Thursday, May 14, 2015

Salted Nut Roll Bars

Everyone loves a good bar. What's better than cramming potentially LAYERS of goodness together in a handheld, visually-appealing rectangle? Not much. And socially? I feel like they symbolize a specific, goes-without-saying kind of compassion. That feeling could be a product of my upbringing -- whether it's a funeral, wedding, block party, anything in a church basement, bars are present. Card tables featuring several plates of bars, stacked like little bricks of thoughtfulness and covered in cellophane, nestled near white dinner buns and rolls of deli meats meant there was something to celebrate or someone to mourn.

So, naturally, most times I play host, I whip up at least one kind of bar. I was having a party recently and reached out to the world of Facebook for more recipes. I was very overjoyed to receive a message from the mom of one of my childhood friends -- a bar connoisseur and master baker, and one of the warmest people I know.

I was the kid who would try to be friends with your mom. My childhood was filled with instances of looking up to women and wanting to get on their level. I mean, I was often physically on their level already. I was alarmingly tall -- not lanky and awkward, but proportionally big. I think I even had hips? I shopped exclusively at Land's End and when I played dress-up at my friend Anna's house in kindergarten, her mom's high heels fit me perfectly. That's awkward for everyone involved.


My preschool "Star of the Week" profile reveals in my shockingly legible handwriting that my best friend was "Teacher Peggy." And it really felt like Teacher Peggy and I were friends. I, of course, did have friends my own age, but did they watch Designing Women? Not unless I forced them to join me. "Which Sugarbaker do you think you are?" I'd ask excitedly, with little to no response. "I'm Julia!" Yikes. And I wasn't surrounded by a lot of 9-year-olds who were reading Memoirs of a Geisha, but the skating moms did want me to be in a book club with them before we all realized those logistics were impossible and sort of sad.

It's never too early to start protecting your skin!

So, I've always had a special place in my heart for moms. "Oh, Sophie's not home right now?" I'd ask Sophie's mom, Wendy, already knowing the answer. "Well, maybe I can just hang out with you." Moms were always so kind and tolerant of my weirdness, allowing me to sit with them when I was deemed too tall for the community swimming pool where everyone else my age was frolicking. 

Special thanks to Chrys McConnell for responding to my Facebook plea and passing on the recipe for these awesome Salted Nut Roll bars. And special thanks to her daughter, Brynn, for also being my friend. :D

Salted Nut Roll Bars

1 box yellow cake mix
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1 bag (12 oz) peanut butter chips
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Karo syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups salted cocktail peanuts
2 cups Rice Krispies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the cake mix, melted butter and egg and press into a greased 9x13 cake pan.
Bake the base for 10-12 minutes.
Place the marshmallows evenly on top of the base and bake for another 3 minutes, or until puffed.
Cool completely.
Mix the vanilla, peanuts, and Rice Krispies in a big bowl and set aside.
Melt the peanut butter chips, butter, and Karo syrup in a saucepan over the stove, stirring constantly.
Add the melted mixture to the cereal/peanuts and stir.
Spread the sticky goodness over the heavenly marshmallow pillows and stick the puppy in the fridge.
 Cut and enjoy!

If you're the person who loses their mind over a sweet & salty combination, look out. These will be your downfall. But, like, in a good and delicious way.

Happy baking! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

From-Scratch Yellow Cake with Buttercream Frosting

This was going to be a post about how much I love improv. I started it a few days ago when the world was my oyster and I had a functioning right knee. Everything's changed (not really).

I still love improv a whole lot, but that post was sort of sappy, so I'm instead going to talk about all the times I've dislocated my knee. I'M NOT BITTER, all you FUNCTIONING-JOINT CREEPS.

Then I'm going to give you the recipe of one of the best cakes I've ever made. So, you win.

Oh my GOD, I'm so punchy from being on the couch for so many hours!! I just watched "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" and cried four times during it!!


Dislocation #1: The Inception
I was an active high school volleyball player, my full life ahead of me, blissfully unaware of my genetic faults (at least those associated with my knees). Unable to drive yet, my dad was taking me to practice, where I would surely bump, set and spike to my heart's content. I was getting in the passenger side of my dad's normal pickup truck, like any human would do, when I suddenly felt pain in my right knee. Excruciating pain. I looked down at my knee and... this is when I became a woman. In place of my patella was a DIVOT big enough to EAT A SNACK OUT OF and my kneecap itself had SAILED OVER the side of my leg. So much screaming. My dad, having already gotten into the driver's seat, calmly asked what was wrong (I had a flair for the dramatic). When I didn't answer in coherent words, he got out of the truck, walked around the front, saw my knee, and lost all color in his face. He then did what he had to do. He pulled my calf and pushed my thigh and it popped back in. We went to urgent care. I never stopped screaming.

Dislocation #2: Snack Attack
On the weekends in high school, I used to stay up long after everyone else in my family had gone to sleep and hang out in the basement, where I would simultaneously watch SNL and AIM chat on the family computer. And I love late night snacks, no surprises there. One night, I was feeling extra perky -- SNL probably did a Wake Up, Wakefield sketch and maybe I was AIM chatting my crush (most likely about other girls he liked, but still, we had that chat window open, you know?). I ran upstairs to grab some chips and salsa during a commercial break, and when rapidly running down the stairs (like I had done my entire life), I either fell and my knee went out, or my knee went out and so I fell. Regardless, it's almost midnight, I'm laying on the stairs in underwear and a t-shirt, screaming my head off, knee akimbo... STILL HOLDING INDEPENDENT BOWLS of chips and salsa. That's right, I took a spill, but my SNACKS DID NOT. I was yelling and yelling and I'm positive someone heard me, but they probably thought I was upset the SNL goodnights got cut off by commercials or something. I had to put my kneecap back on my own and... this is when I became a Woman.

Dislocation #3: The Brats Are Done
By this time, I was a sophisticated lady who attended summertime, German-themed backyard parties in northeast Minneapolis where I could legally drink beer and have conversation with other adults. Basically, I think I was out of college. My good friend Dave Kappelhoff hosts a party every year called Sommerfest where awkward improvisers play hammerschlagen and promote their Fringe shows and eat sauerkraut. I was having the most wonderful time. My dress was cute, my hair was... doing what it does, but I was dealing with it... my boyfriend and I beat another couple at corn hole. Basically, the perfect night. I was sitting at a table, mid-conversation, when Kappelhoff yelled that more brats were done. I thought it would be a HILARIOUS BIT if I got up as fast as I could -- interrupting the conversation -- to run towards the brats. It was pretty rude. But never one to half-heartedly execute a bit, I twisted so fast that my knee dislocated and down I went. My friend Maureen continues to state, "I thought you were dead. I thought you hit your head on the sidewalk and was immediately dead. I later learned that sound was actually your knee coming out. And then you started moaning, so I knew you were alive." I do remember my dress being up and my lower half exposed and NO ONE FIXING IT. Just a general shitshow. Maureen called an ambulance, so EMTs interrupted Sommerfest and gave me morphine and took me to the emergency room where the doctor was like, "Yep, you dislocated it and put it back, have a great night." I then made my boyfriend stuff me in the back of my hatchback and return to the party where people visited me in the car and brought me plates of food until I threw up from the morphine. And I became a WOMAN.

Dislocation #4: Thriller
Not even a year ago. Yet another awkward improviser party, this time in Los Angeles. I was at a dance club called Los Globos, really feeling 25 and on the town, drinking G&Ts and just living life. Thriller came on and... you know I'm gonna dance my lil heart out to that one. In my drunkenness, I danced too hard and DOWN I WENT, in the middle of a nightclub surrounded by lovely friends who definitely didn't need to see a kneecap do that. "Put it back!!" I yelled. No one is going to do that unless they're your dad. So I did it. I couldn't get up, so I sat in the middle of the dance floor, clutching ice to my knee, until some random men helped me up. Boy, was I ever sober at this point. My friend Kirsten escorted me home and helped me change into pajamas while I softly cried because I didn't know the next time I'd be able to experience independence/drive my car to Target. At this point, having no more milestones to hit beyond WOMAN, I became a ticking time-bomb and social hazard.

And this most recent time, dislocation #5, was the only time I was engaged in an activity that allowed me to call it a "sports injury." I was playing basketball, ACTUALLY HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE because I love my team so much, when I enthusiastically twisted to break for the basket. Down I went -- sideways, like a thick and old tree. My poor team huddled around me, unsure of how to deal with my terrifying and animal-like shrieking. I WAS wearing a knee brace because I'm a responsible broken person -- in fact, it had been recommended to me by an orthopedic specialist who kept saying, "You'll like this brace, it's German, just like you, I'm assuming." And this happened in an actual office and not a van, so I trusted him despite his weird heritage assumptions. But as I lay there writhing in pain, I discovered this trusty brace was actually KEEPING MY KNEE OUT OF PLACE and no matter how much I tugged on my patella, my brace was bracing it on the side of my leg. It was a nightmare situation. I'll never trust an orthopedic specialist again. Or German-made products. After about three minutes, when I had fully prepared myself to pass out and/or die, It finally went back in and the other team clapped and I had to be lifted up and out. Even still, I'm looking forward to getting back on the court as soon as possible. Lucille Ballers 4 life.

Here is the cake recipe I promised you! The internet tells you that you shouldn't make yellow cake from scratch, but that's a big ol' racket -- probably started by Betty Crocker, who is maniacally laughing and swimming in a painful pool of boxed cake mixes as we speak. You can do it and it will be amazing.

Yellow Cake with Buttercream Frosting


2 1/4 cups cake flour
(To make cake flour out of regular flour and cornstarch:
For each cup, put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in the bottom and fill the rest of the cup with regular flour. For the 1/4 cup, put 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch in the bottom and fill the rest of the 1/4 cup with regular flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons whole milk


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
With a standing mixer or handheld mixer (ideally), whip the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about five minutes. Add the vanilla. One at a time, add the eggs and yolks, mixing with a spatula until just combined.
Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture.
In a pourable container, whisk together the sour cream and milk. (Borf.)
Alternate adding the dairy mixture and the dry ingredients to the butter/egg/sugar/vanilla situation until just combined.
Grease two round cake pans (8 or 9 inch). I've gone back to using just butter for this because the spray can get out of hand, especially if it's floured, and it makes me cough.
Divide the batter evenly into the two pans. Aggressively drop each pan onto the counter to minimize air bubbles. I don't know about you, but I feel powerful when I do this.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until they are golden brown and pass the toothpick test.
Let cool for 10 minutes before tipping them onto a wire rack for further cooling.

 You better wash that standing mixer bowl because you need it again.
Whip the butter until creamy and light.
Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, putting the mixer on high-speed for a few seconds after each addition.
Mix in the vanilla.
Add the milk in increments and keep mixing until you're like, "This is frosting and I'm comfortable with that."
If your little heart desires, add food coloring to your frosting -- but be responsible about it. You can't easily undo those droplets.
Present this cake to your friend for their birthday and/or eat cake alone in your bathtub.

This cake is simple and light while also being rich and just straight-up delicious. 

Happy baking!