Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salted Caramel Candy Bars for my BFFA

My friend Jenny is studying for her medical boards and was in absolute need of some salted caramel candy bars. Because doctors (and soon-to-be doctors) need treats too, guys.

And let me tell you something about Jenny. She is practically my sister. We’ve been friends since 3rd grade. We were each other’s maids-of-honor. We’ve seen each other through some pretty rough times. We’ve seen each other through some pretty awesome times too. And she sent me cookies to my dorm during my first (lonely) year of college, so I’m merely returning the favor.

And let me tell you something else about Jenny. She has a salt-tooth. Just like me. If you ever met Jenny and me for happy hour, you’d probably walk in to find the two of us sipping extra-dirty vodka martinis with four or five olives. In fact, forget the vodka. We'd probably just be sipping brine.

So salted caramel candy bars seemed just perfect. Yes, these are Betty’s cookies (I have her on speed-dial), but with a salty twist. My inspiration came from one of my all time favorite places in the world for ice cream—Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco. They sell a super popular salted caramel flavor and it is beyond delicious. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I suggest you give it a try!

These bars are layered with an oatmeal crumb bottom, a couple cups of chocolate chips and walnuts, a layer of salted caramel, another layer of the oatmeal crumb mix, and finished off with a healthy sprinkling of some good quality salt. Don’t worry, they won’t taste overly salty: you’ll take a bite, a little salt will stay on your lips, and it’ll only intensify the buttery caramel and super-sweet cookie and chocolate layers. Think salty like, chocolate-dipped-pretzels salty, only better.

See that yummy salt?

I say it all the time--salt makes everything taste more like itself, which is to say, it makes everything taste better. No, that isn’t an excuse for my salt addiction. Okay, maybe it is, but it doesn’t make that statement any less true.

Oh yeah. I know I said I was going to recreate my mom’s dishes from my trip, and I still will. Don’t worry, guys, I won’t forget!

Salted Caramel Candy Bars
Adapted from Bettycrocker.com
Make sure you use a good quality salt for this recipe. Kosher and fleur de sel will work well; I used pink Himalayan salt. Just don’t use iodized. The flavor is too harsh for these cookies.

Caramel filling:
1 bag (14 ounces) caramels
1/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt

Crumb Bottom and topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus ¼-1/2 teaspoon for sprinkling over bars
1 egg
1 cup butter or margarine, softened

Chocolate nut layer:
1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
1 cup chopped walnuts or dry-roasted peanuts

Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.

For the salted caramel:
Heat caramels and milk in 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth.Add salt and vanilla.

For the crumb bottom and topping:
Stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and egg in large bowl. Stir in butter with fork until mixture is crumbly. Press half of the crumbly mixture in pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and walnuts over baked layer.

Drizzle with caramel mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture and ¼-1/2 teaspoon of salt, depending on how bold you care to go! (I used around a third of a teaspoon.) Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Loosen edges from sides of pan; cool completely. For 54 bars, cut into 9 rows by 6 rows.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies and the Mama-land

I've made these brownies three times since my last blog post.

And yes, I know it’s been awhile. About that…

So much has been going on. Stressful things, fun things, happy things, scary things… The scary/stressful are long gone now, so let’s talk about some of the other stuff.

I went to Mexico to visit my mom and took a total of two, count em, TWO pictures on my iPhone over Mother’s Day. Adam also took one of me at a palapa-covered restaurant to make a third. These are them:

Buenos dias. I'll take two of everything.

How's that for a nice day?

My friend Dan, with a mango and his iPhone.

Guys, I was too busy eating cotija cheese and onion enchiladas, fresh seafood, and carnasa tacos to stop and take pictures. Also, I drank a lot of piña coladas… They were made with fresh pineapple and coconut—how could I not?

Oh I love the motherland for so many reasons. My mama is there, and I love my mama. Everything tastes so darn good. (It’s true. I constantly annoy my friends/hubby with squinty eeehh-I-don’t-think-so faces when they invite me to Mexican restaurants in LA. Most of them will never be good enough. Don’t get me started…) And I LOVE the weather. What can I say? My ancestors worshipped the sun.

And as excited as I was to see my mom and reunite with her cooking, she asked me to bake her something “yaammi-yaammi” before coming to her house.

I am the designated baker in my family, and that is A-OK with me.

So I baked peanut butter brownies because I had made them twice before my trip and they were a SMASH hit with my brother and my friends. And trust me guys, my brother would tell me if something I baked wasn’t top-notch. (And he has.)

Guess where I got this recipe? … Surprise! Betty Crocker, again. Yeah. I have trouble branching out once I’ve found a source of baking recipes I can trust.

Stay tuned for next time when I attempt to replicate my mom’s salsa and her cotija onion enchiladas! (I wish I had a cooking show.) But for now, make these brownies for your mom. Or yourself. My mother, the cooking guru that she is, ran around our beach village sharing them with her neighbors. They even kindly dismissed that hint of an American accent I can’t ever seem to kick, they were so impressed. That should tell you something.

Hasta luego, amigos.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
adapted from Bettycrocker.com
Feel free to substitute all chocolate chips for the peanut butter or butterscotch chips. If you'd like, save a couple extra chips to sprinkle over the top of the brownie batter before baking for a prettier presentation. Also, these brownies need to cool completely before cutting or else they tend to fall apart. Lastly, this recipe doubles very well baked in a 9x13 inch pan. Brownies will be thicker and will require a slightly longer bake time, so keep an eye on them for doneness.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 tablespoons milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used Jiff brand and doubled Betty's amount of peanut butter successfully)
1/3 cup peanut butter chips, or butterscotch chips
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease square pan, 9x9x2 inches. Mix sugars, butter, milk and eggs in medium bowl. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt.

Divide batter in half (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons for each half). Stir peanut butter and peanut butter chips into 1 half. Stir cocoa and chocolate chips into remaining half.

Spoon chocolate batter into pan in 8 mounds, checkerboard style. Spoon peanut butter batter between mounds of chocolate batter. Gently swirl through batters with knife for marbled design.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely about 1 hour. For 16 brownies, cut into 4 rows by 4 rows.

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