Nanaimo Bars – from British Columbia to Maine. Let’s start a new trend.  Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

As you all know, I love to eat. And although Maine is my favorite place (except for maybe on these dull March days), I also like to travel, mostly so I can experience foods I’ve never tried before.

My latest grand discovery is Nanaimo Bars, a confection I sampled with much gusto on a recent trip to British Columbia. This all happened as I waited to board the MV Osprey 2000, the ferry that crosses Kootenay Lake.

As you can imagine, I am not one to pass up a bakery and there was a very well-placed shop filled with pastries within a short walk from my vehicle. Clutching my loonies and toonies, I ducked inside, where I spied with my little eye these glorious, new-to-me bar cookies.

I found these iconic taste treats, named after their Nanaimo, B.C., town of origin, to be so completely delectable that I couldn’t wait to come home to Maine and share them with all of you, my faithful readers.

To make them, you need something called custard powder. Bird’s Custard Powder is sold at Walmart, Target, Amazon, and British Goods. You can also simply make your own. And if you don’t want to buy vanilla sugar (available in the baking aisle at the grocery store), stick a vanilla bean in a bowl of sugar for a day or so and voila! You will have vanilla sugar. Whatever you do, try them. You’ll be hooked.

Before you totally fill up on my new favorite dessert, you may want a plate of vegetable matter accompanied by pumped-up protein. During my travels, I also became very fond of this southwestern take on Cobb salad that I enjoyed at a café in Sandpoint, Idaho. I wasn’t expecting such an abundance of southwestern flavors so close to the Canadian border, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a yummy meal for lunch boxes so you’ll want to make extra.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter
5 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup sugar 
1 egg, beaten 
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs 
1 cup shredded coconut 
1/2 cup almonds or walnuts, finely chopped 

Pour 2 cups water into bottom of a double boiler. Place on stove over medium heat and bring water to a simmer. In top of double boiler, combine butter, cocoa and sugar. Place over simmering water. Heat and stir until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.

Add beaten egg; stir until thick. Remove top of double boiler from heat. Stir in cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds. Scrape batter into parchment paper-lined, 8-inch-square baking dish. Press firmly to create an even bottom layer.

Custard Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons heavy cream 
2 tablespoons vanilla custard powder*
2 cups confectioners’ sugar 

In a bowl, cream together butter, cream and custard powder. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Spread evenly over bottom layer.

Topping

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together over simmering water. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. When cool but still liquid, pour and spread evenly over custard layer. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Yield: 12 bars

*Homemade Custard Powder

1 cup powdered milk 
1/2 cup cornstarch 
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla sugar

Place the ingredients in a food processor and blend for about 10 seconds. Store in an airtight container for as long as a month.

Southwestern Cobb Salad

2-3 Romaine hearts, torn into serving-size pieces
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup fresh corn or frozen corn, defrosted
2 cups black beans, rinsed
1/2 pound cooked bacon
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 1/2 cups pico de gallo
2 avocados, sliced
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced

Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the romaine on a large platter. Arrange the remaining ingredients in rows across the lettuce. Serve with dressing. Yield: 4 servings

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