pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

peanut butter caramel brownies. with crunch.

yesterday afternoon josh and i went to a barbeque in our friend shira's backyard. she has her very own cherry blossom tree, all to herself, and it sprinkled the most lovely blossoms on us as we ate. by the time we left, the warm sunshine that had inspired t-shirts and sandals and even summer dresses was giving way to a cool evening breeze and the promise of rain, and shira's backyard was covered in a pink fairyland of soft petals. as was everyone's hair. and our plates. we googled cherry blossoms and their edibleness and were relieved to find that martha stewart once made a cherry blossom cake, so ingesting a few petals here and there didn't seem too harmful.
i spent the better part of yesterday morning trying to decide what to bring to the barbeque. dessert was obvious, but what kind was elusive. something fruity and springlike? some kind of cookies? or maybe cookies stuffed with candy or other cookies? ice cream or sorbet? how would i decide? then it hit me. i remembered one of the top five most indulgent desserts i've ever made. it's chocolatey. peanut buttery. chewy. crunchy. all at the same time. i'm only going to be pregnant for a little longer. now is the time to indulge.

my friend arielle, who is a wonderful and creative cook and baker, introduced me to this dessert last summer in fire island, where she showed up for the ferry bearing all sorts of treats, including these mind bogglingly terrific brownies. my mom grew up going to fire island every summer and i grew up hearing stories about this magical place with multi-colored sand, where there are no cars and everyone walks around barefoot all the time and deer roam freely. it's still like that today, and the wonderful weekend we spent there last summer was made all the more memorable because of arielle's treats. she came with an entire tin full of them. we ate them when we woke up, and for dessert after breakfast. and lunch. and for an afternoon snack. and before and after dinner and right before bed. it was like that. she left empty handed. i left inspired.

there are many recipes for them out there, and yesterday i chose to use this one, which i altered a bit and added caramel to. like i said, now is the time for me to indulge. besides, caramel can only improve something that already has chocolate and peanut butter. these brownies have everything. and then some.

ingredients for the peanut butter caramel brownies with crunch:
1 box brownie mix (and whatever ingredients the mix calls for)
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped caramel candies
1 1/8 cups chopped reece's peanut butter cups
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (i used a combination of milk and dark chocolate cause that's what i had)
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 tbs butter
1 1/2 cups rice krispies cereal (i almost got cocoa krispies. almost.)
to make the peanut butter caramel brownies with crunch:
1. mix the brownies according to the directions on the box and bake for 20 minutes in a 9 x 13 pan.
2. take the pan out of the oven and cover evenly with the peanuts, peanut butter cups, and caramel bits, then put the pan back in the oven for 5 minutes.
3. melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter however you please, and make sure they're all blended together, then add the rice krispies.
4. take the brownies out of the oven and pour the chocolate/peanut butter/rice krispies mixture over the top and spread it evenly. refrigerate for a couple hours or until the top hardens a bit, then cut 'em up and eat 'em! i recommend cutting them into small-ish bites. they're that rich. 

though we left the barbeque a bit early, we did manage to make it through one round of dessert (as if i would have left before then!) and the brownies were a hit. so were the 'smores cookies someone else brought, and the homemade chocolate babka, which was still warm when i bit into it. talk about inspiration...

Friday, April 20, 2012

the perfect windowsill

sometimes josh brings me beautiful, fragrant flowers on shabbat.
 and sometimes he brings me gifts that are even more beautiful and fragrant.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

salted chocolate toffee. matzah never tasted so good.

josh and i just took a class at a place called birthday presence.
i know.
it's a childbirth education class.
believe me. i know.
but my OB told us to take one and she's not an alarmist, read-every-book-about-pregnancy-and-childbirth-or-you'll-fail-at-this type of doctor. so we listened to her and signed up for a six part series on monday evenings.

and now for the embarrassing truth: i loved the class. and so did josh. having these couple hours every week to be together and talk seriously and openly and honestly with other soon-to-be-first-time-parents about our hopes and fears for labor and delivery was really just wonderful. and i genuinely liked the people in our class and felt entirely happy and good and comfortable with these near-strangers as we shared details of our OB visits, practiced labor positions, discussed medical interventions, and giggled about things that aren't appropriate to write about on a food blog. 

so i decided to bake something for them. the sunday before last i set out to make salted caramel brownies to share the next day. there is no combination i'm more fond of these days than chocolate and salted caramel, so i figured i couldn't go wrong. but of course i did. because the truth is, there is no single brownie that can be more delicious than the ones that come in a box. the ones that just require a little water, some oil, and a couple eggs. duncan hines, betty crocker, it doesn't matter. they're all perfectly rich and chewy and delicious. their consistency is just right and they taste the way brownies ought to. not so much with the homemade brownies, despite the fact they had salted caramel swirled throughout them. they tasted fine. a little bland and a lot dry. not nearly good enough to bring to class. to make matters worse, i had lost my opportunity because the following monday, the date of our last class, was to fall during passover so actually baking something better than bland, dry brownies was pretty much out of the question. i sulked. i pouted. i cursed. i complained. josh suggested that i take this opportunity to take a few deep breaths and go with the flow. why don't i think of it as a labor coping mechanism even, he said. josh says things like this. he stays calm. and optimistic. he looks on the bright side. it's one of the reasons i love him. it's also one of the reasons i occasionally want to stuff dry, bland brownies in his mouth.

i didn't bring them to class. when the class was over we went out for ice cream and ate it with hot fudge. it made up for the disappointment. sort of.
but the thing is, i really really did want to bake something to bring to the last class. and i couldn't let passover stand in my way! so i decided to make chocolate covered matzah toffee, which, in my opinion, is the single greatest way to consume matzah (speaking of bland and dry).

enough matzah to cover a cookie sheet
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 12 oz. bag semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
flaky sea salt

to make the toffee:
1. preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and lay the matzah down flat on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
2. melt the butter and sugar together until it reaches a boil, stir to combine. pour the combination evenly over the matzah. bake for four minutes then remove from oven.
3. evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips over the matzah and return the pan to the oven for 1 minute, then remove.
4. spread the melted chocolate chips evenly over all the matzah sheets, then generously sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
5. let it cook in the oven, then break it into small pieces and enjoy!

this is seriously the best way to consume matzah, and it was a hit in our class!

smores pie. kosher for passover style.

passover. i don't know where to begin. for many years, while my great-grandmother, a fantastic woman we all called mame, was still alive, my family frequently gathered for seders in my grandparents' dining room. it's a terrifically large room by NY standards, right off the most poorly designed kitchen of all time. my first holiday memories live in that room. i so fondly recall my grandfather's masterful presence as he led the seder. i smile at my childhood impatience waiting for what no doubt felt like hours until we could take our first bites of food. i remember the excitement of being excused from the table before the seder's end with my brothers and cousins, tearing off my frilly socks and shiny mary jane's and forcing myself to keep up with whatever (likely violent) games they were playing in the room we proclaimed our territory. my favorite game, utterly thrilling to children who grow up in houses and not apartment buildings, involved the elevator bank and hallways on entirely foreign floors. i loved passover in NY. but at some point my memories of new york seders fade and the ones led by my father at home come to life. and these memories are equally sweet. these memories begin in the kitchen, of course, where my responsibilities ranged from skinning apples for haroset, a job i loved, to peeling the shells off hard boiled eggs, a job i was terrible at and one which left me with tiny cuts all over my fingertips, to creating pretty little place cards for the 20-30 guests joining us for seder, a job i took very seriously and one that also took place in the kitchen, of course. as i got older my responsibilities grew and eventually included cooking and baking. i have loved all these seders, and still do. our house bursting with the happy noise of family and friends, my father at the helm as we all engage and argue with the text in front of us, stained with wine and smudged with salt water from years of use.
so i love passover and always have. but it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy holiday. to begin with, each year we are challenged to see ourselves as if we had been the israelites to come out of egypt, freed from bondage by god's mighty hand and outstretched arm. this is a difficult charge, and one that, though often minimized, is at the very core of the holiday celebration. and then there's the preparation for the holiday. everyone has a different standard for this, though most involve cleaning of some kind. i hate cleaning. and my memories involve not just cleaning, but schlepping, too. first we had to box up i don't know how many cabinets full of pots and pans and dishes and platters. then we had to bring all the boxes to the basement. from the basement we had to bring up the boxes of kosher for passover pots and pans and dishes and platters and unload them. add to this the constant sound of the vacuum cleaner and jake and joey and me bickering over who was helping the most/least. it was miserable. some people don't go this far for passover. they simply stop eating products made from hametz, which are forbidden during the holiday. these happy people eat their matzah on their regular dishes. (what qualifies as hametz is, of course, subject to interpretation and argument.) other people go as far as possible. i've even heard of a homes with a separate kosher for passover kitchens! there's also the question of the hechsher. some people believe that in order to be totally and completely kosher for passover, you have to be entirely certain your food has never touched anything made from hametz, and it therefore must be approved by a certain rabbi and get a special seal deeming it kosher. so a can of tuna isn't kosher for passover unless a certain rabbi said so. and neither are hearts of palm. the struggle continues even after the seders, for you can only eat leftovers for so long before the very sight of them makes you sick (there are always so many leftovers) and you're forced to find creative ways to eat for an entire week. pizza never tastes as good as it does at the end of passover! 

this year josh and i are home for all of passover. according to our own, still-being-developed custom, we don't use any of our wonderful and useful pots, pans, dishes, or platters. like both sets of our parents, we do a passover switch. but here's the thing. we don't have a basement. we barely have a closet. every inch of our storage space is being used--josh built shelves on top of shelves on top of shelves wherever he could. our passover kitchen equipment consists of a pot, a pan, one okay knife and 4 terrible ones, some tupperware, some disposable tin baking trays, a cutting board, a serving spoon, a spatula, and some plastic cutlery and paper plates. this makes cooking and baking... challenging, to say the least. but i like a challenge, so this year when i was told that as of april 1st i'd no longer be allowed to travel more than an hour from the hospital where i'll be delivering and we made plans to have seders in NY with family, i volunteered to bring a few dishes to the second night seder at my grandparents' apartment. dessert would be the hardest, because not only would it have to be made from hechshered ingredients, it would also have to be... pareve! gasp! it's actually possible to make decent tasting passover desserts, but most of them involve butter. i didn't have that luxury.

josh and i went on our first passover shopping expedition with our friend jodie (i swear, there are just that many j's in my life) to a kosher discount grocery store in a little section of brooklyn known as borough park where pretty much all the store fronts are either kosher groceries or wig shops. wandering up and down the sizable kosher for passover aisle, i was inspired by marshmallow fluff. i don't know why. i've only used it once before in my life and i don't recall being particularly fond of it. but there it was on the shelf with the proper seal of approval. just down the aisle i came upon dark chocolate bars. my mind was made up. somehow, i was going to create kosher for passover, pareve smores. somehow.

the rest of the ingredients i managed to find at the food emporium near my dr.'s office, which actually had an impressive passover section, and at the holy land market, a wonderful little israeli grocery store in the east village. my local grocery stores seem to think that jews subsist entirely on gefilte fish throughout the holiday. gefilte fish and these horrific little multicolored gelatinous rings covered in chocolate. it's hard to say which is more disgusting.
don't eat these.
i had all the ingredients. all i needed was a little... luck.

ingredients--please note, i have no passover measuring cups so these are mostly guesses!:
1/2- 3/4 cup kosher for passover pareve margarine
1/2 cup kosher for passover brown sugar
2-3 cups kosher for passover pareve cookie crumbs
5 kosher for passover pareve chocolate bars
2 containers kosher for passover pareve marshmallow fluff
1 bag kosher for passover pareve marshmallows
a few tablespoons kosher for passover pareve chocolate spread (optional, not necessarily recommended)

this is what pareve, kosher for passover
margarine looks like while it's melting.
kind of pretty. kind of scary.
to make two pareve, kosher for passover smores pies:
1. i preheated the oven to 350 degrees F, then started by bashing up vanilla and chocolate chip passover cookies, which smelled exactly like matzah. this process took a while because i bashed them up in a tupperware using a spatula. (this was actually nothing compared to what it took to make the sephardic haroset with a sad knife and small cutting board.)
2. next, i added the brown sugar, melted the margarine, and pressed the cookie crumble into the bottom of tin pie pans. it actually resembled a cookie crust. then i baked them for about 10 minutes.
3. when the pie crusts cake out of the oven, i poured the marshmallow fluff all over them. one can per pie. turns out i maybe should have tasted the fluff before i did this, because pareve, kosher for passover fluff is almost unbelievably sweet. next i broke the chocolate bars into small pieces and placed them in a layer on top of the marshmallow fluff, then put the pies back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the chocolate was melted. when i took them out, i sort of swirled the chocolate in with the fluff, already regretting not having bought more chocolate and using so much fluff.
4. after that i cut the marshmallows in half and placed them around the edges of the pie in a nice little pattern. who says a pareve, kosher for passover dessert shouldn't be pretty. i popped the pies back in the oven for a few minutes until the marshmallows browned ever so slightly.
5. then i pouted because i knew i needed more chocolate, and the likelihood of finding it in my neighborhood was not very good. i went in search of it anyway and was amazed to find a container of spreadable, pareve, kosher for passover chocolate at our local, overpriced, fancy market. i also used this before i tasted it, which may also have been a mistake. the taste actually changes while it's in your mouth. surprisingly, it begins with a kind of weird, overly sweet taste, somewhat reminiscent of plastic, but the aftertaste makes you believe you've actually just consumed regular chocolate. very tricky. i put a couple tablespoons of this in the center of each pie and spread it out to reach the marshmallows. and then i was done!
the seders we attended were wonderful and i was extremely happy to celebrate passover with my grandparents, which i haven't in many years. my family members actually managed to eat the pies, and some of them even made encouraging remarks. my grandfather, the great pie lover, enjoyed his piece (and the piece he snuck later on) immensely, which was all the praise i needed. next year i think i'll forgo the fluff and stick to the boxed cakes.

now it's time for me to eat the same lunch for the fourth day in a row. leftover haroset on matzah. saturday night can't come soon enough.