Breathe, savor, smile

Why do you cook?  Because you are hungry?  Because you like to eat and feed others?  Maybe you have too much zucchini. There are plenty of reasons why we cook…

Cooking is my therapy, it’s a form of meditation.  I can get lost in the repetitive process of chopping, stirring, or kneading; it zones me out and relaxes. I like to think I’m a better person because I cook… but that’s purely subjective.

Then, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, the results of all this cooking. Eating is our big reward.  Before a meal I like to set the table and arrange the food so that it is visually appealing. There are times when I’m famished or in a hurry and need a reminder to take a deep breath and slow down.

When I seriously savor my food I know I eat less and enjoy it more.  Such is the case with a recent batch of transformative Fig Bars.  Though nothing fancy, they are definitely meant for savoring.

Odd-shaped dried figs have a perfumed honey flavor with little seeds that can be distracting.

Peculiar dried figs

However, when  teamed with complementary partners they magically morph into something far different. Once baked, you realize these mysterious understated little packages are well worth a meditative moment.

At first bite, the bar is reminiscent of a well-built brownie. Notice how it shatters on top. But there’s no butter here and no heavy hit of chocolate—merely enough cocoa to create a balanced, ethereal union with the figs.

Fig Cocoa Bars

A citrusy bite of orange punctuates and brings the flavors fully alive. The center is moist and slightly gooey, thanks to those crazy dried figs, the seeds fade and blend beautifully with the candied walnuts.

There are times when sweets fill a momentary gap: a quick breakfast bite, perhaps a snack during the day or an easy dessert. These bars provide all that plus a good dose of fiber, nutrition and energy.

While you are at it, take a moment to breathe, savor, and smile.

Fig Cocoa Bars

Ingredients
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup less 2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 cup dried figs, chopped (approx. 10 medium )
½ cup candied walnuts, chopped

Directions

  1. Coat an 8×8” pan with baking spray or line with non-stick foil. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar blending until thick; continue to beat in the brown sugar. Then the vanilla.
  3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and mix into bowl along with orange zest. Stir in the figs and nuts, don’t over blend.
  4. Spread batter evenly into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until top is evenly browned but not overbaked. Cool for 10 minutes. Cut into portions while warm. Yield: about 15 bars.

Let Them Eat Cake!

Back on the blueberry trail again… going into the fall this year’s berry crop was incredibly abundant and they have just kept on coming well into winter.

Blueberries are durable,  so low in maintenance I suspect purveyors and markets love them, too. Packaged well, the nutritious bursts of flavor will hold over 2 weeks in the fridge or freeze easily for later use.

I decided it was time to use up the last of my current supply and opted for a very simple blueberry snack cake.

 

Such a basic little cake, there isn’t really much to it—just enough batter for the luscious berries to reign supreme in a 7” springform or 8”x8” baking pan.

Toppings are optional.  I used a little old-fashioned crumble left from baked apples, but cinnamon-sugar or a sprinkle of turbinado finish it nicely, too.

Blueberry snack cake

It’s the sort of moist, multi-purpose cake that stands in for cheery morning coffeecake, as a sweet afternoon pick-me-up with tea or coffee, or a tempting dessert dabbed with sweetened whipped cream.

Blueberry Snack Cake

Ingredients
1 cup AP flour (or ¾ cup AP + ¼ cup whole wheat flour)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp each salt and nutmeg
1 cup blueberries
1 egg
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
Topping Options:  Crumble: 2 Tbsp oats, ¼ tsp cinnamon 3 tsp brown sugar, 2 tsp melted butter; Cinnamon-Sugar: ¼ cup granulated sugar plus 1 tsp cinnamon.  1 Tbsp turbinado sugar; or Confectioners’ sugar.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 7” springform or 8×8” pan with baking spray.
  2. Prepare topping. For Crumble, combine and press all together to form a crumbly mixture.  For Cinnamon Sugar, combine sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  3. In medium mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.  Add the berries.
  4. Separately combine egg, sugar and butter and quickly add to the dry, it will be thick.
  5. Spread into pan and gently level the top.  Sprinkle with topping and bake 35-40 minutes, until it separates from the edges of pan and is set in the center.  Rest on rack for 10 minutes, release and remove springform, cool.  Cut into portions. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serves 4-6.

Cheese Cheers

This past year I delved deeper into the fascinating world of cheesemaking.  You could say it all started with the Instant Pot and the Yogurt Setting.

I was a convert once I discovered that a delicious, tangy yogurt could be had by merely filling the Instant Pot liner with milk plus a little leftover yogurt and pressing the Yogurt Setting.  Even better, I could split the yield and have yogurt plus a batch of thick rich labneh.

Cheesemaking is an addictive, ancient process.  I wondered how the first person living in a cave felt when they figured out that sour milk could result in delicious cheese.

Once I mastered yogurt I wanted to know more, too. I tinkered with fresh cheeses like paneer, ricotta, feta, mozzarella, cheese curds, queso blanco and queso fresco.  Each was its own rewarding surprise.

Along the way I gathered up essential tools and supplies—many of which I already had, like sieves, strainers and cheesecloth.  For cultures, molds and other products, New England Cheese Making Supply Co became a helpful and reliable site. They focus on education with plenty of helpful resources, recipes, and tutorials for those who are just getting started.

My latest big step was obtaining a cheese press. It opened the door to more complex cheeses  requiring a variety of processes and aging stages. My next candidate along the cheesemaking spectrum would be Caerphilly, a starter cheese from Wales known for its forgiving character and shorter aging period.

Behold! Caerphilly freshly ripened

Caerphilly is a simplified cheddar style cheese that presses at 20 pounds for 16 hours and needs only 4 to 5 weeks of aging (some cheeses age for years!).  I halved a larger recipe from a Gavin Webber video, who maintains a popular You Tube channel.

The recipe came together without incident and the new cheese press made it look like I knew what I was doing! After 3 days of drying time, it went into its ripening box to age. The Caerphilly was ready to sample in 25 days. As I cut into its pale gold rind, I was surprised to see the interior became paler and creamier toward the center and displayed its characteristic holes. The rind had a slight nuttiness; the interior was not too salty with a firm texture and mild cheddar flavor.

Caerphilly holiday cheese feature

Caerphilly is such an agreeable cheese, it goes with just about anything.  On a cheeseboard, it is the star along with a Cambozola Triple Cream blue cheese and aged Gouda.  To round out the display I tucked in sliced salami, imported olives, almonds and crackers—and rounded it out with holiday favorites, Moroccan fruitcake and cranberry sauce.

Fruitcake worth considering

Old fashion fruitcake tends to get a bad wrap due to its tooth-aching inclusion of sweet candied fruits and such.  Here’s a game changer that will get your attention and become a requested addition on any  table—especially alongside holiday specialty meats and cheeses.

When this moist, easy to assemble Moroccan fruitcake was demonstrated on Martha Bakes recently I knew wanted to give it a try. Helen Goh, baker with London’s Ottolenghi restaurants shows how easy it is to create her big flavored creation.  The cake’s complexity is rooted in a combination of plump dried fruits soaked in dark tea and given a jolt with an exotic ras el hanout spice blend.

Moroccan Fruitcake

I love everything about this bread from the jam packed assortment of figs, prunes, apricots, raisins and dates to the big flavors of toasted cumin and coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and paprika.

As mentioned, the secret is to soak the dried fruit in advance to fully plump and activate flavors; I prefer a fine Puer tea, but Assam is recommended.  You’ll note there is no fat used in this recipe either—and it is not missed.

Admittedly, the first time I tried a rich moist slice early in the morning I was not prepared for the impact. The distinct cumin flavors were front and center—near jarring on my sleepy taste buds.

With that in mind, I set about making the fruitcake again—this time with a modified spice blend that omitted the cumin but retained the red pepper.  I also took Goh’s suggestion to add a little whole grained flour and included ½ cup buckwheat flour. (I also swapped out self rising flour for AP flour and baking powder).

Fruitcake, take 2

Side by side, I preferred the original bread.  I missed how beautifully the bright spices and dried fruit mingled together. For personal choices, I’ve kept both options in the recipe below. This truly depends on taste and how you plan to use it.

If you wish, spread thick slices with butter, or toast it first.

Moroccan Fruitcake

Inspired by Moroccan Fruitcake as demonstrated on Martha Bakes by Helen Goh, baker from London’s Ottolenghi restaurants.

Ingredients
2½ cups dried fruit: ½ cup each diced apricots, figs, prunes or dates, raisins or cranberries
1 cup hot strong dark tea, Assam, Puer, etc.
1½ cup AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
2 tsp ras el hanout (see below)
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk, approximate, to thin as needed

Instructions

  1. Ahead, in medium bowl combine dried fruits, pour hot tea over all. Cover, let stand 2 hours or overnight to plump and absorb tea.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray with nonstick baking spray and line 8 ½ x 4 ½” loaf pan with parchment with 1 ½ inch overhang.
  3. In mixing bowl, sift flour and baking powder, add salt, the spice blend, sugar, and combine.
  4. Stir in the dried fruit and any remaining liquid; add the egg and combine. Stir in milk as need to bind; it should be thick.
  5. Spoon into baking pan, bake until tester comes out clean, 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, turn out on rack to cool.
    Slice and spread with salted butter; also good toasted. Store at room temperature well wrapped for 3 days. Serves 6-8

Note: watch for signs of early browning on top as the bread tends to burn easily. Cover with foil as needed to protect the top.

Ras el hanout

Toast 1½ tsp coriander seeds and ¾ tsp cumin seeds and grind with ½ tsp coarse sea salt.
Add ½ tsp each coarse ground black peppercorns and crushed red pepper flakes and grind. Combine mixture with ¼ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp paprika, ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp dry ginger, ½ tsp cardamom. Makes about 2 Tbsp

Modified spice blend: ½ tsp coriander, ¼ tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and ground red pepper flakes

Cranberries, meet Apples

Ah beautiful cranberries,  ruby red jewels of the holiday season…

Courtesy Oregon Cranberry Growers Assn.

It’s too bad that cranberries tend to receive little more than a cursory nod when cast in their limited role as a wobbly sauce —several circles down from the holiday turkey.  If real lucky, they might be hung out to dry on a string draped around the Christmas tree.

I decided to give cranberries a chance, this time as a co-star with another seasonal favorite, the Honeycrisp apple (or any other sweet-crisp variety).  Anyone who has played with cranberries knows they can be quirky.  They are hard, tart, and when cooked have their own thickening power.  On the other hand, Honeycrisp apples are full of flavor, crisp, bright and juicy—they could go a long way to elevating cranberries beyond their obscure part as a bit player.

This beautiful Crostata if very similar to the Stone Fruit Galette in my Counter Cuisine cookbook.  If you have taken a look, you know that it is a hand formed pie mounded with fresh fruit. It also bakes in about 30 minutes.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

The trick here is to cook the apples and cranberries just long enough to soften them but still retain their shape and unique attributes.

Apples and near popping Cranberries

The best way to pull this off is to briefly cook the filling ahead. The hand formed pastry can be prepped ahead, too. Then, it’s a simple matter of assembling it all and baking the crostata off until bubbly and golden brown.

A little pastry with your fruit

The result: a crisp pastry bundle wrapped around a tender-fresh filling near bursting with holiday flavors.

Apple Cranberry Crostata

Ingredients
1 recipe Hand Formed Pastry (below)
1 Tbsp butter
2-3 Honeycrisp or other apples, peel, core, cut into ½” slice or chunks, @ 3 cups
1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 orange:  1 Tbsp juice, 2 tsp zest
1 Tbsp flour
¾ to 1 cup raw cranberries
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Glaze: 1 Tbsp melted and strained marmalade (optional)

Instructions

  1. Prepare pastry and chill at least 30 minutes, up to 2 days.
  2. For filling, heat butter in wide pan over medium. Toss in apples to coat, add the spices and sugars to melt. Add the orange zest and juice, cook 1 minute.
    Remove from heat, sprinkle flour over the fruit and gently stir to combine all. Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, lower heat and cook 2-3 minutes, until thick and fruit just begins to soften. Remove and cool well, 1- 2 hours. Filling can be chilled and brought to room temperature before proceeding.
  3. To assemble, roll out pastry on floured parchment into 12” free formed round. Set pastry and parchment on baking sheet.
    Mound prepared filling onto pastry with slotted spoon, higher in center. Allow 2” border to fold over fruit and contain it. Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
  4. Bake 375-400°F for 25-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly and pastry is golden brown. If desired, brush fruit top lightly with marmalade glaze for extra shine. Cool well. Slice and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 4 to 6
Hand-Formed Pastry

3  Tbsp each butter and vegetable shortening spread ½” thick, freeze 15 mins
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp ice water

Whisk flour and salt in med bowl. Dice the cold shortening and butter into ½ cubes and cut into flour with 2 knives or a pastry blender, until pieces are the size of small peas.
Add 3 Tbsp ice water and stir with a fork until the flour is moist and begins to hold together. Add a few more drops of ice water into bottom of bowl if needed. Gather up dough and gently shape into a ball and flatten into a disk. Roll out as needed or wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill up to 2 days.

Half-time Biscotti

No, this is not about football food—although that is a possibility. Today, we are talking about super-friendly biscotti that’s made in less than half the usual time.

Given that biscotti loosely translates to “twice-baked” in Italian, the second bake was originally meant to protect cookies for longer term storage—by further drying them.

Ginger Cardamom Biscotti

In my opinion, biscotti is generally defined by a slight eggy flavor, mild sweetness, and crumbly texture. It’s true I’ve never met a biscotti cookie I didn’t like, but frankly there are times when a frequently hard and dry biscuit is not what I’m after.

I wondered what would happen if I reworked my favorite biscotti elements and baked them only once? To get there, I’d include a little fine cornmeal or polenta for character and crunch, lace them with the sweet nuttiness of toasted almonds, and weave in floral notes from dried apricots.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Rather than fuss over the patting, shaping, and cutting steps required for traditional long fingers, I’d further expedite the process and go with quick, rustic rounds.

The Outcome:  A short and sweet labor of love—and delicious, dippable cookie.

Short & Sweet Biscotti

Ingredients
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal or fine polenta
½ tsp each baking powder and baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 beaten egg, divided
1 Tbsp milk, divided
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp each almond and vanilla extract
¼ cup dried apricots, chop
¼ cup toasted almonds, coarse chop

Egg wash: 2 tsp of the beaten egg + 2 tsp of milk; 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Oil or line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  2. On waxed paper, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg, remove 2 tsp of it and set it aside for the egg wash. Remove 2 tsp milk and add to the egg wash. Whisk milk into egg in bowl, then whisk in the sugar until light. Add the extracts.
  4. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the apricots and nuts. Shape into a round mass. (If the dough is soft, chill it 20-30 minutes until firm.)
  5. Divide the dough in half. With floured hands shape each into ¾” rolls. Cut into ¾” lengths and set upright pieces on baking sheet; they tend to spread slightly. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated (or cinnamon-flavored) sugar.
  6. Bake until cookies are set, shiny and browned,18-20 minutes. Cool on rack. Yield about 20 cookies

Manageable Muffins

I’m in food management mode.  My fridge has stopped working and while waiting for parts and repair I’m keeping it simple by relying on the most stable foods and meals.

My tiny backup cooler/fridge takes limited perishables like milk, eggs, cheese, and perhaps a ready made meal or two. So, there’s nothing like a good challenge to get the creative juices flowing.

Applesauce Muffins

For some reason I had several kid-sized servings of applesauce in the pantry. Turns out, 2 of these cups are just enough to make a small batch of  6 delicious applesauce muffins.

These fall-flavored muffins should hold at least 3 days without refrigeration, just long enough to safely polish them all off. Thus far, they have been a welcome touch for breakfast, snacks… even dessert.

The muffins are inspired by a larger recipe at Mel’s Kitchen Café. They cleverly begin by giving rolled oats a quick softening soak with other wet ingredients. Rather than melted butter, I used shelf-ready coconut oil for a light floral background note.

The wet mixture is then dumped into the dry ingredients. The flours can be your choice: gluten-free, whole grained, etc.  I used partial all-purpose for max leavening power, plus a touch of recent favorite, buckwheat flour.  Additions such as dried cranberries or raisins are also combined with the dry ingredients.

Safe and Sane Muffin

The batter is quickly blended and portioned into a 6-cup lined muffin tin (a large ⅓ cup scoop works beautifully) and bake approximately 18 minutes. To avoid tough or dry muffins, the big caution is to not overmix or overbake.

Mine were/are moist, with just enough texture from the oats and dried cranberries for plenty of flavor, fiber, and food value.

Small Batch Applesauce Muffins

Modified from Mel’s Kitchen Café

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp coconut oil or butter, melted
3 Tbsp sugar
¼ cup AP flour
2 Tbsp whole wheat or buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with liners or grease the muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together the oatmeal, applesauce, egg, vanilla, coconut oil and sugar and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, cranberries or raisins if using. Make a well in the center and pour in the applesauce mixture. Stir until just combined; don’t overmix or the muffins will be dense and dry.
  4. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter evenly among the 6 muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove the muffins to a rack to cool completely. Yield: 6 muffins

Quintessentially laid back

I can’t believe I haven’t yet posted on Key Lime Pie, a favorite of many, including me. Once you’ve had a taste of its tart-sweetness, just thinking about this luscious pie makes your mouth water.

Key Lime Pie

This is a recipe that comes from my cheffing days based out of Florida—where  small, flavorful Key limes are readily available. If not, no worries, just substitute bottled Key lime juice or regular limes. It really doesn’t matter—it’s always good.  For a tropical climate with a laid back attitude, this legendary pie is one that everyone can wrap their minds around.

It’s a curious pie that hasn’t changed much in decades. One of its quirks comes from the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. The knowledge that acid combined with evaporated milk could yield a thick filling was a boon to those living on the water or in remote locales. No need to fret over fresh milk or cream, and the addition of sugar in the canned milk made it even easier.

Chilled Out 

Still, there are many versions of Key lime pie.  I like to lighten the filling just a bit with a couple of  beaten egg whites.  An optional sour cream topping can introduce an interesting counterpoint to the sweetness of the pie.  Also included, a graham cracker crust alternative that bakes for only three minutes in the microwave.

Most Key lime pie lovers would agree that it is perfectly good morning, noon, or night—anywhere there’s a cool breeze and a little shade.  At times, I’ve been known to get further carried away by making candied lime slices ahead for garnish points. But that’s another story.

Key Lime Pie

Ingredients
1 recipe Graham Cracker Crust, baked (below)
Filling
1 – 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is good)
¼ cup Key lime juice (6 small), bottled Key lime juice, or fresh lime juice
1 tsp grated lime zest
2 eggs, separated
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Optional:  Topping: 1 cup sour cream, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla; lime slices

Instructions

  1. Ahead bake the crust. Pre-heat oven to 325-350°F.
  2. For the filling, whisk condensed milk, lime juice and rind in a bowl to blend. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and thick.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the whites until soft peaks form, sprinkle on sugar and continue until stiff. Gently fold into lime mixture.
  4. Pile filling into the pre-baked shell and bake 15 minutes to set; remove to rack to cool while making the topping. If not using, bake a total of 30 minutes.
  5. For topping, gently combine sour cream, sugar, and vanilla and spread over the warm pie. Bake the pie with topping an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Cool and chill well. Slice into wedges and serve with a lime slice. Yield: 8 slices.

Graham Cracker Crust
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (10-12 graham crackers)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
⅓ cup melted butter

  1. Spray a 9″ pie plate with cooking spray.
  2.  For the crust, combine ingredients and pat into pie plate; chill for 15 minutes.
  3.  Bake the crust in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes, or in 375°F oven 6-8 minutes, until firm and crisp. Set aside to cool.

In Defense of Fat

This is a follow up to the previous post on keto-friendly Tomato Sauce.  In the process of developing and writing about the sauce from a higher fat, low carb perspective I realized my approach to fat has changed.

There was a time when fat was considered the enemy and popular nutrition made a shift away from fatty foods to no-fat, fat-free, and low fat alternatives. It took quite a while before we could accept that this wasn’t a solid nutritional solution and substituting fat for sugar or other chemical derivatives had its own problems. So I avoided fat as much as possible.

Somewhere along the line I finally grasped the concept that fat serves a purpose. I knew that fat made things taste better, but still held out, looking for ways to up my flavors without fat.  Then, I slowly and selectively eased unsaturated oils (and yes, butter) back into my cooking and noticed improved appearance, texture and flavor—in everything from salad dressing to cookies and cakes.

Fats serve many purposes. Current science tells us we need good fats for energy, that some vitamins and minerals actually need fat for the body to absorb and process them; that fatty acids can fight depression, improve eye care, and brain health.  Fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, protect our organs, and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It gets confusing when sorting out the good from the bad fats. Rule of thumb on daily intake: 20-35% of total calories. Other than manufactured trans fats, it’s all good in moderation. Moving from best to worst: monounsaturated fat (15-20% of daily calories), polyunsaturated fat (5-10%), saturated fat (less than 10%), trans fats (none).

Take tahini for instance.  It’s a nut butter made from sesame seeds that’s high in omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat.  (1 tablespoon has 89 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbs, 8 grams fat, 2 grams fiber.)

It is all relative.

Tahini is not an oil, but it is oil-rich and a fortress of nutritional value. It is loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins B and E, and minerals including copper, phosphorous, selenium, iron, zinc, calcium. It’s good for the blood, bones, and the body, plus it aids in fighting heart disease and cancer.  Call it pro-active.

Here’s a quirky example of a bar that turns a simple sweet into an nutritional powerhouse.

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

It’s built with bland white beans, rich in minerals including potassium, and fiber for structure. Tahini is included for nutty richness, fiber, and moisture.  Chocolate looks like a candidate for flavor, but we opt for a small amount of cocoa powder.  It’s all we need, we can utilize tahini’s flavorful oil base to enrich the cocoa and bring it fully alive.

The result: a moist, mysterious fiber-rich bar with all the charm of a light butterscotch-amped blondie laced with cocoa nuttiness for sex appeal. What’s not to love?

Tahini Cocoa-Bean Blondies

Ingredients
⅓ cup AP flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
15 oz can white beans, rinse & drain, @ 1 cup mashed
1 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup each brown and granulated sugar
½ cup tahini
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp demerara sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Line 8×8” pan with foil and spray well.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa power, baking powder and salt, set aside
  3. In 1 cup microwaveable measure, melt butter, stir in sugar, heat 30-60 seconds to melt. Transfer to mixing bowl and cool briefly.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  5. Meanwhile, mash beans well and set aside.
  6. Stir the tahini into the cooled butter/sugar mixture. Whisk in the eggs, then vanilla. Stir in the beans. Mix in the dry ingredients to lightly combine.
  7. Evenly spread batter into baking pan and sprinkle top with demerara sugar.
  8. Bake 20-30 minutes until set in center. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove foil and bars to rack and cool 10- 15 minute longer. Cut into bars; these should be light and moist but not gooey. Store lightly covered in fridge. Yield 12-16 bars

If forks could talk

This morning I pulled my kitchen apart looking for a fork, a small insignificant fork of little value to anyone but me. I hadn’t thought about it for a while, and suddenly I needed to see it and feel it in my hands.

Oneida Enchantment

When I was in high school I collected an entire set of Oneida silverware with Betty Crocker coupons clipped from box tops and packages of General Mills products. I even saved appetizer forks and iced tea spoons. When I married, I considered this part of my dowry. We used the flatware regularly; it presided over family dinners and celebrations and even spent time in the picnic basket.

Most of the pieces have found new homes or gotten lost, but two appetizer forks remain. When I traveled with a chef’s bag, the forks always came along for backup service touches. They have had quite a life and contributed greatly to food outcomes. In my opinion, they make everything taste better, from shrimp cocktail to olives… and fresh fruit cups.

Fork with Fruit

I’ve been making lots of mixed fruit bowls lately. I like having a combination of fruit cut up, stashed in the fridge, and ready to eat. Once prepared, it’s on standby to go with morning cereal, for a mid-day snack, or in the evening as a refreshing dessert.

The secret to a good fruit bowl is fresh citrus; it seeps into the flesh of fruit pieces and brings them alive. Not only does it provide a bright punch of flavor, it adds moisture and helps keep fragile fruit from browning.

Mixed Fruit

For a well balanced mixture, use a variety of colors, flavors and textures. If more sweetness is required, add a handful of dried fruit such as figs, apricots, dates, or even crystallized ginger. When softened, they blend with the fruit liquid into a beautifully infused syrup.

Mixed Fruit Bowl

Ingredients
citrus: 1 orange or small grapefruit
1 apple and or pear
1 nectarine or other stone fruit
1 cup blueberries or other berries, sliced if large
½ cup dried fruit, figs, dates, apricots, prunes, crystallized ginger

Instructions

  1. Cut citrus into bite sized pieces, include any accumulated juices.
  2. Cut up remaining fruit, leaving skin on if not tough, trim away any core and seeds.
  3. Toss all and blend for at least 20 minutes. Will hold 2-3 days. Serve 3-4.