Monday, July 4, 2011

Adventures in Independence Day Cooking!

Today is Independence Day (a holiday), and thus, I chose to make it one of those days where I don't allow myself to do a lick of work. 

OK, so I worked at the store, but only because my schedule decrees it...and in any case, I managed to finish everything in a little over 5 hours, so it was practically a day off! Following work, however, I was free to do a little celebrating. And I chose to make food. This is something you often do if you are hosting or attending a Fourth of July party. I myself am actually avoiding all the parties today (because in Valerie-Land, any excuse is a good excuse to miss a party, and having to work the next day shortly after 6 a.m. is one of the best ones!) but when holidays call, you respond with spoon in hand!

Speaking of spoons, I must say that one of the best inventions in cooking was the wooden spoon. Wooden spoons are tough enough to stir the most solidified of concoctions. And unlike metal spoons – which bend under the pressure of a hearty cookie dough – and plastic spoons – which melt at the slightest opportunity – wooden spoons, well, don't do either of those things!

On the other hand, the worst invention in cooking has to be Teflon coating. I'd rather have my baked goods stick to the side of the pan any day, than have the side of the pan baked black and scratched all up. Unfortunately, despite its annoyingly fragile nature and recent concerns about its detrimental effect on human health (oh, I can't remember exactly what it is—probably some kind of carcinogen. Like everything else in the world), Teflon does not seem to be losing its foothold in the world of cookery.

But enough of this digression. This is supposed to be about Valerie's Adventures in Cooking!

Today's adventure actually began yesterday, with another attempt at Spinach Cheese Squares, which ended with me not hearing the oven timer go off and overcooking my squares by a considerable amount. Apparently not too considerable, though, because I tasted them today, and they were just as delicious as always. With an extra-crispy edge that only added to their yumminess.

Actually, today's adventure actually began a few weeks ago, when I realized that my beloved giant chocolate Easter bunny (immortalized in the photo to the right) was actually a lot more cute than tasty. After eating a few bites of him, I decided I'd rather not do that any more. This has nothing to do with any sense of guilt over consuming an adorable rabbit bit by bit. Of course not. I decided instead to take his remains and use them as the topping for a delicious dessert. The few weeks during which the pieces of chocolate rabbit reposed in my refrigerator were a result of me having too much work, not enough motivation, and no powdered sugar.

Today, I acquired powdered sugar and cleaned out the 8-inch square pan (I had to remove the spinach cheese squares first) and filled it instead with what are known in Ohio as buckeye bars, but in places that are not Ohio are probably called "peanut butter chocolate squares" or something equally un-colorful.

Buckeye bars are simple to make: Mix 4 cups of powdered sugar with 1.5 cups of peanut butter and .5 cups of softened (melted seems to work OK, too) butter. This is where your wooden spoon comes in handy, because stirring this mixture is not unlike stirring a rock.

Once it is in a fairly homogeneous clump, spread it in a 9x9 pan (or you can improvise with an 8x8 pan plus a bread pan, as I do. By choice, of course; not because, after all these years of baking, I still lack a 9x9 pan. Of course not).

Then melt approximately a cup of chocolate in a double boiler. This is where your chocolate Easter Bunny comes in. If you lack a double boiler, you can use a microwave. Or you can do it the Valerie way, which is to place a quart pot inside a skillet, fill the skillet with as much water as it'll hold, and turn on the heat! This is almost like having a double boiler, but with the added excitement of allowing boiling water to splash all over your kitchen while you are stirring your chocolate!

Once the chocolate is melted, spread it on top of your peanut butter mixture. At this point, you will likely discover that the half-eaten remains of a chocolate Easter Bunny are not quite enough to cover an 8x8 + 9x4 surface of peanut butter. Do the best you can. So what if some of your peanut butter is bald? You can just eat it immediately because it's not fit to show the rest of the world. You win when you lose!

The last crucial step in making these buckeye bars is to place a Ziploc bag on top of the hot burner cover immediately after removing the double boiler. You don't want your burners to get lonely after this sudden separation! And of course, you want that extra melted-plastic-goopy challenge in the cleanup stage. After all, if it's not character-building, it can't be an Adventure in Cooking!