Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

Punch Box “Birthday Cake”

My school-aged daughter recently celebrated a birthday and I wanted to be able to bring something to share with her class at school.  Like many schools these days, her school respects allergy concerns and has banned food items for parties. Since I couldn’t bring in an edible cake or treat, I wanted to devise a “cake” that served small goodie bag trinkets instead.

 Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

What came to mind was a popular game for trunk-or-treat events – the punch box.  A punch box is typically a piece of cardboard with holes cut out that are covered with tissue paper.  Trick-or-treaters punch through a piece of tissue to reveal a prize.  Why not transform this idea into a “birthday cake”?

Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

 

For easy of construction, I made my Punch Box “Birthday Cake” out of plastic party cups, tissue paper, and rubber bands.  I used one cup per kid in my daughter’s class and used a box that was suited to arranging the cups to get a layered cake effect (i.e. twelve cups around the bottom and six cups on top).  I fashioned some candles out of construction paper and voila – an inedible, yet fun cake.

The Punch Box “Birthday Cake” was a hit and netted compliments from teachers (including the art teacher!) when I walked into the school.  I’d love to hear your ideas for non-food birthday celebrations.

 Punch Box "Birthday Cake"

Punch Box “Birthday Cake”

18, 16oz. colorful drinking cups
18, assorted trinkets, stamps, or small toys
18, 10-inch by 10-inch squares of tissue paper
18, rubber bands (at least 1/8th inch wide and ~2.25 inch diameter)
One, 5-inch x 7-inch x 10-inch box
Wrapping paper
Duct tape
Ribbon
Construction paper (optional)

 

Note: These instructions make one “cake” serving 18 children.  To accommodate a larger group size, increasing the number of cups, trinkets, tissue squares, and rubber bands by one per child. A larger box or multiple boxes will be needed to accommodate the extra cups.

Place one trinket or toy in each cup.  Place one piece of tissue paper over each cup opening and secure with a rubber band, sliding the rubber band about halfway down the cup.  Wrap the box as if it was a present, then secure twelve of the cups to the short sides (three cups per side) with a bit of duct tape and (side of cup to side of box). Secure the remaining cups with a bit of duct tape to the top (bottom of cup to top of box).  Tie a ribbon around the top cups and a ribbon around the bottom cups and box to secure in place.

To use, each kid gets to punch through the tissue paper on top of one cup to claim their prize.

Tips:

I found that hot glue was not a great choice as the cups were a bit too heavy and I was a bit too impatient to hold each cup in place.  The ribbon is necessary to make the “cake” look pretty and keep the cups aligned.

When using the punch box, place on top of a table or use a larger piece or wood or cardboard under the bottom layer, otherwise enthusiastic kids can knock the cups right off the package.

 

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Bulletproof Energy Bites

Have you heard of bulletproof coffee? It has been something my husband and I have wanted to try, and had resurfaced recently in a morning conversation.  The concept is that creamer is replaces with a pad of butter and a bit of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil (or coconut oil in some copycat recipes) for a morning cup of joe that is said to give you more energy.

While trying bulletproof coffee is still on my list, I did try something new this week – coffee cherry flour. It caught my attention as I was meandering through the bulk bin aisles at my local grocery store, mostly because I had never heard of it.  It looked like cocoa powder, but I didn’t know if it was actually made of coffee.  It turns out coffee cherry flour is a gluten free flour made from the coffee cherry which is the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean.

bulletproof energy bites

Since I had bulletproof coffee on the mind, I thought it would be fun to make a recipe that played on the bulletproof concept and made Bulletproof Energy Bites.  I started with a date base, then added in unsweetened shredded coconut, butter, coconut oil, and a bit of the coffee flour.

The result was an energy bite that looked like a chocolate truffle and tasted fantastic. These Bulletproof Energy Bites are a great mini snack for a pick-me-up that will satisfy a sweet craving.

Bulletproof Energy Bites

Bulletproof Energy Bites

1 ½ cups chopped, pitted dried dates
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
½ cup coffee cherry flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Place the dates and coconut in a food processor and mix until chopped fine and begin to stick together.  Add in the flour, butter, and coconut oil and process until well mixed and dough sticks together well.  Using hands, roll into 1-inch balls and place in a plastic or glass container.  Refrigerate until firm; keep refrigerated until ready to eat.

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

I’m often amazed at how many variations there are on classic recipes.  Take for example Stuffed Mushrooms. When I first started making these I used leftover bratwurst from a summer BBQ and I have been doing so ever since. I have even used the stuffing base in other recipes, such as my Stuffed Acorn Squash.

Stuffed Mushrooms

In addition to bratwurst meat, the stuffing includes breadcrumbs, onions, cheese, and fresh parsley.  The combination is a wonderful, savory starter.

Stuffed Mushrooms

 The instructions below start from an uncooked bratwurst, just in case you want to make these anytime.  If you do have some cookout leftovers, the timesaving instructions are noted as well.

Stuffed Mushrooms

 

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb button mushrooms
1/3 lb uncooked bratwurst (~1 bratwurst)
1/2 Cup yellow onion, diced
1 Tablespoon freshly minced garlic
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons fresh, minced flat leaf parsley
¾ cup pecorino-Romano cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Wash mushrooms, then remove stems.  Mince the stems and set aside.  Place the mushroom caps (top down) in a large, greased casserole or 9×13 pan.

Add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to large sauté pan, and place over medium high heat. Remove the bratwurst meat from the casing and add to the saute pan. Saute the bratwurst meat, breaking it apart with a spoon, until it is cooked throughout. Remove the cooked meat, place in a large bowl, and set aside. Add the minced mushroom stems and onions to the man and cook, stirring frequently, until softened – about 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer.

Remove from the heat, and add the mushroom stems and onions to the bratwurst meat, along with the breadcrumbs, parsley, and ¼ cup of pecorino Romano cheese; Stir to combine.  Evenly divide the stuffing between the mushroom caps, then sprinkle the tips with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cheese begins to melt and brown slightly. Remove from oven and serve.

Note: If you have a leftover, cookout bratwurst, place brat in food processor and process for about 20 seconds, until well minced to eliminate the meat-cooking step.

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Monkey Tree Cupcake

Monkey Tree Cupcakes

Over the last few years I have created fun, themed birthday parties for my kids such as last year’s dragon party. The result of this creativity is now my children are requesting elaborate themes.  This year both kids wanted an animal themed party, even going so far as to suggest that I make individualized animal costumes for each party guest. That requested netted a swift no, but I did want to try to make their cake ideas happen.

Monkey Tree Cupcake

My son requested a cake that looked like a monkey hanging upside down. This sounds like a lot of shaping and cutting of round cakes so I decided to make these Monkey Tree Cupcakes instead as a play on the monkey theme.

I filled cake cones with a couple mini cupcakes, frosted the top with green frosting to look like a tree, and then affixed miniature monkey figurines.  Cute right? My son thought these were great, and I loved the minimal effort.

Monkey Tree Cupcake

While many ice cream cone cupcake recipes call for baking the cake in the cones, I didn’t want too many cone cupcakes (preferring to use the remainder of the batter for a 9-inch round cake) and others have commented on soggy cones.  If you do decide to try these by baking the cake in the cones I’d love to hear how then turned out!

Monkey Tree Cupcake

Monkey Tree Cupcake

1 box preferred cake mix, plus eggs and/or oil according to box directions
Two 14oz cans whipped, vanilla frosting
60 drops green food dye
12 ice cream cake cones
12 miniature monkey figures, such as these

 

Preheat oven per cake mix directions, then mix cake mix per directions.  Line 24 mini cupcake forms with liners (this requires only ~1/3 of the batter; see note below for use of remainder of batter). Pour batter half way up the mini cake pans, then bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

To color frosting, place frosting in a bowl, and then stir in food dye. Place frosting in an icing bag affixed with your favorite tip (or use a gallon sized freezer bag).  To make the Monkey Tree Cupcakes, remove the mini cupcakes from the wrappers and place two inside each cake cone. Swirl the frosting on top of each cake cone to make “tree top” and then gently place a monkey on top.

 

Note:  1 box of cake mix will typically make two 9-inch round cakes, 24 cupcakes, or 72 mini cupcakes.  For my preparation of this recipe I made 36 mini cupcakes, and one 9-inch round cake.

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Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie

Contest Note: By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

I find smoothies are a fun, easy way to get my kids to eat a quick and healthy breakfast which they believe is a real treat.  Take for example this Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie. The base of wild blueberries adds intense flavor, has double the antioxidants of fresh blueberries, and adds beautiful royal hue, whereas the pineapple adds fiber and a hint of tropical flare.  The mango kefir and coconut milk also help set the tropical tone, while adding protein, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 to the power drink.  The addition of flaxseed meal ups the fiber once again and adds a serving of omega-3s. Finally, the lime zest and juice finishes off the drink to give it an over the top tropical taste.  The result is a refreshing, satisfying and good-for-you smoothie the whole family will enjoy.

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

I couldn’t help serving this Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie in a glass garnished with toasted coconut and whimsical straw.  Even with a busy morning, the garnish doesn’t take much time.  Simply add sweetened, shredded coconut to a non-stick pan and cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  A dab of honey is all it takes to get it to stick to the glass!

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

 

Wild Blueberry Tropical Smoothie

1 cup frozen wild blueberries
½ cup frozen pineapple slices
1 cup mango flavored kefir
½ cup coconut milk
4 tablespoons flaxseed meal
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Toasted coconut and honey for garnish (optional)

Place the wild blueberries, pineapple slices, kefir, coconut milk, flaxseed meal, lime zest, and lime juice in a blender.  Blend until smooth. Pour into two garnished (If desired) glasses and serve immediately.

For garnish: add sweetened, shredded coconut to a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until coconut is light brown in color, about 2-3 minutes. To garnish glass, coat the rim of a glass with a bit of honey and roll in the toasted coconut.

#AD, #Sponsored, #WildYourSmoothie

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Lemon and Blueberry Oatmeal

A few weeks ago I shared my Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups which used lemon curd.  Since I had some lemon curd leftover I was wondering what other ways I could enjoy it.  What came to mind was a variation of my Date and Goat Cheese Oatmeal.

lemonBlueberryOatmeal

 I swapped out the dates for a bit of lemon curd and dried blueberries, and added ground cloves. The resultant Lemon and Blueberry Oatmeal was every bit as delicious as the original recipe.  In fact, it might even be an excuse to keep lemon curd always on hand. 

lemonBlueberryOatmeal

Lemon and Blueberry Oatmeal

½ cup dry old fashioned oats
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Dash salt
1 ounce goat cheese
1 tablespoon lemon curd
2 tablespoons dried blueberries

Combine oats, water, cloves, and salt in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 ½ minutes (alternatively, you can make the oatmeal on the stovetop by boiling the water, stirring in the oats and cooking for 5 minutes).  Remove from the microwave and stir in the goat cheese until the cheese begins to melt, then stir in the lemon curd and blueberries and serve.  Makes 1 serving.

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Boneless Short Rib Ragu

Short ribs are one of those ingredients that have been on my list to cook with for a long time.  I have recipes such as short rib lasagna saved in my must-try recipe stack since they sounds so decadent, so it was about time I started cooking with short ribs.

 Many recipes call for the bone-in short ribs, but I could only find boneless short ribs this week.  I also don’t own a dutch oven (I know – gasp – a horror for a foodie) so I opted to create a slow cooker recipe, resulting in this Beef Short Rib Ragu.

 Short Rib Ragu

The shortribs get browned in a skillet and then transferred to the slow cooker.  To create a thick, and flavorful sauce I borrowed a technique from the America’s Test Kitchen slow cooker pork roast.  Onions and tomato paste build flavor with a few minutes of cooking in a skillet, as does flour which gains a nutty taste and serves to thicken the sauce made of beef stock and wine. The beef turns tender after a few hours of cooking.

 Now the hard part is determining what to serve the ragu over.  Mashed Potatoes? Pasta?  This week I served it over a bed of spaghetti squash, which the whole family enjoyed.

Short Rib Ragu

Boneless Beef Short Rib Ragu
 
1 pound boneless beef short ribs
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups diced yellow onions
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, removed from the stem
tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
½ cup beef broth
1 cup pinot noir wine
One 14.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes, Italian style

Season the short ribs with the salt and pepper.  Add the oil to a 12-inch skillet and heat over high heat.  Once hot, add the short ribs and brown, 2 minutes per side.  Transfer the short ribs to the bottom of a 4-quart slow cooker. Return the skillet to the stove and reduce heat to medium. Add the onions, garlic, thyme, and tomato paste to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour and cook for one minute longer, stirring continually.  Slowly whisk in the broth and wine, until a smooth and thick sauce is formed and fond is removed from the bottom of the pan. Pour the sauce over the short ribs in the slow cooker.  Add the can of stewed tomatoes to the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high for 5-6 hours. Shred the short ribs in the slow cooker and stir into the sauce; serve over mashed potatoes, pasta, or spaghetti squash.

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Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

If you are looking for an easy yet wow worthy dessert, look no further.  These Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake Cups take only minutes to make. Seriously, these no-bake bites are sure to delight any cheesecake lover.

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

This recipe is actually a mashup inspired by two other recipes.  The first is a recipe by Liv for Cake, which featured a Bailey’s Irish cream flavored cheesecake filling in a chocolate cookie cup.  I tried the recipe over Christmas and thought it was fantastic, particularly the no-bake cheesecake filling.  Since my husband LOVES cheesecake I couldn’t wait to play around with other recipes that delivered the flavor of cheesecake without the time commitment a traditional cheesecake requires.  What came to mind is a new version of my Chocolate Cherry Cannoli Cups, where the filling in made a bit lighter with whipping cream and the pistachio and cherries are replaced with lemon curd.

Voila! A perfect combination of chocolate and lemon cheesecake.  I think I will be making these Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake Cups for Valentine’s Day!

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake Cups

 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon curd
12 premade chocolate cups (such as these by Chocomaker)
Lemon zest and shimmery sprinkles for garnish (optional)
 

Add the whipping cream to a standing mixer and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold in the ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, and lemon curd. Place the cheesecake mixture into a pastry bag (or 1-quart plastic sandwich bag with one corner snipped off and fitted with a piping tip)and evenly pipe into the twelve chocolate cups in a swirl pattern.  Garnish with lemon zest and sprinkles, if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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three bean salad

Three Bean Salad (a.k.a. Super Salad)

Today’s Three Bean Salad is a husband-inspired dish.  In fact, it is what he calls “super salad” a mix of good-for-you greens, beans, and other super foods.  It is his favorite way to boost his veggie and protein intake at lunchtime, often adding this salad over a bed of mixed greens and topping with a packet of tuna.  I can’t deny that it is a great lunch and I LOVE that he gets the kids to eat it for lunch as well.

three bean salad

three bean salad

If you are looking for a great way to jumpstart an eating healthier resolution, let’s review just some of the super powers of this Three Bean Salad:

  • Edamame, garbanzo beans, and black beans: Good sources of fiber, protein, calcium, and iron
  • Tomatoes: Good source of lycopene, and vitamins A & C
  • Red onions, Dill, Parley, and Lemon Juice: great sources of flavonoids
  • Garlic: considered “anti-cancer”, and “anti-inflammatory” among a long list of other benefits

We often swap in and out other good for you veggies and herbs, while keeping the beans as a base.  For example, we have been known to stir in avocado, green onions, or apples at times.  I hope this recipe inspires you to create your own super salad.

three bean salad

Three Bean Salad (a.k.a Super Salad)

1 1/2 cups frozen, shelled edamame
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups baby tomatoes, chopped
1 cup diced red onion1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon freshly minced garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
 

Cook the edamame according to the package directions, then drain and add to a large bowl along with the garbanzo beans, tomatoes, black beans, onion, dill, and parsley.  In a small container, mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey, garlic, salt and pepper until well blended.  Pour the dressing over the beans and stir to coat.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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shaved brussel sprouts

Basil-Garlic Shaved Brussel Sprouts

Perhaps it was a need to eat more vegetables to balance my latest intake of sweets, but one way or another I ended up with Brussel sprouts in my grocery cart this week.  I have mentioned before that the only way I can get my husband to eat them is by using my Flash Fried Brussel Sprouts recipe. I have been determined to try other means of cooking them as I don’t always like pulling out my deep fryer, hence this Basil-Garlic Shaved Brussel Sprouts recipe.

The idea of shaved Brussel sprouts has caught my attention since I thought that smaller pieces might minimize the cabbage taste (or just provide more surface area to coat with butter or other toppings to mask the taste).  I decided to keep the mixed in spices simple and classic with garlic and onion as the main flavors and then added basil for a sweet undertone.  The result was a fresh take on the veggie, and one that reminded me of something my grandmother use to make frequently for dinner.  I enjoyed the shaved Brussel sprouts as a side but I can easily see mixing in some other vegetables and protein for a healthy lunch salad.  I also managed to get my kids to eat some, which is always a huge win.

shaved brussel sprouts

Basil-Garlic Shaved Brussel Sprouts

1 ½ pounds fresh Brussel sprouts, trimmed
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons dried, minced onion
½ teaspoon dried granulated garlic
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

 

Using a 2 mm disk attachment, shred the Brussel sprouts using a food processor.  Melt the butter over medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Add the shaved Brussel sprouts to the pan and stir frequently.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, until the Brussel sprouts are slightly wilted and bright green.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle the spices over the Brussel sprouts, stir to coat evenly, and serve.

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breakfast burritos

Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos

A few weeks back a friend asked me if you can freeze cooked eggs.  Even though cooking eggs usually doesn’t take too long, there are those mornings when you are running a bit late but you don’t want to scrimp on breakfast. I told her I’d do some experimenting (and a bit of research), which led to these breakfast burritos.  

breakfast burritos

From everything I read online it seemed that cooking and freezing eggs was easy, with a few simple tips.  First, undercook the eggs a bit as they will cook more on reheating.  Second, let any make ahead burrito contents cool before rolling to ensure the tortilla stays together. Finally, choose mix-ins that freeze well (tomatoes, for example, would not have a great texture on reheating).

For my experimentation I first tried just scrambled eggs (two) with cheese.  To reheat it took only about 1-1.5 minutes to warm them up from completely frozen, and they tasted great.  I was now ready to venture into Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos. 

I typically eat a lighter breakfast, but there are definitely days I enjoy the treat of eggs or a breakfast burrito.  For these burritos I added cheddar cheese and precooked pork sausage, which is a combo I have always enjoyed in breakfast casseroles. The meat and eggs cooked up fast and the burrito rolling was easy once I watch a tutorial to make sure I was doing it correctly.  Then came the fun part – freezing and reheating for breakfast to determine the correct thaw time.  These burritos can be reheated from frozen and only take 2 minutes.  I found this time ensured that the entire burrito was thawed throughout, but did require a minute or so to cool a bit before eating.  Now that I know having a quick and healthy breakfast on hand is so easy, I think I will always keep a stock in my freezer.  I love food challenges posed by friends!

breakfast burritos

 

Make ahead Breakfast Burritos

12 large eggs
1 pound breakfast sausage, cooked,drained, and cooled
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
8 burrito (large) tortillas (~10 inch in diameter or larger)

 

beat and pour eggs into a large pan that has been coated with a bit of nonstick spray. Scramble the eggs for 4-5 minutes or until barely set; stir in cheese.  Let cool, then stir in breakfast sausage.   Evenly divide the egg mixture between the burrito tortillas, placing slightly over to one side. Roll one side over the filling until the filling is covered, then fold in the left and right side and then continue to roll to the end. Wrap in a sheet of foil and continue with remaining burritos.  Place the burritos in a gallon sized freezer bag and freeze until ready to eat. To reheat, remove the foil and then microwave each burrito for 2 minutes on high, flipping once.  Let cool slightly before eating. (Note: 1.5 minutes left the burritos still a bit cold in the center).

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potato chip bar cookies

Potato Chip Bar Cookies

When I was in high school, one of my good friends introduced me to the cookies her family always made for the holidays: potato chip cookies. While it sounded unusual, I gave them a try and noted that they had a rich, crisp taste.

Fast forward to this last week and I noticed a boutique chocolate bar while waiting in line at the store which had potato chips layered throughout the chocolate. Since I love the pretzel-chocolate combo I thought the salty-sweet mix of potato chips and chocolate would be just as good. It was at that point that it hit me – why not combine a toffee bar cookie with potato chips? Thus my Potato Chip Bar Cookies were born.

potato chip bar cookies

Growing up my mom always made toffee bar cookies using the Betty Crocker classic recipe, so I thought it was fitting to start with that recipe as my base. Then, potato chips get crushed into the toffee bar dough, and sprinkled on top of the chocolate as garnish (rather than nuts). The result is a subtly different toffee bar and a great conversation starter.

potato chip bar cookies

potato chip bar cookies


Potato Chip Bar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour*
2 ¼ cups crushed potato chips (~5 ounces)
1 and 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

 

Heat oven to 350°F. In a standing mixer, mix butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg yolk. Stir in flour until well mixed, then fold in 2 cups of the crushed potato chips. Press into ungreased rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches.

Bake bars 25 to 30 minutes or until very light brown (crust will be soft). Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over hot crust. Let stand about 5 minutes or until chocolate is soft; spread evenly. Sprinkle evenly with remaining crushed potato chips.  Let cool until chocolate is set, cut into bars, and serve.

*I used Bob’s Redmill 1 to 1 gluten free flour though you can use regular all-purpose flour

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