Kitchen Lab: I play with my food

I am not a cook, or a chef, and honestly belong nowhere near a kitchen. My mother thankfully taught me nothing of her cooking skills, as we named our black cat Brownie after her smoke-detector-as-dinner-bell methodology. But since we do so love experimentation and trying new things here at the Lab, and I have learned just enough to avoid burning myself most (more than 50%) of the time, I shall cook for you! Ok, not all of you, I don’t have that kind of time or food budget, but I will say that none of my guinea pigs (who can be found at most Chicago Skeptical Salons) have died yet. They haven’t even complained, and indeed often ask for more!

So I like to find nommy-looking things and try to make them. I usually stick to the recipe for the first attempt, and try to “fix” it later. Are the “fixes” for my own mistakes? Perhaps, but anything in the name of noms! This time around is something pretty flippin’ easy, seven-layer bars. There’s next to no actual cooking skills involved in these things, and you should seriously try to make some yourself. And then try again with new layers. MAL-it-yourself, in your very own kitchen! Try the home game!

ingredients for seven-layer bars
First: collect nom-parts.

One of the best things about seven-layer bars is that your layers can be pretty much anything, you just need some sort of crust/base to start with and a “glue” to hold it all together. Could you make a meatloaf-y seven-layer bar, perhaps involving lots of bacon? More than likely, but that’s a bit beyond my ken right now. I’m sticking to more of a traditional baked-goods theme here. This pic contains literally all the stuff you need, except the butter which was still in my fridge.

So yeah, seven-layer bars basically involve smushing things and dumping things. Easy peasy lemon squeezy! (Note: do not actually squeeze any lemons, of any color, into this recipe.)

PART THE FIRST! HULK SMASH GRAHAM CRACKERS! The recipe calls for 1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs. Conveniently, my box of graham crackers contained two separately sealed packets. I have discovered that one packet of whole graham crackers = approximately 1.5 cups of smushed graham crackers. You may crush your graham crackers however you like, but I put ’em into a sealed plastic bag a few at a time and squoze. As I’d not had the best day at work, this was quite possibly even more satisfying than popping bubble wrap.

graham cracker crumbs and melted butter
The stuff on the left goes into the stuff on the right.

PART THE 2ND! MELT LE BUTTER! Aforementioned recipe said to melt half a cup of butter in a saucepan, so I did. Because you’re meant to follow the instructions in recipes, or you won’t get the food in the picture. I’m sure you could also melt the butter in the microwave, though. The saucepan was also a convenient place to mix in the graham cracker crumbs to make the bottom crust.

Once you’ve mixed up the crumbs and melted butter, you’ll want to pack that mix evenly across the bottom of a greased 9×13″ pan. I like my Pyrex, I can see what I’m doing and scrub it super-clean when I’m done. Don’t just dump the crumbs in and just spread them around, you want a nicely packed, even layer.


graham cracker crust

Yep, you literally just pour the rest of the ingredients on top. No measuring, except maybe the marshmallows if you use them. Kinda spread each layer out across the pan before adding the next one. Here’s what I used, in order from bottom to top:
1 bag of chocolate chips
1 bag of butterscotch chips
1/2 bag of shredded coconut
1 cup of marshmallows (this wasn’t really enough, try more!)
1 bag of pecans (original recipe said walnuts, I don’t like walnuts. But WHOA NUTS ARE EXPENSIVE, don’t use pecans like my dumb self did)
1 can of sweetened, condensed milk (this is the “glue,” and it looks it)

closeup of pre-baked seven-layer bars
Distinctly un-like an onion.

So I think one of the cool things about this recipe is that you kinda don’t have to measure anything. I’ve heard of those people who just eyeball all their cooking, but what the heck is a dash, anyway? But this, this was great. Sticks of butter have markings on ’em to tell you where to cut, using the whole bag of anything is super-easy, and I can eyeball half of something any day. Perhaps the marshmallows should just be poured like Tribbles. Also, I’d never used (or seen) condensed milk before, and was intrigued. I’m still not sure how one condenses milk, but it was in a fine dump-able can with a ring on top for easy opening, which I’m all about.

I always forget to preheat the oven. This went in for about half an hour at 350F.

finished seven-layer bars
NOMTASTIC. Definitely try these at home.

I highly recommend the use of potholders over a wet towel.

After eating a bunch of these and promptly acquiring diabetes, I immediately went out to buy stuff to make them again with variations. I briefly considered white chocolate chips until I remembered that I’m firmly in the “hey, that’s not chocolate!” camp. If you’re a nut fan, you could do different kinds of nuts. Perhaps even at the same time! I’m not so keen on nuts, however, and though I think they may still need a not-sweet layer, I’ve got toffee chips instead of expensive-as-hell nuts for the crunchy requirement this go-round. And I’ve heard that you can use half dulce de leche to replace half the condensed milk, but that would require measuring. I still have no idea what either of those things are, but they were in a recipe on the internet so how could you go wrong? Plus, foreign languages make your food fancy.

Do you bake? Have you made seven-layer bars before? Would you like to try? Let me know what else you’d put in these things!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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