My brownie quest is DONE!

I’m a brownie lover…and who isn’t? Very few people can resist warm chocolate, gooey, dense, fudgey…well, there may be a few citrus lovers out there who rate tart higher than sweet, but I’ll ignore that for this post.

I have a few favorite recipes, each unique, and each fitting a specific kind of brownie need. After years of tasting, testing and searching, these are my top five:

  1. My newest discovery is so dense and fudge-like you could almost think you’re eating fudge. But you’re not. You’re eating heavenly Brown Butter Frosted Kahlua Brownies. This is a slight adaptation of the recipe I found on Pinterest. If you want to go chocolate all the way, substitute a good chocolate frosting for the brown butter shown here. I’ve only made this as given, but however you choose to frost, follow the directions for the brownie base closely. The instructions are a little fussy, but so worth it!  Check out Brownies with Brown Butter Frosting and get ready for the smiles all around.
  2. An old standby, this one is the perfect brownie to serve warm and gooey with ice cream. I usually bake this in a pie dish and serve wedges of it like a crustless pie. But this slice is just a brownie in another shape. One nice thing…you get all this delicious fudginess with baking cocoa as the only chocolate ingredient…no fancy imports required! Try Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie with a scoop of caramel ice-cream and a sprinkling of walnuts for comfort in a spoon.
  3. A crowd pleaser (used to be a hit with my kids’ youth group)…an oldie but a goodie: Texas Brownies. These are frosted, but a little more cake-like than fudgey. They whip up easily, frost beautifully, and the recipe makes a jelly roll pan full…perfect for a big party or summer picnic. Enjoy Texas Brownies when you want to feed a crowd, or have a really big craving.
  4. For a nod to banana bread, try these luscious and tender Banana Brownies. They are scrumptious! I could eat an embarrassing amount of these, warm and fragrant, right after they’re frosted. Enjoy Banana Brownie Bars and get a little fruit in your brownie serving. With some clever rationalizing, you could even convince yourself that these are healthy!
  5. And finally…I wasn’t really going to leave the citrus crowd high and dry. This recipe for lemon brownies (I know…should be a different term…yellowies?) gives you the perfect texture with all the goodness of sweet and tart. For a totally different take on the “brownie” experience, whip up a batch of Lemon Brownies.

My best brownie baking tip…Never, never, never over bake! And, unless you’re baking for a party, plan to make your treat when you have an easy and automatic way to share…take them in to your office or a school function, or share with a neighbor. My strategy when I bake: divide and enjoy. I satisfy my need to bake and taste, and I get the extras out the door. A win for everyone!

Pumpkin Soup and other goodness

Rain and cold greet me as I start the day. Fresh coffee, and the scent of the pellet stove burning, sending out warmth and wood smell, lure me down the stairs to begin. I make breakfast, hot, hearty and healthy, to push us through to lunch. Lunch, salad, light and crunchy bites, fuel until dinner. And then, on this chilly fall Friday, a big bowl of soup and crusty bread for end of day. The soup simmers on the stove already, not because it has to, but because I want it to. Seeing the pot on the burner, giving an occasional stir as I wander through the kitchen, taking a break from my work-at-home office, I feel the comfort of tradition, the ritual of minding, tasting; and the anticipation of home cooked goodness to tuck us in to the dark of early evening. We’ll light candles, play soft music, and get cozy with bread baked this afternoon and soup for the season.

If you’re looking for homemade easy, this is a good place to begin.

                                          November gold

Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup (4T) butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 can (1 lb) of pumpkin (NOT get pumpkin pie filling)
3 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
Melt butter in saucepan.
Add onion & celery.  Saute’ until tender.
Stir in pumpkin, broth & seasonings (adjust seasonings to taste if you like more spice).
Bring to a boil stirring constantly.
Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaf.
Add cream or half-and-half.
Stir just until thoroughly heated, but not boiling.
Add chives (fresh) for garnish.
Serves four generously.

                                 Sweet Wheat bread dough

Sweet Wheat Bread

3 packets dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp of caramel coloring, optional

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water then stir in sugar. Let stand until bubbly.
Combine dissolved yeast, remaining water, molasses, salt, oil, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and caramel coloring in a large mixing bowl. Beat, using a dough hook until smooth. 
Knead dough for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl then cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. 
Punch dough down and divide in 2 large round loaves and place on a greased and cornmeal dusted cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Remove cloth and bake in a 375 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until crust makes a hollow sound when tapped.
(The caramel coloring will not affect taste, just the color of the bread. You can order this ingredient from King Arthur Flour.)

                                                Ready for dinner!

Cookie Butter, yum!

Well, well, well…I made a discovery last week, thanks to my sister-in-law, and being the public-spirited person I am, I’m passing this little jewel on. As usual, I’m not sure if I’m cutting edge, or the last to know. Just in case anyone out there hasn’t heard of Cookie Butter…well, you might want to start dieting right now to accommodate the cravings.

Unbelievably, I must admit, Nutella has a serious rival in my heart. I found a new love. Not chocolate, surprisingly, but delicious and just sweet enough to satisfy…grab a spoon and have taste of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter. (If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area, you can order this through Amazon.) Pricey, but available. http://www.amazon.com/Trader-Joes-Speculoos-Cookie-Butter/dp/B006KK4GUO/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pdT11_S_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=2856YU88S9KGM&coliid=I3JCU8WTM6SPHK It looks like peanut butter, but tastes a little like a smooth and creamy gingerbread cookie dough. You can spread it on anything: bread, fruit, waffles, spouse, pancakes, your fingers or a spoon…I bought one jar, and now that I’m far away from a Trader Joe’s store, I see my mistake. Should have bought a case. And so I can fit into my clothes, after this little discovery, I’m walking just a wee bit more these days.

If you don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, you can make your own version. I haven’t tried this myself, (haven’t tried it yet, I’m sure I’ll be whipping this up soonwe’ll see how long my one jar supply lasts) but it looks about right, based on the list of ingredients on the label.

Speculoos Cookie Butter Recipe

Ingredients:

3/4 sleeve Biscoff cookies (about 24 cookies)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 Tablespoon skim milk

Directions:

Grind the cookies into a fine meal using a food processor. Melt the coconut fat and let cool down until luke warm. Add coconut oil to the cookie meal and process until combined. Then add sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, canola oil and milk. Process until combined, scraping the sides as needed. This could take up to 5 minutes, but stop whenever you reach your desired consistency. Play around with the oil or milk amounts if you still want it creamier.

This spread will harden in the fridge and it is best to let it stand 30 min at room temperature when serving.

Enjoy!

Southern charm

We’ve escaped! We’re on the road for a month, away from work, cold, rain, snow, and routine. We’re spending the next few weeks in the South, seeing family, looking for sun and fun, relaxing, getting in some vacation and down time.

This month we’ll be in Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Florida. We’re spending our vacation time driving, hiking, planning, writing, trading, eating, sleeping, and playing. We’re also going to experience our first-ever cruise, which we’ve been inspired to do after watching cruise ships come in and out of Ketchikan for the past three years. But we don’t need to do Alaska. We’ve opted for the Caribbean, which will be a lot warmer and, I hope, a lot drier.

This time will also allow us to reconnect with parents and extended family, and that will be good. I have some personal trysts to keep, a good-bye to say to my grandmother, who passed away in November. This trip will bring that reality home to me. A visit to the cemetery is in order, and my mom wants to take care of some legal chores during this visit. But in the midst of the serious and the sad, there will be smiles, joy, favorite foods, good memories to explore, and to create.

We’re also doing an eating tour, sampling our Southern favorites: barbecue, farm-raised catfish, Cuban food in Florida, my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s specialities. And along the way, we’re sampling whatever we find that stirs a memory or triggers a craving. Here’s the one we experienced today:

20120303-224416.jpg

All I needed to see was the sign on the highway…exit now! And we did. Boiled peanuts are a Southern delicacy, a traditional favorite of childhood. These were really good: warm, just the right amount of salt, soft, but not too soft. Because the peanuts are sold in the shell, and the shells are moist from boiling, your fingers get a little shriveled as you shell the nuts and eat. But that’s just the price you pay for these warm little nuggets of goodness. Like the famous chips, no one can eat just one. “One more, one more,” they call to me, and I eat and eat, reminding myself that it’s not every day I find a boiled peanut vendor along the roadside. I’m practically obligated to eat the whole bag. Rob got a few, I’m happy to report. I was a polite pig.

Well, maybe you have to try them to understand. But if you ever have the opportunity, take it.

And now, let the vacation begin!

Food for inspiration: Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As everyone knows, you think better with food. Especially with something that is a luscious blend of comfort and decadence. Lemon cream cheese cupcakes fit that description perfectly. This is my new favorite sweet treat, not to be confused with something low calorie. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: you will never find a low calorie dessert on my table, unless the dessert is just fruit. My dessert philosophy is really quite simple: if I’m dieting, I don’t need dessert. If I’m eating dessert, I must not be dieting. So now you know.

The ingredients are standard pantry and fridge items, so this is a great treat to bake on a whim. That’s usually when I whip out my cupcake pan…when I just want a little something without having to run to the market.

I would eat them all, but, alas, that could be ugly, by anyone’s standards! I typically share part of the batch. Check it out for yourself, you may want to have a sweet feast. And best, this is easy, so easy!

20120202-194249.jpg

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(I think the original recipe is from Kraft. Honor to whom honor is due.)

Ingredients:

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.)JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar

Method:

HEAT oven to 350ºF.

BEAT first 5 ingredients in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
BEAT cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Spread onto cupcakes.

OR: if you don’t want to make a cream cheese icing, pick up a can of cream cheese frosting at the market. I’ve made my own, which is yummy, following the recipe, and I’ve also used the prepared cream cheese frosting. Believe me, either choice will be perfect!

One last tip, shared by my daughter: these are delicious as soon as they’ve cooled enough to frost, but they take on an extra special goodness if you chill them before serving. I don’t know what it is; the cupcakes seem to be a bit denser in texture, if you like that. I do, so I typically build in enough time to chill, after frosting, and before sampling.

Enjoy!

I’m taking Gingerbread to Seattle

We got home from Prince of Wales (POW) this morning. The little plane…not a float plane, this plane has wheels, and it seats about a dozen people…left the island at 7:00, and by 8:00 we were crossing over on the airport ferry to Ketchikan. After three weeks away it is good to be in our own space again. But no rest for the weary! This is Saturday, and we leave on Monday evening to meet our kids in Seattle, so today has been about catch up.

First we made the rounds for errands. Picked up the mail, bought a few things at Wal-Mart, stopped by the bank, dropped off a couple of things to ship at the mall. We were sidetracked a few times, but eventually made it back home. Good to get comfy, put on Christmas music, turn on our twinkly lights…no tree for us this year as the next two nights will be our only time at home before Christmas. So I miss having the scent of a fresh tree, and feel I’ve let the Boy Scouts down by not giving them my business this year. But it was not to be. (And I have to admit, the bright spot is that I don’t have to put away all the ornaments in a couple of weeks.)

After sorting the mail, I’m adding to my to-do list. I have a few Christmas cards to finish, some work on a project I should complete before we leave on Monday. But the most important thing to do this weekend…more than laundry, online work, or the other chores on my list…the most important thing I have to do is make gingerbread cookies.

We get to see Alex next week, and Stephanie and Matt, and little Riley. I’m excited to spend a few precious days with them, and it is a bonus that these days come at Christmas. We don’t get that every year. This one will be a little different. Last year they were with us in Ketchikan, and it was easy enough to do all the traditional things, have the favorite foods. But not this year.

This year, Stephanie and Alex and Riley are arriving in Seattle only a day ahead of us. Matt is out of the country on business and won’t be home till next Tuesday. Alex flew out to Arizona earlier this week to drive with Stephanie and Riley from Prescott to Seattle so Stephanie didn’t have to face a multi-day drive with an 18-month-old by herself. The nice thing is that he’ll be able to stay over a few days, so we get to see him. He goes back to Atlanta on the 23rd.

We’ll be in a hotel. Matt and Stephanie are literally still in the process of their relocation to Seattle, and as they are hardly settled, this is not the year to be creating home cooked feasts. So, I’m taking the homey touches with me. And the iconic treat for Alex is gingerbread cookies. He loved these as a little guy, and to this day, if I had to name one thing I make that he enjoys most, it would be these cookies.

I know the point is that we’ll be together, and that this holiday will not be about food, at least not the homemade variety. Except for this one thing. And I’ll admit that I’m taking gingerbread as much for myself as for Alex. Not for my taste buds: for my heart. You see, he loves to eat these cookies. But I love to make them for him. This is one of the few ways I can reach out and touch that little boy that used to live at my house. At 24, there isn’t a lot he needs me to do for him. But this is a gift from my heart to his, and he understands that.

To date, we have been able to see Stephanie more often than we see Alex. Part of that was due to his life in the army. Now that’s ended, and he’ll have a bit more flexibility than when he was in the service. But he lives in Georgia, at least for now, where his wife is based at Ft. Benning. Now Stephanie and Matt will be a short flight away from Ketchikan, and I’m already planning frequent visits. Hard to resist Riley’s little face, or pass up an opportunity to connect with my favorite daughter and son-in-law. So I anticipate that we’ll continue to see Stephanie more often than Alex. Maybe he’ll eventually relocate. Or who knows? Maybe we will.

Regardless, for now, when I have a chance to make gingerbread, I’ll do it. I’ll be the one flying down Monday night with a tin of homemade cookies. And no, I’m not the white-haired grandma. I’m the mom, anxious to see the young man who makes me smile, challenges me to watch him play games, sends me funny texts, walks with me down memory lane when we share this treat together. I’m taking gingerbread to Seattle, baked from the heart.

GINGERBREAD
(Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg)

1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulphered molasses
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
4 cups stone-ground or unbleached flour, unsifted

Combine the sugar, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Mix well. Add the melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Add the extracts, if using. Mix well. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. The dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to fingers. Knead the dough for a smoother texture. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking.

When the dough is smooth, roll it out ¼ inch thick on a floured surface and cut it into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheets in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. The gingerbread cookies are done when they spring back when touched.

Easy doughnuts: thanks Mom!

Here’s a quick happy breakfast treat to serve if you want something warm and yummy with your coffee without a lot of prep. For the cutest little doughnut holes you can pop in your mouth, use canned biscuits. My mom used to make these when I was a kid. They were universally popular at sleepovers, and would make a fun holiday morning tradition, just in case you’re looking for a new thing to add to your list of “must-do” in the next week or two.

Grab a can or two of refrigerated biscuits from the dairy case. Be sure you choose the non-layer style. I chose large buttermilk biscuits when I made these recently.

20111215-135106.jpg

Remove the biscuits from the can and separate dough. Use a very small cutter, or even a bottle cap, to cut the dough into bite size pieces.

20111215-135409.jpg

Heat canola oil in a medium sized sauce pan (fill pan about half full with oil). I don’t have an exact temperature to suggest…you want the oil hot enough to fry the doughnuts quickly…about a medium to medium high heat level should work. The dough will brown quickly in the oil and puff out to a larger bite size. Since I don’t fry often, I usually check my heat level and cooking time with one or two test pieces. Of course, you have to taste your test bites to be sure you’re on target.

20111215-191327.jpg

Fry doughnuts in small batches. Turn them once in the oil to brown on all sides. I didn’t time my batches, but the process will be fast, cooking time should be no more than a minute or two for each batch. As the doughnuts turn a light brown, remove to a rack to cool slightly.

20111215-191723.jpg

When the doughnuts have cooled slightly, dip in powdered sugar, or a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Or you can coat the doughnuts with a powdered sugar glaze (mix powdered sugar, a little milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).

20111215-192600.jpg

Nothing fancy here…just kid food / fun food from a simple shortcut. Enjoy the yumminess!

Monday morning Cinnamon Rolls

So tomorrow I’m bringing cinnamon rolls to work. These are not from a bakery or out of a refrigerated roll tube. These are homemade, gooey, delicious and oversized. These are the real deal. The recipe follows below.

But first, let me tell you that this isn’t just a bit of holiday festivity for co-workers. No, this is part of my work philosophy. I believe in doing a good job of fulfilling my responsibilities. But there are things that go along with doing a good job. This is what I do try to do:

~ Try to say “yes” more than “no.” Be positive. I call this my “yes policy.” This is not about being a “yes man,” or about letting others dump on me. It is about being willing to try, and being gracious.

~ Be transparent; apologize when necessary; take responsibility!

~ Smile; have an attitude of gratitude. But be sincere; you can’t fake this.

~ Commit to what you’re trying to accomplish; coach it; be it.

~ And last, bring food. I’ve never worked in any setting where good food isn’t appreciated. This isn’t about getting anything in return. This is about now and then sharing a treat, whether homemade or a pickup from the local doughnut shop. I used to buy ice cream fudge bars or ice cream sandwiches in the summer to take in at a past job. It really doesn’t matter what the treat is. Just do it, and do it regularly.

Cinnamon Rolls
(thank you, Ann!)

I’ve never had a failure with this recipe; it was given to me by a dear friend whose skill in the kitchen is legendary! This isn’t a recipe to make if you’re watching your calories. But for those occasions when you want a wonderful breakfast treat, to pull out all the stops, this is a winner. Although the instructions are long, each step is actually quick and easy…don’t let the lengthy instructions intimidate you!

The dough is easier to make if you have a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid) so the mixer does the work for you. You do not have to knead the dough by hand, you only need to mix it with the dough hook. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can mix the dough by hand, that’s easy too).

I break this into three steps and it keeps the whole process from being too lengthy. To have warm rolls for breakfast, (this is our standard Christmas morning treat) mix the dough the afternoon or evening before. I usually try to mix the dough early enough in the afternoon so I can let the dough rise six hours and then roll the dough out and slice before going to bed. When the dough is rolled out, sliced, and the rolls are put into the baking pan, I cover the pan with Saran wrap, slide the pan into the fridge, and leave it overnight. In the morning, I put the cold baking dish into a cold oven. (Very important! Never put a cold dish into a hot oven; if the baking dish is glass it might crack.) I put the oven on the lowest temp, about 170 degrees, let the rolls rise about half an hour, or until the rolls have at least doubled in size, then turn up the oven to 350 degrees and bake the rolls for approximately 35 minutes. While the rolls are baking, mix the icing. This only takes a couple of minutes, so the whole process in the morning is just a matter of putting the rolls in the oven and drizzling the icing over the rolls after baking.

An alternative, if you have time, is to allow the rolls come to room temperature and rise till the dough is at least doubled. If your timing allows (perfect if you are serving these at brunch), just take the rolls out of the fridge in the morning and let them sit for at least a couple of hours prior to baking. If they still need a little more rising, you can always speed the process along a bit by putting them into a low-temp oven as described above.

Dough
1 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water, or you can use 1 cup of warm milk instead of water
6 cups of all purpose flour

Combine the butter, sugar and hot water in mixer bowl. Stir until butter is melted. Allow this to cool until just warm (if mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast). Add eggs and salt to butter mixture when cooled. Combine yeast with 1 cup of warm water (or warm milk if substituting milk for water). Give the yeast a few minutes to proof (it will foam up). Add yeast mixture to butter mixture. Add flour 2 cups at a time and combine using mixer dough hook. When all the flour is added, cover the dough in the mixing bowl and refrigerate for six hours or overnight.

Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
brown or white sugar, 1 1/4 cups (more or less, to taste)
cinnamon (use a lot, these are cinnamon rolls!)

After dough has risen in fridge, (dough should be at least doubled in size) remove from mixing bowl and roll out on floured surface. Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness in rectangular shape. Spread surface of dough with softened butter. Sprinkle buttered surface of dough with granulated or brown sugar, then with cinnamon. Cover the dough liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up jelly roll fashion and slice rolls about 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in baking pan and allow to rise. You can let the rolls rise at room temperature for a couple of hours, or turn the oven on the lowest temperature (about 170 degrees) and let the rolls rise in the oven for about half an hour, as described in notes above.

When rolls have risen (at least double in size) bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.

Icing
Combine a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, powdered sugar (I use two or three cups of powdered sugar) and milk (drizzle a little milk in until the icing is the consistency you want. It can be spreadable or pourable). Add a teaspoon of vanilla to icing and spread over warm rolls. If you make too much icing, this will keep in the fridge for several days. You can also use this icing on almost any dessert…handy to keep around for pound cakes, etc. For those who love cream cheese, add 3 or 4 oz of softened cream cheese to the icing and blend to remove any lumps.

Orange Rolls

I stumbled on this option (I was out of cinnamon and discovered my predicament at the last minute when I was making these recently) and it makes a nice citrusy treat.

All the steps for making the dough are the same, through rolling the dough out and spreading with butter and sprinkling the dough with granulated or brown sugar. I use less sugar in this variation, and I don’t measure these amounts, but I cover the dough a little more lightly with sugar than when I am making the cinnamon version. This can be adjusted to personal taste. After spreading the rolled-out dough with butter and sugar, using a jar of orange marmalade, (I use Smuckers marmalade) spread this over the sugar, roll up, and slice rolls to place in baking pan. (The marmalade can be a bit tart, and I use the sugar in the filling to cut the tartness of the orange peel in the marmalade.) Allow rolls to rise and bake as described above.

For the glaze, instead of adding vanilla extract and milk to thin the glaze, I use orange juice and a few drops of orange flavoring, or you could grate a little orange zest in the glaze if you have a fresh orange. Don’t add cream cheese…you just want to punch up the orange flavor.

20111211-190617.jpg

20111211-190636.jpg

20111211-190703.jpg

20111211-190718.jpg

20111211-190729.jpg

20111211-190741.jpg

My new favorite recipe – Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

Tonight I tried a new dessert/cookie recipe, which I’ll share below. But first, let me tell you it incorporates a lot of good things. It combines butter, caramel, and (my own personal addition to the mix) chopped pecans. The dessert/cookie…haven’t decided which category it will ultimately fit in my opinion…is baked, so it has an ooey-gooey warm comfort feeling. It has a sprinkling of French sea salt over the caramel layer, so it has a hint of sophistication. You can cut this into squares, or if you want to serve as a more formal dessert, cut into wedges and add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on top…decadent, decadent!

20111115-223113.jpg

A few other notes: I made a half recipe, as the full version calls for a pound (a pound!) of butter, and it is my policy never to make such a large amount of a dish I haven’t tasted. Just in case, you know, that the combination of all the luscious ingredients listed is not greater than the sum of the parts. After all, it would be, at the very least, a small tragedy if I had a pound of butter baked into a dessert I really didn’t care for. So that was my choice for a first attempt with this recipe. Having made it, and now, tasted it, I can safely say that I wouldn’t hesitate to commit to the whole thing. Provided I had a good way to dispose of all but one or two pieces. Otherwise, I would be needing to invest in a new size of clothes very soon. These are that good. But I wouldn’t care, most likely, because, these are that good.

So, onto the details. First, credit to the site where I found this. Check this out for a great read. So funny! And thanks for the recipe, which I discovered on Pinterest.

Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

For the Crust:
1 lb. salted butter room temp
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tbs vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour

For the Filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
⅓ cup milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 T. coarse sea salt (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans (my addition, optional if you don’t care for nuts)

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.

Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. (I found I used about half the dough for the crust and the remaining amount was enough for the crumbled topping.)

Preheat to 325F.

Bake until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.

While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth. (I did this step in a small sauce pan on the stove top. Just put the caramels and cream on a low simmer and stir now and then until all melted and gooey.)

Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you choose to salt the caramel, sprinkle it over the caramel layer now.

Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.

My addition: Top with a cup of chopped pecans.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into squares.

20111115-223424.jpg

Other ideas: I’m thinking of sprinkling mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top the next time I bake this. Don’t overbake! The cookies cut beautifully after they cooled. Last, if you’re looking for a great shortbread recipe, this one is as good as any I’ve tried. I have never made shortbread with two kinds of sugar, but the dough was easy to work with and baked beautifully. It could stand alone as a wonderful shortbread if you want something a little less sweet, or a bit more simple.

Enjoy!

Homemade Vegetable Soup

We started out with a bang! The first full week of October was really nice, for SE Alaska, great fall days and just the right amount of crispness in the air. But now we’re back to rain, and every day’s forecast for the coming week has a little rain cloud and raindrops to remind me to wear my coat with a hood and bring my umbrella to work.

So soup sounds good, and as we’re still in harvest season, I think of big pots chock full of garden veggies. But I don’t have a garden, so I have to improvise a bit. I make this soup from a combination of fresh, frozen, and canned ingredients. You can use your favorite veggies and in amounts to your preference. Add pasta if you like, or you can even add beef or chicken. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches for the perfect comfort meal on a chilly rainy October day.

Vegetable Soup

~3 cans of petite diced tomatoes
~frozen green beans, corn, green peas, baby Lima beans, one box each
~3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
~1 medium onion, diced
~2 stalks celery, finely chopped
~2-3 carrots, sliced, or an equal amount of baby carrots, sliced
~2 cans of beef or chicken broth
~salt and pepper to taste
~tomato sauce and/or water to bring the ingredients to a soup consistency.

Put all ingredients together into a large stock pot. Let the soup simmer for an hour or longer to combine and develop flavor. Adjust seasonings. Add pasta and bite-sized pieces of beef or chicken, if desired. Simmer to incorporate flavors of the pasta and/or meat. This is also a perfect soup to prepare in a crock pot. Perfect for an end of day satisfying meal that is ready when you are!

Serve with sandwiches, fresh crusty bread, or, if you’re in the South, with cornbread (almost said “homemade” cornbread, but really, is there any other kind?!).

Makes many servings, and reheats well. Enjoy for dinner and for multiple lunches during the week.

Happy Fall!