Our family has developed a nice routine where we all do our work or schoolwork in the morning and then reconvene for lunch together. Without fail, the afternoon passes by quickly, perhaps because it is my favorite time of day, when we are all at home with nowhere else we need to be. The four of us don’t spend the whole afternoon together, but we are all here, moving in our own orbits, sometimes alone, sometimes together, often intersecting, and always with our house at the center.
At the center of the house of course, is the kitchen, and these days the kitchen has lots of sweets. Never in my kids’ lifetimes have they seen so many cakes, cookies, and treats. I don’t think we have had one day yet where we have not had something sweet to eat, even if it meant raiding the depths of the pantry to find substitutions that could maybe, possibly, perhaps work because we weren’t yet ready for our next grocery run.
Since we are quickly approaching a point where our time in quarantine will be measured in months and not weeks, it has thus become apparent in our house that a never-ending supply of sweets is as much of a lifeline as internet bandwidth sufficient to sustain everyone’s personal devices. Ray and I are both the unfortunate combination of emotional eater and chronic worrier, so basically we have been living our entire lives preparing for the time when our sugar-stress response is considered moderately acceptable for the state of affairs in which we are living. That moment is clearly now.
Rice crispy treats have a comforting familiarity to them, but these are made a little extra special with toasted coconut, a drizzle of chocolate, and a sprinkling of sea salt on top. And rum. Rum, because we’re 7 weeks into the quarantine and if ever a time called for putting rum in your rice crispy treats, this Friends, is it. Bourbon also works very well, if your system tolerates it. If not, many rums are considered gluten free. It is worth noting that in the case of rum, the type of rum matters. Flavored rums may contain additives and coloring that contain gluten, so use what works for you or the person you are preparing for.
Another note, regular Rice Krispies that come in the blue box we all know so well, are not gluten free as you would expect. I like using crispy brown rice cereal like this one that I often find in a big bag at WalMart, but traditional Rice Krispies also work and can be found in a gluten free version on Amazon, or perhaps at your local grocery store. Definitely get CRISPY rice cereal of some variety, not PUFFED rice cereal.
At some point, life will return to kind-of normal and we’ll have to become reasonable eaters again. Until then, be safe, be well, and enjoy the sweets.Print
Spiked Toasted Coconut Crispy Bars
Crispy brown rice bars with toasted coconut and rum, topped with a drizzle of dark chocolate and a sprinkle of salt.
- Yield: 18 bars 1x
3 T. coconut oil*
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
10 oz. mini marshmallows
4 cups brown rice cereal
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 T. Bourbon or rum
1/2 cup dairy free mini dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. kosher salt or Fleur del sel
1. Toast coconut in a dry non-stick skillet, stirring often. Once the pan begins to heat up, the coconut will brown quickly, so don’t get distracted by something else – stay focused on the coconut! When the coconut is nicely browned, remove from heat and set aside.
2. Melt coconut oil in a large non-stick pot (mine is 6 quarts). Add 4 cups of marshmallows and heat over low, stirring often.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler and spread remaining marshmallows (about 1 1/2 cups) on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Broil marshmallows until they are puffy and browned. Much like the coconut, this happens quickly, so watch them closely! Once they are toasted, remove marshmallows from the oven and add them to the pot with the coconut oil and melting marshmallows. A wide spatula works well to scrape them off of the parchment into the pot.
4. When all of the marshmallows are melted, remove from heat. Mix in the rum and vanilla. Then add in the toasted coconut and rice cereal, stirring well.
5. Spoon the rice mixture into an 8-inch square pan, lined with parchment paper. Spread it out evenly to cool.
6. Once the bars are cool, heat chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second increments until melted. Drizzle chocolate over top of the bars. Immediately sprinkle the melted chocolate with salt. Chill in the refrigerator to help firm up the chocolate.
7. Cut into 9 squares and then cut each square in half to make 18 triangles.
* Any kind of coconut oil will work, but extra virgin coconut oil will have a more pronounced coconut taste
Keywords: rice krispie treats, toasted coconut, rum & coconut dessert, chocolate covered rice crispy treats
After 2 1/2 weeks of being at home, I have finally come to terms with the fact that these weeks at home are not going to be productive. When this is all said and done, I am not going to walk out of my door and leave behind a house that is clean and perfectly organized. It will be moderately clean, probably a little bit messy, and no more organized than it was a few weeks ago. This is despite me lamenting for ages that if only I had an entire week at home to work on all of those pesky projects I ever make time for. And that’s just one week! Imagine 2, 3, 4 weeks, or more!
But it turns out, I don’t have the energy to be productive. I am afraid and anxious and my worrying tendencies are going into overdrive. I spend my days keeping my family fed, trying to keep in contact with people that I care about, taking walks, watching Game of Thrones with Ray, and spending countless hours with Olive doing puzzles and listening to Harry Potter. At the end of the day, I have zero motivation to clean out closets and I am finally at peace with that.
What I will always make time for, however, is cake. This particular cake is modified from a recipe from one of my grandmothers. She was known to us as Nana. Nana was goofy and fun-loving. She put on records and led my sisters and I in parades, singing and marching through her house. She made us Shirley Temples and ice cream floats. She helped us all develop our love of food and cooking for other people. She was stern when she absolutely had to be and she loved us all fiercely. It was on this day, several years ago, that we lost her and so it is fitting that her cake is what I turned to for comfort.
Nana often made this cake, although she commonly made it with a boiled icing, not chocolate frosting. But when I set out to bake a cake yesterday, I decided that these times call for as much chocolate as possible and I don’t think that Nana would have objected. The cake itself is supremely tender, so treat it gently after baking. As a bonus, the cake ingredients can all be mixed up in one bowl so there are less dishes to wash. You don’t even need a mixer, a large whisk works just fine.
If you want your cake to be picture-perfect, you could refrigerate it for an hour before slicing. Clearly, I did not do that because I have never turned away cake of any kind, let alone a piece that was slightly messy, and I don’t intend to start getting fussy about my cake now. Nana would have definitely agreed.
Stay home if you can, bake cake, be safe.Print
Favorite Gluten & Dairy Free Chocolate Cake
A gluten & dairy free adaptation of my Nana’s incomparable chocolate cake recipe which results in an extra tender, one-bowl chocolate cake. Makes two 9-inch round layers or one 9X13 cake. Delicious with boiled icing, buttercream, or chocolate frosting.
For the Cake:
2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (such as King Arthur Measure for Measure flour blend)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup HOT coffee (regular or decaf both work)
1 cup non-dairy milk
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
Dairy free mini chocolate chips, if desired
For the Chocolate Frosting:
3/4 cup cocoa powder (or use Hershey’s Special Dark for an extra chocolatey frosting)
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup vegan butter, softened (I like Country Crock Plant Butter with Olive Oil)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup evaporated coconut milk (see Notes)
For the Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. If making two round layers, cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit on the bottom of each round pan. Grease the inside of each pan with oil and then place the parchment paper at the bottom of the pan.
3. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk together.
4. Add oil, coffee, and milk, mixing well.
5. Add eggs and vanilla and mix again until well combined.
6. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 30 minutes.
7. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen cake and invert it onto a rack to cool. Carefully peel off parchment paper.
For the Frosting:
1. Whisk together sugar and cocoa.
2. Cream half of sugar mixture with vegan butter. Add vanilla and half of milk.
3. Add remaining sugar mixture, mixing well, then the last of the milk.
4. Mix frosting on high for 2-3 minutes until smooth.
1. Once cake layers are completely cool, place one layer on a large round plate. Scoop half of frosting onto cake layer and gently spread it out over the top of the cake, working your way from the center of the cake outward.
2. Place the second cake layer on top and cover with remaining frosting and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips, if you like.
– Evaporated coconut milk works best, but in a pinch, you can substitute any non-dairy milk. I find that regular non-dairy milk makes the frosting a little runnier, so you may need to add an extra 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.
– We keep this cake in the refrigerator.
– I prefer two thicker layers of frosting, so I only frosted the inside and top of the cake, but you could use less frosting on the first layer and frost the entire cake with what remains. If you want to frost the inside and outside of the cake and have extra left over to decorate the cake, I would make an extra 1/2 recipe of the frosting.
Summer vacation is here in Central Pennsylvania, woot woot! Unfortunately, this does not mean that I will be spending the next 2 1/2 months lounging by the pool or sleeping in because I have a job in an office and summer is a busy time of year for us. Despite the fact that my personal schedule remains largely unchanged, I fully celebrate the fact that we have a few months off from arguing about homework and take home folders and launching full expeditions throughout the house in search of someone’s misplaced glasses – which always happens 5 minutes before we need to leave the house to catch the bus. So in celebration of said summer vacation, we’re having S’mores Baked Oatmeal for breakfast!
There are times that I think about taking this blog in a strictly healthy direction. But then I think about things like sugar cookies and I realize that if I could never post about fun treats like that, I would be sad. Besides, what’s more fun than birthday cake-shaped funfetti sugar cookies?
Answer: almost nothing…. if you’re 7, which Bert was when I made these cookies for his class at school. That’s not to say that sugar cookies are just for kids. Don’t let the adults fool you, they are suckers for sprinkles and icing too. Make some and you’ll see.
I love candied pecans. Are you with me on this? OMG, they are so very very good…and so very very bad for you. I tried to clean them up a bit, cutting out ingredients such as refined sugar and butter and simplifying the process. Making a cleaner, slightly less unhealthy version of candied pecans was fantastic, but I admit that I was driven to make them this way as a direct result of my not wanting to wash a baking sheet. Don’t ask me why, but I hate washing cookie sheets. They are unweildy, they don’t fit well in my sink, and they end up splashing water all over the place. And, in cases like these, they are about 5 times bigger than what I need. So, I fired the cookie sheet for nut toasting purposes and brought out the nonstick skillet. It works just as well and clean up is a bit, well, cleaner.
As a general rule, I get a bit annoyed when people title or identify their food as “The Best”. This is likely because I inherently resist being told that I must/should/have to do anything, so I am less inclined to try whatever it is you deem “The Best,” even if it is to my detriment. Accordingly, for all of you stubborn folks like me, I don’t want to identify this apple cake as The Best Apple Cake because then you may never try it. It is, however, my favorite apple cake, so we’ll go with that. Favorite Apple Cinnamon Cake.
There is no salted caramel frosting or rum whipped cream on this cake (although both of those sound pretty good, so we may return to that another day for another cake). Here we just have apples, cinnamon, and a cream cheese batter. The beauty of this cake is its simplicity. I have been making it for years and years and chances are if you ever come to my house between September and November you are basically guaranteed to have this cake. I make it so often because it never disappoints.
Recently, one of my sisters came up to visit for the weekend. Not just any weekend, mind you, it was our first ever Harry Potter Movie Marathon Weekend. I know, it’s a fantastic idea. You kind of wish that you could have joined us, don’t you? Don’t feel weird, it was awesome. If we were really committed to the movie marathon, we could have made it through all of them. Shockingly, for the first time ever, my kids wanted to do something other than watch tv. In the end, we got through half of the movies, and that was still plenty of Harry Potter for one weekend. Unlike the kids, Meg and I are well-seasoned when it comes to these things. It is a skill we have cultivated over the past several years while catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. Meg is such a great sport and she has spent several visits here allowing me to fill all of our spare time with the fantastically witty banter of the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley. I could listen to them all day (or night) long, and indeed at times I have. How often have we said “just one more episode” only end up watching several more? You know how it goes…..unless you don’t know because you don’t watch Downton Abbey, in which case you need to fix that ASAP! The 6th and final season begins the first Sunday in January, so you have time to catch up!
But back to our bark! In anticipation of Meg’s visit, I found a recipe for this Salted Caramel Candy Corn Bark on Pinterest and it looked like something that was absolutely necessary for a movie marathon weekend. The bark turned out to be a definite winner! As we were enjoying butterbeer, jelly beans, oreos (no Harry Potter reference there, they’re just really good), and these tasty little pretzel bites, we started talking about how great they would be with pecans on top instead of the candy corn M&M’s, especially because I used pumpkin spice candy melts in mine instead of white chocolate. The combination of pumpkin and pecans is like peas and carrots, they just go together! That is absolutely the case here. You have a layer of crunchy pretzels, then the caramel, topped with pumpkin spice candies, and covered with toasted salty pecans. How can that be bad? Well, it’s not, it’s delicious! And, consider this your warning — addictive. Meg, these are for you!
These would look nice if you cut them up and served them on a platter with each piece of bark in a mini cupcake liner. Doing so will also alleviate the issue of the bark pieces sticking to the platter or each other. At the very least, place a piece of parchment on top of your platter and stack them on there. I like to cut them in individual pretzel sized pieces, but you could make them bigger. One bag of caramels and one bag of candy melts is just enough for 60 pretzels, but you could easily double the recipe or halve it, as pictured.
Note: The pumpkin spice candy melts I used are made by Wilton and I found them in the cake decorating section at Walmart.
- 60 square/waffle-shaped pretzels
- 2 cups pecans
- 1 T. light olive oil
- 1 t. sea salt
- 11 oz. bag of caramels
- 2 T. half & half or cream
- 10 oz. bag of pumpkin spice candy melts
- 1. Pour pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and stir gently until all pecans are lightly coated. Toast pecans in a large skillet, stirring often over medium-low heat. When I can begin to smell the pecans, I leave them in the pan for another 2-3 minutes and then remove from the heat. Once toasted, set aside.
- 2. Arrange pretzels on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, in 6 rows of 10 pretzels.
- 3. Combine caramels and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until caramel is completely melted. Working quickly, pour the caramel over top of the pretzels. It helps to try to pour a little caramel on each individual pretzel to help distribute it evenly. Be careful - melted caramel is VERY HOT!!! Gently spread the melted caramel over the layer of pretzels and smooth it out in one even layer. An offset spatula works really well for this. Allow the caramel to sit for about 5 minutes to cool and harden.
- 4. Once the caramel is dry to the touch, begin melting the candy coating. Again, pour the candies in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave them in 20-30 second intervals. Be careful of heating it for longer than that because the candies will burn easily. Stir the candies after each interval and repeat until the candies are completely melted and smooth. Pour melted candies over top of the caramel layer and even it out with a spatula. Immediately top the melted candy layer with all of the salted pecans, spreading them out in one layer across the top.
- 5. Set the entire tray aside and allow the pumpkin candies to cool and harden. Once the candy has cooled completely, cut it into squares, following the approximate edges of the pretzels.
- Store in an airtight container with parchment paper between layers of bark so they don't stick together.
To say that I am a creature of habit would be to grossly understate my proclivity for following the same routine every day, whenever possible. It probably sounds boring, but I find comfort in routine and it allows me to feel like I am in control of my day. Sometimes having control over my day means figuring out how to deal with something I don’t seem to have any control over. Case in point, every day, around 3:00, I find myself looking for candy. Chocolate, to be specific. Preferably dark chocolate. With something else mixed in to give it some texture. Every day is the same, and every day I end up raiding the blasted candy bowl sitting on our reception desk. At best, I get a mini Krackel bar and at worst it’s the last piece of rock hard caramel that is only left in there because other people with apparently more discerning tastes wisely decided to invest their calories elsewhere.
It was with this exact scenario fresh in my mind that I started experimenting with a snack mix of some sort. Dark chocolate was key. If I was eating chocolate, I may as well add some things to give it texture, so in went the oats and chia. The roasted almonds make it all just a tad bit salty and the dried cherries give it some extra sweetness. I pack 2 T. of it in a little container and it is just enough to fulfill my chocolate fix in the afternoon and help me to avoid the dreaded office candy bowl.
We ate these bars for an entire week straight while I tinkered with the recipe, trying to find the very best ratio of melted to toasted marshmallows. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it! Don’t feel too bad for me; when it comes to taste-testing desserts, I will volunteer every time! After several tries I got it just right. Imagine then, my distress when I went to log on last Friday night so I could post these just in time for the holiday weekend and I found out that I was locked out of the blog for the next 84 HOURS! Apparently someone was trying to hack in. I guess in some crazy way, I should feel flattered that something I have posted struck enough of a chord with someone that they felt it was worth their time to try to be a nuisance to my little blog. Pat on the back for me!
But back to more important things, like my s’mores bars. This is what you need to know:
Toasted. Marshmallows. Toasted marshmallows. Toasted marshmallow deliciousness.