29 January 2012

Chubby Hubby Reinvention - Take #2

I got my baking groove on over the holidays and made some great treats. For Christmas I made one of my favorite desserts- chocolate bread pudding using panettone for the bread. It is beyond decadent! For dad's birthday (known to the rest of the world as New Year's Eve) we celebrated with peppermint chocolate cheesecake bars, a recipe I found courtesy of Pinterest, my obsession is paying off with very tasty treats. Then there were the neighbor goodie bags filled with puppy chow/muddy buddies/monkey munch - let it be known that by whatever name you call it -  I make the best, spritz cookies, homemade peppermint marshmallows, and candy cane hearts. And it wouldn't be Christmas without maple pecan sticky buns. No wonder I gained weight over the holidays, even though I gave most if it away. But the new year has started, I am setting the goal that I will get to a healthy weight this year with Project: {me}, I have teenage boys to keep up with after all, so it's not really an option. Yet it was hard to get back on track with healthy eating after so much indulgence. Not helping in the efforts was the leftover ingredients hanging out in my pantry and fridge. (Cream cheese makes my diet brownies taste so much better!) The only thing to do was make one last epic dessert using all the leftovers. I took stock of what was on hand, particularly those items that are a weakness and/or couldn't be stored in my garage pantry long term, out of sight and out of mind. I wanted to avoid buying any more ingredients to complete a recipe, the point was to get rid of things. I came up with this list: cream cheese, peanut butter, eggs, pretzels, chocolate chips. It was really just the eggs and the cream cheese I needed to get rid of, the pretzels are not a temptation but they would go stale, and then I'd just throw them out, and that is just wasteful when they could be made into something yummy.

Pondering that list and knowing the other things I had on hand I started thinking about a new reinvention of chubby hubby. This time instead of a cookie base, what about mainly cheesecake... mmm... peanut butter cheesecake, that's an excellent starting point. I delved back into Pinterest world to help me shape my idea. This is what I came up with: Peanut Butter Pretzel Cheesecake bars.  Will you allow me to brag for just a moment? These things are amazingly
I took the pan to work and they got rave reviews, it was a major hit with the guys, especially in the media department. The pan was empty before the end of the day, always a good sign.

Want to try them for yourself? Here is what you need.

Equipment: A stand mixer with the whisk attachment and food processor with  the metal blade.

2 packets of grahamies (or graham crackers to a normal person)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 handfuls of mini-twist pretzels
1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 blocks of cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup peanut butter (creamy will work best, and not the natural kind)
1/3 cup half n' half
4 eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of half n' half
3 ounces of crushed peanuts
2 handfuls of mini-twist pretzels, broken into pieces

For the crust: In the bowl of the food processor, put in all the 'crust' ingredients except the butter. Turn it on and let it do its thing until the graham crackers and pretzels are obliterated into a sand like consistency. With the machine running, slowly pour in the melted butter through the feed tube. I would suggest doing it in two batches, stopping the machine in-between and scraping down the sides. After all the butter is added let it run a little longer to make sure it is all mixed together well. Once it seems mixed and about the consistency of damp sand and will clump together, dump it into a 9x13 baking pan, patting it into a nice even layer along the bottom. Bake it at 350° for 12 minutes. Take it out of the oven and let it cool while you whip up the rest of the dessert.

For the filling: In the bowl of the stand mixer add the brown sugar, cream cheese and peanut butter. You might want to give it a bit of a start on the mixing with arm and spatula as the cream cheese and peanut butter are kind of thick at first. Once it is blended together add the rest of the ingredients and mix until it is well mixed and a little foamy. Remember to periodically stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. When it looks ready, pour it over the crust. Bake at 350° for approximately 25-30 minutes - until the middle only sorta jiggles a little when the pan is wiggled. Let it cool before putting the topping on.

For the topping: In a microwave safe bowl, preferably glass or ceramic (I'm convinced plastic adds an odd flavor), add the chocolate chips, butter, and half n' half. Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir really well. Microwave in 10 second intervals until melted, smooth, and combined. Spread it over the top of the cooled cheesecake, moving quickly, while it is still warm press broken pretzel and peanut pieces into the chocolate.

Chubby Hubby inspired Peanut Butter Cheesecake Bars!

(Notes: I used half n' half because that is what I had, but if I were making this again I would use sour cream in the cheesecake filling for a little more twang, maybe upping it to 1/2 a cup. The batter had a strong punch, but once cooked it was rather mellow. Also, the topping could have been better using heavy cream instead of the half and half, and a little more of it at that.)

26 January 2012

Chubby Hubby Reinvention - Take #1

I have a slight addiction to Pinterest. And to food blogs. It's a dangerous combination, especially when a favorite co-worker is having a birthday. Jon's birthday was early December. I had a little giftie for him already, it had been purchased at a sale two months earlier. But it is expected by my co-workers to bring in baked goods on birthdays, at least those who have a earned special favor with me. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know Jon has curried much favor with me, which meant I needed to pull out the big guns and come up with something amazing.
I started regularly checking the food category on Pinterest and carefully considering each dessert recipe that popped up the various food blogs that I follow. What was going to be the winning idea? I found inspiration in a post from Brown Eyed Baker for Chubby Hubby Truffles.

As amazing as they sounded, it was too much work and effort to make truffles for a crowd at work, even if it was for Jon. But it got me to thinking... what about a peanut butter pretzel cookie? After looking at scads of recipes for peanut butter cookies, blondies, peanut butter blondies, chocolate peanut butter cookies, peanut butter brownies, I came up with this: Jon's Birthday Chubby-Hubby Brownie-Cookie bar.
I collected ingredients from my pantry and with an idea in mind, got to work.

The Supplies

I made a standard brownie box mix adding a little coffee grounds (maybe about a tablespoon) to the mix. I believe coffee and chocolate are the nectar of life, and as such deserve to always be paired together. I poured it into a lasagna pan which is a little bigger than your standard 9x13 and set it aside.

Next came the cookie part. I started with a basic peanut butter cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated, my go-to source for all things food and kitchen related. But I don't follow directions well, and tweaked the recipe a bit. I used 1/2 a cup of White Chocolate Peanut Butter, which I had on hand because Brown Eye Baker had raved about it and when I saw it at Target it magically jumped into my cart, and 1/2 a cup of crunchy peanut butter - because that is what I had. The recipe called for actual peanuts (crazy! a peanut butter cookie with peanuts?!) but since I don't like them unless in butter form I didn't have any and left that ingredient out. I then actually followed the directions, until it came to the add-ins. I precisely measured and added by the handful semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup), peanut butter chips (maybe 1/2 cup), butterscotch chips (a generous 1/4 cup), and broken up pretzel bits (close to 1 cup). Turn the machine on and let it do the hard work of incorporating all of that chippy goodness into the dough.

The dough ended up being really stiff. There was no way I was going to be able to spread it over the brownie base like I had intended, especially as the brownie batter was rather runny. Hm... what to do. Scoop it!

I ended up scooping out the cookie dough, covering the brownie batter filling in gaps here and there. It was time consuming and my hand hurt by the time I was done. Next time, if there is a next time, I'd reverse the two layers. Put the cookie dough on the bottom, patting it into place to cover the whole pan, then top with brownie batter. Oh... then maybe when it's done, it could be frosted... with peanut butter buttercream, or caramel buttercream, and dusted with pretzel bits... I think there will be a next time.

Okay, back to this baking venture. Once the cookie dough was more or less covering the brownie mix, I dropped spoonfuls of caramel sauce all over the top. It was another, 'Hey, I have this in the fridge from this other event, let's add it in!' But I think Kraft caramel squares, maybe cut in half or quarters, would work better, sprinkled over the brownie layer. Next time.

I wasn't sure how long to bake it, so I went with the brownie instructions since they had a longer time, adding 10 minutes to account for the extra thickness. It still needed a few more minutes, but then it went too long. When it came out of the oven the cookie part was a bit dark, maybe a little overdone, for my liking (another reason to reverse the layers).

Ta-da!! Doesn't it look scrumptious? (If not a little overly yellow because of the film+lens combo in Hipstamatic.)

I would show you a cut view, but I forgot to take one... and it didn't last long at work. This recipe is not for the weak. I mean that literally. The stinking thing weighed a little over 7 pounds. Lugging that to work on the train was a trick, but Rockstar deserved it.
Happy Birthday, Jon!! 

Re-Plumbed and Death Threats

A collection of a few random tidbits and stories from the office that made me laugh.

As Jon stood at my cubicle wall chatting, I put in my antibiotic and steroid eye drops that are required for a week after Lasik surgery. This conversation followed:
Me: These eye drops taste so awful!
Jon: Uh, I'm pretty sure that you are supposed to put them in your eye NOT your mouth.
Me: Goober!! I AM putting them in my eyes.
Jon: How does that work? Why are you tasting them?
Me: (pulling my lower eye lid down) This hole here, they drain out of here, down to the back of my nasal cavity and into the back of my mouth where I get to taste them.
Jon: That's so weird.
Me: They put in plugs so I don't know why I taste it so much.
Jon: Yeah, I was going to say something about that, but then I got distracted thinking about all the weird things that are draining into my mouth. (insert scrunched up disgusted face)
Me: What do you think is ending up in your mouth? It's starting out in your eye? What are you putting in your eye that you wouldn't want in your mouth?
Jon: I don't know - it's just gross! AND I'm pretty sure that something is messed up with you and the drops don't actually have any taste. I think you need to get things replumbed, I think it is just YOU that is weird and has your eyes drain into your mouth. (insert repulsed face)
Me: I'll get right on that; it will be my weekend project.

Adam brought fried plantain chips back from his food cart lunch run and offered to share. After offering them to me, and I recognizing what it was in time, quickly pulled my hand back and declined, he went to Jon, saying, "I just tried to kill Jenn by offering her one, but she didn't take it, which means more for you."
Contrary to Jon's non-adventurous taste palette he did try one and commented,
"It doesn't really taste like a nana."
Me: Well, they are a plantain - they don't have a strong bano flavor, just a nana flavor.
Jon: Yeah, I don't know if I've even actually had a plantain either.
Me: They are not for eating plain, they have to be cooked. But they are good with lots of salt.
Jon: Oh, but part of the nanner family... so you're still allergic?
Me: I have not tested the theory but work under the assumption that I am allergic to the whole genre of bananaers. It's not worth dying to find out.

Over the holidays the office was quiet, really quiet, as many of my co-workers took the two weeks that their kids were out of school as vacation. This caused my work to slow down, significantly. As a result, I got a little "pranky." I picked on Jon, recruiting some co-workers, we redecorating his cube, giving it a personal touch which it was still lacking after moving in to this building a year ago. Then Kristi's little owl friend and I started having some adventures around the office, and then downtown, and it even came home with me. But her cubicle had some decorating help from myself and the few co-workers who were around as well. "Put a bird on it!" The Portlandia catch-phrase she enjoys so much was applied to her cube.
She wrote me an email a week ago that said, "You know what they say about payback..." She was basically warning me to be on my guard. So when I saw her at work today, a Friday, a day she normally works from home, and then Jon disappeared for about an hour, I started to get paranoid. I was convinced they were plotting and scheming on how to get back at me. I finally got smart and checked their calendars and found reasonable explanations for their appearance or absence, as the case may be, but that does not mean I am letting my guard down.

And because I'm late in posting once again, here is bonus content from the following Monday. It decided to think about snowing in Portland and the ground was looking extra frosty, but nothing to cause concern. Yet Jon, with all his SoCal snow driving experience, decided to work from home to avoid the snow.
Later in the morning I IM'ed him from my desk at work, at the office, downtown:
Merriam-Webster's word of the day: graupel - granular snow. How appropriate for today. Used in a sentance: "Jon was scared like a little girl to drive in the 2 mm of graupel that was on the ground this morning."
Jon: ha..ha..ha...verrrrry funny.
Me: I thought so.

02 January 2012

2012 - Project: {me}

I like to name things. Maybe it is inherent to being human. After all, Adam was given the task of naming all the creatures on earth. I give people nick-names. My cars have all had names, all starting with "z." I named floppy discs after tropical islands I'd like to visit... Tahiti, Kiribati, Fiji. I used to name the years and make a mixed tape (yes, a mixed cassette tape - the pinnacle of teenage self expression of the 80's). The only one I really remember because I went all out and made a great cover to go with it was "Year of the Emu." (I don't remember why I chose an emu, but I do remember the picture.)

So I am reviving an old habit and naming the year, borrowing a title from my favorite reality show. 2012 is the year of "Project: {me}."  I feel very awkward saying that. It seems so vain and selfish and me focused. Well, hello - it has "me" in the title, it is very self-focused. My conservative Christian upbringing is yelling at me that it is very wrong, prideful, and arrogant to be self-focused. But I am starting to learn there needs to be a balance, a healthy self-care in counterpoint to other care. Even Jesus would get away to pray and 'recharge.' And I'm using a lower-case "m" so that it doesn't scream ME, which makes it all okay - right? (The correct answer is, "right-O, Jennie-O!")
Recently, as I talked with my spiritual director about an incident the week before where I had been hurt, we talked about why it stung, the response, ramifications, etc. Then she followed up with this question:

"What is the first commandment of the Bible?"
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. (Mark 12:30) 
"What is the second commandment?"
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:31)
"Jennifer, how well are you loving others if you aren't loving yourself? How is serving and always saying "yes" to others to the detriment of yourself an act of love? Loving others out of an empty reservoir is not loving them well."
Well, if you put it that way... 
She did, and it made me think. My thinking has started to shift, I'm realizing that it isn't a bad thing to take care of myself, to stand up for myself, to acknowledge and pursue what I want, to have boundaries and priorities - which may contradict what someone else wants of or for me, but it's okay for me to stand my ground even though it may very well cause conflict (something I typically avoid at all costs, even if the cost is high, and at my expense). I know, I know... this is stuff that most people learn on the playground before their age hits double digits. I'm a late bloomer. But I have stumbled across some good articles to help me find my way, so maybe I'm not alone in my delayed blossoming. The big lesson I need to learn is how to stand up for myself with me, so that I can stand up for myself with others.

I'm still working out what Project: {me} is going to look like. I think there should be a goal for each quadrant that Jesus mentions - an emotional goal (heart), a spiritual goal (soul), a mental goal (mind), and a physical goal (strength).

It is easiest for me to come up with physical goals. I got a pretty good running start in 2011; I lost a chunk of weight and lost over a foot of hair. I stalled out in the fall with all the traveling and the holidays. But I'm not content with where I am at, so more weight will come off, and the hair will likely be going shorter in 2012.  I want to do four 1/2 marathons this year and get my time under 3 hours. Oh, did you hear that? No worries, it was just my toes, screaming for mercy - which they will not be shown. Sorry! The biggest physical change of all will happen this Friday with LASIK surgery - I'm getting my peepers fixed! No more contacts or glasses- HALLELUJAH!!!

Mentally, I want to grow as a writer and photographer, continue to develop my project management skill set by getting my CAPM certificate. Continue to deepen my knowledge of Honduran culture, history and current situation. Also learn more about glue addiction and poverty, and ministry in both contexts. But a girl has gotta have fun - so queue the ukulele! Yes, I am learning the ukulele! Feel very sorry for my neighbors, I'm sure they would appreciate your condolences and gifts of ear plugs.

For the other two areas - heart & soul - it becomes much more difficult to come up with goals that follow my MACdaddy rule - Measurable, Attainable, Challenging (who's your daddy?! booyah!). I can say I need to learn how to stand up for myself, that is challenging, but how to set a goal around that which is also attainable and measurable has me stumped. I have found a few resources that I hope will help. Guiding questions always help me. Yet, how do you make measurable, quantifiable, attainable goals in regards to your relationship with the Almighty Incomprehensible God of the Universe? That's going to be a tricky one.

I have set a goal, to have my goals clarified and written down by the end of January. (I am such a nerd! Who sets goals about goal setting?!) I am pacing myself, starting this week with just getting back on track with healthy eating habits which fled far far away in the presence of mom's fudge, a formidable foe. I do not want to set goals that are going to fall by the wayside like the typical new years resolutions. No way, mine are going to stick, like glitter glue to carpet, like errant red dye from a t-shirt to my load of whites. (On a tangent, any ideas on how to get the dye out? I've tried Oxyclean, Clorox2, RIT dye remover - and still my stuff is pink.)

I would love to have some companions for the journey. What potential does 2012 hold for you? How do you want to grow? How can we encourage one another so that when December 31, 2012 rolls around we can scream "Who's your daddy!?!? Booyah! We did it!"

Resources for the Road
Personal Growth:
30 Things to Start Doing for Yourself
anything over at (in)courage, but here is a place to start Who Do You Think You Are?
Physical Growth:
5 Steps to Hit Your Fitness Goals
3 Keys to Successful Health and Fitness Resolutions
Goal Setting:
20 Questions for Reflecting on Your 2011
5 Steps to Making a New Year's Resolution
And a few prompts that didn't have a link.
If I could choose my life, what would it look like?
What can I do right now to help make that happen?
What is my goal this year?
In One month I will….
In Three months I will…
In Six months I will…
In Nine months I will…
By January of the following year I will…