Monday, September 24, 2018

Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars

  Well, it's officially Fall, and whenever I think of Fall, I think of baking things with apples and pumpkin. Yes, I'm THAT guy who loves everything pumpkin, but as I've often said, if you were to ask me what my favorite dessert is, in the whole wide world, in the history of ever, it would be an apple pie with vanilla ice cream and caramel poured over the top. Hands down. Like, there's not even another dessert that comes close. As much as I love a chocolate this and a chocolate that, I'd rather go for the warm cinnamon and apples that make the whole house smell like home. So when I was looking for an apple pie something to bake, I happened upon this little gem of an idea. Yes, they're apple pie, yes, they're BARS, and yes, they have caramel drizzled over them, and not only that it's SALTED caramel. Um, YES PLEASE.
 OK, so let's look around and see if I can find the right recipe. WHOA. Who knew there would be so many variations???? I found literally no less that 10 different versions on different cooking blogs all over the place. But then, I noticed something.. many of the recipes were adapted from (or inspired by) a particular version on one of my favorite websites, a blog called Sally's Baking Addiction. It seemed to me that this was the standard against which all others were compared. So I figured, well clearly that's the one I need to make!
And as luck would have it, I just happened to have all of the ingredients to make it! Perfect! At first, it seemed like a lot, but upon closer look, there was really nothing difficult about it. The dessert has several layers, so it stands to reason that the recipe would have several steps. All very simple!
And O. M. G. can I just tell you how heavenly they smell while they're baking?  I'm not even kidding. Oh, btw, whenever I share a recipe, I usually give you a few hints and helps, but Sally has already done that for me too. So, thank you, Sally, for yet another wonderful recipe and also for the hints! I remain a huge fan! It's nice to share something from someone who clearly loves baking as much as I do!
And the next time YOU happen to be looking for an apple pie something to bake, give this one a try.
Everyone will be glad you did!

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Apple filling:
2 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced (1/4 inch thick)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed

Caramel Drizzle:
Here's the link for SBA's Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce 
or you can just do what I did..
I melted a bag of Kraft caramel bits with 1/4 cup of milk, then added a tsp of kosher salt.

 Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.

Make the crust:
Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.

Make the apple filling;
 Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.

Make the streusel:
  Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

 Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
 Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. I usually cut them into 16 smaller bars, but you can cut them into 12 larger bars. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.

Sally's Tips:
The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel. I like to use two different kinds of apples for a more complex flavor. I typically use 1 tart apple variety such as Granny Smith, and 1 sweeter apple variety such as Pink Lady. You'll end up with about 3-4 cups. A little more or less is OK, based on your preference of filling. Recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9x13 pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes and cool completely as directed in this recipe.

Joey's final thoughts:
Of course I doubled it and baked it in a 9x13 pan. Because MORE IS MORE! I used Honeycrisp apples because they're my absolute favorite. And then I added an extra little sprinkle of salt over the top. You do you!!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Blondies

  Do you ever get in one of those moods where you just feel like having a specific something??? Like, lately I've been in the mood for something peanut butter. I blame my niece, Kristin, because she's always saying "The peanut butterier the better!" So I did a quick inventory of my pantry to see what might inspire. I found a bag of white chocolate chips and immediately knew that this was the right PB pairing. It reminded me of white chocolate Reese's cups, which I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. So I did a bit of googling and found this recipe on a blog called Bake or Break. That's it!! It's sweet, it's salty, and it's everything you want in a peanut butter dessert. Also it's quick to throw together and it uses regular everyday ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Perfect!
So the next time you're feeling like something peanut butter, just whip up a batch!
They'll definitely satisfy your deepest PB cravings!

1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips or chunks
Preheat oven to 350°F. 
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer on medium speed or mixing by hand, combine the butter, brown sugar, and peanut butter. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. If using a mixer, reduce the speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into bars.


*As I've posted above, you'll notice that the original recipe includes cinnamon, but tbh, I think I may omit it next time. Now, you know how much I love cinnamon... my usual rule of cinnamon is "there's no such thing as too much", but in this instance, I think even that tiny little bit conflicts with the peanut butter flavor. I think it gets in the way of the salty sweet thing that I love so much. But they're still delicious either way! You decide!

Baking for a bigger crowd? Just double the entire recipe and bake it in a 9x13 pan. The baking time stays the same. 
Want it to be even peanut butterier? Add some peanut butter chips along with (or instead of) the white chips!
As always, when I bake any kind of brownies or dessert bars, I line the pan with parchment paper with a little extra hanging over the edges. Then after the bars are baked and cooled, I use the parchment as a sling to lift the whole batch out of the pan at once. This saves your pan from being ruined, and it lets you make nice even perfect cuts!
Btw, I added an extra tiny little pinch of salt because I love salty and sweet together. It also really brings out the flavor of the peanut butter! 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Summer Squash Cheesy Bake

 Since it's the end of summer, before I move on to all of my new Fall recipes, I figured I'd do just one more recipe involving summer squash. Many of my friends have home gardens, and by now they have TONS of zucchini, so it's not uncommon for people to ask me if I know of any new squash recipes.
 Quite a long while ago, I signed up for a daily recipe to be sent to my email from Just a Pinch Recipes. I must admit that very often I don't have time to go through every recipe that is sent to me, but every so often, one will make me stop for a minute and give a look. That's what happened here!
 This recipe is easy and simple, quick to throw together, and it's SO flavorful! Clearly this is the zucchini recipe I was looking for! It's also very much lighter than your usual cheesy casserole because it doesn't have any heavy ingredients like cream or mayonnaise.
 Now, of course, you don't have to use a cast iron skillet, as I did. I just figured it would be an easy way to go from stove top to oven without dirtying another dish. Also, as you can see, I didn't really measure the amount of cheese. I just piled it on and then baked it until was all melty and bubbly. (Melty?)
 Btw, I know this is a "summer" recipe, but you can definitely make this recipe any time of year. Since squash is readily available, this just might be a perfect new addition to your Thanksgiving menu. You could even incorporate other kinds of squash into it. Endless squashabilities!
Definitely give this one a try!

1 medium onion, chopped 
4 cloves garlic, minced 
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced 
4 large yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 tbs dried basil 
1/4 c olive oil 
1 c Parmesan cheese, freshly shredded 
1/2 -3/4 c mozzarella cheese, shredded 
salt and pepper, to taste
 Heat oven to 350ºF.
Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. 
Sauté onions and garlic in two or three tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on bottom of casserole dish. Stack zucchini and yellow squash on top of the onions, alternating vegetables. Make rows in the baking dish, standing the vegetables vertically in the pan. Continue until you fill the pan. Sprinkle squash with dried basil, salt, and pepper; then drizzle with olive oil. Cover pan with foil and bake for about 15 minutes. Uncover pan. Cover vegetables with Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for 10 minutes. Cover vegetables with mozzarella cheese and return to oven for about 5 minutes until cheese gets golden brown. 

Like I said, I didn't use a baking dish. I just sauteed the onions and garlic in a cast iron skillet, then added my rows of squash right on top, then put the whole thing into the oven. 
 I didn't follow the amounts either. I started with an onion and 4 cloves of garlic as directed, but then I added squash until it was enough to fill the pan, and added cheese as much as I like. 
Since the sliced are stacked on their sides, I chose yellow squash and zucchini that are about the same diameter, but you can always cut them to fit.
 For a little extra topping, I added some bread crumbs to a bit of grated Parmesan cheese, then sprinkled it over the top.