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Magic cookie bars are a childhood favorite I’ve never outgrown. Today, I’m sharing them with a fall twist–fresh bits of apple and tart, chewy Craisins.

KATTY’S MAGIC COOKIE BARS

¼ cup butter, melted
¾ cup graham cracker crumbs
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup chopped dark chocolate (I used Valrhona Guanaja 70%)
¼ cup chopped Valrhona Dulceys (32% blond chocolate)
about ¾ cup flaked coconut—enough to make a generous coconut “snow” layer over the graham crumbs and butter
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup Craisins
1 small apple, diced (about 3/4 cup)–I couldn’t find my usual Macouns so I used a Smitten™ and really liked it
a bit more than ½  of a 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (SCM)
1 tablespoon bourbon to mix into the SCM (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract to mix into the SCM
sprinkle of cinnamon for the top of the pan (optional)

Butter an 8 x 8″ baking dish. Melt butter, combine with graham cracker crumbs and ¾ teaspoon cinnamon, spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cover this layer completely with coconut, then nuts, chocolate(s), Craisins and apples. Sprinkle a bit more cinnamon over the top of the apples if you like. Stir 1 tablespoon of bourbon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract into SCM, then pour evenly over the pan.

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees F . Run a knife around the outside of the pan while still warm. Cool. Cut into bars or diamonds. Happy fall and happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your time with the ones you love and the ones who love you most.

Hope and Balashi

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It’s finally feeling like fall–a perfect time for soupin’ it up in the kitchen, and turning on the oven to roast tomatoes. All that sound good? Lasagna soup might be just what the weatherman ordered! I wonder if cousin Gil Simmons is listening?!

This recipe has all the delicious flavors of lasagna without being overly cheesy. Not that there’s anything wrong with being cheesy (HA HA, please, look who’s talking). But it’s plenty rich and hearty without ricotta or mozzarella. See if you agree!

LASAGNA SOUP

1 pint grape tomatoes
olive oil to coat the bottom of a large roasting pan
1 large sweet onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup vodka
1 pound sausage (patties, or casings removed from links) CT folks, I love Longhini!
1 red bell pepper, diced
5 oz. mushrooms (I used baby bella), sliced
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it
1 box (32 oz.) chicken stock (my fave is Kitchen Basics)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup flour
1/2 pound lasagna noodles, broken (note: I found frozen lasagna noodles from Durante’s Pasta of West Haven at Shop Rite in Wallingford–SCORE!)
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
fresh basil to garnish (optional), parsley’s always nice, too

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil to coat 9 x 13″ baking dish. Roll the tomatoes around in the olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Gently smash the garlic cloves with the side of your knife and add to baking dish. Make sure all the tomatoes are in an even layer. Roast in oven 10 minutes, then shake and put them back in for 10 minutes more. Then shake again and back to the oven 10 more for total of 30 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup vodka after you remove the pan from the oven. Sizzle-sizzle!

Watch the asterisks (*) for where we need to multitask a bit. 🙂

In a stock pot, cook sausage over medium heat, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Add pepper, mushrooms and thyme; cook 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes/onions/garlic/vodka and chicken broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add broken lasagna noodles, and bring to low boil. *Cook for 10-12 minutes (follow package instructions as a guide) or until the noodles are tender. Add spinach and cook for about a minute while stirring.

*While the noodles are cooking, in a separate smaller saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour and continue cooking for 1 minute; whisking constantly. The butter/flour mixture should be bubbling. Slowly whisk in milk/cream until it’s smooth and thickened; about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat and slowly whisk in Romano cheese. Once the mixture is creamy and the cheese has melted, slowly whisk into soup.

Now it’s time to serve. Garnish with basil or parsley and mangia, mangia! Serves four to six people, depending how hungry your people are. 🙂 Reheats very nicely, too.

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I saw a recipe for oatmeal cookies with peanut butter and pretzels and had to give it a try my own way. Based on Nanny’s recipe, as hers is my tried and true favorite, here’s this kat’s peanut buttery and crunchy spin on oatmeal cookies.

PEANUT BUTTER PRETZEL OATMEAL COOKIES WITH CHOCOLATE CHUNKS
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup peanut butter (I like Skippy creamy)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups quick oats
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped (Valrhona in my house)
1/2 cup broken pretzel pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream peanut butter and butter till light and fluffy. Add sugars, egg, water and vanilla and beat together until creamy.

Sift together flour, salt and soda. Add to creamed mixture, blend well. Add oats and mix. Then add pretzels and chocolate and mix.

Original recipe calls for dropping by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. I used my trusty Zeroll Universal EZ Disher scoop (#60, pink). I love and highly recommend this scoop for perfect portioning!

Bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees F. In my house, 13.5 minutes is the magic number, but could be anywhere from 12-15 minutes at yours. Letting the cookies rest on the baking sheet a few minutes makes it easier to move them from sheet to rack.

Nanny, as always, I wish you were here to bake with me. And I hope, in some way, it makes you smile out there in the universe to know your traditions live on–not just through me, but through every new person who tries your recipes. Love you always.

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Nanny, Poppy and baby Jane (c. 1936)

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In a wondrous act of both Yankee thrift and ingenuity, I managed to get three pumpkin recipes from a single 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree:
last week’s pumpkin apple bread
last night’s pumpkin spice caramel budino
and now, these delightful pumpkin harvest CCCs.

Using my usual CCC recipe, I added fall spices and the last bit (1/3 cup) of puree. Oh, and pecans, because they taste like fall. Of course, I threw Maker’s Mark in there, too. It seemed wrong not to.

These cookies are soft and pillowy with the addition of pumpkin–and the spices lend a tasty twist to the classic, all-American cookie. Hope you love them. We did!

PUMPKIN HARVEST CCCs

1 stick butter (salted), softened
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon Maker’s Mark
½ cup dark chocolate Valrhona feves
½ cup pecans, chopped

Cream the butter and the sugars until light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add lightly beaten egg, pumpkin puree, bourbon and vanilla; mix just till egg is incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt and spices into a separate bowl. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients in three passes. Mix only until combined: do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chunks and pecans.

Chill dough for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. I used an ice cream scoop to make big beauties. Space them 2 inches apart.

Bake for 11-14 minutes (14 in my oven, so that’s 7 minutes up and 7 minutes down). Turn the sheets front to back and switch racks halfway through.

Remove the sheets from the oven to cool a few minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack. Makes 22 cookies, but who’s counting?

cookie monster cookies

I hate to speak for the Cookie Monster, but since we share a birthday … I think he’d say these pumpkin harvest CCCs are AHM NOM NOM NOM!!!

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PUMPKIN SPICE CARAMEL BUDINO

It smells like fall in here! Which is a pleasant change, as it sure feels a whole lot like summer outside. But I digress. You can still climb aboard the pumpkin spice train and not heat up the house too much with this tasty budino. It’s easiest to break down in steps, so  here we go.

1. In a small bowl, whisk and set aside:
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch

2. In another small bowl, whisk and set aside:
3 egg yolks
Then whisk in:
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon clove
1 cardamom pod, crushed

3. In a small saucepan, combine and heat just to a simmer; then set aside:
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
½ vanilla bean, scraped

4. Get ready to add at the end:
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons Maker’s Mark

5. In a separate saucepan, stir to combine over medium heat till sugar dissolves:
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup water
Increase heat; cook without stirring for approximately four minutes, then remove from heat.

Now, here’s where we start moving quickly and combining the previous steps.

a. Slowly whisk hot milk mixture into eggs.

b. Whisk milk/eggs into milk/cornstarch.

c. Slowly whisk all the above into saucepan with caramel in it and cook over medium-high heat until it thickens, about 3 minutes.

d. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons Maker’s Mark.

e. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a large pitcher/mixing bowl (makes it easy to pour).

f. Pour budino into four ramekins.

g. Proceed to lick all whisks, spatulas and spoons using during the cooking process. AHM NOM NOM NOM! Or shall we do it in Italian? AHM GNAM GNAM GNAM!!!

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Rainy Sundays are perfect for baking and yesterday was no exception. I’m hopping on the pumpkin spice train–ALL ABOARD FOR DELICIOUSNESS, WOO-WOOOO! What could be better than the fabulous fall flavors of pumpkin, apple and pecans baked into tasty little mini-loaves?

PUMPKIN APPLE BREAD WITH PECAN STREUSEL TOPPING

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 a stick), softened
1/4 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin
1 cup apples, diced (I’m a Macoun girl, they’re perfect in baked goods and as a snack!)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Pecan streusel topping
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter
¼ cup chopped pecans
Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl; cut in butter with a knife–or fork together. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease four mini-loaf pans.

Sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Beat oil, butter and sugar.

Add eggs and pumpkin. Beat well. Add sour cream, vanilla and bourbon. Beat some more. 🙂 Gradually add dry ingredients in three or four additions. Combine well. Fold in apples.

Spoon batter into mini-loaf pans. Top with streusel. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes (in my oven, anyway) or till toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Enjoy the taste of fall–share it with a friend!

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The beauty of a tried and true recipe is how easily you can change it up. If you love the buttery, chewy deliciousness of a blondie and you’re a peanut butter fan, you’ve gotta try these. You could easily add chocolate chips if you like, but I thought I’d make these a little different and add my favorite chocolate lovers’ frosting.

PEANUT BUTTER BOURBON BROWNIES with CHOCOLATE LOVERS’ FROSTING
adapted from Mark Bittman’s original recipe for blondies

1 stick salted butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup peanut butter (I like Skippy creamy)
1 large egg
2 tablespooons bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup + 1 1/2 teaspoons flour (the extra amount is to compensate for the Maker’s Mark)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 x 8″ baking dish. Combine melted butter with brown sugar till smooth. Beat in peanut butter, then egg, bourbon and vanilla.

Combine salt, soda, baking powder and flour. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in chopped chocolate.

Pour into baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely, then frost with chocolate lovers’ frosting.

CHOCOLATE LOVERS’ FROSTING (half batch for 8×8″ treats)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) salted butter, softened
2  tablespoons milk (or sour cream, if you have it handy)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa (by now, you know my heart belongs to Valrhona)

Beat together butter, milk (or sour cream) and vanilla, then gradually add cocoa and sugar. Frost blondies and enjoy the two great tastes that taste great together!