Happy Halloween! Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars for a Grown-Up Treat

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Some kids, like my sister, never get into the spirit of Halloween. I, on the other hand embraced it. Well, at least part of it. I wasn’t into the scary, creepy aspects of Halloween, but always loved the fun childlike excitement of costumes, carving pumpkins and decorating the house. But I think mostly I embraced it for the candy.

Oh, how I loved all those fun-sized candy bars. There was even a house in the neighborhood that once gave away full-size candy bars and I made sure to visit that house well into high school, just in case they did it again. As for that house that gave out pennies? Let’s just say I wouldn’t have gone there if it wasn’t my friend’s house. There’s always one that just doesn’t get it.

Choc PB Bars: Mix shortbread cookie ingredients Choc PB Bars: Peanut butter filling Choc PB Bars: add sugar to peanut butter mixture

My favorite candies were Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (NOT the pieces), M&Ms, Nestle Crunch, Starbursts and Skittles. Now I find most of these way too cloying in that fakely sweet way, so I decided to make my own adult version of my ultimate favorite: the peanut butter cup, but in a bar form.

This recipe for chocolate peanut butter bars starts with chocolate shortbread that is topped with peanut butter frosting and covered in melted semi-sweet chocolate. The crumbly cookie bottom, creamy and slightly salty peanut butter layer, and rich chocolate coating makes for a delicious treat.

Choc PB Bars: chocolate shortbread Choc PB Bars: spread peanut butter mixture over shortbread Choc PB Bars: pour melted chocolate over bars

Here’s the recipe:

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Curried Cauliflower Coconut Soup

Curried Cauliflower Coconut Soup

Curried Cauliflower Coconut Soup

A year ago I would’ve told you I hated cauliflower, but the truth was I didn’t understand it. But that changed last winter when I challenged myself to find the brighter side of cauliflower, a side different from the mushy cauliflower mess served in elementary school lunches mixed with overcooked and tasteless carrots and broccoli. And it turned out cauliflower that I did like cauliflower with it fairly neutral astringent taste that works in many cooking methods, although my favorites are roasted and pureed.

Cauliflower Soup: Sweat aromatics Cauliflower Soup: puree Cauliflower Soup: add spices

This soup takes the pureed route. The cauliflower is simmered with onions, garlic and ginger in a chicken broth-coconut milk liquid. Once soft, the mixture is pureed into to a silky smooth texture and seasoned with spices. And voila, a beautiful, smooth, subtly spicy soup with a hint of sweetness from the coconut milk.

Curried Cauliflower Coconut Soup

Curried Cauliflower Coconut Soup

Oh, and did I mention it’s healthy and nutritious?

Here’s the recipe:

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Kabocha Squash Stuffed with Caramelized Onions, Spinach & Mushrooms

Stuffed Kabocha

Stuffed Kabocha

I’m kicking myself. Yes, you read that right. I am sitting here on the couch kicking myself for being dumb.

Well, I would be if I hadn’t quit yoga a few months ago and could actually move my leg that way. But rest assured, mentally I’m kicking myself.

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Why you ask? It’s because more than a year ago  – precisely 1 years and 28 days – one of my favorite food writers posted a recipe on her blog that I’ve been unable to get out of my mind. This entire time I’ve thought about the recipe but never actually got around to making it until this weekend. And it was incredible!

Last fall Dorie Greenspan wrote what she called a “recipe in progress” for pumpkin packed with bread and cheese. It looked great, all gooey and oozy and warm and hearty. But she called it a recipe in progress because it was really about applying the concept of stuffing a hallowed pumpkin or gourd with countless combinations of ingredients.

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While Dorie’s recipe used cheese and cream, my lactose intolerant self decided to limit the dairy to just a small amount of cheese. In its place I added a bunch of sauteed vegetables to the filling for a well-rounded main course or all-in-one side dish.

Instead of a pumpkin I used kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin. It has a flavor similar to pumpkin but the flesh is a bit drier, which works well in this preparation, and has a green skin that is beautiful in contrast with the vivid orange interior.

Oh, and did I mention this stuffed squash is incredibly healthy? Kabocha is rich in beta carotene, iron, Vitamin C and potassium, and vegetables like spinach and mushrooms add calcium and other nutrients.

Kabocha

Here’s my take on a recipe in progress: Read more of this >>

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Oven Roasted Beet Chips & Cumin Yogurt Dip

Oven Roasted Beet Chips with Cumin Yogurt Dip

Oven Roasted Beet Chips with Cumin Yogurt Dip

I bought the most amazing striped beets at the farmer’s market last week but had a horrible time trying to decide what to do with them. I wanted to be sure to preserve the beautiful pattern, so boiling or pureeing the beets was out of the question, but I also didn’t want to eat them raw in a salad. Eventually, I decided the best option would be to make them into a chip that I could serve with a simple dipping sauce.

Obviously, the best way to make a crispy chip from a vegetable is to fry it in oil, but I was looking for a healthier option so I oven-roasted the beets instead. But of course this lead to a debate over the best way to roast beet slices. I tried many methods including boiling the beets with the skin on before slicing, peeling and roasting raw, roasting at 350°F, and roasting at a very low 225°F. However, I found the best results were to roast the beets raw at a moderate 325°F.

Beet Chips04 Beet Chips05 Beet Chips06

It turned out that boiling the beets, then peeling, slicing and roasting them didn’t do anything to speed up the cooking time and the colors bled a bit more. As for cooking temperatures, 350°F was a bit too high and caused some of the beet edges to char while the centers were still soft, and roasting at 225°F for a long period resulted in a chewy, dried-fruit consistency. Roasting at 325°F made for a perfectly crispy and crunchy chip that was cooked evenly.

Then, to serve the chips I whipped up a simple cumin yogurt dipping sauce using fat-free Greek yogurt, dried cumin, honey, lemon juice and a sprinkle of powdered sumac. In the end, my little experiment turned into a healthy and refreshing snack.

Oven Roasted Beet Chips with Cumin Yogurt Dip

Oven Roasted Beet Chips with Cumin Yogurt Dip

But did I mention that the beets brought a “friend” home with them? Uh, yeah. This little slug hid in the beets and somehow survived my refrigerator for more than a week. He was a hearty little bugger. Oh well, that’s the price you sometimes pay for buying local and organic, but produce of this quality is worth a little extra “protein” once in a while.

Here’s the recipe:

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“Quick” Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Like everyone who saw Julie & Julia when it premiered in August, I sat in the movie theater with my mouth watering over the boeuf bourguignon, a rich, beef stew featured in the movie. The only problem was it was August, and the dish was a rich, beef stew, not exactly light summer fare.

So I made a mental note to revisit boeuf bourguignon when the weather became cooler. And then, when the weather did turn cold a few weeks ago, the dish completely slipped my mind. That is until Saturday when Chris from Pantry Raid posted about her experiences making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Boeuf Bourg01 Boeuf Bourg02 Boeuf Bourg03

And just like that I had to make it. The only problem was Julia’s version was a bit too “potchked,” or fussy, for me at that moment. And it took too long, about 4 hours, and I was getting hungry. So instead I turned to a source I knew Julia would approve of, a new book I’d won by participating in a Julia Child blog contest: The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones, the editor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking who is credited with introducing Julia Child to America. There’s even a great scene in the movie where Judith’s character makes Julia’s recipe for boeuf bourguignon, propelling her to publish the book. Let’s just say this is a woman who knows her boeuf bourguignon.

I really love the concept of this book. Like the title suggests, it’s about cooking for one and using leftovers to create other meals. Many of the recipes are a bit too old-fashioned for my tastes, like minced chicken on toast, but there are also some great ideas that have inspired me to approach about my cooking differently, especially because like Judith I often cook for one.

Boeuf Bourg04 Boeuf Bourg05

Judith’s version of boeuf bourguignon is less fussy than Julia’s with no straining or cleaning of the pot involved, fewer ingredients, and takes about half the time. It also makes a much smaller portion, although I did go ahead and double the recipe because I’m a huge fan of leftovers.

The recipe was fantastic. In just two hours I had a wonderfully rich, tender, and fragrant dish that warmed me and my apartment. The only significant change I made was to simmer the cooking liquid separately at the end to make it more flavorful and give the finished dish a better mouthfeel because a thickened broth clings better to the meat.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Here’s the recipe:

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