Cooking in the Swamp – Chocolate Chip S’mores Cookie Bars

I have friends that spend a lot of time on Pintrest and get lots of great cooking ideas as a result. I like Pintrest, but I don’t visit the site nearly as often as I should. Even when I visit and see an interesting recipe, I rarely make it myself. I have an entire board dedicated to Recipes That Look Awesome But I’ll Probably Never Make. The other day, though, I saw a recipe I had to try. Chocolate Chip Cookies stuffed with s’mores. The recipe was more complicated and involved than I was interested in – seriously, who makes their own graham crackers? Luckily, we have a grocery store full of convenience foods just down the street. The biggest problem with the recipe is it made only four humongous cookies. Why would anyone create a recipe of four cookies? These are so large and rich there is no way one person can eat the whole thing. So, I adapted it to fit my laziness and my selfishness – I ain’t sharing my cookie with anyone.  A complicated four cookie recipe turned into cookie bars that was ridiculously easy to make and would feed a crowd.

 

The Ingredients – Graham Crackers, two rolls of cookie dough, Hershey bars, mini marshmallows and a foil lined 9×13 pan.

Slice the dough.

Press the cookies into the bottom of a foil lined pan sprayed with cooking spray.

Place graham crackers on top of the chocolate chip cookies.

Top with Hershey’s chocolate bars. I went a little light on the chocolate because I assumed (correctly, it turns out) that these were going to be ridiculously rich. But, use your own judgement. Put as much chocolate as you like. Awesome thing about this recipe? There are no rules! Adapt it as you want!

Are those two upside down Hershey bars bugging anyone else? They’re driving me crazy. I didn’t notice it at the time because I was too busy eating my own little square.  Or two.

Don’t judge me.

Next, add marshmallows.

I would add more marshmallows next time. They almost melt in the final product, adding more chewiness than sweetness.

More graham crackers.

I thought of not adding these but decided I would rather have a relatively solid base for the cookies I’m about to put on top.

It was right about here I thought, “This isn’t going to work.” Actually, it was before I flattened out the cookies on the left and had a bunch of little cookies like the ones on the right. I was afraid they would not cover the s’mores. Even after flattening them I was still skeptical. It was going to be a pretty darn thick cookie bar.

Still, I didn’t let my doubts stop me. I powered through without eating one bite of raw cookie dough and only two chocolate squares. Sometimes, my will power amazes even me.

This is where I had to be creative. How long and what temp to cook these? I chose 375 for 45 minutes, thinking that was the same temp/time I used when I made another layered cookie bar (brownies, Oreos and chocolate chip cookies. Just as awesome as they sound.). I pulled these out after 30 minutes because the cookies were getting too brown. I would probably decrease the temp to 350 next time and keep the 45 minutes. Or just cook til done. My mom would be so proud.

Fresh out of the oven.

The cookies didn’t cover like I thought but I liked how the marshmallow peeked through. The marshmallows made a nice, chewy center that contrasted nicely with the crunch of the cookie and cracker. Overcooking the cookies a little bit even turned out to be a good thing.

Using my “How to Cut Brownies” instructions, I cut these into bars and then in half. These are very rich. A little bit will do. Unless you have 6 13-year old boys hanging around. Then they go fast no matter what size they are.

Cooking in the Swamp Yum Alert! – Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova

  1. pa·vlo·va/pävˈlōvə/

    Noun:
    A dessert consisting of a meringue base or shell filled with whipped cream and fruit.

Before baking.

Since the nightmare I had making a pavlova in May (or was it April? time flies I swear), I have been determined to make another pavlova to figure out what exactly I did wrong. Why did it take over an hour for stiff peaks to form? Were my egg whites were too cold? Should I not have used pasteurized egg whites from a carton? Was it my substitution of regular sugar for super fine sugar? Driven by the rapidly deteriorating state of an extra large clamshell of strawberries, I determined I would make Strawberry Shortcakes and use pavlova as the base.

After baking. Note how they increased in size. These are larger than what I consider “individual size.” If you make them small, adjust the baking time down a bit.

The answer to my April pavlova debacle  is my egg whites were too cold. Actually, the pavlova I made that day was still very good, but it took forever to get the egg whites to form stiff peaks. This time, I wanted to make individual pavlovas and wasn’t sure about the cooking time. I found this recipe on Good Life Eats. Super easy and delish. I plan on making the lemon curd and raspberry version sometime this summer. What is wonderful about pavlova is it will literally go with any combination of cream and fruit. You are only limited by your imagination. Granted, after days with children fighting their way through summer break, you may not have much imagination to tap. In that case, follow the recipe. :)

Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova

For the Meringue Nests:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1 vanilla bean (seeds only)
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 ounces egg white, about 5-6 large eggs

Toppings:
Lemon Curd – Recipe: Citrus Curd 3 Ways
Fresh Raspberries, Strawberries or Blueberries
Whipped Cream
Mint Leaves, for garnish

Directions:

Divide the egg whites from the yolks. Save the yolks for a later use, such as Citrus Curd or another favorite recipe that requires egg yolks. Bring the egg whites to room temperature for 30 minutes before beginning the recipe.

Prepare by preheating your oven to 250 degrees F and lining a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, turn the speed on to low. Mix for 1 minute, then gradually increase the speed to medium-low.

Continue to beat at medium-low for another minute, then increase mixer’s speed to medium. Continue until the mixture has small bubbles and soft peaks start to develop, about 2 minutes.

Slowly add the sugar mixture into the bowl as the mixture continues to beat. Increase the speed to medium-high. Beat for 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and lemon juice. Increase the speed to high and beat for an additional 2-3 minutes. It is ready when the meringue is shiny and has developed stiff peaks.

For individual pavlovas, you can spoon little nests (6-8 total) of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Then, bake at 250 degrees F for 45 – 65 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) halfway through baking.

Finished meringue should be crisp and dry, but not cracked. The insides will have a marshmallow-like consistency. Cool baked meringue on a wire rack.

Tip: Form a dip in the center of each pavlova with the back of the spoon before baking to act as a dish to hold the lemon curd and berries.

After pavlova has cooled, top with lemon curd and fresh berries. Best served immediately. If you assemble the dessert too soon then the lemon curd with begin to dissolve the meringue.

Of Course Today Is National Nutella Day

© Fredrika Stjärne

Mmmm, the wonderful, chocolately sweet, hint of hazelnut goodness of Nutella. Perfect spread on a banana, paired with marshmallow cream on a sandwich or, my personal favorite, straight out of the jar on a spoon. Horrible for your diet. A feast of flavor for your tastebuds. Of course, there is a day celebrating this sinful spread. Convenient that it is today, two days after I made Mini Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecakes, a simple, individual serving size dessert for a group.

I discovered this recipe through Flipboard, an iPad app which deserves its own Swamp of Boredom post and has, in just a month, become the primary way I get my news. It also has great sections for Travel, Tech and Food and Wine. The recipe below is from Food and Wine and is by Grace Parisi. The original recipe can be found here, along with 9 other cheesecake recipes. Really, is there any doubt that I am going to make more of these?

 

 

 

Mini Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecakes

Ingredients

15 cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies
2 tablespoons raw or roasted hazelnuts, skinned
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread, preferably Nutella
1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Spray the liners with vegetable oil spray.
  2. In a food processor, combine the cookies, hazelnuts and butter and process to very fine crumbs. Divide the crumbs among the cups and, using a flat-bottomed glass, press on the crumbs to compact them. Bake for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, wipe out the food processor bowl. Add the cream cheese, Nutella, sour cream, eggs and sugar and puree until smooth. Spoon the filling into the cups until it nearly reaches the top; there may be a few tablespoons of leftover batter. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheesecakes have risen and the surfaces are lightly cracked. Let the cheesecakes cool slightly, then transfer the muffin tin to a rack and freeze for 10 minutes, until the cheesecakes are slightly cooled. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Make Ahead: The mini cheesecakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
My Notes:
  • I didn’t have hazelnuts so I omitted them from the cookie crust. The hazelnut flavor would probably be more pronounced with them included.
  • This is the first time I’ve used a food processor to mix the cheesecake batter. It worked fine, but I think I prefer the mixer.
  • If there is one drawback to this recipe is the individual servings aren’t big enough. I might double the recipe and make them in a larger muffin tin next time, which would necessitate increasing the cook time.

Cooking in the Swamp – Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

A couple of months ago, we rented a vacation house on the beach with three other families. To keep costs down, and the hassle of going out to eat nightly with 17 people, each family took a turn cooking. I originally volunteered to make burgers – always a crowd favorite. Sitting around the dinner table one night before we left, I gave my family the run down of the week. I find that, especially for my youngest, it is always best practice to tell everyone the plan in detail so that 1) there is no confusion and 2) when someone inevitable says, “You didn’t tell me we were doing *blank*” I can reply with specifics as to when, where, how and what we were doing when I did, in fact, tell them *blank*. We’re making hamburgers, I say. Eating stops, mid chew, and my oldest looks at me and says, “No offense, Mom, but hamburgers aren’t your best meal.”

Since this isn’t the most offensive thing my family has ever said about my cooking – that honor is held by the Chocolate Chili experiment – I took the comment as is was meant, constructively, and told them to bring it, what would they like for me to make? After much discussion, we decided on Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, which makes a ton and has the distinction of being a dish that everyone in my family likes. So, it was decided that we would have a New Orleans theme with jambalaya, Caesar salad (not sure how Cajun that is) and Bread Pudding for dessert.

This was a great menu which, very out of character, I took the time to plan for – printing the jambalaya recipe, prepping the sausage, peppers, onions, etc. before we left. I’m not sure why I didn’t copy or print the recipe for the Bread Pudding – probably because I thought I could get it online? – but most likely the real reason is there always has to be some sort of flaw in every one of my plans. It’s a subconscious ability I have to undermine my own success. This particular recipe is not online but in my trusty Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. Luckily for me, I have a blog that I can put recipes on for my own future reference so I will never have to worry about not finding this Bread Pudding recipe online again.

This dish is always well received when I take it to parties. I’m always hesitant to give the recipe out because once someone makes it they will realize how easy it is and my cooking acumen will take a hit. My husband prefers the Chocolate Bread Pudding I make but I’m partial to this classic take on the dish.

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Prep: 7 minutes          Cook: 1 hour           Yield 15 servings

Ingredients

1 (1 pound) loaf soft French Bread

2 Cups Half and Half

2 Cups Milk

3 Large Eggs, lightly beaten

2 Cups Sugar

3/4 Cups chopped pecans

3/4 Cups raisins

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 Cup butter or margarine, melted

  • Tear bread into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add half and half and milk to bowl; let mixture stand 10 minutes.
  • Stir mixture well with a wooden spoon. Add eggs and next 5 ingredients, stirring well.
  • Pour butter into a 13×9 inch pan; tilt pan to coat evenly. Spoon pudding mixture into pan. Bake uncovered at 325 for 55 – 60 minutes or until pudding is firm. Remove from oven. Cool.
  • Cut into squares; spoon whiskey sauce over each serving.

Per serving: Calories 484, Fat 20.2g, Cholesterol 88mg, Sodium 344mg

Whiskey Sauce

Prep: 5 minutes          Cook: 8 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 Cup Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1/2 Cup half and half

2 Tbsp Whiskey

  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a heavy saucepan; cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool. Add whiskey. Yield 1 1/2 Cups; Per tablespoon: Calories 75, Fat 4.4g, Cholesterol 12mg, Sodium 41mg

Notes:

  • This recipe is very easy to lighten up by using milk instead of half and half and a lower fat milk, at that. Egg substitute can be used in lieu of eggs. Note, however, that some of the richness of the dish will be lost with the substitution of these ingredients.
  • While I love raisins, I don’t like raisins in my bread pudding or cookies. I omit these, always, but include the pecans.
  • If you don’t like or drink whiskey, omit the whiskey in the sauce.