Oatmeal Caramel Bars

Oatmeal Caramel BarsHello all! I am sorry to say I am still having issues with my site so postings might be a bit sporadic.  I will keep you informed via Facebook with updates and maybe even recipes when I can’t get my blog site to work.  So ‘like’ Brittany’s Pantry if you want to be kept in the loop!  Right now, I am extremely grateful for our iPad since it seems to be the only electronic device that I can work from right now.  Although today, I am not complaining!  It is a beautiful, sixty degree morning with nary a cloud in sight!  We have been to the Farmer’s Market, gorged ourselves on fresh baked croissants and sipped dark, creamy hot chocolates while we shopped, finished off the last of the seasons wild blueberries with our lunch, and now I am curled up on my screen porch in a fuzzy sweatshirt, listening to the afternoon breeze blow through the branches of the enormous, towering oak trees that surround our house.  I plan on making and freezing some pasta sauce with the heirloom tomatoes we picked up this morning, but for now, I am snacking on these and loving the fact that I am practically forced to sit out here in this beautiful weather and write to you.  Lots of arm twisting going on here….

These bars nearly have me at a loss for words.  They are so good, so decadent, and so gooey, that they elicit groans from all who enjoy them.  They are sweet and rich and absolutely indulgent.  Make no mistake–these are definitely a treat.  A pan of bars to make and share with those around you.  Yes, I said share.  You may want to eat a whole pan of these–and yes, you really are going to want to eat a whole pan of these–but resist!  The satisfaction is temporary!  Your bathroom scale and your cardiologist can confirm this!  In this instance however, I will understand if you cave.  This is a safe place.  No judgement.

This recipe is from my neighbor, a wonderful baker who, I have mentioned before, is famous for her chocolate chip cookies.  This same sort of recipe exists out there in a dozen different varieties, but this particular version is my favorite.  A buttery, oatmeal crust, chocolate and caramel… straightforward and simply fantastic.  There are a few separate steps, but nothing too time consuming or difficult.  It is a fun recipe for kids to help with too.  And it is a perfectly wonderful make-ahead dessert for company.  Just don’t blame me if they try one and then never want to leave.  Blame my neighbor!
Oatmeal Caramel BarsOne Year  Ago:  Panzanella Salad, Granola, & Summer Berry Pudding
Two Years Ago: Good Lookin’ Man Potatoes

Oatmeal Caramel Bars
Adapted from Kathie Temple, friend of Brittany’s Pantry

Using a stand mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon, combine in a large bowl:
2 c flour
2 c rolled oats
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 c very soft butter
When well combined, press two thirds of the mixture into a lightly sprayed 9X13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, combine:
1 1/2 c caramel topping or 1-12 oz jar
1/3 c flour
Mix with a whisk until smooth.  Remove crust from oven and sprinkle with:
Half a bag of chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
Evenly pour the caramel mixture over the pan and sprinkle the reserved oat mixture over top.  Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  COOL COMPLETLY!  If you try to cut these when warm they will ooze all over.  Yummy, but not the effect we are looking for!  These are best cut into 24 bars.  Store in a cool place or the fridge.

Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies

We are back from vaca!  Did you miss me?

The end of our time off signaled the beginning of the school year here and forty-eight hours after we returned I was waving goodbye to Evelyn as she marched into her first grade classroom.  *sigh*  This morning she rode the bus for the first time ever and I made my husband zip over to the school to make sure she was doing OK.  I could practically hear her roll her eyes at me.  Such a big girl!

My husband and I were recently blessed with an early Christmas present: an iPad!  Although I am still trying to figure it all out and frankly am a bit intimidated by all it is capable of, I thoroughly enjoy the convenience of it.  Apple sauce led to the demise of my last cell phone so I am looking for some kind of impenetrable case for the iPad that can withstand a nuclear blast and, of course, small children.
Chocolate Chip Cookies The recipe I am sharing today is a simple chocolate chip cookie, but we have some chatting to do first!  I would love to know what you thought of my Favorites post!  I am already making notes for an Autumn addition.  Also, I know that many of you have munchkins headed off to school soon (or like mine, have already started) and that means packing lunches.  And speaking of bagged lunch, we like to use these bags instead of plastic. They last forever, look super cool, and are much better for the environment!

While Evelyn is the least picky six year old I know, she was still less than impressed with the food served at her school.  Lack of flavor and canned veggies were at the top of her list of grievances so she bagged her lunch a lot last year.  This year is looking like much of the same, but I am ready for it!  Here are a few ideas if you are looking for some variety for your kids or your own bagged lunch!

Earth Bread– Make this now while zucchini is in season!  Bake as loaves or muffins and freeze.  I send Evelyn with a whole muffin, some fruit, and string cheese or cottage cheese.  I also slice the bread and make a sandwich with cream cheese in the middle.  My kids devour it for breakfast too.

Veggie Couscous– I make this all the time with whole wheat pasta.  Mix it up the night before and pack it cold for lunch.  Feel free to skip the veggies and pack what you like separately.  My daughter asks for this at least once a week!

Banana Bran Muffins, Honey Bran Muffins, Pumpkin Pie Muffins– All of these are healthy enough that I pack them as a substitution for a sandwich.  They are already portioned and can be pulled right from the freezer.

Homemade Granola Bars–  I usually cut these a bit smaller when I put them in my daughters lunch.  otherwise she doesn’t have an room for fruit or veggies!  Individually wrapped in cellophane, they freeze great and go straight into her lunch box.  They defrost perfectly by lunch time.

Chicken Salad Wraps– I pack these just like you seen in the picture, but I use a mini tortilla, whole wheat if I can find it.  Some organic greens, chicken salad, and I wrap it tight in wax paper.  I do the exact same thing for my husband to take to work or for the family when we go on a picnic.  Crazy good.  For a change of pace, I also pack it in a small dish with a fork and a separate little bag of whole wheat crackers.

Margarita Pasta Salad– Because this salad is so good cold, I save out a portion when I make it for dinner and then it is all ready to send with her the next day.  Sometimes I give it to her plain, sometimes I add diced grilled chicken.  Either way, super good when all the other kids are eating chicken nuggets.

Super Healthy Cookies– I like the combo of dried cranberries or cherries and dark chocolate chips, but feel free to vary this recipe to your tastes.  A variety of dried fruit is particularly good.  Thanks to the whole wheat flour, oatmeal, wheat germ, and canola oil, these cookies are healthy enough for the kids to have two!  Freeze them and tuck them in lunches for a treat that tastes like dessert but is heart healthy and full of fiber.

Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars– These are a great change of pace but taste so good you won’t believe it.  I wrap them individually in plastic wrap and freeze them just like the granola bars.  Make sure to save a few to eat right away.  They are addicting!

Sweet Potato Fries– These are fantastic cold!

Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps– These are good cold and pack surprisingly well.  One of my daughters favorite meals!

Tofu Chocolate Pudding– Much better for you and/or your kids than the store bought stuff!

Also our faves…

-cottage cheese
-string cheese
-whatever fruit is in season
-carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, sliced cucumbers-my kids prefer these plain but this ranch dressing is great with veggies
-dried fruit and nuts
-crackers and cheese
-graham cracker, whipped cream cheese (it is easier to spread), and jam sandwiches-these taste just like cheesecake
-peanut butter and jelly whole wheat tortilla roll-ups, although I do the cream cheese and jam on these too
-hummus and pita chips (Evelyn is currently on a mission to perfect her own hummus recipe!)
-cubed salami or summer sausage and cubed cheese
-hard boiled eggs, cut in half and seasoned with salt and pepper
-graham crackers with yogurt or applesauce to dip them in
-leftover Salmon Nicoise, all diced into bite sized pieces
-rice cakes smeared with peanut butterI hope these ideas help!  And please note that if I could find a thermos that my daughter could get the top off easily herself, she would probably eat soup twice a week.  And now, on to the cookies!
Chocolate Chip Cookies Chocolate Chip CookiesI like to call these cookies Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies for a couple of reasons.  First of all, they are super simple.  Think of them as a streamlined version of a chocolate chip cookie.  No extra ingredients and no extra steps.  Second, this recipe makes exactly two dozen cookies.  Every time.  Perfect for a quick treat in the middle of the week, a speedy dessert for unexpected guests, or a snack for a class.  This number will only be off if you eat too much dough.  I speak from experience….

This recipe is in my daughters cookbook, Betty Crocker Kids Cook!  And even though I have a bazillion cookie recipes to choose from, the kids wanted to make the one in their cookbook.  Totally understandable.  So we made them, and they were good.  Quite good.  Simple and good.  With such a small ingredient list, I figured we could make them the old fashioned way and mix them in a bowl with a wooden spoon.  Now, that is the only way we make these.  No mixer, nothing to plug in.  Just a bowl, a spoon, and some elbow grease!

Please know that these are in no way an ultimate or best chocolate chip cookie.  We far prefer this cookie more.  But these are just simple, fast, easy, and yummy.  And sometimes, that is just what our families need.

One Year Ago:  Pesto & Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Two Years Ago: Tortellini W/Shrimp, Zucchini and Tomato Cream Sauce

 Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Betty Crocker

1 stick of butter, room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 c chocolate chips-M&M’s would be nice too

In a large bowl, cream sugars and butter together with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Add egg.  Mix well.  Add dry ingredients and mix until incorporated.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into a greased or covered sheet pan and bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Saucepan Brownies

Saucepan BrowniesI absolutely love it when I find a recipe like this.  A great concept that is easy, saves me time, makes just enough for our little family, and tastes spectacular.

While going through the BHG website, I came across a recipe for brownies in the archives.  It had been published 80 or 90 years ago and was mentioned as one that deserved to be revisited.  I added it to my ridiculously long list of brownie recipes, put the year 1930 at the top, and filed it away in my computer.  When I came across it months later and read through the actual recipe, I was intrigued.  I changed a few things to make it even easier and streamlined it a bit to allow for maximum brownie making ease.  The result?  Super fast, super chewy brownies that can be mixed entirely in one pan on the stove top.  Less mess to clean up means more time for actually eating the bars.  I find this a highly important part of the recipe.  My husband says they are his favorite brownies ever so I have made this recipe a half a dozen times or so in the last 6 months, just to be sure.  Oh the things I do for all of you!!  And yes, it turns out great every time.  Because this only makes a 9X9 pan, I usually save it for a weeknight treat or a last minute dessert for unexpected company.  I have other, bigger, recipes for when I am expecting a crowd or need to bring a dish to pass.  Like Buttermilk Brownies.  I have no doubt these are just the first of many brownie recipes that I will share.  But for now, this one is worthy of making soon.  Like now.  As in, what are you still sitting there for?
Saucepan BrowniesOne Year Ago: Cherry Hand Pies, Grilled Yogurt Chicken & Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Two Years Ago: Earth Bread & Banana Bran Muffins

Saucepan Brownies
Adapted from BHG

Place a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat and add:
1/2 c (1 stick) of butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
Stir gently until completely melted and smooth.  Keep the temp low so that the chocolate doesn’t scorch.
Add 1 c sugar.
Stir just until the sugar starts to melt.  This makes for a fudgey brownie, but if you want, you can just dump it in and keep going.  It doesn’t have to melt.  Off the heat, add:
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 c flour
pinch of salt
Stir until smooth and incorporated.  Pour into a sprayed 9X9 pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.  Be careful!  Don’t over bake!  A toothpick should come out with a just a crumb or two attached!

Orange Cream Smoothie & A Blogaversary

Orange Creamscicle SmoothieWow!  Has it really been two years since I started blogging?  Two years of recipes and a whole lot of food?  Two years of home renovations (Oy), watching my eldest start school (boo), and welcoming a new baby (yeah!)?  A year ago I gave the blog a new look, made a bunch of changes, and ventured into the world of photography.  This year?  *sigh*  I am exhausted!  Between the heat, swimming lessons, loss of sleep, travel, and the need to get my tonsils out (weird, but true) I am thrilled to be able to continue to post great food for all of you!  Hence, today’s simple-but scrumptious-recipe is how I am celebrating.

Before I continue, please know that I send my heartfelt thanks to all of you.  From the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful for you, my readers.  Your support, encouragement, comments, ideas, questions, and random raves about the recipes here keep me smiling.  You, along with my husband and kids, make every moment I spend in the kitchen and on my computer absolutely worth it.  Even on those days when I am typing one handed, baby on my hip, 7 different batches of cookies cooling on the counter, a full dishwasher, and a stack of books to read to the kids…worth it.  So…umm…thanks.

Enough of the mushy stuff!  On to the food!  Forever ago, years and years actually, I was at a friends house and she was desperately trying to get rid of the last of an entire case of oranges.  Her answer was to peel them and puree the sections in a blender with vanilla ice cream.  It worked.  We sucked that down like Darjeeling!  So good.  So fresh.  Was it a drink?  Dessert?  Smoothie?  Who knows.  Who cares!  She doesn’t know this, but ever since that day, I have been drinking vanilla ice cream and orange juice together.  Tart and sweet.  Refreshing and pretty much like drinking a creamsicle.  The perfect way to celebrate just about anything.

One Year AgoGrilled Pizza
Two Years Ago: Basic Wheat Bread, Three Lemon Chicken, Turkey Meatballs, Margarita Pasta Salad

Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

Fill a glass with vanilla ice cream.  New York Vanilla is the BEST!  Pour orange juice over.  Slurp.

Super Creamy Strawberry Ice CreamWe never made strawberry ice cream when I was a kid.  My parents had a huge, old fashioned crank ice cream maker that we would pull out a few times a summer and vanilla was the easy flavor of choice.  We would stir in mini chocolate chips and, if we were lucky, Hershey’s syrup and WOW!  There was nothing better.  I have mentioned it before, but my ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid is just about the best thing ever.  I highly recommend them.

For years, I didn’t have real strawberry ice cream unless it was accompanied by equal parts of chocolate and vanilla, i.e. Neapolitan.  Not real strawberry ice cream.  Then, a few summers ago, I started experimenting and settled on this recipe.  And it is really great.  Rich and wonderful.  But the simple ingredients of today’s recipe intrigued me and…oh my goodness.  So creamy.  So perfectly strawberry.  A little bit tangy and a little bit sweet.  And only four ingredients people!

So now you have options.  If you have a bit more time and want something traditional, make the Classic Strawberry Ice Cream.  If you want to try something just a bit different, that is less rich and a touch refreshing, with less overall steps and totally fantastic, this is your recipe.  And hey!  I hear it is national ice cream month!  Time to celebrate!

One Year Ago: Oatmeal Raisin Snack Bars

Super Creamy Strawberry Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz

1 lb of strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into quarters
3/4 c sugar

Stir fruit and sugar together and let sit out at room temp for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.  Dump it into the bowl of a food processor (or blender) and add:
1 c sour cream
1 c heavy cream
Pulse a few times just until combined, but fruit is still chunky.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to package directions.

The Best Banana Pudding-Really!!

The BEST Banana Pudding.   REALLY!!!What you see before you is the best banana pudding in the world.  Seriously.  No seriously.  I could really end this post with that simple statement and just hope you would trust me enough to make this.  Because honestly, it is one of those things you have to eat to believe.  This is that good and I am having trouble coming up with the words to convince you that it is the best I have ever had.  Remember when I mentioned that I started this blog to share all of my tried and true recipes with all of you?  I told you I wouldn’t post anything here that wasn’t exceptionally great.  Some bloggers try a recipe, blog about it, and them move on to something different, possibly never making that dish again.  Not me.  If you see it here, you can count on that recipe being something that I have made before and will make again.  Or in the case of this banana pudding, something I have made a lot before and will make again very soon.  Preferably this week.  Or tomorrow…

Let me tell you a little story.  It is a story about a young woman eating banana pudding in the middle of the desert surrounded by sailors.  Intrigued?

Years ago, literally days before my husband got out of the Navy and was released from duty, we were at an unofficial ceremony which served to honor my husbands time in the military and simultaneously celebrate the fact that he was rejoining the real world.  A passing of the baton, if you will, to the next sub-mariner who would be getting out of the Navy.  It is a very long explanation that I am not at all sure I am even allowed to share with you.  But just know that when I mean unofficial, I mean no uniforms, no officers, and a large amount of beer.  So we were celebrating at a friends house who happened to live in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near the Mexican border and everyone had brought a dish to pass.  One of the things that I had decided not to try was an actual vat of what looked like vanilla pudding.  And when I say vat, I mean a huge aluminum roasting pan of it.  Toward the end of the evening, my friend Doug walks over and sits down with a whole plate of what I learned was actually banana pudding.  I think it was his second helping.  I snitched a bite and wordlessly stood up to go and fill myself a whole plate of it too.  And I ate the entire plate.  It is so addictive, so creamy, so simply good, that it makes you wish it were calorie free so you could eat it for every meal of the day.

That is when I had it first and I have been making it ever since.  The recipe is actually quite common and I have seen it many different places: the Internet, food network, church cookbooks.  There is a good chance that you have seen it before or even have it tucked in the back of a recipe box somewhere.  Well, now I am telling you that while the ingredients may be simple, the flavor is not.  Make it.  Make it now.  And it tastes that much better if eaten surrounded by friends and family.  Cute sailors are encouraged, but not required.

One Year AgoPasta Scuie Scuie & Sweet & Spicy Salmon

Banana Pudding

2 bags Peppridge Farm Chessman Cookies
3-4 bananas
1 small box instant vanilla pudding, made according to package directions
1 small can sweetened condensed milk
1 (8 oz) block cream cheese
1 tub (8 oz) whipped topping

Line a large 9X13 glass baking dish with 1 bag of the cookies.  I use all the broken ones from both bags for the bottom and save the perfect whole cookies for the top.  Slice up the bananas to form one layer on top of the cookies.  In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and the sweetened condensed milk until smooth.  Fold in the vanilla pudding.  Fold in the whipped topping.  Pour the whole mixture over the bananas and spread it nice and smooth.  Top with the last bag of cookies.  Chill until ready to eat.  Enjoy!!

Sour Cream Cherry Bars

Sour Cream Cherry Bars | Brittany's PantryAt the risk of stating the obvious, I just have to mention that it is hot.  Really hot.  Pleeeeeease tell me you are all staying cool out there.  Pools, lakes, oceans, garden hose: whatever it takes to beat the heat!  Here in the middle of Midwestern farmland we are not only feeling the heat, but the beginnings of a drought as well.  Uhg.  The heat was the reason our family decided to forgo our holiday plans this week.  No parades, no festivals, no BBQ’s, and no celebrations.  104 degree heat index and an infant don’t mix.

These bars were one of the things that I had already made to bring to a pot luck that we never attended so we have been sharing them with our neighbors and eating them ourselves.  Just think of them as a kind of easy cherry pie that feeds way more than six to eight!  I have had this recipe for forever, randomly ripped out of a magazine years and years ago.  I made it for Easter not long after we moved to IL and have been thinking about it ever since.  Like…dreaming about it.

Because it makes a big pan, I usually only make it when I am having company.  It goes together pretty fast and it is great warm with ice cream or even cold for breakfast.  There are still a lot of weekends left in the summer to grill out and enjoy your friends and family!  This dessert will feed them all and is just different enough to be interesting.  And since it uses frozen cherries, you don’t have to limit yourself to when they are in season.  So you-and I for that matter-can make it anytime.  Heat wave or no.Sour Cream Cherry Bars | Brittany's Pantry One Year Ago: Cobb Potato Salad

Sour Cream Cherry Bars
Adapted from Pillsbury
This recipe can be halved and baked in an oval casserole dish.  You can cut it into squares or just dish it up with a spoon.  I highly recommend vanilla ice cream to go with it!!  Feel free to use tart, sweet, or a mixture of both kinds of cherries.

Crust and topping:
1 c (2 sticks) butter, room temp
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 c flour
2 c rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

3/4 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1 egg
1 c sour cream
2-12 oz bags frozen cherries, thawed and drained of liquid

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar together for the crust.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix just until combined.  Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of a large, ungreased, 11×14 glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together all filling ingredients until smooth.  Carefully stir in cherries.  Pour filling over crust and crumble remaining third of oatmeal mixture evenly over top.  Bake for an additional 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and center is set.  Cool to room temp and serve.  Store in the refrigerator.

Snickerdoodles-A July 2nd Recipe

SnickerdoodlesNope.  Not a fourth of July recipe, but a second of July.  I have a lot of cooking to do, but all of mine is happening in the next few weeks.  If you are looking for fourth of July inspiration here is a link to last years list.  Or you could make this.  Or this.  And I highly recommend you make this.

I have been under the weather this week and we were on vacation last week so my time in the kitchen has been sporadic, at best.  But if you follow me on Facebook you know that I have been messing around with snickerdoodle cookie recipes lately.  I have kind of a lot of different recipes stockpiled and even though they all seem pretty straightforward, every version is different.  Some are super cakey and not cookie-like at all, some are super chewy, and some have so much cinnamon they are just one step down from a stick of Big Red.  I didn’t add pumpkin snickerdoodles to the list to try just yet and the apple cider version will have to wait too.  I just wanted to narrow things down so that when I wanted to make snickerdoodles, plain and classic, I had just one recipe to make.  A recipe that I had made enough times that I knew it was going to turn out and be my ultimate version of a snickerdoodle.  I believe I have found such a cookie!

My Mom used to make this kind of cookie a lot when I was a kid and they are one of my husband’s favorites.  After making a ton of cookies from miscellaneous internet sites, The Joy of Cooking, Better Homes & Gardens, my own recipe, and even a version from Gale Gand, the winner ended up being from the blog Dinner: A Love Story.  Their recipe has no origin but has been used for several generations, the ingredients scribbled on a splattered card.  Turns out, it had the best texture and flavor.  To us, anyway.  Some people like their snickerdoodles almost like a muffin top; cake-like, soft, and super moist.  Our family, our generous taste tester friends, and Mike’s co-workers who get all the leftovers, seem to prefer a true chewy cookie texture.  Whichever you like, these are fantastic.  And I have seven other batches of cookies to prove it!
SnickerdoodlesOne Year Ago: Red Velvet Cupcakes & Sweet & Tangy Ribs

Recipe adapted from DALS.  Here is the link to the original post.

Cream together with a mixer:
1 c soft butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Slowly mix until all ingredients are incorporated and then chill the dough in the fridge for about an hour.  They will still turn out if you don’t chill it, but the texture is nicer if you do.  Pinch or scoop dough and roll into 1 1/2 inch balls.  Roll the balls in a mixture of  ½ c sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.  Bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees.  This is a fantastic cookie to make with kids!

Marshmallow Buttercream

Marshmallow ButtercreamRemember a few posts back when I mentioned things that I wish I had been doing all along?  Well, in addition to ‘using an eyelash-curler’, this frosting recipe has now topped that list.

Last week, my oldest had her 6th birthday party.  It was flower themed and I confess that I pushed for it because it was simple.  Of course Evelyn does love flowers so it was an easy sell, but still…in light of what my days look like now, I needed something stress free.  And I have to say, surrounding yourself in all things ‘flowers’ is quite fun.  What little girl doesn’t have a flowery dress in her closet?  The party girls painted flower pots and my husband filled them with pink petunias!  They also got cute little bags filled with, among other things, flower jewelry and huge flower hair clips which all the girls promptly accessorized with.  Thank you Bella Bambini!  The menu?  Little mini sliders with fixings,  Margarita Pasta Salad, veggies and dip, a huge bowl of strawberries and grapes, and June Bugs to drink.  As for the cake, the birthday girl requested chocolate-yeehaw!-and when I mentioned that this was the way I wanted to decorate it, her face fell.  Apparently, she had pictured one big flower.  No biggy.  I just backtracked and decided to use my trusty star tip.  The cake was a recipe I make all the time and I am sure I have mentioned before.  You can find it here.  The frosting had to be white because as my daughter pointed out, flowers are not usually chocolate colored.  So after finding several different versions online and doing some experimenting of my own, I ended up with this buttercream.  My sister, who happened to be in town for the week and who I enjoyed spoiling, at least in the culinary sense, grew weak in the knees when she ate this.  Literally.  She then proceeded to eat so much of it she ate very little dinner because she was so ill on sugar.  Now that is what I call a successful frosting recipe!  We agreed that a certain sister-in-law of mine (you know who you are!) would go bonkers for this recipe!  I am sure she could out eat anyone in a frosting contest!  The frosting didn’t deflate, fall, melt in the heat, or get thin when I added coloring.  It was fluffy and extremely easy to work with.  The middle layer was chocolate frosting and I just used the recipe that frosts my One-Bowl Chocolate Cake because I knew it would be the perfect amount.  And it was.  The finished cake was absolutely outstanding.  Here are some pictures from the process:
Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow Buttercream Marshmallow ButtercreamHappy birthday, Evelyn!

One Year Ago: Strawberry-Watermelon Cooler

Marshmallow Buttercream
I doubled this recipe in order to ensure that I had enough for the crumb coat AND to decorate it.  It came out perfectly with very little leftover.

1 c (2 sticks) softened, unsalted butter
1 small jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
Beat these two ingredients together for several minutes until light and fluffy.

Add 2 1/2-3 c of powdered sugar and a splash of vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Leftovers keep in the fridge for several days and are also good eaten with grapes:)

Tofu Chocolate Pudding

Tofu Chocolate PuddingMmm.  Just look at that chocolate pudding.  Creamy.  Dreamy.  Rich and decadent.  Don’t you just love tofu?

What?  Tofu?  Uh huh!  That’s what I said!  Tofu.  Hard to believe isn’t it?  But there it is.  And yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

My history with tofu, a soybean based protein, is kind of interesting.  My Mom went through a tofu phase when we were kids and put it in everything.  I even did a presentation about it to my fifth grade class.  To this day, whenever I go back home and bump into that teacher (What up, Mr Sapa!) he reminds me about that demonstration.  This was around the same time my Mom tried to convince us, albeit unsuccessfully, that carob was the same as chocolate.  Anyway, it was years before we found out that she had been sneaking pureed tofu into our pancake and waffle batter without any of us ever finding out.  I discovered that eating it plain and warm, like in a stir fry, is not my favorite.  It is a texture thing.  But adding it to smoothies in a blender?  Now that is yummy.  It makes everything thick and rich and utterly wonderful.

So here is the skinny-no pun intended.  Tofu+chocolate=low fat and protein packed loveliness.  Several years ago I came across a group of dessert recipes that were all centered around tofu.  No-bake pies, parfaits, and puddings.  This pudding is my version of one of those.  Light, creamy, and nearly guilt free.  It comes together fast which makes it perfect for a weeknight dessert or last minute treat.  My kids were thrilled when I started testing different recipes.  Endless amounts of chocolate pudding wasn’t exactly hard to get them to eat!  And the results were unanimous.
Tofu Chocolate PuddingOne Year Ago: White Chocolate Rainbow Cake, Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Lemon Thyme Orzo

Tofu Chocolate Pudding
Feel free to use dark chocolate chips for an extra boost of antioxidants.  Be sure to use a good quality chocolate chip to ensure decent melting.

1 pkg silken tofu
1 bag chocolate chips
1/4 c pure maple syrup
a splash of hot coffee, optional

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, puree the tofu and the maple syrup until smooth.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals until just barely melted.  Stir until smooth and with the machine running, pour carefully into the food processor.  Add the coffee, if using.  Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Note:  Eaten right away this pudding is smooth and light and creamy.  If you let it sit in the fridge the chocolate cools and it firms up-more like a thick, rich, cheesecake consistency.  Either way, sooooo good.  Also, firm tofu doesn’t puree as well and won’t get as creamy (it ends up kind of grainy) so I don’t recommend it.  It still tastes good though so if that is all you have, go ahead and use it.  But you will have to thin out the puree with milk or cream in order to get it to work.

Lemon Quick Bread

Lemon Quick BreadHave I ever mentioned to you that I really love citrus?  Mmmm, I do.

Anyway, years ago, just after my husband and I got married, I was finishing up my student teaching in a small town in Wisconsin.  The home port of his submarine had just changed from Pearl Harbor to San Diego and I was counting down the days until I was done with college and could join him in California permanently!  My best friend, Ashley, who happened to be a fellow Navy wife and married to my husband’s best friend and fellow sailor on the sub, flew out to road trip across the country with me and my last car load of belongings.  There was one day left in the term and at 3:00 I would be free to go.  Ashley was waiting at my apartment, cleaning and all prepared to cram a ridiculously large amount of stuff in my jeep and I was barely able to contain myself.  Understandably so, right?  I was about to embark on a legendary road trip and a tall, dark, and handsome sailor was waiting for me at the finish!  Wouldn’t you be excited?  Just before I finally left the school, my teaching supervisor gave me some parting gifts: a huge bag of candy for the road trip and a paperback Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook for my kitchen.  I tucked the cookbook in the glove box, the candy in the center console and we hit the road.  I will spare you the details of the trip but suffice to say that we survived a blizzard in the Rockies, Vegas, and seven lanes of traffic that were bumper to bumper and yet traveling at over 80 miles an hour.

Due to the size of the closet apartment that we lived in, all of my books were packed in boxes and stored.  This included every cookbook I owned, with the exception of BHG, which, as it happened, was still in the glove box of  my jeep!  I spent the next two years cooking for a lot of sailors and I used it constantly as a reference.  Understand that this was over ten years ago, so the Internet was not as much of an enormous recipe reference like it is now.  There was no Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Healthy Aperture, or Pinterest.  So I took a lot of notes while watching Food Network!  For some reason, lemon bread became one of those things that I really wanted to make, and I made it often.  Since the BHG version was all I had access to it became my regular.  And it still is.  Even though the view out my window has changed from the Pacific to a sea of Midwestern corn and I am no longer feeding hungry sailors but instead my beautiful family, just using the cookbook makes me think of those days.
Lemon Quick BreadNow, let me be clear.  This recipe is just your basic quick bread. The flavor is mildly lemon with a sharp glaze brushed over top.  The bread is not a delicate cake that you would serve for dessert, but instead is more of a snack kind of thing.  Some other time I will post a recipe for a super lemony, delicate lemon loaf that you can serve with berries and cream.  But for now, here is a version that you can whip up in a bowl with a wooden spoon.  No creaming of butter and sugar and no alternating milk and dry ingredients while you mix.  Just a regular quick bread.  And I have no doubt that you will love it regardless of where you are and who you serve it to.
Lemon Quick Bread 023 (9)One Year Ago: Black & White Angel Food Cake

Lemon Quick Bread
Adapted from BHG
Note that this bread has a lemon and sugar glaze that gets brushed on when it comes out of the oven.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!  The glaze makes this bread and punches up the subtle lemon flavor.  You won’t regret it!

In a large bowl:
2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Mix with a whisk until evenly combined.  In a large measuring cup:
1 c milk
1/4 c canola oil
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon, about 2 T
1 egg

Whisk together with a fork and add to the dry ingredients.  Gently fold together and mix just until completely combined.  Pour into a greased 8X4 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 for 50 minutes to an hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.  I actually cover my bread lightly with foil at the end to prevent over browning.  In the meantime, in a small bowl, combine the juice of the other half of the lemon (about 2 T) and 1 T of sugar, stirring every so often until sugar dissolves.  When bread is done, brush evenly over the top of the loaf, continuing until all the syrup is gone.  Let cool in the pan at least 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.  This tastes even better the next day!

Chocolate Cream Cheese BarsWow! What a week.  I think I need to unwind and treat myself.  Chocolate cheesecake anyone?

This recipe brings to mind one of my husbands biggest complaints.  I have mentioned before that while he enjoys the variety in my cooking, he kind of wishes that I would bring back the favorites more often.  When I make a dish that was particularly fantastic, it often gets marked with approval and then added to the archives.  I really like to browse through my cookbooks and data base and randomly pick out something new to try instead of choosing something I have made before.  At least half of my weekly menu is made up of recipes I have never made, or my notes and scribblings about one that I am creating.  As a result, Michel-and this happens every few months or so :)-begs me for the basics.  When I get excited about making Indian butter chicken, Mike says, “That sounds great!  Maybe tomorrow we can just have meatloaf.”  When I tell him I made dark chocolate sable cookies with Chinese five-spice powder, he eats them, tells me they are wonderful and then mentions, “You know what we haven’t had in awhile?  My favorite plain ol’ chocolate chip cookies.”  And when the urge to experiment with minestrone hits me, I hear, “Remember that stew you made with the pork and the polenta?  We really loved that.  Can you make that again instead of something new?”  The poor guy.  He eats everything I make, never complains, and continues to be the biggest fan of my cooking.  And since it is him and the kids who I love to cook for more than anything, I want to keep them happy!  If Michel wants something familiar and simple, than that is what he gets!

Chocolate cheesecake is simple and familiar, right…?

In this case, it is.  I made these bars a gazillion years ago for my Mother-In-Law because, if you remember from my previous ramblings, she is a chocolate fanatic!  I try to indulge this feeling as much as possible because it gives me a reason to experiment with new chocolate recipes whenever she is visiting!  Which reminds me…I should have made her the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding when she was here last weekend…oh crumbs…Anyway, I did make her these bars and she liked them just as much now as she did then.  I am not sure why, but I kind of stopped making them for a few years.  Probably to try something new, heh heh.  In some ways, these bars are similar to the Honey Cheesecake Bars in that they are simple and easy and a wonderful way to get your cheesecake fix without having to deal with all the effort a whole cheesecake requires.  But that is where the similarities end.  These are rich and creamy and oooooohhh so chocolaty.  They need to chill until completely cold and this makes them the perfect make-ahead dessert.

So now that I have made something from the ‘old reliable’ category, tomorrow night?  Soufflés!
Chocolate Cream Cheese Bars Chocolate Cream Cheese BarsOne Year Ago: Strawberry Ice Cream & Sweet Veggie Pasta Salad

Chocolate Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Kraft
When made in an 8X8 pan, I cut these bars into 16 portions or 4 by 4.  I recently made them for a social gathering and I wanted smaller bites so I cut them 5 by 5 into 25 little bars.  Either is great.  Also, this doubles easily for a 9X13 pan if you are serving a large group.  Just add another 15 minutes or so to the cooking time.

14 chocolate sandwich cookies (such as OREO) crushed
3 T butter, melted
Mix these together and press into the bottom of a sprayed 8X8 square pan.  Glass works particularly well.  Bake at 325 for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer:
2 pkg cream cheese
1/2 c sugar
1 T flour
Add, with the mixer running:
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped and melted until smooth-Baker’s chocolate works great for this
After chocolate is beaten in, beat in:
2 eggs, one at a time

Combine until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl.  Pour over crust, spread until even and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the center is just barely set, but not completely firm.  Cool to room temp and then chill until cold, preferably overnight.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam & Books

Strawberry Rhubarb JamThis is the recipe I am sharing today.  Looks good, huh?  It is.  But first a few words…

It has occurred to me several times over the life of this blog that I have been remiss in telling you about a passion of mine that has nothing to do with food.  No, I am not talking about my love for synchronized swimming, underwater basket weaving, or sky-diving.  I am of course talking about books.
OK. *cracking knuckles*  Here goes.  I am about to try and explain to you how much I love to read.

Hmmm.  Ah…hmmm.  Well…I…I mean, it is kind of like…um…

All right, so I don’t know how to word it-no pun intended!  I just really love to read.  How can I accurately convey how much I love the smell of books, the weight and feel of them in my hands, and the sound the paper makes when you turn the page?  I love to see the ocean of words on a page and all the book spines lined up on a shelf.  I love that sometime, somewhere, someone wrote those words just for me to read and I wonder where they were when they wrote them.  When I read a particularly poignant, witty, or clever part of a book, I always wish I could turn to the author and say, “Did that just come to you?  Or did you struggle with trying to word that just right?”  Ninety-nine percent of the time I have a book with me and on my person when I leave the house.  I used to use my eighth grade french class text book to hide what I was reading-which at that time was probably Exodus, by Leon Uris-and only escaped getting in trouble because my french teacher was also my English teacher (Yo Mrs. Lewis!) and she couldn’t bring herself to punish me for reading when she was always trying so hard to get her students to read in the first place.  I spent most of my sophomore year of high school literature class in the hallway doing random homework because I had already read all of the semester content within the first few weeks of school.  I often walk into a used bookstore-or Barnes & Noble-and leave empty handed because I am so breathlessly overwhelmed with joy, excitement, and anticipation that I can’t choose any one thing to purchase.  I want everyone to love books as much as I do so I almost always give books, or gift certificates to buy them, to children as gifts.  And that includes my own kids.  When the Navy moved us from San Diego to Minnesota, they packed and moved more cases of books than they did anything else and that included 3 full cases of children’s books even though we didn’t have any kids at the time.  I regularly buy books based entirely on the cover because I like the surprise of reading a story I know nothing about in a book I might not otherwise have picked up.

I love books.  I love to read.  Are you catching my drift?  Are you picking up what I am puttin’ down?  Are you buying what I am selling?  Do you get it?
So with that, this is what I am reading right now:
Have any of you actually read this book?  My cover looks a bit different because it is an older publication and was pulled from the 25 cent bin from a shop somewhere in the Smokey Mountains about 7 years ago.  Unfortunately, I took it from my bookshelf with all the intent of finally reading it for the first time (this is one of those books I bought based entirely on the title and the phrase in the above book review, “An epic historical novel artfully constructed.”  Doesn’t that sound interesting?) but went into labor the same day and haven’t had a chance to make it past the first few chapters.  On my Kindle, I have this:
Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant ChefI just started reading it so this will be my I-have-two-minutes-before-my-daughter-gets-out-of-school-and-need-a-distraction-or-I-will-fall-asleep book.   And by the way, I avoided getting a Kindle for years because I really do love the smell and feel of a book in my hands and generally deemed electronic books as kind of evil.  But my husband got me one for Christmas in the hopes I would learn to love it and it has proved invaluable when traveling.  It is also much easier to fit in my diaper bag.  Easier, say, than my five pound, hard-cover copy of The Twilight Of Courage.

I am telling you all of this for several reasons and if you are not with me on this and you secretly just want to get to today’s recipe, then feel free to scroll ahead.  As for the rest of you, I would LOVE to know what you are reading nowadays.  A long and extensive conversation with my sister last week, that was actually over biscuits and jam, reminded me how much I love to get book recommendations from people.  I really love older books and am always trying to get people to read them (Steph-PLEASE read A Girl Of The Limberlost-you will love it!) and as a result, often miss out on anything good published in the last 5 years.  And yes, I have read The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.  Other than that, hit me with your best shot!

So remember that jam I mentioned my sister and I were devouring?  It is the same jam I mentioned in the last post.  Strawberry rhubarb.  Here.  Just let your eyes just drink this in:
Strawberry Rhubarb JamSeriously.  I just may have to take a break and go eat some of this.  As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I am going to do.  Hold on a sec…

OK.  Much better.  You don’t mind if I type with my mouth full do you?

Anyway, about the jam.  What can I say?  It is super easy and amazingly scrumptious.  You can taste the strawberry but the rhubarb shines through without being too sour and too…rhubarb-ey.  I mean, I love rhubarb, but straight can be hard to take.  This is BY FAR my favorite way to eat it.  It is also, I discovered, a great way to introduce people to it if they have never had it before.  Because rhubarb is kind of a developed taste, it can be a bit intimidating.  But it is in season right now and the Farmer’s Markets and even the grocery stores are full of it!  If you have never tried it before, now is your chance to totally fall in love.  Then you can expand a bit and make rhubarb crisp, strawberry-rhubarb pie, rhubarb tea…all kinds of craziness!

Can you see the butter on the biscuit under the jam?  Totally unnecessary.  One bite and you will be instantly transported back to your Grandmother’s house.  The flavor is reminiscent of something straight out of a farmhouse kitchen.  Nostalgic yes, but too good to leave in the past.  Nothing new fangled or tweaked or ‘updated’ with modern flavors.  Just straight-up, good ol’ Midwest American jam.  Might I suggest you enjoy some with a good book…

P.S. In regards to the activities mentioned in the first paragraph, I really do love synchronized swimming and used to swim in high school, as did my two sisters, and later went on to coach for a few years.  Go Rangers!  My husband and I went sky diving together when we lived in Hawaii-even though I am deathly scared of heights.  And I was totally joking about the underwater basket weaving.
Strawberry Rhubarb JamOne Year Ago: Lemon Chiffon Pie & Grilled Pork Chops

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
Recipe from the talented kitchen of Mary Zeug-aka Aunt Mary
I should note that I usually do not process my jam in a water bath when I make it.  The fruit is so hot, it always seals the jars without having to mess with it.  If you prefer, you can absolutely process the jars for about five minutes.

6 c quartered, hulled, and lightly rinsed strawberries
8 c diced rhubarb
2 pkg Sure-Jell, low sugar or regular
1 c water
11 c sugar

In a small bowl, mix together the Sure-Jell and 1 c of sugar.  Add this to the fruit and 1 c of water and stir all together in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and add the rest of the sugar.  Stir often to prevent scorching and bring back to a boil.  Once it is good and boiling, let it go for a minute, remove from heat, and immediately pour into sterilized, pint canning jars, leaving one inch of head space.  Wipe the rims clean and top with sterilized lids and rings.  If desired, process in a water bath for 5 minutes.  Let hot jars set out on the counter until completely cool.  When they are room temperature check to make sure all the jars have sealed.  Store any that haven’t in the fridge for several months.  Alternatively, the jam can be poured into plastic ‘freezer’ jars and frozen for up to a year.

Yield 10 pints

Strawberry Shortcake Cake

Strawberry Shortcake CakeBrace yourself.  I have purchased a LOT of strawberries in the last few weeks and have been experimenting up the wazoo.  For you, this means an abundance of really great ways to use everyones favorite spring fruit.  Because sometimes you need to break away from the norm of strawberry shortcake!  Hmm.  Actually, today’s recipe is quite a bit like strawberry shortcake….I guess I haven’t strayed as far from the norm as I thought…

But anyway!  In case you have already tried (and I hope you have!) the Strawberry & Avocado Salad and Strawberry Ice Cream recipes, I have one more for you!  Actually, I have three more for you, but I will try and space them out!  This gorgeous cake was very quick to throw together and tastes amazingly like strawberry shortcake.  But without all the labor of rolling and cutting biscuits and assembling the desserts!  A simple batter gets mixed up and spread in a pie plate then topped with halved strawberries.  That is it!  It will make your house smell absolutely heavenly!  I know because when I make this cake I always pause for a moment just before I open the oven door.  You know.  Just to prepare myself for the loveliness of a golden vanilla cake topped with ruby fruit!  A big spoonful of whipped cream over the top is all this needs.  Of course, I like to eat it plain for breakfast the next day as well, but usually only because all the whipped cream is gone.

Also, just a little side note to mention that this would be super fun to serve Memorial Day weekend or for the Fourth of July.  I only mention this because I inadvertently styled the above photograph in a patriotic sort of way and didn’t really notice that until just now.  Oh hey!  This would be fun to make this summer for an Olympics party too!  GO USA!
Strawberry Shortcake Cake Strawberry Shortcake Cake One Year Ago: Lemon & Herb Deviled Eggs

Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart
This cake is not super light and fluffy.  It is kind of like a soft biscuit; sweet yet strong enough to stand up to the juiciness of the berries!

6 T of soft butter
1 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the above ingredients with a hand-held mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add:
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Mix just until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.

Butter or spray a glass pie plate and spread the batter in the bottom.  Rinse, hull and halve enough strawberries for the top of your cake.  This will vary depending on the size of your berries, but it is about 2 c or 1 lb.  Lay them cut side down in circles, sprinkle the top of the cake lightly with sugar and bake at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until cake is golden and toothpick in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.  Let cool completely and cut into wedges.

Fruit DipSometimes I find myself hesitating to blog about one thing or another because I am afraid it is too basic, to simple, or too well known.  I always wonder if you are all giving a collective sigh and eye roll.  Please believe me when I say that I am not trying to insult your intelligence or your prowess in the kitchen!  For instance, take my recipe for Crispy Bars-and please excuse the pictures taken with my old camera.  Everyone has made some version of them at some point in time.  They certainly are not a new idea.  But I try to remind myself that everyone has different levels of experience in the kitchen.  Or for that matter different levels of desire as to what they want to do in the kitchen.  Some people like to experiment with food and some people don’t make anything without a recipe.  Others only bake while some can make a mean pot of soup but nothing else.  My point is, that every recipe I post goes out to a certain type of cook.  I have a mental image of that target individual who each recipe would be perfect for.  One-Bowl Chocolate Cake & Cheeze-It Chicken?  The busy family trying to get dinner on the table on a Wednesday night.  Pasta W/ Zesty Bolognese is a great freezer meal for the steadfast, make-ahead, menu planner.  And for those of you who want something a little different, yet totally decadent?  Rum-Raisin Rice Pudding.  See what I mean?

So who is today’s recipe for?  Hmmm.  It could be for any of you out there who are always looking for something quick and easy to bring to the office to share or a church pot-luck.  Or maybe it is for those of you who are looking to build up your repertoire or basics.  This is also perfect for anyone who automatically will make and eat anything that contains cream cheese!  I am raising my hand for that one…
Fruit DipRegardless, those are my reasons for posting a recipe so easy, so simple, so common, and quite possibly one you already know.  Actually, if it hadn’t been for my 4-H Cafeteria experience, I might still not know this recipe.  Fruit dip was not something we made in our house.  So when I found out that this bowl of deliciousness was made with only two ingredients-no measuring!-I was thrilled.  And I have been making it ever since.  Yes, I have been eating this with a spoon fruit for the past 18 years.  I make it for parties, pot-luck dinners, and just to snack on.  In fact, in college I used to make a batch, grab a fork and a huge bag of grapes, and stab and dip and devour my way through study sessions.  I do not recommend this for those of you wanting to keep your girlish figure. 😉
Fruit Dip Fruit DipOne Year Ago: Breakfast Burritos

Fruit Dip
If your are not serving this to company the whole batch mixes up and then fits right back into the marshmallow fluff container.  No need to dirty more dishes!

1-8 oz block of cream cheese-low-fat is fine
1-7 oz container marshmallow fluff

Combine ingredients in a bowl using an hand mixer.  This dip goes great with grapes (my FAV), strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple.  It is also good with sliced peaches when they are in season.