Category Archives: Brownies and Squares

Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars

with coffee 625 sqThe first time I had one of these breakfast bars was in Botswana. It was day 1 of our Safari adventure and we were out on our inaugural early morning game drive. The wakeup call came at 5:00 am and after I sipped my coffee and watched this breathtaking sunrise, we were ready to roll. (I must note that many of the spectacular pictures in this post come from my very talented friend Edward.)SunriseWe followed our Ranger, O.T. and his trusty sidekick, Tracker Bashee out to the jeep.O.T. and BasheeWhile most Safari goers are anxious to see the “Big 5″, our group was much more intent on observing  zebras and giraffes. There is something about the patterns on their bodies that I find mesmerizing.

The spot pattern on each giraffe is unique, much like a human’s fingerprints. Their unique patterns are how giraffes recognize each other. We learned that here are about 9 different subspecies of giraffes. Each subspecies have very distinct colouring and patterns. Here in Botswana we saw the South African Giraffe.  They are characterized by rounded or blotched spots, on a light tan background, running all the way down to the hooves. This sub species is also found in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Giraffe 1While most would consider the lion to be the “king of the jungle”, I respectfully disagree. Giraffes literally kick ass in the jungle and in the bush. An adult giraffe really has no predators because her long strong legs are used for kicking and the force of them can actually kill a lion. The only way an adult giraffe would make herself vulnerable to prey is if she lay down, because it would take too long for her to get back on her feet should a predator approach. And so giraffes sleep standing up. Luckily they only require less than 2 hours of sleep a day. The only other mammal I know of who can sleep standing up is my husband!

Amazingly, they remain standing even when giving birth! A newly born calf must endure falling, head first, almost 4 feet, to the ground. Sadly only 50% of baby giraffes make it to adulthood. While adult giraffes are too large for most predators, the young can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas.2 giraffes 1Although there was no Starbucks in the bush, O.T. came prepared and pulled out a French press and we had a morning coffee break under a shady Acacia tree.french press coffeeMy girlfriend Sandy always travels with empty ziploc bags, so I wasn’t too surprised when she whipped a bag of what looked like granola bars, out of her back pack. We have travelled together before and she never gets on a plane with less than several hardboiled eggs, a large handful of toasted almonds and a peanut butter sandwich. She likes to be prepared! She had taken the bars from the breakfast tray at the Lodge that morning. Although not a huge fan of granola bars, I was starving, so I took one.

These are not your mama’s granola bars. They were unlike any I have ever tried. Usually I find them too chewy and a little gummy in the center. These were outstanding! Crunchy around the edges but just a little bit chewy in the center, these bars were crammed full of oats, dried fruit, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and coconut. They were the perfect snack combo to munch on in the bush. They instantly became our favourite Safari treat.pretty little bowls with mise en placeAfter our coffee break we hit the trail again. Bashee, our tracker spotted a “dazzle” of zebras in the distance so we sped up to see them at a closer range. “Dazzle” is the collective noun for a group of zebra. No two zebra are exactly alike, stripe patterns are like zebra fingerprints. Each zebra has its own unique pattern of distinctive stripes. Their stripes act as ideal camouflage. The wavy lines of his pattern blend in perfectly with the wavy lines of the tall grass. You would think that black and white stripes would stick out like a sore thumb in green grass, but luckily lions, the zebra’s main main predator, are colour blind. Zebra foals are born with brown and white stripes which turn black and white within a few months.

O.T. explained that there are two basic types of zebras, white skinned ones with black stripes and black skinned ones with white stripes. He asked us if we could identify which were which. Can you tell the difference?Ed's B&W zebrasAs we all started peering closely at the zebras, he and Bashee started laughing at us. No such thing! That’s what passes for humour here in the bush.

When we got back to the Lodge, I headed straight to the kitchen to see Chef Elizabeth. She   joked that she is the secret ingredient in these bars, but I finally wrangled the recipe out of her.chefI am the magic ingredient
I will warn you that these granola bars are not remotely healthy, so if that’s your thing, check out these from Bobbi over at “Bob Vivant”, or these from “Minimalist Baker” or perhaps  these from “Oh She Glows”. Chef Elizabeth’s are more like a special cookie treat, but they were so very delicious. Sweet, salty and crunchy, the perfect combo!

I needed to see if I could recreate them at home.sifting flour
adding liquid ingredients
press into pan
in glass cloche 2With my morning latte and breakfast bar, I can close my eyes and pretend I am back in magical Africa

Click here to print recipe for Very Early Morning Breakfast Bars.

stacked up

Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars

Hot on the heels of posting about Challah Monkey Bread and Brown Sugar Valentines Heart Cookies, I had every intention of sharing with you the recipe for a delicious Baby Kale and Brussels Sprouts salad this week. But somehow, here we are with Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.with text 2F 625 sqTo be honest, it’s not entirely my fault. I have been noticing quite a few pretzel crusted treats floating around cyberspace recently. Naomi of Baker’s Royale made these to satisfy her pregnancy cravings.  Averie of Averiecooks did a top crust of pretzels on her treats.

I started thinking about what I would love to combine with pretzels and the answer came to me instantly…Turtle Bars. If you have never heard of Turtle Bars, let me enlighten you.  Imagine a chocolate base topped with a pecan caramel layer, reminiscent of Turtles Candies. Adding a crushed pretzel layer is a really inspired idea.
whole pretzelscrushing pretzelsadding melted butter to crustcrust ready for ovenThe thing is, you would imagine that Pretzel Crusted Turtle bars would be pretty damn good. But something kind of astonishing happens when you combine these three layers. Alone, each layer sounds yummy. But the synergy that occurs when these three layers combine is something akin to a culinary explosion. The whole somehow becomes so much more than the sum of its parts.stacked 1
Essentially what we have here is a crunch sandwich, with the bottom layer providing salty crunch from the pretzels, and the top layer providing sweet crunch, from the pecans and caramel. Sandwiched in between these two awesome layers of crunch is a chewy fudgy chocolate layer. it doesn’t get better than this.
cracking eggchocolate layer 1candy thermometer in caramelspreading on pecan caramel layerAfter photographing these, I realized that these bars needed to find a good home, other than mine. I took half to my Yoga class and I do believe I heard a few “oohs” and “aahs” mixed in with the “ommmmm” chanting! The other half disappeared quite quickly at my hairdresser’s.3 bars on tile

Click here to print recipe for Pretzel Crusted Turtle Bars.

on twig tray

 

Celebrity Crushes and Incredibly Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies

If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we all have one! I’m referring to celebrity crushes here. You know what I’m talking about; someone in the public eye that you would actually have no chance with, but can’t help but like/be attracted to/daydream about. Celebrity crushes are a harmless way to perk up an otherwise drab day.

So here’s what I’m thinking. If somehow my darling husband meets his maker and dies an early death, and George Clooney were not available, I would likely hook up with Nick Malgieri. WHO???

Nick is an acclaimed pastry chef, teacher and author, with over 10 cookbooks to his name. I first began crushing on him in 2000 when I discovered his book, “Cookies Unlimited.” Here was a man who spoke my language and completely understood me. I think there is no better way to end a meal than a cookie. Nick shares my philosophy and offered me over 400 cookies to choose from. He really sealed the deal when I made his oatmeal lace cookies. Two gossamer thin oatmeal cookies sandwiched together with chocolate ganache.

Before Nick, there was Rance Mulliniks. And unless you are a major league baseball fan from the last century, you may once again say, “WHO??” Check him out in Wikipedia.”Rance played third base for the Toronto Blue Jays during their heyday period. He batted over .300 three times (1984, 1987 and 1989) and demonstrated great patience at the plate, regularly posting on-base percentages near .400. In 1984 he was named to Sports Illustrated’s Dream Team as a utility infielder.”

My husband is not threatened by either Nick or Rance. If you were to Google them you would instantly see why. Neither is genetically blessed with movie star looks, but physical pulchritude is besides the point here. Nick and I would spend our sunset years eating cookies and he would not care one bit how fat I became. Rance and I would watch reruns of the 1992 and 1993 World Series games over and over again. I never grow tired of hearing Jerry Howarth and Tom Cheek announcing, “Now batting for the Blue Jays, Number 5, Raaaance Mulliniks.”

As I was thinking about writing this column, it occurred to me that I had never asked my husband who his celebrity crush was. I suppose I should be flattered that it took him a full 8 hours to come up with an answer, and a further 7 hours to recall her name. (It was actress Mila Kunis, in case you are curious.) Upon further reflection, I wondered if his inability to instantly come up with a celebrity name meant he just lacked imagination. Not so, it’s just that he is very firmly rooted in practicality. So practical in fact, that he has decided that should I go first, he will take up with one of my good friends, since she already knows her way around the cottage kitchen! You have to admire his pragmatic nature.

Celebrity crushes are really quite innocuous, unless of course you start to take it too far and begin imagining that your crush would adore you if he met you, or start wondering if there is enough closet space for all your clothes at his place, once he tells his wife he’s leaving her for you. You know you have moved into danger territory if you start visualizing how your dishes will look in his kitchen and wondering if he would find you too forward if you insisted he paint his kitchen Benjamin Moore 360 (San Fernando Sunshine) as the current paint colour he has offends your strong sense of aesthetic. If this happens, you need to seek help, or a restraining order may be in your future.

My sister has fallen into the stalker territory with her crush on P.E.I Food Network Chef Michael Smith. It all seemed harmless enough at the beginning but once she found out he was separating from wife Rachel, visions of co-parenting their son Gabe, filled her head. Gabe is an amazing little guy, who eats everything his chef dad makes for him! Her hopes were quickly dashed when she discovered he was having a second child with a new love, Chastity Fizzard. Folks, I am not making this stuff up!

My sister has recovered, but Chef Michael’s star has somewhat tarnished in her eyes. That being said, she is correct in bragging about his Triple Chocolate Brownies. I have tried many different brownie recipes in my years of baking, but these come close to perfection. Deeply chocolate, chewy, fudgy and very rich and decadent. They could be just the thing to help you get over your celebrity crush.

Melt butter and 8 ounces of the very best quality bittersweet chocolate you can find. Do not use chocolate chips here. Chocolate chips contain an emulsifier in them to help them hold their shape during baking. Buy good quality chocolate (at least 60-70% cocoa content). I like Callebaut 70 %. Lindt bars  (70%) will also work quite well. I melt the butter and chocolate in a large stainless steel bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder so that there are no lumps.

Eggs, brown sugar and vanilla are added. The chocolate in these brownies is ramped up  even further by the addition of chocolate chips. You can use regular chocolate chips for this part of the recipe, but you will have even more stellar results if you just chop up some of the good stuff! (70% bittersweet chocolate)

Batter is mixed and poured into a parchment lined 9 x 13 Pyrex pan. You can grease and flour the pan, but parchment makes cleanup so easy and it makes cutting the brownies into squares a snap.

My sister likes to cut them into perfect Isosceles triangles. My fine motor skills are not quite as finely honed, but any shape will be devoured. They are quite moist and fudgy and the addition of chocolate chips to the batter makes for a nice surprise.

Click here to print recipe for Michael Smith’s Triple Chocolate Brownies.

Bobby Flay’s Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl Brownies

 

Okay, I have become a little bit obsessed with Bobby Flay’s show “Throwdown” on the Food Network.   It might be the catchy theme song that I just can’t stop singing, or maybe it’s just Bobby’s curls that I am obsessed about.  I used to have curls just like that before I discovered the CHI flat iron.  For those not familiar with the show,  here’s  The Food Network’s summary of the main plot :

“Flay is on a secret mission: to challenge the absolute masters in different kinds of cooking – award-winning BBQers, bakers, pizza makers and more. In each episode, one of these cooks thinks Food Network is shooting their profile for a show. What they don’t know is that Bobby is going to drop in for a surprise visit and challenge them to an unexpected cook-off.”

In 91 episodes so far Bobby has won 28 challenges, tied one and lost 63.  In baseball parlance he’s batting 307 which for a major league ball player is pretty respectable.  The latest episode I watched was a brownie throwdown.  Shawna Lidsky and Katherine Hayward of The Vermont Brownie Company prepared their famous goat cheese (chevre) brownies.  Bobby challenged with his Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl Brownie. 

 I was actually shocked that the judges chose the chevre brownie as the winner.  I am not a chevre lover.  I find the taste a bit cloying but perhaps the chocolate helps to temper that tang.  I was mighty pleased, however,  to see that Shawna and Katherine top their brownies with a pinch of sea salt.  Ever since watching that episode last week I have been unable to think about anything other than Bobby’s brownies.  I had to make them.

The original recipe instructs you to line  a 9 x 13 inch pan with foil.  My sister Bonnie has brainwashed me into believing that foil should never come into contact with food as studies have shown that Alzheimer’s sufferers have a high concentration of aluminum in their systems.  Although cooking in aluminum pots or using aluminum foil has not yet been scientifiacally proven to cause Alzheimers, my sister is adamant in her belief.  

Besides, the foil does not usually peel right off the baked goods and someone always ends up biting into a brownie with foil stuck to one corner.  In my family, that someone is my Uncle Stephen.  He always gets the bone in the boneless chicken, the olive pit in the pitted olive salad and the foil on the brownie.  So now I line my baking sheets and cake pans with parchment.  Here is an easy way to line a square or rectangular baking dish that I learned many years ago when I worked at Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto.

You begin by making a caramel sauce.  Water and sugar are combined in a small pot and cooked without stirring for several minutes until it caramelizes and becomes amber in colour.  Then whipping cream is whisked in.  Next a half cup of peanut butter is mixed in. Here’s a great tip: spray the measuring cup with Pam and the peanut butter will slide right out, without sticking.  Transfer to a bowl and let mixture cool for about 30 minutes.

 Chop the chocolate. Then melt with butter over a double boiler.  While the chocolate mixture cools, break some eggs, whisk them with brown and white sugar and combine with the melted chocolate.  add some salt, flour and chocolate chunks.

 

 Then comes the fun part, making the peanut butter caramel swirl.

As promised, the parchment peels right off once the brownies have cooled.  Because of the high percentage of unsweetened chocolate in these brownies, they are not too sweet.  The taste of peanut butter is pronounced and the hit of caramel is a perfect background note.  Only one small complaint:  Making these dirties a lot of bowls and pots!

 

With a glass of milk, they are the perfect snack for watching an episode of Throwdown.

Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl Brownies

Ingredients

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon corn syrup
Pinch sea salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon espresso powder
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown muscavado sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions

  1. Bring the cream to a simmer over low heat in a small saucepan. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over high heat and cook, without stirring until amber brown. Slowly whisk in the warm cream until smooth and let cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, corn syrup, sea salt and 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until thickened at room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  2. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper..
  3. Combine the butter, unsweetened chocolate, 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate and espresso powder in a medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Let the chocolate melt over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, both sugars, vanilla and salt until smooth. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour in 2 additions (the batter will be thick). Stir in the remaining 4 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate.
  5. Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Using a tablespoon, drop dollops of half of the peanut butter caramel every 2 inches over the top of the batter. Carefully add the remaining batter and smooth over the caramel. Smooth the top and dollop the remaining caramel over the top. Use a butter knife to swirl through the batter to get a marbleized effect.
  6. Bake until the top is set but still soft and the edges are puffed and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 23 to 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out still gooey (be brave!–underbaking the brownies is one of the secrets to their fudgy texture). Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. For the neatest cuts, refrigerate the pan for about 20 minutes before cutting the brownies. Using the foil, lift the brownie slab out of the pan. Carefully peel off the foil and put the brownie on a large cutting board. With a large sharp knife, cut the brownies into 48 squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 3 days; they can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 weeks.)