Treats and Tricks: Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies

plated3Halloween is all about sweet treats and for me, that means blondies.

I don’t prepare homemade goodies for the ghosts and goblins coming to our door because we live in the city and it’s just not done for safety reasons. But these bars, individually wrapped and hand delivered to neighbors, would make an excellent Halloween treat! They would also be a welcome addition to any Halloween party and great to have on hand as sustenance for those who service trick or treaters, too!

plated 1What makes these blondies so special is the addition of warm cinnamon spice, vanilla and oats. For a while now, I’ve wanted to translate an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie into a bar and these bars are the tasty result.

This is an easy recipe which comes together in a jiffy. And while I’m not going to say that these are healthy…they do have butter, sugar and chocolate after all…they are healthier than most blondies. In the vicinity of 100 calories per bar, they’re a reasonable indulgence for those of us that need to watch such things! (Me.) Most of all, they are absolutely delicious!

To make these bars my own, I omitted some of the sugar from the traditional blondie recipes I’ve seen (holy cow, is there a lot of sugar in those recipes!), as well as some of the butter, and I used only light brown sugar. Then I added rolled organic oats and chocolate chips to the batter, along with a touch of cinnamon for warmth and a really good dose of bourbon vanilla extract to enhance the overall sweetness. The resulting deliciousness was exactly what I wanted. A tiny bit chewy from the oats, toasty caramel flavor from the sugar and butter, decadent chocolate with a hint of spice and a vanilla hit to amp up the whole bar. Perfect.

plated4These blondies certainly aren’t just for Halloween. In combination with some hot tea or a glass of milk on a cool Fall afternoon, these are delightful. Need something sweet for a summer picnic? These treats will do the trick. They freeze incredibly well, too. In fact, I plan to make more and freeze them to use for the upcoming holidays. Just take what you need out of the freezer, thaw to room temperature and plate, and you’ve got instant holiday or hostess gift, party food…or cookies for Santa.

Below are a few simple “tricks” to ensure making perfectly browned and moist blondies:

Trick number 1: Properly prepare your pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

Trick number 2: Melt your butter only until it is ALMOST melted, then take it off the heat or out of the microwave and stir it until it finishes melting. This will keep it from “cooking” the sugar when you combine it to make batter. Do NOT add hot melted butter to your batter. If you do, you may end up with hard as brick edges to your bars and an uncooked middle!

Trick number 3: Removal from the pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

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On another note, I always make a batch of my Spooktacular chili for Halloween and this year will be no exception. You can see that recipe by clicking here and it’s a great idea for Halloween parties, too. Make a chili bar and let your ghosts and goblins decorate their own chili with the fixings. Boo!

Happy Halloween!

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Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 36 small bars

Ingredients:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted* (see “trick” number 2 above)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten to combine
2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 teaspoon good quality ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

waxed paper and scissors
2 – Wire cooling racks that will fit 13″ long

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with butter. Measure and tear off a piece of waxed paper slightly larger than the 13″ length of the pan. Turn the pan over and cut the waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan right side up and fit the cut waxed paper into the bottom of the pan and butter it. (See trick number 1.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until just blended. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and stir just until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Turn out the batter into the prepared baking pan. The batter will be thick. Spread it so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. It will be a thin layer, but will rise during baking. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes and check for doneness. The bars will be done when the edges are golden brown, the blonde top is just starting to brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife gently around the outside of the bars. Place one of the wire cooling racks on top of the pan, then using oven mitts, invert the pan so that the blondies will fall onto the wire rack. You may need to give the bottom of the pan a rap. When the blondies have released, remove the pan. Gently peel the waxed paper off the bottom of the blondies. Place the second wire rack over the bottom of the blondies and invert again so that the top side of the blondies is up. Allow the blondies to cool to room temperature. Slide the blondies off onto a cutting board and cut into 36 even bars. EAT! These blondies may be frozen in small freezer bags for up to two months. Thaw before serving.

The Busy Season: Some Food, Some Fun, Some Pots

I’ve been cooking, I’ve been hiking, I’ve been working…a lot, I’ve been making clay pots, and I’ve been traveling some. And then suddenly, it’s NOVEMBER!!!

Here’s what’s been going on (click the red links for more info and recipes:

RibollitaThere was a batch Ina Garten’s fantastic Ribolitta pictured above, to warm up the cold evenings.

There was a lovely hike to Raven Cliffs Falls in the North GA mountains. Spectacular leaves that weekend.

spooktacularchiliThere was some Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili made for Halloween!

And Punkitties were carved for the big event!

There was a lovely gathering of cousins in town that called for an early batch of my most favorite gratin and holiday potato dish, Potato and Fennel Gratin. It takes a little effort, but the flavor is show stopping.

And this week I’ve been carving some clay pots for a friend’s new lifestyle website…more on that later.

And then there was work…happily lots and lots of it! So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? Are you having a fun autumn so far? Happy Weekend!

A Happy Halloween Treat!

spookycakes3BTomorrow marks the end of October, and at long last we have completed all of the work on the house—no trick! Yesterday, our heating and air systems were professionally cleaned, which resulted in two filters worth of soot and grime pulled from the systems by a huge and very loud industrial strength Hepa Filter machine. We are literally breathing easier around here now, and should have all put right and in its place soon…say, around Christmas!

But for now, it’s time to move on and enjoy one of my favorite holidays. You know it—it’s Halloween.

These hauntingly good little mini cupcakes have been my go-to standard for many a party and birthday event, and they seem very appropriate and timely as a Halloween treat to share with you. The cake itself is a light and moist pale yellow cake with pretty flecks of orange zest. And that hint of that orange flavor is a perfect foil for the deep, dark chocolate ganache frosting. Orange, black and white = Halloween…see? I made these last weekend to take to a “significant decade” birthday party for a friend, and I think they would be the hit of any Halloween party, too.

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Did I hear you say that you need a little something to warm you up before trick or treating? Check out my Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili recipe from last year. Make a pot of chili and these mini cupcakes, and let the party begin.

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Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Mini Orange Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting
(Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
Makes 4 dozen

2 cups flour (not self rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter (I stick) softened
1 cup granulated cane sugar or white sugar
1 generous tablespoon finely grated fresh orange zest
3 large eggs at room temp
1 teaspoon madagascar bourbon vanilla extract
3/4 cup whole milk

24 count mini muffin baking tin(s)
mini muffin paper baking cups (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter your muffin tin(s) and line with one mini muffin paper cup per slot, if using, or lightly flour the tins if not using paper baking cups, tapping out any excess flour.

Sift together the 2 cups of flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, butter and orange zest together with an electric mixer (fitted with a whisk attachment if using a stand mixer) on medium high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and continue to beat for another 3-5 minutes, until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture and milk alternating in 3 batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until the batter is just smooth, do not over mix.

Drop batter by teaspoonfuls into each of the 48 mini muffin tins lined with baking cups, filling each cup about 1/2- 3/4 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the tin and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one comes out clean. The cakes should stay pale in color, not golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the tins and set on a wire rack. After 5 minutes, remove the cupcakes from the tin and allow them to finish cooling completely on the wire rack before frosting.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting
Makes about 2 cups

3/4 lb. good quality bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped or in chip form
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat, bringing it to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chocolate, whisking until smooth. Allow the ganache to cool slightly, about 3-5 minutes at room temperature. Take each mini-cupcake and dip the top of the cupcake into the ganache just to the edge of the paper cup, or just to the edge of the dome of the cake. Turn the cupcake a little bit to cover the top well, lift it out of the chocolate and allow it to drip a moment, then place back on the rack to firm up. Repeat with the remaining cupcakes until all are frosted. Allow the cupcakes to sit at room temperature until the ganache firms up, about an hour or so. You can enjoy these now, or they will keep at room temperature for a day, or carefully stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.

You can also decorate them if you please with purchased decorating icing, or make your own very quickly (as I did) combining a tablespoon of softened butter, a cup of powdered sugar, two or three drops of vanilla extract and just enough milk mixed together to make a smooth icing consistency. If you plan to color the icing, do so now. Place the icing in a piping bag with a tip, or into a plastic bag and cut off the very tip of it, then slowly squeeze out the icing to decorate your cupcakes in the desired pattern. I’ve used a person’s initials, spelled out greetings and made patterns. I didn’t make spooky spiderwebs on these because they were for a birthday event, but the shape of these certainly lends itself to that.

Note: Leftover ganache is a wonderful thing! You can store it in the fridge until solid, scoop out balls of it with a melon scoop and mold quickly with your fingertips into truffles, then roll in powdered cocoa or nuts to give as gifts. You can also reheat it slow and low until just liquid again and use it as a sauce for ice cream, berries or cake. Be careful in reheating because if allowed to simmer it will break the cream and you’ll have a chocolate mess!

Our first fire in the newly rebuilt fireplace and chimney...home sweet home!

Our first fire in the newly rebuilt fireplace and chimney…home sweet home!

Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili

Boo!

It’s cool and blustery in the south, the pumpkin is carved and it’s looking very Halloweeny around here, indeed. And for me, Halloween and trick or treating always means having some spicy and spooky chili on hand to enjoy while treating the kids.

It’s a busy day, so I’ll keep this short and sweet…this chili is out of this world, muaaahaaahaaahaaa!


Some wonderful moments from one of my all time favorite “scary” movies!

As you may already know, I’m a chili-hound and this one is my new favorite chili. For a fantastic non-beef chili you can see my Holy Mole Turkey Chili right here. Or for a vegan chili, check out this Vegetarian Black Bean Chili right here. Have a safe and Happy Halloween, y’all!

A quick note to send wishes for a speedy recovery to all of my readers and their families who have or are suffering from the hurricane in the northeastern U.S. and Canada. I hope you and yours are well and safe.

Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili
Makes 10-12 Servings

1 3/4 lbs. ground beef, preferably 90/10 ratio of lean to fat
1 lb. high quality hot italian pork sausage, removed from casings (I used our local Pine Street Market)
1 1/2 Tablespoons of olive oil
2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced
1 large red onion, peeled and diced
1 each medium red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers, seeded and diced (or use an available equivalent)
12 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 large chipotle chilies in 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce, finely minced (you could substitute a fresh red or green jalapeno for the chipotle if you can’t find them, it just won’t give you the smoky flavor of chipotle)
2 fresh or dried whole bay leaves
5 heaping Tablespoons of chili powder
1 Tablespoon of ancho chili powder
2 heaping teaspoons of ground cumin
1/2 Tablespoon each of dried basil, oregano and fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of chinese five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons of kosher salt
2 cans of black beans, no salt added, drained and rinsed
1 can of red kidney beans, no salt added, drained and rinsed
1 28 oz can of whole, peeled plum tomatoes with juice, low sodium
2-14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes, low sodium, with juice
1 generous cup of dry red wine (chianti is very nice)
1 1/2 cups of water
2 Tablespoons of semi sweet chocolate chips

Grated extra sharp cheddar cheese for serving

Brown the ground beef in a large, heavy bottomed stock pot over medium to medium high heat. Drain the beef with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Set aside. Pour the fat and water out of the stock pot, and brown the sausage over medium to medium high heat. Remove the sausage from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving the fat from the sausage.

Add the olive oil to the pot with the sausage drippings and heat over medium high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic and chipotes to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the bay leaves, chili powder, ancho chili powder, cumin, basil, oregano, black pepper, chinese five spice powder, dried red pepper flakes and kosher salt to the pot, and stir for about 1-2 minutes to cook the spices…don’t allow them to burn, keep them moving! Add the tomatoes, water, wine, beans, beef and sausage to the pot and stir well, then add the chocolate chips. Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30-45 minutes, or until the chili is thick and all the flavors have blended. Fish out the bay leaves and throw them away. Serve with grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, or your favorite toppings and a little cornbread on the side. As with all chili, this is even better the next day, and it freezes well!

What to do with Leftover Loot?

The Halloween trick-or-treaters have now come and gone. Kids will awake tomorrow in a sugar coma, and the adults won’t be much better. On a few occasions, we’ve ended up with not enough candy for the big night and had to run out for more.

The “not enough” is a scary thing, but the “too much” may be even scarier. I’m normally not a big candy eater, and yet each year I find myself eating my share of Halloween candy while we wait on the treat-sters, whether or not I really want it, and the next day…I never want to see a candy bar again! Sound familiar?

Here’s a little list I’ve compiled of some creative things to do with all that leftover candy. Of course you can always just donate it, or eat it yourself…after all, Halloween only comes once a year! Continue reading

Feeling Weenie-Hallow-ish

I have to apologize to my fellow bloggers. I’m still trying to catch up with all of your lovely posts from when I was on vacation, but am enjoying reading them and replying as I get to them. Lots of great posts out there!

Halloween is fast upon us and this weekend I was feeling a bit zombie-like, since the moment I returned from vacation I put in about a 50-hour work week between Monday and Thursday to catch up. Whew.

Oh wait, maybe I meant those other kind of zombies…but I like these better! Ah, the life of the self-employed…but I’m truly fortunate to be busy! Continue reading