Monday, May 30, 2016

Utterly Decadent Toffee Bars

If you saw yesterday's post, then you also saw a delicious looking bar cookie nestled among cocoa nibs. If you did not see the blog post, then you need to click here now. Today I'm going to give you the recipe for the cookie. It is easy to make and, as the name suggests, utterly decadent. My recipe is an adapted version of one from Better Homes and Gardens. Naturally, mine is much better. :-) The addition of the cocoa nibs makes sure of that. They add flavor, crunch, the richness of coffee, and sophistication, without making the cookies cloyingly sweet.
Utterly Decadent Toffee Bars

1 cup butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 extra-large egg yolk
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup almond brickle pieces
2 tablespoons
Melissa’s cocoa nibs
Preheat oven to 375

Line a 10" x 10" pan* with foil leaving a 2" tail on either end. Spray the foil and all sides of the pan with Pam. Using the foil will allow you to lift the cookies in one slab from the pan allowing for easy and attractive cutting. If you don't want to do this, just spraying the pan on bottom and sides with Pam will work just fine.

Cream together 1 cup butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer. Add egg yolk; beat well. Stir in flour and salt, mixing just to combine. Spread dough into prepared pan and bake 22-25 minutes, or until light brown. Remove from oven to wire rack. Reduce oven heat to 350

Combine condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave, in 1-minute intervals, until thick and bubbly, stirring after each minute for a total of 4 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Spread mixture evenly over baked cookie layer. Return pan to oven and bake about 12 minutes, or until top is golden.

Sprinkle warm baked layers with chocolate chips. Return to oven for 1-2 minutes, or until the chocolate is glossy and melted. Spread chocolate evenly over baked layers. Top with an even layer of brickle chips and cocoa nibs. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then place in the fridge to set chocolate for 30 more minutes. Cut into squares and store, covered, in the fridge.

* You can also use a 9" x 9" pan and bake for a minute or two longer, or a 9" x 13" pan (that was called for in the original recipe), but I find this makes the crust layer way too thin.
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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Introducing Cocoa Nibs

If I said the words “cocoa nibs” to you, what would it bring to mind? If you’re thinking this was the name of the shy, brown-eyed girl who sat behind you in second period chemistry, the answer would be no. :-) Cocoa nibs are chocolate in its purest form. They are dried and fermented bits of cacao beans, with the deep, dense, almost exotic flavor of chocolate, and the crunch of coffee beans.
Deeply chocolaty, cocoa nibs are not sweet, and this is what makes them so darned versatile. They work equally well in sweet dishes as they do savory.  Toss them into salads for a nutty crunch, sprinkle them atop your morning oatmeal, add them to granola, or stir a spoonful into yogurt. Excellent in desserts (They do amazing things to brownies!), bakers will find them of particular use in topping cookies (as I did here) or added to streusel for extra crunch and a sophisticated taste. You can even snack on them right out of the box. Mix them in with your trail mix and you will have an amazingly healthy snack because they contain magnesium, fiber, iron, and antioxidants. They also act as mood enhancers thanks to phenylethylamine and anandamide.
Give these a try in your cooking, baking, and snacking. You’ll add a depth of flavor you’ll not believe!
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Saturday, May 28, 2016

May is National Salad Month

May is National Salad Month, and before it gets away (Can you believe that June is next week?), I wanted to share some of my favorite salads with you. This is a tasty and diverse group. Some are hearty, some are light, all are unique and satisfying, and sure to earn you lots of compliments. To get to the recipe, click on the name of the salad beneath each picture.

Fava Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

 Pear and Walnut Salad

 Muffaletta Pasta Salad

 Tarragon Chicken Salad with Champagne Grapes

 Baby Greens, Beet, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad

 Mexican Cobb Salad

 Waldorf Salad

 Sorrel & Watermelon Salad with Feta

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

White Russian Sorbet

When the heat is on (and, boy, is it!) it's time to cool things off with a frosty summer cocktail. It's even better when that cocktail is turned into a tasty frozen dessert.

This White Russian Sorbet is a breeze to make. The flavors explode in your mouth, leaving you wanting more...much more. Sorbets are made with just a touch of cream, so you are in for a major brain freeze if you try to eat it too fast, but this is really for the best, because you are going to want to savor every luscious spoonful. Plain old vodka works just as well, but treat yourself to the whipped cream variety. It does amazing things to drinks and desserts!

Slightly adapted from, this adults only dessert looks especially pretty when served in punch cups.
 White Russian Sorbet

1-3/4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 Tablespoons Whipped Cream vodka
3 Tablespoons Kahlúa

Stir water and sugar in heavy medium sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil; remove from heat. Add espresso powder and stir to dissolve. Pour into medium bowl. Whisk in corn syrup, whipping cream, vodka, and Kahlúa. Refrigerate mixture until cold, about 2 hours.

Transfer sorbet mixture to ice cream maker; process according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer sorbet to container; cover, and freeze until firm, about 2 hours, but overnight is best. (Can be made 2 days ahead.)

Freeze 4 coffee cups for 30 minutes. Scoop sorbet into frozen cups. Garnish with coffee beans and serve immediately.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Spinach Salad with Blueberries & Candied Pecans

I'm not sure just what I like the most about this salad, the fresh baby spinach, the sweet, juicy blueberries, the pungent bleu cheese, or the toffee-like crunch of the candied pecans. Whatever it is, this salad is a can't-stop-eating-it winner.

Based upon a recipe I found on, my version has a slightly sweeter, more complex dressing that really brings everything together. Easy enough for every day, it is also elegant enough for company. This salad can't miss.

Not a fan of bleu cheese? Substitute an equal amount of feta.

Spinach Salad with Blueberries & Candied Pecans

For Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake it, baby, shake it.

For Salad

1 pound fresh baby spinach

1 pint fresh blueberries

4 ounces crumbled bleu cheese

1 recipe candied pecans

Toss salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing to taste. Serve immediately.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Candied Pecans

It's going to be heating up this week, so, cold soups, crisp salads, and frosty drinks and desserts will be on the menu. I have a different salad planned for every night this week in honor of National Salad Month. I found this recipe on as a component of another salad, but decided to do my own thing with the salad (that you will see later in the week), and just use the nuts. They were amazing! Not only are they the perfect addition to a salad, but they're also wonderful atop ice cream, bread pudding, on their own, or broken and served on top of oatmeal whether you eat it warm or cold. You must try this simple recipe, and then try to stop eating these nuts.
Candied Pecans

 Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup pecan halves

Spray sheet of foil with nonstick spray. Stir sugar, oil, and vinegar together to blend in heavy medium skillet. Cook over medium heat until sugar melts and syrup bubbles, about 3 minutes. Mix in pecans. Stir until nuts are toasted and syrup coats nuts evenly, about 7 minutes. Turn nuts out onto prepared foil. Using fork, separate nuts and cool completely (coating will harden).

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Green Bean Salad

When I was younger I loved going to school; when school wasn't in session I played school. In college I took classes every semester they were offered -- spring semester, winter semester, intersession, summer semester.  If classes were offered, I took them, and, in the doing, I built up a pot-load of credit hours. So much so, in fact, that I defied categorization and, eventually, they asked me if I would just graduate and leave. It was with great reluctance that I did, and I felt set adrift when it came time to sign up for coursework again. Not daring to show my face on the university campus, I grabbed a course catalog from the local community college, and signed up for a couple of extension classes, one of which was Gourmet Barbecue.

Looking back, I can't imagine what possessed me to take this class. I was the only young, single female in a class of, largely, forty-year-old men and their wives. As you can imagine, I was quite popular with the men, not so much with their wives. All's well that ends well, however, once they realized I was actually there to learn, and not shopping for a husband. I ended up learning quite a lot about grilling, and came away with a vast array of recipes. In addition to learning specialty grill recipes, we were also provided with side dishes suitable for whatever main dish we were working on that week. One of my favorites was this green bean salad. Mother loved it as well because the two of us were absolutely ga-ga over green beans, liking them so much that we would often eat them right from the can.

This recipe, a product of the late seventies, calls for canned green beans, but it is so much better when using fresh, and even more fun when using a variety of interesting beans as I have done here using both yellow and purple (they turn green when you cook them -- kids love to watch these) wax beans from Melissa’s Produce. Use whatever you like to make this salad colorful and interesting, and in keeping with your family’s tastes. Serve it chilled or at room temperature. It makes a great addition to picnics, barbecues, salad bars, or serves as an excellent side dish.
Green Bean Salad

1 pound fresh string or wax beans, trimmed, blanched, and cooled

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

½ red onion, thinly, and I’m talking THINLY, sliced

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Homemade croutons (or store bought, if you must)

Italian Dressing

Toss together beans, tomatoes, onion, and Parmesan cheese, and refrigerate, covered, for an hour, or up to eight hours. When ready to serve, add croutons and dress with your favorite Italian dressing or vinaigrette.  Personally, I use low fat Italian dressing and love it in this recipe.

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