Famous peanut butter bars

I wish I had a video compilation of people’s reactions when they taste these peanut butter bars. In my experience their eyes get wide and they exclaim something like, “Oh my god!” Then they ask me for the recipe. These are seriously the most delicious and addictive treats I’ve ever had. Once I start eating them I have trouble stopping. One time back in high school I received a marriage proposal when a friend of mine tried one. I think I can safely say that if you like peanut butter, you’re going to love these peanut butter bars. I first wrote about them back in 2011, but I halved the recipe and it just wasn’t the same. But since I needed a boatload of goodies for holiday parties and other get-togethers this week I whipped up a full batch (a whole jelly roll pan’s worth) and served them on three different occasions. I ate more than my fair share too! Didn’t I say they’re addictive?

INGREDIENTS:
1 c (2 sticks) melted butter
16 oz (1 jar) chunky peanut butter
1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
1 lb powdered sugar
8 oz Hershey bar (I used two 4.4 oz bars)

DIRECTIONS:
The original recipe, which is handwritten on an index card in my mom’s recipe organizer, simply says “mix together all ingredients except Hershey bar.” But I’ve found that it works best if you stir together the melted butter, peanut butter, and graham cracker crumbs in a large bowl first. You can just use a wooden spoon for this. When those ingredients are thoroughly mixed add about half of the powdered sugar and stir to combine. At this point you’re going to wonder how in the heck you’ll ever be able to get the remaining powdered sugar to mix in, but it will work. Dump the rest of the powdered sugar into the bowl and stir in as much as possible with the wooden spoon. I always have to resort to using my hands near the end before the mixture gets so thick. I promise if you work at it long enough you can get all of the powdered sugar incorporated! Press the peanut butter mixture into the bottom of a large jelly roll pan (mine is 15x11x1″), using whatever you can find to smooth it out (a rolling pin or round glass works best, but I used the bottom of a measuring cup).

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the Hershey’s chocolate. This should take about 1-2 minutes on high. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the peanut butter mixture with a spatula. Put the whole pan in the refrigerator to cool. Wait until the chocolate has solidified to slice into squares. Enjoy!

Based on Jane’s Peanut Butter Bars (written on an index card).

Crockpot cranberry BBQ meatballs

When I was looking for this recipe to make for this year’s annual holiday potluck at work I realized that I never shared it on my webpage. I first made these holiday-themed meatballs back in 2010, which is when the above photo was taken. I’ll take a new one the next time I have a chance. My only complaint about this recipe six years ago is that I didn’t like the meatballs I used (Italian style), so this time I used Foster Farms frozen turkey meatballs and they worked really well. I also increased the amount of meatballs, BBQ sauce, and soy sauce. If I hadn’t needed to open another can of cranberry sauce I probably would have added more of that as well! Of course I tested the meatballs before I put them out for public consumption during last Friday’s lunch, and I loved them. It seems everyone else enjoyed them as well because they disappeared quickly! Mark this recipe as a winner. It’s incredibly simple, holiday-appropriate, and tasty. What else could you ask for? Next time I might try some whole berry cranberry sauce in place of the jellied variety, and maybe some sweeter BBQ sauce, but otherwise I have no suggestions. Make these for your holiday party this year!

INGREDIENTS:
1 c BBQ sauce (I used Bull’s-Eye Original)
1 can (14 oz) jellied cranberry sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 lb frozen turkey meatballs (beef would work too)

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl stir together the BBQ sauce, cranberry sauce, and soy sauce. It just needs to be roughly mixed so I used a fork. Pour half of the sauce mixture into the bottom of the Crockpot, preferably with a liner to make clean up a breeze. Then dump the frozen meatballs in the Crockpot and top with the remaining sauce. Cook on low for about 6 hours, stirring occasionally to ensure even sauce coverage, or until the meatballs are cooked and sufficiently hot. Enjoy!

Based on A Year of Slow Cooking’s Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry Barbecue Sauce.

Welcoming fall with pumpkin bread

When September rolls around it means that it’s late enough in the year for me to bake with pumpkin again, but somehow I waited eighteen days to take advantage of that freedom in 2016. What a shame! But I think this pumpkin bread was worth the wait. I first tried this Taste of Home recipe over a decade ago with great success, but one of the ingredients was a tad problematic. Finding cook-and-serve vanilla pudding in 3 oz packages was impossible! I had to buy a larger box and just roughly guess at the right amount to pour into the batter. It was annoying so I found other recipes to try instead. But this year I was browsing the grocery aisles and found the little 3 oz pudding packages! It was a sign that this tried-and-true pumpkin bread recipe needed to make a comeback this fall.

As I was baking today I did make a couple of minor changes to the Taste of Home recipe. Actually, they were more like augmentations. The original recipe called for just 1 teaspoon of cinnamon as seasoning, but one of my other go-to pumpkin bread recipes (see my spiced pumpkin bread recipe here) calls for a host of other spices as well. So I also included nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and pumpkin pie spice in today’s baking endeavor. Similarly, I added 2 teaspoons of vanilla because it makes everything better. The result was absolutely fantastic. In spite of being on a diet I tried a piece this evening. This may be the best pumpkin bread I’ve ever tasted! The perfect fall treat to share with my co-workers tomorrow!

INGREDIENTS:
5 large eggs
1 1/4 c canola oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt
2 packages (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp baking soda
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar

DIRECTIONS:
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Make sure it’s a really big bowl because this recipe makes 2 loaves which means a lot of batter! Add the canola oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the vanilla pudding mix and baking soda and beat until combined. Lastly, add the flour and sugar and beat until combined. Pour the batter (it’s pretty thin and easily pourable) into two 8×4″ loaf pans coated with cooking spray. (I only have one loaf pan at the moment so I used a 12 cup bundt cake pan instead. If you go this route make sure that every nook and cranny of the pan is coated with spray because you don’t want the cake to stick!) Bake at 325 deg F for 70-75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before inverting the loaves (or cake) onto a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Taste of Home’s Delicious Pumpkin Bread.

Belated Foodie Friday – Brown butter and molasses chocolate chip cookies

My chocolate chip cookies were a hit with both my East and West Coast co-workers last week. The three batches I ended up making weren’t quite what I originally intended, though. The notable difference was these brown butter and molasses chocolate chip cookies. I started out planning to just make some brown butter chocolate chip cookies based on a request from one of my co-workers, but as I was mixing the dough I decided to add some molasses on a whim. So this is the third time I’ve tried molasses in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and I’m glad I was persistent because the result was absolutely perfect. Something about the combination of the brown butter, molasses, and potentially the little bit of bacon fat I threw in there for good measure made for some of the best cookies I’ve ever baked. Of the three different varieties that my co-workers sampled last week I got the best feedback from this recipe. So if you’re looking for a chocolate chip cookie that’s just a little bit different, definitely give these a try. They are amazing!

INGREDIENTS:
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 c dark brown sugar (light brown works too)
1/2 c (1 stick) salted butter, browned
2 Tbsp bacon fat (optional)
2 Tbsp molasses
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 c milk chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl combine the sugar and brown sugar. Set aside. Brown the butter in a medium saucepan. Make sure not to burn it! (If you need help with this step refer to this post on Serious Eats with a great tutorial.) As soon as the butter is browned immediately pour it over the sugar mixture and stir to combine. Add the bacon fat at this point if you want. I had some left over after cooking bacon for another batch of cookies so I threw it in just for fun. Add the molasses and eggs and stir to combine. Add the baking soda and flour and stir until almost all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Fold in the chocolate chips and stir until the flour is completely combined. Spread the dough into a 13×9″ pan lined with aluminum foil and coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 deg for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Based on Framed Cooks’ Molasses Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Something Swanky’s Bacon Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Cincinnati style chili (2015 chili cook-off recipe)

“Between the chili cook-off and doing some actual work, I was exhausted when I left in the afternoon! But it was worth it to see all of my co-workers so happy. Sometimes it feels like we don’t get enough recognition for all of the amazing things we do, so something as simple as a chili cook-off really lifts our spirits.”
11/01/14 webpage post

On Friday we had our annual chili cook-off at work. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. Good food, happy co-workers, and Halloween decorations. What could be better? It’s always so much fun. I think I said it best last year when I mentioned that we don’t feel like we get a lot of credit for all of our accomplishments. We really need morale events like the yearly chili cook-off to keep from burning out. It doesn’t cost our program anything and everyone loves it. The participants are always so grateful that we have it, and it’s a fantastic way to celebrate Halloween at work. This year I did something a little bit different with my cook-off entry and made it inspired by of Cincinnati chili. Usually Cincinnati chili is served over spaghetti, but I skipped that part because it didn’t really make sense for a buffet-style meal (or for folks cutting carbs). Instead I simply threw in some of the typical Cincinnati chili spices – cinnamon, allspice, and cocoa powder. It was delicious! I had to make a couple of batches to get the amounts of all the spices just right, but I think this recipe is a winner. I didn’t win the chili cook-off (that honor always goes to one of the spicier chilis), but I still loved the unique flavor. It’s just different enough from my traditional chili for me to call this a new recipe!

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 lb lean ground beef (preferably grass-fed)
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes
2 cans (8 oz each) tomato sauce
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 can (15 oz) reduced sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl, combine the spices (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper) and cocoa powder and set aside. This will save you time and trouble later. In a large pot (I use my aptly-named 5 qt chili pot that I love) cook the ground beef, onion, and bell pepper until the meat is no longer pink. Add the bowl of spice mix from earlier and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce and stir to combine. If you are adding beans you can throw them in now too. (I left the beans out of my chili cook-off batch so you can skip them if you want.) Bring the chili too a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot, but leave it propped open a bit so steam can escape. Cook for at least an hour, stirring about every 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Based on Half Baked Harvest’s Healthier One Pot Cincinnati Chicken Chili.

Foodie Friday – Buttermilk pumpkin bread

Fall officially started over a week ago, but we’re still waiting for it to arrive here in Los Angeles. But luckily according to my self-imposed rules I can bake with pumpkin again since it’s after September 1st! Until it finally cools off (although this week has been slightly more comfortable) at least we can enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats! Like this delicious pumpkin bread. Last year I posted a great recipe for spiced pumpkin bread, but I’ve been wanting to try a slightly different version for a while. This new recipe contains buttermilk which is always a plus. It does amazing things for banana bread so why not pumpkin bread too? I’m really glad I tried this recipe because it is delicious. Everyone at work loved it, and I ate a few too many pieces of it myself. This pumpkin bread was the perfect way to welcome the fall and celebrate the approaching holiday season.

INGREDIENTS:
1 c canola oil
3 c sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
4 eggs
2/3 c buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (I mixed a homemade version since I was out)
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 c flour

DIRECTIONS:
In a large bowl, mix together the canola oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. I usually use an electric mixer for this to make sure the batter is smooth. Add the pumpkin pie spice (or homemade mix of spices like I made), cardamom, salt, and baking soda and beat until combined. Add the flour to the bowl and blend until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed. Divide the batter between a couple of greased loaf pans. The original recipe calls for three small loaf pans, but since I don’t have any of those I used one 9×5″ pan and one 8×4″ pan instead. (There was actually some batter leftover in this configuration so next time I’ll try three 8×4″ pans and make slightly smaller loaves.) Bake at 325 deg F for at least 1 hour (mine took a bit longer to set in the middle), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!

Based on The Mommy Mess’s Buttermilk Pumpkin Bread.

Foodie Friday – Mustard and maple chicken

This year I’ve been doing a great job of making healthy lunches to take to work, but I’ve gotten into a rut with the meat and vegetable recipes that I use. I have a few favorites that I make regularly (curried chicken tenders, ranch turkey tacos, Korean ground beef), but my taste buds are demanding more options! In an effort to mix things up a bit I tried this new chicken recipe a couple of weeks ago. It’s advertised as the “World’s Best Chicken” so my expectations were high. Luckily it did not disappoint! This chicken is really delicious. Baking chicken is the simplest and least messy way to prepare it, and the sauce is made from basic pantry staples that you probably already have in your kitchen. The Herbs de Provence wasn’t in the original recipe, but I added it because I thought it sounded good. I figure Italian seasoning would be just as good, but I haven’t tried it myself. I will next time. This recipe is definitely going into my lunch rotation. I love it!

INGREDIENTS:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lb)
1/2 c Dijon mustard
1/4 c maple syrup
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Herbs de Provence (or Italian seasoning)
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
In a small bowl whisk together the Dijon mustard, maple syrup, red wine vinegar, and the Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning. (When I made this I just sprinkled a generous amount of the Herbs de Provence into the mustard, maple, and vinegar mixture. I’m just estimating that it was about 1 tsp. The amount isn’t really critical.) Place the chicken breasts in an 11×7″ or 13×9″ glass baking dish that’s coated with cooking spray (I use Trader Joe’s olive oil spray). Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then pour the mustard and maple sauce on top. Make sure each breast is coated with sauce. Bake at 400 deg F for about 40 minutes, turning once, or until the chicken is cooked through. Enjoy!

Based on Rachel Schultz’s World’s Best Chicken.