S’mores Bars

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One of my coworkers recently left our office to work elsewhere, and so in the spirit of tradition, we threw her a going-away party.  I love work parties.  Birthday parties, going-away parties, engagement parties, parties surrounding sporting events – you get the picture.  I love work parties for a lot of reasons, the main reason being that they allow me to bake three dozen chocolate chip cookies without the burden of having them stare me in the face every time I walk into my kitchen.

My coworker who just departed, Cass, is a huge fan of s’mores.  Don’t ask me how that ended up determining the theme of the party, but it did, so we had a s’mores themed going away party.  There were s’mores cookies, s’mores cupcakes, and some s’mores bars that I provided.  The bars were such a hit that there weren’t even any left for me to try by the time I got back to the party.  They were also so good that I decided to make a second batch the next night with my leftover marshmallow fluff (I mean really, though, what was I going to do with a half a jar of marshmallow fluff other than eat it with a spoon… not acceptable).  These were meant for a party that my chief of staff was throwing for the incoming chiefs of the new Senate offices, but I “accidentally” offered them up to my coworkers before the party (read: I hadn’t gotten to try them yet and temptation got the best of me).  Needless to say, my chief of staff claimed that I “stabbed him in the back front,” to which my coworker Beth responded, “they were worth it, I regret nothing.”  Needless to say, these bars are awesome and you should make them.

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S’mores Bars (from Wit and Whistle)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 king-sized milk chocolate bars (e.g. Hershey’s)
  • 1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (not melted marshmallows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

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In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix at a low speed until combined.

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Divide dough in half and press half of dough into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place chocolate bars over dough. 2 king-sized Hershey’s bars should fit perfectly side by side, but break the chocolate (if necessary) to get it to fit in a single layer no more than 1/4 inch thick. Spread chocolate with marshmallow creme or fluff. Place remaining dough in a single layer on top of the fluff (most easily achieved by flattening the dough into small shingles and laying them together).

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars (seriously… you have to wait).

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Culinary Spotlight: New York City

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There is no one like my grandmother, Mema.  She is a one of a kind, incredible lady.  She recently had her 87th birthday, so to celebrate my two cousins, Anna and Phoebe, and I took her to New York City for a weekend.  A couple of years ago the four of us did Paris together, and we make a pretty agreeable group.  During our weekend in New York, we ate, saw the Blue Man Group, went to the Met, ate, walked around SoHo, ate, watched old movies, and oh yeah, did I mention that we ate?  Highlights are below:

Friday night, my cousins and Mema picked me up at Penn Station and we took a cab to dinner at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village.  The entrance to the restaurant feels like the side entrance to a carriage house – it is hidden under a staircase and you have to squeeze through a tiny door to get inside.  Maybe they keep it difficult to find for a reason – apparently it is quite difficult to get a table, and I owe the experience completely to my cousin Anna who somehow seems to have all the ins after living in New York for half a decade.  The interior feels like your grandfather’s study, decorated with dark, warm reds and low-wattage lighting, full of unique tschotskes that seem like they have been gathered over the years and just happened to come together perfectly in this musty, low-ceilinged space.  The restaurant was bustling, and trying to talk to an 87 year old in a crowded restaurant can be impossible, but Anna was able to get us a booth in a quiet corner.  We were right next to a fireplace and had a fabulous view of the other patrons.

But enough about the ambiance – on to the food:  there were no photographs allowed, but I wish I could have taken embarrassing foodie pics in the restaurant – the dishes were complex and beautifully plated.  I started with a roasted beet and fried goat cheese salad that had a balsamic reduction and some sort of nut (I really need to start writing these things down – I have eaten so much good food in the last few weeks that all of my meals are starting to blend together).  The salad was divine – I think I could eat anything that included fried goat cheese, honestly.  For my main course, I ordered duck served over wheat berries with pomegranates.  The duck was cooked perfectly, and pomegranates added a perfectly sweet crunch.  Dessert was the main event though – we had a warm chocolate cake with espresso gelato and a baked alaska that had a lemon chiffon ice cream inside. We left the restaurant fat, happy, and pretty intoxicated and returned to our hotel to turn in for the night.

Saturday morning we woke up (some of us with a hangover, *ahem… my cousin and grandmother who had two manhattans at the hotel before dinner*) and went to brunch at Balthazar – a traditional french bistro in SoHo.  The restaurant had an animated, authentic Parisian feel – there were paper tablecloth toppers, mirrors on all of the walls, tiled floors, tables that were arranged almost on top of each other, and freshly baked bread on racks by the entrance.  I decided to go with the Eggs Benedict, and thank God I did – it was perfect.

One of my dad’s favorite brunch dishes is Eggs Benedict, and my mom worked hard to perfect it when I was growing up.  The main component that distinguishes a good benedict is the hollandaise sauce, a lemony butter sauce that tops the dish.  I learned to make it from my mother, who learned to make it from Mema, and although it is a relatively simple sauce, it is easy to ruin.  Balthazar’s was perfect – hollandaise can sometimes lack lemon flavor and turn out like a salty, buttery mess, but theirs was smooth with the perfect balance of creaminess, saltiness and acidity.  I couldn’t find the recipe they use, but the recipe below is the one we use in my family – comparably flawless, I think.

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Hollandaise Sauce (adapted from Adelle Davis'”Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”)

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • 1 stick butter

On top of double boiler whisk together: 2 egg yolks, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1 generous pinch salt

Place over simmering, but not boiling water and whisk in 1/4 stick butter

When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 2nd  1/4 stick butter

When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 3rd  1/4 stick butter

When butter is almost completely melted, whisk in 4th  1/4 stick butter

Just before last butter is completely melted, remove from heat.  Overheating will cause the sauce to “break”.  If this happens, vigorously whisk in 1 tablespoon of milk.  Leftovers can be frozen and gently reheated.

The final culinary highlight of our stay in New York was the burgers we had Saturday night after seeing Blue Man Group.  In the lobby of our hotel, Le Parker Meridien, there is a hole in the wall burger joint that is discreetly hidden behind a black curtain.  The only way you might know it is there is by the line of people that overflows out into the lobby.  The walls inside are wood panelled and covered with old movie posters and “Daniel wuz here”s written on every possible surface.  I have eaten a lot of burgers in my life, and this was one of the better ones I’ve had.  It might have been the pitcher of beer that we got to complement it, but the burger was awesome – cooked the way I wanted and topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle.  What else could you possibly need?  Maybe an ice cream sundae?  Because we got that too. We went back to our room, settled in to watch Casablanca, which serendipitously just happened to be showing on tv, and ordered two ice cream sundaes from room service.  A perfect end to a perfect night.  We left the next morning and I couldn’t have had a better time.  I am so lucky to have an adventurous grandmother who is constantly amazing me with her willingness and ability to do things that most 87 year olds wouldn’t even dream of doing – may I someday be just like her 🙂

Friday Favorites (2.8.12)

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We had our first dusting of snow a few weeks back and I have been wishing for more ever since.  Glad DC won’t be getting slammed with Nemo this weekend, but I wish it would at least leave the area with a thin layer.  Instead we’ve got rain.  To brighten the coming weekend, check out the links below.  I plan on posting about my past weekend in New York, as well as some new recipes soon – stay tuned!