Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Bars

What a busy, great past week it's been!

2 concerts (Gotye and Bon Iver). 3 yoga classes (Vinyasa flows). 4 long runs (in sunny, San Francisco weather). 

I can't think of a better way to keep the momentum going other than by baking up a real treat: Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream bars. These bars are inspired by my Mom's famous Peanut Butter Pie dessert. They are the definition of peanut butter and chocolate decadence.

Next weekend, on April 28th, I will be participating in the San Francisco Food Blogger Bake Sale. I am thrilled to be one of the bloggers baking for this special occasion. This Bake Sale will take place from 11am to 4pm at Omnivore Books on Cesar Chavez street. All proceeds raised will go to the Share our Strength foundation, which is dedicated to ending child hunger in America. If you're local/in the bay area, please come stop by and support this amazing cause!

For the Bake Sale, I'll be donating these Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Bars. And let me tell you. They will not disappoint you. They are worth the trek over to Omnivore Books. Trust.

Of course I had to test out my recipe prior to the Bake Sale, like any responsible baker. You know, to make sure they weren't horrible or anything. Inspired by my week of live music, I got to bakin' with this amazing play list (see sticky below---). Seriously. 

Peanut Butter + Chocolate + New Playlist = Bliss

Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Bars

25 oreos
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 heaping cup of peanut butter, smooth or chunky
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1) Crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 baking dish. In a food processor, combine the Oreos and melted butter until Oreos are completely crushed. If you don't have a food processor, combine the Oreos and melted butter in a Ziploc bag and smash together (can use a can or your imagination) until fully mixed up.

2) Press the Oreo mixture into the buttered baking dish. I like to use the back of a spoon. Make sure it's evenly spread throughout the dish, and packed in tightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

3) Filling: While your crust is baking, make the filling. Mix the cream cheese and peanut butter together first. Then, add the butter, whipping cream, and slowly add the powdered sugar. Mix until smooth. Set aside. 

4) Once the crust has finished baking, take out of the oven and set aside; the crust must cool before adding the filling. This could take 30 to 45 minutes. Listen to some tunes. Do the dishes. Once the crust is cool, add the filling on top. Spread the filling evenly using a knife or the back of a spoon. Or both. Then, place the dish in the fridge while you make the topping.

5) In a saucepan, heat the heavy whipping cream over medium heat until it starts to boil. Once it boils, immediately remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips in. Whisk the chocolate into the cream until it's completely smooth and melted. By heating the cream first and then adding in the chocolate, it's less likely the chocolate will burn. Melting chocolate can be hard! Trust me on this one. 

6) Take the dish out of the fridge and pour the melted chocolate on top, smoothing with a knife or back of a spoon. Refrigerate bars until they set and are slightly hardened. These are best kept cold. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Strawberry Jammin'

In the words of my roommate, "Wanna jam?"

Let's talk condiments. Just real fast.

I don't get why people put cream cheese on bagels. I know that seems bizarre, but I have never liked cream cheese.

Also, I detest mustard. And mayonnaise. Oh my jeez. Don't even get me started on mayonnaise.

In France, I love the simplicity of their sandwiches a la boulangerie - a freshly baked baguette with butter (yes, butter!), ham, and cheese. It's divine. My kind of sandwich.

But I my point is this: is there any condiment as delicious as homemade jam? If you're thinking, Nutella...I like your style. But I consider Nutella more of a food group, rather than a condiment.

Growing up, one of my favorite things to bake on Sunday mornings with my Dad were buttermilk biscuits. We'd rock out to James Taylor and roll out our dough. The best part was topping each hot, flaky biscuit with fresh, homemade fruit jam. Peach jam. Blackberry jam. Apricot jam. I'm seriously like the freaking Bubba Gump of jam. 

So I'll ask one more time...

Wanna jam?

Strawberry Jam
This jam is super easy to make, with few ingredients (no pectin needed), and will stay fresh for a few weeks. It's strawberry take advantage of the fresh berries.

1 pound of strawberries, cut into quarters (can be fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1) Combine strawberries and sugar in a large saucepan. Over medium-heat, heat the strawberries and sugar, stirring frequently. The sugar will start to melt, and the berries will soften over time.

Keep stirring. They'll get a bit syrupy. And the smell will start to intoxicate you.

2) Bring the berry mixture to a boil for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes; the mixture thickens a bit. The berries will also start to lose their shape and break apart. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from heat. Taste a spoonful of the mixture to make sure it's sweet but not too sweet. You can add more lemon juice or more sugar, depending on your taste.

3) Spoon the mixture into jars. Don't put the lids on! Let the jam-to-be cool to room temperature and then, place the lids on the jars, and immediately refrigerate.

Enjoy on buttered toast, with a peanut or almond butter sandwich, or on top of vanilla bean ice cream. Or better yet, give this jam to a friend, hostess, or loved-one. Nothing is sweeter, truly, than a homemade gift.

Jam sesh, over. And that's all, folks.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pictures from Easter Weekend (s)

I spent the weekend home in San Luis Obispo, California. And though my entire family was not home for the Holiday weekend, that SLO sunshine...sure felt nice. 

Sometimes, a trip home is what one needs to kind of... recharge. And also, to be reminded. Of the simple things in life that too often go under appreciated. The sun shining on your shoulders, with no wind whatsoever. Parking spots, like, everywhere (hello, SF?). The ridiculously delicious coffee brewing in your Mom's kitchen.

Because let's get real. Everything tastes better when someone else makes it, right? Oh. And home is where you find evidence pictures. Of when life was far less complicated. As I get older, though, home becomes more delicious every time I visit.

My big sister, Katie, back in the day. Isn't she the cutest bunny?

Easter, 1990 with our best family friends, The Brocks. 

Mediterranean Chickens slow roasting

Mediterranean Chicken with onions, olives, sun dried tomatoes, and fresh rosemary

Julia Child, our cat. Yes, we name all our cats after Chefs. And yes, I love cats. Don't judge me.

Naked bunny cake

Finished bunny cake

Bunny cake destroyed

I hope you enjoyed your weekend too. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Double Chocolate Easter Candy Cookies

So, I was informed last week that I will indeed be celebrating Easter this year.

My Mom called and innocently asked if I had Good Friday off. I started laughing and replied with "Do you know where I work?" Followed by, "Why are you asking me this - since when do we celebrate Easter?"

Apparently she's hosting an Easter dinner Sunday evening. And my attendance is mandatory. There will be a traditional family Bunny Cake for dessert, which I've been informed I will be decorating due to my Mom's past history of cake decorating offenses. Oh Lord (pun intended)...I will try to snap some pictures.

We use to celebrate Easter when I was just a wee kid. And what do I remember? Candy, friends. Lots and lots of candy. Oh, and an annual Easter Egg hunt which involved me, dressed up in a frilly floral dress with a matching hair-bow (thanks Mom), running around our neighborhood searching for eggs, hoping there would be Hersheys chocolate inside. Yes, my addiction to sugar started young.

At said Easter Egg hunts back in the day, there was also a really creepy large Easter Bunny. Not to be morbid, but I prefer to eat my rabbit. If you know what I mean.

So, in an attempt to get into the Easter spirit, last weekend I whipped up some cookies using some of my favorite candy.

Double Chocolate Easter Candy Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package of chocolate instant-pudding (about 6oz)
1 cup M&Ms
2 Snickers bars, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. You can use a hand-mixer, Kitchen-Aid, or do it by hand. If you're mixing by hand, you'll likely need to soften the butter almost to having it melted (and freeze the dough for a bit before baking).

3) Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate instant-pudding to the creamed mixture. Mix thoroughly until a dough forms.

4) Mix in, gently, the M&Ms and Snickers pieces. Once the dough is mixed evenly, scoop it out and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the freezer for 15-30 minutes, until it becomes a bit more firm.

5) Scoop the semi-hardened dough out and roll into 1 1/2-inch balls; place on the cookie sheet. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. All ovens are different, so check on your cookies around 8 minutes and switch racks, if necessary. Cookies will continue to bake upon being removed from the oven too, which is why I always take them out a little before I think they're really done.

Happy Easter, folks!