Monday, December 31, 2012

Butterscotch Blondie Crunch Bars

The last few hours of 2012 are quickly ticking away. I can't say this enough - what a year. Major ups, major downs, and through all of it, we move forward. I think that for most people, this time of the year begets reflection. We look back and examine the year that has passed. We try and forget some of the pain we felt. We try and hold tightly to the joy we found. We scrutinize the decisions we made. Some were poor, of course, but some were monumental. Some difficult, and others a breeze. We question why we did what we did, and we make sure that the next time around, we do it differently. We make resolutions.
I honestly make resolutions all year long. Take better care of myself. Take better care of others. Save money. Be happy. Be healthy. Be gracious. Just be. You get the idea. Well this year, and this night, I am making a promise, not only to myself, but to you. This year, I will view all of my decisions as if they were an investment. How I spend my time. Who I spend it with. Where my money goes. What I eat. What clothes I wear. You get the idea. Because we, as people, spend way too much time, money and energy on things that don't matter. We dwell on things we cannot change and give our hearts to people who may hurt us. We are cruel to ourselves and we are cruel to others. We waste money. We waste calories. We waste tears. Well join me, in 2013, and invest. Invest in people that love you. Invest in the pair of jeans that does, well, what amazing jeans are made to do. Go to that nice restaurant once a month instead of four bad ones. And cook, for the love of God cook. 
Somehow tying this rant to food, I should tell you that this recipe is an investment. Making your own caramel is really time consuming and for me, a failure. I had to do it twice and it still didn't turn the way I wanted. Delicious none-the-less. So, if you don't have the time, desire or energy to make your own, go melt some that is already made. I promise you that this is a recipe worth your time. Happy New Year, readers. I hope your 2013 is your best year yet.

Butterscotch Blondie Crunch Bars
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup  (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup  heavy cream
1 1/2 cups 1 1/2"-wide thin twisted pretzels, coarsely crushed

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13X9 inch baking pane with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang on long sides of pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. 
2. Stir butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned bits form at bottom of pan 7–8 minutes. 
3. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until well combined and mixture resembles wet sand, 2–3 minutes. 4. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy and well combined, about 2 minutes.
5. Add dry ingredients; beat until smooth (batter will be thick). Using an offset or regular spatula, evenly spread batter in prepared pan.
6. Bake blondie until golden brown, edges pull away from sides of pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 20–25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
7. With oven still on, spread peanuts over sheet in an even layer. Bake, stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, 5–7 minutes. Set aside.
8. Here is where you may choose to melt caramels instead of making your own. In that case, follow directions on package. If you're willing to make your own... Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring, occassionaly swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is deep amber, 12–15 minutes. Add honey; return to a boil, stirring often, about 1 minute longer. Add butter; stir until blended. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously); whisk until smooth. Stir in peanuts and pretzels. Pour over cooled blondie. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie

Ever since I was a child, Christmas has been my favorite time of the year. And not just Christmas, but at the first sight of holiday cheer, I get that giddy childish buzz. I've talked about this before. You all know this. But lo and behold, 2012, once again, has proven different...surprise surprise. This was my first holiday season as a Catering Sales Account Manager at Milk Street Cafe in Boston, and while it is fantastic, it is also extremely stressful. But I love my job. I really do love my job. But, wow, stressful. I don't know how brain surgeons and fire fighters do it. Good Lord. But anyway, I digress..
For my job, I manage hundreds of companies and thousands of individual clients. I taste test a lot of good food and give presentations about it to some of the most well known companies in the city country. I plan menus for events in Back Bay, the Seaport, South Boston and Charlestown. I will, eventually, run the online media for the business (2013 goal!). Oh, and if you tack on juggling the social life of a single 25-year-old and my attempt to keep my sanity at the gym (thank you, yoga), it's safe to say I've got, literally and metaphorically, a lot on my plate. And while  it's been a fun few months filled of festive fetes, seasonal socializing and holiday hustle and bustle, I am, as the French may say, le pooped. 

In fact, I might even say I was Grinchy this season. I didn't do nearly all of the things I usually do to get me in the holiday spirit, which may explain the major funk I was in Christmas Eve. That was, until I moved into the kitchen. Oh, the glorious kitchen. And I made this.  And this was, literally, the easiest dessert I've made in a long time. Oh, and not to mention, fantastic. Read it, live it, love it. Sending you a very merry a relaxing holiday!

Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie
1 Gallon Edy's Slow Churn Mint Cookie (or any mint chocolate chip), softened slightly
1.5 cups crushed chocolate mint cookies 
1 (6 oz) premade Oreo Pie Crust
1 cup hot fudge topping

1. Spread 1 pint of the ice cream in pie crust. Sprinkle 1 cup of the crushed cookies over ice cream to form a half inch later. Cover and freeze for 1 hour.
2.Spread remaining pint of ice cream over cookies, covering completely. Top with remaining crushed cookies. Cover and freeze about 3 hours or until firm.
3.Let stand at room temperature about for about 10 minutes before cutting. Heat up fudge topping and drizzle over slices. Cover and freeze any remaining pie.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

It's hard to believe that I've known Julia for 14 years. Yes, back in the day when we were Umbro wearing, bad haircut having, chestless tweens, we really bonded over our shared awkwardness, gangly bodies and necessity for prescription deodorant. Let's be honest, not much has changed. But over the weekend, Jules entered her 26th year. Our little girl has grown up. And while she left behind her blunt bangs and Abercrombie baby tees, there is one thing that will never change.

This recipe is truly superb. One of those that when you're making the batter you know you've struck gold. One of those where waiting for the end product to cool is torture. I mean, try eating a cookie out of a cast iron skillet that's been at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. No thank you. The consistency was somewhere between a cookie, a blondie and the gates of heaven. And I think, no, I know... you will not be disappointed with it. 

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 eggs 
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips 

1. In large bowl, cream butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. 
2. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking soda). Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet. Beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks by hand, making sure they are incorporated fully.
3. Spread in greased 12-14 inch round cast iron skillet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes (times may vary). I think it's better to take it out a little early because it will continue to cook in the skillet. Cool cookie in pan on a cooling rack, or just dig right in. You may burn your tongue but you'll warm your soul.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cranberry Bliss Bars

You know, ever since I was a child, this has been my favorite time of year. And twenty-five years later, here I am, sitting on my couch, wearing slippers watching The Polar Express. Some things never change. But when I was a child, it was Christmas lists. It was toys. It was reindeer. And, sadly, while I still hope every year that Santa will squeeze his way into my tiny apartment in Boston, my priorities have since changed... sort of.
This time of year, really, should be special. It should be cherished. We should give a little more and take a little less. We should be gracious and kind. And I get that. And I am happy to do that. But I'm going to let you in on a little secret. The first time I hear  Carol of the Bells, my heart starts to flutter. A house lit up with bright lights makes me feel giddy. And baking holiday treats for people I love, well, it goes without saying, it makes me soar.

The first treat this year? Well, I'm glad you asked. Cranberry Bliss Bars. And more than eating them yourself, you might like spreading a little joy around you. Or then again, you might not let them cool completely and eat them out of the pan. Your call. Secret's safe with me. But whatever the case, you won't be disappointed.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries 

1 (12 ounce) can ready-made vanilla -or- cream cheese frosting (Feel free to make homemade, but I was running out of time so used store bought)
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 pan by lining it with parchment paper for easy removal.
2. Melt butter and then cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, blend butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add all other ingredients except white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. Once the mixture is almost fully incorporated, add 1/2 cup chips and 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
3. Batter will be thick. Spread into a 9x13 pan and bake 350 degrees for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean. Allow to cool thoroughly.
4.  When cool, frost and top with remaining cranberries, chocolate chips and pistachios.