I know it's officially Autumn, but for the sake of this post, bear with me.
Aside from the blatant obvious (delicious hot and hazy weather, late sunsets, barbecue dinners), nothing makes me happier than getting together with good friends while sitting out in the backyard, toasting the snot out of my skin.
And probably because there's always food involved.
Food makes me deliriously happy and, if you haven't already guessed it, yes, I will eat just about anything. Case in point, my daughter has been asking me for the weeks to name a food I will not ingest in any form and I'm struggling to find an answer. Just when I think I find one, I realize I will consume them in another form and I'm sent back to the drawing board. Food allergies do not count. For instance, I will not consume raw onions, but I love them cooked. My husband, on the other hand, can rattle off about ten things in the blink of an eye that will not come within twenty feet of him.
EDIT: I will NEVER, EVER eat animal organs! Kidneys, liver, heart, eyes....NOPE.
Sorry. That has nothing to do with what I wanted to talk about. I was merely explaining the fact that I will eat anything. Keep that in mind.
Several weeks ago, I was invited to a potluck supper. Potlucks can be an interesting meeting place for people to gather. I enjoy them because it's not only a good way to partake in an array of dishes in one go, it's also a fascinating way to see how recipes are received, registered, and executed by others. Where I grew up, potlucks were always seen as a way to showcase your talents; putting your best foot forward, if you will. Who am I kidding? It was an all out foodie blood bath. I once went to a potluck where someone made Cherries Jubilee and served it with homemade vanilla ice cream. This may not seem impressive now, but back when I was in my early 20s, it was very impressive. She ignited the night and flambéed her way to Potluck Princess. I'm serious though, if you didn't spend at least six hours preparing your dish, it would be in your best interest to come up with a good excuse and stay home curled up on the couch watching Cinemax and eating a bowl of cereal. Otherwise, when you thought you heard your name whispered on the wind at the church barbecue or school carnival, you could safely assume you did.
Interestingly enough, I have found over the years that the very word potluck has a different meaning to everyone, especially when it's a affair thrown by a hardcore foodie versus someone that only eats to survive.
For instance, a simple-ish dish like caesar salad can take on a different form for one person to the next.
Hardcore foodies tend to take it to the next level. Fresh organic romaine lettuce. Garlic croutons made from homemade bread from several days ago. Dressing made with anchovies caught from the Amalfi Coast, freshly pressed organic garlic, Italian extra virgin olive oil, farm fresh egg yolks, dijon mustard imported from France. Sea salt from Dead Sea, freshly cracked pepper and a shot of a freshly squeezed lemon, decorated with hand shaved cuts of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The Quasi-foodie's Caesar salad often consists of fresh romaine lettuce with bagged gourmet croutons, refrigerated Caesar salad dressing; real parmesan shards pre-packaged in a container, salt and pepper to taste with a sometimes added bonus of protein such as grilled chicken or bacon.
Then there are those Eat to Survive Folks. Caesar Salad Kit in a bag.
For the most part, there is no judgment on my part, because, well, FOOD, but this latest affair left me very unsatisfied. Before anyone gets their underwears in a twist, there is nothing wrong with convenience and I would be lying if I said I haven't eaten many a bag salad in a pinch, it's delicious and I'm only happy to consume it, but c'mon. This is our dinner. I would hope that someone would want to take the time to create a dish worthy of serving to others, especially when I've thoughtfully prepared a dish and my time is just as valuable.
There were eleven of us invited and only TWO main dishes on the table: The hostess made grilled barbecue chicken and I brought Baked Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta from my friend Emily Richards' cookbook, Per La Famiglia. Wanna guess what else graced the table?
So when dessert is later served and the homemade bars I also brought along are sitting next to a sad looking container of store bought cookies, it makes my eye twitch. Seriously, go buy a tube of cookie dough and bake them. At least try to look like you've made an effort. Oh, you didn't get one because you were in the washroom and everyone made a beeline for them? Are you surprised? Of course people are going to gravitate towards the homemade goodies. We've all had those preservative-filled cookies that have been on the grocery store table for God knows how long and they're gross. Of course no one wants those.
Look, I'm not trying to come off as a food snob, because I'm not, but you'd be irritated if you walked into a dinner party of sorts to discover the table was littered with lettuce and carrot shavings while you're craving hearty sustenance and look like an asshat when you're eating half of the casserole you brought to share with everyone.
So I've learned. Depending on who is throwing the party, I eat before I go. I'll make extra of whatever we're eating for dinner and that's my contribution. Along with my casserole, I bought these delightful flapjacks, because dessert.
Flapjacks are so easy to make, even if you're not a baker. I had my first one when I was in England years ago and was hooked. It's very reminiscent of a granola bar, but better. I make them often for my kids. They're gluten free too, friends.
Just like salad.
I know. I'm terrible.
CHOCOLATE CARAMEL FLAPJACKS
¾ cup salted butter, cold and cubed
¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed
¾ cup golden or corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups large rolled oats*
1½ cups quick cook oats*
*To make these gluten-free, be sure to use certified gluten-free oats.
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons salted butter
12 ounces quality dark chocolate
4 ounces quality white chocolate
In this recipe, golden syrup and corn syrup can absolutely be used interchangeably, but I do prefer the use of golden syrup, despite the fact that it is slightly sweeter than corn syrup. Golden syrup is a product made from sugar cane juice that has been concentrated; corn syrup is a product derived from cornstarch that uses glucose as the sweetener.
Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper that has an overhang and lightly spray with a non-stick cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a saucepan over medium heat, slowly melt butter, brown sugar, golden/corn syrup. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat once the brown sugar has fully dissolved. Mixture will be smooth without any graininess. Add in vanilla and stir in oats until evenly coated.
Press oat mixture evenly onto the bottom of prepared pan.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
To make caramel:
In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir in sugar, corn syrup, and water. Bring to a boil and allow mixture to cook until sugar changes to a lovely amber colour, roughly 6 to 8 minutes. Gently swish saucepan in a circular motion to distribute if need be, but do not stir. Once sugar hits desired colour, remove from heat and add heavy cream and butter. It will bubble, so take care. Stir together to blend and place back stove over on medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, allow caramel to boil until it reaches 240 degrees F. Remove from heat and allow the bubbling to settle. Pour over top oat base and level out with an offset spatula. Cool to room temperature.
To prepare bars:
Chop dark chocolate and white chocolate into smaller chunks. Place chocolate in separate heat-proof containers. Heat on high in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until fully melted. Once smooth and silky, pour dark chocolate over top caramel, using an offset spatula. Drizzle white chocolate over top of that in either lines or squiggles to make an intricate design, if so desired. Place in refrigerator 20 minutes for chocolates to set.
Once ready to serve, remove from pan and slice into 16 squares. Using a straight, thin knife will yield cleaner lines.