Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Magic Seven Layer Bars

I don't know why it's taken me so long to make magic bars (aka seven layer bars). I've always loved eating them when people have made them in the past - after all, they contain an amazing combination of coconut, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips. I adore anything with butterscotch chips in it. And the best part is, they are amazingly easy to make.

It was Sunday morning and I knew I wanted to make something to take with me to my cousin Andrea's facial party. My eye happened to catch a can of Eagle condensed milk in my cupboard, then I checked and found half a bag of sweetened coconut in the freezer and a half used box of graham cracker crumbs and decided it was time to try making them.

Magic Bars (recipe from the Eagle can of milk)

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I decreased this to one cup and added a cup of butterscotch chips)
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (I went with my favorite baking nut, pecans - toasted, of course)

I'm not quite sure where the seven layer name comes from because there's technically only seven "layers" or ingredients when you count butter as a layer and use two types of chips. I like the name "Magic Bars" since they do taste good enough to earn that title!

I also have to add that this recipe would be great to make with kids, since I can imagine them having as much fun as I did scattering the different ingredients.


Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13 x 9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in small bowl. Press into bottom of prepared pan (I used the back of a spoon):

Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. I put a lot of thought into what order my ingredients should go.

First came the butterscotch chips:
Next came the toasted pecans:
A liberal sprinkling of coconut on top - I was worried that I wouldn't have enough but a half bag of the standard size was the perfect amount. Having it on top would allow it to get toasted.
Finally, some chocolate chips on top to melt and hold down the coconut. Don't forget the important step of pressing down on the layers firmly with fork.

BAKE 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Loosen from sides of pan while still warm; cool on wire rack. Cut into bars or diamonds. 

What you will end up with is chewy perfection - Andrew and I could not stop eating these. I kid you not, after taking most of the bars to the party, there ended up being only one bar left by the time I could take a picture. And that's only because I warned Andrew to leave at least a bar for a picture!

Next time, I'll do as the Eagle recipe suggests online and line entire pan with foil, and coat lightly with no-stick cooking spray. I think this will make it easier to pry the bars from the pan.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Facial Party Fun

On Sunday, my cousin (and one of my bridesmaids) Andrea hosted a fun, girly day featuring a facial and a foot soak that she won featuring Arbonne (swiss skincare) products.

I'll admit it, I attended with some trepidation. I've never been a girly girl in terms of slathering myself with tons of product. In fact, I tend to pefer simple, non-scented products that can be quickly applied. So the thought of spending a whole afternoon applying stuff to my face wasn't at the top of my list.

However, from the minute I walked in the door, I was impressed by my "little" cousin's hostessing skills. She had recruited my aunt Rena to make ziti for the meal, accompanied by a fresh salad and breadsticks that she had bought at work (the OG). In addition, she had gotten green skewers from work and made these adorable strawberry and orange garnishes:

...that were the perfect accompaniment for the freshly made Sangria (Andrea's truly related to me, as that's one of my favorite drinks to make for gatherings!)

Then it was time for the "spa" portion of the afternoon, which I thought was going to be torturous. Eating, I could handle. Girly stuff, not so much.

But Amber, our spa expert, wisely eased us into the activities. First we had our choice of three different face scrubs (I chose anti-aging, ahem, as I do turn 30 this year). That was nice enough but the next product had me really amazed. It was this great sea salt scrub (could be used anywhere where you want to slough off rough skin, like your feet) which we used on our hands. It left my hands feeling very smooth yet moisturized, and had a pleasant light scent. Stephanie (Andrea's friend on the left) and Andrea (rocking red highlights to the right) clearly approved of their soft hands:
Next came the scary stuff - and I'm not talking about the winter feet that we all soaked in tubs filled with a sea salt bath. We all applied a detoxifying mask that made us look like Shrek. Seriously. I was laughing my butt off at everyone (as I was the last to apply it). We left this on for 20 minutes, which was a good thing since it was strong enough to give our skin a tingly (slightly burning) feeling. It doesn't sound very comfortable but it didn't hurt and actually dried quickly.

Seriously - are you ready for the close-up? I looked like an extra from the Mask!

Next, came hot towels to lay on our faces which helped to loosen the masks, allowing us to wipe every speck of mask off:

Amy looks very relieved to get the towel and gook off her face!

Mask off, Amy's face was glowing and clean! Be gone toxins!

The rest of the party, we literally put five different products (such as toner, eye cream, moisturizer, etc) on our face and tried different lotions on our hands. Amber was pretty funny and such a good spa hostess that I ended up buying that sea salt scrub from her (seriously, the stuff is amazing) but it really was a fun environment with no pressure to buy anything (I've avoided these types of gatherings in the past since I get uncomfortable being pressured to buy things that I don't need). Then we stuffed our selves with lemon cake and magic bars and called it a day. Amy and I headed home stuffed, with great looking skin, thanks to Andrea event planning skills.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Staying Local on Saturday

I believe there was a good chance that I wouldn't have made it out of the house on Saturday if Jen hadn't been a good friend and suggested dinner at a Newton favorite, The Local. Andrew and I had been motivated on Friday night to do some cleaning and throwing away of junk for one of our many cluttered rooms, but Saturday, I hadn't accomplished much more than watching the Winter Olympics and reading a book. In partial defense, I was suffering a particularly bad headache that wouldn't go away and made me feel too run-down to do more cleaning.

All it took it took was some fresh air, good companionship and tasty food to get my spirits up!

I won't go into too much detail about the food, since I ordered the same (dee-licious) homemade potato chips and Jen and I both opted for a cheeseburger, but we were happy to find new desserts on the rotation.

Jen went with the pound cake with crystallized berries and sour cream and proclaimed it delicious. She offered me a taste but I was honestly too full to even attempt a bite, despite my love of blueberries:

As for me, I ordered a pudding parfait with fresh berries that sounded nice and light but when it arrived, I realized what I had essentially orderd was breakfast. It was fresh berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and I think blueberries) with vanilla and banana pudding and granola (it wasn't called this, I think it was described as nuts but it was definitely granola).  It was pretty good and I have to admit, the type of light and somewhat healthy dish I was looking for, but definitely not a "dessert" really, especially since the pudding had the consistency of yogurt.

The highlight of the night? Realizing that The Local carries my favorite Dr. Loosen Reisling,.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

February Office Potluck

It had been a while since we had an office potluck, in fact, I think our last one had occurred in 2009. Unfortunately, another coworker's departure prompted this occasion but it was still jolly in tone!

I was pretty lazy in the dessert I made. I was prompted by a recipe on the back of my cake flour box, but I was too tired to make a cake from scratch. Instead, I made a gold cake from a mix but followed the other recipes directions for frosting and layers to create a Strawberry Jam cake. As you can see, my handiwork is a little sloppy but I had fun decorating it. I think it is more suited for a little girl's tea party rather than an office potluck!
For the interior layers, I alternated layers of strawberry jam with a layer of strawberry buttercream frosting. This looked very pretty but was a little too sweet for my tastes. I think you need a fairly unsweet cake base to balance out well with the sweetness of the jam and frosting:

For dessert, we also had ginger cookies and chocolate chip cookies:

Coming as no surprise, it was the food (as opposed to the dessert) that was the real show stopper of the meal. I didn't get a shot of the buffet table but we had a ton of different choices as usual! A look at my plate shows arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), a vegetable salad, bacon wrapped scallops (to die for), sausage with peppers, homemade artichoke and spinach dip with tortilla chips and one of my favorites, an orzo dish with tomatoes and chicken.  Yum!
This had definitely not been a good food eating week for me (as in, not eating healthy!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Andrew and I cleared a huge hurdle to becoming homeowners last Friday. I'm still afraid of jinxing things by writing too much too soon, but suffice it to say, we've turned our thoughts to furniture.

We've been researching all sorts of benches that would work well in a front entry way or a mudroom. Most of the stuff we looked at online was your typical particle board bench with faux leather. Some even came with a few baskets on the bottom as storage space.

Then upon a stroll thorugh Home Goods this weekend, we came across this bench. Swoon.
I love this mosiac pattern on top - the colors, the shapes, the flowers, all gorgeous and constrasting well against the stone (cement?) portion. I actually noticed the pattern on a patio table at first, which was way too expensive and impractical for our needs. And then Andrew found the bench, which was much sturdier than anything we had researched and so pretty to boot.
I love the fact that the first thing that guests would see when stepping in a house would be this cheerful and colorful pattern. Also, I can totally picture my parents sitting on the bench to put on their shoes. Beautiful and practical.
This is where we would put it - out with the old and in with us.
I think furniture shopping has officially replaced our house hunting obsession.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Restaurant 45

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Andrew, his parents and I have been on an eating tour of Ashland and the surrounding towns in search of a rehearsal dinner site.

First was Stone's Public House, followed by Fusion Cuisine and today, we ate at a strong contender, Restaurant 45 in Medway.
Now on to the fun part, the food! And it was very good.  Andrew and I thought it was a good sign that Restaurant 45 had two different types of calamari appetizers. Going out on a limb, we ignored the typical calamari offering with dipping sauces and went with the Calamari 45 signature dish (deep fried crispy calamari with sliced hot cherry peppers, black olives and tomatoes tossed in olive oil and garlic served with garlic crostini). And it was amazing. You didn't even need a dipping sauce for the calimari with the strong flavors of the olives and tomatoes:

Another appetizer that caught our eye was Gabe's Garlic Bread with Gorgonzola Fondue (toasted italian bread served with a delicious gorgonzola cheese cream sauce) - those two dishes may have had too much garlic bread for some, but not for us!

Since I knew I was going with a salad for my main meal, I decided to get a cup of the Lobster and Clam Chowder. Boy, was that a good decision! It was thick and creamy and tasted great. Another big plus was the huge chunks of lobster in it that you could actually tell came from a lobster - delicious!

My Mesclun salad was chock full of nice things -mixed field greens tossed with sun dried cranberries, roasted walnuts, pears, red seedless grapes, gorgonzola cheese, pita bread croutons and balsamic vinaigrette. I loved everything about it except for the balsamic vinaigrette. My guess was that it was a white wine vinaigrette and it tasted really salty to me but Andrew thought it tasted fine. I adored the pita bread croutons, and was suprised how well they worked considering how thin they are.
I had joked at the table that we all had to order different things so we could try possible menu items for a rehearsal dinner, and it worked out naturally that we all did.  Andrew went with the Chicken and Broccoli (sauteed chicken filets, broccoli, parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper, olive oil and garlic tossed with penne) which looked awesome. I fully intended on grabbing a bite but was honestly too full by the time our entrees arrived.

Charlotte chose the Chicken Parmesan and seemed pleased with her choice.
The only thing left of Tom's Seafood Saute was the angel hair pasta, he ate every scrap of the sauteed shrimp, sea scallops and salmon (with sun dried tomatoes, spinach, roasted red peppers, onions, roasted pinenuts and fresh basil in a white wine and garlic butter sauce):
A shot of Andrew and I, full and contented after our meal:

Overall, we were extremely pleased at the quality of the meal and the function rooms we toured. I wish Restaurant 45 was a little closer to Newton becaue I'd be eating there all the time!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Nothing Says I Love You... homemade cinnamon rolls...

Hot out of the oven...

Slathered with a generous amount of cream cheese frosting dripping off the sides...

Andrew and I agreed early on in our relationship that we wouldn't exchange gifts for Valentine's Day or anniversaries. We do enough gift giving on birthdays and Christmas, plus, we need to save up all the money we can to buy a house and furnish it. So for Valentine's Day, I decided to put in the extra effort (as in two hours worth of prepping and baking time) to make Andrew cinnamon rolls for breakfast. It was well worth the effort, and much appreciated. Plus, we've feasted all weekend on them (they're still mighty tasty after being warmed up in the microwave). Just a natural (and as Amy would put it, obvi) way to show my love.

Just a reminder, please vote for me and Andrew in the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy [Work] Valentine's Day

In elementary schools everywhere, children will be exchanging cartoon valentines and eagerly opening their colorfully decorated  valentine mailboxes. I'm not going to lie, I miss those days!

It's been a busy baking week for me, I did another batch of the chocolate chip cookie dough brownies for a bake sale to benefit the American Cancer Society last night (I also have to add that they went quickly and people were asking if I'd make them again) and I knew I wanted to make something for my coworkers on Friday in honor of Valentine's Day.

So I kept it simple. Red velvet cupcakes, pink tinted cream cheese frosting and a red heart top it off.

I don't think anyone will be complaining about not getting a valentine. Especially since the cupcakes would be hard to squish into the slot cut into the top of a shoe box.
Just a reminder, please vote for me and Andrew in the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest. And tell your friends! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big Storm? Wamp Wamp

After the last big storm hit the mid-Atlantic, I was smugly laughing at all the comments from people living in that region complaining about the amount of snow. One former college roommate, who will remain unnamed, sent pictures of her snow covered yard from Maryland. I thought to myself, really? How many times have I seen the same thing out of my window in a normal winter? And for goodness sake, she went to college in Boston for four years, she should be used to snow.

Then came the weather forecast for today's storm with all the weather forecasters proclaiming it would start snowing by around 10 am and wreak havoc on the evening commute.  The news was filled impressive, colored charts that made it seem like were going to be buried by a ton of snow.

And then the morning came. And the afternoon. No snow. A few anemic flakes that were so wispy, that if you blinked, you could barely see them. Finally, around four, the flakes were coming down fast but not sticking a lot.

So basically, a lot of fuss over nothing. And now I'm ashamed of the way Massachusetts was over-reacting about the storm (I think due in part to what the mid-Atlantic had just gone through).  But in my own defense, I treated it as a normal day. I drove into work. I even went in early to ensure a good parking spot in the garage. I didn't leave early. Well, technically I never leave at 4 pm, so it was early in the day, but it was nine hour work day so it's not like I missed doing any work.

Anyway, I guess that's New England for you. We complain about the bad weather when we have it, we complain when we don't get it and we just enjoy talking about the weather period. At least there were a lot of happy kids enjoying their "snow" days today!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wedding Countdown: Eight Months To Go!

It's amazing how much time has flown by. A part of me wistfully thinks about the fact that if Andrew and I had gotten a year after we got engaged, we'd be married as soon as this May. And then the rational part of me kicks in and says no way, it's GREAT to be engaged and that I should savor every moment of this special phase of my life. I've even had strangers on the street tell me this after seeing my ring, and it builds an odd sort of camraderie amongst strangers.

Anyway, I digress. It's crazy to think we're pass the half way mark! As I mentioned in my last countdown post, we were on the hunt for a DJ, and I'm happy to announce that we're going with C-Zone Music. We really liked their philosophy of no "cheese" or no props on the dance floor, and even more importantly, clicked with the personality of the DJ we met with and were assured of his professionalism (and his ability to rock a party!) By a coincidence, we met the owner Greg by chance at our wedding venue's food tasting, and were even more assured in our choice!

So what's next? One of the things I've been looking forward to the most as a baker - the wedding cake!

I've got a few places in mind to check out, especially with a lot of great bakeries located in the Newton and Brookline area. Last but not least, I want to schedule an appointment with the bakery that made my engagement cake, Truly Jorgs Patisserie.

Onto to the fun part, inspiration cakes!  All I know at this point is that I want a buttercream frosted cake since the taste of the cake is just as important as the look of the cake. And as beautiful as fondant is, let's face it, it's tasteless and a waste of calories. I know, strong feelings against fondant, but I really believe that nothing can beat the flavor or texture of a good buttercream frosting.

Anyway, these are some of the cakes that I think are gorgeous - I don't think I'd be able to replicate the look of this, especially without fondant, but it's still fun to figure out what I want the cake to look like. And to be truthful, I think I want a lot of color and a floral element.

Onto the cakes (all from Martha Stewart Weddings).

I love the diffent shades of pink, the topper and the fun design - very cute but probably wouldn't work with my wedding's theme and colors:

This is probably more like what my cake could realistically end up looking like (with slightly different colors) - I love the addition of fiddlehead ferns:

I just love the simple design of this cake - sticking with just one dominat color and a beautiful flower really makes a strong statement. Of course, I'd use a different color and a different flower.

Two of my all-time favorites actually come from the same issue of Martha Stewart Weddings where they profiled cake designs inspired by fabrics - I heart this cake, I love the pale grey color and the texture of the floral pattern - simply beautiful.

I also love this cake and the combination of colors, as well as a mix of very busy layers of decoration and a more simple layer. Again, this is clearly a fondant cake but I wonder if the effect could be replicated with a smooth buttercream layer and piped on flowers? I'd also have to tweak it suit a fall wedding more.

Trust me, once we start going on cake tasting appointments, I will be sharing every bite with you!

Also, in case you haven't been approached by me yet, please vote for me and Andrew in the Crate & Barrel Ultimate Wedding contest. And tell your friends! :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spike's Junkyard Dogs

Sometimes when you're hungry and you're just craving a satisfying meal (especially when one of your favorite places is closed due to renovations), you head to Spike's to chomp down on a loaded hotdog and curly fries. At least, that's what Andrew and I like to do!

We first got hooked on Spike's at their Brighton location, which was dangerously close to my sister's old apartment (as in, directly across the street). Lately, it's been their Boston location, right by the intersection of Mass Ave. and Boylston St. that we've been visiting, since it's easier to find parking in Boston then it is in Brighton.

It's the type of place that has all sorts of funky "Americana" decorations on the wall and comfy booths to sit in, casual and right up our alley.

It's also the type of place that has posts a polaroid of people who have  managed to eat six or more hot dogs, a pretty impressive feat considering how thick their rolls are!

Andrew went with the Chili and Cheddar dog (three guesses on what it came topped with) and a side of curly fries - $6.65 gets you a specialty dog, fries and a soda, not too shabby:
I went with the Junkyard dog, loaded with mustard (I adore mustard and hate ketchup), tomatoes, scallions and banana peppers - I also added a ton of relish, because a hotdog just isn't right without some relish to balance out the mustard:
I know it may seem weird to be raving about hot dogs but Spike's is just that good. And I've always been the type of gal to prefer a hotdog over a hamburger. My mouth is watering simply from looking at the pictures!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Raspberry Chocolate Chunk Muffins

An unexpected coworker birthday at work (she withheld the information from us and accidently let it slip around 5 pm on her actual birthday) had me scrambling to find something quick to make the next day.  The recipe for the muffins had just popped up on the We Are Not Martha blog and I liked the fact that the muffins seemed simple but were also far from ordinary with the raspberry/chocolate combo.

I doubled the recipe so there was enough for Andrew to bring into work as well, so I ended up with around 40 muffins. This surprised me, since the recipes was supposed to make around 12 muffins, so doubling should have left me with around 24 muffins.


•2 C flour
•1 1/2 t baking powder
•1 C sugar (granulated)
•1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter (14 tablespoons)
•3/4 C plain yogurt (I used cherry flavored yogurt I had on hand)
•1/2 C water
•2 eggs
•3.5 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped (I simply used a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chunks)
•5 oz. raspberries (fresh or frozen) (I used a 12 oz bag of frozen raspberries)
•2 T granulated sugar
•Powdered sugar for dusting
Mini chocolate chips for topping

  1. Combine flour, baking powder, and sugar in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
  2. Melt butter and remove from heat. Stir in yogurt and water. Then add the eggs, stirring well afterwards.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the well in dry ingredients and stir to combine. 
  4. Fold the chocolate chunks and raspberries into the batter. 

5. Stir together and scoop into prepared muffin tin.  In my case, I had lovely new pink cupcake liners  that I had picked up at Shaws (yay for cute liners!)

These were ready to go into the oven after I sprinkled each with mini chocolate chips and some granulated sugar:
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 - 40 minutes (close to 30 in my case):
Tada! I have to admit, they came out looking pretty good.
The texture of the muffins were very nice and I liked the contrast of the gooey chocolate juxtaposed with the slight sour/sweetness of the raspberries. But to be honest, I was kind of horrified by how much butter went into these. I don't think the muffin part had any flavor at all and I don't know if that was done deliberately in order to let the chocolate and raspberries shine, but it didn't work for me. My coworkers seemed to like them and kept telling me that they seemed more like cupcakes than muffins (so maybe chocolate frosting would've helped?) But honestly, I don't think this is a recipe I'm going to make again.