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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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.

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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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Savoring Fall’s Bounty

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This photo is why I love shopping at the farmer’s market, specifically Chicago’s Green City Farmer’s Market. It’s not about getting bargains on fruits and vegetables – in fact I often pay more than grocery store prices – it’s about connecting with the food, where it comes from and often person who grew it.

Take the candy striped beet pictured above. I met the farmer and asked him about his variety of  beets. And with the passion of someone who loves what he does, he gladly offered to cut a beet open for me so I could see the exquisite pink and white striped interior. And isn’t it a beauty?

The farmer’s market is also where you can find squash in countless colors, sizes and varieties, unlike anything available at a store. Anyone know what this huge one is called? What about these long, thin, curly ones that look like snakes?

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Oh, and then there are these wild mushrooms that are larger than my head. They’re sold in freshly cut slices by the ounce.

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And look at these Brussels sprouts still on the stalk. While interesting to look at I couldn’t fathom getting the large stalks home so purchased a pint of spouts instead.

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I could go on about the produce all day, it’s nature at its best. Look at the size of these carrots, the varieties of chard, the brilliant colors of the tomatoes and peppers, and the centerpiece-worthy beauty of the Isaiah corn? Not to mention the bees feeding on fresh jam.

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Oh how I love visiting the farmer’s market. And while I love Autumnal flavors, I’m also quietly mourning the end of the Midwest’s short growing season. I am fortunate that the market will stick around throughout the winter at a nearby indoor location, it’s just not quite the same without these raw offerings.

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Swiss Chard & Roasted Red Pepper Turkey Meatloaf

Swiss Chard & Roasted Red Pepper Turkey Meatloaf

Swiss Chard & Roasted Red Pepper Turkey Meatloaf

Comfort food usually comes in the form of sweets or carbs for me, but one night last week I found myself craving a homey meatloaf instead. So off to the store I went to buy ground turkey (for the record I just LOVE having a grocery store right across the street) then raided my refrigerator for forgotten vegetables accumulated over the last two weeks.

That’s what’s beautiful about meatloaf, the ground meat (in this case turkey) serves as a fairly clean canvas to add, or paint, other flavors and ingredients. You can go sweet with ketchup and brown sugar, like the meatloaf I grew up eating, or make it savory as I did last week.

Turkey Meatloaf01 Turkey Meatloaf02

Here’s what I found during the raid: leek, garlic, red bell pepper, Swiss chard and a small butternut squash. The first step was to roast the red pepper because it would take the longest (about 20 minutes plus cooling time). I use the broiler method at home because I don’t have gas burners (electric, boo) and the broiler works just as well.

Next I minced the garlic, chard (separating the stems and greens first) and leeks, then sauteed them until very soft because I’m not a fan of crunchy meatloaf. Except for the top of course. A crunchy top is good but the center should be soft. After that, all that was left was to cool the vegetables then mix them with the ground turkey and other seasonings, and bake in the oven.

Turkey Meatloaf03 Turkey Meatloaf04 Turkey Meatloaf05

I did not include the butternut squash in the meatloaf, it just seemed like it would be too much. So instead I peeled, seeded and cubed the squash and roasted in in the oven with a few garlic cloves alongside the meatloaf. Instant side dish!

The best part is how healthy this turkey meatloaf is. First, I used lean ground turkey (not extra lean, I like a little fat for moisture). And second, the vegetables mixed in were extremely nutritious, especially the Swiss chard which is loaded with vitamins A and C.

And in case you haven’t heard yet, I should mention that I had a minor crisis when baking the meatloaf. Rest assured I’ll be okay in time.

Here’s the recipe:

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