Seven Layer Bars

When nostalgia hits, you become the tiny, plastic ballerina in a music box lined with former memories. Round and round you go, blurry images encircle you in a fuzzy fog, the simple tinkling of a familiar song plays in the distance. Spying a honeysuckle plant transports me back to my plaid kindergarten uniform sitting in the grass sucking the sweet sap from the delicate stem. The triangular irregularity of a Toblerone chocolate bar sends me right to high school during my first trip abroad. Mashed potatoes, still a comfort food of mine, take me to the one-note college cafeteria where I dreamed of having my own kitchen. My mother’s Seven Layer Bars, a family favorite, stick me right next to the sink at my parents house pouring sweetened condensed milk out of the can and licking my sticky fingers before popping the pan into the oven.

Mom’s Seven Layer Bars

Adapted from: Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk "Magic Cookie Bars"

Ingredients: 

1/2 c. butter, melted (see instruction below)

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs (finely crushed)

1 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

1.5 c. shredded coconut

1 c. chocolate chips

1 c. butterscotch chips

1 c. chopped walnuts (or similar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Melt butter on the stove top in your 13" x 9" baking pan -- this saves time and a dish! Pour graham cracker crumbs on top of the melted butter and press gently to form an even crust. Sprinkle 1 cup of coconut over crust. Top coconut with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and walnuts. Top with remaining coconut and pour entire can of sweetened condensed milk over the top to seal all the layers together. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top turns golden brown. Cut into bars when cooled. Store at room temperature.

 

Crack Bites (aka Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Pretzels...A Love Story)

My brother and I have what I assume most people would call an ordinary brother-sister relationship. Being three years older than me, we didn’t like any of the same music or television shows--aside from The Simpsons--and we never shared any of the same friends. We rarely had conversations that weren’t around the shared dinner table about who’s turn it was to do the dishes. In fact, my brother was so responsible, he often acted like the third parent in my household, to my eye-rolling dismay. My brother is the complete opposite of my loud, silly, frilly, bookish nature; he’s a quiet, internal, street-smart guy who loves fast cars, loud bass, and video games. Now that he has two young girls of his own, I catch him parenting in that stern, serious tone and the reverberations of our youth echo in my ears and bring a knowing smile.

One of the things we always agreed on is the pairing of peanut butter and chocolate. From our love of Reese’s peanut butter cups and Moose Tracks ice cream to trying to make our own delicious treats by freezing a spoonful of peanut butter dunked in Hershey’s syrup, there’s nothing to fight about when you combine these two ingredients.

Although my brother and I still don’t have a lot in common and are now living far apart, when his birthday rolls around, I know that I can go to my kitchen and bake something more useful than a gift card.

CRACK BITES 

Adapted from: What Megan's Making

I first saw these a few years ago on this blog, and have been making these quick, no-bake treats as gifts or an easy, party dessert. The first time I made them for my brother’s birthday he hid the large tub of these from his family under the guise that they were his gift and he was not interested in sharing.

Ingredients:

1 cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons softened butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

Pretzels

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat peanut butter and butter until combined. Scrape down bowl, add sugars and beat until combined. You should be able to roll the mixture into balls without sticking to your hands. If needed, add more powdered sugar until you reach a consistency that is easy to roll. Roll the mixture into small balls, about 1 teaspoon of mixture for each ball, and place on prepared baking sheet. Sandwich the balls between two pretzels and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Melt the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth, and remove from heat. Dip each pretzel bite halfway into the melted chocolate and place on the prepared baking sheet. Chill in refrigerator until chocolate is set.


 

My Best Friend's Wedding Shower: Zucchini Salad

I always wanted a sister. Selfishly, I wanted someone to trade secrets and Barbies with, someone who always had my back and could lend an ear when I had a query or a hand when I needed a lift.

As the youngest child, thrown to the wild whims of an older brother and father who never let a Punch Bug go un-punched; I often felt like the odd girl out...until I met C. The confident, bouncy, opinionated, golden-haired girl who lived at the end of the street soon became the sister with whom I didn’t have to share a room but was as frequent a passerby in my house as I was in hers. Through the years she’s been the keeper of all of my secrets, my personal shopper, my makeup artist, and my advice-giver, even when unprompted.

Almost thirty years of friendship later, C is getting married and I was tasked with taking the lead in planning her bridal shower as co-maid of honor. As an only child with straightforward opinions, C is now an interior designer with exquisite taste, so I knew that I wanted to WOW her by creating a sophisticated event with a simple menu. 

After spending two days shopping, cooking, baking, packing, wrapping, and decorating, I completed my task (with help from Mom, Mom's best friend, C's mom, and T, my co-maid): Eight quiches, seven flower arrangements, three salads, two gifts, and about six-hundred teeny-tiny cookies. When Sunday afternoon finally arrived, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, worried that I wouldn't make it through wobbling on my four-inch heels. However, the second C walked in and I saw that familiar smile brighten across the face of the little blonde girl I met while jumping rope on a summer sidewalk...I knew I had it right.

This salad has been a favorite of mine since last summer when I took a cooking class at Sur la Table. The zesty, zucchini stunner is not only quick to throw together but also pleasing to the eye if you want something colorful and healthy on the table.

Shaved Zucchini Salad

Adapted from: Sur la Table

Yield: 4 servings (I quadrupled this recipe)

1/4c almond slices (or slivers), toasted

1 lb. small zucchini, preferably a mix of green and yellow varieties, each no more than 5 inches in length

3oz. Arugula

3oz. Parmesan cheese (or a mixture Parm-Reggiano, Romano, etc), shaved

2 ½ T extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ T lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, minced

Salt & Pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast almonds on a baking sheet until golden, 3-5 minutes. Let cool. (This can be done ahead of time.)

Trim zucchini ends. Using a vegetable peeler (or mandoline) shave the zucchini lengthwise, discarding the first and last slices that are mostly skin. Put zucchini ribbons in a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, to taste. Add dressing to the shaved zucchini and toss to coat evenly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften zucchini.

Add the arugula to the zucchini and add the shaved cheese. Toss gently until mixed. Top with toasted almonds, serve immediately.