In the kitchen with Jennifer Knocha

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Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups chunky peanut butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups strawberry preserves
1/4 cup Chambord or raspberry liquor
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about two minutes.
3. Turn the mixer down to low; add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until well combined.
4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
5. Still on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
6. Spread two thirds of the dough in the pan, using a knife to spread it out evenly.
7. Mix together the preserves and the Chambord, and then spread the mixture over the dough.
8. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry about covering all of the strawberry mixture as the dough will spread when it bakes.
9. Bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown.


Jennifer Knocha was one of our own. For 10 years, Knocha was a freelance writer for The Advertiser News, a sister paper to The West Milford Messenger.

Knocha lives in Vernon now, but grew up in Stockholm. She graduated from Ryder University with a degree in journalism. In her career, she has worked for several media companies as a freelancer and as a full time writer and editor.

At one time she wrote for First for Women Magazine. In addition to being a copy and line editor, she wrote crossword puzzles and edited a household hints column. Eventually there were staff cuts and she was laid off. That led her to the West Milford Animal Shelter.

"What happened was I ended up at the (West Milford) Animal Shelter because I got laid off from First. I was unemployed for 11 days and starting to lose my mind," she said.

At the time, she was living in West Milford in a rental. "I'm not working and I couldn't have a dog at the time because I was renting and I said, 'You know what? I'm going to do it'." Meaning she would volunteer at the shelter.

Working in journalism can be an undependable way to earn a living, especially with so many newspapers folding. Knocha still did freelance writing, but decided it might be time to switch careers. She was offered a full-time job in commercial property management. She still works in that field, but on weekends, she can be found at the West Milford Animal Shelter, a place that has her heart.

For Knocha, the most satisfying thing about working in the animal shelter is watching the animals leave with their new family.

"The second biggest compliment is when the families come back and tell us they love their animal," she said.

Knocha said she's had people grab her in the supermarket to tell her how much they love their pet.

What is the biggest compliment?

Knocha said staff at the shelter know they've done a good job when an owner comes back to the shelter after their pet has passed away and says they had to come back to adopt again.

"That's the most immense compliment you could give me," Knocha said.

She explained that people at the shelter work with clients to ensure a successful adoption.

Now Knocha owns two cats. Her original pets were two feral cats, brothers she adopted and named Orange and Rockland. Rockland passed away and Malcolm has now joined Orange.

Knocha likes to bake. Every year she enters the baking competition at the New Jersey State Fair (formerly known as The Sussex County Farm and Horse Show). Now she's favoring us with a recipe she entered. She credits Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, for giving her the inspiration for this recipe.

Judging for the baking competition will be Thursday morning, the same time The Messenger goes to press, so we won't have the results in time. But, even if they don’t win the contest, these Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars are a winner.

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