Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars

The sweet-tart combo of strawberries and rhubarb is to die for, in my humble opinion. And since my rhubarb is threatening to take over the world this spring, I’m trying to find new and creative ways to use it up. When I saw a recipe on Better Homes & Garden’s website for bars using my favorite fruit duo, I said, “I’m in!” Then once I started perusing the recipe, I realized 1) the pan/batch was waaaaaaay too small to serve my family or co-workers, and 2) it looked strikingly similar to my blueberry breakfast bars previously posted! (Which DOES make a large enough batch to serve my family or co-workers…)

So I kinda combined my blueberry bar recipe with the BH&G recipe, and I think we’ve got us a winner here, people! Rhubarb is a little more finicky fruit than the berries, though. So it took a little trial and error to get it simmered the right length of time, and make sure the sugar ratio was on point. Now I’ve done all the heavy lifting for you. All you have to do is bake up a batch!

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour*
¾ cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
3 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease an 11″x17″ pan with butter and set aside. In large bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine. Add melted butter and stir until all of oat mixture is combined with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Press remaining oat mixture in bottom of prepared baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

While crust is baking, combine rhubarb, granulated sugar, water, and ginger in large saucepan and heat on high. Once mixture starts to boil, turn to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Rhubarb should start breaking up, and it should thicken up. Add strawberries and return heat to high. Once it starts to boil again, turn down to medium and simmer for 3-5 minutes. In small bowl or cup, combine cornstarch and water. Drizzle in to rhubarb and strawberries and stir until mixture thickens up a bit. Pour on top of baked crust and sprinkle with reserved oat crumbs. Bake for additional 30** minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

*NOTE: I’ve started using Costco’s Ultragrain flour, which is a non-GMO flour and may be tolerable to those who are sensitive to gluten. But it’s not for those with celiac disease!

**Next time I make these, I may try baking these 40 minutes once crust is topped with fruit. Rhubarb seems to require a longer baking time than berries, peaches, pears, etc. I was concerned about the top burning if I did them longer than 30 minutes, but I think they would have been fine.

Marynona’s Whole Wheat Caraway Bread

The only thing that tops the aroma of bread baking, is the taste of that fresh homemade bread, still warm and slathered in butter. Mmmmmmmm. Here’s another recipe that falls in the “Didn’t I post that already?” category, as it’s a family staple. Realized it hadn’t been blogged yet when my son Mitchell was looking for the recipe on forknifespoon.com and couldn’t find it.

My mother-in-law, Marynona, was a fabulous baker, and often entered her baked goods in county fairs around her home town of Albert Lea. This was one of her award winners—and I wish she was still around to tell me what year she earned a ribbon for this recipe she concocted. She would love to know that one of her creations has been passed on and enjoyed by others, as she was always a warm and welcoming hostess. So go ahead and give this recipe a whirl!

Afraid of yeast? (Yes, you!) That’s just silly! Making bread is no different than playing with Play-Doh, and you enjoyed THAT as a kid, right? The trick is to add your last cups of flour gradually so you keep your dough pliable. Too much flour makes for a stiff, un-kneadable mixture. Too little, and it’s a gooey mess. It’s a little trial and error, but you’ll know it was worth the effort when you proudly pull those steaming loaves of grainy goodness from your oven.

Speaking of flour, I’ve found a new flour I really like called “Ultragrain” at Costco. It claims to be a non-GMO whole wheat grain, and it bakes up like regular old white flour. Those of you with gluten intolerance may be able to use Ultragrain flour in baked goods—I’ve found it works for me. But that’s just my experience!

I had to change a couple things in my mother-in-law’s recipe. She had something called “lecithin granules” in her dough, and she and I once found it at a Whole Foods Market. But it’s not carried at the grocery stores I frequent, and I’m not even sure what it is, or what heath benefits it’s supposed to have! Given it was only 2 tablespoons between 4 loaves, I’ve opted to use chia seeds instead, giving you even more texture in this hearty bread.

Makes 4 small loaves or 2 large loaves

3 cups warm water
5 teaspoons dry yeast (or 2 envelopes)
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons flax seed (ground*)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups white flour, divided
2 cups whole wheat flour, divided

Fit standing mixer with dough hook. Pour warm water into large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with yeast, and add molasses and honey. Let rise for a few minutes until it starts to foam. Add oatmeal, wheat germ, oil, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, flax seed, caraway seeds, salt, 2 cups white flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour. Stir on low or setting 2 until ingredients are incorporated. Add 1 more cup white flour and the remaining 1 cup whole wheat flour. Again, stir on low or 2. Gradually add as much of the remaining 1 cup white flour as you can, until dough begins to pull away from sides of mixer as you stir. (You are looking for a dough that is sticking to the dough hook, and holding together some what. But you will be kneading more, so it doesn’t need to be totally Play-Doh texture just yet.)

Dust a large cutting board with white flour. Turn dough out onto board and sprinkle with more flour. Start kneading by bringing outside edges of bread into center and punching down. Continue doing this, sprinkling with flour when sticky, and pulling from all sides of mass until dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease large bowl with shortening and drop kneaded dough ball into bowl. Turn dough in bowl to coat with shortening. Let rise in warm place for 60 minutes, or until roughly doubled in size. (My warm place? I fill my kitchen sink with hot water, then put bowl in the water, covered with a damp dish towel. Back when I had a teeny tiny kitchen and my sink wasn’t large enough for raising dough, I put a few inches of hot water in the bathtub, and let the dough raise in there. Some people like to raise dough in a oven on low heat, but I find that dries the dough out. Others love the convenience of a bread maker for rising AND baking.)

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. While dough is rising, grease 4 small loaf pans, or 2 large ones with shortening. Once dough is risen, punch down and turn onto flour-dusted surface. (Photo 1 below) Divide into 4 or 2 even pieces. (Photo 2 below) Form into ball by bringing outside edges to center and punching into center. Repeat a few times. (Photo 3 below) Then shape ball into an oblong that will fit into loaf pans. Repeat with each piece of dough. (Photo 4 below)

Cover loaves with damp dish towel and let rise for 45-60 minutes, or until almost doubled in size again. (I add more hot water to my sink and rig up an oven rack on top of the sink. Then the loaves sit on the rack, and the towel holds in the moisture creating the perfect bread-rising environment.)

Once bread is risen (It it risen! It is risen indeed!), bake 4 loaves on center rack for 25-30 minutes, or 40-45 minutes for 2 loaves. Bread should sound somewhat hollow when tapped on top crust. (Photo 5 below) Let cool on wire rack until you can handle touching the pans, then remove from pans and let cool completely before storing in airtight container. (Ziplock bags are my go-to bread storage.)

You WILL want to dig into these loaves right away, but resist the urge. The bread will mush and flatten if sliced immediately. Best to let it cool 20-30 minutes before slicing and slathering with toppings of choice. My husband likes peanut butter and slices of tomato, and I do not get that combo. But it’s his mother’s recipe, so he can top it however he likes.

Funny homemade bread dough story! My co-worker Tucker was recently making pizza dough with his wife, and they accidentally used powdered sugar to dust the board before kneading dough. He said it just kept getting stickier and stickier, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong! When they finally realized their error, they quickly salvaged the situation—by calling for pizza delivery.

Oatmeal Apple Pie Cookies

FullSizeRenderLove apple pie or apple cobbler, but would like those flavors in a bite-sized portion? These apple and oatmeal cookies give you a hint of all-American apple pie without the hassle of making pie crust, something I personally have never mastered. (Whoever coined the phrase, “easy as pie” was nuts, in my opinion.) Since the cinnamon, oats, and apples have a fallish feel, put these on your list to try when the air gets crisp, and the leaves start to turn colors.

Oat-laden baked goods are a favorite with my sons, so the S’more Cookies previously posted got rave reviews the first time I made them. But my son Justin was kinda “meh” about the combo, only because he’s not super into s’mores. (I know, I know…what on earth is wrong with him?) He thought that the cookie base would be better with apples and a cream cheese frosting, and when he texted me a reminder of his suggestion one weekend, I said I’d give it a whirl. 

I was a little unsure about the order of the filling and frosting—should I fill them first and then frost after they were cool? Or drop in some frosting and then top with the apple pie filling? So I tried it both ways, then taste-tested on my family (plus my son Mitch’s friend Karl, one of my most ardent food admirers). They had no preference, gobbling both with equal enthusiasm. But they did vote for the ones with pie filling on top as they had a stronger apple flavor. They also said they really, really liked these because they aren’t an achingly sweet cookie—more in the vein of an apple granola bar. How do you like that! Tested by a discerning taste-testing panel before being posted. You’re welcome.

Makes 24-32 cookies

For cookie dough:
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (about 15 squares)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

For frosting and filling:
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar (aka: powdered sugar, Tom…)
Drizzle of milk, 1-2 tablespoons
1 (21-ounce) can of apple pie filling

Preheat oven to 375°. In medium bowl, combine oats, flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add brown sugar and beat again. Add granulated sugar and beat until butter and sugars are light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until eggs are incorporated. Add milk and vanilla and beat again. Slowly mix in the oats and flour mixture with the mixer until all ingredients are combined.

Cover bowl of dough with plastic wrap, and chill for 1-4 hours. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.* Drop spoonfuls of dough onto prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes.

While cookies are baking, make frosting. Put cream cheese in small mixer bowl, and beat on high until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners sugar, and beat on low until combined. With mixer still on low, drizzle in milk and vanilla, and once the liquids are incorporated, return to high and beat until frosting is creamy. Set aside.

Open can of apple pie filling, and use long thin knife to dice apples while still in the can. Remove cookies from oven and make a slight impression in hot cookies with the back of a spoon. Put a generous tablespoon of frosting in the indent, and then add a dollop (another tablespoon) of apple pie filling on top of each cookie.

Return cookies to oven for 3-4 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely before storing.

*NOTE: I ended up making these without parchment paper ’cause I forgot to use it, and they were fine! Needed a good, stiff spatula to get them off the pan, but the parchment paper wasn’t as necessary as I thought.

Oatmeal Crisps

Oatmeal cookies are the Rodney Dangerfield of baked goods. They get no respect. My son Brandon thinks you’ve got one foot in the nursing home door if you’re snacking on these. But there’s something so comforting about a hefty oatmeal cookie, chocked full of raisins. It’s kinda like a hug from your Mom. Speaking of Moms, I got this recipe from mine, who found it in a Better Homes and Gardens “new” cookbook printed in 1963. (Apparently, I liked these enough to warrant my name being recorded beside the recipe, but I guess I dissed the cup of chopped walnuts. So she used raisins instead. Thanks, Mom!)

Chewy when first baked, these are the perfect after-school snack with a tall glass of cold milk. Once cooled, they crisp up a little, and are great for dunking in a mug of hot coffee or tea. And these would be especially welcome after all that rich Thanksgiving fare, so keep this one handy for after turkey day.

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Makes 2 to 2½ dozen

Rating: easy

1 cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. In large mixing bowl, cream shortening. Add brown sugar and cream again. Add granulated sugar and continue to cream. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. Add vanilla. In separate medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda, and stir. Gradually add to creamed shortening and sugar mixture, stirring down sides occasionally. Add oatmeal 1 cup at a time with mixer set on low. Remove from mixer stand and stir in raisins by hand.

Drop large tablespoons of dough onto baking sheet, 12 per sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tops of cookies are lightly golden. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Store in airtight container.

NOTE: I like my cookies soft and chewy, and these start out that way if you bake them for 10-12 minutes. If you like cookies crisp (Sherie Lindvall, I’m talking to you…), bake them 15 minutes or more.

Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp

FullSizeRenderWhen sweet peaches and nectarines are in season, you just gotta gobble them up. This crisp or crumble recipe is one I’ve posted before using rhubarb and strawberries, but I just had to share this with you using the perfect combination of nectarines and blueberries.* Fresh fruits are great when available, but this works just as well using frozen fruit in the winter. How much fruit you put in is really up to you—basically, you want to fill your pan or dish about 3/4 full (as shown here). Fruit does shrink as it bakes, so don’t worry about it overflowing in the oven.

Craving apple crisp or crumble? This topping is also wonderful with apples, so I’ve given you that variation below as well. Top baked crisp with ice cream or serve in a bowl with heavy cream poured over it. Heavenly.

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Serves 8-12

Fruit base

4-6 cups chopped fresh or frozen nectarines or peaches
2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Topping

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease 9″x13″ or other 3 quart baking dish. Spread fruit in pan. In medium mixing bowl, add oats, sugar, flour, and spices, and stir to combine. Pour melted butter over oats and toss until butter is incorporated. Sprinkle oat mixture over fruit and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool 10-15 minutes before serving.

NOTE: You can also bake this dish at 375° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes if you’re in a rush, and it’ll be just as tasty.

For Apple Blueberry Crisp

Granny smith apples and blueberries make a nice tart-sweet combination. Peel, slice and chop 4-5 fresh Granny Smith apples, and mix with 2-4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. Toss with a tablespoon of lemon juice, then add to pan, and add topping. Bake as directed above.

For Apple Crisp

Peel, slice and chop 6-8 of your choice of fresh baking apples. Add to pan, and then top with oats mixture. Bake as directed above.

See more at: http://forknifespoon.com/2015/05/17/strawberry-rhubarb-crisp/#sthash.lLYqimuI.dpuf

Blueberry Breakfast Bars

IMG_0979Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bedtime snack—these bars are a hit any time. This was a recipe request when I wrote a food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was wildly popular with subscribers.  It had been circulated by WIC as a healthy (or healthier than sugary cereals) and kid-friendly recipe at one time. Fresh or frozen fruit work equally well in these bars, and I’ve made them with either blueberries or raspberries, too. Strawberries do NOT work well in this recipe, so save yourself the hassle (and waste) and don’t bother with those berries. Because these are deliciously soft, they fall apart when I’ve tried to send them in a school lunch bag, so cut and serve the bars at home, or bring a pan to share with co-workers. Others will be glad you decided to share the love.

Makes 15 bars

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, melted
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (or raspberries)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional – I’ve made it without and can’t taste the difference!)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, nuts, baking soda, and salt. Pour melted butter over top and stir until all ingredients are coated with butter. Reserve 1 cup of the mixture. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared dish. Bake for 10 minutes.

While base is baking, combine berries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. In small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon water cornstarch, and lemon juice. Mix well. Gradually stir into blueberry mixture. Cook and stir for 30 seconds or until thickened.

Spread berry mixture over baked base to within 1-inch of edge, and sprinkle reserved oat mixture on top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cherry Cookies

IMG_0972Once when trying to describe his favorite cookies, my youngest son dubbed these tasty morsels “The Good Cookies”—so now that’s the official title of this recipe at our house. Dried cherries are great because they add a tartness that’s a nice compliment to the sweet chocolate. But they are a tad expensive, so I often substitute craisins for the dried cherries. No one complains. The addition of a cup and a half of oatmeal adds some substance, while not turning them into straight-up oatmeal cookies. Another tip? If you toast—and cool (so they don’t melt the butter)—the pecans before stirring in, it takes these up another notch.

What got me searching for this recipe was a cookie Taste of Scandinavia bakery used to make called the Rocky Road. It was chock full of nuts and dried fruits and chocolate chunks. My son Mitch and I used to grab of couple from the bakery in St. Anthony while waiting for his brother Justin to be done with painting classes. When the bakery at that location changed hands and quit making our faves, we went through withdrawal. I found a white chocolate, macadamia nut, and cherry cookie recipe on allrecipes.com that sounded close to what we craved, so I subbed in semi-sweet chocolate and pecans, and a star was born. (That recipe is no longer posted, or I would credit the author!)

Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried cherries or craisins (dried cranberries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream butter with beater attachment on electric mixer. Slowly add dark brown sugar, then white sugar, and cream ingredients until fluffy. Add eggs and cream ingredients. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt with a spoon. Slowly add this flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar mixture until all ingredients are combined. Slowly add rolled oats and stir on low to combine. Remove bowl from mixer, and stir in chocolate chips, nuts, and dried cherries or craisins with a wooden spoon.

Drop by large spoonfuls on to baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

FullSizeRenderOats and caramel and chocolate—oh my! This recipe was entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off by Minnesotan Erlyce Larson in 1967, and won hands down. One bite of these gooey taste treats, and you’ll agree whole-heartedly with the judges decision. My friend Lois brought these to a gathering at our house, and they were the hit of the dessert table. (I consumed more than my fair share, so that’s why there are so few left on the plate in the photo. Sadly, this image doesn’t do them justice.) My mother makes a similar Caramel Candy Bar (posted a few weeks ago). Mom’s recipe is to die for, but her recipe requires laboriously unwrapping dozens of caramel candies to make the luscious middle layer, while this recipe uses a short-cut—a jar of caramel ice cream topping. Next time you’re planning a party, invite Lois. And ask her to bring these heavenly bars. Mmmmmm.

Crust

2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

1 (12.5 ounce) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease 13″ x 9″ pan. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Caramel Candy Bars

IMG_0884Some foods are good because of the warm memories attached to them as much as the ingredients. These gooey caramel and chocolate bars fall into that category. My mother always made these for trips to my cousin Dale’s lake property, and my sisters and I couldn’t wait to get to Swan Lake—of course we were pumped to go water skiing, but digging into these decadent bars was a top priority, too. Mom would make a couple batches, cut and stack them in a Folger’s coffee can with wax paper between each layer, and stash ’em in the freezer. (Unlike most baked goods, these suffer no ill-consequences from being frozen!) Once these were pulled from their secret hiding place, the frozen squares would thaw in about 15 minutes, and were the consistency of a chewy candy bar. With mouths full of chocolate-caramel goodness, we could forget about itching our mosquito bites for a while. (And how deathly afraid we were to go to the latrine alone.)

A couple nights ago, we took a trip down memory lane when my Mom brought over a pan of bars. They were even better than I remembered—partly because this time we weren’t covered in mosquito bites, and dreading trips through the dark woods to the outhouse.

These are very similar to the Pillsbury Bake-off Carmelita Oat Bars (to be posted later), except this recipe uses caramel candies, more butter, and has double the amount of chocolate chips and nuts. More butter, chocolate, and nuts? Can’t go wrong there.

Makes 45-48 bars

Crust

2 cups All-purpose or unbleached flour
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups margarine or butter, softened

Filling

64 Kraft caramels, unwrapped*
1/2 cup half and half, or milk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease large baking sheet (10″ x 15″). In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine caramels and milk in glass bowl or large glass measuring cup, and heat on high in microwave for about 3 minutes, or until mixture can be stirred smooth.

Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with melted caramels; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Return to oven; bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour, then cut into bars. Store bars in airtight container with wax paper between layers. They can be left at room temp once completely cooled, or frozen to be served at a later time.

*This is a bit of a chore. If unwrapping these candies is too tedious for you, call my Dad. He has the patience of a saint and happily performs the task, knowing the end result will be some sinfully delicious treats.

Monster Cookies

Monster CookiesThis makes a monstrous batch (thus the name), but it’s usually gone pretty darn quick, as they’re the favorite cookie for 3 out of 4 men in my family. Generous amounts of old-fashioned oatmeal and peanut butter in these chunky treats give granola bars some stiff competition, and make these hearty enough for breakfast, if you like cookies for breakfast. And who doesn’t?

Surprisingly, the appeal of monster cookies spans the globe. Our house guests from Norway, France, and Japan have all requested this recipe, which I’ve packed in their bags along with a set of U.S. measuring cups and spoons. (Easier than figuring out how to convert the measurements into metric…)

Monster recipeI’ve actually halved this recipe from the original to make it more manageable. I got it from a woman who had seven kids, so she needed the jumbo batch. As you can see from my tattered and stained recipe, this really has become a family fave.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen

1 ¼ cups Skippy super chunky peanut butter
¾ cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup M&M’s
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. In large mixer bowl, cream peanut butter and shortening. Add dark brown sugar, then white sugar, and cream ingredients until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, and cream. Add vanilla and cream ingredients again.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, combine oatmeal, flour, and baking soda with a spoon. With mixer on low, slowly add oatmeal mixture to peanut butter mixture until all ingredients are combined. Remove bowl from mixer, and stir in M&M’s and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon until combined.

Drop by large spoonfuls on to baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until edges are light brown. Let cookies cool for 10 minutes before removing from baking sheet. Store cookies in an airtight container. Deliver to starving college student.