Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reading Rainbow Bars

Butterfly in the sky!  I can go twice as high! Take a look, it's in a book - Reading Rainbow!  Okay, how many of you immediately started singing that song when you saw the lyrics?  I knew it wasn't just me.

I was thinking about Reading Rainbow the other day, and all the awesome stories I remember because of it.  Perfect the Pig, Imogene's Antlers, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, Sam the Sea Cow... I get so excited when I hear a line from those books because I remember the first time I heard them, and the voice I heard them read in.  (Say it with me, now! "A feather... that would change the weather.")

So, for the few people out there who have never experienced Reading Rainbow, please let me explain.  It was a television show that was produced from 1983 until 2006, hosted by LeVar Burton (who was also the executive producer), dedicated to promoting the love of reading for kids.  Each episode would have Mr. Burton talking about a specific topic, such as teamwork, or experiencing rites of passage (like losing a tooth), or being different (having to wear glasses), or.... well, anything.  And then a story that works within the theme would be read, usually by a celebrity - including, by the way, such awesome names as Bill Cosby, Gilda Radner, Julia Child, and Jerry Orbach.

[Edit because I forgot to include...] And then at the end of each episode, Mr. Burton would say that there were lots of other great books out there - "But you don't have to take my word for it!" and three lucky kids got to tell about a book they liked that could be found at your local library.  I used to want to be one of those kids SO BAD.  I'm not exactly sure why, but it seemed glamorous and exciting.

I love this show.  I loved it long after it was socially acceptable for me to be watching children's television or reading picture books, and if it was on right now, I'd be watching it as I write this.  I'm going to have to start saving my pennies, because I just looked it up on Amazon to find that episodes are available on DVD!  I even started watching Star Trek TNG because LeVar Burton was on there.  (Well... plus, it's an awesome show.  But I didn't know that at the time.)

Anything that can inspire such a love of reading deserves an entire freakin' cookbook, but as my time is limited, I am going to give you one very awesome recipe instead.  This is my mother's recipe for Rainbow Bars - I'm pretty sure it came out of a magazine or off the can of condensed milk, but don't be fooled by its humble beginnings.  This is an awesome cookie bar, and I can't think of anything that would better deserve it.

Reading Rainbow Bars
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter
1 can (14 oz.) condensed milk
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups M&Ms

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Melt the butter in the microwave and pour it into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Pour in the graham cracker crumbs and mix with the butter until well-blended.  Then press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan to make a solid layer of crust.
2. Pour the condensed milk over the crust and spread as evenly as possible.  Top with the coconut, chocolate chips, and M&Ms, in that order.
3. Press the toppings into the condensed milk with your palms.  The tighter you make this, the less likely it will be that the finished product will fall apart when eating, which is the #1 complaint I've heard about Rainbow Bars - don't skip this step!  It will make your hands messy for a minute, but it'll make things easier to eat in the end.
4. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  The coconut will be lightly browned, and the condensed milk will be bubbling right up between the chocolate and all that yumminess will just melt right togehter.
5. This is the hardest part of the whole recipe - wait for the bars to cool completely before cutting, or you run the risk of them breaking apart and being a big gloppy mess.  A delicious gloppy mess, but still.  As you can see from the photo, I didn't wait until they were completely cool - mostly, but not completely, so the edges are ragged.

There are lots of variations to this recipe - substitute butterscotch chips for the M&Ms, and they are Magic Bars or Magic Cookie Bars.  Adding walnuts to Magic Bars makes them 7-Layer Bars.  I've also used peanut butter chips or some combination of the above... but Rainbow Bars are my favorite, perfect for my favorite tv show.

So, tell me!  What's your favorite episode?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Poky Little Puppy Strawberry Shortcake

The Poky Little Puppy was written by Janette Sebring Lowrey in 1942, and illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren.  It was one of the first Little Golden Books ever published and was, as of 2001, the best-selling children's book of all time.  (Incidentally, somewhere around here I have a copy of the list as of 2001 and the list as of a few years later - Harry Potter really shook some things up!)  It is also a personal favorite of mine.

Anyhow.  For those of you who are unfamilair, or who haven't heard the story in years and years, this is the tale of five puppy siblings, who disobey their mother and go digging under the fence to see what's in the wide, wide world beyond their home.  Off they run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," toward adventure.  But one of these puppies - the Poky Little Puppy - lags behind his siblings because he's so curious and distracted by everything.  He is also the last one to get back under the fence at the end of the night, which is lucky for him, because his siblings have all been sent to bed without dessert for being naughty, and he gets all of the rice pudding for himself.

The next day, the same thing happens - off they run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," into the wide, wide world.  Their mother is again very disappointed in her offspring, and the puppies are again sent to bed without any dessert.  All, that is, except for Poky (which I always assumed was his name, even though I realize now that it's a descriptor and not necessarily a name at all - but you never know.  After all, how many cats have I met named Brownie?).  Poky comes home after the rest of the puppies have gone to bed, and eats all the chocolate custard by himself.

On the third day, the puppies again venture out into the wide, wide world beyond the fence and run, "roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble," and have a grand old time.  When they get home and see their mother disappointed, though, they fill in the hole they dug and get to share the dessert she's made - strawberry shortcake.  All, that is, except for the Poky Little Puppy.  He not only gets home too late for dessert, but he has to squeeze through the slats of the fence, because the hole has been filled in.

Now... I don't know exactly why, but I've always felt bad for Poky.  I shouldn't, really.  He disobeyed and couldn't keep up with his siblings, and he ate 10 servings of dessert over the past two days, but the lack of strawberry shortcake always made me sad.  The book even tells you that he was "feeling very sorry for himself" at the end of it all, and maybe that made him a better puppy, but he was just curious, right?  Poor guy.  Maybe because I love strawberry shortcake so much, but it just seemed like a cruel punishment.  An injustice that needs to be rectified.

So, it may be late by 68 years, but here, Poky, is your shortcake.  I hope it was worth the wait.

Poky Little Puppy Strawberry Shortcake
1 pint of strawberries
2 tbsp. of sugar
Whipped cream

**NOTE** Biscuits are the traditional foundation for strawberry shortcake (well... besides shortcake), so that's what I've used here, but angel food cake is also a nice foundation.  The foaminess sucks up the strawberry juice quite nicely.

1. Prepare biscuits according to recipe or package directions.  I used Bisquik to make mine, though Pillsbury does make some great ones in a tube if you're in a hurry.  For the traditionalists out there, Alton Brown has an awesome recipe listed here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/southern-biscuits-recipe/index.html .  I have been wanting to make this recipe for a while now, but finals week is not the time to dive into something like a new biscuit recipe.  (If you are using angel food cake, I would recommend waiting until it's time to serve and then slicing it into good-sized chunks, to avoid getting crusty edges.)
2. Wash and hull the strawberries, and slice into a bowl.  Add the sugar and stir; let this mixture sit at least an hour or until it's time for dessert.  Fun fact - the sugar will draw out the strawberries' natural pectin, which will make a syrup as this mixture sits. This will take about an hour, but you can make it a few hours ahead of time, if you like.  If you're short on time or haven't read ahead in the recipe, please remember that strawberries are quite awesome without any syrup at all, so you're in luck.
3.  To assemble, cut a biscuit in half horizontally.  Place one half of the biscuit in a bowl, and top with the strawberry mixture and whipped cream.  Repeat with the remaining half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and more whipped cream.  Top with a berry for garnish, if desired.

Fabulous.  I love it.  I could eat this every day of my life and not get bored.

I usually cheat and make biscuits a la Pillsbury, but this time I made them a la Bisquik - admittedly, not the same as homemade, but they look homemade, don't they?  And they are pretty tasty.
Mmmmm.... I know they're done, because the bottoms are golden brown and delicious.  Plus, the house smells awesome.
As a final quick note... I need to stop apologizing for not writing, but I am sorry, really.  Perhaps I shouldn't have taken on this project while I'm still in school... but for some things, you just don't want to wait to get started.