Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cookie of the Month: Raspberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Bars

A bake-sale fundraiser was coming up, which meant a chance to bake cookies without eating them all. (Not that I don't like eating cookies, but I really shouldn't eat all of them.) I was still thinking fruit and white chocolate, and maybe adapting an oatmeal cookie recipe to include some of my stash of white chocolate chips and some dried cranberries or cherries. Except I didn't have many dried cherries, and when I looked in the recipe book, I came across a recipe for oatmeal bar cookies instead.

If you're like me, you may think that making "bar cookies" is cheating. Like brownies, you make bar cookies in a single pan, then cut them up into individual bars. That doesn't really seem like cookies, which I think of as individually baked, but I was pressed for time, and who am I to argue the definition of "cookie" with the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook? That's an "old faithful" of recipe books, so if they say bars are cookies, I was ready to go. I adapted their recipe for Apricot-Oatmeal bars to include my own favorite flavors. Here are the ingredients I used:

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup butter or margarine
1 cup raspberry jam/all-fruit
1 cup white chocolate chips

First, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, and baking soda together in a bowl. Then you cut in the butter/margarine with a pastry blender until you have very fine crumbs. This takes a lot of elbow grease, cutting until there are no big chunks of butter left. You can't warm the butter, or you won't get crumbs, it will be more like batter. (So it's a no-batter butter battle to get your crumbs.)

Next, take about two-thirds of the crumb mixture and press it into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13" pan. Spread the jam on top (it doesn't have to be even at this point) and bake in a preheated oven at 375F. Take it out and let it cool for a few minutes. You can see the result of this step, plus the texture of the leftover crumbs, in the picture to the right.

After the base has cooled slightly, smooth out the jam so it is evenly spread, then sprinkle the cup of white chocolate chips atop the base. Cover with the remaining crumbs and bake for another 15 minutes, until the top crumbs are a lovely golden brown. Take out of the oven and let it cool for quite a bit before you cut them into bars and serve. You can see the result is very gooey, so cooling makes them a little easier to handle.

So how did they taste? I actually found them a little sweet for my taste, which is very improbable if you know me and my sweet tooth. If I were to make these again, I might cut down on the brown sugar in the crust, reduce the amount of the raspberry jam, and/or add chopped walnuts to the top crumbles. (I thought about it here, but I try never use nuts in bake sale items.) I've made a similar item to this with caramel filling and semi-sweet chips and nuts which is super tasty, but I don't think I'll make this variation again, at least not with both white chocolate and jam.

Final verdict: Nom nom nom (three of five noms).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Photo of the Week--1/24/11

I thought this photo was particularly apropos this week because Tunisia has been in the news because of its recent revolution and I figure not a lot of Americans know much about the country except that they filmed bits of Star Wars there. Maybe you know Tunisia is on the north coast of Africa, that part that sticks out  in the Mediterranean towards Sicily and Malta; it's less likely you know that Tunisia was once part of the Roman Empire. This photo is of the amphitheatre at El Djem, which dates from about 3rd century AD and held about 35,000 spectators. The Colosseum at Rome only held 10,000 more, and El Djem's floor is in better shape (meaning it has a floor).

We visited in February 2000, and we got the feeling that they didn't get a lot of American tourists there (plenty of European tourists, especially from Germany, but not Americans). During our "safari" to El Djem and the natural beauties in the south (including the Sahara), TSU remembers having lots of conversations with our guide, who was curious about American-style democracy. We had a great visit there and the people were friendly and accommodating to our group, and I wish them success in creating a more open government.