October 29, 2009

Recipe: Nanaimo Bars

The Layers
1. Chocolate graham layer
2. Buttercream layer
3. (Straight) chocolate layer

The only other things you need to know:
1. The Canadian treat is rich but not overwhelmingly chocolatey
2. I highly recommend them
3. I found the recipe on Joy of Baking

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated white sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 large egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup coconut (I left this out to be more of a crowd pleaser)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I left these out too)

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly into greased 9x9 (or 8x8) pan. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).


½ stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature

2 - 3 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons vanilla pudding powder

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar sugar

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 - 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).



4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan. Spread  over the filling (I had issues spreading it, but it turned out ok), and refrigerate. 

October 26, 2009

Three Things: Pumpkin Snacks

Pumpkin ain't just for pie. It's packed with nutrients; 1/2 cup of the canned good gives you 300% of your daily vitamin A and vitamin C for only 40 calories. And when mixed with the right things, it maintains the nutty-orange-veggie flavor that you love about pumpkin desserts (I prefer bread or cake) yet makes for a healthier snack.

I opened a can this week and played around with various recipes I found online. All these recipes are approximations; play around with the measurements and make it your own.

1. Pumpkin Pie Dip
Sweet enough to be pie but simpler to make. Dip graham cracker and ginger snaps for full-out dessert or apples to for a fruity flavor that's a little more healthy.
Mix 1 can pumpkin, an 8-oz. block of softened [reduced fat] cream cheese, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. maple syrup, 1 Tbsp. orange juice, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

2. Pumpkin-Banana Smoothie
A filling breakfast that just tastes like fall with a hint of banana.
Mix in blender 1 banana, 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 6 ice cubes, 1/3 plain or vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup milk, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla (if use plain yogurt) and 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice.

3. Pumpkin Spread
It might sound strange, but once bit will convince you it's tasty. I first used it as spread but now make pumpkin-peanut butter sandwiches almost weekly this time of year.
Mix 1/3 cup pumpkin, 3 Tbsp. peanut butter, 1 Tbsp. honey, 1 tsp. cinnamon (I usually just guess on the measurements though)

October 23, 2009

Recipe: Tzatziki

I haven't gotten adventurous enough to make my own gyros yet, but this yogurt-cucumber sauce makes chicken taste almost as good as lamb. It also contains a few of my other simple, natural cooking favorites: garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. I put mine on a tortilla wrap with chopped tomato and cooked chicken, and for another meal I mixed it with a bunch of veggies and chicken. Yum, a light, delightful lunch. Thanks, Cooking Light.
2  cups  plain 2% low-fat Greek-style yogurt
3/4  cup  shredded seeded peeled cucumber
3  tablespoons  chopped fresh mint (I didn't have any on hand and left it out.)
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh dill
1  tablespoon  extra-virgin olive oil
1  tablespoon  fresh lemon juice
1/4  teaspoon  salt
3  garlic cloves, minced

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well.

October 20, 2009

Recipe: Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

I don't like raisins in my cookies, but I sure like oatmeal. Toffee and brown sugar give these guys just enough rich sweetness, and please-don't-let-my-cookie-get-crunchy eater me liked how the thin cookies were chewy with crispy edges.  

I moved the recipe's Cooking Light clip from my "Recipe Ideas" file to my (keeper) "Recipes" file (files keep my personal life in order--I am ok to be dorky about it), so they'll have to go into the rotation of what is becoming a weekly cookie-baking routine.

Oatmeal Toffee Cookies

¾ cup  all-purpose flour

1  cup  old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2  teaspoon  baking soda

1/4  teaspoon  salt

3/4  cup  packed brown sugar

1/4  cup  butter, softened

1  teaspoon  vanilla extract

1  large egg

1/3  cup  almond toffee bits

Cooking spray

Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Place sugar and butter in a separate bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture; beat just until combined. Stir in toffee bits.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on 2 baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 11 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on pans 1 minute. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

October 15, 2009

Three Things: Veggie Snack Meals

Since starting to cook for myself on a regular basis, I have discovered just how tasty veggies can be when prepared the way I like them. Many of my meals consist of snack-like improvisations of veggies on hand. My favorites from this week are:
1. Sweet potato chries
A cross between chips and fries. Gotta love the orange goodness.
Bake sweet potato slices coated in olive oil and salt at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until some begin to brown.
2. Five-Layer Dip
A healthier rendition of seven-layer dip, and it tastes just as good
Layer plain Greek yogurt, black bean hummus, chopped tomatoes and green pepper, black olives. I ate it with toasted tortilla coated in olive oil.

3. Kiwi-pecan salad
My favorite quick, candy-like salad
Salad greens, sliced kiwi, sugared pecans and Annie's Naturals Light Vinaigrette 

October 12, 2009

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookie-Topped Brownies

A combination of brownies and chocolate chip cookies (the best basic desserts ever) has to be good, right? I knew I was for sure in for an above-average treat when I put this much chocolate (see pot below) in the brownie layer, without even getting to the cookie butter-flour-sugar-chocolate mixture. 
The end result was more than worth the extended time the multi-step recipe required. The thick brownie was super rich, as I was anticipating with the high concentration of butter and chocolate.  Because the brownie layer is so dominant, the cookie layer tastes more like a crispy top to the brownie than a cookie. The j-school people at my tailgate were pretty impressed by both the concept an the taste. Props go to Eggs on Sunday for the recipe
Chocolate Chip Cookie-Topped Brownies

For the brownie layer

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 2/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

For the cookie layer

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar

2/3 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

To make the brownie batter, melt both chocolates and the butter together in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Melt and stir just until the mixture is shiny and smooth, then remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, beat the sugar and eggs together with a mixer on medium high speed for about 2 minutes, until pale, thick and creamy. Beat in the salt and vanilla,  and then reduce the speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate and butter, mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the flour, mixing on low speed just until it disappears into the batter. Scrape the batter out into a greased 9x13 pan. Set aside.

To make the cookie dough, first whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl, and set aside. Beat the butter and both sugars together on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, add the egg and the egg yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla, and then reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low, mix in the chopped chocolate.

Drop the cookie dough by spoonfuls onto the brownie batter, and then use a spatula to gently smooth out the cookie dough layer evenly over the batter.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes at 350 degrees, until the cookie top is deep golden brown and a sharp knife inserted into the pan comes out with only faint streaks of moist chocolate.

For the best-shaped brownies, practice your patience and wait until they’re cool to cut them. (I was in a hurry and put them in my freezer for a while.)

October 7, 2009

Recipe: Summer Minestrone

The Italian influence of minestrone is what made me like pure-veggie soup for the first time. No sodium-filled chicken stock is necessary for a hearty, savory soup when you cook down carrots, onions, tomatoes and zucchini with basil, parsley and thyme and then add beans and pasta. 

Even though this is "summer" soup, I found the New York Times recipe last fall, and it became the first of my series of fall and winter soup-making Sundays that give me meals throughout the week (and then more meals when I freeze part). I tweaked the recipe a bit for my tastes (no turnips, please) and to simplify fancy pistous and bouqet garni.

Summer Minestrone 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
3/4 pound zucchini, diced
2 bay leaves
Thyme, parsley, and basil to taste
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup soup pasta, such as elbow macaroni or broken spaghetti, or 3/4 cup penne
Freshly grated Parmesan for garnish
Heat the olive oil to medium-low range in a large, heavy pot, and add the onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring about three minutes until vegetables begin to soften, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until tender, about five more minutes. Add the garlic, stir together for about a minute, then mix in the tomatoes. Keep stirring until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes. Stir in two quarts (8 cups) water, the zucchini and spices, and bring to a simmer. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the canned beans. Taste and adjust salt.
While the soup is simmering, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the green beans. Boil five minutes, until tender but still bright green. Transfer to a bowl of ice water, allow to cool, and drain. Retain the cooking water in case you want to thin the soup. (For a lazier version, omit the green beans or add canned ones.)
Add the pasta to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked al dente. Stir the cooked green beans into the soup. Grind in pepper, and adjust seasonings. Soup should be savory and rich-tasting. Remove bay leaves. Sprinkle Parmesan on the top of soup once served in bowls.
Yield: Serves six to eight

October 4, 2009

Recipe: Peanut Butter Pie

I got really excited when I had this pie at community group because it tasted just like a peanut butter pie I loved to get as a kid at Miss Myra's Barbecue in Birmingham (who got it from Rolling in the Dough bakery next door). Needless to say, I had to steal the recipe from the baker's Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook, which by the way had great recipes despite the cheesy title. 

The texture of the pie is extremely light, like whipped cream, probably because it's basically whipped cream with peanut butter mixed in. The vanilla wafer crust adds subtle flavor that complements the creamy filling well. The grandparents and parents gave it kudos, and my fantastic cook of a grandmother wanted to make it for her book club.

Peanut Butter Pie


30 vanilla wafers

1/3 cup salted peanuts

2 tablespoons butter, melted


¾ cup smooth peanut butter at room temperature

1 ½ cups heavy cream

¾ cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate kisses or chocolate chips

Chocolate syrup (optional)

For crust, combine wafers and peanuts in a food processor and blend until crumbled. Add butter and pulse a few times. Press into a 9-inch baking dish. Bake 15 minutes at 325 degrees. Let cool for 15 minutes.

For filling, place peanut butter in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine cream, powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium high until peaks form, about a minute and a half. Stir half of cream mixture into peanut butter. Transfer this mixture back into cream mixture and beat on medium high just until incorporated. Pour into crust. Sprinkle with kisses or chocolate chips. Refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours. Garnish with chocolate syrup if desired.