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Table Talk: One-pan sweets fill cookie jar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My husband and I just survived our first two semesters as empty-nesters. The adjustment from playing parents to a high school senior and a frantically busy schedule to quiet evenings without practices, games and meetings was fairly smooth. We'd had a preview when his older sister headed to college several years ago.

Take heart, weepy moms of seniors everywhere. Their departure won't be quite as bad as you might think.

I didn't really adjust my dinner-for-four repertoire to dinner-for-two. Although the number of diners at our table was half, I continued to cook for a family of four as I had for the past 22 years. It meant tasty leftovers for lunch the next day instead of sandwiches and wraps.

They're both home for the summer and the only real dinnertime change is the empty leftover containers. Well, that and the disproportionately larger quantity and variety of food purchases and resultant grocery bills.

Another return-home adjustment came in the form of the largely empty cookie jar. I didn't bake many cookies this school year. They went stale quickly without the cookie monsters in residence. Husband Reed made do with ice cream after dinner.

The reproachful looks are getting to me, though. I broke out the mixing bowl, as did my daughter who is really the baker in the house. Time will be tight for both of us, though, she has a summer job. We'll probably go for easily assembled, bake-in-one-batch bar cookies.

This weekend I made Tequila Lime Coconut Bars from a Southern Living recipe. They were a tangy, tropical twist on classic lemon bars and would be a light (in taste, not calories) addition to a spring brunch or shower.

My daughter, Katie, made Almond Joy Bars from a recipe she found on Pinterest. She made a half recipe, which was more than enough for a weekend with her friends at a WVU graduation celebration. They're a rich combination of coconut, chocolate and almonds. Delete the almonds, and you have Mound Bars because, "Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don't."

Tequila Lime Coconut Bars

Yield: 36 bars. Source: Southern Living, April 2011.

     2    cups all-purpose flour, divided

     2    cups sugar, divided

     1/2  cup cold butter, cut into pieces

     4     large eggs

     1 1/2     cups sweetened flaked coconut

     1     teaspoon lime zest

     1/3  cup fresh lime juice

     3     tablespoons tequila

     1/2     teaspoon baking powder

     1/4     teaspoon salt

     Garnishes: powdered sugar, lime rind curls

HEAT oven to 350°. Line bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing 2 inches to extend over sides; lightly grease foil.

STIR together 1 3/4 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Press mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.

BAKE 20 to 23 minutes or until lightly browned.

MEANWHILE, whisk eggs in a medium bowl until smooth; whisk in coconut, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar. Stir together baking powder, salt and remaining 1/4 cup flour; whisk into egg mixture. Pour over hot crust.

BAKE 25 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool 1 hour on a wire rack. Lift from pan, using foil sides as handles. Remove foil, and cut into bars. Garnish, if desired.

Almond Joy Bars

Yield: 36 bars

     10     tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

     3/4  cup light brown sugar, packed

     2 1/2     cups flour

     1/2     teaspoon fine sea salt

     28     ounces sweetened condensed milk

     28     ounces shredded coconut

     1     teaspoon vanilla extract

     5    cups bittersweet chocolate baking chunks, loosely placed in cup

HEAT oven to 350°. Line a sheet or 9- by 13-inch pan (for thicker bars) with aluminum foil and coat with canola or vegetable spray.

CREAM butter and brown sugar in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour and salt. Carefully mix to combine until it resembles chunky bread crumbs.

TRANSFER mixture into the prepared pan and press the batter into an even layer. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool on a wire baking rack while preparing the coconut topping.

COMBINE the condensed milk, coconut and vanilla in a large bowl.

SPREAD over the crust and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until it begins to brown. Remove and place on baking rack.

MELT the chocolate over a double boiler. Stir until melted and smooth. Pour over cooked coconut bars and spread into an even layer. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until hardened, about 1 hour.

Apple Butterscotch Bars

Source: myrecipes.com.

     1    cup chopped pecans

     2    cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

     1    cup butter, melted

     2     large eggs, lightly beaten

     2     teaspoons vanilla extract

     2    cups all-purpose flour

     2     teaspoons baking powder

     1/2     teaspoon salt

     3    cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples, about 1 1/2 pounds

HEAT oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.

STIR together brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla.

STIR together flour and baking powder and salt; add to brown sugar mixture, and stir until blended. Stir in apples and pecans. Pour mixture into a greased and floured 9- by 13-inch pan; spread in an even layer.

BAKE 35 to 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely, for about 1 hour. Cut into bars.

Chewy, Chunky Blondies

Yield: 36 bars. Source: browneyedbaker.com.

     2    cups all-purpose flour

     3/4     teaspoon baking powder

     1/2     teaspoon baking soda

     1/2     teaspoon salt

     2     sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

     1 1/2     cups light brown sugar

     1/2  cup granulated sugar

     2    eggs

     1     teaspoon vanilla extract

     1    cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (or 6 ounces chocolate, chopped)

     1    cup butterscotch chips

     1    cup coarsely chopped walnuts

     1    cup sweetened shredded coconut

CENTER a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan; set aside.

WHISK together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

BEAT the butter on medium speed with a stand or hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, until well incorporated. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla.

REDUCE the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut. Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best as you can.

BAKE about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the Blondies comes out clean. The Blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely. Cut into bars; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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