A little slice of Heaven…..

 

              Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars  Image 3

 

The delicious mixture of peanut butter and chocolate calls out to me. My recipe searches usually end up with something that has both ingredients in it. This recipe is extra wonderful because there is no baking. None. If you can melt butter and chocolate, you’re good.

 

1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs

1 ¼ 10X sugar (confectioner’s sugar)

¾ cup and 2 tbsp. crunchy natural peanut butter (extra crunchy works too)

8 tbsp. melted butter (cooled slightly)

2 tbsp. honey

 

Chocolate topping:

1½ cups of semi sweet chocolate chips

1 tbsp. butter

 

Whenever you cook, gather your ingredients and equipment first. You will need a food processor for this recipe. You can’t really substitute for one. In a 9 x 9 pan, with straight sides, place a piece of parchment paper. I cut the corners and fold them in. You want to be able to pull the mixture out of the pan after it is refrigerated. Image 2                                                                  To melt the chocolate for the topping, you need a pan, and a heat resistant bowl. If you have a double boiler this is the time to use it. You can stop wondering. Pour about ½ inch of water in the bottom of the pan. Make sure the bowl rests without touching the water. You want the water to simmer and gently heat the bowl melting the chocolate and butter, not burn it. Have your butter melted before you start mixing your ingredients. This will give it time to cool slightly.

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In a food processor pulse the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until well mixed. Add the peanut butter, melted butter, and honey to mixture in food processor. Pulse until the mixture blended and comes together. It should look like cookie dough. HINT: Coat your measuring cup with PAM spray when measuring the peanut butter. This will make your life easier. The peanut butter won’t stick; it will slide right off. I spray the tablespoon with the spray also, so the honey and peanut butter slide right off.

 

Press the dough into the prepared pan. You will need to compact the dough with the bottom of a measuring cup. I also sprayed the bottom of this so the dough doesn’t stick. A little dab will do ya. Press it down and into each corner. Put this aside until the chocolate has melted. In the bowl, place the chocolate chips and butter. With a heat resistant spatula, stir until this all melts. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the peanut butter layer. You can use an offset spatula. A knife or regular spatula will do too.

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Refrigerate for at least an hour. When chilled, grab the parchment and pull the mixture from the pan. This should cut into 36 bars. Unless you’re me. I would prefer 2 bars. One for you, one for me. These taste suspiciously like a certain candy bar with the same ingredients!

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According to the original recipe they freeze well. I will never know. Enjoy!

Here’e the link to the original recipe

 

 

 

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Baguette all your troubles……

 

Dan Leader’s 4-Hour Baguettes

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I love bread. I also love cheese, but you don’t see me trying to make it. Yet, I feel the need to try and make bread. When the kids were younger, and I was making 5 sandwiches a day, I tried my hand at making bread with my bread machine. Trying to save a buck.  It was okay. Not great. I could never slice it evenly and sometimes one of the kids had a Flintstone kind of sandwich. Oh. Well. I  eventually stopped looking for that perfect sandwich bread recipe even after I bought a Pain de Mie pan. The bread tasted good, but never held up like store bought bread.

A few years ago I was introduced to the “No Knead Bread” recipe from the New York Times. I found my place in the bread world. “Artisan” bread gives you more liberty. The less perfect looking the bread is, the more artsy you appear. Perfect. Less perfect is my “thing”. The menfolk love this hunk of bread concept. So, we noshed a lot of this bread with soups and meals through the cold winter months.

Recently I saw something on Food52 that peaked my interest in bread making again…..4-hour baguettes. Sigh. Baguettes. Mais oui; je voudrais un peu de pain. Fresh baguettes slathered with sweet butter. Sign me up! This recipe is wonderful. I decreased the salt to 1 ¼ tsp. from 4 tsps. That was way too much salt. Now, I won’t pretend it’s just like bakery baguettes, because it’s not. I think using an industrial oven makes a huge difference in bread making. But this bread is still delicious and it’s fun to make. You also know all the ingredients in this bread; no preservatives. So, make this bread, grab a hunk of cheese and nosh away.

 

1 ½ cup tap water, heated to 115 degrees F

1 tsp. active dry yeast (I used the rapid rise yeast with great results)

3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt

Canola or vegetable oil for greasing bowl

½ cup ice cubes

 

  1. Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl. I used my KitchenAid mixer for kneading, so I put the water and yeast into that bowl. Even though I used the rapid rise yeast, I followed these directions. Do check your water temperature with a thermometer. You don’t want to kill the yeast. Add four, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt, then transfer dough to a light floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. I used my KitchenAid with the dough hook and let the machine knead the dough for 10 minutes. It is a beautiful and smooth dough; but it’s sticky. Transfer dough to greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and place in cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. If you opt to place it in your oven, remember it’s there. Don’t start to use the oven for something else.
  2. Transfer dough to a light floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. You can use your floured hands to press it into the rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap again, and return to the oven or microwave. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven, position another rack above the skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down sheet pan or rimless sheet pan on it. You are going to preheat the baking sheet and pan. The oven safe pan is for ice cubes. This will create steam to help with the crust.
  4. After the first rise, transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut into three equal pieces: shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. I, first, place a sheet of parchment on another cookie sheet and slip a rolled towel underneath the parchment. Instead of using fancy baguette pans for this rise, you will be placing a rolled towel between the three loaves. You want the bread to rise up, not out. The towels help achieve that. You could even roll newspaper. You don’t need a lot. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or another towel until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.Image 1
  5. With one cookie sheet and one oven safe pan already in the oven, pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. The original recipe says 475 degrees. I’m pretty sure my smoke detectors will go off with heat that high and I will vaporize. I start the pre-heating process at about 30 minutes into the last rise. It should take about 15-20 minutes for the oven to preheat sufficiently.
  6. Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife bread lame or scissors, slash the top of each baquette at a 30 degree angle in four spaces. Not 29 degrees, but 30. Pull out the VERY HOT cookie sheet from the oven and place it onto the top of your stove. The first time I made the bread I just left it in the first sheet pan without inverting. I found cooking it on the inverted sheet does make a better crust. It’s not that hard actually to transfer the parchment paper and place it on the VERY HOT sheet pan. You can always adjust the loaves once they are on the hot sheet pan. Carefully slide the loaves into the oven. Place ice cubes in skillet. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving. I didn’t bake mine until “darkly browned”. Each time I’ve made this, I let it get a little darker than the last attempt. You certainly don’t want to under bake it because the inside of the bread will be doughy and not filled with steaming air pockets.

 

Please try making this bread. Pick a day you actually have more than 4 hours to attend to bread making. I still look at the recipe and say, “Wait, what….oh okay” about a dozen times. You don’t want to rush the process. I set timers and bring them with me while I do something else nearby. Like anything you bake, you have to pay attention to it, especially when it’s in the oven.

 

I hope you enjoy this bread.  I plan on using the baguettes in this delicious bruschetta recipe this summer! I prefer to use Boursin cheese in this recipe. Enjoy!

 

 

Who wants to ragout?

 

             Vegetable and Lentil Ragout

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I try to keep most meals healthy. But every now and then I fall off the healthy-eats wagon. Last week I made a deliciously unhealthy Frito Casserole. FRITOS. It was like a enchilada covered with Fritos. Burp. It was wonderful, again, when I reheated it for dinner at work….sigh…

Now I’m back to healthy cooking (for today). Alright, tomorrow. Tonight we had rigatoni and sausages with sauce. But I also made a healthy meal for tomorrow. Vegetable ragout. It starts with the Holy Trinity of cooking: onions, celery, and carrots. How can this be improved? Lentils. Let me take you on the journey…..

 

I’ve tried to perfect this for a while. Often the lentils just were not quite cooked enough. But I researched and solved the problem. I cooked the lentils before I added them to the ragout. In a 2-quart pan, fill with water, one onion halved and one clove of garlic. Bring the water to a boil and add 1.5 cups of lentils. I have used different kinds of lentils, but tonight I bought a bag of mixed lentils. You can buy small French lentils at Whole Foods. I go to the big bins and buy just what I need. I do this when I make granola too, buying the nuts and seeds I need in the right amount. Speaking of granola, hubby just discovered it and likes it. I guess I will be making it often. Cook the lentils for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a mesh colander, so you don’t loose any lentils. While my sauce was cooking for dinner, I cooked the lentils. I had to be by the stove anyways, so I used my time wisely.

Cut one large onion in half moons. After you cut the onion, dice 2 peeled carrots and 2 stalks of celery. Place the carrots and celery in a bowl; place the onion in another. You don’t need fancy shmancy “prep” bowls. I use regular cereal bowls. Place a 4 qt. pan on medium heat. Add olive oil, coating the bottom of the hot pan. Add the onion, carrots and celery. Sauté until they are soft. Always prepare before you cook. I make sure any cans, spices, broths or vegetables are ready to be used and, nearby. Open 2 cans of chicken stock (28 ounces) and one 15 oz. can of petite-diced tomatoes. Mince 2 cloves of garlic and put aside. Salt the onion mixture. It helps draw the water out. It’s important to season as you cook. Once the onion mixture is soft, add 8 oz. of mushrooms and cook until they are soft also. It takes about 5 minutes. Salt again. Once the mushrooms are soft, add the garlic and stir. If you don’t like mushrooms, skip this step. Let the garlic cook for about one minute and then add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a low simmer.

 

Add the cooked lentils to the ragout. Stir until mixed thoroughly. Add a heaping ¼ cup of uncooked orzo or other small pasta. Stir and cover pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring the ragout several times so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If you’d like, add a drained and rinsed can of cannellini beans.

Once the pasta is cooked, add about ½ bag of baby spinach. You can also use a package of frozen spinach. Stir the spinach until it’s wilted. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken from the pasta starch. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

If you have any leftover cooked vegetables you can add them. I like to add leftover chicken for a complete dinner. You could put a fried or poached egg on top of a bowl of the ragout also. And bread. Bread makes life better!