Bombshell blondies that can’t be beat

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One recipe I keep going back to is the Joy of Cooking’s recipe for Butterscotch Brownies, aka Blondies. Some people think a brownie isn’t a brownie unless it involves chocolate, but this recipe gives you the consistency and richness you’d expect, but with a different flavor. This is one I make well, and one that has been well-received by anyone who has tried them. It’s a keeper.

The key to this recipe is to get the first step right. Browning butter is an easy thing to mess up the first few times you do it. The trick here is to make sure you don’t turn the heat up too high. I did that when I first tried browning butter, and it went from beautiful to burnt in a matter of seconds. I’ve had consistent success browning butter when I keep the heat at medium-low, about a four on my oven knob. When the fat starts to separate, the butter will start to smell differently. When it starts to smell like butterscotch, take it off the heat immediately and throw in the sugar to keep the butter from burning. It doesn’t take long for the butter to smell slightly burnt, and that flavor will carry into the finished blondies if you don’t catch it before it gets there.

These decadent bars are a delicious treat and a great excuse to work on your butter-browning skills, which can be used in pasta dishes like this one and other types of meals. Use your nose, and you’ll get it down. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan lined with foil.

In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then boil, stirring constantly until light golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugars until well-blended. Let cool to barely warm. Stir in egg, egg yolk, corn syrup, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and coconut. Stir until combined. Scrape mixture into greased baking pan. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

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Sugary shortbread is perfect for a platter

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For the second cookie in my countdown to Christmas, I bring you Pecan Fingers. I found this recipe years ago in my “Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Brownies!” cookbook. It’s simple and really tasty.

I include some kind of shortbread cookie on my Christmas cookie platter every year because it’s important to have one cookie that’s easy to make and not time-consuming. I save the time-consuming part for the sugar cookie decorating. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is in charge of doing all the Christmas baking is not to commit to cookies that all require extensive amounts of time to make and decorate. Don’t get overly ambitious — making a large amount of cookies is ambitious enough, no matter the type. To do a platter well, you need to choose what you want to spend time on, and what you want to keep simple and delicious. There’s a large variety of shortbread recipes out there to choose from. Shortbread is one of the easiest things to make, which is why I always choose at least one type for my platter.

When I think of shortbread, I tend to think of simple, buttery, and sometimes dry, plain cookies. These pecan fingers are pretty far from that. They are sweeter than your average shortbread, but overall have a warm flavor to them because of the pecans and brown sugar. I will likely bring these back to my assortment this year because my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in flour until just evenly moistened. With hand, press dough together to form ball.

Divide dough in half. On half of an ungreased large cookie sheet, roll half of dough, covered with waxed paper, lengthwise into 12-inch by 5-inch rectangle. On same cookie sheet, repeat with remaining dough, 1 1/2 inches from first rectangle. With fork, prick dough at 1-inch intervals. Press tines of fork along long side of rectangles to form decorative edge. Sprinkle pecans evenly over rectangles; press gently to adhere.

Bake until edges are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, cut each rectangle crosswise into 12 finger-shaped cookies. Transfer fingers to wire rack to cool. Store in tightly covered container up to 1 week.

Elderflower liqueur makes a lovely cocktail

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This week I discovered elderflower liqueur. Over the years, I’ve seen it mentioned in cookbooks or called for in drink recipes, but I’d never picked up any to try. I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

I picked up a bottle of St-Germain, a brand of elderflower liqueur, which came with a small tag that included a recipe for its signature cocktail. I figured that was a good starting point. The liqueur itself is a slightly sweet, mellow alcohol. The St-Germain Cocktail was a bit sweet and a bit fizzy, without being too strong. It was a pretty light, refreshing drink fit for a hot day. Since I enjoyed that one so much, I decided to browse the St-Germain website to see if they had any other recipes. They have a few dozen, so I chose two others to try. I settled on The Gentleman, because I have cognac in the cupboard that I use for baking, and the Traditional Elderfashioned, because I keep a bottle of whiskey and bitters on hand. The Gentleman was sweeter and richer than the St-Germain Cocktail, but was also good. The Traditional Elderfashioned was stronger than both, and I enjoyed it as well.

So far, I’m three-for-three on drinks that use elderflower liqueur. They’re listed below in order from weakest to strongest. Next I’ll have to see what I can bake with the liqueur. Cheers!

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The St-Germain Cocktail

2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine
1 1/2 parts St-Germain
2 parts club soda

Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely.

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The Gentleman
1 part Spanish brandy or cognac
3/4 part St-Germain
1 cube brown sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Top with Brut Rosé Champagne or Brut Sparkling Wine

Cover a brown sugar cube with Angostura bitters at the bottom of a Champagne flute and add brandy and St-Germain. Top with Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

3elderflower081813Traditional Elderfashioned
2 parts bourbon or straight rye whiskey
1/2 part St-Germain
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients in an old fashioned glass, add ice and stir again. Add an orange twist.

Banana oatmeal muffins great for breakfast to go

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This week’s recipe comes from Pinterest. I was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip muffins and found these banana chocolate chip baked oatmeal singles.

There is no flour used in these muffins. Instead, the main components of the mixture are oats, bananas, milk and eggs. The muffins don’t end up light and fluffy; they end up with a bit more of a dense, eggy texture. The flavor is well-rounded and the ingredients make this recipe healthier than other options may be.

These muffins are nice to have on hand during a busy week — you can make them ahead of time and have them grab-and-go ready for weekday breakfasts or snacks. I used mini chocolate chips when I made them because I prefer the smaller bits of chocolate in smaller muffins.

One step that I have found is particularly important to take at high altitude is to spray the paper cupcake holders with cooking spray. For some reason, baked goods tend to get a good grip on the paper otherwise, leaving the person eating them to have to peel away a good layer of the muffin. Who wants to do that with something so delicious?

Ingredients
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (1 1/2 if you’re at high altitude)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 egg
1 1/4 cup skim or soy milk
3/4 cup mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly mist 18 cups in a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine the oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, egg, mashed banana, milk and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until blended together. Mix in chocolate chips.

Spoon the oatmeal mixture evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake uncovered for 18 to 22 minutes or until oatmeal is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Who knew applesauce could be so good?

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Until recently, I had never made applesauce. My only experience with it was the kind spooned from the Mott’s jar with a yellow lid. I never found it impressive. It was something I might eat with pork chops, but not much else. That is, until I made my own.

While figuring out what to make next, I remembered I had bookmarked Ina Garten’s recipe for applesauce. Then I saw that it was baked in a Dutch oven, which is perfect since I’ve been using mine nonstop since I received it.

The recipe is straightforward, which is what I’ve come to expect from the Barefoot Contessa. That she keeps things simple is what I most like about her attitude toward cooking. Her recipe for applesauce is no exception. I had no idea applesauce could be so good until I made her flavor-packed version. applesauce2After baking the ingredients, her recipe calls for whisking them together. I left small chunks of apple in mine instead of making it the same consistency as the store-bought stuff.

Over the course of a week, I devoured the pot. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or as a dessert — and healthier than many alternatives. This applesauce may become a regular item in my refrigerator. I doubt I’ll ever purchase a jar of applesauce from the store again.

Ingredients
Zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6-8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh or Winesap (6-8 apples)applesauce3
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and allspice and cover the pot. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature.