Indulge in chocolate butterscotch caramel bars

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Two bites. That was the advice I was given recently on how to keep from overeating during this holiday season. Go ahead, indulge in that buttery cookie, rum-soaked bundt cake and velvety chocolate fudge, but keep it to two bites.

The holidays can be a time to pack on extra pounds for various reasons. With family gatherings, office parties and special events, there are lots of opportunities to eat while socializing. Because it’s hard to keep track if that was your second meatball or your fifth while discussing politics with Aunt Sally, calories can add up quickly.

Additionally, many foods featured on those buffet tables come around only once a year. Just like turkey and cranberries at Thanksgiving, baked brie en croute isn’t on the weekly menu except at holiday time. So it’s hard not to add a piece of peppermint bark to the plate, because you know you won’t have the chance to enjoy it until next Christmas.

How do we save ourself from our “holiday self?” As my friend Stacey says, “Just take two bites.” As a longtime fitness instructor with a master’s degree in nutrition, my dear friend practices what she preaches. The evidence is not just in her words, but in her wellness and her waistline.

Studies have shown that taking smaller bites, chewing food longer and eating slower all trick the brain. You wind up eating fewer calories and feeling full more quickly because your brain thinks you’ve eaten more than you really have.

The “two-bite” rule has allowed me to not feel deprived when I attend a holiday lunch or dinner. I get to sample the yuletide yummies and participate in the conversation about them. Did you try the candied yams? Why, yes, I did, and they were delicious.

That brings us to our recipe this week, which is from the Pioneer Woman website. These bars are incredibly rich and so worth the once-a-year indulgence.

Take a plate of these to your next holiday potluck so others can enjoy their two bites, too.

Chocolate Butterscotch Caramel Bars

1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cup regular or quick oats

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1-3/4 stick cold (salted) butter, cut into pieces

2 cans (13.5 ounces each) Dulce De Leche (like Nestle La Lechera)

Spanish peanuts

Butterscotch chips

Mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 9, 8 x 10, or 9 x 13-inch baking dish with baking spray. (Or you can line with aluminum foil.) If you use a rectangular pan, you will need an additional can of dulce de leche to cover the surface.

Mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the mixture into the pan and pat lightly to pack it slightly.

Bake until light golden brown on top and done in the middle, about 30 to 35 minutes, watching to make sure it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Spoon the dulce de leche into a microwave safe-bowl and nuke it for 45 seconds, just to slightly soften it. Scoop it on top of the oatmeal base and use an offset spatula to spread it out to the edges and into an even layer.

Sprinkle on a layer of peanuts so that they completely cover the caramel, and use your hands to gently press them into the caramel. Sprinkle on the butterscotch chips and the mini chocolate chips in generous layers.

Note: The warmth of the cookie base and the caramel should slightly soften the butterscotch and chocolate chips. When that happens, use your hands to very gently press the chips just enough to anchor them together (but not enough to misshape them.) If the pan isn’t warm enough, pop it into the oven for 30 seconds or so and gently press the chips to anchor them together.

Chill the bars for 2 to 3 hours to make them easy to slice. Turn them out onto a cutting board and use a long serrated knife to cut into small squares. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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Betty Williams