Monday, September 29, 2008

Chocolate- Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars

If you're on the hunt for a fall dessert to feed a small crowd, this is it: Chocolate- Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars.

Use a fork to consume. You can see that they're really rather more like a cakey-bar than a hold-in-your-hand-and-firmly-grasp-it bar. But you can also tell from the pic that these are incredibly moist (happily so).

Cream cheese frosting tops these bars along with those darling little mini chocolate chips. The choc chips are also spotted throughout the cake with the chocolate flavor in the cake being subtle.

The teachers at my son's school were the recipients of this fall treat. Despite the fact that the treat came equipped with a little sign announcing its name, the teachers thanked me for the delicious carrot cake. I suppose it was reminiscent of carrot cake in its appearance with the cream cheese frosting and similar spice additions, but I was able to detect the pumpkin flavor without difficulty! We kept a few pieces and it was an easily devoured dessert in my house. Delicious.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dare You to Make Fresh Cranberry Jam (with Lavash Crackers)!

The Daring Bakers: Lavash Cracker's Challenge!

Since Fall is in full swing, I added a little autumn-goodness to my Daring Baker challenge this month... Fresh Cranberry Jam. About this time last year I had wanted to make some things with fresh cranberries and found that in early fall you can only find those little guys tucked away in the corner of a gourmet market's freezer section for $5.99 a bag. Lesson learned, I purchased several bags of the fresh variety last November to store in my freezer for cranberrying all year long.

Never having preserved anything, I took the plunge, bought the little jars, looked up the directions in my canning cookbook and I was good to go. This recipe made 2 cups... perfect in case of screw-up. No problem- all was wonderful. Though a bit more chunky than I expected, the jam is delicious... sweet and tasty, and it has fall written all over it.

What better to go with that cranberry jam than pepitas! I topped some of my crackers with raw pepitas, and they roasted up nicely with the baking of the crackers.

It was a delicious combination and a great fall snack.

But we needed a Happy Hour appetizer to munch on while watching the first Presidential debate... so I went with a summery dip for my other crackers... Spicy White Bean and Avocado Dip.

While the avocado dip looks like guacamole, it's actually rather different. There are white cannellini beans mashed within, and there is a *mint* component added to the flavor. It was a nice change from our usual guac., and we enjoyed it with our long and fancy Lavash Crackers!

As far as the challenge goes, I enjoyed the simplicity of it. Although my dough never quite reached that *windowpane* description of easy-to-pull-apart-without-tearing, it rolled out perfectly and baked up as crisp as crackers should be. I did think that they were rather good crackers too. And they were easy enough to make again for something more exciting than a Presidential debate!

Thanks to Natalie (Gluten a Go Go) and Shel (Musings from the FishBowl) for hosting this month's challenge.

The Lavash Cracker recipe can be found HERE.
The Fresh Cranberry Jam recipe can be found HERE.
The Spicy White Bean & Avocado Dip recipe can be found HERE.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Caramel Apple Bars

This time of year I begin dreaming of apples. Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Gala are among my favorites. On fall weekends, my family is thrilled to wake to the scent of apple waffles or cider muffins. Homemade applesauce usually finds its way into our refrigerator. And afternoons might find me experimenting with apple pie recipes or other baked apple treats.

An abundance of apples, whether from an apple-picking venture on a local farm or from a recent trip to Costco, calls for extreme fits of baking. My first apple treat of this fall season: Caramel Apple Bars. An oat-pecan crust is topped with layers of sliced apples. A simple homemade caramel is drizzled on top and then baked into a bubbling mass of apple heaven.

Caramel lovers will have a tough time not diving in face-first. The caramel sinks in and around the apples and turns a simple apple bar into an amazing dessert.

Slices are reminiscent of apple pie. Really good apple pie.

Tonight I plan to be lost in thoughts of savory apple dishes... apples paired with chicken or pork, and favorite autumn apple salads... that is, while I'm eating a slice of this for dessert.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Maple Walnut Spice Cookies

Many flavors evoke the sense of the arrival of fall, but Maple is the flavor that most does it for me. At this time of year, I long to visit a region where maple is abundant... where maple farmers are tapping maple trees for sap in order to make fresh maple syrup. Instead, I must settle for my mail order maple sugar, Trader's Joe's highest grade maple syrup and the occasional home-baked maple treat. My first of the season: Maple- Walnut Spice Cookies.

I thought these soft, little cookies were spicy and flavorful enough to eat on their own, but a thin layer of glaze drizzled on top adds even more maple flavor and acts as a sweet addition.

The glaze spreads on fairly thin, and some even drips over the sides a bit, but it dries up quickly and sets enough that you could store them in between layers of waxed paper if you wished. Just place paper towels or waxed paper underneath a rack and drizzle the glaze without worry of messing up your table or counter. Simply throw away the mess when you're finished glazing.

A sprinkle of walnuts, lightly toasted of course, are an appropriate way to top this cookie. If you don't care for walnuts, pecans would be a nice replacement. And if you're not into nuts at all, the maple glaze is delicious enough to hold its own without a topping.

Use pure maple syrup if you can find it. Though expensive, it really makes a difference flavor-wise. Look for Grade B syrup (a darker variety with a more robust flavor) to use for cooking and baking.

*An added bonus- these cookies are only 82 calories. So plan to eat a few... practically guilt free!

Now that fall has arrived here in the U.S., I'll continue to hunt for more recipes that utilize the best of the fall flavors... pumpkin, cranberry, pecan, apple, pear and of course my favorite... maple.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Few 'Happy' Fall Desserts...

Happy Hour is made happier with a few desserts slipped in. Here were the choices for our recent neighborhood gathering (fall flavor influences evident!)

Apple Harvest Blondies "Most Eaten"

Though not the prettiest dessert of the bunch, these were terrible popular. They tasted like an apple cake with small chunks of cream cheese melted within. Delicious!

Caramel- Pecan Bars with Chocolate Drizzle (Most Droolworthy)

These were ooey-gooey and fantastic. A thin crust with pure melted caramel drizzled on top. Funny thing is that I adapted these from a Weight Watcher's recipe, and I thought they were the best dessert of the night. I had several requests for this super simple recipe.

Chocolate- Pumpkin Brownies ("Most Talked About")

In my effort to include a chocolate dessert, I wanted to try out these fall-themed brownies. Everyone kept asking... "Is that pumpkin I taste?" The pumpkin flavor is detectable but definitely doesn't take away from the chocolate. These were very good.

Desserts are always popular, most notably with the men in the house, and these were all devoured in record time. (Especially as the Shark Attack began to disappear!)

Get ready for fall recipes... just a few more days until the new season is upon us!

All recipes can be found by clicking on recipe titles above.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Between Seasons" Happy Hour... Tempted by Fall Flavors

It's tough to think much about fall when it's 80+ degrees outside and we're still spending weekends at the beach. The only thing that really denotes *fall* here in Southern California is that school has begun. Luckily, fall foods begin surfacing in our markets, helping to remind us that there is indeed a change of seasons soon at hand. Fall is the season in which I most enjoy cooking and baking. The flavors of maple, pecans, apples, pears, pumpkin and cranberry will be most abundant in my seasonal recipe choices.

I was faced with hosting 38 neighbors in our home last weekend for an adult happy hour. Fortunately, everyone was instructed to contribute to the appetizers, so I wasn't saddled with preparing all of the food. It was, however, a great opportunity to try out some new recipes. With the Fall Season looming ahead, I knew that those flavors would be calling to me. Selecting recipes was tough... being the end of summer but not yet fall. The fall flavors won me over though, and drew me in a tiny bit early. Here were the choices for our Happy Hour... all winners, all devoured in record time and all definite keepers.

Baked Brie with Fig Jam

Puff pastry spread with fig jam, topped with a wheel of brie and wrapped up with an egg wash on top. This one was easy, but amazing in taste. Served up with firm crackers, there wasn't a speck left.

Cranberry- Caramelized Onion Cheese Spread

This one has a layer of blended cream cheese, cheddar and blue cheeses- topped with caramelized onions, cranberries and a touch of balsamic. We LOVED this. Great fall flavors all around.

Hot Wild Mushroom & Artichoke Dip

This dip calls for a mixture of wild mushrooms and portobellos. They're mixed with cream cheese, artichoke hearts, onions and spices and are heated up to bubbling. This recipe was definitely my fave. We had baguette slices and celery sticks for dunking.

The neighbors didn't have to go far after our party, so we had ourselves some fun with a variety of drinks... several choices of wine and beer, and a big jug of this amazing drink called Shark Attack from Guy Fieri (Food Network).

The neighbors brought amazing food too. I only wish I had photographed all of their food and asked for recipes! Next time...

Now that I've "fall"en forward, I'm consumed with thoughts of apples. I have a few ideas in the works, but in the meantime you can look forward to Happy Hour Desserts in my next post!

All of the recipes above can be found by clicking on the recipe titles.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tyler Florence's Cold Sesame Noodles

Peanut butter lovers... this one's for YOU!

Ah, Tyler Florence... he's one of those chefs that I actually *watch* on Food Network... sometimes because he's just easy-on-the-eyes, and sometimes because he's making something droolworthy like these Cold Sesame Noodles.

Chinese egg pasta is tossed with a peanut buttery sauce to create a creamy Asian-style noodle dish. Cool, sliced cucumbers act as a refreshing accompaniment and a welcomed bite among the rich flavors.

Throw some chicken in the mix to create a main dish, or serve this up as a side to Asian Lettuce Wraps or Hoisin- Lime Marinated Chicken.

This recipe comes from TF's cookbook, Tyler's Ultimate... loads of appetizing pictures and good-sounding recipes. It's a definite keeper.

We thought these noodles were great, but I really think you have to be a peanut butter fan to enjoy this one. My 7 year old (an avid pb lover) renamed it, "Peanut Butter Spaghetti."

This recipe can be found HERE.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chocolate Chip - Toffee Scones

Eat it now or it will soon turn into an inedible mass that you'll need to dip in your coffee to soften enough for consumption.

Those are the thoughts that flash through my mind when I think of scones. So I rarely make them... unless I can eat them now or serve them soon after removing from the oven.

This recipe for Chocolate Chip- Toffee Scones was calling out to me... "Try me! I won't be like the rest! I'll be the best scone you've ever had!" How could I possibly resist that?

Side note and/or fact about me: I have some sort of addiction to all recipes that have "toffee" within the title.

I guess the thought of noshing on a baked good that has all of those melted toffee bits hiding inside is just too difficult to refuse. See that sneaky bit of toffee oozing out? Heaven!

These amazing little scones were anything but dry and crumbly. They were actually even better the following day. When you let those chocolate chips and gooey bits spend the night buried within their doughy exterior, they manage to fend off the dryness and intensify the flavor.

A coating of coarse sugar allows for a sweet bite all around.

Tried it? Check.
Like the rest? Nope
Best scone I've ever had? Hard to say as I've had a few in my day, but it's definitely among the top three.

These were happily consumed and enjoyed. Every last toffee bit.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Cupcakes at Ninety Three

Do you wish to live until the ripe-old-age of Ninety Three? I'd say if you make it that far, you've lived a good, long life. I can only hope that I'll be living well into my nineties, still cooking up a storm, food blogging with ninety-three-year-old wisdom, and basking in the joy of numerous grandchildren. And I would still like someone to make me a cupcake on my 93rd birthday.

And I'd say it should have loads of chocolatey frosting on it. No store-bought mixes please. Devil's Food Cupcakes will do.

Sprinkles are a bonus. And one candle will suffice.

If someone wants to take the time to give me a party, that would be nice. I should like to celebrate longevity and sample simple and exotic foods that have sustained me in my long life. I'd want plenty of my old-timer friends and family to join me in the celebration.

Our Monsignor friend turned 93 last weekend, and my hubby took him to dinner. He wanted to bring along a little dessert to share, so I sent a variety of these Devil's Food Cupcakes. Monsignor has lived a fabulous, long life filled with faith, charity and people. He was even the chaplain of the football team for a major university and has authored a book. I'd say that's a life well-lived. I can only be so lucky...

This recipe can be found HERE.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Three Simple Salads and One Expensive Fork

Salad can make for a rather boring blog post. But three salads have to be a bit more intriguing and droolworthy, right?

Here are three salads I tried this summer that have made it onto our *keeper* list.

Five Minute Salad: Goat Cheese, Herb and White BeanTrue to it's name, this salad is simply mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cannellini beans and goat cheese. It's tossed with a basic dijon-balsamic vinaigrette and adorned with freshly snipped basil. I've heard that you're either a goat-cheese-lover or not. That tangy flavor that goat cheese adds to a salad is unbeatable. It has secured a permanent spot in my cheese drawer. Though it can be pricey, Costco sells a BIG log of it for about $4.99. Of course if you're adverse to goat cheese, you can always sub another fave in its place (if you must).

Simplest Greek Salad with Lemon- Oregano Vinaigrette
Not quite as simple as the 5 Minute Salad, this Greek-style salad contains cucumber, grape tomatoes, fresh lemon zest & dill, feta, and a homemade Lemon-Oregano Vinaigrette. I might add a few Kalamata olives next time to make it even more Greek. Only Peter could tell us if this is truly a "Greek" salad. But since he's still on vacation, I can tell you that it tastes Greek, and it's good stuff.

Mixed Greens and Goat Cheese and Raspberry VinaigretteThis salad recipe called for arugula and watercress- two greens that are sometimes difficult to find around my parts, so I went with local mixed greens. Fresh raspberries are whirred together with olive oil, shallots, honey and vinegar to make a slightly sweetened and tangy raspberry vinaigrette. Some of that is drizzled over the greens with additional raspberries, goat cheese (told ya I love the stuff) and a few toasted pine nuts. Yum.

See that fork in the picture? I found it at World Market and couldn't resist picking it up to go with our Spanish-style home. I had intentions of buying lots more to complete a set, but now I can't seem to justify buying them at $3.99 per fork. And then, of course, I would also need knives, and spoons, etc. But it's cute, isn't it? I might have to keep buying them.

There you have it.
Three simple salads. And one expensive fork.
Hope you see one you'd like to try for yourself... and that it made for a more captivating blog post than one mere, lonely salad.

Recipes can be found by clicking on the recipe titles above...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pretzel- Toffee Chip Brownies

Our good friend Jerry has a chocolate company called Jer's Handmade Chocolates. His company has one of those really great stories about how it was founded, and it sure has been fun seeing his company grow. One of his most popular chocolates is the Pretzo Change-O, a candy that incorporates baked pretzel bits and peanut butter within chocolate. Knowing how tasty those candies are, I decided to try and incorporate salted pretzels into a fudgy brownie recipe: Pretzel- Toffee Chip Brownies.

I've seen Fleur de Sal topped on truffles before, so I knew it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to pair the salty/sweet in a brownie. Toffee bits and pretzel pieces within made for a thick batter. I spread it out evenly in a half-sheet pan and baked it up.

As usual, my experiment went to the teachers and my family. And what did they think? Well, I'd have to say that they liked them very much. I did too. The pretzels did not stay hard and crunchy- nor did they turn into mush. Instead, they held a nice form and added a bit of salt flavor and a slight crunch to the brownie.

With a bag of bittersweet chocolate chips added to the batter just before baking, they definitely turned out to be a very fudgy, chocolatey treat. And they were even better with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

The base of this brownie recipe came from a 2007 San Diego County Fair Cookbook (it was a grand prize winner), but I changed the recipe rather significantly to make it my own. The original recipe called for white chocolate chips, which I'm not always terribly fond of. I think the Ghirardelli folks would have awarded this one the grand prize had I entered. Darn. I could have used that 25 bucks.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Layered Berry Trifle

Quick! There's still time to make this with those end-of-summer, disappearing berries!

This Layered Berry Trifle is an easy-to-throw-together dessert. You don't have to own a trifle bowl, but if you can find some sort of pretty, tall glass bowl- that works too. The recipe layers store-bought pound cake (or homemade if you're so inclined) that has been brushed with lemon-syrup, a sugared cream cheese-whipped cream, and any berries that you're diggin' at the moment.

It's fresh. It's simple. It's sooo good. Make it a little less evil by using lowfat cream cheese and fat-free pound cake.

This recipe can be found HERE.