06 August 2012

Summer Mango Cake

I love mangoes. Fresh, dried, pureed, ice cream, as salsa, frozen, on a stick, by the case, however I can get them. I realize that the mangoes we have here in the northern climes are not in the same league as say, from the islands, the pacific or India. But of the 3 variates I have been able to get my hands on, the common Red from Mexico, the large Haitian, or the so sweet Champagne (at least those are the names I see at the market), I will take any and all. Dried ones, without all the excess sugar and dyes, are my afternoon snack of choice. There are times that I have so much of them that I swear my skin is going to turn yellow.

When the fruit & veg market that I frequent had them on sale (5 for 5!) I couldn't resist as they are normally closer to 2$. They ran that sale for 2 weeks and there were mangoes everywhere in the kitchen. I wanted to try something new with them and decided on making a curd. There were some technical difficulties as I worked to get the right consistency, thickness and flavor, but the end result was well worth it. And what better way to show off a delectable mango curd than with a buttery cake, but beware the hot temperature of the day you make this as my frosting was slip sliding around and I had to keep chilling it down.

In honor of two wonderful, amazing women who had birthdays this last month and for all the ones coming up this month (and yes, I will include mine own in that group!!), here is a delicious summer cake with mango curd.

All-Purpose Butter Yellow Cake with Mango Curd and Butter Frosting

Cake adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (the kind in the cold section of the market in 1/2 gal)

350* F

Make sure oven rack is in the middle of the oven and heat to 350*. Lightly spray two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans or one 9 x 13 cake pan, then line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 - 6 mins. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed. Beat in the vanilla.

Reduce the speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture followed by half of the milk. Repeat with half of the remaining flour and then the remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour.

Give the batter a stir using a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and smooth the top. Drop the pans on the counter a couple of times to remove any large air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs attached, 20 - 25 for rounds, or 25 - 30 for sheet cake. Make sure to gently rotate halfway through baking.

Remove and let cool in the pans for 10 mins on wire racks. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, then flip onto the racks. Remove the parchment paper and flip upright to let cool completely before frosting.

Mango Curd

2 Mangoes, skinned, seed removed
2 eggs
3 yolks
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon

After removing the flesh of the mango from the seed, and skinning, puree until smooth.

Put the eggs, yolks & sugar into a double boiler or a bowl that fits over a pot of water. Whisk together, add in the puree and lemon juice, and then put over simmering water, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.  When the curd starts to thicken, roughly 5 - 8 minutes, switch back to the whisk, and cook until thick, whisking gently.

Remove from heat, strain into a glass or plastic container and cover surface directly with plastic wrap so that a skin does not form.

Refrigerate for several hours until ready to use.

Quick Butter Vanilla Frosting from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

2 tbsp heavy cream (again I used the coconut milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Stir the cream, vanilla and salt together in a small bowl until the salt dissolves. Beat the butter on med-high until smooth, 30 - 60 seconds. Reduce speed to med-low and slowly add the confectiners' sugar, beating until smooth, 2 - 5 minutes. Beat in the cream mixture, increase speed to med-high and beat until light and fluffy, 4 - 8 minutes. Chill to workable consistency, soft but not melting.

Putting it all together:

I made this as a 2 layer cake to keep it on the simpler side. Once all your parts are chilled and ready, decide what type of plate you are going to put this on.

Take a small amount of the frosting (about a tablespoon), and put it in the center of the cake plate. Take one of the cakes and turn it top side down and set it on the plate. If you have never done this trick, the frosting keeps the cake from moving around as you are putting everything together.

If you have an off-set spatula it will make the next steps easier. If not, use what you have with no worries.

Starting in the middle of the cake, put a healthy dollop of curd and smooth it out to within a 1/4 inch of the edge of the cake. Decide how much you want to have as your filling, keeping in mind that some will ooze out when the top layer is put on. Another trick that I just learned recently is to take and pipe a 1/4 inch circle of frosting around the edge of the cake and then put your filling in the center. The frosting keeps the filling from oozing out.

Top you filling with the other layer of cake, top side up. If your cakes came out too domed you can always remove that. The best way is with dental floss (UNFLAVORED!!!).

Once your cakes are together, do a crumb layer of frosting. This means to make a thin layer of frosting starting on the sides and then the top. After the crumb layer, build up your frosting on the sides and then the top, smoothing or making patters of your choice.

I had a lot of mangoes, so I took 2 and sliced the halves thinly and then layered the pieces off-set around the bottom to make a nice rim. The top of the cake has additional pieces twisted in half to form further decoration.

04 August 2012

quick ricotta stuffed squash blossoms

So the month of July kind of got away from me. I cooked and baked and made ice cream, but would forget to take photos. I have also had 4 blogs started but have not been able to finish them. I think between the heat/humidity (I mean who doesn't like sweating while they look at a catalog?), looking for a new job/school, and the general laziness that comes with the rare occasion of rest, working on the blog took a back seat.

In honor of general laziness, I offer you a quick appetizer/light beginning...this could even be a meal in itself if you get real lazy!

On one of our trips to the farmer's market, we discovered a new little stand. Everything this guy had was organic which was wonderful to see. Some of the stalls have quite a bit that is organic but not everything, or only a few things. Seems to depend on how large the farm is, and what they are offering. But back to our little organic guy. Everything he had was organic...it may not have been as big as some of the others but his produce was just as beautiful. He also had squash blossoms, which nobody else did.

As soon as I saw the blossoms, I knew I was going to get them, and as we were having my parents up to dinner that night, I thought this would make a perfect starter. Light, quick, easy, refreshing and oh so tasty! All of the herbs I used came from my garden, and I even contemplated making my own ricotta in a fit of craziness, but then rethought that. With all the amazing Italian deli's and small groceries around here, why would I add additional heat to my kitchen?

I did fairly loose, eyeball measurements, so feel free to add or subtract at your whim!

6 Fresh squash blossoms (make sure they are not wet, as that will tear the blossom)
6 - 8 tbsp ricotta
4 -5 tbsp fresh chopped herbs, your choice (I used mint, Thai basil, lemon thyme, oregano)
1 tbsp fresh chopped chives
Salt & Pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil

Lay your blossoms out so they are separated. The less you handle them the better, but you do want to make sure if any are damp that they dry so they don't rip when filling.

In a small bowl, mix ricotta with chopped herbs and chives. Add a light drizzle of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.

Take either a quart size zip bag or pipping bag with a med. small round tip (mine says #802), fold the sides down, and fill with the ricotta mix. Bring the sides back up and twist to push the ricotta down into the tip. If using the quart baggie, snip the corner off to create a small opening in which to pipe the mix. Be careful when you snip the end. If it is too big it defeats the purpose of making a pipping bag and just oozes everywhere!

Carefully insert the tip of the pipping bag into the blossom while holding onto the stem area. Squeeze the pipping bag gently and fill the blossom.

Chill until ready to eat or grab a cocktail and enjoy immediately!

06 July 2012

Old Fashioned Lemon-Blueberry Icebox Cake

So with all this lovely heat (read, not…) that we are having, I have been trying to come up with things that do not require turning on the oven or stove top. I’m okay with the grill, so that is still happening in our lives, but we have been having a lot of salads and cold veggies with hummus lately.  I have been seeing ideas for no-bake desserts, and had never made an Icebox cake before. So after looking at a beautiful strawberry one from theKitchn, a delectable chocolate wafer cookie one from Smitten Kitchen, and a ginger mascarpone one  plus others from Fine Cooking, I figured I had to try this, and what better day than the 4th of July.

 I decided to do my own take on this recipe, as I had a few food items I had to avoid due to certain people (too many strawberries can set off a migraine in one person, and another doesn’t like chocolate…seriously…makes you question the rightness of the world when someone says they don’t like chocolate!). But everyone agrees on lemon and blueberry, although I thought of another friend who isn’t here this time but can’t have citrus and had a moment of sadness that she couldn’t enjoy all the whipped creamy goodness of this. She, however, would definitely go for the chocolate wafer one.
Most recipes called for whipped cream or pudding/custard, or a combination.  Seeing as how I can no longer fathom the idea of pudding in a box, and I wasn’t about to turn on the stove to make curd, I did actually use a store-bought jar of lemon curd (I know, horror of horrors!). Although if I make this again, I think I will go ahead and make my own curd as I much prefer it. The jar curd is a bit sweet for my tastes, so I cut the amount of sugar that is added to the whipping cream and combined some with the curd to make a lemon cream. I think it could even be less sugar in the future. I also upped the amount of whipped cream to 4 cups from 3 as I was making the lemon cream thinking there would be some left over for other fruit…nope, not a spoonful!

Keep in mind that this is not, repeat NOT, a diet cake. Unless you are doing Atkins and then it might work?!? This is all whipped cream, although you could argue that the graham crackers and fruit keep it kind of healthy, or maybe follow the comment I heard one day that anything eaten standing up doesn’t count in the calorie department. I would skip all that, though, and just enjoy it for what it is: whipped creamy lemony goodness!

The concept of an Icebox cake is that as it sits in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, all those layers of cookie and cream soften and meld together creating a texture not unlike a French éclair or napoleon. My problem with that is that I would rather just eat the cream layers and not have the other part. I was pleasantly surprised when we took this out after 7 hours that the graham layers had softened nicely and thoroughly enjoyed the melding of cake-like layers with the cream and berries. Everyone was ready for dessert which meant a picture never was taken of a cut piece. If that happens again, I think I will just take a picture of the empty plate and crumbs.  As one person put it while licking her fork “Oh, yes, this is my kind of cake”!

Old Fashioned Lemon-Blueberry Icebox Cake

Old Fashioned Lemon-Blueberry Icebox Cake
Loosely adapted from various Icebox Cake recipes

2 pints fresh Blueberries, washed
4 cups whipping cream, divided
½ cup lemon curd
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
3 - 4 sleeves graham crackers (24-28 whole crackers)
½ pint raspberries
 Zest of 1 lemon, divided

Using either a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip cream until it is just at the stiff peak stage. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, and whip to combine.

Put 1 ½ cup of the whipped cream into another bowl and fold in the lemon curd to make the lemon cream.

Spread a thin layer of the plain whipped cream on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan or similar sized dish. Put down a layer of 6 graham crackers, 2 going horizontal and 4 going vertical. Cover with a layer of the lemon cream and then a light layer of berries. Layer 6 more graham crackers opposite of the first layer. Cover with plain whipped cream, sprinkle lightly with lemon zest and then berries. Repeat alternating lemon cream, blueberries, crackers and then plain whipped cream. You will end up with four layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top layer, and then decorate with remaining lemon zest, raspberries and a few blueberries.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until the crackers have softened completely.

30 June 2012

Easy Herb-Cheese Souffle

AKA Fluff in our house!

I realize that most everyone is in the middle of a heat wave at the moment, so this may not be the thing to make just now. But when you have a cooler night, give it a try!

So I'm sure some of you are thinking....Cheese Soufflé...this is what she considers easy? Yes, it is easy. If you have never made a soufflé, don't fret. If you have tried in the past and it didn't quite work, this will do it. This is also an easy recipe to play around with, adding different ingredients as you go. The biggest thing, if you have never made a soufflé, is to not be afraid. It will rise beautifully in the oven, come out big and fluffy and then settle as it cools. Do not be afraid of the fall!

If you have a Fannie Farmer cookbook then you might have seen the recipe, just didn't realize it was a soufflé, as it is called Cheese Fondue in the book. There is a Cheese Soufflé recipe that is also quite tasty. We just keep coming back to the Fondue one.  For those of you who might want the details, the book I have is The Original Boston Cooking School 1896, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, and is located on page 320. This book is different than the classic Fannie Farmer. It was printed with her notes in the margins on many recipes, and there are no actual temperatures given, just suggestions like slow oven or moderate hot oven, which can leave you flustered if you do not know what those equal.

If you don't already have one, get an oven thermometer. If you don't do a lot of baking in your oven, it will really help. If your oven is spot on for temp, then have it as backup, because ovens seem to change over time. Mine used to be perfect, now not quite as much, which means every now and then I put the thermometer in to double check.

Pictures do not due this justice. It is difficult to get the shot before it relaxes when coming from the oven, and some photos just don't look as appetizing as in real life! But everyone always raves for this, so you will just have to trust that!

Couple of notes:
You don't need to go out and buy a soufflé dish. If you have a 2.5 or 3 quart saucepan that can go in the oven use that. The dish or pan just needs to have high sides for the soufflé to rise.
When it comes to cheese, let your taste buds choose. Mild white & yellow cheddars are nice, as is Monterey jack. If you want more kick use a pepper jack. I have used many different kinds, depending on what is the cheese drawer. A favorite is an Irish cheddar, or Dubliner which gives a slight nuttiness to the flavor. We have even done a mix of cheeses; just make sure they all melt about the same.

Now for my other changes and additions.
•If we are doing only cheese, I always add some fresh grated nutmeg, roughly 1/4 teaspoon, and a couple of shakes of Tabasco sauce.
 •A favorite to add is diced smoked salmon, about 4 oz., added before the egg whites.
 •We have also cooked up mushrooms and onions to add, and done one with diced, sautéed summer squashes and onion. Make sure to let the water cook out before adding in to the egg mixture.

Keep in mind that when you add other ingredients, it makes the egg mixture heavier, which may be slower to rise and take a few more minutes to cook.

Herb-Cheese Soufflé

Herb-Cheese Soufflé (AKA Cheese Fondue)
Adapted from The Original Boston Cooking School 1896, by Fannie Merritt Farmer

1 cup scalded milk
1 cup soft breadcrumbs (about 1 1/2 to 2 pieces lightly toasted and run in a processor)
1/4 lb mild cheese cut in small pieces (roughly 1 cup)
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
2 or 3 egg yolks, beaten thick
2 or 3 egg whites, beaten stiff
2-3 tbsp. fresh chopped herbs, your choice (this one has lemon thyme, sage and flat leaf parsley)
1-2 tsp. Herbs Provence
pinch red pepper flakes

Oven 350*
Cook over low heat milk and butter until just starting a soft boil, being careful not to scorch the milk or have it start to separate. Add in the cheese and stir until smooth before adding breadcrumbs and herbs. Turn off heat, and using constant stirring, either with spoon, fork, or whisk (your preference), very gradually, with a slow, steady poor, mix in egg yolks. Keep the motion going as you don't want to end up with scrambled eggs.

Take 1/3 of the stiff egg whites and gently MIX it in to the cheese mixture. Take the other 2/3 and gently FOLD in.

Pour into a prepared dish (butter or spray). Bake 20 - 25 mins, until puffy and golden. If you like it firmer go 30 - 35 minutes.

27 June 2012

strawberry-rhubarb muffins

Gahhh...can I just say that not having internet access has been a royal pain in the muffin tin! I had this mostly ready to go before everything went dark! So, at last, here is a new recipe! Enjoy...I know we did!

At the farmer's market we were getting in all the beautiful delicious strawberries. Makes me wonder why I or anyone still buy strawberries from the store when I bite into these...juicy red berries that burst with intense flavor, it's a party in the mouth and half the box will never make it home! I have also been picking up rhubarb at the market over the past few weeks, which I then slice in the food processor, toss in a freezer bag and into the freezer. This will get me through various sweet and savory recipes during the next few months. (Sidenote...toss together a quick savory rhubarb compote: 2 c rhubarb, 1/2 diced onion, tlbs or so balsamic vinager, tlbs sugar, cup of water. Boil, reduce, great with crabcakes or grilled fish!)

I have this wonderful recipe for Blueberry muffins that was given to me by my mom and to her by my grandmother who found it in The Hartford Courant in 1956. It is one of those recipes that gets used so much no one has to look at the actual written card anymore. I have tweaked it over the years, however, to me this is the best muffin recipe and any changes I have made have only improved on its greatness! Not only is it wonderful in original form, but it also holds up well with changing the fruit to something other than berries. (What recipes do you have that have been passed down like this??)

Of course, strawberry rhubarb pie comes instantly to mind since I have all these lucious berries, but I wanted to try this combination in muffin form. Since my rhubarb had already been frozen, I also decided to add a light crumb topping to the muffin, which is not something I would normally think about, and even shy away from when I see that type of muffin in a store or bakery.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Muffins
Adapted from Blueberry Muffin recipe

385* to 400* F
(I tend to cook at the lower temp for a little more time. Seems to make the muffin more tender to me.)

3 cups unbleached flour + 2-6 tlbsp depending on how wet your mix is
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 cup almond or coconut milk
4 - 6 stalks rhubarb, sliced
1 cup strawberrys, rough chop

Crumble Topping of your choice or
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tlbsp cinnamon
4 tlbsp unsalted butter, softened

Grease your muffin tin or use cupcake liners

MIX: all dry ingredients together

In large (2 cup or more) measuring cup if possible, combine milk & oil, then beat in eggs. Make a well in dry ingredients, add wet and gently mix until just combined. Add extra flour a talbespoon at a time until mix is the consistancy you want. Keep in mind that this fruit mix does make the batter wetter, so you may want more flour than you think. Gently fold in fruit. Drop into prepared muffin tin.

To make the topping, in a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter, and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.

Bake 18 to 25 minutes, depending on temperture being used. As I said, I usually bake at 385* for almost 25 minutes. They come out the perfect light golden brown and springy to the touch.

05 June 2012

crispy lemon cookies

I stopped using ultra-refined white sugar a number of years ago. We still haven't given up sugar for other sweeteners totally, although I do use more Agave now and am learning to adjust it for certain baked goods. The sugar I do use is a natural cane sugar crystal, hasn't been bleached out or refined until all life is gone from it. Usually comes from a Florida Crystals package, which is where this recipe comes from. **NOTE** This is not advertising, just a fact of what I have on hand.

I have had the empty packaging of a sugar bag tucked between my flour canisters for a couple of months now because I have wanted to try the recipe on the back. The time to make these never seemed to be right...working on other recipes, requests for certain things, holidays, procrastination, etc. Today seems like it might work out, though.

These are delicious warm from the cookie sheet without any icing, and they are delicious with the icing, which just ups the lemon flavor. The next time I make these (and I definitely will do again), I will make the dough logs smaller, more like 1 inch dia. instead of 2. The cookie spreads as it bakes, and even though it is nice to have large cookies, smaller ones are easier to pack and share out...if you go for that sort of thing and don't go all blue and furry when the cookies come out!

For those who are raw cookie dough tasters (and isn't that all of us??), there are no eggs in this recipe, which means taste away, just make sure to save enough to bake!!!

crispy lemon cookies

cookie dough
  • 1 cup butter, room temp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (unbleached!)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp lemon extract (*see note in directions below)
lemon icing
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (aka confectioners')
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon (zest lemon before juicing!)
350* F

Cream the butter, then add sugar and cream until smooth, light & fluffy. Add flour, sour cream, baking soda & lemon extract and blend until smooth, but don't over beat. Divide dough in half, place each half on wax paper and roll into a 2-inch log, then freeze until firm. *I didn't have lemon extract so I used zest from 1/2 a lemon, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon, which, I feel, actually gives them a brighter flavor.

Remove 1 log at a time, slice dough into 1/8 inch slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until edges are golden, 14 to 16 minuets, remove, cool 1 minute then remove from sheet to rack. Drizzle with icing if desired. **The cookies will spread as they bake so give a little room between unless you don't mind them touching. Also, it is important to remove them from the sheet at the 1 minute mark as they crisp as they cool and become crumbly and hard to remove. A nice sharp metal spatula helps with this.

For icing: mix all ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cookies. Let icing dry before storing in airtight container.

01 June 2012

rosemary apricot cranberry bars

rosemary apricot cranberry bars

So we are fortunate to live where there is this awesome bakery, BAKED. Equally fortunate that we are only over in Redhook maybe once a week so we can't overindulge! That being said I do have both of their cookbooks (personally autographed, Thank You Mom!!!) and I will be adding the 3rd one when it comes out in the fall(?)...and yes, that is a shameless plug for them. During this last weekend, I wanted to make a cake for our Memorial Sunday get-together, and was going to do a version of their burnt sugar bundt cake, but, alas, I did not have everything. So paging through the book, I decided on the rosemary apricot squares, and realized, of course, I still didn't have everything or enough of some things, but I had (imagine deep movie guy voice)...SUBSTITUTIONS.

I have had the original square at Baked, and it is wonderful. But I have to say, my variation was pretty wonderful too, if the crumbs left behind on the platter from everyone is any indication.

I didn't have enough apricots for the full amount (recipe calls for 2 cups), but I did have some dried cranberries, and those two flavors complement each other well. I also was minus the pecans for the crumb topping, but I had cashews, which in my humble opinion actually tasted better!?! And while I am on the subject of pecans, folks, you can pee in a can, but you should only eat pecahns... :) I also added some lemon zest to the apricot/cranberry filling, which helped pop the flavor.

A few notes: I think it is better to under cook the shortbread by 5 or so minutes as when you put everything back in the oven, it will finish to a nice tenderness, and will not be overdone. I ended up needing more liquid when cooking the filling so that it wasn't a super sticky mass that went into the food processor, but you kind of have to eyeball that (I think I used an additional 2 tbsp of water). If you want more nuts in the crumb topping, I would increase the butter by a tablespoon so that it holds together. I also only had a 8x8 pan, so these came out a bit thicker than in the 9x9. What can I say, you make do with what you have!

rosemary apricot cranberry bars

Adapted from Baked Explorations

rosemary shortbread
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (preferably UN-bleached)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, minced
  • 12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
apricot-cranberry Filling
  • 1 1/4 cups dried apricots-unsulfered
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp Agave syrup or honey (I have used both)
  • 2 - 3 tbsp brandy (or use water for non-alcoholic)
  • freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
crumb topping
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/3  - 1/2 cup cashews, chopped (use more or less depending on your preference)
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
Make the shortbread

Lightly spray, then line with parchment paper (paper should overhang 2 sides) a 9x9 pan.

Whisk together flour, salt and rosemary in a medium bowl. In a mixer with the paddle, beat the butter with confectioners' sugar and vanilla at medium speed until light & fluffy (aprox. 2 min). Turn to lowest speed and slowly pour in flour mix. Scrape into prepared pan and press out into an even layer (you might need to lightly flour your hands). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350*F

Bake until crust is just lightly golden, 20 to 25 mins, rotating halfway through. Cool pan on wire rack. Leave oven on.

Make the filling

Place all the filling ingredients in a medium saucepan with the water and simmer for 40 - 50 minutes, or until the apricots are fork-tender and most of the liquid has evaporated or thickened. Remove from heat & stir to release steam. Scrape into a food processor and puree until smooth.

Make the crumb topping

In the bowl of a mixer with paddle, combine flower, brown sugar, nuts & salt. Mix on low for about 15 seconds. Add the butter and mix until a sandy crumb begins to form (about 1 min). At this point the crumb can be covered and put in frig until ready to use.


Spread the filling over the shortbread, then sprinkle the topping over the filling. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping has lightly browned. Cool for at least 30 mins. then lift out using the paper overhang, and cut into bars. Can be stored in frig, wrapped/covered for up to 3 days (if it makes it that long!).

29 May 2012

Not Another Food Blog?!

Before starting, I researched cooking/baking blogs...over 137,000,000 and counting! I realize I am not the first person to ever have had this idea of writing about what I bake and cook. So how do I make myself different? How do I make myself standout so that people want to read what I write about? I would say that 99% of those who write about food have the same idea...to take something they love to do and put it out for others to enjoy. It really comes down to what you want to read about, and I hope that my little addition to the millions out there becomes one you will look at and follow.

We all (or at least most of us) have copies of cooking magazines and books. In my particular kitchen they might even range into the hundreds. It can be hard not to pick up the latest edition of one when the pictures look so good...you think to yourself, sure I'll make that, and then sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. What many of us know, though, is that sometimes those pictures can be deceiving...they may look amazing, but the recipe may as well be in ancient Greek. I know that in order for a recipe to make it into a book or magazine, it goes through countless tests and trials. Sometimes things come out perfect and others make you wonder just who was doing the testing. We are the true final testers because even after it has gone to print, we are the ones who actually decide if it is a keeper or compost.

Part of the cookbook shelves

What I want to do is share and discuss recipes from magazines and books that I have and you might, as well as from the plethora of recipes that are online in blogs and food sites.  I know, now you're asking yourself "what makes her think she can do better than all the people who put together the book or magazine in the first place?" I'm not saying I can do better, just offering another viewpoint.

SMALL side note about my cooking/baking...I have a very difficult time following a recipe exactly as written. I can't help it...I just look at recipes and my brain instantly starts adding, slashing and changing. I have learned, though, to always write down what I do, which means my books and magazines are full of notes and ideas. I love to cook and bake. I've worked in many a professional kitchen, bartended, and waited tables at some great and not so great resturants. I almost went all the way with culinary school, then realized I didn't want to cook for the masses and what they wanted, but for my nearest and dearest and what I wanted.

I don't believe in overly fussy cooking.  If a recipe calls for ingredients that I can't easily get or won't use again, then why use it? Cooking and baking should be accessible. We are everday people, on a budget, just like you.

So here's to something new and enjoyable, and in the words of the great Oscar Hammerstein, "Let's start at the very beginning, A very good place to start..."