Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jam Crumb Bars

This year's turning was not what I would have wanted. I took sick after Christmas and hadn't my usual enthusiasm for looking fondly back and hopefully forward. I did pick myself up enough to enjoy our now traditional All Day Extravaganza in the city (I was determined), but the rest of the free days were spent coughing, resting, reading, grousing, and wishing I felt better in all kinds of ways. I could go on about my funk, but the world doesn't need that. Let's focus instead on one bright spot in the minor misery that is life with a cold when one wants to be celebrating. Of course, it's edible.

Not knowing that I would be sick, I had committed to prepare lunch for the volunteer staff of the local free medical clinic shortly after the new year arrived. I wasn't sick unto incapacitation, so I got myself into the kitchen and did it gladly if weakly. As often happens, doing good for others did me good as well: I perked right up once I tied on my power apron and got moving.

I whipped out and packed up some chicken salad, broccoli slaw, and carrot salad with lemon-tarragon vinaigrette. Them came time to package their dessert of apricot crumb bars, one of which I allowed myself to sample. (There were more than enough, and I had to be sure they were good, right?) That little bar turned out to be my bright spot for the day.

In fact, I was moved enough by it that I actually thought of telling you all about it. And I hadn't had anything good to tell anybody for days. Just ask my husband. (Or not.)

What a delight! A moment of excitement and pleasure in a crappy week. Maybe it was my reward for doing a good deed or a sunny sign that I was soon to be on the mend (And I was. I haven't had a coughing spasm all day. Yay!). Or maybe these simple little sweeties were just good enough to pierce my fuss fog and prove that my spirit was still alive in there somewhere.

The bars are basically a classic struesel mixture of flour, brown sugar, oats, and butter baked up in a pan with jam in the middle. Pretty darn simple, really, but surprisingly good. I love it when simple smacks you up side the head with more goodness than you expect, so that you spontaneously exclaim "Whoa, that's good!" to your empty kitchen and then wish the batch wasn't destined for those fine folk serving the needs of the medically deprived.

And to think that I only made this particular dessert to use up my half jar of apricot preserves. Necessity is such a good mother sometimes.

Well, that's not actually the only reason I made them. I did remember getting a compliment on a batch years ago. (Boy, was she right!) Plus, they were that thing I love---EASY! Pulse up the streusel in the food processor, pat half in the pan, spread with preserves, pat the other half of the streusel on top, and bake. That's it.

Right now we have no need of sweets. We're still finishing off Aunt Justine's annual candy box, and the best turtles I've ever eaten are waiting for their turn. Oh, but when we do, I must make these with whatever jam takes my fancy. I have a feeling that the Mr. will love them, and they're next door to healthy, what with the oats and the lightening up done by the folks at Cooking Light, in whose cookbook I found the recipe.

So here's my only New Year's resolution: I resolve to remember these easy, buttery, pantry-staple-using, toasted-flour-flaunting bars forever. Happy 2011!

Jam Crumb Bars

Adapted from the Crunchy Oat-Apricot Bars recipe in the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook.

Yield: 18 bars
Can be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13 pan for 3 dozen bars.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup apricot or other preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, and vanilla in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until oat mixture resembles coarse meal. You could also do this step by hand with a pastry blender or two knives.

Press half of the oat mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 9 inch pan coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment long enough to stick up above the bars, which will make for easy lifting out of the whole thing, which in turn makes for easier cutting. No mangling the first bar that way. Your call.

Spread preserves over the oat mixture. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the preserves and gently press.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

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