Sunday, October 24, 2010

Belly Up to the Bar

I've had a few occasions over the past weeks to make various types of bars.  We're not talking the tiki variety with mai tais (though this makes me miss my dear friend Jer), but more the baked-goods variety.  I love bars; they're so versatile, easy to prepare, and are great for making large quantities of treats in one go.  They also give you the option of portion control- just cut them into smaller squares, and you instantly have less fat and sugar per serving! *wink*

At any rate, first I wanted to revisit a childhood classic with my cousin** Sally's butterscotch brownies.  These would make their way to big family campground picnics, and I liked them so much that I requested the recipe when I was probably 14-15 years old.  These are so easy to throw together, and give you a bit of a different take on the usual brownie fare.  They sort of remind me of a mash-up of chocolate chip cookie flavour with traditional chewy brownie texture... definitely delicious.

**Being a genetic counsellor, my "party trick" is to teach people how they're actually related to their "cousins".  To be absolutely precise, Sally is my first-cousin-once-removed-in-law (that is, the wife of my father's first cousin).  Most people don't understand how the once-removed thing works, and would incorrectly label Sally as my second cousin.  This is not the case.  I shall refer you to Robin L. Bennett's book, "The Practical Guide to the Genetic Family History".  Hubs and I have debated this one to death, and this book was sort of a tie-breaker.
Butterscotch Brownies
From Cousin Sally

Makes 24 brownies (or more, depending on how you slice 'em)
  • 1 1/2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Cream brown sugar and butter together thoroughly; beat in eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy.
  3. Add flour and salt, folding just to combine; stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Spread into an 8-inch square greased pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Cool in pan and cut into squares... resist as long as you can before devouring (they continue to cook as they cool).

Look good, don't they?  I'll confess... these didn't make it to the office.  I enjoyed them over the course of a long work-week, with milk and/or coffee and/or tea.  Mmmm.
 Next up, also from the family archives: zucchini fruit bars.  If you've ever lived in Southwestern Ontario, you probably know someone who grows zucchini.  Perhaps multiple people, as in my case (both Nonna and my future mom-in-law have quite the green thumb).  At any rate, it seems like everyone is always looking for ways to use up this summer squash before it goes bad.  As a result, my intelligent future M-I-L, Carla, has quite the repository of zucchini recipes.  This is one of them.

Zucchini Fruit Bars
From Hubs' mom Carla (who doesn't remember where she got it.  I asked.)

Makes about 24 squares, again, depending on how you slice them
  • 3/4 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped dates
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (sometimes mom pre-shreds hers, freezes it, and then thaws it out)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF
  2. Cream margarine with the white and brown sugars.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Stir in the coconut, dates, raisins, and zucchini.
  5. Spread into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Carla's recipe also includes a glaze that can be poured over the baked bars, but I think they're just fine without it.  If you want to go ahead and add it, mix 1 tbsp margarine, 1 1/2 tbsp milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 cup icing sugar until smooth and pour over the partially cooled bars while still in the pan.  You can also sprinkle on chopped nuts if you want.

I brought a batch of these moist, "naked" (i.e. no glaze or nuts) bars to work, and they seemed to be an instant hit.  I think I got more compliments on them than any of my other baking endeavors so far!  Could it be because they had some semblance of healthy ingredients?  Who knows!  At any rate, thanks again to Hubs' mom for sharing the recipe with me!
Last up: the classic favourite, chocolate brownies.  I was asked, as a "voluntold" member of the social committee at work, to bring something "small and sweet" to celebrate a coworker's impending nuptials.  This request came the day before the congratulatory event, on a night when I had American Sign Language class to attend.  Hrm.  A quick mental inventory run-down told me that I had everything needed for these suckers, so I quickly tossed them together, threw them in the oven, and whipped them out in just enough time to get down to the Deaf Centre Manitoba.  Whew! 

 This is apparently Anna Olson's go-to brownie recipe... though I found them to be just a tiny bit too cake-y for my liking.  Two things that could remedy that: a larger pan (for thinner brownies) and less cooking time.  I did approve of my swapping of toasted walnuts (in the original recipe) for chocolate chips... I suppose that makes the double chocolate brownies, no?

Whatever you call them, they were pretty good.  One of the geneticists I work with kept going back for more... I think his total count was five or six.  AND he's thin as a rail.  Jealousy, thy name is Honeybee.
All of these were relatively simple and worked well... but I've been feeling like I need to up my game in the bar department.  For example, I LOVE Nanaimo bars and date squares, but have never had the guts to take a DIY approach to them... I'm thinking that's got to change.

Looking forward to more rectangular treats in the future,

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