Peanut Butter Bars

Peanut Butter Bars

Today is my Aunt’s birthday – she would have been 63 years old today.  My family is full of bakers – in every generation.  Bonnie was not really known as a baker, although she will always go down in history for winning the brownie bake-off two years in a row.  Unfortunately I had already moved to the west coast at this point, and I wasn’t able to participate in the fun – but my family took this competition very seriously.  This was not an easy contest to win, and I remember talking to her after she won – I could see her beaming all the way on the other side of the country.

As if it was bad enough to lose Bonnie, now my Uncle is sick.  Fortunately he has a ravenous appetite, which in our family is a really good thing.  My mother went to visit him today with a pile of chocolate chip cookies – she said he ate a few, and then hid the rest from all his visitors.  I laughed – since at this point, I think that is completely appropriate.

I couldn’t go tomorrow empty handed, so I thought long and hard about what I wanted to make him.  I wanted to make brownies, but I thought that something a little different was in order – peanut butter.  Who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter?  I remembered this recipe that my friend Kirsty posted – and I thought they would be perfect.  I adapted the recipe slightly below – and the sample bite I had today was exactly what I was looking for.  A nice peanut butter flavor with a chocolate chip in every bite.  They might not be Bonnie’s winning recipe, but they were made with love.  Just like hers.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (milk chocolate or dark chocolate)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9‐in x 13‐in baking dish and set aside. Beat the butter and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar; mix well. Next add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Finally mix in the vanilla. In a separate mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly incorporate the flour into the peanut butter mixture. Next stir in the chocolate chips. Then spread the batter into the greased baking dish. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or un􀆟l lightly browned. Cool, slice and serve.

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Triple Nut Energy Bars

 

Triple Nut Energy Bars

It is amazing to me how biased people can become.  Not just on food, but on anything.  You buy something – you love it, and then all of a sudden everything that company makes is amazing.  Some people would call that brand loyalty, I would actually call it something different.  That can happen just as easily with people.  You are impressed by what someone does – and maybe that happens a few times, but is that a reason to let your guard down and think that everything that person does is mind-blowing?

It is hard to describe what I have experienced over the past several days – but in some ways, it has helped me tremendously to focus on what I want to do next.  There is no reason to sit back any longer.  I thought my plan was pretty clear before last night – but as the evening wore on, things solidified even more.  Last night I experienced something truly unique.  Something that many people will never have the opportunity to be a part of.  I felt honored to be included, and both my husband and I were blown away.  It was exactly what I needed – I swear the trees parted ways in my head.  I am on a mission, and I can hardly wait to get started.

Now of course there will be bumps in the road, but in any venture, it is all about how you recover.  As I have mentioned, I have been on a KIND Bar kick lately – every weekend I make a batch for the week.  Surprisingly we have not become sick of them yet – but wouldn’t you know that last month’s Cooking Light had an article about energy bars?  They had a bunch of recipes for a similar bar, and of course I decided I had to compare.  Now remember – I never look at the ratings of recipes before I make that – that would take all the fun out of everything.

So – I whipped up a batch of these bars (adapting slightly to our tastes) and they looked wonderful.  That was until I tried to cut them.  They basically just crumbled into a mess.  There was no way I was getting nice rectangular shapes out of this batch.  So, I did what I could – I cut as many square bars as I could, then the rest of the crumbs I put in a container for on top of yogurt.  I gave the bars to my husband to bring to work – even though they were crumbly – I must say, they were delicious.  The crunchy quinoa was such a welcome treat, and the nut butter combined with coconut was just perfect.  Turns out, the people at his worked LOVED them – they were gone in a matter of hours.  So – what I thought was an absolute bust – turned out to be quite the opposite.  A lesson that can be applied anywhere…and I am sure one that will get a lot of use over the next year.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup salted, dry-roasted pistachios, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tablespoons flaxseed meal or wheat germ
  • 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup unsalted creamy almond butter
  • 6 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spread oats and quinoa on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Place oat mixture in a large bowl, and stir in cashews, almonds, pistachios, coconut, flaxseed meal, and chocolate.

Combine almond butter, agave, oil, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour almond butter mixture over oat mixture; toss well to coat. Press mixture into an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 13 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely in dish. Cut evenly into (1 x 4-inch) bars – or just crumble and serve on top of yogurt or ice-cream.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Triple Nut Energy Bars

Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies

Salted Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies

Life is all about choices.  What seems like a rather insignificant decision at one point in your life, can completely turn into something quite impactful.  When you stop and look at your life today, think back to how you got there, and you will be quite astonished, at least I am.  I think about how I met my husband in college, and if I had not gone to that school, where would I be now?  He was the main reason we came to Seattle, where I have spent the last 18 years of my life.  I look at my amazing children and think…wow, it was all because I saw that cat in the library.  And fortunately my husband and I ended up in the same freshman dorm.  Who knows if we would have met otherwise?

I guess you can do the same with mistakes you have made.  One wrong turn, and it can come crashing down.  And believe me, it is not pretty.  It is those times that you wish you could look back and make a different decision,
but often times it is too late.

For the most part I am a fairly decisive person.  Although, I absolutely have a right to change my mind.  I tend to work so quickly though, I don’t like to get bogged down.  Once I have the data I need, I move forward.  Now of course that is not always the case with food. Particularly when I am at a restaurant with too many good choices.  Thank goodness those decisions don’t usually have lifelong impact.  Cooking is a whole different game.  I usually know what I am after, and I make it happen.

On my continued quest to make homemade treats for lunches, with the added twist of baking dairy-free, I made a tough decision to substitute earth balance sticks for butter.  I found the recipe in Bon Appetit, and for the most part, their recipes are on the mark.  I think they do a really good job testing their recipes, and I am good at following directions, which makes for a very good combination.  I decided on earth balance as opposed to oil (which is what I normally bake with), because I thought the oil would make the bars too dense.  Well, turns out that the earth balance sticks were the same way.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we still polished off the entire tray of these, but they could have been just a little lighter.  But seriously – the homemade strawberry jam that I used, really made the entire dessert.  Fortunately for me, that decision will not have any life long consequences…at least I think so.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1¼  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons  strawberry jam
  • 1 tablespoon chopped honey-roasted peanuts

Preparation

Whisk together 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Whisk together 2 large eggs, 1 ½ cups light brown sugar, ¾ cup smooth peanut butter, ½ cup melted unsalted butter, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract; fold in dry ingredients. Scrape batter into a buttered 8×8″ baking pan. Dollop with 2 Tbsp. strawberry jam; top with 1 Tbsp. chopped honey-roasted peanuts. Bake at 350° until a tester comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies

Homemade KIND Bars

Homemade KIND Bars

One of my friends has the best saying ever when she says goodbye to her kids in the morning, “Have a sparkly day and remember to do something nice for someone!”  I absolutely love it.  I think that if everyone left their homes in the morning with that mission, the world would be a beautiful place filled with lots of sparkly people.  Unfortunately not everyone has that attitude in life.  It shocks me sometimes how people can be so inconsiderate.  But then again, most of the time those people really have no clue…and I just end up feeling sorry for them.  At some point in their lives, they will have a very lonely existence.

I have been a little crazy about KIND bars recently.  It’s funny, because when I first tried one, I was not impressed.  That was because I didn’t choose the right bar…I am a nut person (yes, I am a nut).  I don’t really like dried fruit with my nuts either – I am a purest when it comes to nuts.  So, after spending a few weeks eating these KIND bars, it hit me – why can’t I make these myself?  They can’t be that hard…if only I could find the recipe.  BING!!

Yes, after one search I found this blog Powerhungry – and she definitely had done her research.  I immediately went to the store to find this brown rice syrup (which I easily found at Whole Foods), and then stopped at Trader Joes for an assortment of nuts.  I couldn’t decide which ones to get, so I got many varieties, so I can make all sorts of different bars.  You need to follow the recipe carefully, and they will come out perfectly.  I swear you will never buy another bar again after making these.

So this weekend, if you are looking for something to do while the Seahawks are hopefully killing the Broncos – make a batch of these.  Then share them with someone you love.  After all, they are KIND bars.  Just maybe you will turn them into a sparkly person, now wouldn’t that be nice?

Ingredients

  • 2 cups toasted or raw nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds, pistachios, peanuts), coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup crisp rice cereal
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup or organic corn syrup (e.g., wholesome sweeteners) (note: honey will not work–bars will be sticky, not crispy)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8-inch square pan (9-inch is too big) with foil and lightly spray with (do not skip these steps!).  In a medium bowl, combine the chopped nuts and crisp rice cereal. Add the salt and syrup and stir to coat. Scrape/dump mixture into prepared pan. Now, to press it out evenly: Tear off a good size piece of foil  (around the size of the pan or slightly smaller). Lightly spray it with nonstick spray. Use the sprayed side of foil to press and spread evenly into pan. Works like a charm!

Bake for 18 minutes (the bars will not be hard at this point). Place pan on cooling rack and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes (give or take) until partially set up (it will depend on how hot or cold the kitchen—just don’t cool completely). Use the sides of foil to lift the bars from the pan. Do not try to remove from foil—they will stick like crazy. Cut into 8 bars.  Go and do something else until bars are completely cooled. Once cooled, the bars will lift right off of the foil. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Homemade KIND Bars

Fudgy Oatmeal Bars

Fudgy Oatmeal Bars

I am in the throws of the “December chaos,” I like to call it.  There is always so much I want to accomplish in December, and so very little time to get it all done.  This year I am getting a little smarter, and will actually take a couple of days off from work – just to be home by myself – and be ridiculously productive.  Between work, kid stuff and holiday stuff – I am completely maxed out.

Last week I was involved in a 2-day offsite at work.  I will admit, it is not easy stepping away from the my day job for two days – it is not like works stops around you.  You just sign up for working a lot at night.  The ironic part was that during this offsite, we had some folks at the Energy Project work with us for a half-day.  It was definitely sobering.  I know that sleep is incredibly important – in fact, nothing they told me was a surprise – but it really got me thinking.  I am already so productive during the day…what if I actually got 7-8 hours of sleep every night?  Would I become unstoppable?  Would I actually accomplish more so I had more time to rest?  Who really knows, but I am going to try hard to figure it out.  The problem is that I am not willing to cut out baking/cooking to reach that goal.

Everyone has their “thing.”  I know that when you don’t sleep a lot, you need to get your energy from another source.  Many people that don’t get a lot of sleep are overweight – they replace building energy from sleep with eating – which is another way to drive energy.  I actually don’t do that (or maybe I do, but I also love to exercise, so it cancels out the food…), but believe it or not, I get energy from baking.  Cooking not as much, but definitely baking.  I often get so much energy from baking, that I have no desire to really eat what I made.  Of course I will take a bite to try it, but I am certainly not baking to eat.  I am an enigma.

I found this recipe in Cooking Light – in a section where they were focusing on healthy snacks.  Now, I hardly think that these should be classified as healthy, but I guess everything is relative.  These had a wonderful oat crust, and the filling was chocolate heaven.  They were not too sweet, but definitely rich, so a small square is all you need for those mid-afternoon chocolate cravings.  So even if you didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before, no need to worry – these will definitely give you the energy you need – but seriously, shouldn’t we have our fudgy oatmeal bars and eat them too?  Don’t skimp on the sleep.

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Baking spray with flour

Filling:

  • 3.4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup evaporated fat-free milk
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso granules
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2  large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon 4.5 ounces flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through baking soda) in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup canola oil and 2 tablespoons butter; toss with a fork until crumbly. Remove 3/4 cup of oat mixture; set aside. Press remaining oat mixture into the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 13 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly.

To prepare filling, weigh or lightly spoon 3.4 ounces flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine milk and espresso granules in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until espresso dissolves. Add 3 tablespoons canola oil, 3 tablespoons butter, vanilla, and eggs to milk mixture, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to flour mixture, stirring to combine. Fold in chocolate.

Spread batter over prepared crust in pan. Sprinkle with reserved 3/4 cup oat mixture. Bake at 350° for 32 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a rack. Cut into 28 bars.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Fudgy Oatmeal Bars

Peanut-Almond Snack Bars

Peanut Almond Snack Bars

The long Thanksgiving weekend is behind us…my favorite food holiday of the year.  Our Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely delicious, and day was just a little sweeter as it was my daughter’s birthday as well.  Of course our Thanksgiving was not nearly as exciting though as what happened at my mother’s house – thank goodness for that.  My grandmother is almost 94 years old – and unfortunately her body is starting to slow down.  There are times on the phone that she just can’t get the words out – and I know it is frustrating for her, but she tries to stay in good spirits as best as she can.  Most of the time she just ends up saying the opposite of what she means – and as long as you know what is going on, it is just humorous.

So – back to Thanksgiving.  Everyone was just sitting down to Thanksgiving at my mother’s house – when my grandmother took a bite, and choked.  My stepfather – who is very skilled at this – tried to dislodge the food with the Heimlich Maneuver, but was unsuccessful.  She ended up passing out, as they called 911 – and fortunately they were able to save her.  A few hours later she was back at the house eating ice-cream, and what did she say to my mother?  I am glad I ruined your Thanksgiving – omitting the important word *didn’t*.

I don’t often bake with nuts – mostly because my younger doesn’t care for them in her baked goods – but occasionally I find a recipe where nuts are an integral part, and I cannot omit them.  I found this recipe in Cooking Light – and after the last marshmallow crispy dessert I made, I was definitely up for another.  This one had peanut butter and Cheerios (my all time favorite cereal) in the mix, which definitely intrigued me.  I noticed that this recipe called for whole almonds – and I have to admit, that scared me just a little.  The last thing I wanted was to pack these in my older daughter’s lunch, and for one of those almonds to go down the wrong pipe.  I almost chopped them up, but I decided I was being a little too paranoid…

These were a delicious snack – the pretzels with the Cheerios were a perfect combination, and I loved the peanut butter flavored marshmallow that covered everything.  They were definitely not too sweet – which was very much needed after eating sweets all week.  So, if you are looking for a quick and easy treat for the lunch box this week, look no further.  I won’t blame you one bit though after reading this post – if you decide to chop up those almonds, or even omit them all together…maybe being paranoid is a good thing.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 1/4 cups toasted oat cereal (such as Cheerios)
  • 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup crushed hard pretzel twists
  • 1/3 cup roasted, salted almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add marshmallows and peanut butter; cook 3 minutes or until smooth, stirring constantly. Remove mixture from heat; stir in cereal and next 4 ingredients (through salt).

Working quickly, spread mixture in an 8-inch square metal baking pan coated with cooking spray. Using a wet spoon, spread mixture into an even 1-inch layer; let stand 1 hour or until set. Cut into 16 squares.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Peanut-Almond Snack Bars

Double Chocolate Crispie Treats

Chocolate-Espresso Rice Krispie Bars

I am off on another adventure.  I am hoping that this one is even better than the last one.  India was quite an experience.  It was a place that I have been fascinated with for years.  I knew that eventually there would be a need for me to go there, but I really had no idea what I was in for.  Whenever I travel anywhere – it is always important for me to connect with the food.  It started in college when I travelled and I have continued that tradition.  Supermarkets are my museums, and finding just the right specialties of the region is what I am after.

When we were in India, we had a free night for dinner.  I didn’t want to go to a fancy restaurant, or someplace at the hotel – I wanted to experience some good local cuisine.  Fortunately at work, there are plenty of other people just like me, and when you work for a global company where people are always travelling, you can get some really good recommendations if you use your resources wisely.  There is an alias called “Food & Wine Enthusiasts” where there are over 1000 foodies just waiting to give you their thoughts and preferences on food and wine.  I sent a mail to the alias, and got exactly what I was looking for.  The restaurant actually had a website, although it pretty much just explained their safety precautions in cooking.  It was a vegetarian restaurant, so I felt safe about my seafood allergy.

The restaurant was in the old part of Bangalore.  It was actually an old house with 2 different restaurants inside.  There was a snack section, an a-la-carte area, and then a set menu where they just bring you food.  People hardly spoke English there, and so it took us a while to figure out that we were standing in the set menu area – we kept asking questions about the menu, and they kept saying “ALL”.  Finally we had figured it out.  When we asked how much it was – they told us 175 Rupies.  That equates to about $2.80.  How could we say no?  We were served bottled water, soup, curries, breads, rice dishes – it went on and on, and even bananas and ice cream for dessert.  It was a feast – and everything was absolutely delicious.

When I came home, I was craving simple food – and my girls were craving sweets.  Normally Rice Crispie treats is not where I would usually land, but I was up for something exactly like this.  Cooking Light had a whole section of these with all sorts of different options, and we decided to give one a try.  These were exactly what the doctor ordered – and the girls were super happy about having these in their lunches.

Ok – I have to go catch my flight – can’t wait to see what food is in store for me this week!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 10 ounces marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 6 cups rice cereal
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Preparation

Melt butter and marshmallows over medium-low heat.  Add the cocoa into the melted marshmallows and cook for 3 minutes.  Add cereal, and toss well to combine.  Press cereal mixture into a 13×9-inch pan coated with cooking spray.  Heat chocolate in microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until completely melted.  Drizzle over cereal mixture. Chill 10 minutes before slicing.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here: Double Chocolate Crispie Treats

Butterscotch Blondies

Butterscotch Blondies

As my younger daughter would say, I am in another land.  A far away land – but with technology, fortunately I am never completely absent.  I woke up this morning to Skype my family, and it really made me homesick.  The girls were in the middle of baking cookies for their lunches this week – what fun.  This has become more and more of a Sunday afternoon ritual where my older daughter finds a recipe and goes at it.  They want to make sure they have fresh-baked goods for their lunches – and who wouldn’t?

The other weekend there was too much homework going on, so I actually got to orchestrate the weekend baking project for lunches.  My daughter picked out the recipe, and came back and forth from the kitchen to her homework – checking how things were going, helping here and there when she could.  I loved the recipe that she picked out, even before we made it.  Another Cooking Light special, and I knew it would be great.  The unique aspect of this recipe was the fact that it was a butterscotch batter…instead of just adding butterscotch chips once the batter is made.  The cake part was so moist and delicious with a strong butterscotch flavor, which was nicely offset by the dark chocolate chips.  I had to sneak a few myself – once for this lunch sac, one for me, one for the other lunch sac, another for me…

As I sit here typing this, I wonder what the school lunches look like here.  My daughter asked me last week what kids in France took for lunch at school, and I was reminded that they actually come and eat at home.  If they do take a lunch, one of the favorites I remember was the hot dog stuffed into a baguette.  I can pretty much guarantee that is not the case here.  Now off to what I hope is an authentic meal in this far away land.  No Butterscotch Blondies in this land!

Ingredients

  • 4.5 ounces whole-wheat pastry flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butterscotch morsels
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until thoroughly combined.

Combine butterscotch morsels and half-and-half in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH for 45 seconds, stirring every 15 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add brown sugar, canola oil, butter, vanilla, and eggs, and beat with a mixer at high speed for 2 minutes. Add flour mixture to butterscotch mixture, stirring just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into an 8-inch square metal baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Butterscotch Blondies

Butterscotch Blondies 4

Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Millionaire's Shortbread

I should be working right now…I have so many things to finish it isn’t even funny, but it has been a long day.  A day that started at 5:30 this morning, and after working 12 hours and almost a 2 hour commute home, I am pretty much done.  I have been on edge for a while now, and there could be many reasons to explain it, but I think I finally figured it out.  Today’s rain was definitely a sign.

When I was delivering my first baby, there was a joy that I can’t explain that came over me when the doctor told me I had a girl.  It was not that I didn’t want a boy, but for some reason I was less afraid of having a girl.  My husband was convinced that our second child was a boy, but deep down inside, I knew it was another girl.  That same joy consumed me when I heard those same words after she came out of me.  Even though my sister and I are not close, I was thrilled to have two girls – sisters – even with all the drama that comes with it.

I have always cherished the fact that I have two girls.  They love to cook and bake with me, they love to go shopping, get their nails done – and don’t get me wrong – they can fish, play softball and other fun stuff with their Dad (and boy do they love their Dad), but we have a special bond as well.  I am the Mommy, they tell me things first – and they hold nothing back.  I am sure there will be a time when that will change, but let’s hope not, and until then – I will savor every minute.

Unfortunately my story is not the way it always is for mothers and daughters.  You hear about the struggles that mothers and daughters have – sometimes you even get a glimpse of the pain.  It is not fun to watch.  I want to be involved in every happy moment that my children have – and I am pretty optimistic that I will be able to do so.  I am a very lucky Mommy.

It is only fitting that I post these delectable goodies – this was a team effort – I made the crust, and my daughter and mother made the caramel and topping.  My daughter wanted to make it all by herself, but I asked my mother to supervise – and it didn’t take long though before they both had their sleeves rolled up and were knee-deep in the caramel making.  It was really fun to watch.  These were hands down ridiculously delicious.  Crisp on the bottom, chewy in the middle, and rich on top.  Thanks Tracey’s Culinary Adventures adapted from Annie’s Eats (originally from Baked and The Golden Book of Baking) – for a great afternoon, and a perfect finished product – with my mother and my daughter.

Ingredients

Shortbread

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Caramel

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate

  • 8 oz chocolate, finely chopped (I used bittersweet) 
  • 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • Fleur de sel for sprinkling (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

To make the shortbread layer: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat just until combined.  Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press into an even layer over the bottom (it’ll be a fairly thin layer).  Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the caramel layer: Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan.  Set the pan over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until the butter is melted.  Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and turns a light caramel color.  This may take 10 minutes or more, so be patient.  Pour the caramel mixture over the cooled shortbread and spread in an even layer.  Allow to cool completely, then chill briefly (I stuck mine in the fridge overnight, but you just want to chill enough that it won’t melt when you add the warm chocolate in the next step).

To make the chocolate layer: Add the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter to a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Pour the chocolate over the chilled caramel and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula.  Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle the top with the fleur de sel (if using).  Let the chocolate set completely before slicing and serving.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Cocoa Brownies

Classic Brownies

I am trying to recover from my travels this week – the 9 hour time difference is not easy on the body, but I am doing my best.  Life doesn’t stop for you – so you just need to carry on and hope that eventually everything will go back to normal.  Whenever I travel for work, I never have enough time to soak everything in.  I do my best though to at least savor the food.  I have mentioned this before, but my favorite place to soak in the culture is at the super market.  Fortunately in Israel, I was able to go on a field trip.  I was there the week before Passover, and the woman who was hosting me was so excited that I also celebrate Passover.  She took me to the market near the office, and we bought lots of fun stuff.  Matzo ball mix, Passover biscuits, halva and chocolate covered matzoh.  What fun!  I couldn’t believe I was able to fit all this stuff into my suitcase, but I crammed it in.  As a bonus, one of the women in the office sent me a recipe for a Passover Apple Cake – maybe a post for tomorrow, if I can get my act together?

The food in Israel was delicious – lots of fresh vegetables and cheeses – and wonderful salads for breakfast.  My stomach was not overly thrilled to eat salads for breakfast, even though they were wonderful – so I mostly stuck to yogurt – which was rich and creamy, and just delightful.  The two highlights of the trip were the lunch I had at the falafel restaurant – just a tiny hole-in-the-wall, with amazing falafel and pickled vegetables.  The pita bread though was really too much though – not like the pita bread we get – this was light and fluffy and completely fresh.  The other highlight was a Persian restaurant that my cousin took me to – the salad was so amazingly fresh, and the chicken and rice I had was out of this world.  It was really a treat.

On my way back to the states, I stopped in Paris to visit the subsidiary there, and of course had my fill of magnificent food – even though I was barely there.  It gave me just a taste and I can’t wait to get back there…  At the office, they have a regular cafeteria, and then two specialty French restaurants.  We went to the “bistro” – and had an incredible lunch.  I felt spoiled.  I was stuffed after my appetizer and entrée, but they insisted I order dessert.  All the desserts sounded terrific, but I decided to go with a chocolate brownie – on top of Panna Cotta, then topped with chocolate mousse.  Oh my…it was spectacular.  Although the brownie was my least favorite part.  It was good, but nothing like these brownies that I found in Bon Appetit that I made for book club the other week.  These were so simple to make, and seriously decadent.  Nice and rich – and it had been too long since I posted a brownie recipe on this site.  I have posted similar recipes before, but this one was too good, even if it was a duplicate.  So – even though the French are pretty much better at making everything else sweet – Americans are the experts when it comes to making brownies.  Someday when I live in France, I am going to make some of these recipes with their superior ingredients – won’t that be something. I can’t wait!

Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil  spray
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher  salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla  extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325°. Line an 8x8x2 inches glass baking dish  with  foil, pressing firmly into pan and leaving a 2 inches overhang. Coat foil  with nonstick spray; set baking dish aside.

Melt butter in a small sauce-pan over medium heat. Let cool  slightly. Whisk sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl to combine. Pour butter  in a steady stream into dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in  vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each  addition. Add flour and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Scrape batter  into prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted into  the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes.

Transfer pan to a wire rack;  let cool completely in pan.  Using foil overhang, lift brownie out of pan; transfer to a cutting board.  Cut  into 16 squares.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Cocoa Brownies