The Gut Buster

Eating good, healthy food is an admirable goal. It’s a really good goal.

Sometimes though, it’s just. so. dang. hard. Ya feel me?

Exhibit A: three sticks of butter. When does that ever make sense? Well, a lot of times, that’s when. Just ask Joy the Baker, or Bon Appetit magazine, or Paula Deen, or my Aunt Faye. They’ll tell ya the truth about butter.

Exhibit B: bourbon and homemade vanilla extract? These make sense practically all the time, and I’m not even joking. They are much less problematic than those sticks o’ butter.

Exhibit C: pe-cans? coconut? These are problems, too. I grew up shelling pe-cans, eating ice cream full of pe-cans, pies loaded with them (and not just Thanksgiving day, either), and almost everything sweet is better with pe-cans.

Coconut? Well, I even like coconut in my hair, so I think I don’t need to say anything more here.

So let’s imagine a utopia where all of these things existed at one time. Let’s imagine that such a place was fat-free, calorie-free, and just as tasty. But truthfully, that isn’t the case, as we all know. Truthfully, some things are just meant to bust your gut.

These bars are those things. I can’t even begin to warn you about how ridiculous they are, how sweet and rich and heavy and butter-laden they are. How much they remind me of every Southern pe-can pie I’ve ever eaten, which is to say that they are a-freaking-mazing, each and every little gram of fat contained in them. Which, if you haven’t noticed, is probably a lot.

But some things are worth a splurge. Like maple cheesecake. Red velvet cake. Homemade Oreos (yep!). Rhubarb-Cornmeal tarts. ¬†And now, these: ooey, gooey, buttery “bars” that taste just like your favorite Southern woman’s pe-can pie.

Go ahead, bust a gut. Or three.

Pecan Pie Bars
Adapted from The Pastry Queen; makes 2 1/2 dozen bars

time commitment: 2 hours (includes 1 hour cooling time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/2 c (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c firmly packed brown sugar
4 c all purpose flour
1 t salt

filling
8 large eggs
6 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c bourbon
6 T unsalted butter, melted
2 T vanilla extract
1 c all purpose flour
1 t salt
2 c unsweetened flaked coconut
2 c pecan halves

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat about 1 minute, until fluffy. Add the flour and salt; mix on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan (I used a 9×13″ pan and used about 2/3 of the mix, but the recipe itself calls for 12×17″ pan but I didn’t have one that big. You could probably divide the mixture between two 8×8″ pans as well and just adjust the baking times accordingly and watch more carefully). Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has darkened to a deep golden brown. Leave the oven at 350.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the bourbon, butter, vanilla, flour, and salt, then the coconut and pecans. Once the crust is parbaked, pour the filling over the crust, spreading evenly. Bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes (mine baked longer, like 40 minutes, since I poured all of the mix into a smaller pan, resulting in less “surface area” to bake). Cool thoroughly, at least 1 hour. Once cool flip over on wax paper to cut into 3-inch squares or diamonds. (Yields about 2 1/2 dozen bars)

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Old-Fashioned

Old-fashioned: behind the times, outdated, antiquated. A term used to describe those who may not be on the “up and up”, so to speak. A term I’ve often used to describe members of my own family, if it suited me. You see, I’ve called myself a Southerner from time to time around these parts, but I certainly never claimed to be a ‘Southern Belle’.

What I do claim to be, by some accounts, is old-fashioned. Let me explain.

When I started writing this blog, I was about three classes into culinary school. I’d found a passion for food, for culinary education, for mastering difficult techniques in the kitchen, and along with all those things, a propensity toward spending copious amounts of money buying Dutch ovens, food processors, and pretty plates. I was hooked, and I have no idea how it happened.

I didn’t always love to cook. Food throughout my childhood was Monday (or Wednesday) Meatloaf, Friday Fried Chicken, Saturday Steak (medium-rare, please), and so on. On Sundays, we’d drive to Gramma’s and we’d eat loads of chicken pastry and cornbread. Gramma always had one of those fresh pound cakes sitting in the clear display case that owned the spot on the corner of the counter, the same counter whose above cabinet housed the box of oatmeal cream pies. I ate a sizable chunk of that cake every weekend, and in the summer I spooned strawberry syrup all over it. I loved that cake, and I loved those Sunday dinners, but I never wanted to make them myself. At least, not then.

What I wanted to do was set myself apart from my so-called old-fashioned family. I didn’t want to get married out of high school, I didn’t want to go to college in my hometown, and I surely did not want to have a hot meal on the table for my husband every night. So I moved away from home and went to college, and then I moved to Chicago and attended graduate school. In short, I achieved my goal of not doing things the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

But this food thing, it eventually caught up with me, and I found myself in culinary school as a hobby. A hobby. Blogging was not in this new plan of mine – I didn’t want to ‘waste my time’ tossing recipes online when I could cook instead. I didn’t want to write about how tasty my dinner was or how much I enjoyed eating at the newest restaurant in town. And photographer extraordinaire, I was not, nor did I want to be (not that I am now, either).

Grudgingly, one day I gave it a try. I wrote a post, and then I wrote a few more. It was alright, at first; it was strange, too. I had no idea who was reading this stuff, and what they might think about me. Hell, who knew if anyone read it. Somewhere along the line, I realized my blog was more than a food blog, more than a recipe and a half-assed picture. It was a story, a collection of essays about me, and as it turns out, I had (and have) quite a bit to say. I still wonder if people want to hear it, but I know some do, and I know I want to write it. I know that, at the end of the day, writing here has changed who I am, and I’m glad for that. These posts – they serve as a vehicle for so many emotions, so many ideas, thoughts, even annoyances. This blog, in a nutshell, is me. Take it or leave it.

And while [some of] my family may be ‘old-fashioned’, I love them so, and I’m thankful for the memories we’ve had, and those we continue to make. I am thankful for that pound cake, for the Southern cornbread, and on some level, I’m even thankful for the collards I never ate.

I may not be antiquated or outdated, and I’m surely not behind the times, but I most certainly am old-fashioned in some ways. I like this definition a little bit better, though:

Old-fashioned: [a cocktail] containing spirit, bitters, fruit, etc.

Need I say more?

A Gingered Old-Fashioned

word on the street is there is only one “right” way to make an Old-Fashioned. But according to the definition above, this counts. It seems to me that bourbon is always good with ginger beer, and so while this may not be your traditional “old-fashioned”, it works just fine for me, and probably for you as well.

printable version

ingredients
1 sugar cube
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon
ginger beer
orange slice & cherry, for garnish

instructions
place sugar cube in bottom of small glass. add bitters and muddle to dissolve sugar cube. add ice and bourbon, fill with desired amount of ginger beer. garnish with orange slice and cherry. drink often ;).