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your assignment

Recipe: brain teaser bars

**You can still enter to win an iPod nano! You have until midnight, September 27, 2009! MST**

Thanks for all of the birfday wishes, folks! Very sweet of you :) I’m going to begin a pre-post -birfday celebration with Helen, Todd and Diane, and so many others very shortly! By the time you read this message, I will either be en route to or in San Francisco for the BlogHer Food conference. Hey now! that doesn’t mean you can all go slacking off! There is some important business at hand – so let’s get to it.

Today, Good Bite is launching the Awaken Your Senses Challenge sponsored by Quaker Instant Oatmeal. use real butter is a part of this campaign to help food charities. Twelve food bloggers have been asked to share some of their favorite food memories with Good Bite. Using those food memories for inspiration, Chef David Lawrence (of Good Bite – and a total cutie!) will create an assortment of oatmeal dishes combining Quaker Instant Oatmeal and other ingredients. Every two weeks, a new round of videos will be posted on youtube at quakertalk where you can vote for your favorite topping. Semi-finalists will be selected from each round and at the end of eight weeks, the blogger with the most votes wins.

But what do they win?

Each food blogger is championing a food charity in this challenge. The winner will have $10,000 donated to their charity. That is a lot of money, but more importantly it will help a lot of people. The charity I have selected is the Farm to School Program which promotes a mutually beneficial community relationship between local farms and school lunch programs nationwide. Here is what they do in a nutshell:

Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.

As food bloggers, as people who love food and cooking and eating, it might be hard to imagine that there are others who go without food more often than not. For some kids, their best meal of the day is the school lunch. Sure, we all joke about school cafeteria lunches with the puke green mystery vegetable mush – but what if that was your only exposure to vegetables? Kids who grow up eating fresh fruits and vegetables have a better chance of making those choices a part of their daily lives as adults. The Farm to School Program seeks to improve school lunches and instill good eating habits in children while at the same time creating a demand for what our local and regional farmers work so hard to provide. It benefits two very important groups: our farmers and our children – but ultimately, it is for our collective future.

Okay great! I’m jazzed – what do I do?

VOTE for your favorite topping (or vote for your favorite blogger or favorite charity) each week at! Let’s see if we can make the semi-finals on our way to winning $10,000 for the Farm to School Program. I would love to have your support, but honestly, all of the charities are Good Causes. And thank you for doing this.


This summer I received a free copy of Julia Usher‘s new cookbook Cookie Swap for review, but never found a moment to actually make anything until a few weeks ago. That was fine though, because as timing goes, Ms. Usher will be in Boulder in a couple of weeks. Folks in the Boulder/Denver area can catch her at the Boulder Book Store on Wednesday at 7:30pm on October 7, 2009 for a talk and a book signing.

If you love decorating with icing and pretty things, this might be the book for you. The detail in Ms. Usher’s decorating is delightful, ranging from elegant cookies to whimsical cookies. As busy and as impatient as I am, I skipped all of those cookies looking for a recipe I could make quickly. Thankfully, she had some of those easier recipes for people like me.

ah yes, butter

I went for the brain teasers – a bar cookie crossed with a carrot cake. It was screaming “I’m AUTUMN!” at me with the carrots, raisins, nuts, and warm spices. So screamed back, “Alright!” Okay, I didn’t scream. I was happy to do it.

sandy crumb

pressing the shortbread crust into the pan

You know what’s odd? I love to make shortbread, but I don’t like eating it… unless it’s the base of a bar cookie. Go figure. The shortbread crust comes together quickly with a food processor then bakes on its own. Since I was home alone, I wasn’t about to make the full recipe, so I halved it easily and it baked up in an 8×8-inch square pan with no problem.

pricking the shortbread with a fork

while the crust bakes, whisk eggs and sweetened condensed milk

There’s nothing fussy about this recipe – throw all of the remaining ingredients together in the bowl and when the crust is cool, pour it on and bake some more. It’s also fairly forgiving as there is leeway to under- or overbake by a tad and the cookies are fine.

nutty, fruity, spicy goodness

slice when completely cooled

When the bars were completely cooled, I cut them into 16 squares. Then there were 15 squares. Jeremy was out of town on travel. 14 squares. This had to stop. I took some to the neighbors and then the next day I gave the rest to my good friend, Beth. When she unwrapped the package and took a sniff, her eyes closed and she smiled. “JenJen, these smell like LOVE.” If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is. Those bars are dangerously easy to make and easier to consume. And while I typically reduce the leavening for baking at my elevation (8500 ft.), I didn’t this time and it worked perfectly.

a bite of autumn

Brain Teaser
[print recipe]
from Cookie Swap by Julia M. Usher

shortbread crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon-size chunks

carrot “cake” topping
2 1/2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (about 1 cup + 3 tbsps)
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and shredded
1 1/2 cups walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried pineapple pieces, finely chopped
1/4 cup powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Set rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a 9x13x2-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an inch of overhang around the top edge of the pan. Smooth out wrinkles and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. [I halved the recipe and used an 8×8-inch pan.] Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. With metal blade, pulse in the butter until the mixture just starts to ball (15-20 seconds). Pat crust evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Prick the dough with a fork. Bake crust for 20-25 minutes or unti lightly browned and firm to touch. Let cool on wire rack before topping, at least 30 minutes.

Combine the flour, spices, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the sweetened condensed milk, brown sugar, eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla together. Beat until well combined. Gradually incorporate the flour mixture and stir in the carrots, walnuts, raisins, and pineapple. Pour the mixture over the crust and spread evenly. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the edges are caramel-brown and top is slightly puffy. Let cook completely on a wire rack before cutting. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Makes 2 dozen (1 3/4-inch squares).

25 nibbles at “your assignment”

  1. Chiot's Run says:

    Those look positively yummy! I occationally like to make beautiful cookies, but I find it sad to see people eating them so I don’t make them anymore. Plus I don’t have extra time for that now, I’d rather make chocolates (and my friends/family would rather eat chocolates).

    I’ll have to check this book out of the libarary, looks beautiful although I’m sure it will make me feel like an inferior cookie maker.

  2. Fiona says:

    The thing that caught my eye in that last photo is your stack of books – not a lot of light reading there.

    Your charity sounds great. “What if that was your only exposure to vegetables” got me right where it hurts. So I’ll be going over there to vote.

  3. Rosa says:

    Those bars are interesting! A great afternoon treat!



  4. Amy says:

    Dang. Carrot cake and shortbread? What a great idea. Can’t wait to try these and I’ll definitely have to check that book out!

  5. charlane says:

    yummy!!! those sound like a “must do”

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Oh yeah. I can’t say no to anything that resembles carrot cake. Awesome!

    I love your choice of charity. Mutually beneficial to all! I’ll be voting, so count me in.

  7. Jenn says:

    Oh wow, those look delicious. I bet if you wanted to be extra naughty, a little cream cheese glaze would be lovely on them…not that they probably need it!

  8. JessW says:

    As soon as the carrots come out of the garden, I am SO making these! Thanks~

  9. Irina (PastryPal) says:

    Happy belated birthday, Jen! I think a few cookie bars during your birthday month are perfectly acceptable :) This recipe looks like a great twist on carrot cake.

    I eat oatmeal often and will be interested in the recipes that are borne out of this. Great charity you chose. I’ll be sure to vote.

  10. dawn says:

    isn’t that a clever recipe! love that. I might try these with a pb glaze.

  11. christina says:

    A) I love that pencil. Just love it. I have a set at home.

    B) This recipe sounds great, and wonderfully portable.

    C) Happy belated birthday!

  12. Collette says:

    I love the idea of you and the cookies screaming at one another–in joy of course. And happy belated birthday!

  13. Janet says:

    Thank you for the tip about the great book!

    I just ordered two copies. One for myself and the other to send to a wonderful blogger that, without her help and inspiration, I could NOT have had the recent success I’ve had baking/decorating roll-out sugar cookies.

    Thank YOU for your wonderful blog!! I so enjoy your Colorado perspective and your photography is amazing to me!

    PS – The blogger I speak of is Bridget at:

  14. CatR says:

    My mouth is watering! And such a useful photographic demonstration of “sandy crumb”. Thanks!

  15. giao {kiss my spatula} says:

    i think i would definitely have a VERY hard time not eating the entire pan. with those flavor combos i could easily convince myself that it would be a healthy move! :)

  16. ABowlOfMush says:

    Love the name of these and they look fantastic! Your photos are gorgeous!

  17. Helen in CA says:

    So….when you halve a recipe: how do you deal w/ 1/2 large egg yolk?

    I so want to try these….but there’s only 2 of us here at home. Could this count as Veggies at dinner? There’s carrots in it………

  18. Tartelette says:

    These bars look so good Jen! You know the weirdest part of writing this is that you are on the bed next to mine in a swanky hotel in SF. Dude! Love you Jen! And I love you even more fot this charrity:)

  19. rumana says:

    lovely recipe jen n commendable choice of charity..

  20. Jie says:

    will vote :-P

  21. Caitlin says:

    There is no greater compliment than having someone say something you made smells like love. And I’m glad I’m not the only one – I’m not a fan *at all* of shortbread, except as a base for other things. Given that fall is my favorite season, these bars might make an appearance quite soon :)

  22. Susan Marie says:

    Thank you for supporting school lunch programs! I am a school food service manager, and sadly, it’s true that so many of our children only get real meals at school, and also true that sometimes we have fruits or vegetables that they’re not familiar with. This is because they’ve had no exposure to them at home. I take great pride in what we serve the kids – you won’t find any overcooked veggies in my kitchen!

  23. Manggy says:

    Oh, wow. I’m a huge fan of carrot pastries (er, is there any more than cake and the rare cookie), but including my other guilty pleasure, condensed milk, is a stroke of genius. Maybe that’s why it’s a “brain teaser.” (Okay, not the MOST connected comment I’ve made…)

  24. Mrs Ergül says:

    Ohhhh this is really for fall! I have never tried carrot cake before. I am intrigued!

  25. jenyu says:

    Mmm, glad to find other carrot cake enthusiasts – it’s one of my favorite kind of cakes :)

    Helen in CA – I actually used a very small yolk (just by luck, I happened upon one that was nearly half as big as the rest of the yolks when separating eggs whites for macarons).

    Tartelette – you are SO funny!! I can’t believe you commented while we were in the same room ;) ha ha ha!! Too fun.

    Susan – you clearly rock!! :)

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