Salted Caramel Popcorn Pretzel Bars

Now that I've got 5 of my 6 kids back in school, my heart turns to the best time of year, fall. I love everything about fall: the colors, the temperatures, the smells and of course, the food. Although, living in Minnesota does leave me feeling a bit gypped because winter is always so anxious to make an appearance. I think fall lasts about 2 days around here.
In hopes of a longer than normal Minnesota fall, here is an early treat to bring in the season. If you love the whole sweet/salty taste combo, then these bars are an absolute must have! My initial plan was to use M&M's but then I saw the candy corn at the store and quickly changed my mind. I think either would work wonderfully....or peanuts, almonds, raisins. Be creative people!
The ingredients couldn't be easier. If you don't feel like making popcorn the old fashioned way, you could use a couple bags of plain microwave popcorn. I would just reduce the salt a bit in the caramel.
Once you make a real caramel from burnt sugar and heavy cream, you will never go back to anything else. Such amazing flavor. The addition of marshmallows is a nice twist and makes the bars extra chewy and sticky :) The sprinkle of kosher salt on top is also a must. Don't think this important step isn't necessary. It truly balances out that decadent caramel. Trust me on this one.
If you didn't love me before, this recipe will put me in your dreams for weeks to come....
Salted Caramel Popcorn Pretzel Bars
adapted from Everyday Food
12 C plain popped popcorn
4 C coarsely chopped small salted pretzels
Your favorite mix in (candy corn, M&M's, peanuts, almonds, raisins)
2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 C heavy cream
2 C miniature marshmallows

1. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. (Next time I will use a jelly roll pan because they are really thick in a 9x13) In a large bowl, mix together the popcorn and pretzels.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar, water and 1 tsp of kosher salt to a boil over medium high heat. Do not stir the mixture at all!!! Allow the boiling action do the work for you! Allow it to boil until the caramel turn amber in color, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour in the cream. The mixture will sputter so be careful. Swirl in the cream and add the marshmallows. Stir with a rubber spatula until melted and combined.
3. Pour caramel over the popcorn and stir all together. Add your desired mix-ins, then stir again. Transfer to your dish and with wet hands, press the mixture into your pan. Sprinkle with a generous dose of kosher salt. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Peach Crumb Bars

First day of school today. It's amazing to watch the six different reactions to this important day. Such a testament to how different each child is and their stage of life:

#1 - My junior is doing half day at the high school and half day at the college. She has taken on quite the challenge. I think overwhelmed would be the adjective for her this morning.

#2 - My freshman is definitely on the intimidated side this morning. We had quite the stress trying to remind him of how to get to his locker. I can well remember that first day of high school and how insignificant I felt!

#3 - The only word for my sixth grader this morning would be unimpressed. Love that age because not much fazes them and they just go with the flow. I am savoring this stage with him because right around the corner is the teenage drama.

#4 - Of course, my second grader is completely intoxicated with the whole school setting. She can't get enough of every aspect of it and could barely go to sleep last night.

#5 - My preschooler is completely impatient. His school doesn't start for another two days and it will seriously be the longest two days of my life! I haven't quite broken it to him yet that he doesn't get to go every day like his older siblings. Wish me luck.

#6 - As for the one year old, she is completely confused. Why in the world did we wake her so early this morning? Where are all those great playmates? Why is it so quiet around here all of a sudden?

To reward what is always such a long first day, I made these outstanding treats to greet them as they walk in the door. As the school year drags on, I am often guilty of having "nothing good to eat" for an after school snack, but I like to pull out all the stops for the first day :)
These bars are phenomenal! Hurry and run out for some fresh! Summer is almost over and the peaches will be gone. I'm already planning on coming up with a nice fall version with apples. I actually made a half recipe in a 11x7 pan and they cooked for the same amount of time.
Peach Crumb Bars
(makes a 9 x 13 pan, about 24 bars: half recipe can go in a 11 x 7 pan)
For the Crust:
3 C flour
1 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C butter, cold and cubed
1 egg, beaten

For the Filling:
5 C peeled and diced peaches (about 6 peaches)
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
1/2 C flour
1 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
2. For the dough: In a large bowl (or your food processor), mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the butter is the size of small peas. Add the egg and continue to cut in the dough. The dough will be crumbly. Pour half of the dough into the pan and press down until firm. Refrigerate pan and remaining dough while you make the filling.
3. For the filling: Place the diced peaches in a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix until the dry ingredients are evenly coated on the peaches. Spread this mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the peach layer.
4. Bake for 45 minutes (same cooking time for a half recipe), until top is slightly browned. Cool completely before slicing into bars.

No Knead Artisan Bread

Bread is by far my favorite item to bake. Love working with the dough, watching it rise and the smell while baking is pure heaven. This bread was quite different than anything I have made before, but the results were great. Simple ingredients and time. Time is the best ingredient for a yeast bread. Gives texture and flavor that is unmatched! This bread had an amazingly crunchy crust with a great chewy center.
I did run into one slight problem pictured below. This was the result after mixing together my ingredients. I wouldn't really call that a dough....more of a batter!
I added a bit more flour to make "a soft and shaggy dough" as the recipe describes and that helped solve my problem.
No Knead Artisan Bread
3 C all purpose flour (I had to add a bit more than this)
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 5/8 C warm water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 12-18 hours at room temperature, around 70 degrees.
2. Flour your work surface and dump out your dough. Sprinkle with a bit more flour and fold the dough over on itself a couple times. Gently shape it into a ball. Coat a cotton towel generously with flour (not terry cloth) and place dough down on the towel. Dust with more flour and cover with another towel. Let rise for 2 hours.
3. At least 30 minutes before dough is finished rising, heat oven to 450 degrees with a heavy covered pot inside (cast iron, enamel or ceramic). When dough is ready, carefully remove lid and place dough in the ungreased hot pot. Don't worry, it will look like a big doughy mess, but all is well. Cover pan with the hot lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 10-15 minutes until loaf is browned. Remove from pot and allow to cool on wire rack.

Whole Wheat Pancakes

Am I the only wife out there that feels zero desire to make a normal meal when the hubby is not home for dinner? My husband travels a lot for his consulting business, which means I am off the hook a lot. It's not like he expects anything special when he is home, but I like to make him something nice when he is home.

I do a lot of breakfast for dinner when he is gone. Quick, easy and I like to do the whole grain path as well, so healthy. This recipe is also amazing using all white flour or 1/2 and 1/2. If you are feeling extra indulgent, the original recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of oil, but I cut it down to 1/3 to try to make it a bit healthier. My kids love this recipe so much that they refer to them as "the real pancakes" if all other pancakes I make are cheap imitations.
Whole Wheat Pancakes
(makes about 20 pancakes)
recipe adapted from Jana Holmes

3 C whole wheat flour
2 Tb baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 C milk
1/3 canola oil
2 eggs, separated

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the milk, oil and egg yolks. Mix together with the whisk, just until combined. Do not overmix!
2. Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into your batter using a rubber spatula. Cook on an electric skillet preheated to medium-high.
**To freeze, allow them to cool completely, then spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Allow to harden, them place them in a freezer bag.  To thaw, simply place them in the toaster!

Chocolate Krispy Treat Pops

How do I know when a new treat is a success? How about when there is a knock down, drag out fight over who gets to eat it?
Since we are a family of 8, I make all recipes in doubles or triple batches. However, I only had one lonely rice krispie treat left when I decided to give this a try. Probably not my best decision as a parent.

I promised to make a full batch soon, but that did nothing to soothe the savage beasts. If I wasn't still on my diet, I would have eaten it slowly in front of them all. Yep. I'm that mean :)

This is such an easy process and can be changed so easily. Use whatever toppings you want. Use white chocolate instead of dark. Great for kids parties or holidays!
Chocolate Krispy Treat Pops
from Love in the Oven
1 batch of rice krispy treats, or you can use store bought ones as well
popsicle sticks
1 bag chocolate chips (I used semi sweet, but use what you would like)
1 TB vegetable shortening
toppings (mini m&m's, nuts, sprinkles, toffee, oreos, reeses, skittles....)

1. Cut your krispy treats into small rectangles and poke it with a popsicle stick. If you make the treats yourself, be sure you allow the cookies to set until they are completely firm or they will fall apart when you put the stick in.
2. Melt your chocolate chips and shortening in a medium bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments. Mix after every 30 seconds until it is melted. If you chocolate is still a bit too thick to use for dipping, just add a bit more shortening.
3. Use a spoon to pour the chocolate over your pop. Put it on wax paper and sprinkle with desired topping. Allow to chocolate to harden. You can put them in the fridge to speed up the time.