I talk about Mike the Viking’s food-hate a lot here on Anger Burger, but only because I think they are weird things to dislike. I think it’s normal for people to dislike certain foods. I, for example, am not crazy about pureed squashes. But here’s the Viking’s top 5, by way of example:
- Soup. This applies to any food with a significant amount of either liquid or small pieces. For example, couscous is “soup”. Beans are “soup”. Goulash is “soup”. Oddly, ramen and udon he will eat but calls them “noodles” and ignores the liquid.
- Cake with frosting. Plain cake is acceptable. Frosting is not. Discuss.
- Whole grain breads. These are “dirty” breads.
- Pasta with tomato sauce. To be fair, I’m very particular about my tomato-sauced pastas as well, so there’s a pot-n-kettle element here.
- Cabbage. Slaw is the only acceptable end for a cabbage’s life, with the exception of being blown up by lightning. Cooking with cabbage is a fast track to getting your braids cut off and your rear end paddled.
Those dislikes don’t even bother me as much as his tendency to declare he likes something and then later hate it. This happened with the goulash. One week he was eating it and making happy noises, and the next he picked at it for a few minutes before throwing the bowl at the wall and crushing a nearby peasant with his hands.
But! The list of things that always, never-fail please him have held steady over the decade I’ve known him. Easily at the top of that list is peanut butter and jelly, which is why when I came across a PB&J cookie-bar recipe, I knew he’d love it. And he did.
The original recipe was off by a few crucially key points, primarily a weak peanut butter flavor (?!), and secondarily much too sweet. After that the complaints seemed like nitpicking: too evenly textured, not salty enough, blee blur blah.
That’s a lot of goddamn jelly!
I feel like the final product is recognizably the same, but definitely Anger Burgerfied and I dare say a little more adult. I hate saying that. I don’t want to adult it up, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that kids would happily gobble both versions down. Vikings certainly do.
This is how much you pat the top layer down – enough to “flatten” it but not enough to lose texture.
I try not to do this, but there is an unusual ingredient in my version. It’s pomegranate molasses:
Pomegranate molasses is just pomegranate juice that has been cooked down to a thicker, darker-tasting product. There’s no other ingredients in it. It’s sweet and sour with a deep brown note of caramelized sugars and a distant, almost non-existent touch of bitterness. And it’s pure fairy magic when added to everything from salad dressings to ice cream. In theory you can make your own¹ by gently simmering down pomegranate juice until it is thick, but I’m finding that it is getting easier to find in stores as the years pass. This brand specifically, even. Over the years I’ve found it at general ethnic food stores, in super-fancy cooking shops, and most recently, just down the street from my house at a hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern grocery. Prices online are stupid, ranging from $5 to $10, not including shipping. That bottle up there ran me $2.
However, in the interest of accessibility, lemon juice works well enough in this recipe.
The Viking gobbled a warm slice down and went back for seconds, which means everyone is happy. Except for me, who has not been able to stop eating them for the last goddamn motherfucking 24 hours, no joke. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter Jelly Bars
you can use any jam or jelly you’d like. i think raspberry is traditional, but apparently grape jelly is the flavor most folks associate with pb&j sandwiches? and here in the photos I used marionberry from a jar my dad sent us, but my advice is to get as low a sugar content as you can. secondly, experiment with other nut butters – almond would be rad.
for the base mix:
1/2 stick (2oz) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of vegetable shortening
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup chopped, roasted peanuts
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
for the filling:
10 oz. jelly or jam of your choice
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses or 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
for the top:
(added to 1/3 of the base mix)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
- To start the base mix, in a large bowl cream together the butter, shortening and peanut butter. Add the brown sugar and mix until lighter in color and well incorporated. Add the egg and vanilla and mix just until you can’t see the egg any more. Add the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, salt and peanuts. The dough will be thick but not sticky and clear the sides of the bowl easily.
- Pull off 2/3 of the dough and press it into the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. There’s no need to grease, the base is greasy enough on its own (!). Bake for 10 minutes, or until just barely beginning to brown around the edges – it may not even be visibly brown at all. Don’t worry.
- While the base is baking, add the “top” ingredients to the remaining 1/3 of the base mix: the additional sugar, additional peanut butter, oats and salt. When it is mixed through, it’ll be crumbly. Set it aside.
- In a smaller bowl, mix together the jelly and the pomegranate molasses (or lemon juice) and taste for tartness. It should be pretty tart, maybe a little more than you think tastes good, but trust me, it’ll balance out with the sweet crust. If the jelly doesn’t seem tart enough, add more pomegranate molasses or lemon juice until you’re happy.
- The base should be done with its 10 minute bake by now. To the hot base (careful!) quickly spread the jelly mix evenly, and then sprinkle over the top mix. Being very careful to not touch the side of the hot pan, pat down the crumbled topping until even but not so hard as to mash it into a solid layer. See above photo for reference. The pressing down establishes a sturdier crust that will be easier to cut and eat when cool.
- Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes. If you want a very crisp top, turn the broiler on high and NEVER TAKING YOUR EYES OFF IT let it toast for about 3 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Don’t try cutting pretty slices while still warm, but do eat some while still warm. The bars are very, very easy to cut the next day, but they’re okay the first day, too.
¹ There are recipes online for making pomegranate molasses, but they all include adding sugar and lemon juice, which real pomegranate molasses doesn’t include. I’m not sure why they add this. I’m under the impression that simmering down the juice over very low heat until reduced by 3/4 — this takes a long time! at least an hour! — is basically what you buy in the bottle.