Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brownie Bottom Coconut Bars & Honoring MLK

For about 8 years my family has sought to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday weekend.
We talk about the life and work of Dr. King, and we think about what we can do in our lives to carry on the work for equality and dignity for all people that he and his colleagues did. I posted HERE about this tradition. As my kids are getting older, I want to think of some even more significant things we can do for this holiday.

I always make a treat that somehow incorporates chocolate and vanilla to represent racial integration and togetherness.  I have made cookies and cakes of various sorts.  Like this one.

I was trying to decide what to make for this year- a new recipe, one we've done in the past, a variation on a standard.  But when I was looking for another recipe in a stack of my old Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazines I found this recipe for Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars.  I have had the recipe in my torn out magazine pages for years but have never made them.  I knew they would have to be good since they are brownie on the bottom and coconut macaroon on the top!  I decided MLK weekend would be a good time to make them, with their black and white togetherness.  They are simple to make and they are really, really good!

They are pretty and feel special.  All of my coconut-loving people gobbled them up.

Brownie-Bottom Coconut Bars 
from martha stewart's Every Day Food magazine

Chocolate Brownie Base:
1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Coconut Topping:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 package (7 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut (1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling)

For the brownie:
Preheat oven to 375˚
Line a 9 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving a slight overhang; butter bottom and sides of foil (not overhang)
Place butter in a large microwave-safe bowl; melt in microwave.
Add sugar and salt; whisk to combine.
Whisk in egg, then cocoa and flour until smooth.
Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake just until sides begin to pull away from edges of pan, 10 to 15 minutes (do not over bake). Let cool slightly while preparing coconut topping.  Keep oven on for topping.

For the coconut topping:
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla.  Gently mix in flour and coconut (except 1/2 cup reserved for sprinkling).
Drop mounds of mixture over chocolate base; spread and pat in gently and evenly with moistened fingers.  Sprinkle with reserved 1/2 cup coconut.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely in pan.  Lift cake from pan,  peel off foil, and cut into 24 bars.

It makes 24 small bars- but they are rich- so being small is good.

In our city Regal Cinemas and Metro Public Schools teamed up to offer free admission to students to see SELMA in the theaters.  We went on Saturday and it was very impactful.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend that you do.

It was hard  to watch.  It was emotional  and painful  and honest  and hard.  Lainey and I held hands most of the time and cried a lot during the film.  It was really important though.

It is a very well done film and a raw look at the difficulty of a tumultuous and unjust time in our country and the bravery of some amazing people. I think we need to know and remember and in doing so deepen our compassion for the not-so-long-ago events that continue to have ripple effects today.

Thanking God for the courage, clarity and spiritual strength of Dr. King and his comrades this weekend and praying that we might be people of conviction and action like them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Last Call for Cranberries: Cranberry Orange Bread

Cranberries are so lovely.  They add such zip, color and flavor to recipes!  November and December are the main cranberry months, but if you look quick you can get some in January!  I always stock up for the following 10 months!

I am always looking for a great quick bread recipe that can be thrown together easily for breakfast or to take somewhere. This recipe is a favorite- chock full of cranberries, orange juice and zest and chopped walnuts!  (As for Cranberry muffins these, from King Arthur Flour, are my all-time favorites - though they require a little more time to prepare with more chopping and measuring than this Cranberry bread).  

My friend Emily shared this bread recipe with me a few years ago.  I can't even remember when or in what context, but I printed it out, tucked it in a notebook, and have reached for it many times through the years.

Emily continually inspires me.  She has an lovely blog Celebrate Today, where she shares about her daily life and beckons the reader to celebrate each day- in grand and small ways.   You can check it out HERE.

This week she wrote about her morning run - seeing the sun rise (inspiring, I told you) and she noted seeing the crocus flowers starting to peek through the ground, signaling that spring is coming soon.  I needed to hear that.  I needed the reminder that these gray days will end and there will be green grass, blooming blossoms, and sunny days again. This gives me hope. 

In the meantime as I wait for those spring days, I am going to use my cranberries, and try to embrace these days.

2 cups all purpose flour (or combination of whole wheat/ all-purpose or whole grain pastry flour)
1 cup sugar (or a little less)
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
½ cup orange juice
grated peel (the zest) of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 cup fresh cranberries (or frozen)
½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts (depending on how nutty you like it)

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In another bowl, beat egg. Add orange juice, peel, butter and hot water.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Gently fold in cranberries and walnuts.  Spoon into greased loaf pan (or mini loaf pans).
Bake at 325 degrees for 60 minutes (if using large loaf pan- reduced if using small pans) or until toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. 
Cool for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack.

I made it a couple of weeks ago and doubled the recipe.  I baked 1/2 in my mini-loaf pans to slice and take to church and the other 1/2 in a large loaf pan, which I wrapped up, froze and took to the Joneses when we went to visit during the holidays. 

It freezes well, thaws easily, travels well, and is good for breakfast, lunch, or for snacking!

We got to enjoy it for breakfast at their home with omelets, yogurt and homemade granola.  Delicious! 

While the cranberry bread was baking, I couldn't resist making a jar of cranberry sauce with the rest of the cranberries in the bag.  I wrote about making cranberry sauce HERE. So easy, pretty, and delicious on sandwiches, with dinner, or in my yogurt for breakfast!

Seize the cranberries while they last, and hold out hope that spring is coming soon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Chicken Chili on a Chilly January Day

I hope you are having a great start to the new year.  Choosing Happiness is the goal that we set for this new year.  On our road trip home on New Year's Day, Dave and I did some reflecting on 2014 and vision casting for 2015 and realized that last year was more of "survival" year in many respects and we want this year to be marked with more joy, happiness, play and laughter!  I have determined that my motto for this year is: "Complain Less, Hug More, Choose Happiness!"  We'll see how it goes.  So far, I already feel more hopeful.  I realize that when I extend love (via hugs and other extensions of generosity and compassion), it's hard not to be happier.

I'm glad that the bleak, cold, grey days are more than 1/2 way over. In the meantime it helps if I look for the wintery beauty in the midst of the bleak.  And I find great comfort with a piping hot bowl of soup!

 I have made this Chicken Chili several times over the past month.  During the winter, I really just want to eat soup, sliced apples and crusty bread everyday.  Healthy and Comforting!
This recipe has become a new favorite in our house.  I'm delighted to have another soup that is 5 for 5 at my table!  
This is so very easy to make.  In fact, there aren't very many photos because… there is not much to photograph, unless you want photos of me opening cans and stirring.  
Also, this soup is hard to capture in photos because the good stuff tends to sink to the bottom of the bowl and pictures don't do it justice.  
Every year our Social Work department has a chili supper and the faculty/staff provide crock pots of Chili for students to enjoy.  Patsy always makes this Chicken Chili and I always choose it.  It is delicious!  I got the recipe years ago, but was reluctant to make it for the family because my girls are sensitive to spicy (sad!), and my boy has a bean aversion (really sad!).  But Dave loves chili and wishes that I would make it more. So, I decided to make it with mild salsa and reduce the number of beans to accommodate my kids and give it a go.  It was very well received!  I was happily surprised!  It wasn't too spicy and Asher had just come from a 2 hour wrestling practice and was famished and therefore wasn't too picky with the beans!  Progress is being made in the bean situation!
It is a Weight Watchers recipe originally, so it is healthy and is simple and versatile. 
I roast chicken tenderloins in the oven while I "prepare" the rest of the soup.  (The original recipe says to boil them but I prefer the roasted flavor.)  It only takes about 25 minutes to roast and then I tear it apart and add it to the soup.  

I serve it with sour cream and shredded cheese, like the recipe recommends, but I also add some slices of lime, tortilla chips and diced avocado.  OH MY!

I have shared the recipe with a couple of friends and decided that I needed to post it to share with even more friends.  It's too great to not pass along!

Chicken Chili

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or I used about 12 tenderloins)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 jars (16 oz. each) of picante salsa
49 oz. chicken broth
48 oz. Northern white beans
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder

Roast chicken in oven:  Preheat oven to 400˚.  Drizzle or brush chicken with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and garlic powder and cumin, if you'd like).  Place on baking sheet, place it in the oven and bake until fully cooked.

Mix all other ingredients: salsa through garlic powder.  Shred cooked chicken and add to the pot.  Bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes.  Reduce heat and simmer slowly until time to serve.  (You can also put it in the crockpot in the morning and let it cook on low all day).

Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, slices of lime (for squeezing), tortilla chips and diced avocado.  And if you want to turn up the heat, you can splash some hot sauce in your bowl!

Another new year's goal is that I hope I will be able to blog more frequently this year.  Last year was much less often than I would choose (thus, the year of surviving). December was so full and blogging didn't happen after all of the grading and closing down of the semester, and then Christmasing and New Year's travel.  But I sure did cook a lot last month!  And I made some really yummy things, which I photographed for the time when I can post them here and share the recipes.  Some will probably have to wait until next year, as they are Christmasy, but others, I will share promptly - like this Chicken Chili.   
Enjoy! Wishing you the happiest new year!