This was a huge football weekend for the Bay Area and I got caught up in the excitement that our local team, the San Francisco Forty Niners, might be going to another Super Bowl. We had one more hurdle ahead of us, the seemingly insurmountable Seattle Seahawks.
The final four teams, each pair fighting for their conference championship, have never been more evenly matched. There are individual rivalries on both sides. Probably the most well known is the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning history. These two spectacular quarterbacks have met numerous times, each besting the other’s records and always providing fingernail-biting games. These are the reigning lions of the NFL and always fun to watch.
On the other side of this weekend’s coin are the Niners and Seahawks. There is no love lost between the two coaches with many years of collegiate Pac-12 battles between them. Their animosity permeates the locker rooms, adding to the competition. These teams have been fighting every year to get into the playoffs and whenever they meet, it is always a formidable fight. Both teams have young quarterbacks, each incredibly talented, fast on their feet, and inspiring to watch.
While most people are concerned strictly with the team’s win/loss statistics, I was raised believing that playing with integrity and applauding excellent efforts was much more important. Yep, I am the person in the room that cheers for a player on the opposite team when they make a fingertip catch, great run, or amazing tackle. I am always amazed when people get upset with me – as if the only ones entitled to play well are on their favorite team. I am the one rooting for an epic battle with two evenly matched teams.
As much fun as the Super Bowl is and all the hype surrounding it, the pure rivalry at the conference championships is palpable and much more nerve-wracking for the players than the big game. This is the big game to win – the Super Bowl is just icing on the cake.
So, you may be asking (if you are still reading), what does all this football talk have to do with food? For me, there is no better captive audience for my cooking and baking than a room full of screaming, fist-pounding big eaters. I love creating a buffet of food that is geared for grazing and nibbling. Nothing can be more than a bite-or two big because everyone has to be able to yell during the game. A wide variety of delicious comfort foods, nothing fancy, and filling is what will make everyone happy.
One of the best desserts for a crowd like this is bar cookies. They can be eaten like a cookie but have a topping that is similar to pie. Sort of a best of both worlds dessert. If you like really sweet, indulgent desserts, these cookie bars are for you!
I love the flavor combination found in turtle candies – nuts, caramel, and chocolate. I am always looking for new ways to put them together, creating interesting and fun treats for my friends and family. Like turtles, this dessert’s emphasis is the caramel-flavored layer, balanced and offset by the savory nuts and light bitterness of the chocolate. Even though you may be tempted to use milk chocolate, resist that urge and stick with the darker chocolates. They will help cut the sweetness and give you a much more satisfying dessert.
Congratulations to Peyton and the Denver Broncos on winning the 2013 American Football League division Championship. Congratulations to Russell and the Seahawks on winning the National Football League division Championship. They will battle each other for the Super Bowl title on Sunday, February 3rd.
If you are a football fan, I hope you enjoyed the games this weekend. If you are cooking for football fans and are planning a Super Bowl party in a few weeks, add these Turtle Bars to your menu and they will be winners on your buffet no matter which team takes home the trophy!
Use a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend along with almond meal to replace the wheat flour. If your blend doesn’t include xanthan gum, add 1/4 tsp and mix it into the dry ingredients.
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour or for gluten-free use 1 cup gluten-free flour blend and 1 cup almond meal (add 1/4 tsp xanthan gum if your GF blend does not already contain it)
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups sliced almonds or coarsely chopped pecans
- 2/3 cup butter
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- Pinch kosher salt
- 2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Note: If you want a thicker bar cookie, use a 9-inch square baking pan; I would recommend you cut these into squares because they will be very rich.
- Prepare the Bottom Layer: In the bowl of your standing mixer beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the flour (or gluten-free ingredients), brown sugar, and salt. On low speed, beat 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Scrape the bowl and beater and mix another 30 seconds.
- Dump this mixture into the 9x13-inch pan and using your hands, pat this mixture evenly onto the bottom. Sprinkle nuts evenly over crust. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove pan from the oven; leave the oven on.
- Make the Top Layer: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until entire surface is bubbly. From this point, cook, stirring constantly, 1/2 to 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and pour it over the nut-covered layer in the pan, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula.
- Return pan to the hot oven and bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until entire surface is bubbly. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the top with the chocolate pieces. Let stand 2 to 3 minutes to allow chocolate to mostly melt and then use a knife to spread the melted chocolate over the caramel topping. Set pan on a wire rack and cool thoroughly. Use a sharp knife to cut into 48 bars (4 strips lengthwise & 12 strips crosswise for 48 pieces. To get 12 strips, divide in thirds, then each third in half, then all pieces in half again). If you used a 9-inch square pan, cut into 6 strips each direction for a total of 36 squares.
- Note: If you are serving these during the warmer months, keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. They will cut much more easily and be less messy to eat.
- Yield: about 48 bars
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