magic bars

Call them what you will: magic bars, layer bars, 5-layer bars, 7-layer bars (if you can’t count), magic cookies, layer squares, or 7-layer cookie bars (if you can’t count or identify a cookie when you see one). I am always tempted by these messy-looking squares when I see them at parties and in bakeries. And I am always pleasantly surprised by their texture, crunch, and layers of sweetness that are revealed by each bite. So when I randomly craved one of these crumbly numbers the other day, it was time to find out what was actually in them and go about making them myself.

Seeing as how I didn’t know what traditionally composed a magic bar, I went in search of recipes. Each seemed to have it’s own take on the use of butterscotch chips vs. peanut butter chips. Some used pecans, some salted peanuts, some walnuts. Even chocolate (chocolate!) was absent in some versions. After much research and countless google searches, I settled on one from Paula Deen: Five Layer Bars. Paula’s take seemed the most classic to me, so I set forth to gather my ingredients.

These bars take all of five minutes to prepare, so be sure to preheat your oven while you’re assembling the layers. First, melt the butter and pour it over the graham cracker crumbs.

Mix together with a fork until the crumbs are thoroughly moistened.

Press the mixture into the bottom of a greased or sprayed 9″x13″ pan.

Next, sprinkle on your butterscotch chips…

…chocolate chips*…

*I’ve beaten this horse to death, but I swear by Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips. And no, they don’t pay me to say that. But if they want to throw me some free chips, I wouldn’t object!

…chopped nuts (I used walnuts)…

…and flaked coconut.

Now here comes the tricky part. First, get in a fight with your can opener over a can of sweetened condensed milk. Eventually let the can opener win. Go down to your tool bench and grab a hammer and a chisel. Tell that can who its daddy is. Go to store. Buy a new can opener.

Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the bars. I found a small pitcher made this easier, probably because the can was hacked to death.

Try to distribute the milk as evenly as possible.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting (I sped this process up by letting them cool slightly and then placing in the fridge. I’m antsy like that).

Marvel at the sweet, crunchy textures.

I love how the graham cracker base seems to meld with all of the other ingredients—the chocolate, butterscotch, nuts and coconut seem to sink in to form one unique flavor. Perhaps this is where the “magic” moniker stems from?

If you need a fast, easy dessert for a party or a bake sale, there is nothing faster or easier than these. And with their addictive sweet layers, they’ll fly off the plate like…dare I say it? Magic.

-RDG

Paula Deen’s Five Layer Bars, from Food Network

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 14 graham crackers whirred in a food processor, if you don’t have the boxed crumbs)
  • 1 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Press into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle pecans, chips and coconut on top. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over the mixture and bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely and cut into bars.

an announcement…and a list

I’ve given hints aroused suspicions here and there, but here it is quite officially: this family is expanding. And so is my waistline. But not from eating this or this.

I’ve gone and gotten myself knocked up again. We wanted our kids to be close together in age, and that they will be: Lucy will have just turned 2 when new baby arrives. I would be terribly excited and jumping up and down if I were able to muster more than a smile. This pregnancy has been wicked from the get-go and I’m just hoping to survive the next several months and make it to the good part. All those women who say that they love pregnancy, that they feel beautiful for the miracle that is growing inside of them, that their hair is shinier and their teeth are whiter, well….those women can kiss my expanding booty. I’m the type that prefers babies on the outside.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly grateful to be pregnant at all—so many women never have the opportunity. I have excellent prenatal care. I’m healthy. The baby is healthy. We are so very blessed.

But for a quick moment I’m allowing myself a pity party and complaining about my cankles and never-ending sleepiness. So I’ve come up with a list to share with you all about my condition and how it has hindered this little blog o’ mine.

10 reasons why it sucks to be pregnant as a food blogger:

1. I don’t feel like eating. Which, when you write a food blog, is sort of an essential part of the blogging experience. Take away cocaine, hallucinogenics and the Hell’s Angels, and you’ve left Hunter S. Thompson with very little to write about.

2. When I do feel like eating, I crave something weird and complex that I don’t have the ingredients for.

3. By the time I gather the ingredients, prep them, make the dish, photograph it, and sit down to eat it, the thought of eating it makes me want to hurl.

4. Then I hurl.

5. You can’t blog about hurling.

6. Going through the photos of what I cooked, and trying to blog about it, makes me want to hurl.

7. See #4.

8. The time I would usually spend blogging I now need to spend napping, trying to nap, hurling, or trying to nap while hurling (which is never very successful).

9. I miss spending quiet time inventing recipes and chatting with you all on this lovely blog of mine. You’re one of the best parts of my day. I’m serious.

10. My jeans don’t fit. This is unrelated to blogging. Just saying.

I have to keep reminding myself of the light at the end of the tunnel.

First snuggles.

First personality.

First gap teeth and first peanut butter smiles.

Lots more snuggles.

And first “how the hell did you get so dirty?”s.

Thanks for listening to my down-in-the-dumps rant. I promise I’ll get better. And once the morning sickness subsides I’ll be back to a few recipes a week. In the meantime, I’ll be elegantly dining on Saltines and Gatorade. And that, my friends, is not worth blogging about.

-RDG

buffalo chicken mac and cheese

In the famous words of Jessica Simpson, “I’m sorry. I don’t eat buffalo.” Well Jess, I don’t either. It’s a tad gamey for my taste. But buffalo chicken? Wings drenched in a spicy, smoky, unnaturally orange sauce? Bring ‘em on by the plateful. Give me a cold beer, some celery and a side of blue cheese dressing and you’ll see one happy (and very messy) gal.

Trouble is, buffalo wings alone do not a meal make, no matter how much I wish they would. They’re especially not a meal for the family, and completely wrong for a toddler who thinks bones are for chewing and sticking up one’s nose. Luckily, word on the street is that folk are combining this spicy treat with another comfort food of fattening proportions: mac n cheese. Now that is a meal I can get behind. Buffalo chicken + mac n cheese = dinner.

Honestly, when I first spied this recipe from Food Network, I thought it might be a tad overkill. Homemade mac n cheese all on its own can sometimes be too rich for my blood*. So when attempting my own version, I decided to lighten it up a tad by using whole milk instead of half-and-half, reduced fat cheddar, and light sour cream.

*Raise your hand if you laughed and called me a hypocrite right there. After all, I am the one who makes bacon cinnamon rolls. My blood is probably half butter by now.

The result was still incredibly rich, but I didn’t feel so bad about its creamy noodles passing my lips, or the lips of my family. I also tweaked a few other small details: I omitted the panko (because I don’t believe in crunchy mac toppings), decreased the butter, and left out the parsley and garlic (because, quite honestly, I was being lazy).

Creamy cheese sauce, shredded chicken spiked with buffalo sauce, crunchy bits of celery, and a layer of blue cheese. Serve with some celery sticks or a salad topped with blue cheese dressing and your family will be doing an interpretive dance in your honor.

I’ll stop talking now. You’ve got to go. You must get to the grocery to snatch up the ingredients for this (slightly) sinful dish.

And Jessica Simp, I think you’d make an exception for this buffalo. But a quick FYI: it’s buffalo chicken mac n cheese. Not buffalo chicken of the sea. But I’m sure you already knew that.

-RDG

Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese, Slightly Lightened adapted from the Food Network

printable recipe

If you love the spice of buffalo sauce, feel free to add a bit more! If you can’t multitask (I can’t), and your macaroni gets stuck together while waiting in the colander, run warm water over it to un-stick before using.

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken (I bought a grocery store rotisserie bird to use)
  • 3/4 cup buffalo sauce (Frank’s is a widely available and tasty brand—look for it on the condiment aisle)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%—nonfat might make the sauce too runny)
  • 1 lb reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2? cubes
  • 8 oz pepper jack cheese (reduced fat if you can find it), shredded
  • 2/3 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease or spray a 9×13? baking dish. Boil the macaroni in a large pot of salted water just until al dente, about 6-7 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and add 1/2 cup of the buffalo sauce. Cook 1 minute more then remove from heat.

3. In another pan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and mustard until smooth. Whisk in the milk and remaining 1/4 cup buffalo sauce and stir until thickened, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the cheddar and pepper jack cheeses until melted, then stir in the sour cream until smooth.

4. Spread half of the pasta into the bottom of the baking dish, top with the chicken mixture, then top with the remaining pasta. Pour the cheese sauce over as evenly as possible (a large ladle works nicely). Sprinkle with the blue cheese and set the entire baking dish on top of a cookie sheet before placing in the oven (the sauce may bubble and dribble out the sides of the pan). Bake until bubbly and slightly browned on top, about 30-35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before inhaling.


project empowering motherhood

Meet Stephanie. No, not above. That’s my Lucy. Scroll down.

Stephanie is a fellow mom, blogger, foodie, and creator of the cute-as-all-get-out site Confessions of a City Eater.

She recently began a project called “Empowering Motherhood” in which she interviews moms about, well…motherhood. Some of the answers are heartbreaking. True. Gross. Laugh-out-loud funny. And, above all, universal.

Check out Stephanie’s site to read my interview, read others’ responses, and dig into some of her delish recipes like homemade hot chocolate and loaded baked potato soup.

Mad props, Ms. Diaz. You’re one amazing gal. And if you give me your secret as to how you blog so much, I’ll bake you a cake. I can’t seem to manage 3 posts a week anymore.

-RDG

p.s. The pic of Lucy above may be the saddest shot ever. Doesn’t she look like a begging basset hound? I couldn’t resist sharing.

new york cheesecake with sour cherries

This weekend, I needed New York cheesecake. I craved it’s tall, creamy filling and crisp graham-crackery crust. I wanted it chilled and topped with tart fruit. I wanted to eat it with my feet soaking in Lucy’s kiddie pool, my sunglasses on and a glass of iced tea by my side. Trouble is, I don’t live in New York. And the most tolerable version I’ve found comes from a grocer who was out of stock. So I braved my 80° kitchen and set out to make my own version.

I’m terribly picky when it comes to cheesecake. For starters, it can’t contain any nuts in the crust—I don’t want a toothy crunch, although I’m okay with a small amount of hazelnuts crushed on top. It can’t use marscapone or ricotta or any other cheese other than cream cheese (marscapone seems to make it saggy, ricotta creates a grainy filling). It can’t be flavored, except for optional toppings. If it contains any amount of almond extract I will throw it out the window of a moving vehicle. But I suppose that goes for any baked good in my life—almond extract is my kryptonite.

So after much research and many recipes read, I was prepped and ready to make this version from Smitten Kitchen. It looked perfect: cream cheese only, a straight-up graham cracker crust, and a no-nonsense baking method that didn’t require a water bath. The only thing that could mess it up was me. And I did a superior job of fouling up this cheesecake.

I preface my follies by saying that the filling was simply perfect. Creamy and not at all fluffy. Dense but smooth. Cold, rich, and lightly (lightly) enhanced with the scent of lemon. For the topping, I used some sour cherries that I had left over in the freezer from this incredible pie and simply upped the sugar by 1/4 cup.

My troubles came with the crust. Deb’s recipe calls for 8 ounces of graham crumbs, and I had a fresh, unopened bag of 14.5 ounces. I thought I could estimate by simply pouring in a little over half of the bag. I overdid it and ended up with a bad graham crumb to butter ratio. It made the crust a bit too dry, harder to pry from the sides of the pan, and more prone to overcooking.

My other trouble was the spring-form pan I was using. For the most part, I adore my dark, nonstick bakeware. It generally allows you to shorten the baking time on most recipes. But on a few rare occasions I have cursed it and attempted to run it over with my Toyota. This was one of those occasions. The crust cooked more quickly than the filling, so I ended up with a perfectly baked filling and a burned crust. I could also blame my wonky electric oven, but a cheesecake pan is simply much easier to crush under the wheels of your car.

Crust issues aside, this cheesecake was unimaginably good. I will be making it again, over and over, to get it right. I hesitantly served it at our outdoor movie night to our best pals, where it was well received (after I warned folk to avoid the burned bits of crust). Deb, thank you for your perfect recipe. Self, try not to eff it up next time.

-RDG

You can find the recipe for Smitten Kitchen’s New York Cheesecake right here.

A few notes:

  • Use real graham crackers and a food processor. Don’t try to estimate ounces from a store-bought bag of graham crumbs (*kicks self in shin*).
  • If you use sour cherries for the topping, add an additional 1/4 cup sugar to the recipe. I cooked mine from frozen and they turned out just fine.
  • I omitted the orange zest and used slightly less lemon zest than called for, and I could still definitely taste the lemon. If you don’t like the hint of citrus, omit the zest(s).