Tag Archives: butter

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars

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I got a call from my dad last Tuesday saying my grandma had become unresponsive. The nurse told my dad and his siblings that she would most likely pass in the coming days.  I asked my dad to call me as soon as she passed away. I waited for the call. It was excruciating. By the end of the day Thursday there was still no change. By then, I had become extremely anxious and wasn’t sleeping well. I needed to numb the pain and not deal with my feelings. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I started to eat and didn’t stop until Saturday night.  I ate potato chips, ice cream, pizza, chocolate and cookies. I couldn’t shove the food in fast enough to fill the hole.  I hadn’t eaten like that in years. I actually went to bed Saturday night feeling sick. My dad called Sunday morning to tell me that my grandma passed away Saturday night with several of her kids by her bedside. And just like that, the bingeing was over. Now that my grandma was gone, I could let myself feel the pain of losing her. I wanted to go for a run and process my grief while listening to music. It was the most nurturing thing I could think of to do for myself. I blared Beyonce in my earbuds and started to run, all the while thinking about my grandma’s life. It wasn’t an easy one, but I hope that she had true moments of joy and contentment.
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This recipe is an Ina Garten one that I tweaked simply because I had apricot jam in my refrigerator that I wanted to use. I love the combination of almond and apricot, especially when almond extract is involved. Of course, you can easily swap out the almond butter for peanut butter and use strawberry jam in lieu of the apricot jam if you want a straight-up classic combination. But it’s fun to try new flavors, and if you haven’t experienced the almond/apricot pairing, I encourage you to try this. Even if you’re not a seasoned baker, it’s a very approachable recipe.  It also feels a bit autumnal, which is absolutely perfect for this week.

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten

Yield:  24 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups creamy almond butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups apricot jam
2/3 cups almond slivers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x13x2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla and almond extract, eggs, and almond butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the almond butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
5. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven.
6. Sprinkle with almond slivers and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely, and cut into squares.

 

Roasted Tomato Croques

DSC_5061I can still remember the sublime experience of eating a Croque Monsieur for the first time.  A friend and I were on holiday traveling through Europe while studying abroad in England.  We took the Chunnel from London to Paris, where we made romantic plans to meet some other friends at the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I knew nothing about serious traveling, let alone traveling with a large backpack the size of another human strapped to your back.  In my 20-year old naiveté, I had no hesitations about traveling through 6 countries in a span of 3 weeks—none of which were English-speaking countries.  I bought my Berkeley Guide Europe ’97 (which still sits proudly on my bookshelf), tightened my rose-colored glasses, and away we went.
DSC_5032I think back on my time traveling around Europe from time and time, and am astounded at how casually I approached everything.  My friend and I arrived in Paris and thought it made the most sense to try and find lodging for the night.  I can’t imagine traveling anywhere in today’s world without first researching prices, neighborhoods, etc., and then BOOKING A PLACE TO STAY.  We nonchalantly began calling hostels listed in our guide from the Paris train station, and eventually found one within our price range.  After a decent night’s sleep (with my passport tied around my neck and tucked into my pajamas), we headed out to explore the City of Lights.
DSC_5040Of course, I was a poor student back then and didn’t really care that I had very little money to spend while traveling.  The important thing was the opportunity to be able to travel to these incredible countries, and not so much what we would be able to afford and not afford to do once we arrived.  My friend and I agreed that since we were on a limited budget, we would stick to eating fruit, baguettes and jam for the majority of our meals—all of which were extremely cheap at any market—and then treat ourselves to one meal per city (roughly every 2-3 days).  Again, for my 20-year-old self, this did not feel like a huge sacrifice.  And it had a huge upside!  Every REAL meal we ate tasted like manna from heaven.  Which brings me to my meal in Paris.  We had been walking around all day, seeing the sights and taking in the sounds while a light mist engulfed the city.  By dinnertime, we were wet, tired and hungry.  We had no idea where to go for a reasonably priced dinner in Paris.  We eventually stumbled upon a brasserie that looked warm, inviting, and best of all, cheap.  I ordered a Croque Monsieur, not because I knew what it was, but because I remember the description mentioning ham and cheese, which sounded familiar to my Midwestern palate.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this dish, it is essentially a ham and cheese (usually Emmental or Gruyère) sandwich on white bread.  However, what makes this dish stand out is the béchamel sauce that is added to the sandwich, as well as the extra cheese that is sprinkled on top.  The entire sandwich is then broiled for a minute or two to create a beautifully golden, crunchy crust.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.
DSC_5048I saw this recipe for Roasted Tomato Croques in a recent issue of Food & Wine and immediately tore it out to add to my recipe file.  I’m going to go ahead and call it a summer version of the original, and I really like the fact that it’s an open-face sandwich.  I think open-face sandwiches have virtue, if only because they better highlight the sandwich ingredients instead of hiding them between two pieces of bread.  The original recipe calls for straining the béchamel sauce, but I love onions, thyme, and rosemary, so I decided to leave them in for added flavor.  It also called for pickled peppers, which I did not have on hand (I’m no Peter Piper…sorry—had to), so I simply added a few splashes of balsamic vinegar to each slice of bread before roasting and it did the trick.  I took a bite of these beauties fresh out of the oven and was immediately transported back to that Paris brasserie.  Cue the Edith Piaf….
DSC_5049Roasted Tomato Croques
Adapted from Food & Wine

Yield: 15 open-face sandwiches

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 small thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. rosemary leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
sea salt
black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I used almond milk)
2 lbs. heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
15 1/2-inch thick slices of sourdough bread
1/2 lb. Gruyère cheese, shredded

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the onion, thyme sprigs, rosemary, mustard and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just starting to brown, about 7 minutes.
2.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden, about 3 minutes.  Gradually whisk in the milk until incorporated and bring to a boil.  Simmer the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened and no floury taste remains, 7 to 10 minutes.
3.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, arrange the tomato slices in a single layer.  Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until softened and just starting to brown.
4.  Set a rack on another large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange the bread in a single layer on the rack and top the slices evenly with the béchamel.  Using a spatula, lay the tomatoes on the béchamel.  Sprinkle with the Gruyère and thyme leaves.  Bake the croques for about 20 minutes, until the tops are browned and the bottoms are crisp.  Transfer to plates and serve hot.

Almond-Apricot Thumbprints

DSC_4001I’ve been on a Christmas cookie-baking bender the last few weeks.  I think I’m making up for lost time.  The last two Christmas seasons I was incapacitated by the day-to-day aspects of running my chocolate business.  I would wake up at 5 a.m., assemble packages to be shipped, go into the kitchen at 9 a.m. to make more chocolates, come home at 7p.m., inhale some leftover pizza, spend an hour promoting my business on social media, continue packaging product until 11 or 12 that evening.  And then start over again the next day.  I barely had time to bathe, rarely saw my husband, and definitely didn’t have time for a social life during the month of December.  And this was with the help of two lovely interns.  As anyone who has their own business knows, starting a business is extremely hard.  Small food businesses can be even tougher because of the lower price points.  It’s all about volume.  You have to sell A LOT in order to make any money.  I thought starting a small chocolate company was my calling but I quickly burned out after less than two years.  And that was after achieving many successes:  my products were featured in Food & Wine and Bon Appétit magazines, and were sold in local Whole Foods Markets.  That is to say, I had many reasons to keep at it and continue to grow my business.  But when I sat down to reflect, my quality of life had severely diminished over the last two years.  I also knew enough other small food business owners to know that the “quality of life” aspect doesn’t change all that much down the road.  Your business is like a child that needs constant attention, nurturing and energy in order for it to thrive and be profitable.  And even after all that, being profitable isn’t a guarantee.  In other words, you have to REALLY want it, and I realized I didn’t want it more than I wanted a work/life balance that allowed me to have a fulfilling life with my family.
DSC_3949The stress of running a small business also took a toll on my mental health.  I rarely had time to exercise, go to yoga classes or see my therapist; all of which help to keep me sane.  I discovered I had a much shorter fuse with my husband during this time, and could be set off by the smallest things.  I went to an all-day market one Saturday only to come home to the kitchen still full of dirty dishes.  I couldn’t believe it!  The audacity of Mr. K to be home all day and not do the dishes?  Of course I hadn’t actually asked him to do them, I just assumed he would know to do them.  (Because, well, I probably forgot to mention that he is a professional mind-reader in his spare time.)  I had to slow down and remember that I still needed to convey what I wanted instead of just hoping he would know what to say or do.  All of the things I had time to do before I started my business started to get left behind, like taking time to communicate clearly with my husband.  Humans are silly creatures, aren’t we?  Several months after closing my business, we sat down to check-in with each other one night.  We both articulated how happy we were in our marriage.  We no longer felt neglected or unappreciated by the other person.  Instead, we recognized that we had both been making a big effort over recent months to show the other person how special they were.  And readers, that is one hell of a good feeling.
DSC_3964Now back to my cookie baking streak.  In case you missed my post earlier this week, I made Chocolate-Covered Gingersnaps that were met with a resounding “Hell yes!” by both my husband and I.  These Almond-Apricot Thumbprints didn’t receive the same accolades.  I found them to be on the dry side with a bit of an unpleasant sandy texture.  My husband on the other hand, can’t get enough of them and has even gone so far as to declare them Favorite Cookie No. 2 after some brownie sandwich cookies with cookie dough frosting I made a few months back were named Favorite Cookie No. 1.  I do love the pairing of apricot jam with the almond flavor in these cookies but it’s still not enough to declare them a success in my book.  Maybe the dough needs more butter?  Feel free to let me know if you try this recipe as is and what you think.  I hope to post at least one more Christmas cookie/candy recipe before the holidays are over!
DSC_3983Almond-Apricot Thumbprints
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield:  About 4 dozen

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups unsalted, roasted almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup coarse sanding sugar
Apricot jam (for filling)

1.  Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 375°.
2.  Pulse flour and almonds in a food processor until almonds are very finely ground.  Add baking powder and salt and pulse to blend.
3.  Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
4.  Add egg and almond extract and beat until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine.
5.  Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl.  Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes).  Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.  Using your thumb, make a deep indent in each ball.
6.  Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until golden, 13-15 minutes.
7.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool.  Fill with jam.

Notes
Cookies can be baked (but not filled) up to 2 weeks ahead; wrap tightly and freeze.  Thaw before filling.  Cookies can be filled 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.