Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Go-To Peanut Butter Chocolate Blondie Recipe & Gearing Up for Summer

Next week is the last week of school for my kids and I am trying to gear up for summer.  I have to admit that at this point in the calendar, after an intensely packed school year for me and my kids, I just want to sit on the porch, read books and drink lemonade for the next 2 months.

However, the reality is that my gang needs me to be a cruise director rather than a checked-out mom.   I start to have flash backs to Julie McCoy from The Love Boat.  (Or was this before your time?)
Thinking through and trying to create a strategy for managing (and maximizing) long summer days has become an annual ritual of mine. As I looked back at my post this week last year, I saw that I wrote about this AND the Chewy M & M bars that I had just discovered.  I can't tell you how many times I have made them in the past year, since that post! They were on heavy rotation in my kitchen.

Recently, I have added another bar cookie to my Go-To list. A few weeks ago, I was looking to make an easy but delicious dessert for small group in honor of Caroline's love of peanut butter and chocolate.  I found this one online, and it far exceeded my hopes.  It is gooey, just the right amount of peanut buttery and chocolatey, and is a bar which I love - as it is so easy!  It's made with things I had on hand, and is a cinch to whip up.

On days when I need to make a treat for a party, or a picnic, or a get together this summer, these Peanut Butter Chocolate Blondies are a good bet.

(I found the recipe on a blog and it made a small batch- which I wasn't expecting because her pan was rectangular and it threw me off- since I am used to a small batch being in a 9 X 9 pan.  I quickly doubled the recipe and made the large batch (9 X13 pan) for the crowd I was serving.  I have included ingredient measurements below for both sizes, as you might need the big for a crowd or might want a small batch if you are just making them for yourself- as they are hard to stop eating!)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Blondies
borrowed from The Sweet Talker (who borrowed from Two Tiny Kitchens)

(for a 9 X 13 pan)
1 cup peanut butter butter (I used natural- it made them nice and gooey; and you can use
 creamy or crunchy- your preference!)
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 cups chocolate chips


(or for an 8 X 8 pan …so you don’t have to do the division J)
1/2 cup peanut butter (I used natural- it made them nice and gooey; and you can use creamy
 or crunchy- your preference!)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease baking pan.
In a medium bowl, cream together peanut butter and softened butter. 
Gradually blend in the brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, and vanilla; mix until fluffy. 
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture until well blended.  
Fold in chocolate chips.
Bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven, or until the top springs back when touched. Don’t over bake!
Cool, and cut into squares.

Of course, feel free to add in other treats- like coconut, or Reese’s pieces, or M & Ms, or nuts into the batter.

So, in addition to making these bars and eating them, I'm working on a summer strategy for reading, projects, filling our days with productive, seasonal, relaxing and connecting things.  I am asking my friends with kids for good ideas to help with this. I used a punch card system last year that worked pretty well for my people.  My sister is working on this list of "optional activities" for summer that I am trying to figure out how to best mobilize into action.

I'm looking for a "summer central" type of spot in my house to post our plans/ideas/etc. Maybe the laundry room…or clear off the refrigerator and do it there?

We are also making a Summer Bucket List of things we want to do this summer including:
making lots of variety of popsicles and ice cream (more posts to come on those),
taking hikes to different trails/parks in the area,
pick fruit from local farms, just to get started.

I have all of these pipe dreams of learning to embroidery, learning how to play Rook as a family, working lots of jigsaw puzzles, doing house projects, and the list goes on.

And I have created my annual summer book stack- ones I need and/or want to read this summer.  I don't know how much of a dent I will make on this, but I am sure gonna try.

(I welcome any of your suggestions for managing the chaos of summer with kiddos!)

Regardless of how we end up ordering our days this summer, one thing is for sure: things will be busy in the  kitchen - with lots of hungry eaters and more time to get creative and try new things! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rice & Bean Salad

Do you ever have a recipe that you adore and make all the time, and then for some reason or another it fades out of your repertoire? And then one day you think of it, or see the recipe and say to yourself, “Why haven’t I made this lately? I love this dish!”  And then you make it again and it returns to your rotation of frequently-made-dishes.  This recipe is one of those. 

In the '90s I worked at a lovely stationery store, following college graduation and during graduate school.  I learned so much during those years from the incredible team of women that I worked alongside.  Things that became part of me.  They were a classy bunch (much more refined than I) and yet they loved me and mentored me in many ways.  Molly, a very deliberate and sophisticated lady, was our manager.  She oftentimes would pick up a prepared dish at Bread & Company or The Food Company (which was across the street) to have for lunch or dinner.  One of her go-to dishes was this Rice Salad.  I couldn’t afford to pick up food like that, but I was eager to taste, and then attempt to reproduce things at home.  It was so tasty: zingy, fresh, hearty, and so yummy! 
this is the "recipe" I've had in my recipe box all
these years- the list of ingredients from
Molly's salad

Molly had this brilliant trick. She would walk in, put her personal belongings away, place her food in the fridge, along with her car keys, and be about her day- knowing that she wouldn’t get past the door to head home without remembering her food.  I took note of this ritual and have adopted it in my own life. It's fool proof!

I sometimes wonder (in my very analytical mind) if I could untangle the web of my life and retrace the origins of my philosophies, habits, ideas, and even recipes - what all of the sources would be.  We have each adopted a multitude of things from countless people along our paths- which make us who we are!

If we live with our eyes open, our hearts receptive and our minds curious- we are capable of being shaped by the people around us.  Some things repel or just pass by, but some things stick forever. 

This dish was one of those things that became a staple for me and then went by the wayside and now is coming back. 

1 1/2 cups brown rice- prepared as directed on package
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes- sliced in half
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (or less if you prefer)
bottled Italian dressing - start with 1/2 cup and add more if needed 

Prepare rice.
My sister and brother-in-law gave us this rice cooker a
few Christmases ago- it is a kitchen tool he has used
that was new to our family.  We use it all the time
now.  It does the work for you, and you can focus on
the rest of the recipe. 
In the meantime, chop tomatoes and green onions. 
Drain and rinse black beans.
Gently toss together rice, beans, tomatoes and onions. 
Add feta.  Toss together.
Add Italian dressing a little at a time, folding in, and adding enough to lightly coat the salad and to your liking.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.

This dish is great because it only takes a few minutes to put together and it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.  It is great cold or warmed.  It is delicious as a side dish with a piece of grilled meat, or as your main dish. It’s lovely for lunch or dinner.

I decided to use brown rice, to make it even healthier- though not as pretty, in my opinion. It's a recipe you can play around with and find the balance of ingredients you like.  

I made it recently and my girls gobbled it up!  (If you remember, my son is still working through his bean-phobia).  In fact, Lainey asked me this week if I would make it again because she "LOOOVEs it".  Music to my ears!

This was my lunch the other day as I was grading my last batch of exams.  
It was the perfect spring lunch for me.  A crisp sliced apple and a bowl of Rice & Bean Salad. Quick, tasty and filling!