Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars, and the Uninvited Guest . . .

I'd been working in the kitchen most of the morning, then passing in and out of the kitchen periodically throughout the afternoon. I can't be sure exactly when it happened . . . all I know is that it must have occurred with lightning speed. "It" being the creation of a sizable hole in my kitchen window screen. The culprit? It could only have been a ferocious, peanut-butter lusting tamiasciurus hudsonicus -- a ravenous red squirrel!

I see them on a regular basis, peering in, on days when I'm baking with the window opened. A quick swat of the screen, though, has always been enough to disperse the furry fellows . . . but apparently not enough to sway this guy. Doubtless it was a male, and a fine brawny specimen at that, I'd wager. Obviously emboldened by the rapturous scent of my peanut butter & jelly bars cooling on the counter, he made the split-second decision to break in, and so he set to work with his razor-sharp teeth. If I weren't feeling completely merciless, you might very well hear me utter some empathetic drivel like, "Oh, who can blame him? He's just doing what squirrels do naturally . . . afterall, those cookie bars are profoundly irresistible." Hmmm . . .

"Well, m'aam, southeastern Michigan's just full of 'em . . . "

Here's how the pest control company Critter Catchers Inc., according to their website, describes our furry friend, ". . . the most prominent [squirrel] species, that chews holes in roof eves to gain access to a comfortable attic or wall in Oakland County homes." Oh great. My home resides in Oakland County, and I can just imagine what Mr. Red Squirrel has in store for us next. I shudder to think.

My advice to Critter Catchers? They should revise their dossier on
tamiasciurus hudsonicus, and update their description of the varmint to read as follows: ". . . the most prominent species, that chews holes in roof eves to gain access to a comfortable attic or wall in Oakland County homes . . . this creature will stop at nothing in attempting to gain access to a freshly baked pan of peanut-butter & jelly bars, cooling on a kitchen counter. Residents should be vigilant and be prepared to take all necessary measures."

We never laid eyes on each other . . .

Miraculously, though the hole in the window screen was certainly big enough to admit a housecat, it doesn't appear--based on my thorough and exhaustive investigation--that the squirrel actually gained full admittance. My guess is that my approaching footsteps scared him away just as he was about to set foot into the kitchen. He clearly didn't progress beyond the window sill. The peanut butter & jelly bars were blessedly undisturbed and, as you can imagine, I examined them with the human visual-equivalent of an electron microscope before coming to this conclusion.

Famous last words . . .

Here's a final message for you squirrels out there: Don't worry, I don't advocate vigilante justice . . . but in this case I'm just not opposed to it. So get this straight--if you're a wild creature, I must insist that you keep your fuzzy carcass OUT OF MY HOUSE!

End of conversation.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

These PB&J bars really are irresistible. I just wish I could resist them. They're a Martha Stewart recipe, from her cookie book that came out about a year ago. The only aspects of the recipe that I altered were to include three flavors of jam in one pan (I used strawberry, apricot, and seedless raspberry), and to use honey-roasted peanuts instead of plain salted peanuts. Those small adjustments worked spectacularly well. I'd definitely make these again, the same way.

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9" x 13" pan, and line it with parchment paper in both directions (length and width). Butter the parchment and dust with flour.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups All Purpose flour
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs, large
2 and 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter (I used Jif brand. It works really well in cookies/bars.)
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 cups of your favorite jam (I used 1/2 cup each of strawberry, apricot, and seedless raspberry--my family's three favorites)
1 cup honey-roasted peanuts (or regular salted peanuts)

In the bowl of a mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy--about 2 minutes.

With the mixer still running, add in the eggs and peanut butter. Mix for about 2 minutes, until combined.

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, and beat on low speed until well combined. Add in the vanilla extract. The dough will be quite thick.

Transfer two-thirds of the mixture to your prepared pan. Spread the dough out evenly and gently but firmly press it down so it's of relatively even thickness all over.

Using a spatula, spread the first half-cup of jam onto one third of the dough, then do the same with the other jams until the whole pan of dough is completely covered.

Crumble the remaining dough, that you'd set aside, evenly over the top of the jam. Over that, evenly sprinkle all of the chopped nuts.

Bake until golden, for 45 to 60 minutes. If the bars are browning too quickly at any point, cover them lightly with foil. Cool them in the pan on a rack. When they're cool, run a knife around the edges of the pan, and refrigerate the whole thing, uncovered, for about one to two hours. Lift the chilled bars out of the pan by lifting the parchment sheets up. Use a sharp knife to cut the bars into small squares, about 1.5" to 2" in size. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about three-dozen bars.

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