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cherry fig tea bread, round 2

November 10th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

The last two years for NaBloPoMo I’ve gone back in to my Recipe Index and re-introduced items that are worthy of a second look. Most people following my blog now weren’t doing so a year ago, and if readers are anything like I am, finding a new blog usually means going forward with what they post, not going back in the archives to find the hidden gems.

And it’s also a way for me to remember what I’ve posted to these pages over the past 5-1/2 years. There is a great deal of content in my Recipe Index; way more than one could ever browse through, and a lot of it from way back when contains poorly photographed foods that I would be a bit embarrassed to even show you. Part of me often thinks about re-doing some of these recipes, with updated photos of better quality, and that’s still in the back of my mind. 

This bread made an appearance in my kitchen last Spring, and I loved it immensely, forgetting it until today, while scrolling through to find something interesting to share. Dried figs and cherries gave it a wide appeal of flavor, and tea breads are one of my favorite items to make because they are so simple to put together. Mix a bowl of wet ingredients, then a bowl of dried and blend them just so. A greased pan, a hot oven and an hour later, a steaming and fragrant loaf awaits you and a cup of tea or coffee. I could probably do a month alone on tea breads in all their various forms and still not exhaust this easy item.

What I love about this recipe is that it has a lot of healthier options for baking. I’ve tried to get away from using refined sugar in my baking for much of the past year or so, experimenting with honey or maple syrup, and actively seeking recipes that offer delicious flavor without a ton of food items that our bodies can do without. This recipe relies on the cooked dried fruit to provide sweetness, along with a small amount of honey. Whole wheat flour and wheat bran make for a healthier base too. I’m not fooling myself that this is good enough to eat all the time; the bread still has a lot of calories, but overall, if I’m going to make myself a treat, I want it to be better for me in any way I can manage.

Because deprivation just isn’t an option.

Do you have a favorite baked good that YOU like to make??

Cherry Fig Tea Bread

1 c. dried tart cherries
1 c. chopped dried figs
1 c. orange juice
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. wheat bran
2 t. freshly grated orange zest
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 large eggs
2/3 c. plain soy milk
3 T canola oil
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Combine cherries, figs and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1/3 cup of the fruit-cooking liquid. Set the fruit and liquid aside in separate bowls.

Stir together flour, sugar, wheat bran, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and the reserved 1/3 cup fruit-cooking liquid in another large bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the reserved fruit. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert the loaf onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Original recipe from Eating Well magazine.

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

sugar cookie love

November 2nd, 2011 | 3 Comments »

It’s November, so that means one thing in the blogging world.

 

What’s on YOUR plate for November??

{{And you thought I meant Thanksgiving, didn’t you?}}

That’s my cute little badge for NaBloPoMo 2011, which is blog lingo for National Blog Posting Month. You post every day for a month. That’s all it is. It’s also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an epic adventure in which you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If I had the month free with zero obligations, I might give that one a shot. That’s a lot of words, isn’t it?

I’ve done NaBloPoMo twice; in 2008, when I highlighted a different food holiday each day for the month of November, and again last year, in 2010 when I culled through the 4-1/2 years of archived posts on my site and re-introduced some favorites. That’s my plan this year as well. There is A LOT of good content in my archives, recipes that are perfect for this time of year that no one finds anymore, plus with Just Write Tuesdays, I’ve got more than enough content to fill 30 days in a row. Piece o’ cake.

{{by the way, my sweet husband Mike made that sweet badge for me. He’s awesome that way.
And he accepts food for payment!! Hi honey!!}}

Today is about cookies, though. Sugar Cookies to be exact. It is, hands down, my all time favorite cookie and I don’t say that lightly. There are a lot of amazing cookies out there; chewy Oatmeal Raisin, decadent Chocolate Cookies, Pumpkin cookies with thick cream cheese frosting. There are no limits to what can be scooped up and baked on a sheet pan. But a good sugar cookie is one of life’s simplest pleasures; buttery, chewy and rich with vanilla, I can tell a sugar cookie made with love over a mass-produced butter-flavored fake any day of the week. My Sugar Cookies evoke sighs of joy, and eye rolls and ‘Mmmmmm’ responses from everyone who tries them. And it’s a well honed taste too, going back to my childhood, and a beloved bakery from the golden days of neighborhood bakeries, where a sugar cookie always waited for me. If you want to read the whole story, please go <HERE>

And if you just want the recipe, here it is.

 

Sugar Cookies


1 c. softened butter, no substitutes (reserve one of the wrappers)
1-1/2 c. white sugar  (plus more for rolling)
2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2-3/4 c. AP flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder

Heat the oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place about 1/3 of a cup of white sugar on a small plate and set aside.

Cream butter and the 1-1/2 cups of sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add in egg and vanilla extract and blend thoroughly until smooth and creamy. You really can’t overmix at this point. You want a base that is smooth and creamy as it makes the end result stupendous. Stir together flour, baking soda and powder, and with mixer on low, gradually add to butter until fully incorporated and mixture is in large, somewhat dry chunks. It will not be a smooth batter, but granular, like pie crust. The dough should hold together when pressed between your fingertips. If it doesn’t, take the bowl off the mixing stand and turn the dough gently with your hands, pressing any loose flour in to the dough to incorporate. Chill the dough for 20-30 minutes before scooping. It’s a lot easier to work with that way.

Using a small scoop (I used a #60 sized) press dough tight into a ball and drop onto cookie sheet. With your butter wrapper, wipe the bottom of a smooth glass, then dip the glass onto the sugar you’ve set aside. Gently press down on the cookie dough, dipping the glass before each one. If any dough falls loose, lightly push the pieces into the sides of the cookie.

The cookies will bake up just fine if you don’t wish to flatten them; that’s just my preferred method. Bake for 8-10 minutes, reversing trays from front to back, and swapping top to bottom about halfway through. I’ve tried this with the convection feature on my oven and they browned too quickly so I don’t recommend that method.

I like to remove the cookies right way, on the parchment to a cooling rack. These are pretty sturdy once baked, and will slip off the parchment easily with a gentle nudge. You simply must eat at least a few of them warm. Of course, a glass of cold milk, or a nice cup of coffee or tea is an excellent accompaniment. The cookies will become firmer as they sit for a day or two.

 

KATE’S NOTES: I began using the super-fine baking sugar for all my baking needs and find that it makes for better creaming and a nicer crumb on the finished product. Most grocers carry it in the baking aisle, in a sturdy carton. It’s called ‘Bakers Sugar’ and it’s very, very fine grain. I used it in these cookies and they were even better than I recall.

The addition of a bit of nutmeg (about 1/2 a teaspoon) in the batter makes for wonderful flavor, or you can add ground nutmeg to the sugar used for rolling the cookies in. 

wait…. another cake?

October 28th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Yes. Another cake. Don’t be surprised if I share even more cake with you over time, as I do love a good moist and tender cake.

And I’m partial to a Bundt cake, for nostalgia reasons. It’s pretty easy to work with, that shape. You get a nice substantial cake that is easy to slice and portion out and with the wealth of lovely artistic bundt pans available, you can make something that looks masterful with nary a hint of extra effort.

And besides, bundt cakes make me think of my Mom. And she would have loved this Nutmeg Cake.

Nutmeg Cake. Not Spice Cake, although that would be appropriate, but no, the predominant flavor of this cake is Nutmeg, also known as Myristica fragrans, a spice that elicited so much adoration and excitement that bloody wars were executed over it to protect it’s production, and Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated with it during his coronation. In the 14th Century, a half a kilogram of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep, or one cow. The Nutmeg tree belongs to the Evergreen family, and as everyone knows, it consists of not one but two spices, as the feathery outer layer is ground up for Mace, while the seed itself is the Nutmeg.

The fruit is light yellow with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum. As the fruit matures, the outer fleshy covering (which is candied or pickled as snacks in Malaysia) bursts to reveal the seed. The seed is covered with red membranes called an aril, the mace portion of the nutmeg. The nut is then dried for up to 2 months until the inner nut rattles inside the shell. It is then shelled to reveal the valuable egg-shaped nutmeat which is the edible nutmeg. Second-rate nuts are pressed for the oil, which is used in perfumes and in the food industry.

Nutmeg is easily ground from it’s whole form, using a microplane, and purists argue that this is the best and only way in which it should be used. Pre-ground Nutmeg can easily lose it’s flavor, and when you need only a small dose of the spice, grating it fresh is simple; a few passes over the microplane and you’re done. But this recipe calls for 5 teaspoons of Nutmeg. I’d be standing with that microplane in hand for an eternity if I tried to freshly grate all that spice. And for me, Penzey’s West Indies Ground Nutmeg is perfect to keep on hand.

I came across this recipe in a recent issue of Saveur magazine and immediately snipped it out. Although I do know that Nutmeg is not a universally liked spice, for me it’s been a favorite since I was a kid, sprinkling my applesauce with cinnamon and nutmeg. I love it’s quick warm bite, the flick of flavor on my tongue that resonates around.

And it isn’t just for desserts, really. A few pinches of fresh ground nutmeg makes a wonderful addition to any dish with squash in it. It’s necessary for Spaetzle and can elevate a simple cream sauce on pasta to ultra-gastronomic levels. Add a dash of nutmeg to a fruit crisp, sprinkle it in smoothies, grate some on top of your oatmeal or other hot cereal (especially if you add blueberries- there is something so delightful about blueberries and nutmeg together) and of course, with cinnamon, cloves and allspice you get none other than perfect pumpkin pie flavor.

 

This cake made two appearances in my life in the exact same week. Two cakes, for two occasions. The first one was just the old standard “I Found A Recipe That I Can’t Wait To Try” deal, and the fact that it turned out so incredibly moist and oh so tender, and it was so darn easy to make that I quickly hit ‘Repeat’ and made another one for a ladies only gathering at our lake home. To be able to take a cake recipe and feed it to eight discriminating palates knowing that every one of them would adore it is a big feather in my cap. I loved watching their faces as they took that first bite. These ladies know their food.

And I know my nutmeg.  So tell me …. do YOU like nutmeg??

 

Nutmeg Cake

3 cups flour
5 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a standard bundt pan with cooking spray. You can also use a 9×13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the dry mixture. With a pastry blender (or two forks, or for a load of fun, your hands) cut the butter in to the flour mixture until it’s about the size of peas or smaller. Add the brown sugar and walnuts (if using) and blend with a fork.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, milk and eggs until very creamy. Add to the flour/butter mixture and gently fold together with a rubber spatula, carefully scraping the bottom of the bowl, until the batter is smooth and completely blended. It will be fairly thick. Pour batter into prepared pan. Run a knife through the batter to remove any air pockets, or you can gently drop the pan on the counter a few times for the same result.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40-50 minutes for a bundt pan, 25-35 for a 9×13. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes in the pan (if using a bundt pan) then run a knife around the edges to loosen and turn over on to a plate.

This cake is phenomenal when served warm.

 

original recipe from Saveur magazine, here with modifications.

dark dark molasses cake

October 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There’s something quite elegant about a dark, almost black molasses cake.

It’s a hallmark of Fall too, even though really, it’s good any time of year. But the cinnamon and ginger have the warm and tranquil feel of a blazing fire, or a maple tree in full color. They speak their spice words and the ones we hear the loudest is ‘Autumn’. Cooler weather means baking. A warm oven is the right means to chase the chill away, and a dark rich molasses cake sits on the counter, awaiting the moment when the dishes are done, the light is gone and the dessert plates come out, forks clinking in anticipation.

Call it gingerbread, call it molasses cake. It’s all the same in my head. And it’s a taste I’ve loved for an eternity, it seems. There is something about that flavor the moment that it lands in your mouth. It’s soothing, again; another impression that tells me of a passing season. A cake to usher in sweatshirt weather, and extra blankets on the bed. We all love these dark and inviting cakes, whether with a scoop of ice cream on top, or yogurt.

I’m not a recipe loyal cook. Ok, I recant; I can be a recipe loyal cook until I see something that I think would be even more amazing and then I try the new option and the old standby gets tossed aside. I’m easy like that. I like to experiment. I like to travel new gustatory paths and explore new tastes. This particular molasses cake has LOADS of molasses- a full 1-1/2 cups. And it strongly suggests you use blackstrap molasses to make it the richest, darkest most lush molasses cake of all time. I didn’t have blackstrap on hand. In fact, I’ve never bought blackstrap molasses. I might. Just to try this cake again in it’s original form, because, to this molasses cake crazy girl, this recipe was one that might never get replaced. It’s that good.

Coming from the kitchn, one can expect a recipe of extraordinary taste. I’ve been a bit hooked on what Faith Durand and Sara Kate Gillingham put forth, finding a great deal of recipes that stretch the limits of normal food items, a wide range of delicious and healthy vegetarian dishes that don’t read like a 1990′s restaurant menu and plenty of kitchen design upgrades that make even the most even-keeled, happy in her place person swoon in delight. And there’s never been a crashing dud in any of the recipes I’ve been bold enough to try. You need to really like your food to love what these ladies do with it, and I appreciate a place that wears like an old friend, a comfortable trustworthy feeling that brings a smile, a lightness to your heart. With so many slap-dash recipe sites out there, finding a trustworthy one that works is a gem.

So…. back to this cake. Did you think I’d forgotten?


I would never forget to share such a treat with you. Are you a cake and ice cream fanatic? Because this works beautifully with vanilla, or mix it up a bit and go for pumpkin ice cream, cinnamon or when it’s available, try eggnog ice cream for a big decadent kick. It also works to eat it with yogurt, the richer and more dense, the better. A few brandied cherries on top wouldn’t be bad, nor would a turn in a microwave to warm it slightly, after which you drizzle a thin stream of pure maple syrup over the top. And whipped cream! If that’s your thing, you’re in luck. This cake does it all. All the parameters of a good dessert.

And if dessert isn’t your thing exactly, try a piece of this with your morning coffee. You’re welcome.

Dark and Damp Molasses Cake

12 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 c. unsulphured dark or unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. white sugar
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. fine salt
2 1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. cinnamon
2 t. espresso powder (optional)
1 t. vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. whole milk

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter or grease a standard bundt cake pan.

Place the chunks of butter in a 2-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Pour in the molasses and whisk in the brown sugar and white sugar. Whisk as the butter melts. When the butter has melted and is completely liquid, and the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy, give it a final stir and turn off the heat. Set the pan aside to cool. (The molasses will look slightly separated from the melted fat; they won’t be smoothly combined.)

Use a clean dry whisk to combine the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and espresso powder in a large bowl. (The espresso powder is optional; it will lend one more dimension of flavor to your cake.)

Whisk the vanilla, eggs, and milk into the saucepan with the molasses and melted butter. When it is completely combined, pour this liquid slowly into the bowl of dry ingredients. Whisk thoroughly to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Pour the thick batter into the prepared springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 20 or 30 minutes, then run a thin, flexible knife around the inside of the pan to help the cakes edges release. Remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely on cooling rack.

 

recipe from the kitchn; for a delicious frosting to spread on top of this cake, follow the link here.

upon further exploration of chard……

September 15th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

One night last month, amidst the gorgeous August that made it’s way in to Minnesota and on a night that seemed as supple as velvet, I was home by myself, bored and restless. Feeling the urge to experiment with some of the food laying about the refrigerator, I poked through the stuffed bags from the Farmers Market, eyeing the three overflowing bags of chard.

I’ve been crazy for chard. Really crazy. Thankfully, this is a good thing. It’s not like an addiction that’s harmful, unless you can OD on vitamins. My blood won’t be anemic any time soon. And after this particular evenings playtime with my food, I was excited to share my findings so I propped up the computer on the island and found my voice to tell you this story.

 

	
	
	

 

seeking banana bread perfection

February 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

All right, all right…. you don’t want to talk about Winter anymore. I get it. How about we talk Banana Bread?

I grew up with regular and repeated doses of good banana bread. How about you? In our house, Mom would watch those bananas closely, and as soon as a few of them turned to the perfect spotty stage of brown, she would snatch them from the basket, peel them and put them on waxed paper, then mash them to mush with a fork for her golden fragrant loaves of banana bread. With walnuts. Which I hated, and yet, the banana bread was so glorious and perfect that I would carefully pick out the icky nuts and eat the rest. My favorite was the top of each slice, the softest part that often got so moist and tender. I always saved it for last.

I never varied from that banana bread recipe I had. Whenever bananas in my first kitchen made it further than a bowl of cereal, or an afternoon snack smeared with peanut butter, I would do as Mom did, peel them down, mash them with a fork and make a loaf of banana bread. But, as I could now do as an adult, with my own hand mixer, a container for flour and sugar in my cupboard that was always full, with the familiar can of baking powder next to them, I would leave out those gross nuts. My banana bread was spartan. All it needed was banana. Sometimes a smear of soft butter would coat the slice, or maybe peanut butter went on the bread too. But I never needed a reason to stray from the recipe that I’d known all my life. It was banana bread perfection and it was Mom and it was all I needed. When she died, making a loaf of her banana bread was like evoking her memory in my kitchen, with my heart breaking again, through each press of a fork into the banana, turning the flesh to the proper level of mashed for the recipe. Then each bite of her bread would send my very adult mind reeling backwards into the kitchen of childhood, the sunny window, the deeply patterned blue carpet and my Mom, happily peeling spotty brown bananas, the old familiar bread pan on the counter next to her.

I’m not sure what happened the last time I made Mom’s Banana bread recipe, but the first bite put me off quite a bit. It tasted…. I don’t know, odd. Fake, I guess. I was really kind of shocked by the flavor. I’d grown up with this recipe; I’d made it dozens of times since I was a kid and here I was, by leaps and bounds an adult and quite the responsible one too, with a good job, a home and a child and yet, I looked at the slice of banana bread in my hand and it didn’t fit anywhere with the life that I’d found. It didn’t even bring Mom’s face to mind, her laughing smile and the way she would grab my shoulders and squeeze me just a little, making a delighted teeny squeak of her love for me. My mouth, my taste and my opinion had grown right alongside my life, and this recipe didn’t do it for me anymore. Part of me was crushed. It was the familiar flavor of a life that was now gone, and it was failing to bring to me the comfort I was seeking, comfort away from a world of bills, deadlines, a hectic job and single parenting. I didn’t get rid of the recipe because that might feel a little like experiencing Mom’s death all over again. But I haven’t made that particular version for a long, long time.

Ever since then, I’ve been on the lookout for the next best Banana Bread recipe. When the bananas in my house get past their prime, I simply place them in the freezer and wait it out. I search the wide range of recipes available for one that might take me home again, a feeling of nostalgia, of banana bread perfection, a slice that might elicit that memorable squeak of love I recall. At one point, I think I had 10 frozen bananas in there, and part of me mourns the loss of that constant. I have looked over dozens of recipes and rejected most of them; too much fat, too much oil, wayyyyyy too much sugar and in almost all of them, not enough Mom. So I keep searching, finding a few gems here and there to sample in my own sunny kitchen, with it’s warped old bread pans. And the bananas meanwhile, well, they tend to pile up in the freezer, silently waiting to succumb to a fork, a whisk and a hot oven to be baked into a memory that will sustain me through the years ahead.

I’m still looking for that ultimate, that perfect banana bread, and I find that I’m really enjoying the experiments I’m coming across. This current one I’ve found is really quite good, in a clever and surprising way. What appeals to me about this particular recipe is that it includes crushed graham crackers crumbs in the base. This gives it a texture that’s a bit more crunchy than you would expect, and the taste of the graham crackers is really pronounced if you share the slice with a steaming cup of coffee. It’s perfect together, like banana and chocolate, like mothers and baking; with the familiarity of ritual, an old trusted bread pan and a freezer full of fruit at the ready.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

1-2/3 c. graham cracker crumbs (approx. one standard package from a box)
1-1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. natural cane sugar (you can use regular granulated too)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
3 medium bananas (i like to mash two of them fully, then leave the third in chunks for texture)
1/2 c. milk (any kind will do- I like vanilla soy, and almond would be wonderful)
3 T. canola oil (or get crazy and use olive oil- it tastes wonderful)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a standard 9×5 loaf pan with cooking spray.

Place graham cracker crumbs, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl, and whisk well to combine.

In a large measuring cup, add bananas, oil, milk and eggs. Beat lightly with a fork to combine, then add to flour mixture. With a rubber spatula, carefully stir together until just blended with some streaks of flour remaining. Add in the chocolate chips and combine until mixture is fully incorporated. Scrape into prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until top springs back when lightly touched and toothpick test comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for 30 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Need some other inspiration for banana baking? Try these:

Applesauce Banana Bread

Banana Poppyseed Bread

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes

seeking a memory

December 16th, 2010 | 7 Comments »

Baking has always been about connections for me, most importantly, to my Mom. I treasure many of the delicious recipes that defined my childhood and love seeing some of those old favorites show up in the multiple blogs I follow. Cookies like Chocolate Crackles, a moist fudgey cake-like cookie with a powdered sugar coating,

{photo courtesy of Food Librarian}

and Nainamo Bars, or as we grew up with, Three Layer Bars, a superbly decadent blend of nuts, chocolate, coconut and vanilla pudding, carefully constructed into a glamorous tower that delights not only the eye but the tastebuds as well.

{photo courtesy of small home, big start}

These treats played a significant role in our lives, and it’s been such a joy to re-create these for family gatherings and be able to see my siblings once again appreciate some of the tastes of our past.

I personally have been searching for yet another taste of childhood, one that’s eluded me up until now- the taste of my Mom’s Date Bars. She made these especially for me, and for my sister Karen. We both loved the chewy date filling and crunchy oat topping. I was known to seek out the treasured edge pieces where the dates caramelized in the baking process, becoming firm and chewy, like date jerky if you will. I loved how it kind of stuck in my teeth, a sugary toffee feel in my mouth and I loved the anticipation of how the topping would crumble as I bit into it, catching the errant bits in my hand as they fell.

My Mom’s recipe box sits in my cupboard, but no matter how many times I combed through it, I never found that particular recipe, the only one over the years that’s been outside my grasp. I’ve tried several other versions that have passed my eyes and not one has even been close. It was probably one of those recipes that came on a carton of oatmeal, that she made a few times and somehow lost it in a move, or quite possibly, it was something she’d memorized, a small part of my growing up that went dark when she passed away. I could make her Peanut Butter Fingers, and the Coffee Toffee Bars that we loved; I could make the Sour Cream Drop cookies with the mocha frosting and pan after pan of Oatmeal Scotchies, even a batch of her famous Banana Bread but I could never find a recipe that brought back those Date Bars. I scanned dozens of them, and each one was cast aside, as I knew just looking at it that it would never be what I expected.

Then I happened upon a recipe that sounded like the siren call bringing me back to that sunny kitchen, my Mom’s smiling face and those chewy caramelized edges of a bar that was just perfect.

And years of wishing for one thing, one perfect treat from a time when I was small enough to lean an arm on the kitchen counter and be soothed by a crunchy and chewy bar made just for me, well that all fell away as I lifted the parchment sheet holding the thick mass out of the pan in my own sunny kitchen. The smell of these fragrant date bars made its way to my nose and the memory caught in my throat, threatening to send the tear ducts into overdrive. Smell and taste are so powerful in us, so driving us to seek those parts of our lives that have faded, sometimes too far for us to even recognize any longer. But this one had stayed, regardless of how long it had been, how far back I had to go to retrieve it, one whiff of this recipe and I was a tiny girl again, watching my Mom, with the scent of cooked dates in my head and the anticipation of that first bite, the shards of crunchy oats falling to my open palm, and her smile warm in my eyes.

And I happily welcome back this treasured memory. I’ve been patiently waiting for it to return and now it will have a permanent spot in my kitchen.

Oat and Nut Date Squares
adapted from an original recipe, author unknown.

1 8-oz package chopped dates (or equivalent of fresh)
1/4 c. black raisins
1 c. water
Zest from half a clementine (you can use orange zest, but measure 2 teaspoons for equivalent)
1-2 t. clementine juice  (use 1 t. fresh orange juice)

1/2 c. ground almonds ( sub in walnuts or pecans if desired)
1/2 c. each whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour
1/2 t. table salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 c. packed brown sugar
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, diced, softened but still fairly cold.
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350° and spray an 8×8 baking pan with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper so that it hangs over edge of pan.

In small saucepan, combine dates, raisins and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until all liquid has been absorbed and fruit is a thick, concentrated paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in clementine zest and juice and blend well. Scrape onto a plate and spread to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, place ground almonds, both flours, salt, soda and spices. Pulse to combine. Add in brown sugar and pulse to blend. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture is like coarse uneven meal. There should be lumps of butter in all sizes. Pour this into a large bowl and stir in the oats.

Press 2/3 of the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing down firmly. Spoon cooled date mixture over, spreading it to cover crust completely. Sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top. Bake until top crust is golden brown and crisp, 30-40 minutes.

Cool bars completely on a rack, still in the pan. Once bars are at room temperature, gently lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Slice into 2″ squares to serve. These bars are delicious when chilled. Keep in airtight container or refrigerated.

pre-turkey

November 23rd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Like you need to be reminded of that? We’ll be experiencing a pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm this year but I’m thinking it won’t hamper any of our plans. My family is all local, and hardy winter souls with dependable cars and a lifetime of snow experience. Plus it’s a homemade meal. They don’t miss that for anything.

My menu is planned and it’s always pretty simple. The family is not much for experimenting with rambunctious flair; they like their mashed potatoes, a good smoked turkey on the grill and plenty of gravy. We’ll drink wine, snack on cheese and crackers and enjoy each other’s company and really, that’s all that matters at all on a holiday, isn’t it?

Snacks are an important part of any gathering, and since I’m doing the cooking, someone else is bringing the pre-meal offerings. But if it’s me making something for nibbling, I like a bit of variety and spice.

For something delicate and different, this Herb Flatbread from a long ago Gourmet magazine is a simple and delicious option. It’s good enough to eat alone, or topped with a thin slice of sharp cheese. It’s a bit too delicate to spread much on, but nice to have in a cracker basket.

For something really different to spread on your dinner rolls, or a good hearty cracker, this Roasted Red Pepper butter is an awesome option. It’s rich, with the sharp tang of roasted peppers, and could even turn a pan of mashed potatoes into a unique delight.

And if you want to really stretch your wings and offer something bold, spicy and off the beaten track, this fragrant nut and spice mix called Dukka is a wonderful option for an appetizer. A fragrant crush of nuts, cumin and coriander seeds and a little coconut, it makes for a good crunchy texture against soft bread that’s been dipped in olive oil.

The  most important aspect of any holiday gathering, though, is to relax, enjoy the day and the company and don’t sweat out every detail. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is full of warm smiles, plenty of laughter and lots of delicious food.

Dukka- middle eastern spice mix
From July 2008 Food and Wine magazine

1/4 c. each raw pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews
1/4 c. coriander seeds
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 T. cumin seeds
1/4 c. sesame seeds

In a 350 degree oven, roast the nuts until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Empty into bowl to cool slightly. In a skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from pan to bowl for cooling. Toast cumin and coconut until coconut is golden, 4-8 minutes. Cool with coriander. Toast sesame seeds until golden, 4-6 minutes. Cool separately.

In work bowl of food processor, combine nuts, coriander, cumin and coconut; pulse until coarsely chopped, or preferred consistency. Empty into large bowl and add sesame seeds, stirring to combine. Season with a little kosher salt and black pepper if desired. Keep in airtight container, either refrigerated or frozen.

Roasted Red Pepper Butter

1 c. room temp butter
7-oz jar roasted red pepper, drained and finely minced
2 t. milk
1 T. fresh chives, minced
1 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4. c. fresh grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Can be shaped into a log and chilled, or stored in a plastic container.

Hint: with the peppers, the finer you mince, the prettier and more spreadable the butter will be. I used a knife on mine but next time will use a food processor or chopper to get them even finer.

Herb Flatbread (from Gourmet magazine)
1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1-2 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil

Heat oven to 450 with a pizza stone on middle rack. Combine dry ingredients and herbs. Make well in center and pour in oil and water. Stir with spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead about 5-6 times to bring dough together. Can be divided into 2-3 small balls and rolled flat, or rolled out as one large circle. Drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with sea salt and more herb and transfer, parchment and all to heated stone. Bake until browned in spots and fragrant- time will depend on how thin dough is rolled. Remove from oven and cool (don’t cool on stone- it will continue to bake). Slice with pizza cutter and enjoy.

weekend time

November 20th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving. I’ve done my shopping and planning and am ready to cook, and eat and enjoy. I love Thanksgiving, especially the turkey and stuffing. I always buy a huge bird to insure plenty of leftovers, and there’s always a soup in the days after, or a few morning of making crunchy little cakes from leftover stuffing, or a frittata maybe, with some cranberries and bits of turkey mixed in.

Looking for a nice treat to start your holiday off right? How about a Dried Cherry Poppyseed Scone?

If you’ve got house guests coming, these delicious dried cherry scones are a perfect offering for a simple, but elegant start to your day. Heck, even without house guests, you should find a reason to put these on your weekend menu. They’re light and fluffy, with chewy cherries and the crunch and snap of poppy seeds. No cherries? Use cranberries, or even raisins. A wintery morning, chilly and bright can be made much nicer with the humming oven and the warmth of a fresh scone. Next to a fragrant cup of coffee or tea, I can’t think of a nicer way to wake up.

Dried Cherry Poppyseed Scones
from Tyler Florence, Real Kitchen

2 c. AP flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
3 T. poppyseeds
5 T. butter, cold
1 c. milk or cream
1 c. dried cherries

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place parchment on a cookie sheet.  Place cherries in a heat proof bowl. Boil water to vigorous bubbles and pour just enough in the bowl to cover the cherries. Stir to combine and allow to sit, stirring occasionally until the water is tepid and the fruit soft. Drain the fruit, reserving the juice.

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppyseeds. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. You want to leave larger pieces of butter. Make a well in the center and add the milk, stir to just combine everything, making sure you scrape across the bottom of the bowl. Toss the drained fruit with just enough flour to coat them lightly, then add to the dough, stirring carefully until just incorporated.

Lightly flour your countertop and turn the dough out. With your hands, shape into a square, roughly about 10″x12″ or so. With a sharp knife, bench scraper or spatula, cut the square into four equal portions, then cut each portion in half, corner to corner, to form triangles. Carefully lift the triangles with a spatula onto your prepared sheet. Alternately, you can scoop the dough straight from the bowl to the cookie sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Allow to cool.

For a glaze, combine reserved juice with about 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar and a little melted butter. Drizzle over scones before serving.

build me up, butternut

November 19th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

(photo from “That’s Yummy”)

We’re woefully into November’s gray and flat winter light. The cloud cover expanse across the sky is leaden and heavy and daylight begins to fade around 4:00pm, yet even in the best of midday light, the ability to take a good photo often is a crapshoot. I don’t really mind the changes that come around this time of year, this first adventure into winter, the shorter days and descent into wool sweaters, layers, warm socks and extra blankets on the bed. The coziness of it is good, it’s necessary, and there’s a lot of it that can be so soothing- like the leaping blue flame under the daily tea-kettle, the ritual of a warm steaming cup to carry me through the late afternoon; there’s the presence of the strands of tiny twinkling lights we’ve used to adorn certain areas of our home- the stairwell for those dark, dark mornings, the top of the cupboard in the kitchen, and the fancy festooned bakers rack in the corner of our kitchen.


The tiny lights are nice in those early mornings before the dawn when Mike is awake; it provides enough light to get the coffee pot going and the cat dishes filled without having that eye-burning glare that we encounter when first out of bed. The stairwell lights guide him safely down in the darkness. We put these lights up many years ago at Christmas time, and they’ve proven to be so useful that we never removed them. In those gloomy November afternoons they add a warm touch to our home, along with the singing tea kettle, and those steaming cups. Add a candle or two and you can chase those dark hours away a lot easier.

A good warm oven and simmering pot on the stove does that too. I recently came across a recipe for Butternut Squash Pasta, in Gourmet magazine’s Best of 65 Years cookbook. It was a simple process of cooking cubed squash then tossing it with garlic and pasta, but I thought to take it one step further and create an awesome squash puree to mix in with pasta, creating a saucy topping that clung to every single bite.

Problem was, as delicious as it tasted, it looked just ghastly. Imagine, brightly colored orange squash mixed with cooked whole wheat pasta. Oh gads…. it was homely as all get out, but tasted glorious and superbly like comfort in my bowl. I do recommend it, even if I can’t show you the result. Roast your halved butternut squash until it’s good and soft. Scrape the flesh into a bowl, add a little broth or milk to help thin it, then mash it smooth. You can whiz it in the food processor too. The resulting puree should be thick, close to the texture of canned pumpkin, and can be used like canned pumpkin, which, after all, is squash right?

Having the use of pureed squash on hand made it a cinch to whip up a batch of muffins too, and after finding a recipe for Whole Wheat Muffins with Pumpkin and Quinoa on Fork, Knife and Spoon, I knew those had to somehow come out of my oven in the near future. With a little trip towards the healthy side of muffins, these little beauties came out bouncy soft, only the slightest bite of sweet and full of chewy nibs of quinoa blended with the sweet taste of roasted squash.

Touched inside and out with toasted coconut, they had a lot going for them. A bite for breakfast, a quick pick me up snack or a nice late night treat before climbing under piles of blankets, they fill in all parts of your day with a compliment for your tummy. Follow the link to Kate’s blog  ( I know! Another Kate! ) for the original recipe. I doctored mine up to utilize what I had on hand for my version.

Whole Wheat Muffins with Quinoa and Squash

2 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/2 c. cooked quinoa
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/2 t. sea salt
1 c. cooked butternut squash
1 egg
3/4 c. buttermilk
3 T. oil
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 375 and spray muffin pans, or line with paper. You will get approximately 18 muffins.

To cook quinoa- measure one cup of water in a saucepan and place over medium burner. Rinse 1/2 cup of quinoa in a wire strainer under cold running water, shaking to rinse thoroughly. Place quinoa in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then scrape cooked quinoa onto a plate and spread out to cool.

When cooled, measure flour and quinoa into a large bowl. With your hands, gently toss together until blended, and quinoa appears the size of tapioca pearls. Add in baking powder, soda, spices and salt and mix thoroughly.

In another bowl, measure buttermilk, then whisk in syrup, egg, squash, oil and vanilla. Whisk together, then add to dry ingredients with coconut. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold ingredients together until incorporated. Do not overmix. Scoop into muffin tins, about 2/3 full and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until tops are browned and spring back when touched. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes or so, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

And without even realizing it, I’m more than halfway through NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. It’s proven to be way easier than I anticipated, but with 4-1/2 years of archives to wander through and re-introduce, I’m never at a loss for material.