Oatmeal Butterscotch Bars

Admittedly, there aren’t tons of photos with this recipe. Oatmeal Scotchies (as my mom called them – turns out it wasn’t a name she made up!) were a family favorite growing up. I loved how the butterscotch chips almost turned into caramel around the edges of this wonderfully nubbly cookies. My plan had been to simply duplicate her recipe in a bar form. I find drop cookies to be laborious, and I would already be doing enough cooking for this week’s Wednesday Night Dinner.

I will say this this experience was a lesson in reading the recipe first! I am usually quite good at doing that, but I had failed to check the pantry before I got started.

Flour in the bowl, check!

Hiccough One: I, in my infinite wisdom, had thrown out my baking soda when I moved recently. It was at least two years old, and while it still worked, I thought it was just time to spend another dollar and buy a new box. Have I purchased this box yet? No. So, a-substituting-we-will-go! Turns out that you can use three times as much baking powder as a stand-in for baking soda. Originally, I was just going to do a 1-1 substitution, and I’m quite glad I checked before I did so.

Moving on with the rest of the dry ingredients, we’re fine. Butter is softened and tossed in the bowl with the sugars, beat until it’s fluffy. Eggs are next, one at a time. Thank God I had them because, do you think I had applesauce or other odd baking substitute on hand? Please.

Hiccough Two: No vanilla to be found. I swore up and down that I had vanilla, and for the life of me I can’t remember what I used it on. The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of orange zest if you didn’t have the vanilla, but do you think I had that on hand? Please. Sadly, there isn’t much to be done about no vanilla.

Continuing along this adventure, slightly demoralized, but not to be defeated, I added the flour mixture a bit at a time, scraping the bowl like a champ. Pour in the butterscotch chips. Next the quick cooking oats.

Hiccough Three: Yes, I had oatmeal. However, the recipe called for 3 cups. I had just over 1 1/2 cups. I was not about to back out now. Who knows what this thing will turn into, but I’m not backing out now for missing half my oats.

Into a 9×13. Into the oven. Time to wait.

And I’ll be darned if they aren’t pretty good. Good enough to serve for dessert tonight at Wednesday Night Dinner (though that crowd is pretty easy to please). Admittedly, you miss the vanilla, more than I thought I would. I pretty convinced that the missing oats are what made these bars a success. Normally, Oatmeal Scotchies are crisp, crumbly cookies; however, with half the oats gone, they are able to hold up pretty well as bars. I will say they are dense little suckers and they won’t win any beauty pageants, but tasty!

A quick note, because I always forget this: if you’re using a dark or glass pan, turn your oven down! The bottoms of these bars are a bit…carmelized. However, if you drop the oven temperature, it should turn out ok.


Editorial Privilege

Expensive chefs and restaurants often try to dress up their menus, a pet peeve of mine, as someone who prides herself on being a wordsmith. The best places I’ve eaten often have little dressing in their verbiage because their food stands on its own. My favorite spots like Vetri, Garces Trading Co., Noble and Amis often use such spare language that I’m often left wondering what they left off, particularly when the food arrives. A simple “Gnocchi with Ox Tail Ragu” is written in clear type on impressive paper with little else to recommend it. However, when it arrives, there is so much more to this marvelous-melt-in-your-mouth-can-I-eat-this-every-day-until-I-die ragu than just ox tail.

Oh, the joy of spare language.

Which is where I always question lengthy menu descriptions or otherwise unnecessary inclusions in a menu. And this comes with its own fads. First, there were chutneys. Then any number of pureed root vegetables under heavy meats. And, now, the latest victim to fall to the Poor Editor is the coulis.

I actually wanted to look this up, and this is what I discovered.

In the first place, it’s a pretty cool thing. At its heart, a coulis is simply a thickened, sweet sauce, generally composed of fruit. Granted, this is the 21st century appropriation of that term. (The full definition would require a different rant altogether.) I can think of any number of desserts I have made that would benefit from a bit of window dressing with a coulis.

However, you do not put window dressing on the menu. Where is the heart of the food? That is what goes on the menu. Allow your guest to be surprised when their meal is just that – surprising. One of the best parts of a truly marvelous meal is the guessing game, chasing flavors down as you eat, trying to piece together the puzzle of the chef’s work.

The menu is a story – you can either include spoilers or allow the guest to be surprised. Admittedly, this is a story the restaurant can choose to tell however it chooses. But, when all the secrets are revealed in the opening act, the expectations change, and often are then not met. By tipping the kitchen’s hand in the menu type, there is little to sustain a restaurant go-er. Where is the mystery? Where is the suspense and surprise?

(I am choosing not to state the obvious – that the restaurants believe that we are dumb-dumbs. “The plebian guest will not notice the subtlies of the dish! We must enlighten them!” says the manager in a thick French accent.* I choose not to rise to this bait. Otherwise, I would simply cook at home forever.)

I beg you, oh restaurant menu writers, please, leave some joy to us. Even a small one. I don’t need curtains on my menu.

*I have nothing against the French and quite enjoy their cuisine. However, it is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that a snooty restaurant manager is nearly always French.


Welcome all!

So, yes. We all know that I like food. Well, really, I would like alot of food, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

As I begin this educational journey to improve, well, education, I also wanted a place where I didn’t have to worry about the state of our youth all the time. Welcome to my new hobby.

So, there will be three types of posts:

Type One: Helen Cooks! Full disclosure: this will be a full disclosure blog. If a recipe fails spectacularly, I’ll let you know and record all the gory details. Understand, then, that when I say something is a home run, I’m not exaggerating. I’ll try to post recipes, so long as I don’t run into problems with these guys. For inspiration, I don’t think it will come as any surprise that I’ll be relying heavily on Julia, James, DebIrma and the place I hope to work someday when I’m done fixing education in America.

Type Two: Helen Eats Out! So, I’ve been reading one of my secret heroes lately, and it’s made me want to do undercover restaurant reviews. So, really, that’s what this type will be. Granted, most places I won’t have the chance to dine at more than once or twice, so we’ll all have to keep an open mind. This may also be less consistent, considering the very grad student nature of my budget.

Type Three: Helen Writes About Food! Ok, so this last one still needs some work, but this is what I’m thinking. Periodically I’ll run across an ingredient, a cooking tool, or other piece of culinary mystery, and I take it upon myself to figure out what it is, and then (more importantly) how to eat it or use it to eat something.

That’s the run-down! Happy reading!