Pineapple Coconut Dream Bars

I'm back friends! I'm slowly {and reluctantly} getting back into reality, but I'm so happy to be back to regular blogging. I missed you all! I promise this week will be more fun. Starting with these dreamy bars!

The summertime is filled with fun gatherings with friends and family. I love using these gatherings as an opportunity to turn up the creativity on my baked goods. Some of these events have spawned some really fun and delicious treats. Like my pretzel-crusted brownies, chocolate glazed potato chip shortbread, malted chocolate cupcakes and many, many others. So when I still had that jar of unopened virgin coconut oil sitting in my pantry, the creativity wheels started turning. What goes with coconut in the summertime?, Pineapple!

In all honesty, I messed up these bars when I made them. My initial intention was to mix a can of crushed pineapple into the cake batter before baking. About halfway through the baking time, I stopped mid-conversation with Shaun and screamed out...

“I forgot to add the pineapple!”

Needless to say, his assessment of me being a crazy {yet loveable} lady was validated. But that was the whole point of the cake part - to have pineapple.

But as I’ve learned in long as you don’t screw up royally (like being unable to get your cake out of the pan...or forgetting to add a really major ingredient like baking soda), there is always a way to fix things. I decided to make a pineapple syrup on the stovetop by mixing the crushed pineapple with 1/2 C of sugar. While the cake was cooling, I merely poked holes all over the top of the cake and spooned some of the pineapple mixture onto it. Crisis averted.

They were super moist and biting into a cloud. I know it’s corny, but these pillowy bars are honestly one of the best things I’ve ever made. EVER. The cake is light vanilla with just a hint of pineapple. The frosting. Oooooh the frosting. The coconut oil adds a silky smoothness that I just have not achieved with butter along with just a subtle hint of coconut flavor. It all comes together in one heavenly bar that I really cannot get out of my mind.

Pineapple Coconut Dream Bars
For the pineapple bars:
*basic yellow cake recipe from America’s Test Kitchen
1 ¾ C cake flour (I use Swan’s Down)
½ C whole milk
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into pieces
1 8 oz can crushed pineapple, in its own juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13 x 9 inch cake pan. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla together.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With the speed on medium low, beat the butter into the flour mixture. Continue to beat the mixture until it is moist crumbs. This will take about 1 minute.

Beat in all but 1/2 C of the milk mixture. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low and beat in the remainder of the milk mixture, about 15 seconds. With a rubber spatula, add the crushed pineapple (or, if you forget, combine the pineapple and 1/2 C sugar on the stovetop until it lightly boils. Prick holes in the top of the cooled cake and spoon some of the pineapple over top).

Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, scrape the batter into the pan using a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes (or more if not done). Cool and frost.

For the cream cheese coconut frosting:
1 8oz pkg cream cheese, at room temperature
½ stick butter, at room temperature
2-3 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 C confectioners’ sugar
sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the vanilla and coconut oil. Beat in the sugar, 1 cup at a time. Beat until light and fluffy.

Carefully spread the frosting all over the cake. Sprinkle the top with the shredded coconut. Cut into squares - the perfect way to serve dessert at a party, in my opinion.

Aren’t they beautiful? I adore the simplicity of the white frosting with the shredded coconut. So chic. And so yummy.

And in this little bar size, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat like 2 or 3. Or 5.ο»Ώ

So there you have it. One of my favorite desserts thus far. So what do you think?

What is your favorite summer flavor? Or your favorite flavor combination in general?

psst...Christine-bean is blogging about summer movies over at The Peach & The Pit. Hope you'll head over to check it out!

Brunch at Mesa Grill

Last weekend, Shaun and I headed into Manhattan for an extra special Sunday brunch at Mesa Grill. Since Shaun's 2009 birthday dinner made my personal top ten best meals list, and subsequently lead to my early demise at 10PM that night, I had high hopes for this one. The outcome? It was nothing short of Southwestern deliciousness. Let's get down to the goods...

Any good brunch begins with a good bread basket and this one ranks supreme. Filled with coffee cake, moist blueberry scones and mini cheddar-jalapeno biscuits with red pepper jam, the bread basket was the perfect way to kick off our decadent meal and within minutes, I'm semi-ashamed to say, we had polished off most of its contents.

I should point out one of our favorite pieces, a blue corn muffin, made with real kernels of corn - the only way to do corn muffins in my opinion.

Though we easily consumed the entire basket of baked goods, we still deemed it necessary to also have an appetizer before the main attraction. With lots to choose from, we just couldn't pass up the Queso Fundido, a burning hot skillet of cheese and roasted peppers served with blue corn chips. We had sampled this during our last visit, and it was just as good as I've dreamed about ever since.

For my meal, I had poached eggs (something that is oh-so-hard to get right) over sweet potato and shredded chicken hash. It was enough to feed two, yet somehow I managed to put a good dent in it all by my lonesome. Perhaps it's my penchant for dipping or my childhood memories of my parents serving up birds' nests for breakfast, but there's nothing like a good, runny egg yolk.

My faith in Bobby Flay paid off and the poached eggs were perfectly cooked; the whites completely cooked while the yolk was completely runny with no hardened yolk to speak of, causing a veritable puddle of rich egg yolk over my sweet potato hash. Yum.

And though by this point we could scarcely move, I still found it necessary to hear the dessert specials of the day. Once the words pineapple upside down cake were uttered, I was smitten and convinced Shaun that it was in fact necessary to sample the goods. You know, for research purposes.

Encased in a layer of carmelized brown sugar and topped with pineapple ice cream and a slice of fresh pineapple, this dessert was no joke. Even Shaun had to admit that it was a good call. It also was the moment I was completely convinced that I must get myself the ice cream maker attachment for my stand mixer so that I too can come up with out of the ordinary ice cream concoctions.

So there you have it - a delectable roundup of our fancy Sunday brunch. Though I was on the verge of food coma for the rest of the day and it came with a heftier-than-usual price tag, Mesa was the perfect spot for a special Sunday brunch. And what I'd really love to know is, where is your favorite place for brunch?

Psst...for even more brunch fun, check out my roundups of B Bar, Elysian Cafe and Cercle Rouge!

Pineapple Carrot Bars

Before taking off on our Yellowstone adventure last week, Shaun and I attended a summer picnic at his parents place. To me, nothing quite beats a barbecue on a beautiful summer day and this was no exception. Part of my excitement for picnics (or of being invited anywhere for that matter) stems from choosing what to make for the occasion. Since I'm still honing my baking skills and feel as though one can never go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe*, I dug out her Pineapple Carrot Cake which I had seen her make years ago and have been longing for it ever since.

While she made hers into a decadent two-layer cake, I took a chance and thought that they might work as a more picnic and finger food friendly bar. And oh was I right.

While they are heartily filled with carrots, raisins and walnuts (no shortage of fiber here!), they also incorporate pineapple, which is a personal favorite and a fun summer twist on this heavy dish. The finished product was nothing short of mouth watering, and in fact, my own mom proclaimed them one of my best yet. Are you sold?

Pineapple Carrot Bars
*Adapted from Ina Garten, 2007
2 C granulated sugar
1 1/3 C canola or vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 C plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 C raisins
1 C chopped walnuts
1 lb carrots, grated (this was about 3 C grated carrots), plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup diced pineapple, plus extra for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter and flour a 13x9 inch baking pan. While Ina recommends also adding parchment paper to also butter and flour, I went the peanut butter and jelly bar route by skipping this step. Luckily, I didn't have a repeat incident of depressing broken cake.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until the mixture is light yellow. In a separate mixing bowl, sift together 2 1/2 C flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Once this mixing bowl is empty, add the raisins and walnuts, mixing with the remaining 1 tbsp of flour (Note: coating the raisins and walnuts with flour keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cake). Fold in the grated carrots and the diced pineapple Note: to make this super easy on myself, I used my food processor with the grater attachment for the carrots which got 'er done in a snap.

I also used Dole canned pineapple chunks which I cut in half before adding to the mixture.

Add this mixture to the batter and mix well.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares with a good seraded knife.

Cream Cheese Frosting
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C confectioners' sugar

Oh how I love a basic cream cheese frosting. Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Add the sugar one cup at a time, mixing until smooth and fluffy. With a knife or spatula, spread onto each bar. Garnish with shredded carrot and pineapple slice.

So there you have it - a round up of one of my favorite baking endeavors thus far. What do you think? What is your favorite picnic food or summer ingredient?

*For even more Ina fun, check out my twist on her Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, Pink Coconut Cupcakes, Herb Roasted Turkey Breast, and Slow Cooker Beef Brisket.