Category Archives: Baking & Desserts

Passover Preview-Matzo Fig Bars

matzo fig barsThis is a wonderful holiday dessert or snack that has only a few ingredients but packs a lot of crunch and flavor. If you have young children around the kitchen who like to get their hands messy, recruit them to help you make these treats. If you cannot eat nuts in your house, swap the almonds for some flaked coconut or make an extra bit of the crumb crust and sprinkle on top.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan. Melt 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine. Put 1 1/2 cups of matzo meal in a medium bowl. Sprinkle a pinch of ground cinnamon over the matzo meal. Pour the melted butter into the matzo meal and mix well. Pat the matzo crumbs into the baking pan covering the entire bottom of the pan. Pour a 8 oz jar of fig jam over the crumbs(I used Doves and Figs Chocolate Fig Sunshine, but you can use any fig or other flavor jam you like). Spread jam to within about a 1/4″ of the edges. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and press down gently. Bake for about 20 minutes and allow to cool before slicing into bars.

Lonely Banana Walnut Muffins

Lonely Banana MuffinsPoor brown-spotted banana sitting all alone in the big produce bowl in my kitchen. What can I do with such a sad little fellow? We always seem to leave a banana behind as everyone grabs for one a the peak of their favorite ripeness and then my family grows sick of that fruit and moves on to oranges, apples, or whatever graces the fruit bowl. For a time, I skinned and wrapped the leftovers and tossed them in the freezer in hopes of collecting them later and making a recipe. The only thing I ended up doing later on was throwing out freezer-burnt bags of mush of unknown vintage. So I had this one banana and I was hungry for breakfast so I made Lonely Banana Walnut Muffins.

Here is the recipe and it should be mixed by hand with a fork (no need for the heavy machinery here!). If you like whole wheat flour that will work fine. If you would rather use brown sugar-go ahead. No buttermilk-no problem use whole milk. Keep this recipe handy and honor the lonely banana!

Lonely Banana Muffins
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 very ripe banana
1/2 Stick butter
1 egg
1/4 cup butter milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
pinch of ground cinnamon

6 cup muffin tin and no-stick spray or a bit of butter to grease the pan

Melt butter in a two-cup measuring cup or a small bowl (measuring cup is great because you can use it to gather all the wet ingredients and pour into the dry later). In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon and stir with a fork. To the melted butter add buttermilk, egg, banana and mash the mixture together with a fork. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and stir with (you guessed it) a fork. If there are little lumps and no flour showing when you finish mixing, you have done it right. Stir in the walnuts gently. Pour into muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until risen and nicely brown.

Crazy about Homemade Marshmallows

mint marshmallowsMy friends are beginning to worry. My family is grows more concerned each time they hear the mixer running. They long to call someone for help but all that comes out of their mouths is nommmmummm because they are stuffed with fluffy marshmallows. I made the first batch of marshmallows a few months ago and now I can’t stop. I am even turning others on to my obsession by sharing the  recipe. The vanilla marshmallows were ever so tasty but then came pink swirled peppermint, followed by mocha,chocolate-dipped, zesty lemon and orange, cocoa,  marshmallow cream, mallomar-like cookies, marshmallows shaped like ducks and pigs, and geese, and for Valentine’s Day tart and sweet raspberry marshmallow hearts.  marshmallows

There are many recipes available in books and on-line for basic marshmallows but I was interested in making the type that uses egg whites and I wanted to try to make them without corn syrup.  I tried substituting golden syrup, which is made from cane sugar, and it worked perfectly.  I share the recipe below but I warn you; yo may not be able to stop making them…

Vanilla Marshmallows

Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Sugar Syrup
Place 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1 tablespoon golden syrup in a heavy bottom pan. Heat gently and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium and stop stirring. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and heat to 255 degrees.

In the top of a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot of water), pour 3/4 cup water. Sprinkle the contents of four envelopes of unflavored gelatin over the water and allow to stand for a few minutes.  Heat until the gelatin liquefies.

Egg Whites
In a stand mixer, beat 2 egg whites with 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar until stiff but not dry

Once the sugar syrup reaches 255 degrees, combine the warm gelatin mixture fluffwith the hot sugar syrup and pour into the beaten egg whites while beating on high.  Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Beat for about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to get very thick.  Pour mixture into the prepared pan and allow to stand at room temperature for at least three hours.

Mix 1/2 cup of confectionery sugar with 3 tablespoons corn starch.  Dust a cutting board with the mix and turn marshmallows out onto the board. Cut in strips with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and dust each cut side with the sugar and corn starch mix.  Cut the strips into pieces and dust the cut sides.  Store in an air tight container.

Perfect Night for Pie

chicken pieChicken pot pie is one of the most cozy meals I can imagine. Flaky crust sheltering tender bits of chicken and vegetables all gathered together with a light gravy.  When I was a kid my Mom would buy the little frozen chicken pies and stow them in the freezer as a treat for me.  While it is nice to have a meal that is just heat and eat,  part of the comfort for me now is the slow process of making a savory pie.

Today I woke to cold, wind-whipped rain slamming against the bedroom windows. Despite the downpour, I ran way too many errands getting soaked in the process.  After a trip to two banks, the dry cleaners, and delivering jam to several stores;  I stopped into Whole Foods and they had chicken parts on sale.  I already had some root vegetables from the winter farmers market and I decided it was the perfect time for staying home the rest of the day and making pie.

Here is my Chicken Pot Pie recipe which yields extra stock and extra chicken for another recipe.  Stay at home days don’t come often for me so later in the week I can use the chicken for chicken tacos and the stock to start a quick soup.

8-10 cups of water
1 whole chicken breast and 2 chicken thighs (both bone-in) chicken stock
4-5 carrots
2 parsnips
1 small turnip
1 onion
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt
a few springs of rosemary, parsley, and thyme

Peel onion, carrots, parsnips, turnip and cut into large chunks
Split chicken breast in half
Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil
Simmer for an hour or until chicken is tender
Strain stock and let chicken and vegetables cool slightly
Separate the chicken meat from the bones
Slice the carrots, parsnips, and turnip into bite-sized pieces
Reserve about 4 cups of stock and 3 cups of chicken and the vegetables for the pie filling.  Store the rest of the chicken and stock for another meal.

Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold butter cut in about teaspoon sized pieces chicken pie sliced
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
6 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in food processor or mixer bowl
Add shortening and butter and mix until pea sized crumbs form
Pour in cold water and mix just until the dough comes together.
Gather dough in a ball and wrap in plastic wrap.
Chill for 30 minutes or up to overnight

Pie Filling
3-4 cup chicken
1 small onionchicken pie filling
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 cups of stock
1/4 cup cream
2/3 cup frozen peas
carrots and parsnips from stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon instant flour such as Wondra

Slice the onion and cut slices in half
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and saute onions and mushroom until onions are just translucent
Add stock and simmer until reduced by about one-third
Add carrots, parsnips, turnip, and chicken
Add instant flour and cook until very thick
Add frozen peas and cream and set aside to cool slightly

Making the Pie
Prepared and chilled pie dough
Prepared pie filling
1 egg yolk plus 2 tablespoons of water for egg wash
9″ deep dish pie pan

Heat oven to 375 degrees
Divide the pie dough in half
Roll half of the dough to about 1/4″ thick 12″ circle and place in the pie pan, pressing gently into the pan and leaving edges overhanging
Pour filling into the pan
Roll remaining dough to 1/4″ thick circle and cover the filling in the pie pan
Cut off any extra dough and crimp the edges by using a pie crimper or pressing between thumb and forefinger all around the edge
Cut a few slits for steam to escape during baking
Brush top with egg wash
(optional) use the leftover dough to make decorations using a cookie cutter and attach using a bit of the egg wash
Bake for 1 hour until nicely brown and cooked through

Spooky Farmers Market Treats

Apple CreaturesWhen asked to do a Halloween cooking demo at the Winchester MA Farmers Market, I wanted to make something a bit more healthy and fresh then the typical candies and cupcakes and it had to be FUN.   How about Crazy Apple Creatures, Apple Ghosts, and Creepy Finger Sandwiches! These are  super easy to make and are fun to do with even young kids. There are many versions of similar treats online but it is fun to give them a local food twist.

For the Crazy Apple Creatures you need some nice big apples (I used Cortlands from Kimball Fruit Farm), a sharp knife,  creamy peanut butter, creamy nut butter, or cream cheese, plus jam and an assortment of nuts, seeds, raisins, and dried fruit (a used a bag of Fastachi nut mix that I bought at the farmers market). You will also need a about two cups of water mixed with a teaspoon of lemon juice in a small bowl.Apple quarters
Start by cutting the apple into quarters and then remove the core.
Cut a V-shaped piece out of the skin side of the apple as shown here. apple slice
Dip the cut apple in the lemon juice mixture and they are ready for the kids to decorate.  For the Apple Ghosts just peel the apples, cut the same as for Crazy Apple Creatures and decorate nuts or currants for eyes.

The Creepy Finger Sandwiches start with a few slices of whole wheat bread, a rolling pin,  local goat cheese (I used Crystal Book Farm) or cream cheese, a few sliced almonds, and a bit of red  jam, such as strawberry, raspberry, or cranberry (you know we used Doves and Figs).
Cut all of the crust off of the bread and roll flat with the rolling pin.
Spread the cheese on the bread and roll up tightly as you would a jelly roll.
Cut a few shallow slashes to look like knuckles
Place a dab of cheese at one end and top with a sliced almond for the fingernail
At the other end smear a bit of jam for the super creepy blood (eeeewwww)

Cold Summer Pudding

summer puddingI love deserts that are simple to make but look wonderful and are layered with delightful surprises; ice cream bombs, trifles, parfaits, etc.  When I heard  Linda Wertheimer interview cookbook author Sophie Grigson on WBUR link here  there was much discussion about the delights of English Summer Pudding.  This was my kind of dessert and all that is needed to make it is bread, summer berries, and a bit of sugar.
I ran out and bought a big loaf of farmhouse style bread and, well, if you know me or read my blog you will know there is never a shortage of fruit around here.  Instead of making one big pudding, I decided to make little ones in custard cups.  I added a bit of Cointreau and a layer of jam to the basic recipe but these are optional. The tiny puddings were so easy and delicious and light that this recipe will become a summer favorite in my house.

To make Summer Pudding:
Chop up about a pound of  berries-strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc. (I used a quart of fall strawberries and a handful of black raspberries and red currants from my garden.
Put all the fruit and a  1/3 cup sugar and a splash of Cointreau in a big skillet and cook for about 5 minutes until the juices run freely and the fruit begins to soften.  Strain some of the juice off into a shallow bowl. Let cool slightly.
Cut 5 rounds of bread (about 1 inch thick) to fit tightly in the bottom each of the custard cups and another 5 rounds to fit the bottom.
Dip the top round in the fruit juice and place in the custard cup juice side down.
Spread a layer of raspberry jam on the bread and then spoon in about a heaping tablespoon of cooked fruit.
Dip the bottom layer in fruit juice and place in the cup juice side up this time.
Cover with plastic wrap and weight down with a can or heavy jar.  Place in the refrigerator overnight.
To unmold, run a knife gently around the edge of the pudding.  Invert onto a plate or shallow bowl and lift the custard cup.
Serve with whipped cream and fresh sliced berries or just plain.

Hamentashen or Popentashen

HamentashenMy family loves Purim with the telling of an exciting story and the wearing of wild costumes.  How could anyone dislike a holiday that features theater, drinking wine, and eating delicious cookies called Hamentashen. Purim celebrates the ancient Jews of Persia’s victory over their enemies. The tale held in the book of Esther includes King Ahasuerus, Esther the brave woman who becomes queen but never forsakes her people, Esther’s cousin Mordecai,and a wicked man named Hamen (for whom the cookies are named).  Why, you might ask, would we name these tasty holiday treats for the bad guy?  Well, I’ll tell you-I don’t know.  Various stories I grew up with included that the cookies were named for Hamen’s three-cornered hat, they were named for his pockets that were filled with bribes, they were named to remember his evil deeds. So nu, they couldn’t have named them Esther’s Goodies or something a little more enticing?  Anyway who cares!  Our costumes are put together and the cookies are baked.  Instead of normal hamentashen, we made tiny little cookies (filled with our homemade jams) that you could pop in your mouth in one bite so we are calling them popentashen.  It is after all a holiday that is celebrated with pride and joy and a healthy dose of silliness. Happy Purim!

Tiny Hamentashen (Popentashen)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of cinnamon
several flavors of jam

In a stand mixer bowl or food processor, place the slightly softened butter cut into chunks and the powdered sugar
Mix until sugar is just blended in (it is OK if there are some lumps of butter)
Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until the egg is incorporated into the butter
Add the flour and cinnamon to the bowl and mix until the large pieces of dough begin to come together (do not over mix!) the dough will be a bit ragged.
Scoop the dough onto a floured board and press the pieces together to form a smooth dough.
Roll the dough out to a thickness of about 1/4″.  If the dough is too sticky use a bit of flour or if it is too soft to roll you can wrap it in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
Using a small round cookie cutter or a cordial glass measuring about 1 1/2″ inches across, cut circles of dough.
Place a drop of jam in the middle of each circle
Press two edges of the circle together and then pull the remaining piece up and press together to form a triangle shape and a nice little pocket to hold the jam.
Cook at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the edges brown slightly
Cool (jam gets very hot in the over) and pop in your mouth!