Category Archives: Brownies and Squares

Magic Passover Pistachio Lemon Bars

lime bars 2Spoiler alert! These were an epic fail. My husband encouraged me to blog about them, even though I would never serve them or make them again. He said that publicly acknowledging my failure would make me more likeable and relatable to my readers. My daughter urged me not to blog about them because no one wants to read about bungled pastry.

In the end, I decided to share with you , if only to see if anyone can solve the mystery of what happened to these bars. More about that in a minute.

If you had come into my house at the beginning of this week, you would have inhaled deeply and said, “It smells heavenly in here.” The air was intoxicatingly scented with coconut, butter, brown sugar and chocolate and almonds. Every year, I am in charge of baking desserts for our family seders. (40 plus on my husband’s side the first night, and 35 plus on my side the second night)

And yes, I would have agreed with you that it was smelling quite delicious in my kitchen on that first day of baking. However, by day 3 of my bake-a-thon, the ambrosial scent suddenly turned  cloying and I could no longer stomach the stench of coconut, sugar and chocolate. I needed a break and thought that some citrus would help clear the air.

I was inspired by these pistachio-lemon bars from Molly O’Neill over at NYT Cooking. Since flour is not used during Passover, I replaced the all-purpose flour in the recipe with ground almonds.crust in food processor 1pat crust into pan A very strange thing happened when I baked them. The crust rose to the top and the lemon filling sunk to the bottom, and stuck horribly to the parchment paper lining.

I scraped them out of the pan and tried again, with this recipe from Joy of Kosher. I used pistachios instead of walnuts in the crust and ground almonds instead of matzoh meal in the filling. Same thing happened when I baked them. The crust magically rose to the top and the filling sunk and stuck.

I am nothing if not persistent, so I tried once more, figuring maybe third time’s the charm.  I used  Anna Olsen’s lemon squares recipe filling and doubled the amount of the first crust I tried, figuring, if it was heavier, it would stay put. I had run out of lemons, so I used limes this time.Lime fillingThe filling sunk to the bottom again, but this time it did not stick too terribly to the parchment so I was able to get them out of the pan, flip them over and slice them into squares. While they had a nice lemon tang, the crust became soggy after a few minutes. Within an hour they were a stodgy gluey mess.lime bars 1If anyone reading this knows the reason for the sinking filling, I’d love an explanation. Hope your baking is going better than mine!!

 

 

On the 8th night of Chanukah: Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares

On the eighth, and final night of Chanukah I gave my true love Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares. Reminiscent of peanut butter cups, but way better because of the crunchy, salty pretzel crust. And, the best part is that they don’t have to be baked!stacked upThis recipe was given to me by my friend Mrs. Dolphin. I’ve granted her this nickname because she shares numerous traits with porpoises. Dolphins are very social animals and excellent communicators. They are friendly, clever and natural performers. Mrs. Dolphin enjoys a very busy and complicated social life. She is charismatic, fun loving and was born to be on the stage. She is very organized and excels in creative problem solving. squares on white boardMrs. Dolphin found this recipe in the food section of the Ottawa Citizen. It was inspired by Trisha Yearwood’s No-Bake Chocolate-Pretzel-Peanut Butter Squares. (Yes, the country singer Trisha Yearwood. Did you know she has a show on The Food Network?)  I took the recipe one step further and made the top layer more lavish, with a marbleized bittersweet and white chocolate topping, because really, we all need more fancy in our lives!what you'll need

making crustpressing crust into panchocolate toppingMarbleizing looks very impressive but it’s simple to do. Here is a video showing you the technique. The video is from my The Ultimate S’mores post, but the method of creating a marble pattern is still the same.

marbelizing chocolate toppingjpg

Click here to print recipe for Mrs. Dolphin’s Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Butter Squares.

Perfect with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. The awesome drip coffee stand is from Restoration Hardware. I bought it for my husband because his plastic Melita cone offends my aesthetic sensibilities. with drip coffee

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.