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

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

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

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)

Pour Some Sugar On Me

giant sugar cookie stack
Think you know a lot about food? The Chicago Tribune challenges you to test your foodie IQ. Go ahead – try it and see if you can beat my score. I dare you. Click and take the quiz. Put your score in the comments and I’ll tell you mine afterwards. Dont be scurred – you may know more than you think 🙂

In other cool news, I’ve been meaning to post this little blog award I received a few weeks ago from these bloggers. According to “blog award rules”, you’re supposed to pass it on to a few other fellow bloggers, chain-letter fashion in hopes of continuing the award-giving process. Easy enough! So without further adieu, I’m passing it on to: The Kitchen Table, The View from the 32nd Floor, The Whole Kitchen, Scrumpy in the City, Chow & Chatter, & Confessions of a Wishful Slacker.

sugar cookie batter

Alright, now let’s get to business.

We made another Saturday trip out to Arlington Park this weekend to bet on some horsies and thus collect our loads of winnings to pay for our roof repairs. The horse races are our new favorite weekend adventure – a great way to sit out in the sun, hang with friends, and enjoy cold beverages and tasty food. Oh, and hopefully end the day with more cash than you started with, although that rarely happens. And so after dinner Friday night I realized I hadn’t thought about the food for the day – and of course I’ll take any opportunity to make my own than to buy their cold, stale, lifeless blobs of barely edibles that is exactly like the fare at concerts and baseball games (minus the hotdogs at the ballparks – those are the exception to tasty treats at those events) – and so, for dessert, to Joy the Baker’s blog I went to find a quick, simple cookie recipe.

cookie blobs

I must confess that I’ve actually never before made sugar cookies. Well, not from scratch. I have bought plenty of those Pillsbury rolls, having eaten half of the roll prior to managing to make a few cookies. The raw dough just makes you feel so mischievious when you eat it. I remember the days I used to hand pick the cookie dough out of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. It felt so good to be so bad – ya know?! And something about the dough in the ice cream container – it tasted so much better than anything else.

piles of cookies

I could easily do the same to this dough if given the opportunity. In fact, I was, and I did, as did Chris, and he did more than I. Now, that’s a lot of doin’. Equally as tasty, heck – a buttload tastier, than the store-bought. And I’m confident there is a way to make it a little lower in fat, but I needed a quick go-to cookie recipe that wouldn’t fail me and I didn’t have the time to play around with any substitutes. And quite frankly – some recipes just can’t and shouldn’t be altered. Maybe sugar cookies are one of them.

nice crumb

These cookies are a perfect recipe for a last minute gathering. The use of one bowl also makes for quick clean up. And the taste – just what you’re looking for – a little crunchy, a tad bit chewy, simple but decadent, and finished with that sugar crystal texture on top that every sugar cookie requires. Perfect. Want to make more than one batch? Go right ahead – it doubles easily. Shoot – you could even double it, split it in half, and roll one batch of dough right on into the ol’ icebox.

Giant Vanilla Sugar Cookies
From Joy the Baker, who credited The Pastry Queen; makes 1 dozen 4-inch cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil or other vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus additional for topping
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add the oil (not to worry if it doesn’t fully incorporate – promise). Add the granulated sugar, powdered sugar, egg and vanilla, beating on medium speed until each ingredient is completely incorporated.
Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt all at once using a wooden spoon or the mixer set on low.

The dough will be soft.

Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour or freeze for 15 minutes just so it’s easier to handle. Preheat the oven to 350 F prior to taking the dough out. Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Dollop 2 Tablespoons of cookie dough onto the cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. For smaller cookies use 1 Tablespoon for each cookie. Press the dough evenly with your fingers or palm to 1/4-inch thickness. Generously sprinkle sugar on top of the cookie dough.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes for larger cookies or 8 to 10 minutes for smaller cookies. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to racks to cool completely. The cookies will keep for up to 3 days if stored in an airtight container.