Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Chocoatnut Bars": Chocolate-Coconut-Oat Bar Cookies

I'm sure you all remember those gooey, chewy, and deliciously sweet Hello Dolly Bars, also referred to as 7-Layer Bars. (Your family may have had their own name for them as well--my husband asks for these bar cookies by the ingredient list, but doesn't know them by any name I am familiar with.) This recipe has a similar flavor, but instead of layering the ingredients, they are simply all mixed together and baked into a dense cookie that could almost--almost--pass as an energy bar (note: I am not making any claims to their nutritional value, though they are hearty and well-balanced). This is another small-batch recipe: Depending on the size of your sweet tooth, this makes between 4 and 6 bars. I still haven't come up with a great name for them--I'm working on it. The recipe I used calls them "Triple Threat Bars." While this might be catchy, I don't like thinking of any food as a threat. They are more like "Survival Bars," or better yet, "Triple Treat Bars." That's more like it. These are amazing to pack in lunches--yours or someone else's--or as a small treat after dinner. They can even pass as breakfast! Give these a try, and feel free to double or triple the recipe to make them for a crowd. Enjoy!

Survival Bars ("Chocoatnut" Bars)
(adapted from Small-Batch Baking)

Equipment: small baking dish (5 x 3 inches or so), foil, cooking spray
1/4 cup plus 2 T old-fashioned rolled oats
3 T all-purpose flour
3 T packed dark brown sugar (light would be fine, though it would not have as deep a molasses flavor)
3 T sweetened flaked coconut (the kind found near the chocolate chips on the baking aisle)
2 T chopped pecans (any nuts would be fine--cashews or macadamia nuts would be great)
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or a combination of different chips)
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled (melt this first to give it time to cool)
2 tsp. well-beaten egg or egg substitute
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line the bottom of the pan with foil--enough to extend over the edges by 1-2 inches. Smooth it out into the corners and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Toss the oats, flour, brown sugar, coconut, pecans, chocolate chips, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
3. Pour the melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat with a fork or small whisk to blend. Add egg mixture to oats mixture and stir until blended.
4. Spoon batter into prepared baking dish and smooth the top, making sure it is an even layer. Bake until it is set and pulls away from the edges slightly--about 22 minutes.
5. Cool on a wire rack in the pan for 10-20 minutes. Then gently pull the foil out of the pan and allow it to cool completely on the rack. When it is completely cool, cut into bars.

Nutritional Info.: (for 4 bars) 200 calories, 11.5 grams of fat (sat. 5.7), 30.8 g protein

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When nothing but chocolate will do... The Ultimate Brownie

Sometimes you just need chocolate. We've all been there. Maybe you've had a bad day or a rotten week, maybe you're stretched so thin that even a little indulgence seems like complete and unattainable luxury. Perhaps you're in a terrible mood with no explanation. You realize, as Ishmael does in the opening pages of Moby-Dick, that something needs to change: "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off..." Whenever he finds himself in such a state, Ishmael goes to sea. I, on the other hand, make brownies. It seems far less dangerous, though every bit as deliberate. And while it instantly gratifies, the effect lasts far longer than one might expect. The more hats I feel like knocking off, the more chocolate I add, until the sea of white chocolate chips somewhat resembles the eponymous white whale of College English fame. These brownies offer a perfect escape from the Ahabs of the world, and despite my numerous literary references, they are so simple and indulgent that you will not feel an ounce of guilt eating half the pan while curled up watching Glee. Remember: all will be well with the world again. As Ishmael said, "The drama's done," and for more comfort, "the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago." Take a moment for yourself. Have a brownie. This too shall pass.

The Ultimate Brownie
(adapted from One Smart Cookie by Julie Van Rosendaal)

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules, dissolved in 1 1/2 tsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla (a little more never hurt)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

I prefer a few handfuls of white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and mini chocolate chips (I sprinkle the minis on top of the batter before baking). You could also add any kind of baking chip, toffee chips, nuts, etc. Have fun here--the more you need chocolate, the more kinds you can add. You can even press crushed cookies or candies into the top of the batter before baking.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9x9 pan liberally with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add the sugar and cocoa powder. Mix until well-blended--it will resemble wet sand.
3. In a large bowl, whisk egg, egg whites, coffee, and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk until well-blended--this may take a minute and some upper-body strength :-)
4. In the empty saucepan (so you don't have to dirty another bowl, though you can if you wish) mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add these to the chocolate mixture and stir until there are a few streaks of flour left. At this point, and in your mix-ins and fold until well-distributed.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth into the corners. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, or until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides. (It is better to underbake brownies--these in particular are supposed to be fudgy.)
6. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares--16-25, depending on the size you want your brownies.

Basic Nutritional Information, pre-mix-ins (per serving for 16 servings):
Calories: 151
Fat: 4.4 grams

Monday, November 9, 2009


For your viewing pleasure: I finally conquered the pancake. If my life were a superhero movie, pancakes would be my nemesis. I am perpetually drawn to them, but they always win. They are too floppy, too mushy, too thin, too dense, they don't brown properly or they burn, they are too sweet or too get the idea. I'd just about given up on pancakes until--viola!--the perfect recipe. Unfortunately, as life is never so perfect, I cannot remember what that recipe was. So, like a good superhero flick, I will leave you awaiting the sequel, in which you will learn, once and for all, how I conquered the pancake. Until then, enjoy this buttery golden image of contentment and satisfaction. I will complete the picture with a recipe soon. And if you have any pancake adventures you would like to share (and foolproof techniques I should try) send them my way!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cherry-Oat-Cardamom Muffins

It has been almost two months since my last blog post. Since that post, I have finished my reading list and successfully completed my oral comprehensive exam. I can honestly say that I don't think I've worked harder for something in my life. It is almost overwhelming to think of the hours of reading, the pages and pages of notes, the brainstorming and mock exams and cups upon cups upon cups of coffee. I should write a sincere note of thanks to Seattle's Best, really. I couldn't have done it without you. In that time, especially the last 1 1/2 months, I have barely cooked or baked a thing. Thank goodness for husbands who can shop, cook, and pour a great glass of wine, but who also know when a margarita is the must-have for the seriously stressful moment. I've made a few standbys--my Spiced Pumpkin Bread, for example, traveled to a birthday celebration, and I polished off a few pans of brownies during football games. But as far as my favorite morning baked goods, nothing. I work best in the morning and did not want to disturb my schedule by breaking for muffins. (Sounds like a great bumper sticker.) But when I woke up this morning not to the sound of a 6 am alarm but instead to the sound of Dan making coffee (then fell back asleep and woke up again an hour later), I knew the time for muffins had returned. I felt a bit creative, and here are the results: lusciously spicy, ever-so-slightly sweet Cherry-Oat Muffins with Cardamom. The smell that fills the house as they bake is almost as pleasing as the muffins themselves. Cardamom, to me, always has that perfect balance of exotic and sophisticated; its strong yet delicate flavor is always a surprise.

I found inspiration for these muffins in my Small-Batch Baking book, but as I didn't have any of the ingredients for the Cranberry Walnut muffins, and figured I'd use the same batter and revise the fillings and spices. I thawed a handful of frozen sweet cherries, then chopped them for better distribution. I added cinnamon to the cardamom-sugar topping for depth of flavor, and to keep the cardamom from overpowering the cherries. And I added quick-cooking oats, rather than walnuts or pecans, because the thin batter (thanks to the cherry juice) looked like it needed more structure, and because I'm not the biggest fan of nuts in baked goods, especially muffins. They always seem texturally out-of-place. I wanted a creamy, sweet, spicy muffin, with crunch from the sugar-topping only--and that is exactly what I got. They were brilliant.

If you like cardamom, give these a try. These are not your typical overly sweet coffee shop muffins, and the melt-in-your-mouth texture and aroma will transport you, for a moment, from your familiar kitchen to a small European cafe, where you sit contentedly sipping your coffee and watching the city go by. Life's simple pleasures, in muffin-form. Enjoy.

Cherry-Oat Cardamom Muffins
(adapted from Small-Batch Baking)

Muffin liners or cooking spray
1/2 cup AP flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (you can use cinnamon but it changes the flavor completely)
yolk of one egg
3 T sugar
2 T milk (1% is fine)
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh or frozen cherries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats

3/4 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. each cardamom and cinnamon

Pan: Standard Muffin Pan

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line four muffin cups with liners (or spray four cups, including the top edges surrounding the cups; do not spray more cups, as this will cause them to scorch--only spray what you will use).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and cardamom.
3. In a small bowl, whisk sugar, egg yolk, milk, oil, vanilla. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold gently with a spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened. Add cherries and oats, fold until just combined.
4. Dollop batter into cups until 3/4 full. Fill unused cups 1/3 full with water to prevent scorching. Place in oven; bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
5. PLace on wire rack. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then carefully remove muffins (this is easier if you use muffin cups). Let muffins cool 10 minutes more on rack. Serve warm, or cool completely and freeze. Heat individual muffins wrapped in a napkin for 20 seconds in the microwave.

Nutrition Information: Approximately 200 calories and 8 grams of fat. (I got used to recording calories while I studied since I had less time for the gym, just so I wouldn't overeat and become sluggish. There are some excellent recipe calorie calculators out there. Sparkpeople has my favorite, and it helps me keep track of what I'm eating.)