Sunday, June 18, 2017

Orange You Glad it's Summer?

It's the time of year when I frequently have Wicked Witch of the West moments because I literally feel like I'm melting every time I set foot outside. When it's 6 a.m. and the real feel is 90, you know it's gonna be a long day. I try to combat the heat by complaining about it as much as humanly possible while simultaneously thanking the inventor of air conditioning and counting down the days until our Alaskan cruise. Let's face it--while I may be from Texas, I'm about as well equipped to handle heat as a pint of Blue Bell. The only thing that summer is good for as far as I'm concerned is delicious, fruity desserts to help deal with the misery that is sweating while standing perfectly still. When I looked at the forecast for the week (and stopped crying), I decided it was time for a creamy, light-as-air dessert. I wanted something that would give me a respite from the heat, so immediately, I thought citrus fruits. And when you live in a state that's kind of known for one in particular, it seemed only natural to base my dessert around the tasty and ever-so-hard-to-peel orange. Although, my  childhood soccer games would've been woefully incomplete without orange slices at halftime, so I'll give them a pass on having an exterior more difficult to crack than most safe vaults. Say hello to the Orange Creamsicle Bar...
Orange you glad to see me?
I'm going to have a hard time resisting play on words with the word "orange" in this blog, and I'd like to apologize, but I'm not in the least bit sorry for these terrible puns. Besides, I am sharing a ridiculously amazing and simple dessert recipe with you, so I feel like I've earned the right. Soccer games aside, these squares also remind me of my childhood because they taste like a cross between a Flinstone's Push Up and a nice glass of Sunny D (purple stuff is still for chumps). With a crumbly graham cracker crust, mouth-watering orange Jello layer, and creamy pudding and Cool Whip topping, there's nothing to hate here unless you're allergic to oranges. Which I'm sure probably is a thing, so there's that. They're also guilt-free! An 8x8 pan can either yield you 12 bars at 118 calories a piece or 8 squares (in which case, I'm going to need you to call these Orange Creamsicle Squares for posterity) at 157 calories a pop. I obviously went for bar servings because these are literally the only kind of bars I'm interested in at my old age of 72. Or 30. Close enough.
I feel like 72 is more accurate, because at 30, I should be able to drink a glass of OJ without getting acid reflux. Sigh.
This recipe is actually a Kraft recipe that I completely tweaked to lower the calorie count from 310 calories a serving. To make the lightened-up version, you'll need:
  • 6 1/2 sheets of reduced fat Honey Maid Graham Crackers (save the half a sheet for later on in the recipe)
  • 2 tbs of melted butter (I used one tbs of butter and 1 tbs of butter spread to reduce calories. You could opt totally for the spread, melted to save even more, but I like the real butter flavor in a crust)
  • 1/2 a cup of Trop50 no pulp OJ
  • 1 box of Sugar Free Orange Jello
  • 8 ounces of fat free cream cheese spread, divided (leave out for an hour prior to making so it is soft but not runny)
  • 8 ounces of Cool Whip Free
  • 1/2 cup skim milk (plus a splash or two to get to the right consistency) 
  • 1 box of Jello Sugar Free Instant Vanilla Pudding
  • 1/2 tsp of dried orange zest (or 1 tsp of fresh orange zest)
Tiny food processor, you are so useful.
 I have a 4-cup food processor that has saved my recipes from becoming a giant messy disaster time and time again. Either crush or process 6 sheets of graham crackers into a fine crumb.
Like so. Seriously, just buy a food processor.
Melt your butter in small bowl for about 25 seconds. While this is nuking, cut a sheet of Parchment paper to fit an 8x8 pan. Mist the paper and the edges of the pan with cooking spray.
There are few things more annoying than crumbling dessert because it is stuck to the pan. 100% humidity in June is one of them.
 Once the butter is melted, dump in with the graham cracker crumbs and blend well. The crumbs should be wet. Turn this mixture into the prepared pan and press to distribute the crust evenly:
Bonus, have your dog handy for the mess you're making.
 Set your crust in the freezer so it can firm up while you prepare the first layer of the bars.
A piping hot cup of...juice?
 Find a microwaveable liquid measuring cup and measure out the 1/2 cup of OJ. You're going to heat this in the microwave for 1 minute. While it is getting warmed up, dump the orange Jello mix into a bowl. Pour in the hot OJ (weird) and whisk for 2 minutes. There should be no clumps.
And it should be a shade of orange best described as "Cheeto-nian."
 In the bowl of your stand mixer, take HALF the fat free cream cheese spread and give a quick stir. Then add in half of the orange Jello mixture. I found it easier to whisk by hand otherwise things got sloppy. Like, accidentally soaked my phone in orange Jello juice sloppy (and yet, to my chagrin, my crappy phone is still just fine). Once sorta blended, add in the remaining orange Jello mixture. Take one cup of Cool Whip Free and plop into the bowl with the cream cheese/Jello mix. Now it's safe to use the actual mixer to blend together.
Pour this mix onto your crust and smooth out.

Lick the spatula when you're done to immediately be taken back to the last time you had an orange push up ice cream.
Place this into the freezer to set for about 15-20 minutes. When the time is almost up, prepare the topping layer by first cleaning your stand mixer bowl to simply turn around and get it dirty again (ah, the joys of baking). Whisk the rest of the cream cheese and the milk together by hand until smoothed out. Then add in the vanilla pudding mix and beat with the stand mixer until well incorporated. Add in the remaining Cool Whip Free and the orange zest. My mixture was quite thick, and since I knew I wanted to be able to spread my topping on with ease, I added in a splash of milk (about 1 tsp) to give it a looser consistency.
And it spread like buttah.
Take the topping and evenly frost the top of your bars/squares with it. Smooth out as best as you can, and then find that half a sheet of graham cracker I told you to save awhile ago. Did you eat it? Yeah, accidents happen. Just grab another half sheet then and crush it into a fine mixture. Sprinkle this on the top of your bars to complete the recipe and make it look pretty. Everything looks better with a fine coating on top (this is precisely why I wear makeup).
Crushed graham crackers--like Bare Minerals foundation for desserts.
Now, these do need to set in the freezer for about 2-3 hours. I'd err on the side closer to 3 because my hungry, ravenous, dessert-crazy stomach wanted these at the 2 hour mark, and they were very tricky to get out of the pan. Set a timer and walk away. Do something constructive like try to drink a glass of orange juice at the age of 30 without dying of reflux. Whatever you need to do, just give these bars time to set up. Like anything good in life, they are totally worth waiting for. They're dripping with so much orange deliciousness that they can probably prevent scurvy, making them safe for both pirates and your waistline! Derek and I each had a bar yesterday, and it has literally been the only thing I've wanted to eat all day even though we had steak kebabs for dinner (and you never get in the way of a Texan and her cow). For one brief moment in time, bite after bite, I forgot that it's hot enough to bake cookies on the dash of my car outside and more humid than an Amazonian rainforest in the midst of monsoon season. I would live in a pan of these Orange Creamsicle Bars if it were feasible. It might still be a little sticky, but at least it would be tasty. While I complain to my steak kabobs about this oppressive heat, I'm going to be counting the minutes until I get to sink my teeth into these amazingly light and flavorful bars. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Because the only way to get me to stop complaining about the heat is to shove you in my mouth, Orange Creamsicle Bar.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I knew I wanted to make brownies for a coworker's going away party last weekend. Chocolate helps me cope, and thankfully, I work in an office with like-minded individuals who also appreciate the therapeutic effects of sweet, delicious chocolate. So to say I wanted to find a way to make the chocolatiest brownies ever was a massive understatement (we're really, really gonna miss that coworker. We really, really needed a lot of chocolate to deal with it). I decided to go with fudge brownies stuffed with Oreo's and topped with cookies and cream frosting. Essentially, a chocolate-in-chocolate, topped with more chocolate, inception-type situation, or a brownieception, if you will. I don't believe that time heals all wounds--but an artfully crafted chocolate dessert certainly is the first step in the right direction.
If tasty is a direction...
There were two things that made these brownies nearly impossible to make. The first being the fact that I had literally no idea there are now over 30 flavors of Oreo's. I lived in a world where I was only aware of the existence of regular Oreo's, Double Stuff's, and Mint Creme Oreo's. Needless to say, when I turned down the cookie aisle at the commissary I was immediately flabbergasted. Red Velvet Oreo's? Cake batter Oreo's? Oreo's that aren't even chocolate? Blasphemy. So imagine my reaction when I found out Cookies and Cream Oreo's are a thing. Think about that for a minute--yeah--those are Oreo's, stuffed with other Oreo's. The people at Nabisco clearly need to be stopped. They've taken this way too far. After I was done having a small meltdown over what kind of Oreo I wanted my brownies to be filled with (I settled on the classic Double Stuff after staring longingly at the Peanut Butter Oreos for a solid two minutes), another conundrum smacked me in the face when I looked to the right only to see Chips Ahoy has clearly followed the Oreo-every-flavor-we-can-think-of marketing strategy. My childhood is officially in the dust. I carried my head lowly and wondered if opening and eating half a sleeve of Oreo's would be frowned upon while I finished grocery shopping.
Although, probably still worth it.
The second thing involving these cookies and cream brownies that made me weep was calculating the calorie count. I didn't take any healthy shortcuts since I was going to be feeding normal people who aren't obsessed with health food like I am. It's all fun and games when you're baking a 9x13 pan of chocolate on chocolate when you're leaving them in someone else's home, but if they were staying at home with me, I would've subbed a few things (notes below) to cut calories. But like I said, we were all sad and in desperate need of a real, no-applesauce/honey substitutions brownie. I still wanted to deliver some nutritional tidbits on the blog since I've gotten used to bequeathing you the unfortunate calorie count of everything you love to devour post-dinnertime. A 9x13 pan made as directed below will run you 293 calories a cookies and cream brownie for 20 servings total. You could be like me and have a sliver of one piece to indulge with minimal guilt...I ended up cutting these in smallllll pieces not just for that fact but also because they are very rich. I'd estimate I ended up with 36 actual servings for 163 calories a brownie (which is wayyyyyy better).
Spot the pirate!
I took ALL of the shortcuts with this recipe, down to a box mix instead of my fudgy homemade brownie recipe because, let's face it, I wanted to take a nap since 1. I have to wake before the sun to walk the dogs or we'll all melt, and 2. Having human emotions is absolutely draining (which is why I avoid them in most cases). To make the simplest, yet most delicious cookies and cream brownies ever, all you need is:
  • 1 box of Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie mix 
  • 2 eggs (can use just egg whites to lower calories)
  • 1/2 cup of veggie oil (can sub applesauce to lower calories)
  • 3 TBS of water
  • 10 Oreo's (can use Oreo Thins to lower calories)
Preheat your oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 pan. Mix together the brownie mix, eggs, oil, and water for 2 minutes on medium speed in your stand mixer. Take this time to count out 10 Oreo's, think about eating a few, suffer that moral dilemma, and then turn off the mixer.
And get ready to get hammered.
I've recently acquired a meat tenderizing mallet, which I loving call "The Pulverizer." I placed my 10 Oreo's into a plastic bag and, well, pulverized them into chunks. Dump this into your brownie mix and give it a good stir.
After you admire your handy work. Thanks, Pulverizer!
Take your batter and turn it out into the greased pan. Be sure to smooth out the batter and tap the pan on the counter a few times to get out any air bubbles. Place into the oven and bake 22-27 minutes. With the addition of the Oreo's, my mix took a little longer than the box directed.
I had forgotten how messy powdered sugar is...the benefits of eating healthy-ish, I suppose?
Let your cookies and cream brownies cool off on a cooling rack either on the counter or in the fridge depending on how impatient you are. While you're resisting the urge to dive into the pan, get out your frosting ingredients:
  • 4 TBS butter at room temp  (can sub with reduced fat cream cheese to lower calories)
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2-3 TBS skim milk 
  • 8 Oreo's (can use Oreo Thins to lower calories)
Mix together the butter, sugar, and 2 TBS of milk until smooth. Really grind up the 8 Oreo's to a fine pulp and then add them to your frosting and mix. Depending on the consistency you'd like, either add a half to another whole tablespoon of milk after you've added the Oreo crumbs. I went with another 1/2 TBS (for a grand total of 2 1/2 TBS) to get a smooth enough frosting that was easy to spread but would still set.
And look pretty. This is important.
Simply frost the brownies once they are fully cooled and place them back in the fridge to let the frosting set up for an hour or two. You could also crush up more Oreo's to sprinkle on top, cut Oreo's into halves and place a half onto each individual brownie, etc. I went for classic and plain, and that did not disappoint. These are soooooo good (thanks, butter!), and I am so very happy the whole pan is not sitting in my house, or I would've eaten them all in one sitting. I adore cookies and cream ice cream (Halo Top or Blue Bell--they know what's up), and these brownies are a great take on what typically gets eaten as a frozen dessert. Not to mention they require about as much effort to make as a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream. Easy, quick, and delicious--all prerequisites when it comes to feelings eating. Or just regular eating, I suppose. A magical thing happens when Oreo's get cooked into brownies, so needless to say, I'm going to brave the Oreo aisle again soon to try the peanut butter version of this. Do I need to be stopped? Probably. But you better be one brave individual to stand between me and a pan of brownies...'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
Can you blame me? I mean, these are drool-worthy.