Please, Stare at Me Ucomfortably

Chocolate Cherry Bars

Chocolate Cherry Salted Caramel Squares

I should have stayed home and played with the kittens. The night would have been more satisfying. But, instead of staying put, I shaved my legs, whitened my teeth, and switched glasses for contacts – all for another dud of a date.

Isn’t it the rule on a first date that each person is mutually responsible for maintaining the conversation? Instead, I sat with someone who answered my questions willingly, but only asked one question after fielding ten of mine. For me, the gift of gab does not come easily on a first meeting, yet I was solely responsible for the mind-numbing conversation (can I even call it a conversation?). Otherwise, we would have found ourselves blinking, mute, with nothing to break the tedium. He divulged the intricacies of his family’s various residences, his kid’s ages and hobbies, where he’s traveled, and what his younger brother likes, does and where he currently lives. Two questions were asked of me in kind.

The effort to keep the conversation moving was beyond my skills. At one point, towards the end of the lackluster night, he remarked that I appeared ‘distracted.’ I’m afraid he caught me daydreaming about my escape.

Next (again)…

Chocolate Cherry Salted Caramel Squares (because I deserve it!)

150 gr.  butter (softened)
50 gr.    sugar
25 gr.    brown sugar
½ t.      salt
½ t.      vanilla
1          egg yolk
185 gr.  All- purpose flour

227 g.  Salted Caramel Sauce **
170 gr.  Tart Dried Cherries
Cherry Juice or Cranberry Juice
57 gr.    sliced almonds
85 gr.   dark chocolate, chopped

Make Shortbread Crust
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 8×8 baking pan with two layers aluminum foil with an overhang to help remove the cookies. Grease foil with cooking spray. Cream butter and sugars to form a paste (not until pale and fluffy). Add salt and vanilla and combine. Add egg yolk and combine. Scrape down as needed. Add flour and mix until dough just comes together. Do not over-mix or too much gluten will form and base will be tough. Press into bottom of baking pan and just slightly up the side (to stop filling from oozing). Bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges.

Make Topping
Cover dried cherries with juice and heat in the microwave for 1 minute. Let rest 5 minutes to soften cherries. Drain juice and roughly chop cherries. Pour salted caramel over baked crust. Do not allow caramel to overflow down the sides of the pan or you will have difficulty removing the cookies. Sprinkle softened and chopped cherries over caramel. Sprinkle almonds over cherries and return cookies to oven. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes until crust is light brown, caramel is bubbling, and almonds are slightly toasted.   Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped chocolate.

Rest cookies on counter for 10-15 minutes to allow chocolate to melt and then cool completely (I put my pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes). Remove cookies from pan using foil. Cut into 16 squares.

** While store-bought salted caramel sauce will do in a pinch, David Lebovitz’s Salted Butter Caramel Sauce is worth it. His recipe makes 1.5 cups, more than you need. I usually eat the remainder straight from the pan.

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My Primer

Cookbook

Above my kitchen table is a bookshelf overfilled with cookbooks. Some of these books were gifts, their spines still intact. Others speak of my travels – ‘the Patissier, recipes and conversations from Alsace, France’ or ‘La Cucina di Spannocchia’, a souvenir from a week spent on an Italian farm outside Siena. On this shelf also rests a dog-eared copy of ‘Better Homes and Gardens Great Cooking for Two’. My first cookbook – copyrighted in 1992. When I skim the recipes now, I’m struck by their simplicity– several pan sauces flavored with instant chicken bouillon granules and the thyme always “dried”. One recipe, annotated with my words “Good, Easy, Comfort Food,” calls for sautéing sweet potatoes (not yams) and chicken breasts and finishing them with a simple wine reduction of white wine, water, the ubiquitous bouillon granules and dried thyme. I remember the sweet potatoes, absorbing the sauce, softened and flavored by it – and my sense of triumph as I consumed dinner. Another recipe, labeled “Nummy,” was Maple-Glazed Stuffed Cornish Hens – hens filled with a bacon-pecan stuffing and glazed with maple-Dijon syrup as they roasted. Today, I would scoff at such a simple recipe. In my 20’s, I believed myself an accomplished cook, crafting a dish suitable for a Christmas dinner. I scribbled annotations for each recipe I attempted, a habit I picked up from my mom. Most notes are a simple “good” while some recipes, like Mushroom and Blue Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops, are elevated with the words “very good”. I remember making this recipe for a potential lover and, on another occasion, for my mother on her first night back from the hospital. He couldn’t eat his – he was too nervous. She couldn’t eat hers – she was still feeling ill. It is, however, a  delightful and edible combination of flavors – pork, blue cheese, mushrooms, pecans and green onions. Some annotated recipes, like Coriander and Honey glazed Pork Ribs (Tastey! [sic]), I don’t remember cooking. The recipe I still break out is for Sweet Yogurt Scones. While not an actual scone (the texture isn’t quite right), they are a quick and easy Sunday morning treat. It’s a forgiving recipe that is amiable to substitutions, saving a trip to the grocery store for rarely on-hand pantry items.

Apricot Scones

Apricot Yogurt Scones

Sweet Yogurt Scones
From Better Homes and Gardens Great Cooking for Two

1 cup     All Purpose Flour
2 T.         sugar
1 ½ t.     baking power
1/8 t.     salt
¼ c.        margarine or butter (I use butter)
1              beaten egg
1/3 c.     plain yogurt or dairy sour cream (flavored yogurt works great, as well)
½ t.         orange or lemon zest (my addition)
¼ c.        dried fruit, raisins, or currants soften in hot water (my addition)
1 t.          sugar
¼ t.         cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the first four ingredients. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (don’t use a food processor – it results in a gummy scone). Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, stir together the egg, yogurt, zest and dried fruit, if using. Add the yogurt mixture all at once to the dry ingredients. Using a fork, stir just until moistened (don’t over mix). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surfaced. Quickly knead dough for 8-10 strokes until dough begins to hold together. Pat into a 6” circle. Cut into 6 wedges. Stir together sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over scones. Place wedges 1” apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm with butter and homemade jam (they don’t keep well).

Turkey and Roasted Red Pepper Meatloaf

Turkey Meat Loaf

This kitchen has been turning out a plethora of pastries and desserts lately.  I attended culinary school to become a better chef, not a pastry chef.  I’ve always been more comfortable around flour and sugar recipes than meat, vegetable and starches.  My recipe books are chock full of recipe clippings that have languished for years without being tested.  I’ve decided for the next two months to make at least two new non-pastry dishes per week.  These aren’t necessarily ground-breaking meals – I won’t be testing  my sous vide skills in the near future, but my goal is to reduce the number of recipe clippings in the “to try” pocket of my recipe book while adding a few new staples to my repertoire.

Recipe #1

Turkey and Roasted Red Pepper Meatloaf
(adapted from Real Simple magazine)

½             onion, chopped fine
2              cloves garlic, chopped
½ c.        panko bread crumbs
1              egg, beaten
½ – ¾ c. grated parmesan
2 T.         Dijon mustard
7 oz.       jarred roasted red peppers, chopped
½ c.        flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 t.          dried basil
Salt and Pepper
1 ½ lbs. ground turkey

Heat oven to 400 F. Combine the first 10 ingredients in a bowl until well combined.  Add turkey.  Mix well but do not over-mix.  Shape into an 8-inch loaf and place in a baking dish (do not use a loaf pan).  Bake until internal temp registers 165 F, about 45 minutes.  Sprinkle additional Parmesan across top and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

The result is a moist and flavorful meat loaf with less calories than the standard meatloaf.  I inhaled three slices for dinner and warmed up another two for lunch today.  It would also make a delightful sandwich.

Sunshine for an overcast Sunday

Scones

Lemon Scones with Lemon-Lavender Marmalade

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powered
1/8 t.  salt
1/4 c. butter
1  egg, beaten
1/3 c. vanilla yogurt
Zest of one lemon
Cinnamon sugar

425 degree oven.  Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.  Cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Make a well in center.  Mix together egg and yogurt.  Add wet to dry ingredients and mix with a fork just until moistened.  Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 strokes, just until dough holds together.  Pat into a 6” circle and cut into 6 wedges. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Bake 11-13 minutes on an ungreased sheet pan.  Cool 5 minutes and enjoy.

I Think We have a Serious Problem

We’ve got a problem when a cookie has the word “health” in its title – and the first three ingredients are sugar, brown sugar and Crisco.  Crisco?  Really?

CEREAL HEALTH COOKIES  
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. Crisco
2 eggs
2 c. flour

1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1 c. oatmeal
1 c. Rice Krispies
1 c. corn flakes (crushed by hand)
1/2 c. nuts
1/2 c. coconut

Combine sugars, Crisco, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well. Sift flour, salt, baking powder and soda together. Add to sugar mixture. Add oatmeal, Rice Krispies, corn flakes, nuts and coconut. Mix well. Drop by teaspoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees.

I was looking at some cookie recipes with cereal to get my creativity working on the perfect “cereal cookie” .  This one didn’t make the cut.