Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cranberry Turtle Bars and a veggie panini with a kick...

Can you believe it is time again for bouncy fresh cranberries? With such a short stint in the market, we always make sure to stock plenty in the freezer so we can use them all year round. Besides the ones we picked up to stash in the freezer, I also grabbed an extra bag so I could make these Cranberry Turtle Bars for the Weekly Wednesday Treat Day item!

I hope you are not afraid of using butter - remember the picture we showed you for our holiday supply? Well, subtract almost 4 sticks for just this recipe! To prepare the sturdy base for these bars, we made a snazzy brown sugar shortbread (a.k.a heavy on the butter cookie dough!). While we whizzed this shortbread together in a food processor to move things along, you can certainly use a pastry blender, a couple knives or even your fingers to mash the cubes of cold butter into the flour and brown sugar mixture.

You'll have a very crumbly dough at this point that just barely holds together - we then scattered those crumbles into the baking pan and pressed them down to form an even layer. Now, because the rest of these bars are prepared on top of the stove, the crust will need to be pre-cooked - bake it long enough that the top turns from pale to golden, fusing the crust together, and the center is just firm to the touch.

While the crust cools, a couple more sticks of butter are melted to begin creating the ruby caramel topping. Grains of white sugar, clear corn syrup and a pinch of salt are stirred in and left to boil until the mixture is brought to the soft ball stage. When it came up to temperature, chopped fresh cranberries are stirred in (frozen would be okay too... don't bother thawing them first), which will make the temperature in the pan plummet. Then you'll need to bring the mixture back up to the same stage again so it will properly set as it cools. Now you need to stir in a shot of vanilla - when you do this, do be careful as the alcohol will turn the mixture angry, making it spurt and fizz. A generous amount of chopped toasted pecans are stirred in and working quickly, but safely, the sticky topping is poured all over the buttery crust. Since it is pretty thick, it won't flow to an even layer when you pour it on - to help solve this, just use a couple forks to help distribute the soften cranberries and nutty pecans.

Let's not kid around, there is quite a bit of sugar in these bars and they are quite sweet - but between the rich base and the tart cranberries, it is somewhat corralled. To off-set the sweetness even more, give it a fancy look and well, just because, melted bittersweet chocolate is drizzled back and forth over the slab of bars so each piece gets a share. The drizzle is easiest done if you scoop the melted chocolate in a zip-loc bag or parchment cone, but using a fork or spoon would be just fine too.

After preparing those decadent treats, and subsequently taste-testing, I made sure to plan ahead for a light dinner. Along with being pretty light, this Southwestern Cheese Panini was also a snap to throw together in our now messy kitchen!

We used a hearty whole-wheat sandwich bread for these panini's - to help them brown, we smeared a very light coat of softened butter on the outside of each slice. On top of the unbuttered sides of two pieces, we stacked on the veggie and cheese filling consisting of shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, finely chopped onion and sharp white Cheddar. To help hold that mixture together, and add that southwestern flare, we also added a few dollops of salsa - let your heat preference guide you as to what you use. We like a fair amount of burn, so we made sure to use a habanero salsa. We also added a little pickled jalapeƱo, but didn't really notice it in the end, so I imagine you can leave that out if you like. After just a few minutes in our heated press, we made quick work of these sandwiches - I didn't know if Jeff would like the zucchini, especially after the first bite and the "umm, why is there zucchini in my panini?!", but then he continued to sink his teeth in and under his breath said that these were quite actually addicting! I have to agree too - I loved the sharp contrast from the gooey cheese to the earthy vegetables, while the punch from the salsa seemed to anchor those two together. If you happen to be serving to a vegetable-phobe, try using a yellow cheddar instead to help hide what is actually inside!

As I said, we used our panini press (the ever-handy Griddler!) to cook these sandwiches - however, if you don't happen to have one, you can still prepare this. Instead of the press, heat up a skillet with just a little canola oil on the bottom - slip the sandwiches into the skillet, set a plate on top and weigh them down with a couple heavy cans. Turn the sandwiches over after a couple minutes and place the plate and cans on top again so the bread has full contact with the heat to finishing browning.


  1. You're spot on with these two recipes! You know I am completely jealous of your griddler, but really have no room to store stuff like that. Instead of your alternate panini method, I'm thinking that the yummy filling would make a great quesadilla.....do vegetable phobes really exist???!!!

  2. Would those bars be mailable? Each year I send cookies and whatnot to my fellow IT workers in other sites across the country, and I'm always looking for good mailable cookies that don't take forever to make (and are also tasty & different)

  3. Quinn - Oh... quesadilla! Great idea.

    Amber - they might be, as long as they are individually wrapped.

  4. So interesting, I had to try this one. The veggie panini was great! I think I'll be adding chopped jalapenos to many sandwiches in the future, panini'd or not!