Last weekend, we went to a beer tasting party hosted by a young couple who don’t live too far from us. It was their Third Annual Beer Fest and they’re making it a “first Saturday in May” tradition, just like the Kentucky Derby. The host and a friend got into making “home brew” a few years ago, and they’ve gotten pretty good at it! They tapped six or seven of their own kegs.
They named them all -- typically, I can’t remember a one of them – and they posted descriptions of each variety and what made them unique. I didn’t sample all of them; in this case, I don’t really think variety is the spice of life. I sampled an oatmeal stout and a honey beer, but my favorite was what they said was the “hoppiest.”
It’s a potluck party and I always see this as an opportunity to try something new. My husband thinks I should stick with tried and true faves. So my compromise was a twist on something everyone loves: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I made Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookie bars.
I decided on this a couple days before the party when I happened to catch Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, on the Food Network. I don’t watch cooking shows nearly as often as I’d like and I haven’t yet cultivated the good habit of setting the DVR to a couple favorites. And the only reason I was watching TV at all in the middle of the day was because I was catching up on my least favorite domestic duty – ironing. And The Barefoot Contessa was providing me company while I wrestled with wrinkles.
Truth is, I didn’t really like Ina Garten’s show when I first saw it. Could have been something as silly as I didn’t like the intro music. But I really like the show now and I love Ina’s style. She’s pretty low key, loves to use fresh ingredients, often combined in new ways and she’s a great teacher. An experienced cook won’t be offended by her instruction, which she often delivers as an off-handed hint, and the novice can learn an awful lot.
And Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars were on the menu that day. I stopped ironing (what a relief!)and paid attention. I made the cookies the morning of the party, sampled one, decided they were pretty good and took them as my contribution. They didn’t move at first, which had me worried, but then they disappeared. Someone found out that I had brought them and then I got compliments. And that’s the main reason we cook, right? Just to make something good that people like.
Peanut Butter and Jelly BarsFrom Ina Garten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter (recommended: Skippy)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) raspberry jam or other jam
2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; it will spread in the oven.
Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.