Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pretzel bars for sweet and salty fans...

It is that time of the year (already?!) where the holiday baking and cooking magazines are beginning to flood the market. This means it is a fine time to start testing out new recipes for our yearly holiday baking spree!

Just saying the name of these Cranberry Pretzel Cashew Bars sent Jeff into a tizzy - lots of his favorite flavors all packed up in a tidy little bar. He was none too happy to find out most of them are being sent into the office for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day!

To provide a sturdy, crunchy base, I blitzed loads of salty pretzels in the food processor to finely crush them - you could also do this with a zip-loc bag and a heavy rolling pin. Brown sugar and liquid gold, a.k.a melted butter, are combined with those crumbs so they all stick together - to provide a little extra strength and prevent sogginess, a bit of beaten egg white is then mixed in.

Once the crust was partially baked, we scattered the hot top with chewy dried cranberries and lightly toasted cashews. To glue those two to the top of the pretzel base, a bit more butter and rich brown sugar are brought to a boil and poured all over the top. It may look like there is not enough, but just do your best to evenly pour it over the top. Once the pan goes back into the oven, the heat will melt the mixture again and it will bubble and spread to all the naked nooks and crannies.

To dress up the slab of bars, we drizzled the top with melted fine-quality white chocolate and once given enough time for it to set, sliced them into neat squares. The caramel layer on top is sweet, the pretzel base is salty, the cranberries add chew (and a bit of sweet tartness), while the cashews add crunch and a nutty punch. Simply put? A p-a-r-t-y in the mouth! The drizzle of white chocolate was a wonderful contrast, but if you dig bittersweet chocolate more, don't let me stop you from loading it on instead. If you really want to add a fancy (and expensive) twist, exchange those cashews for roasted macadamia nuts to highlight their buttery crunch.

While I've expressed our love for leftovers to you before, some days we just want a simple fluffernutter or another kind of "plain" lunch. Since there are just two of us here, I'll often seek out recipes that only have two servings or can be modified to be for such occasions, just like this Penne with Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola Sauce I made for dinner tonight!

Use your favorite large pasta shape that resembles a tube - we used a whole-wheat penne for us, but you could also use a ziti or rigatoni pasta. While the pasta takes a dip in boiling water flavored like the sea, we tossed halved plump cherry tomatoes into a skillet, along with crushed red pepper for kick and a bit of minced garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, half-and-half and a few tablespoons of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese is stirred in. Gorgonzola can be pretty pungent and in-your-face, so you could swap that out with a more mild blue or even an ingredient like cream cheese to keep the flavor subtle, yet still retain a good mouth feel.

Gorgonzola can be iffy with Jeff - sometimes it flies under the radar and he gobbles up whatever dish it is in, other times he will turn his nose and doesn't enjoy the taste. However, this dish tonight passed with flying colors - so fickle! I liked the freshness the cherry tomatoes brought and there was plenty of that creamy sauce to go around. Feeling extra ravenous or need to serve more than two? You could easily scale this recipe up to serve what you need. Quite speedy to make, I almost wish I did double the recipe because I would have been quite satisfied with having another portion of this for lunch tomorrow!


  1. That treat sounds interesting. It's all new to me to make a pretzel base but I think I would like it. I like this time of the year and all those treats that you try before the Xmas season.

  2. my taste buds are screaming just reading this post--both recipes sound delicious!!

  3. I made that pasta a few weeks ago and just loved it. It was so good. It did heat well the next day for leftovers--sometimes I find cream-based pastas turn gluey, but not this one!

    I'm impressed you're starting your holiday baking testing already. I'm impressed you do testing of recipes at all! I'm just a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal.

  4. I'm going to try the pretzel bars. That sweet and salty combo really gets to me.

  5. Helene - Me too... this is the fun part!

    TTFN - Thanks!

    Jen - Good to know!

    Mary - Enjoy!

  6. Both of these look so good, Joe! I know I've saved that pasta recipe from CL. Now I can't wait to try the Pretzel bars.

  7. I love the pretzel bar idea but how much sugar and butter do you use?!

  8. Elizabeth - Click on the link at the end of the post, under "recipes", to read how much you need.

  9. Oh lolz. Sorry, I didn't read carefully. Thanks!!!