Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blonde Nanaimo Bars

Although these bars aren't the prettiest I've ever made,
they do taste great.
I didn't wait long enough for the middle layer to firm up. Bummer.

I was thinking the other day that I wanted to make something using rainbow sprinkles because rainbow sprinkles on cookies make me happy. I thought about making a non-chocolate Nanaimo bar with sprinkles and eventually I got to this bar. Notice I didn't put any sprinkles on it. I'll have to get back to that later.
What this is, is a Nanaimo bar with no cocoa or regular chocolate. The top of the bars you see here is actually not even real white chocolate, it's Ghirardelli Classic White Baking Chips. I think they came out funky looking and cracked on top because I didn't let the middle layer firm up enough in the fridge. Last night I was blaming it on the white chips, but I'm not sure if it's completely their fault. Probably some combination. If I ever do make these again, I will be patient and I will use real white chocolate.
Although I'd say these are still in the testing phase, I'm posting about them because 1. I haven't posted anything in over a week, and 2. They really do taste good, even if they're not perfect today.
First of all, they have the textures of a regular Nanaimo bar: chewy, dense bottom layer, creamy middle and a hard chocolate top. Next, they are SWEET. I mean, Paula Deen sweet. And buttery. My husband said it was like eating a stick of butter, but he had just eaten two chicken burritos and was in no condition to be eating something this rich. I think these are good, and to verify my opinion, I took these to our church grill-out today to see what others think about them. Everyone seemed to love them, and my 18 year old nephew thinks they're even better than regular Nanaimo bars. I'll always choose chocolate over something like this, but he has a right to his opinion.
For now, I think I need to stop with the taste testing. Maybe after one more small bite.

Blonde Nanaimo Bars

Ingredients:

Bottom
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
Middle
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Bird's Custard Powder*
  • 3 tablespoons cream or half & half
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
Top
  • 1 cup chopped white chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable/canola oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted white chocolate for garnish (optional)
Instructions:
Bottom
Line a 9x9" square pan (or I like to use a rectangular 7x11" pan) with parchment paper. You may need to spread a tiny amount of butter on the bottom and around the edges to get the paper to stay in place.
In a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven, toast the coconut and pecans on a cookie sheet until toasty brown and fragrant, about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally during that 10-15 minutes because they tend to brown around the outside first.
Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
In the top/bowl of a double boiler over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup butter with the brown sugar. When butter is melted, stir vigorously (but carefully) until the butter and sugar come together. Once the butter and brown sugar are completely mixed, whisk in the egg until mixture is thick. This should only take a minute or so. 
Remove top of double boiler and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and pecans. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the middle layer.

Middle
Beat the butter, custard powder, and cream/half&half until mixed. Carefully beat in the powdered sugar. Once powdered sugar is incorporated, beat filling until it is light and creamy. 
Remove bottom layer from refrigerator and spread this middle frosting evenly and smoothly over the top (I use an offset spatula, but if you don't have one, I'd recommend you use a silicone spatula or the back of a spoon).
Return pan to the refrigerator until the middle layer is firm, at least one hour.

Top
In the double boiler over medium heat, melt the white chocolate and vegetable/canola oil. When it's 3/4 melted, remove from the heat and continue to stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
Remove pan from the refrigerator again and pour and spread melted white chocolate over the top. Drizzle with the 1 1/2 tablespoons melted white chocolate, if that's what you're doing. (Click here to see how to make feathery lines on top.)

Finishing
This is where it gets tricky, and I'll have to try this again, but this is what I recommend. Return the pan to the refrigerator for 4-5 minutes. When chocolate on top looks just set, cut into 20-24 bars. Return pan to refrigerator for chocolate to completely set, about 30 minutes.
Carefully pull bars out of pan by the parchment paper, which may rip. Then you just carefully remove the bars and plate them for serving.

*If Bird's Custard Powder is not available near you, you can order it on Amazon.com, or you can just use some instant vanilla pudding powder. That's what I used in my Nanaimo bars until two weeks ago.

Makes 20-24 small bars.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Traditional Nanaimo Bars





Bird's Custard used on the top bar, Jell-O on the bottom.
Ever since posting my award-winning Nanaimo Bar recipe here on my blog, I've had several people tell me (and post on Pinterest) that they are not REAL Nanaimo Bars because I do not use Bird's Custard Powder in the middle layer. I've never been able to find it in any markets where I live, so I've always just subbed Jell-O instant vanilla pudding. I've always thought those Canadians who criticized or corrected me were being sensitive, that there really couldn't be THAT big of a difference between the two. They look almost the same, right?
Well, after finally purchasing some Bird's Custard Powder on Amazon.com, I've realized that all of those pushy Canadians are right: Nanaimo Bars do, in fact, taste better with the Bird's. They just do. As my husband said, "I feel like I can just eat more of these ones." This helps explain why I found it so easy to eat three very large Nanaimo Bars the first time I had them at Portland State University so many years ago. These are the Nanaimo Bars I fell in love with, and I'm glad I finally gave in and bought the Bird's.
I had a few friends over to help me with the tasting, and four of five of us agreed that the Bird's Nanaimo Bars tasted better, lighter, less sweet than the other. My friend who preferred the Jell-O pudding ones is a sugar lover, so she likes hers sweeter. The Bird's bars, in addition to tasting a bit lighter, had a more distinct coconut flavor--not overwhelming, but subtle, and I liked it.
So, if you're going to try a Nanaimo Bar recipe, try this one. They're awesome.

Traditional Nanaimo Bars

Ingredients:

Bottom Layer
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 ½  cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup pecans, finely chopped
Middle Layer
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons half & half or heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Bird's Custard Powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
Top Layer
  • 1 cup semi-sweet-chocolate chips (or, even better, about 22 Dove Dark Chocolate Promises)
  • 1 tablespoon Crisco or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped white or milk chocolate, melted
Instructions:

Line the bottom of a 9 X 9-inch pan (glass or metal) with parchment paper or non-stick foil.

Bottom Layer:  In a 300° oven, toast coconut and chopped pecans until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally. (This toasting is optional, and not necessarily traditional, but I like it.)   Remove from oven and set aside.  In the top of a double boiler, melt ½ cup butter and  cocoa and sugar. Whisk to combine.  Whisk in the beaten egg.  Whisk until thickened, and then remove at once from heat.  Fold in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and pecans.  Press into prepared pan.  Put in refrigerator while you prepare the next layer.

Middle Layer:  In a large mixing bowl, cream together ½ cup softened butter, half & half, and custard powder.  Fold in the powdered sugar.  Beat until very light.  Spread evenly on top of the first layer.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Put in refrigerator again for an hour or so, until middle layer is firm.

Top Layer:  In a double boiler melt the chocolate chips and Crisco or vegetable oil. The chocolate may melt the middle layer if it’s too hot, so you might want to let it cool for a little bit.  Pour onto second layer and spread evenly.  Drizzle white or milk chocolate over the top for decoration.*  Let set in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes and then cut.  (This keeps the chocolate from cracking when you cut it.)  Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. 

Note: Be sure to remove any foil or parchment paper that may have stuck to the bottom of individual bars.

*I've created a post that gives explicit instructions and photos on how to make the "feathery" lines you see on these bars: How to Make Those Feathery Lines on Nanaimo Bars.



Traditional Nanaimo Bars

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tiny Dulce de Leche Cheesecakes

Tiny Dulce de Leche Cheesecakes
They're so cute.

How did I get here? Hmm...I signed up to bring some desserts for the teachers at my son's school for the dinner the PTO organizes during parent-teacher conferences. Because I have a friend on the staff, I can always count on positive feedback about the treats I bring. I need positive affirmation more than a normal person probably should. I kind of gave up on making super yummy things for the elementary school, due to lack of positive feedback. It might be wrong, but I don't want to bust my rump making something awesome if its awesomeness goes unnoticed. 
I digress. As a teacher myself, I know that when parents bring yummy food, I want to try it all. If I were to make even the individual sized dulce de leche cheesecakes, I knew that might be too much and that the teachers would not be able to enjoy the other yummy desserts that would undoubtedly be available. I knew I had to do it. I had to take these yummy little guys to the next level: tiny. That way, each serving would produce the same fullness effect as an average sized cookie.
I bought the cute little liners weeks ahead of time at Hobby Lobby. I prepared my caramel. I bought the cream cheese. When I was about halfway through baking them, I thought, "Holy cow! This is going to make a lot of tiny cheesecakes!" I made 96 of these tiny things, and two of the larger versions because I did not have it in me to do any more individual ones. I knew at that point that I would only fit about 60 or so onto the sheet pan I had planned to transport them in. 
They ended up tasting just as fabulous as their larger counterparts, and they're only one to two bites. Perfect. My friend posted a flattering picture with nice comments on facebook, and the secretaries said they liked them too. Success all the way around. Totally worth the effort. And I still have quite a few in my downstairs fridge that I need to give away before I eat them all myself.

Tiny Dulce De Leche Cheesecakes

Prepare one day in advance and refrigerate overnight for best results.

You can prepare the caramel a day or two ahead of baking.

I think these are best baked in a water bath, so you will want to have a roasting pan or other shallow pan that can fit your mini muffin pan inside it.

Caramel 

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
1. Bring the cream, butter, vanilla, salt, and corn syrup to a simmer over medium high heat in a small saucepan.  If you’re using a vanilla bean, cut the bean lengthwise and scrape seeds out with the back of a knife.  Put the scraped seeds into the cream and whisk to distribute the seeds.   Set aside.
2. Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, pouring the sugar into the center of the pan to prevent the sugar crystals from sticking to the sides of the pan.  Cover and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, uncover and continue to boil until the syrup is thick and straw-colored, about 7 minutes (it will register 300° on a candy thermometer).  Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the sugar syrup is golden and just begins to smoke, 1 to 2 minutes (it will be 350°).
3.  As soon as the sugar syrup reaches 350°, or it reaches that golden color & begins to smoke, remove it from the heat, pour about half of the cream mixture into it, and let the bubbling subside.  Add the remaining cream mixture and whisk until the sauce is smooth.  If using vanilla extract, add it now.
Move caramel to a heat-proof container and allow to cool.  If you're doing this ahead of time, once it's cooled, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in the cheesecake.


Cheesecake
Preheat oven to 350°

Crust:      
  • 1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
I usually crush my graham crackers in a gallon sized zip top freezer bag.  (1 1/2 cups is equivalent to about 12 large graham crackers, or 1 pkg + 3 more crackers.)  Then mix the sugar into the crumbs inside the bag.  Add melted butter, zip the top and smoosh around until butter is thoroughly mixed in.  Line 24 to 48 muffin cups with cupcake liners. (You'll need to do this a few times.) Place about one teaspoon of graham cracker mixture into each cup.  Using something flat bottomed that will fit the bottom of your muffin cups (I used the handle of my knife honing tool), press the crust mixture somewhat firmly into the bottom.  Set aside while you prepare the filling. 

Filling:
  • 4 8oz. cream cheeses @ room temperature
  • 4 large eggs @ room temperature
  • 1 cup caramel (recipe above)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
1. Heat about 4-5 cups of water to a simmer or boil while you prepare the filling. Make sure your oven is getting hot.
2. Cream cream cheese until smooth.  Add caramel &  mix until smooth.  Add eggs & mix until smooth.  Add cream and mix until smooth.   
3. Now, there are a few ways you can get the cheesecake batter into the muffin cups:
A. Pour batter into a spouted container, like a large Pyrex measuring cup or a pitcher, and pour into muffin cups; B. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop batter in; or C. (my favorite) Pour batter into a gallon-sized zip top bag, cut a 1/4 inch corner off and carefully pour/squeeze batter into muffin cups so that cups are filled to within 3 millimeters from the top.
4. Place muffin pan into a large roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into the bottom of the roasting pan so you have about 1/3 of an inch of water in the bottom. Be careful not to splash water onto the cheesecake batter.
5. Carefully move roasting pan to the preheated oven and bake cheesecakes for 9-10 minutes, or until centers are set and only bounce slightly when bumped. There should be no liquidy jiggling when bumped.
6. Remove from oven, and with a spatula, carefully remove the muffin pan from the water bath. Set pan on a dish towel to drain. Allow cheesecakes to cool for about 5 minutes before removing them from the pan to a wire rack to finish cooling (I use a small offset spatula for this job). 
7. Repeat the whole process until all of your crust and batter are gone.
8. Allow cheesecakes to cool completely and refrigerate loosely covered overnight. 

9. Before serving, spoon remaining caramel sauce over the tops of the cheesecakes, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per tiny cheesecake.
Top with whipped cream (or stabilized whipped cream), if desired.  I also topped these with crushed toffee bits.

Makes about 100 tiny cheesecakes.


Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal


Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal with Whipped Cream
I've never been an oatmeal fan, but I want to be. I mean, I love oatmeal when it's mixed with lots of butter and sugar in oatmeal cookies, but hot mushy oatmeal in a bowl for breakfast has never done it for me. I think it's the texture and the blandness. At any rate, this post isn't supposed to be about how much I don't like oatmeal, but I kind of surprised myself last night when I decided to try this recipe out after seeing it on Pinterest. It comes from a blog called FoodPicsGo.com, a blog I have yet to figure out.
So, did I like THIS oatmeal? Well, I ate a good size serving and enjoyed it. The bottom layer is ooey gooey, appley, and the very top is slightly dry. The middle is, well, oatmeal. I enjoyed this oatmeal even more after I put a hearty amount of whipped cream on it (I have a lot of stabilized whipped cream left after making tiny dulce de leche cheesecakes earlier in the week). My husband had some too and said he liked it (after he added more sugar). So, if I do try this again, I will probably up the sugar to about half a cup and I might try the steel cut oats as my facebook friends are suggesting after reading my post about my adventures in oatmeal today.
If you like oatmeal, and you like your Crock Pot, then you need to try this if you haven't already.

Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
     --adapted from FoodPicsGo.com

Ingredients:
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (next time I'll use 1/2 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 4 cups water
Instructions:
Place apples in the bottom of a Crock Pot. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl; then sprinkle evenly over the apples.
Pour oatmeal evenly over the apples and sugar. Pour water over the oatmeal. Do not mix.
Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Best Mexican Restaurant in Des Moines...?

cityview.com clip

Well, today my lovely sister-in-law told me that there is this "list" that just came out that she HAD to share with me. This list was assembled by the folks at a local Des Moines publication called City View. This list is "Best of Des Moines: Eats." Sister-in-law Kelly, being the awesome story teller that she is, built up gradually, and teasingly, to the punchline that totally caught me off guard. The best Mexican food in Des Moines, Iowa is... Tasty Tacos Mexican Restaurant! Now, I'll admit that I, myself, have never actually eaten there. Every native Iowan I've met who's never traveled beyond Nebraska has raved about Tasty Tacos. And every person I've talked to who has eaten both authentic Mexican food AND Tasty Tacos, has said that it's the worst excuse for Mexican food they've ever eaten. One of my Mexican students even nicknamed it "Nasty Tacos."
Now, here is my point: as I've stated in my Chile Colorado Burritos post, evert time I eat a chile colorado burrito that I've made, I exclaim, "This the BEST Mexican food in Iowa!" I'm actually astounded that City View is actually supporting my point! Anyone who knows anything about authentic Mexican food knows that the pickings are slim when it comes to delicious Mexican food in Des Moines. The fact that City View has selected Tasty Tacos just validates my previous declarations. Sigh. This victory is still not sweet, though.
Guess I'll have to keep making my own delicious Mexican food in my own home (and I'll have to go try Tasty Tacos for myself--I know).
Click on the captions to be taken to the recipes for the food pictured below.

Chile Colorado Burritos
Carne Asada
Yummy Mexican Grilled Chicken
Chicken Tinga
Taquitos & Flautas
Carnitas 
Mexican Rice
Salsa Verde
Homemade Tortilla Chips




Saturday, March 2, 2013

Kool-Aid Snow Cones (with Real Snow)

Snow cone made with Cherry Kool-Aid


I haven't always lived in a climate where there is actual snow in the winter, but now that I do, using the snow to make yummy things is one of the few advantages to the excessively cold weather. I use snow as an ice bath, I'll set things outside to cool, or I'll use my back yard as a freezer when I run out of freezer space. I mean, it's handy.
It's also delicious. I love snow cones, and when I realized somewhere along the way that I could eat actual snow snow cones, I had to try it. As I was typing that last sentence, I had visions of people sending me snotty comments about the dangers of eating snow, so I googled "Is it safe to eat snow?" and I found an article that says for most people it is safe to eat snow, despite the fact that it contains some bacteria. Apparently those with cystic fibrosis should NOT eat snow. So there you go. Be careful.
The beauty of this recipe is that you can make all sorts of flavors--and it's super cheap. I mean, it uses Kool-Aid, sugar, water, and snow. It doesn't get a heck of a lot simpler and cheaper than that.

Kool-Aid Snow Cones

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 envelope Kool-Aid powder, any flavor
  • snow
Instructions:
In a heavy saucepan, bring the water and the sugar to a boil and boil until all of the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat off and stir in the Kool-Aid powder. Allow the syrup to cool completely before using. To speed up the process you can pour it into a heat-proof cup with a spout and then place in the refrigerator (or outside) to cool completely.
When syrup is cool, you can place it in a plastic squeeze bottle if you've got one, otherwise, place it in a measuring type cup or a little gravy pitcher with a spout you can pour from.
Get a cup (preferably plastic) and fill it with snow, packing the snow lightly. You want it in there somewhat firmly so you've got enough to eat, but not so firm that the syrup slides off the top. Pour some syrup on top. Get a spoon and eat it. I had to stir mine.
You may need to add more syrup as you go, or add a little more water to the syrup so it soaks the snow better. That's up to you.

Makes about 1 cup of syrup and I don't know how many snow cones.


Ezra making his snow cone


Pretzel Donuts (Gluten Free)

Pretzel Donut

When I tried making gluten free donuts a few weeks ago, the instructions told me to fry some bread in the oil first so that the donuts would fry up a better color. I wanted to use a gluten free bread so as not to contaminate the oil I was going to fry the gluten free donuts in, and all I had were some frozen gluten free pretzel chunks. So I fried those. Then I ate them because they looked good. They were DElicious. The gluten free donuts didn't go over so well; I think that's because I didn't let them rise long enough. But the pretzel thing got me thinking about just frying a whole pretzel and turning THAT into a donut. Today I finally executed the idea, and I must say, I think they're pretty good. To be completely honest, I think they would taste better with wheat flour, but I can't do that these days. There you go. I've taken a relatively healthy snack food and turned it into a fried sugary thing. Enjoy.

Gluten Free Pretzel Donuts

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/4 cups Better Batter All Purpose Gluten Free Flour, plus a few tablespoons more 
  • 3 teaspoons instant yeast
  • scant 1/2 cup dry milk powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • baking soda bath for boiling (6 cups water with 1/4 cup baking soda)
  • coarse salt for sprinkling (optional)
  • canola oil for frying
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6-8 tablespoons milk
Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, whisk together the flour, yeast, powdered milk, cream of tartar, baking soda, sugar, and kosher salt with a regular hand whisk. Add the cider vinegar, butter, and egg whites. Mix on low speed until mixed. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the water.
Once all the water has been added, turn the mixer up to high and let it mix for about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl in spots. The dough will still be pretty wet, but that's okay.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust the top lightly with flour and divide dough into twelve equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope, about 16 inches long. I do this by rolling the dough between a cutting board and my hand (like rolling out a PlayDoh snake). Only add enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Twist each rope into a pretzel shape and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between pretzels.
Lightly cover pretzels with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 30 minutes. While pretzels rise, bring baking soda bath to a boil.
Once pretzels have risen and soda bath is boiling, boil 3 pretzels at a time for just under a minute, turning once to make sure both sides bet boiled.
Remove pretzels with a slotted spoon or spatula and touch back of spoon to a paper towel to drain a little. Place pretzels back onto parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt (if you want a salty-sweet end product--if you don't like that, omit the salting step). Once one pan is done being boiled and salted, place in the oven and set your timer. Place the next pan in the oven on the other rack when it's done with the boiling and salting. About halfway through the bake time, switch the pans on their racks so they both bake and brown evenly.
Bake at 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until browned. Remove from oven, allow to cool a few minutes. You can enjoy them this way just fine, but this recipe is called "Pretzel Donuts"...
While donuts cool, mix the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 6 tablespoons milk for the icing. If it's too thick for coating a fried pretzel, add another tablespoon or two of milk. Cover and set aside. Line a baking sheet or cooling rack with paper towels.
When donuts are cool, heat about 2 inches of canola oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in a heavy saucepan that you use for frying. Fry 2 or three pretzels at a time until they are a deep brown color. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel lined baking sheet. Dip each fried pretzel in the icing and place on a clean baking sheet until you're ready to serve/eat them.
Makes 12 pretzel donuts


You can always just eat them like this without the frying.




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