halva magic bars

Hello from my first week back to blogging life after seven weeks of filming and three months of maternity leave! Season 4 is officially in the bag (and scheduled to premiere on September 8th!), and after a one-day trip to New York earlier this week to make turkey on the Today Show, I am home and ready to figure out this whole test-noodle-kugel-recipes-while-Bernie-is-singing-Baby-Beluga-with-Grandma-in-the-living-room thing. It’s gonna be great! I’m gonna squish her cheeks anytime I want!

The Season 4 shoot was so much fun. It really was like summer camp: we had movie night under the stars, a wiener-fueled bonfire, bourekas in a wheat field, and a dance party with backstreet boys and a disco ball and everything. On the weekends we sat on the beach and invented new uses for the word gourmet. (“Are you wearing a Juicy velour robe? That is so gourmet!” “Did you just get very extravagant nail art? How gourmet!” Basically: fancy but not trendy, and nothing at all to do with food.) On the last day, I got Iced and that was that. I miss the crew so much already.

One of my faaaaavorite recipes from this season were the Halva magic bars that I made for an episode that’s an ode to Midwestern potlucks. Every potluck around here has to have a bar- a brownie, blondie, lemon square, cookie bar, etc. I grew up calling these desserts by their specific names but here they’re all just lumped into one big geometrically pleasing category that is the centerpiece for my go-to sample of a Midwest accent (“Are you going to bring the bars, Marge?” where the “ar” sounds a little pirate-y… aim for the back of your mouth and you’ll see what I mean.)

Magic bars, or 7-layer bars (tomato/tomahto), are one of the top three bars of all time. They are dangerously delicious and they’re magic because you make them by just piling everything into a pan. You don’t have to mix anything in a bowl or soften butter or commit any real effort, they’re so easy and the return is so great that it honestly feels like you’re cheating the world. 

The classic magic bar has butter, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, sweetened condensed milk and shredded coconut, but in a painfully predictable move, I’ve subbed out the butterscotch for crumbled halva and the pecans for pistachios. And of course the condensed milk was just begging for some rosewater (it gets topped with coconut, can you blame me?!). Listen, one day I’ll make something that doesn’t feature the holy combination of coconut + rosewater + pistachio + halvah but, like, today’s not that day. And neither is tomorrow. 

The result is a bar that’s just as chewy and gooey and amazing as the original, but with a little more color: nuttiness and flakiness from the halvah, greenery and saltiness from the pistachios, floral notes from the rosewater, and pretty pops of pink from the optional rose petals on top. It’s a Midwestern/Middle Eastern mashup that was bound to happen at some point because all of these flavors work so darn well together. Proceed with caution because you will want to eat the whole batch immediately. Luckily storing them in the fridge makes them even better because it makes them chewier, so hide them in the back behind the carrots and just eat a carrot every time you go in for a bar. They’ll cancel each other out.


Halva Magic Bars

makes 20

ingredients

1/2 c (113g) unsalted butter

9 graham cracker rectangles (1 package)

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 c (175g) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

1 1/2 c (226g) crumbled halva

1 c (120g) roasted pistachios

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk or sweetened condensed coconut milk

1 tsp rosewater

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 c (160g) sweetened shredded coconut

2 tb dried rose petals, optional

clues

Preheat oven to 350ºf. Grease a 9 x 13 pan and line the bottom with parchment. Add the butter and stick it in the oven for a few minutes so the butter melts. Meanwhile, crush the graham crackers by putting them in a large ziploc bag and smashing with a rolling pin or blending in a food processor. When the butter’s melted, swirl it around the bottom of the pan and scatter the graham cracker crumbs evenly all over (you’re not actually making a full on graham cracker crust, don’t worry about packing it down or anything).  Sprinkle with salt, then sprinkle the chocolate chips, halva, and pistachios all over. Pour a little of the condensed milk on top and then add the rosewater and vanilla to the remaining condensed milk and mix it in. Pour it evenly all over the pan. Sprinkle the coconut on top and rose petals, if using. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool fully (ideally overnight or for a few hours in the fridge) before cutting into bars. Enjoy!

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a good few days.


Crispy Chickpea Salad Kit with Butter Fried Croutons

When they said that everything changes when you have children, I didn’t realize that this would extend to my tastebuds! In my postpartum life, I am suddenly obsessed with two opposites: sugar and salad. (But Molly, you’ve always been obsessed with sugar? I mean, I’ve always been obsessed with making things with sugar, but until 18 weeks ago I would have chosen a pile of cheese fries over ice cream any day. Now... not so much.) We can argue about the sugar thing later but today’s post is about my new heightened love of ~salad~. It started literally from the day after Bernie was born. I had my token I’m-not-pregnant-anymore Jimmy John’s Italian Nightclub on white bread and then my excellent friend Heather texted that she would like to deliver a gigantic salad to me at the hospital. She brought me a big container of greens with chopped apple and cheddar and a bunch of colorful veggies and held my one-day-old Bernie while I gobbled up every last leaf. It was the tastiest thing in the world. Not just because Heather is one of my favorite chefs in the world but also because something had changed in my tastebuds that made me love raw vegetables and forkfuls of greens like never before. So that salad was the first salad of the rest of my postpartum salad-obsessed life and what happened after that was Eggboy and I proceeded to live on salads. Friends and Eggmom delivered tons of salads and I got mediumly good at balancing a salad bowl on the arm of the recliner while I nursed Bernie. And then after we ate all of the salad deliveries, we cobbled together as many salads as we could. I’d put Bernie in her sling and try to assemble a salad without having to chop anything because I didn’t want to use a knife while she was on me, or I’d try to direct Eggboy in making a salad but salad making requires serious multitasking skills and, erm, they don’t not call him Multitaskingboy for nothing (sorry!!!), so what we found was that salad kits are a great invention!!! Wow, they are so good at getting crunchy greens into my mouth. They make salads achievable in 30 seconds. They come with cute bags of crunchy things and tiny bags of seasoning that look like dime bags! The dressings are fatty and ok tasting! My first few journeys out of the house with Bernie were to the Hugo’s salad section, where I’d get a dozen salad kits at a time. We’d gobble them up multiple times a day. I know what you’re thinking though, and I absolutely agree: salad kits are flawed. There aren’t enough crunchies, the nuts are too brittle, the dressing is probably loaded with crazy ingredients I’ve never heard of, and where is the protein! I never said they were perfect, but they got me dreaming...

In the produce section of my grocery store dreams, salad kits are way more luxurious. They come with fluffy butter-fried pita croutons, crispy salty chickpeas, a small bag of za’atar, feta (!), and creamy tahini dressing. And you know what they say about dreams, make them come true! So now that Bernie has gotten pretty good at sitting in her bouncy chair, playing with her toys, listening to Raffi, and keeping me company in the kitchen, my hands have been free enough to do some salad prep at the beginning of the week, eliminating my need to clear out the salad kit section. It’s so fun. We sing Down By The Bay and squeeze lemons into tahini and whenever something smells particularly good I stick it under Bernie’s nose so she can take a whiff. So far the only thing that’s yielded a huge smile is the freshly baked pita that I was about to turn into croutons. Same, Bern, same.

So here’s a little non-recipe to get your juices flowing so that you can create your own salad kits with whatever’s looking good in your garden, your favorite cheeses and dressings, and whatever forgotten chunk of bread you have lying around that’s waiting to be crouton’d. I usually just pile all of the prepped veggies in a container or bag and then make separate containers of cheese, dressing, croutons, and a protein so that everything is ready to dump and go, easy peasy. Make a few at a time! Make one to deliver to a friend! Go wild!


Crispy Chickpea Salad Kit with Butter Fried Croutons

Veggies: In a big container, pile in fresh spinach or other greens, halved grape tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, chopped red onion, thinly sliced radishes, and chopped fresh mint. Store in the fridge for up to three days.

Chickpeas: Drain, rinse, and dry a can of chickpeas and dump them onto a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with a good drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 350ºf for 50 minutes, tossing occasionally. Let cool and transfer to a container. Store at room temp for up to four days.

Feta: Put a big handful in a cute container 🤷🏻‍♀️Store in the fridge.

Za’atar: Put a teaspoon or so in a tiny bag. Seal with a cute piece of washi tape.

Tahini dressing: Mix 1/4 c tahini with a squeeze of lemon juice and 3-4 tb water until creamy and pourable. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a cute jar and store in the fridge for up to four or five days. If it gets too thick to pour while it’s in the fridge, mix in a little more water before serving.

Butter fried croutons: Heat a good layer of butter in a pan over medium and tear up two thick fluffy pitas into the pan. Fry until golden and crispy on the outside but still a little chewy on the inside (I like em best this way!) transfer to a plate, sprinkle with salt, and let cool. Store in a container at room temperature for four or five days.

-yeh!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Freezer Burritos

Back when I was brainstorming freezer meals for maternity leave, I wanted to figure out a burrito that would pack loads of veggies, protein, and nutrients, and still be something that I craved when I was exhausted and starving. I achieved that here, and I’d like to thank a giant pile of queso fresco for the assist. Queso fresco is so darn good, fresh, and salty. I purposely only called for 8 ounces in this recipe when the standard block at my grocery store is 10 ounces, so that I could have 2 ounces leftover to nosh on. This filling is sooo flavorful, it has the perfect balance of smoky, salty, sweet, spicy, fresh, and bright… you could eat it with a spoon. And of course it’s only made better when swaddled up in a soft nutty whole wheat tortilla. Homemade tortillas will make these truly bonkers, but of course store-bought will work too. 


Sweet Potato and Black Bean Freezer Burritos

makes 8

Ingredients

1 lb sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2” cubes

3 tb olive oil, divided

Kosher salt

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tb tomato paste

1 tb chili powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 (14 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (14.5 oz) can chopped tomatoes

2 c (3 oz) fresh spinach

8 oz queso fresco, crumbled

A handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Black pepper

Hot sauce, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lime


8 10” whole wheat burritos (store-bought or homemade, using a double batch of this recipe and subbing half the flour for whole wheat flour)

Clues

Preheat the oven to 425ºf. Toss the sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread out on a sheet pan. Season with a couple of good pinches of salt and roast for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through. You’ll want them to still have a bit of a bite because when you reheat the burritos, the potatoes will continue to cook. (If you want to eat these now and not freeze them, add another 10 minutes to the baking time, until the potatoes are tender.)

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, jalapeño, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, and oregano and cook for another minute. Add the black beans, tomatoes, and spinach and simmer for about 7-10 minutes, stirring, until the spinach has wilted and most of the liquid has cooked off. Add the sweet potato, queso fresco, cilantro, a few turns of black pepper, hot sauce, and lime juice. Taste and adjust as desired. Remove from heat.

Fill the burritos with about 3/4 cup filling per tortilla. Wrap with plastic wrap, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. To reheat, remove plastic wrap and wrap in a paper towel or parchment. Microwave for 2 1/2-3 minutes, flipping once, until heated through. Let cool slightly and enjoy!

If you want to bring these to the next level, heat a skillet with a thin layer of oil and grill the burritos on each side until browned and crisp.


cookie salad ice cream

Here is a complete list of all of the most insane food ideas that Eggboy has ever had, in order of best to worst.

First place (tie): cookie salad ice cream and shakshuka couscous 

Here by default: chicken pot babka

He is officially 2 for 3 on hard wins versus horrible nightmares. Although I do feel like chicken pot pie babka could ultimately work with some heavy tweaking, but that’s not for today. Today is for cookie salad ice cream, which I knew was brilliant from the moment Eggboy blurted it out, completely unprompted. We love cookie salad, we love ice cream, there’s no reason the two shouldn’t combine into one magical cone of quirky Midwestern glee. And it’s not that complicated to make either! Time consuming, yes, but the concept of a tangy buttermilk ice cream with crushed fudge stripe cookies and mandarin oranges is straightforward and exactly what you’d expect the most summery version of the best vegetableless salad to taste like. Sweet, sour, creamy, citrusy, and filled with buttery cookies!!

Developing this recipe did have some bumps in the road because I learned the hard way that dumping a bunch of room temperature cookies and mandarins into freshly churned ice cream will melt it and ruin it. But it has an easy fix, just freeze em! So don’t skip this step, take your time, and get started now so that it will be ready for fourth of July!

I’ve used Our Family mandarins here, perfect for our first family fourth of July :)! 


Cookie Salad Ice Cream

Makes 3 pints

Buttermilk ice cream:

6 large egg yolks

2 c (480g) heavy whipping cream

3/4 c (150g) sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tb vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

3/4 c (180g) buttermilk

Assembly:

18 fudge stripe cookies (1/2 batch of the recipe for homemade cookies below (preferred!), or store-bought)

1 (15 oz) can Our Family mandarins, drained

sprinkles, optional

Directions

Day 1 (or early in the day if making this all in one day):

Whisk together the egg yolks in a medium heat-safe bowl or measuring cup and set aside. In a large pot, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract and heat over medium high heat until steaming, whisking often (don’t let it boil, reduce the heat if it starts to). Reduce the heat to medium and gradually ladle 4-5 ladlefuls of the hot cream into the egg yolks while whisking vigorously and constantly and then gradually pour the egg mixture into the pot while whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Transfer to a container and whisk in the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight, until cold. 

Make the cookies if using homemade. Finely chop 15 of the cookies, leaving a few nice larger pieces, and reserve the remaining 3 whole cookies for the topping. Scatter all over a plate or sheet pan and stick in the freezer for about an hour or overnight.

Scatter the mandarin oranges all over a plate or sheet pan and stick in the freezer for about an hour or overnight.

Day 2 (or once the buttermilk custard is cold):

Coarsely chop the mandarins, reserving a few whole pieces for the top, and stick them back in the freezer. 

Churn the ice cream according to manufacturer’s directions. When it’s almost done churning, add about half of the frozen cookies and frozen mandarins (or as many that will fit in your ice cream maker). When finished churning, transfer to a large freezer safe container or 3 pint containers, sprinkling in the remaining cookies and mandarins as you go. Top with reserved cookies, mandarins, and sprinkles, if using, and freeze for 2 more hours before serving. 


Homemade Fudge Stripe Cookies

Makes 36

Ingredients

1 c (130g) all-purpose flour, more for dusting

1/2 c (60g) powdered sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt 

1 tsp vanilla extract 

1/2 tsp almond extract 

1/2 c (113g) Our Family unsalted butter, cold and cubed 

5 oz (about 3/4 c) chopped semisweet chocolate

Directions

Combine the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add the vanilla and almond extracts and then gradually add the butter. Mix until the mixture comes together into a dough, slowly increasing the speed once you're confident that doing so won't result in flour flying everywhere. Divide the dough in half, press into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight. (If you're impatient, fine, skip this step.)

Preheat the oven to 350ºf. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8”-1/4” thick. Cut out 2” circles with a biscuit cutter and then use a big piping tip to cut out 1/2” holes from the center. Re-roll scraps as needed. Place the cookies on baking sheets 1” apart. Bake until they're just starting to brown around the edges; start checking for doneness at 12 minutes. Let cool on the pans.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Let it cool slightly and then pour into a piping bag. Snip off the tip and then pipe 4 thick chocolate stripes on each cookie. Let the chocolate harden at room temp or in the fridge. 

These will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temp or in the fridge.


-yeh!

photos by chantell and brett quernemoen

this recipe was created in partnership with our family!