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~ Tropical Fruit, Nut & Chocolate-Chip Congo Bars ~

IMG_7340In most circles, Congo squares or Congo bar-cookies are made by spreading a batch of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter into a square or rectangular pan, then cutting the big cookie into smaller, cookie-sized squares or bars after baking.  They shouldn't be confused with layered or 'magic' cookie bars -- the kind with a graham cracker crust and held together with condensed milk.  The Congo square is a WWII era pan-cookie marketed like this back in 1942: 

Congo Squares Screen shot 2016-05-27 at 9.25.09 AMThe Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip "Congo Square" Pan-Cookie is like a brownie with all the rich flavors of a Toll House cookie!

< As per the Milwaukee Sentinel Newspaper on February 22, 1942. After an exhaustive search, this is the only reference I can find for the Congo Square, so I am officially crediting Nestlé with the invention. 

What does the Congo, a tropical African rainforest jungle, have to do with a chocolate chip pan-cookie?

That's exactly what I wanted to know.  As a savvy cook, baker and movie watcher, when I think of ingredients I might use to make a Congo-themed dessert, chocolate does not immediately come to mind.  My thoughts turn toward dried fruits or candied fruits associated with hot, humid, tropical regions -- bananas, coconuts, dates, mangos, papayas and pineapple.  I think of crunchy tropical grown nuts too -- macadamias, peanuts and pecans.  After all, in the 1932 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and Jane were swinging through the rainforest stopping to peel and eat bananas and crack a few coconuts along the way.  And, in the 1933 movie King Kong, on the fictitious but tropical Skull Island, the restless natives were feasting on more of the same.

I never saw Tarzan or King Kong take one bite of chocolate!  

4545583732_2aff7a5f43_zDeep into the pages of Google and just as I was about to give up my Congo-bar-chocolate-chip-bar-cookie-research, I came across a link regarding the relationship chocolate has to our United States military.  It had picked up on my search word "tropical" and I found the read fascinating.

Military chocolate has been a part of the standard United States ration since the original D Ration bar of 1937.  Chocolate rations served two purposes:  a morale booster and a high-energy, pocket-sized emergency ration.  When provided as a morale boost or care package, military chocolate was no different than normal store-bought chocolate bars in taste and composition -- it was a treat.  When provided as an emergency field ration, it was formulated to be very bitter so the troops were not  tempted to eat it unless they absolutely needed it.

S2003.53The first emergency chocolate ration was commissioned by Army Colonel Paul Logan in 1937. He presented the Hershey's Corporation chemist with four requirements for the chocolate bars:

1) Must weigh 4 ounces.  2) Must Img_5223-copybe high in food energy value.  3) Must be able to withstand high temperatures of tropical and desert climates. 4) Must taste "a little better than a boiled potato".  

The end result was an extremely hard block of dark brown bitter chocolate that would crumble with some effort and was heat-resistant to 120ºF.  Three bars sealed in a parchment packet made up a daily ration of 1,800 calories -- every soldier's minimum daily sustenance requirement.  In June of 1937, Logan Bars were field tested at bases in the Philippines and Panama, and some even found their way into the supply packages of Admiral Byrd's third Antarctic expedition.  While they did not get rave reviews from anyone, they served their purpose perfectly.

By the end of World War II, Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week and between 1940 and 1945 Hershey's estimates over 3 billion Tropical Bars were sold, and, they went on to see action in Korea and Vietnam and went aboard Apollo 15 in 1971 too.  In the late 1980's a new high-temperature, better-tasting bar that could withstand temperatures to 140ºF was created.  It was dubbed the Congo Desert Bar and was shipped to troops in the southwest Asia theater, but, the bars were never put into full production and no more were made when supplies ran out.

Putting two & two together in the hopes of tying this all together.

IMG_7335I'm guessing that the creatively-named "Congo Square" pan-cookie recipe was a marketing idea on the part of Nestlé, aimed at getting the American housewife to choose their chocolate chips over Hershey's, which was the American military's choice for their "Tropical Bar".  Mass-marketing and advertising was in its infancy at the time, but I'm sure that more than one soldier remarked that his mom's Congo squares tasted a whole lot better than Hershey's Tropical bars!

As for my recipe, I load my Congo bars with Congo flavors that Tarzan and King Kong would love:  candied papaya, mango and ginger, chewy coconut, crunchy macadamias and Nestlé's own milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips.  Feel free to create your own Congo combo!

IMG_72653/4  cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled 2-3 minutes

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups lightly-packed light brown sugar

3  large eggs, at room temperature

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup each, small-diced, candied: ginger, mango and papaya + 1/2 cup flaked coconut

1 1/2  cups chopped, salted, dry-roasted macadamias

1/2  each:  milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips

IMG_7266 IMG_7276 IMG_7270 IMG_7268~Step 1.  To insure that all the ingredients get uniformly mixed together, do the following:  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and sea salt  Set aside. Prep the candied fruits as directed and stir them together in a medium bowl with the coconut.  Set aside.  Chop the macadamias and set aside.  Stir the milk-, semi-sweet- and white chocolate- chips together.

IMG_6489 IMG_6494Step 2.  Prepare the cake pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to the fit the bottom of a 10" x 10" square baking pan w/a removable bottom. Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Insert the parchment  and spray top of the parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.

IMG_7279 IMG_7280 IMG_7282 IMG_7285 IMG_7288 IMG_7290 IMG_7293 IMG_7295~Step 3.  In a large bowl, melt butter in microwave and cool 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla extract followed by the brown sugar and continue to whisk until the brown sugar is completely dissolved.  One-at-a-time, vigorously whisk in each egg.  Add the flour mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture to thoroughly combine.

IMG_7297 IMG_7298 IMG_7303 IMG_7304~Step 4.  A thick cookie batter will have formed in the bowl.  Fold in the diced fruits, followed by the chopped nuts and the chocolate chips, folding thoroughly after each addition.

IMG_7315~ Step 5.  Transfer batter into prepared pan and use spatula to spread and press it evenly across bottom and into sides.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 16-18 minutes until puffed up, light golden on top and a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean. Place pan on wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove sides of the pan by pushing up on the bottom.  Return pan-cookie to rack to cool completely 1-1 1/2 hours.

Congo bar batter going into 350º oven to bake 16-18 minutes:

IMG_7306Baked Congo pan-cookie on rack to cool in pan 30 minutes:

IMG_7310Sides removed & pan-cookie cooling completely, 1-1 1/2 hours:

IMG_7318Slice into 25, 2" Congo squares & serve:

IMG_7322Tropical Fruit, Nut & Chocolate-Chip Congo Bars:  Recipe yields 2 dozen Congo bars or squares.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula; 10" x 10" x 3" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_5483Cook's Note:  For an over-the-top all chocolate bar cookie experience, right down to the chocolate graham cracker crust, check out my recipe for ~ Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate-Raspberry Tart Bars ~ in Categories 6, 7, or 21.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


~ Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites~

IMG_7238Things I know:  I know I will always choose a chocolate brownie over a slice of chocolate cake.  I know I will always choose chunky over smooth peanut butter too.  I like the informality of the pick-up-and-eat moist and cohesive user-friendly brownie over the refined use-a-fork-and-don't-get-any-crumbs-on-my-floor, moist and grainy cake.  As for peanut butter, I choose Jiffy over Skippy, never was a fan of Peter Pan, and I adore the flavor and texture that roasted peanuts add to it.  I know that chocolate and peanut butter is an irresistible combination.  Put peanut butter frosting on a chocolate brownie and I'll follow you anywhere.

The brownie is an all-American chocolate confection and the first printed recipe referencing a "brownie" to describe a mildly-chocolate cake-like dessert appeared in 1896 in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  By 1910, the brownie had taken on its current form and the word "brownie" was the term used to describe a rich, chewy, fudge-esque, chocolatey dessert that is eaten out-of-hand -- a cross between a cake and a very soft cookie.

IMG_7214Unlike the American Toll House Cookie, which has a sort-of true tale to tell about its origin (Ruth Wakefield did invent it, but it wasn't an accident), no one can say with certainty that the brownie is not the happy result of a cake mistake -- like forgetting to add the baking powder or adding too few eggs.  

That said, one story about the brownie's origin is: In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a Chicago socialite whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel, asked the pastry chef to create a cake-like confection, smaller than a piece of cake, for boxed lunches suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.  It's said that the Palmer House Brownie (which they still serve on their menu today), a small chocolatey square containing walnuts and an apricot glaze, while well-known, was not published in any cook books or written about by any journals of the time.

Brownies fall into three categories:  fudge-y, chew-y & cake-y.  I love them all.

IMG_7260These are cake-y, but very moist, with a perfect balance of peanut-y salty & sweet too.  Tip: For chewier brownies, only use 1 egg.  For cakier brownies, switch to granulated sugar.

IMG_7168For the chocolate & peanut butter brownies:

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature (4/ounces/1 stick)

1/4  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces)

1/4  cup crunchy-style peanut butter (2 ounces)

1  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup all-purpose cocoa powder, your favorite brand (Note:  My favorite all-purpose cocoa powder is Hershey's, natural, unsweetened, 100% cacao powder.)

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1  cup peanut butter chips

IMG_7223For the peanut-butter cream-cheese frosting:

1/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces/1/2  stick)

1/2  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (4 ounces/1/2 of an 8-ounce brick)

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter (4 ounces)

1/2  cup Confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)

IMG_7173 IMG_7170~ Step 1. Spray the inside of a mini-cheesecake pan (the kind with removable bottoms) with no-stick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.

IMG_7175 IMG_7176 IMG_7178 IMG_7180~Step 2.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and brown sugar together until thoroughly combined and uniform in color, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined, about 30 more seconds.  

IMG_7183 IMG_7184 IMG_7189 IMG_7191~Step 3.  Lower mixer speed to low and add the flour/cocoa powder mixture, all-at-once. Continue to beat, on medium-low speed until the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off.  Using the rubber spatula, add and thoroughly fold in the peanut butter chips.

IMG_7194 IMG_7201 IMG_7204~ Step 4.  Spoon the brownie batter evenly into each of 12 mini-cheesecake cups, about 3 tablespoons in each cup.

IMG_7220~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of 325 degree oven until set, about 14-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and place pan of brownies on a cooling rack to cool about 20 minutes prior to removing brownies from pan to cool completely on rack. When brownies are completely cooled, which takes about an hour, remove the round pan bottom from each one and frost tops as follows:

IMG_7228 IMG_7226~ Step 6.  To prepare the frosting, in a medium bowl, on medium-high speed of mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese and peanut butter.  Add  Confectioner's sugar.

On low mixer speed at first, working your way up to high speed, until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 1- 1/2 minutes.  

Transfer frosting to a pastry bag fitted w/your favorite star tip & decoratively pipe the tops w/a pretty peak of frosting:

IMG_7244Three-four bite brownies are perfect for indoor or outdoor, &, casual or upscale gatherings or celebrations any time of year!

IMG_7237Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites:  Recipe yields 1 dozen brownie bites -- 3-4 bites each.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; mini-cheesecake pan w/removable bottoms or 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_9703 Ruth_Graves_Wakefield-800x0-c-defaultCook's Note: To get the full story about ~ The Original Nestle's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~, which details the facts vs. the fiction, just click into Category 7, 11 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2016)


~ Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry ~

IMG_7139Thai curry meals are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). Thai curry dishes are also a staple in Thailand.  They range from soupy to stewlike and are ladled over steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles.  In many homes they are made from ingredients growing around the house and are eaten on a daily basis.  They typically contain less protein than Westerners like me often add, and, they're are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_7140Thai curry meals are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_8760The starting point for every Thai curry is Thai curry paste, and, in Thai cuisine there are three, which are identified by color:  green, red and yellow.  Each one is a pulverized blend of fresh ingredients and herbs, which balances the classic Thai flavors: hot, sour, sweet and salty.  To learn more, just click on the Related Article link below to read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries:  Green, Red & Yellow ~.  It explains in detail how the three differ.  Once you understand how each one of these curries is typically used, you can mix and match proteins, fruits and/or vegetables with a curry paste to suit you and your family's taste.

IMG_8954Curry pastes are traditionally made from scratch in the Thai home kitchen using a kruk (a mortar and pestle) to pulverize the ingredients -- to release the essential oils and fully develop the flavors.  While purists disagree, in my kitchen a food processor is a viable substitute for this ancient tool.  While I make Thai curry pastes the traditional way on occasion, for quick weeknight meals, I take a different approach:

IMG_9142Nowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red pork curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic  Thai-style too.  Read on:

IMG_7095Thai-style is family-style.  All food is placed on the table at the same time, each dish in its own serving vessel.  Everyone, all at once, sits down and the food is passed.  It's impolite to take too much of any one item at any one time, but, please go back for more of any leftovers.  You won't find any knives at a Thai table.  Because the food (proteins and vegetables) is all sliced, chopped or pulverized into small bite-sized bits and pieces, they provide only a plate and/or a bowl, a fork, a spoon and a glass to drink from, at each place setting.

Thai red pork curry -- my kids took to this dish immediately!

Thailand is no different than any other culture.  For every dish cooked, there are many versions of it, and, they vary from region to region, family to family and cook to cook.  After all, that is what cooking is all about -- pleasing those you feed.  My three boys took to the red pork curry recipe that Kanya taught me how to make almost immediately.  That said, our middle son Eliot, who particularly loved Thai peanut sauce and all dishes made and served with Thai peanut sauce, made the suggestion that I stir some peanut butter into this curry -- it was and is wonderful!  

IMG_71063 1/2  pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, sliced into 1/2" slices, slices cut into 1/2" cubes and coarsely-ground (directions below)

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil + 1-2 tablespoons for wok-roasting the peanuts

1  tablespoon curry powder

1  tablespoon powdered turmeric

2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Feel free to drop back to 1 can, or 1 1/2 cans to suit your taste.  I always use two cans.)

2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted)

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

1-2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Note:  Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

3-4  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

4  tablespoon palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted)

6-8  tablespoons crunchy-style peanut butter

1 1/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts (directions below), from 1 1/2 cups blanched, unsalted peanuts

8  kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (Note:  I keep fresh kaffir lime leaves stored in my freezer at all times.  I drop them whole and frozen into whatever I'm cooking.)

1  cup  minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

12  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_7103 IMG_7100~ Step 1. Place the meat cubes in the work IMG_7101bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of 20-22 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the meat and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_9155 IMG_9151~ Step 2.  To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl it to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop peanuts.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970cNote:  I like to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this Thai dish for my family.  Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted.  

IMG_7108 IMG_7110 IMG_7112 IMG_7115~Steps 3 & 4.  In skillet, heat the sesame oil over 250 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop). Add the curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a nonstick spatula, work the curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the pork/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, onion and straw mushrooms. Using a large spoon, stir until all ingredients are evenly coated in the curry and spices.

IMG_7117 IMG_7119 IMG_7123 IMG_7128 IMG_7133~Steps 5 & 6.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until pork is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm sugar, peanut butter and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, about 1-2 minutes.  Add kaffir lime leaves. Adjust heat to simmer steadily at 225 degrees (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

~ Step 7.  Turn heat off and cover skillet while steaming the rice and mincing cilantro garnish.

Ladle red pork curry atop a bed of steamed Jasmine rice...

IMG_7148... sprinkle w/wok-roasted peanuts, cilantro garnish & dive in! 

IMG_7164Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; wok; 16" electric skillet or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large nonstick spatula; large nonstick spoon

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  Thai food is user-friendly and its bold, fresh, flavors adapt well to the American family. For another kid-tested, mother approved favorite, click into Categories 2, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ E-Z Ginger Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)