Tag Archives: sugar

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.

 

Sea Salt Caramels

DSC_6671I had a nice, leisurely brunch with a good friend today.  It was one of those enjoyable, meandering conversations that could have easily continued for several hours.  After we parted ways, I found myself thinking of several more things I wanted to talk to my friend about––what was the name of that running app she mentioned?  Avon Barksdale is in the new Creed movie!  When can we do another double date?
DSC_6656After I returned home, I started in on my holiday baking:  melting butter, whipping meringue, and rough-chopping chocolate, all the while thinking about the incredibly rich and meaningful female friendships I’ve had over the years.  There is a beautiful passage in an Anaïs Nin book that I love:  “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  She articulates so elegantly how different friends show us a side of ourselves that we hadn’t previously tapped into.  They see our potential, and challenge us within a safe space.   By the time I started cleaning up my post-baking mess, I found myself reminiscing about my college days and all of the incredible friendships I made throughout those four years.  Those women saw something in me before I really knew who I was or how I wanted to live my life.  Through their eyes, I learned so much about myself.
DSC_6668I haven’t made caramels, or any other candy, since the day I closed my business 2 ½ years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to make them, but it all came back to me.  My stepdad has asked me to make these for him ever since I closed my business, and he will finally get some for Christmas this year!

Sea Salt Caramels

Yield: 35-40

12 oz. sugar
12 oz. evaporated milk
5 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
10 oz. corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2.  Combine sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, and add corn syrup.  Stir to incorporate.
3.  Insert candy thermometer and clip onto the side of pot.
4.  When temperature reaches 230 F degrees, add butter and stir until melted.  Mixture will start to thicken and darken in color.  Turn heat down to low, and stir frequently, scraping bottom of the pan every once in a while.
5.  When temperature reaches 240 F degrees, remove pot from heat, add sea salt, and stir until combined.
6.  Pour caramel into parchment-lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the caramel out, making sure it is distributed evenly throughout pan.  Cool completely, and cut into 1×1-inch squares.

Pistachio Pavlova with Rhubarb Cream

DSC_5996One of my oldest and dearest friends came out to visit with her 5-year-old son last weekend.  I had no idea how much I had missed her over the years.  Since she’s had kids, we haven’t had as much time to see each other, or even have phone chats more than a few times a year.   Her son, Trevor, is such a sweet kid, and I found myself repeatedly being amazed by how well-behaved he was the entire weekend.   One funny aside:  on the plane out to NYC, they sat next to a guy wearing a yarmulke and reading–what I’m assuming was the Torah–in Hebrew.  After noticing this, Trevor turned to his mom and asked, “What language does MaryAnne speak?”  This struck me as both very thoughtful and very hilarious.
DSC_5967DSC_5980Mr. K was kind enough to babysit Trevor Saturday night so that my friend, Meghan, and I could have some solo lady time.  I don’t have a lot of close girlfriends who live nearby, so I cherish my visits with those friends who I only see once a year.  While sipping delicious cocktails, we caught up on all of the necessary things.  Over the course of the weekend, I felt  like a plant, not knowing that it was a bit dry, being watered.  There is something so comforting about an old friend who knows you so well.  Unlike spending time with newer friends, there is no effort in trying to get to know them better, wanting to present yourself in the best light, etc.  It’s like curling up with an old pillow you’ve had for 20 years that fits your head perfectly.
DSC_5974This was my first time making pavlova.  It was a bit intimidating at first, as I’ve heard horror stories about people making pavlovas, only to have them collapse after taking them out of the oven.  Luckily, I did my research before making this, and learned that it is of the utmost importance to leave your pavlova in the oven, after turning it off, until it has been completely cooled.  This slow decrease in temperature prevents the pavlova from collapsing.  If you are a fan of meringue, or marshmallow, or both, you will love this dessert.  And even better, it is an homage to rhubarb season.  Enjoy!
DSC_5988Pistachio Pavlova with Rhubarb Cream
Adapted from Food & Wine

Pavlova
1 cup chopped unsalted pistachios
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar

Rhubarb Cream
4 ounces rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces (1 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup hulled and quartered strawberries, plus 1/2 cup small strawberries for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, chilled
1/4 cup chopped unsalted pistachios, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
In a small bowl, toss the pistachios with the cornstarch.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt at high speed until foamy, 2 minutes. Beat in the vinegar, then beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue beating until the whites are glossy and stiff peaks form, 8 to 10 minutes. Gently fold in the pistachio mixture. Using a large spoon, dollop the meringue onto the prepared sheet and spread into a 10-inch round with a slight indentation in the center. Lower the oven temperature to 225° and bake the meringue for about 1 1/2 hours, until crisp but still chewy on the inside. Turn the oven off; let 
the meringue rest in the oven for 1 hour. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
  3. MEANWHILE, MAKE THE RHUBARB CREAM
    In a small saucepan, simmer the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice over moderate heat, stirring and mashing the rhubarb with the back of a wooden spoon, until the sugar is dissolved and the rhubarb breaks down, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the quartered strawberries and vanilla bean paste. Let cool completely.
  4. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, beat the cream with the mascarpone at medium speed until moderately firm, about 3 minutes. Stir 1/4 cup of the whipped cream into the cooled rhubarb, then fold the mixture into the remaining whipped cream. Spoon into the center of the meringue. Garnish with the small strawberries and chopped pistachios and serve.

 

Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel

DSC_5113Like most people this week, I was shocked and saddened to hear about the suicide of Robin Williams.  As horrible as it feels to lose such a creative genius, I do hope that it creates greater awareness about the dark hole of depression.  It affects so many people and yet there is still a huge lack of understanding about this disease.  I recently heard someone say, “The next time someone tells you to shake off your depression by going outside and getting some fresh air, you should respond by saying, ‘Oh right, like how cancer patients can shake off their cancer.”  I think depression (and addiction) is hard for many Americans to accept as a disease.  It flies in the face of our cultural norms.  We are supposed to be a self-sufficient group, able to overcome anything.  But severe depression can level you.  And no one is exempt from developing depression at some point in his or her life.  Others will battle it their entire lives.   So let’s talk about it.  Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it’s not that big of a deal.  It matters.
DSC_5068DSC_5079It feels like there has been an onslaught of bad news this summer.  I’m not sure if media companies are just becoming more and more desperate to report anything that will get us to click on their story links, or if the world really is becoming a horrific place.  I used to think that it was my responsibility to read/listen to the news everyday so as to stay informed.  And I’m not too proud to admit that I think I became a bit righteous about it.  I would judge other people who weren’t as informed as myself.  But I’ve since come to realize that it bears no fruit if I’m not trying to create a change in the world with the information that I consume.  All it really does is depress the hell out of me.  I’m starting to scale back on my news consumption.  I think it has helped my outlook.  Instead, I’m spending more time learning about things I’m curious about.  I read my first Paul Theroux book, I listened to a podcast about the Space Race, and I watched a YouTube video on how to freehand embroider.
DSC_5083DSC_5093I love Bobby Flay’s recipes, even if they always involve 5 or 6 steps and require a decent amount of time.  I’ve heard he has a bit of a reputation of being an asshole, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to make his recipes and buy his cookbooks.  When I had my chocolate company, he actually purchased several gift boxes from me one holiday season to give to business associates.  I was over the moon.  Like his other recipes, this one does not disappoint, but it does involve several steps.  I have been eating blackberries like water this summer, so this was a fun way to do something different with them other than to eat them with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
DSC_5109Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel
Adapted from Food & Wine

Serves: 8

Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. buttermilk

Filling
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure coconut extract
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt

Blackberry Caramel
2 cups blackberries (8 oz.), halved
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
2 tsp. blackberry liqueur
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Toasted sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

1.  In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt,  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining.  Drizzle the buttermilk on top and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and pat the dough into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
2.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick.  Ease the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate.  Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch, fold it under itself and crimp the dough decoratively.  Refrigerate the crust until firm, about 30 minutes.
3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until barely set.  Remove the parchment paper and pie weights.  Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the crust is lightly browned.  Let cool on a rack.  Leave the foil strips on the crust rim.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
4.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale.  Add the buttermilk, butter, coconut milk, flour, vanilla seeds and both extracts and whisk until smooth, then stir in the shredded coconut.
5.  Set the pie plate on a baking sheet.  Pour in the custard and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until set around the edge but slightly jiggly in the center.  Transfer to a rack and let the pie cool completely.
6.  In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to burst.  Transfer the berries and any juices to a blender and puree until nearly smooth.  Transfer the puree to the saucepan and let cool slightly, then whisk in the cream, blackberry liqueur, vanilla and salt.
7.  In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over moderate heat, swirling the pan and brushing down the side with a wet pastry brush, until the sugar dissolves.  Cook undisturbed until an amber caramel forms, about 7 minutes.  Add the blackberry cream and simmer, whisking, until the caramel is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.  Let cool slightly, then stir in the remaining 1 cup of blackberries; let cool to room temperature.  Garnish the pie with toasted coconut, cut into wedges and serve with the blackberry caramel.

Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

DSC_4914I went to Nashville last weekend with my mom and sister to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday.  We had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry Friday night, and I almost didn’t make it due to my original morning flight being canceled.  It was a testament to my determination of not letting things rattle me during the course of the weekend.  I spent the duration of Friday morning on the phone with Delta trying to get on an earlier flight than the 6:30 p.m. flight they rescheduled me for.  I was told to call back every 30-60 minutes and see if any seats had opened up on flights leaving throughout the day.   I succeeded and got on a 1:45 p.m. direct flight.  I immediately took a deep breath and gave myself an internal high-five for not stressing out about it all morning.  Instead, I chose to do everything I could to get myself to Nashville in time for the Opry.

Nashville is an incredible city, and the Opry specifically felt like a mystical place.  I grew up watching Grand Ole Opry shows on television, and I think anything that appeared larger than life to you as a kid always carries some fascination as an adult.  Restless Heart was the first act to perform.  They sang two of their popular hits from the 80’s, and I was immediately transported back to the house we lived in when I was 7 years old.  Although I don’t have a lot of pleasant memories from my childhood, hearing these old songs (particularly with my mom and sister sitting next to me) gave me the warm fuzzies.  It was one of those scenarios where you make a memory within a memory.  Do you know what I mean?  Experiencing the Opry with my mom and sister will always be memorable to me because of the feelings that it stirred up from previous memories.
DSC_4894If you’ve ever been to Nashville you will know that I am not exaggerating when I say that it might just be one of the best food cities in the entire country.  I was prepared to eat some good BBQ, but I was not prepared to be hit over the head with deliciousness at every turn.  I prepared a spreadsheet of recommended restaurants before we left.  I wasn’t messing around.  We went to Jack’s for brisket, mac and cheese, and coleslaw.  I don’t think I left a drop of food on my plate.  The following day we went to Swett’s, which is basically a cafeteria-style restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  Their fried chicken is TO DIE FOR.  I could have easily eaten an entire bucket of chicken, but I wanted to save room for the peach cobbler.  When in Rome, people.  Because of the gluttony that ensued over the course of the weekend I wasn’t too hungry for our last meal Sunday night, but I knew that I wanted something local.  My mom and I decided to split a pulled pork sandwich, which is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches (along with a Cubano).  I’ve never had a pulled pork sandwich where you could actually taste the smokiness in the meat.  I think I moaned with every bite I took.
DSC_4897I love rosemary.  It’s hands-down my favorite herb.  I have yet to pair it with something that doesn’t taste incredible.  Savory cookies are becoming popular here in NYC, and I’ve tried a few over this past year.  They aren’t my favorite thing, but I did try a lemon rosemary sugar cookie a few months ago that was so good I made a mental note to try and find a similar recipe to make for my blog.  I think shortbread is the perfect foil for almost any flavor due the buttery richness of the cookie.  I found a lemon shortbread recipe as well as a rosemary shortbread recipe, so I decided to combine them into one recipe and see how it turned out.   Perfection.  The lemon brightens up the richness of the cookie while the rosemary gives it that nice earthy, herbaciousness that rounds out the overall flavor.  They are the perfect summer cookie to pair with your afternoon coffee or tea.
DSC_4907Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cornstarch
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cube
1 egg white
sugar

1.  Blend first 6 ingredients in food processor.  Add butter; pulse until moist clumps form.
2.  Gather dough into ball.  Wrap with plastic wrap and form into a log.
3.  Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
5.  Cut 1/4″-sized discs from log and place on baking sheet.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush each cookie with a slightly beaten egg white.  Sprinkle with sugar.
6.  Bake cookies until light golden, about 17-20 minutes.
7.  Cool pan on rack for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove cookies onto rack with a spatula.  Cool completely.

Nutella Scones

DSC_4843I was feeling very discombobulated last week.  Serving on jury duty in the middle of Long Island meant I had a two-hour commute every morning and evening.  I would leave home at 7 a.m. and not return until almost 7 p.m.  For some people, this might describe a normal day.  Regardless, it is a long day and doesn’t leave much time, if any, for self-care, exercise, etc.  Up until my first week of jury duty, I had been cherishing the fact that I was finally making self-care a routine part of my day.  I recently experienced a mental shift:  instead of dreading yoga, I was looking forward to going to classes twice a week.  So two weeks of not having time for this (or any exercise) left me feeling very frazzled and anxious.

By the time I got home at the end of last week, I realized I was experiencing emotions I hadn’t had in almost 6 weeks.  Nothing seemed to sate my overwhelming feelings—I wanted to eat garbage and didn’t care what it tasted like.  I tried a few bites of several different things but nothing seemed to fill the void.  That should have been my first sign that something was off.  I felt like a foreigner in my own body.  I thought some mindless television might do the trick, but I tried a few of my favorite sitcoms and that didn’t numb the pain either.  It’s a very helpless sensation when you can’t figure out what it is you need in a specific moment.  It’s like trying to figure out what a crying baby needs, but you’re the baby and you feel like you should know what your 38-year-old self needs or wants.  I eventually curled up in bed with a book and decided to take some deep breaths to quiet my mind.
DSC_4819I reminded myself that the crazy two weeks were over and that my normal schedule would resume next week.  I really wanted to beat myself up for feeling so thrown-off after just two weeks of not having any free time.  But I stopped myself.  Given the circumstances, I think I did a pretty good job of staying centered.  I ate healthy and focused on maintaining a positive outlook despite the horrible things I was listening to every day in the courtroom.  I went to yoga class Saturday morning and, man, was it hard.  I felt a lot of anger doing many of the poses, but I told myself I was detoxifying all of the feelings from the previous two weeks.  I let the anger rise to the surface and then watched it disappear.  And that is one of the things I love so much about yoga:  it forces you to stay present and not react to feelings as they arise.  By the time class was over, I felt reset and ready for the weekend.
DSC_4824I love Nutella, and believe it would taste good on or in almost any baked good, so I was eager to try this recipe.  It’s another one from the Baked cookbook.  I’ve had much success with the recipes of theirs I’ve tried thus far, so I was confident that this would be yet another recipe victory.  However, I thought these were just mediocre.  Although, my disclaimer is that I’m not a huge scone fan so that might be part of it.  Mr. K, on the other hand, loves these scones.  He thinks I am crazy for giving them a so-so rating.  Perhaps they just needed to be slathered with a bit more Nutella and I would have come around on these.  Let me know what you think!
DSC_4827Nutella Scones
Adapted from Baked Explorations

Yield:  6 to 8 scones

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Nutella

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place the rack in the center.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until combined.
3.  Add the butter.  Use your fingertips to rub it into the flour until the butter is pea size and the mixture is coarse.
4.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and cream.
5.  Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together.  Gently and briefly knead the dough with your hands.  Add the toasted hazelnuts and knead gently  to incorporate.
6.  Flatten the dough into a rectangle approximately 6 to 12 inches and spread 1/4 cup of the Nutella on top in a crisscross pattern.  Roll the dough up to make a cylinder about 6 inches long, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4 inches high.  Do not overwork the dough.
7.  Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
8.  Bake the scones for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.  Do not overbake.
9.  Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely.

Assemble the Nutella Scones
1.  Heat the remaining 1/4 cup Nutella in a microwave until pourable, about 10 seconds on high.
2.  Pierce the tops of the scones a few times with a fork.  Use a spoon to drip the warm Nutella in a zigzag pattern over the tops of the hot scones.
3.  Transfer them to a refrigerator to set for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.