive as your favorite video game. I couldn’t put it down.”-Adam Gidwitz, New York Times bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm

“Humor, believable characters, and adventure…keeps readers in suspense to the end. A winner for mystery enthusiasts.”-Kirkus Reviews

“In this clever debut, Markell takes readers on a clue-filled adventure…[and] maintains an energetic, entertaining balance of character-driven narrative and tricky challenges.”-Publishers Weekly

“Markell’s highly entertaining debut novel…is a well-paced read with fully realized and likable characters,…[and] should have strong appeal to gamers, fans of video game-based stories, and reluctant readers.”-School Library Journal

And today from Jean Westmore of the Buffalo News:

“Markell offers plenty of scary suspense, thrilling action, references to literature and movies and lots of humor in his cleverly constructed puzzle. The book is dedicated to “the valiant men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat team, who fought so bravely for the U.S. at a time when their Japanese-American relatives back at home were being treated so dishonorably.’ His wife’s uncle was among them.”

For the Click Here to Start book launch at BookCourt this past weekend, I made Power Button Start Cookies. Jamie, our son, was a great help with frosting and packaging. He’s so proud of his dad! 🙂



For the cookies, I used my tried and true sugar cookie and royal icing recipe I’ve used for holiday cookies in the past. This time, I used powdered egg white merengue for the frosting, and I think it really made a difference. The exterior piped frosting was perfectly hard. I am just not so great at piping! I dyed the frosting a bright green to match the Start button on the cover of the book. We frosted them green, then later, I piped the Start symbol on top in white. It is an extra step to do the piping and then the fill with diluted frosting, but the results are much better. You get a crisp outline and a very smooth interior with no ridges.

The event was wonderful. Fun to see old friends and new ones. Denis spoke about how he came to write the story, which is inspired by my uncle, Nicholas, Nakabayashi, who fought with the 100th Battalion during WWII. Denis also had fun playing Escape the Room Games with Jamie as research. 🙂

I was surprised that almost all of my 38 cookies were eaten at the event! Only two remained, which we enjoyed after the big event. 🙂 



Filed under Art Related, Books, Cookies, Desserts, Uncategorized

Chocolate Hardware Tools and Book Signing in Brooklyn

Melissa Iwai 2016

Melissa Iwai 2016

Anne Rockwell, the author of Let’s Go to the Hardware Store, and I will be at BookCourt (163 Court St.) in Brooklyn tomorrow  (March 26) at 2 pm to read and sign books. I will also talk a bit about how I created the artwork for the story.

I also made a bunch of treats to bring to the event!

First up are dark chocolate and milk chocolate tools. I bought a cute tool mold here to make the candies. I melted chocolate pieces in a heat proof bowl in the microwave at 30 second intervals (about 1.5 to 2 minutes). Mixed well to get rid of any lumps and poured into the molds.


Getting the chocolate in the nooks and crannies takes a bit of time. You can nudge the chocolate with a spoon. Then, I wiped the edges clean with a damp paper towel and tapped the mold hard on the counter several times to get rid of any air bubbles. I found the dark chocolate to be easier to work with. Then I stuck it in the refrigerator to chill. The milk chocolate took longer to harden. Also, I discovered that the longer you let the chocolate chill, the easier it is to remove.


To do so, you just turn the mold over and gently press on the shapes. The chocolate should snap out in one piece.

Finished tools -- they are so shiny!

Finished tools — they are so shiny!

I wrapped the chocolates in foil, and then printed out my illustrations of tools from the book and affixed them to the wrapped chocolates.


For the toolbox, I made gingerbread. I used the same recipe I used for my Haunted Gingerbread House and Magna Tiles, but made one and half batches. I was inspired by this blogger’s cute tool box, but I made my own template, and I used a breadstick instead of a straw for the handle.

The trick is to roll the dough out on the baking sheet on parchment.


Then, using a template, score the dough gently with a knife. Bake for 15 minutes. While the dough is still warm, cut out the shapes. This ensures a sharp clean edge.


Then I frosted the pieces using this recipe. I am not so great at frosting and made my flooding icing too thin. 😦 So my toolbox is not so pretty. But it holds my chocolates well. I made a divider out of card stock that is labelled “dark chocolate” and “milk chocolate” on each side so people can choose their favorites.

If you are in the Brooklyn area, please stop by and say “Hi” and grab a chocolate tool! 🙂



Chocolate Candies

1 bag chocolate pieces

  1. Pour 5 oz. of chocolate into a medium bowl.
  2. Heat at 30 second intervals in the microwave oven, checking the chocolate each time. You don’t want to overheat it. When it is smooth and silky when you stir it, stop heating. For dark chocolate it was about 90 seconds. For milk chocolate it was a little longer.
  3. Pour chocolate into candy molds. Be sure not to overfill. Nudge chocolate with a spoon or knife into nooks and crannies.
  4. Wipe around mold if you got chocolate in between shapes. Chocolate will come out easier if all the edges are clean. Tap mold hard several times on counter to remove air bubbles.
  5. Chill in refrigerator until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  6. To remove, turn mold over and gently press on the bottom. Chocolate should pop out easily.


Filed under Art Related, Children, Cookies, Desserts

Easy Weeknight Panini

Prosciutto and havarti panini

Prosciutto and havarti panini

Juggling too many projects at the moment!  I haven’t been cooking anything too complicated or time consuming recently.  Our dinners have been very E.A.S.Y.  Check out this post for what I am talking about!  Luckily, my guys are OK with it.

A new 5 minute worthy dinner I started making recently is panini.  I use Tuscan Pane from Trader Joes, but any good, hearty artisanal bread would work.  All you have to do is heat a grill pan (I have a cast iron one), brush some olive oil on the outside slices of the bread, make a sandwich with it using whatever filling you like, and grill it.  You’ll get a fabulous panini — you know the kind that costs upwards of $7 (Panera) and $10 – $15 (Le Pain Quotidien) for a fraction of the cost — maybe a couple dollars each?  Serve with a salad or soup, and you’re done.

I made Denis’ with prosciutto and havarti.   Jamie’s  was with prosciutto, shredded Monterey Jack and olive tapenade.  Mine was with roasted turkey, Monterey Jack, roasted cauliflower, and olive tapenade.   That’s the other great thing about panini:  It is easy to keep everyone happy.  🙂

Easy Weeknight Panini

olive oil for brushing, about 1 tablespoon depending on how many sandwiches you are making

Good quality sliced bread – I used Tuscan Pane

Fillings:  sliced meats, cheeses, spreads like hummus, sun dried tomato, tapenade, roasted vegetables, arugula, caramelized onions, marshmallows… (just kidding!  Although, a sweet panini with marshmallows and chocolate chips and pb doesn’t sound bad — hey, that might be in another post!)

1.  Heat grill pan on medium heat.

2.  While grill pan is heating, brush olive oil on the outside sides of two pieces of bread.

3.  Make a sandwich with said bread.  Place on grill pan.  Weight with a heavy object, like a cast iron skillet.  If you don’t have one, put a baking sheet on top and weight with a pot or two.

I weight mine with a cast iron skillet placed right on top.

I weight mine with a cast iron skillet placed right on top.

4. Grill for about 40 seconds to a minute depending on how crispy you want it.  Remove weight, and flip panini with tongs (you need them to grab it quickly).  Place weight on again and grill for another 30-40 seconds.

The panini is crispy on the outside and chewy and creamy with the melted cheese in the middle.

The panini is crispy on the outside and chewy and creamy with the melted cheese in the middle.



Filed under Cookies, Dinner, Grains

Mini Monster Cookies and Draw A Monster Game

pile monster cookies close

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a literacy workshop organized by the St. Nick’s Alliance of Brooklyn.  The event was held at Junior High School 126 and was made possible by the Brooke Jackman Foundation which works to improve literacy among the city’s at-risk students.  The children I worked with ranged from grades 3-5.  They had been participating in the program after school for 8 weeks, and the night I came to speak was the night of their graduation from the program.

hush_bookI read (actually I sang it!  lol) Hush Little Monster to them and talked about the process of making the book.  I spoke about how revising and editing both the text and the pictures was a big part of the process.  For example, originally, it was supposed to be a Halloween book.  Then the publisher decided to change it to a good-night picture book.  So we had to change the ending which originally read: “So scream little monster, small and green, for tonight is Halloween!”


Now the ending reads: “So hush, Little Monster, not a peep!  The sun is coming out; now it’s time to sleep.”


After some Q and A, we all did an activity I created called Draw A Monster Game.  I made three sets of colored cards with different characteristics pasted on top.  Pink cards have general shape words (e.g. big, tall, hairy, etc.), Green cards have characteristics (e.g. antennae, fangs, wings, etc.), and Yellow cards have emotions (e.g. sad, happy, shy, etc.).


Each student chose one Pink card, two Green cards, and one Yellow card and used those to create a monster.  I brought a ton of art supplies, ranging from pens and crayons and markers, to collage materials, such as sequins, glitter, feathers, dried pasta, yarn, etc.  Some parents and the teenage counselors also wanted to take part!  It was so cute to see this one “tough” guy in his early 20s with long sideburns, a brooding look and tattoos very meticulously put glue in spindly monster legs and carefully dust with glitter.  I wish I had taken photos, but I was so busy running around helping students and talking to people, it didn’t even occur to me!

This is the monster I created as a demo.  I got the cards “fat”, “three eyes”, “horns”, and “happy” for my words.


After the students created their monsters, they filled out a Monster Fact Sheet and wrote about their characters.   I have to say, the Monster Fact Sheet was my son, Jamie’s idea.  Before the event when I was trying to create an activity that went with the story, I ran it by him, and he suggested having the fact sheet!  He even wrote one up for me on his own and insisted I use it, so I did.  I typed it up and added one or two lines, but that’s it.  So proud of my guy!

jamies sheet

Everyone loved the drawing game.  It is really fun to play.  And all the monsters are SO different!  All the children wanted to share them with the group.  The stories they came up with were priceless.  One girl drew a zombie cat monster who lived in “the pet cemetery in the sky”.  Its favorite food is “bacon in the sky — which is ‘flying bacon'”.  I love it!

For the graduation, the kids were presented with  a backpack filled with books, including a signed copy of Hush Little Monster, and I passed out my mini monster cookies.  These cookies appear in the book:

Note monster mom carrying tray of wormy cookies!

Note monster mom carrying tray of wormy cookies.

I developed this recipe for the book launch last year.  But for this event, I revised the recipe to accommodate a large group.  I doubled the amounts, omitted the peanut butter chips due to peanut allergies, and I made them a lot smaller.  I ended up with over 80 cookies!  I only had 11 gummy worms, however.  It worked out though, because the gummies were pretty big. I cut each one into tiny pieces.

gummiesAnd added one or two worm piece to each cookie as they came out of the oven.  If you can’t get the gummy worm to stick as the cookies cool down, just zap the worm on the cookie  in the microwave for about 10 seconds and they will soften and adhere to the cookie.

mini monster cookie close

If you’d like to try playing the game, all the elements (instructions, card words, fact sheet) can be found here at my NEWLY UPDATED WEBSITE!   View my work, see my books, and check out the other fun freebies and craft and cooking ideas for kids I have there.  Please take a look and let me know what you think— I’d love to hear from you!

pile monster cookies

Mini Monster Cookies

adapted from Everything But the Kitchen Sink Cookies from The Cookiepedia

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 egg white (I used 3/4 tablespoon liquid whites)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup mixture of chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and dried coconut

1 cup potato chips and pretzels broken into pieces

About 6 gummy worms cut into small pieces

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs. Mix to incorporate, scraping down sides of bowl.

3.  Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in another bowl.

Slowly add to butter and sugar mixture while mixer is running.

4.  Add sweet and salty mixtures to batter and stir together.

5.  Spoon tablespoonfuls of dough onto two baking sheets covered with parchment paper or Silpat mats.  I could get 12 mounds on one sheet.

6.  Bake for about 10-16  minutes, rotating pans halfway.

7.  When cookies are golden, remove from oven and press 2 pieces of gummy worms onto each cookie.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Makes about 40 small cookies.

Recipe may be doubled.


Filed under Art Related, Books, Children, Cookies, Desserts

Malts and Milkshakes!

White Russian Malt

White Russian Malt

We are crazy about milkshakes.  Our favorite soda fountain/diner is in Shelter Island at the local drugstore.  It’s the real deal and has been there forever.  Every time we visit my husband’s parents, we make a special visit there for lunch and a giant chocolate milkshake (which we share).

This guy moves so fast I couldn't get a non-blurry picture!

This guy moves so fast I couldn’t get a non-blurry picture!

Being a member of a shake loving family, I was thrilled to review Malts and Milkshakes  60 Recipes for Frosty Creamy Frozen Treats by award winning chef, Autumn Martin, of Hot Cakes and Confections.  After trying a few recipes and reading all of them, I have to say:  Malts and Milkshakes is a MUST HAVE for shake lovers!!

malts and milkshakes book cover

Every recipe sounds fantastic.  They range from Soda Fountain Classics (e.g. Strawberry Shake, Butterscotch Shake or Malt, Dark Chocolate Shake or Malt) to Modern Flavors (e.g. Salted Caramel Shake, Molten Chocolate Cake Shake, Bacon-Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Shake, Tamarind Shake) to Boozy (e.g. Dark and Stormy Shake, Southern Comfort Shake, Jalapeno Tequila Shake).  But it’s not just shakes–there are also some amazing cookie recipes (Salted Peanut Butter Cookies, Bacon-Oatmeal Raisin Cookies) and ice cream recipes (both dairy and non-dairy)!

I seriously would like to try every recipe — they look that good.  The design of the book and the food styling and photography of the desserts are gorgeous and totally inspiring to me.

For this review, I decided to limit myself to just three recipes:  A Soda Fountain Classic shake, a cookie, and a Boozy shake (just because).

pb shake

For the Soda Fountain Classic, I went with the Peanut Butter Shake because who doesn’t love peanut butter!?  And it was a little more special than a Vanilla or Chocolate one.  This shake has three components:  The creamy peanut butter shake, Salted Peanut Butter Cookie crumbles, and Candied Peanuts.  It might sound labor intensive, but it really wasn’t.  I made the cookies for a play date and saved one for the shake.  And the Candied Peanuts literally take two minutes to make (saute finely chopped peanuts with sugar).  And it was SO worth it, making this a very special shake that tastes completely like you just bought it in a specialty shake shop.  It was fun to eat it with spoons (I love the chunky mixture of the peanut butter cookies with the shake) and drink it with straws (as always, we shared one big one).

The Salted Peanut Butter Cookies are light, chewy, and tasty on their own.  Putting them in a shake is genius though.

pb cookies

For the  Boozy Shake, I had to try the White Russian Malt, because I love Kahlua!  I still have one of my bottles from the cruise we took two summers ago, which I’ve been savoring.


I divided the recipe in half and made one tall shake.  Then I took a photo and divided it into three small glasses for each of us.  Then I added booze to mine. 🙂  This shake made me swoon.  I will definitely make it again on a special occasion.  It has all the flavors I love:  chocolate, coffee sweetness, a bit of tang from the sour cream, a bit of alcohol kick from the vodka…  It was SOOO good.

There are a bunch of shakes I want to try in the future — I’m thinking the  Cherry Brandy Shake is definitely calling my name…Also the Peanut Butter and Jelly shake…. Also the Espresso shake… Also the Molten Chocolate Cake shake… OK, you get the picture!

Check out this book if you can — you won’t be disappointed!

Peanut Butter Shake

Candied Peanuts:

1/4 cup unroasted peanuts

2 tablespoons sugar


1 1/2 cups natural salted creamy peanut butter (I used Trader Joe’s)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup milk

pinch of kosher salt

8 scoops vanilla ice cream

3/4 cup Salted Peanut Butter Cookie chunks (recipe follows)

1.  To make the candied peanuts:  Combine the peanuts and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the peanuts are finely chopped.  Be sure not to grind too much or you will make peanut butter!

2.  In a small saute pan over medium heat, warm the candied peanuts, stirring constantly.  After about 1 minute, the sugar will begin to melt, so be sure to keep stirring at this point.  Cook, stirring, for another minute, or until the nuts are light brown and the sugar has melted.

3.  Immediately transfer the candied peanuts to a plate and allow to cool.

4.  To make the shake:  Blend the peanut butter, sugar, milk, and salt until nice and smooth.  Add the ice cream and blend until it is just incorporated. (This shake is thick, so you may need to scrape down the sides of the blender.)

5.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of the candied peanuts and the cookie chunks.

6.  Pour into glasses and garnish with a sprinkling of candied peanuts.  You may want to eat this shake with a spoon!

Serves 4 in 6-ounce glasses

cookie with bite

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

2 cups plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose or pastry flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sticks plus 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups natural salted creamy peanut butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (You can also do this by hand, with a sturdy spoon.)

5.  Using an ice cream scoop (about the capacity of 1/4 cup), scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, taking care to leave about 2 inches between cookies.

6.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and pale golden around the edges.  It is important that these cookies aren’t fully baked, as the chewier they are, the better.  And if you are freezing them for ice cream sandwiches, you won’t want a crisp cookie–so be careful not to overbake!

7.  Transfer the baking sheet to a rack, and cool the cookies completely on the sheet.

8.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes 20 large cookies

white russian malt up close

White Russian Malt

1/4 milk powder

1/4 cup malt powder

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Kahlua

8 scoops vanilla ice cream

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vodka

1 recipe Lightly Whipped Cream, for garnish (whip 1/4 cup heavy cream, chilled with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract until soft peaks form.)

1.  Blend the milk and malt powders, half-and-half, sour cream, and sugar well.

2.  Add the Kahlua and blend well.  Add the ice cream and blend until it is just incorporated.  Stir in the vodka using a spoon.

3.  Pour into glasses and garnish with a dollop of lightly whipped cream.


Filed under Cookies, Desserts

Cookies for Passover from The Daily Cookie

the daily cookie

Passover is almost over, but I wanted to share these two amazing desserts that I made for the week for my husband, who observes the custom of not eating leavened products during this time.

Pareve Brownies

Pareve Brownies

The recipes are from The Daily Cookie, written by Anna Ginsburg of Cookie Madness, my favorite cookie blog of all time.

I first met Anna in 2006 at a Cooking Light Reader Recipe Contest finalist cook-off event held in Birmingham, AL where Cooking Light Magazine’s editorial division is located.  I was completely in awe of her. She had just taken the grand prize of a million dollars (!!) in the 42nd Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest! She had made appearances in the Today show, cooked with onstage with Oprah, and was a seasoned veteran of the recipe contesting circuit, which I had just fallen into by fluke. Happily, we were seated at the same table during the Awards Night Dinner, and I got to know her and her wonderful husband, Todd.  While we did not win our categories (I was in Main Dish and she was in Dessert), we were featured in the magazine and our recipes appear in the  2008 Cooking Light Annual Recipes Cookbook (we’re both on pages 96-97!).

More importantly, we became friends and our families have met and gotten to
know each other throughout the years.

When Anna told me about the book she was writing last year during a visit to Brooklyn, I was so excited for her. We bought a copy of The Daily Cookie when it was released by Andrews McMeel Publishing last November.

The Daily Cookie is a cookie compendium of cookie recipes for every day of the year, plus fun facts about holidays and events of each day as well.  When we first got our copy, Jamie and I went through the whole book reading the cookie names and fun facts to each other as bedtime reading.  It is fun to look up special dates and see what that day has to offer.  For example, Jamie’s birthday, June 30th, has a recipe for Kryptonite Macarons (pistachio macarons filled with dark chocolate cream) because it is Superman’s birthday as well!  It also happens to be Meteor Watch Day.

We had a blast going through the whole recipe book and plotting which cookies we would make and learning fun facts about each day of the year.  I can’t imagine what Anna went through to create all 365 recipes let alone testing them and writing them. She’s a cookie goddess, so it makes sense that she did.  She posts a new recipe on her blog every day.

Anna is a meticulous baker and has done countless experiments with ingredients:  using different ratios; different brands; different baking methods; etc.  She has done comparison analyses of different types of cookie recipes on Cookie Madness to determine the best kind of cookie for different cookie characteristics (please check our her blog!) The Daily Cookie is also as thorough, meticulous and organized. It’s truly inspiring and such a joy to read.

In the back of the book there are several indices of the recipes arranged by cookie type, pan-size, batch size, convenience, special diets, makes a great gift, and bake sale favorites, in addition to the common alphabetized index! I just love that. 🙂

flourless peanut butter cookies

For Passover, I made the Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies (September 8— also International Literacy Day; Founding of Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565; and Scotch tape invented in 1930) as well as the Pareve Brownies (April 7 — also World Health Day). Both are really simple to make and so delicious, they will be made year round in this household!

Poor Denis — the treats were made especially for him, and all the other non-observers in the family gobbled them up with abandon as well.  The Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies recipe is here on Anna’s blog.  A slight difference is that in the book they are sans chopped peanuts and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, but I made them plain without either and they were SOOOO good and so easy to make!  Just five ingredients!

pareven brownies 2

The Pareve Brownies recipe is reprinted below with permission.  If you are a cookie lover like we are or know a cookie lover, please buy this book! It is chock full of great cookie recipes and is a great read as well. The only dilemma is deciding which cookie to make first!

Pareve Brownies
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons matzo cake meal
3/4 cup unsweetened natural style or Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon plus an extra pinch of salt
2/3 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1/3 cup pareve or vegan semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 F and place a rack in the center. Line an
8-inch square metal baking pan with nonstick foil.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in
a large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the sugar,
eggs, and egg yolk on medium speed for about 2 minutes or until light.
Beat in the vegetable oil, cake meal, cocoa powder, and espresso powder
and continue mixing until smooth. Beat in the salt and walnuts, and
then stir in the chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared pan.

3. Bake the brownies for 28 to 32 minutes, or just until they appear
set. For this recipe, it’s important not to overbake. Let cool
completely in the pan. Grasp the foil, lift from the pan, set on a
cutting board, and cut into sixteen squares.

Baker’s Notes: Espresso powder gives these unleavened brownies a rich
deep flavor. If you can’t find matzo cake meal, put a little regular
matzo or matzo meal in a small coffee grinder and grind it until it is
very fine.


Filed under Cookies

Holiday Butter Cookies Three Ways

stack 2

Every year I make a ton of holiday cookies to pass out to friends and family.  I have been collecting recipes since 2000.  Here are some of the every year standards:

Hidden Surprise Snowball Cookies


Turtle Browniesturtle

Chocolate Crinkles


Brown Sugar Ginger Crisps


Pistachio Orange Lace Cookies

These are usually more tan, rather than green!

These are usually more tan, rather than green!

Stained Glass Trees



Our gingerbread castle

Our gingerbread castle

Favorites tend to appear over and over because people request them, but I also try to test a couple of news ones every season as well.

Jamie has been imploring me to bake cookies for a special “snack” for his class, so I decided to try out three variations on a theme in one pop!

This basic cookie dough recipe is from an old 2003 issue of Gourmet (he wasn’t even born yet!)  that I’ve used for cut-out cookie holiday cookies, which we then frost.  The cookie dough is versatile, and you can add different flavors to it, creating a whole new cookie.

I decided to try out three that are school-friendly (i.e. containing no nuts):  A lemon one, a chocolate one, and one drizzled with melted chocolate and white chocolate.


Lemon Butter Cookie

Chocolate Butter Cookies with sanding sugar

Chocolate Butter Cookies with sanding sugar

Butter Cookies Drizzled with Melted Chocolate and White Chocolate

Butter Cookies Drizzled with Melted Chocolate and White Chocolate

Instead of making three batches of dough, I made one batch, divided it into three parts, and then flavored one with lemon and one with chocolate.  I drizzled the last third with melted semi-sweet and white chocolate.

Here is the link to the original recipe, and here is my version of three different cookies in one batch. 🙂

Packed for school!

Packed for school!

Holiday Butter Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For Lemon Cookie batch:

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

For Chocolate Cookie batch:

1/3 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder

a little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3.5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Demerara sugar for sanding (optional)

For Chocolate Drizzle Batch:

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

1/4 cup white chocolate chips, melted

1.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.

2.  Beat together butter and sugar in bowl of a standing mixer for 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

3.  Divide dough into thirds and remove from bowl.  Wrap one of the thirds in saran in the shape of a 4-inch log.  Return one third back to mixing bowl and add lemon juice and zest.  Mix until combined.  Wrap this lemon dough in saran in the shape of a 4-inch log.

4. Return last third of dough back to mixing bowl and add cocoa powder, baking soda, and melted chocolate to dough.  Mix until combined.  Wrap chocolate dough in saran and shape into a 4-inch log.  Chill all logs for at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven.  Cut each chilled dough log into 1/4-inch slices and place on baking sheet 1 -inch apart.  For chocolate slices, roll in Demerara sugar if desired.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway.  Cool cookies on sheets for 3 minutes.  Then remove to cool completely on racks.

6.  Decorate plain batch of butter cookies with melted chocolates by transferring melted chocolate to a sandwich bag and  snipping a small hole in one corner.  Squeeze bag and drizzle chocolate over cookies in a Jackson Pollack fashion. 🙂  Repeat with white chocolate.  Chill to set chocolate for about an hour.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

in box


Filed under Cookies, Desserts

Pumpkin Granola Bars Two Ways: Chewy and Crunchy

Fall is already well underway!  I can’t believe how fast Halloween is approaching.  We’ve been promoting our book, Hush Little Monster,  and doing book signings and readings.  It will continue into November.  For a list of appearances, click here.   We would love to see you if you are in the area during those times!
I was also featured on Kathy Temean’s Illustrator Saturday post over the weekend about my work and process.  Check it out here.
The coming of fall also brings…. pumpkin puree in the stores!

I thought it would be fun to develop a pumpkin recipe, and I was inspired to try making pumpkin granola bars.  I love Kashi’s because they are really crunchy and not too sweet.

I hadn’t known how hard it would be to come up with something that I would be satisfied with! The last couple of weeks have been devoted to this enterprise.  There have been “fails” along the way, but even these have tasted pretty good.  The problem has been getting it to be crunch-worthy and stick together!


I  initially based my ingredients on a peanut butter chewy granola bar that I will share soon in a future post.  I exchanged the peanut butter for pumpkin and applesauce, decreased the sugar, and used pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds) instead of almonds. Unfortunately, this version of granola bar had rice cereal in it and became soggy immediately when it came in contact with the moisture of the pumpkin and applesauce!  I could hear the “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” as I was putting the pan in the oven…  FAIL!  It tasted good, but the texture was like mochi. 😦

In the second round of my quest for crunch, I omitted the rice cereal, upped the oats, and added egg white  thinking this would help the crispiness as in Anna’s Chunky Granola.   The result was a really good, tasty chewy version of pumpkin granola bars.  They are very much like an oatmeal bar cookie.  Jamie loves these and prefers them to the crunchy version.

Chewy with chocolate chips and dried cranberries!

Unsatisfied, I pushed onto a third round.  This time, I omitted the egg white, chocolate chips, and dried cranberries, thinking less chunky ingredients would help make them stay together better when cutting.  I also baked the mixture on a baking sheet in a thinner layer than the one in the baking pan.

The result was a crunchy, tasty granola bar! Finally!  There was some breakage — they are fragile– but the resulting granola is as delicious.  I mixed it with the dried cranberries and chips that I had omitted.  This granola is addicting.

I could eat this all day long.

As a side note, this granola — and their bar counterparts (I break them up) are heavenly with ice cream! Also, Jamie has come up with a novel recipe on his own which he says he will post on his blog, involving the chewy granola bars and cookie butter.   Trust me, it is wonderful.
I could go on experimenting — adding flax seeds, wheat germ, etc., but if I did, I’d end up eating batches more of granola and granola bars, and I wouldn’t be able to fit in my jeans, so I’ll stop for now!


So there you have it.  Two pumpkin granola bars with similar flavors but different textures.  Which do you prefer?  Crunchy? Or chewy?


Chewy Pumpkin Granola Bars

2 cups oats

¼ cup pumpkin seeds (I used roasted, salted pepitas – they are smaller and have been removed from the shell)

¼ cup pumpkin puree

¼ cup applesauce

¼ cup honey

1 tablespoon oil (see note below)

1 egg white

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon pumpkin spice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

¼ cup chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, toss oats and pepitas together.  Set aside.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, applesauce, oil, egg white, honey, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and brown sugar together.  Pour over dry ingredients and stir until everything is coated evenly. Add dried cranberries and chocolate chips and stir to combine.

4.  Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Really press down and pack it in as tightly as you can in an even layer.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, watching closely at the end.  Let pan cool on rack for about 5 minutes.  Run knife around edge, invert pan onto cutting board.  Cut sheet of granola in half, then into fifths, so you have ten bars.  Carefully transfer bars to rack and let cool completely.

Crunchy Pumpkin Granola Bars

2 cups oats

¼ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas – see above)

¼ cup pumpkin puree

¼ cup applesauce

¼ cup honey

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon pumpkin spice

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, toss oats and pepitas together.  Set aside.

3.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, applesauce, oil, honey, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and brown sugar together.  Pour over dry ingredients and stir until everything is coated evenly.

4.  Pour mixture onto prepared sheet.  Shape into a square shape, and press down and pack it together as tightly as possible in an even layer about 3/8-inch thick. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and cut square in half and then into fifths, so you have ten bars.  They are very fragile, so be careful!  Of course any broken pieces can turn into tasty granola though….

5.  Return baking sheet to oven and cook for another 5-8 minutes, watching closely at the end of baking.  Let pan cool on rack for about 5 minutes.  Carefully transfer bars to rack and let cool completely.   They will harden up as they cool.

These can be stored in an airtight container.  If they lose their crispness, after a day or two, just toast in a toaster oven for a minute or two and then let cool completely.  They will be crunchy again!

Note:  I broke my resolve and made another batch today for a play date!  I accidentally forgot the oil (duh!), but they came out OK, and were still crunchy.  So oil is optional.


Filed under Breakfast, Cookies, Desserts, Snack, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Princeton Book Festival

This Saturday (September 8), Denis, Jamie and I will be at the 7th Annual Princeton Children’s Book Festival.  Denis will read Hush Little Monster at 11:20 am and we’ll both be signing books.  There will be a lot of amazing authors and illustrators there, so if you are in the area, please check it out!

I made this little guy out of faux green fur and felt.  His eyes are a little big because I didn’t have smaller ones in my craft stash.  I had to make him wee because I only had a little piece of red cotton for his shirt!

This will give you an idea of his size:

I’ll be handing out gummy worms to continue my Monster Cookie theme.

I also updated the activity section of my website to include a downloadable coloring sheet for kids!


Filed under Books, Cookies

Monster Cookies

Our book was released by Simon and Schuster yesterday!

back of postcard info

It’s written by my husband, Denis, and inspired by our son, Jamie.

Jamie and Denis recreating the cover of the book

We got a starred review in Publishers Weekly. 🙂

To celebrate, Jamie helped me make Monster Cookies, inspired by the Mommy Monster’s snacks in the book.

Copyright Melissa Iwai 2012

Another example of life imitating art…

I definitely wanted “worms” in them so I decided on gummy worms which I cut in half and pressed into the cookies right after they came out of the oven (obviously I wasn’t going to bake them, as they would have turned into a puddle of goo).

Instead of sticks, we used broken up pretzels. We also threw in some chips for the saltiness and crazy monster factor.

For sweet add-ins we used chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, and dried coconut.

half-way full

This recipe was based on Everything But the Kitchen Sink Cookies found in The Cookiepedia by Stacy Adimando. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to make with kids. Coming up with the salty and sweet add-ins is part of the fun.  I reduced the amounts by 1/3 because I didn’t want to make a huge amount of cookies.  This version makes a cool one dozen large cookies.

Sweet and savory additions in the mixing bowl

I was surprised at how much they spread and got so huge! But they are monster cookies, after all… so the size is appropriate.

They taste really great. You can’t perceive the potato chips, but the saltiness surely adds to the overall flavor.  The pretzels give it good crunch.

The gummy worm addition actually works with the flavors! But I think next time we make these, we’ll add old fashioned oats for more texture.

If you get a chance, please check out Hush Little Monster! It is a perfect book for a monster loving child– or a little monster of your own. 🙂

Monster Cookies

adapted from Everything But the Kitchen Sink Cookies from The Cookiepedia

1 1/2 sticks butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 egg white (I used 3/4 tablespoon liquid whites)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used a combination of white and whole wheat)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup mixture of peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and dried coconut

1 cup potato chips and pretzels broken into pieces

6 gummy worms cut in half

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs. Mix to incorporate, scraping down sides of bowl.

3.  Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in another bowl.

Slowly add to butter and sugar mixture while mixer is running.

4.  Add sweet and salty mixtures to batter and stir together.

5.  Spoon twelve round dough mounds  2-inches apart onto two baking sheets covered with parchment paper or Silpat mats.

6.  Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating pans halfway.

7.  When cookies are golden, remove from oven and press 2 halves of gummy worms onto each cookie.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Makes 1 dozen very large cookies.


Filed under Art Related, Books, Children, Cookies, Desserts