FARGO — Two weeks ago, our son Giovanni officially became a middle schooler, and in just two more weeks he will enter his final year as a 'tween. Our skinny, knobby-kneed little boy is now filling out and changing before our very eyes as his body prepares for an imminent growth spurt. And as Gio's appetite grows right along with him, it has become a challenge to find a snack satisfying enough to hold him over until dinnertime.

Thank goodness for monster cookies.

Made with a combination of oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips and M&Ms, this cookie is like having all of your favorite cookies rolled into one giant cookie.

Several weeks ago, as I was browsing among the Doubting Thomas Farms stall at the Red River Market, I stumbled across a bag of the most beautiful oats I have ever seen. Packaged in a simple brown bag with a clever window on the front, these rolled, whole grain oats were richly colored, thick and almost nutty in appearance — nothing like the flatter, flakier old-fashioned oats I usually buy. I couldn't resist making a purchase.

I visited with organic farmer Noreen Thomas to find out what makes their oats so special, and she explained that their rolled oats are milled with the living germ intact, which means that they retain more of their fiber, nutrients and disease-fighting properties.

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But other than being healthier, would there be a noticeable difference in the final outcome of a recipe?

I put this question to the test by baking two separate batches of monster cookies for each type of oat. I made them at the same time, using exactly the same ingredients except for the oats. I halved the batter for both and made one batch with chocolate chips and M&Ms, and one batch with raisins for each type of oat, resulting in four different cookies to compare.

Monster cookies are, by their very nature, a large cookie, so I used a 2-inch ice cream scoop to ensure that each cookie was the same size. I was able to fit six cookies on each half-sheet pan, and I baked them one sheet at a time, alternating between each cookie batch.

While both batches yielded 36 cookies each, I was surprised to find that there was a distinct and uniform difference in size and appearance between the different cookies. The cookies made with the Doubting Thomas oats were thinner and larger, all 4 inches in diameter, while the ones made with the regular oats were thick and chunky, and only 3 inches in diameter.

I had several friends and family members sample each cookie, asking them first to identify which cookie they thought contained the organic oats, and eight out of 10 people (wrongly) picked the smaller, thicker cookie.

When it came to taste, the Doubting Thomas cookies were the runaway favorites, with eight out of 10 people preferring the larger, chewier monster cookies, and a unanimous consensus on the raisin variety.

When it was Gio's turn, he tasted the regular oats monster cookie and said, "Mmm, good." But when he tasted the Doubting Thomas cookie, he said, "Ohhh, these are great."

The Doubting Thomas oats are a bit more expensive than regular oats, but with results like these, they are worth every penny. They can be found at the Red River Market on Saturdays, and are also sold at Bernbaum Bagels, both in downtown Fargo.

I cannot wait to use them in another recipe for my hungry little man.

Sarah's Monster Cookies

Makes: 36 4-inch cookies

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups creamy peanut butter

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup granulated white sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¼ cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

4 ½ cups rolled whole grain oats (old-fashioned oats)

Flavor add-ins:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips and 1 cup M&Ms plain candies, or

1 ½ cups raisins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter or nonstick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the peanut butter with the sugars for 1 minute on medium speed, then add the butter and continue mixing for 3 to 5 minutes until well combined. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating hard after adding each.

Add the vanilla, maple syrup, baking soda and salt, and mix again until combined. Stir in the oats until fully incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir in the flavor add-ins until evenly distributed.

Use a 2-inch ice cream scoop or drop the cookies by heaping spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets. Use a glass or measuring cup to gently press each cookie. If using M&Ms, for a better presentation, dot each cookie with a few extra candies before baking.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies puff up and turn a light golden brown. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheets until the cookies are set. They will deflate considerably after removing from oven. Transfer to wire racks and cool completely before storing in an airtight container or freezer.