Sunday, March 29, 2009

Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bars

These are a Canadian classic. To read about the origin and history of Nanaimo bars, see my posting for Peppermint Perfection Nanaimo Bars.

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 large crackers)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup peanuts or walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup pasteurized egg product
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa

1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tablespoons milk

5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely chopped baking chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Line (with wax paper or parchment) and butter an 8 x 8 inch metal baking pan.
2. To make base, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, coconut and nuts. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl melt butter. Add sugar, egg, vanilla and cocoa. Beat well.
4. Add wet ingredients to graham cracker mixture and mix thoroughly. Transfer to baking pan and spread evenly using the back of a metal spoon to create an even surface.
5. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
6. To make filling mix peanut butter and butter. Add pudding mix and confectioner’s sugar. Mix until combined. Add milk slowly until the filling is the consistency of toothpaste.
7. Spread on top of the base and use wet fingers to pat down in an even layer.
8. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
9. To make the glaze, mix chocolate and butter and melt in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1minute. Mix until the glaze is spreadable. Apply with a butter knife. Chill to set.
10. To cut the bars bring them to room temperature for 1 or 2 hours so that the glaze does not crack when cut. Use a sharp knife to score the surface and then make deep cuts to divide the bars.
11. Nanaimo bars can keep in the refrigerator for 1 month and in the freezer for 3 months.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Clove Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread is one of my favorite treats. One of the main reasons is that because it contains zucchini and is baked in a loaf pan, I convince myself that I’m eating bread when really I’m eating cake. After all, just like carrot cake, it contains sugar and eggs. One key difference is that both treats are made with oil rather than butter, which is one justification that slightly assuages my guilt. The other is those pretty green flecks throughout the batter. For more about zucchinis, check out my previous posting for a zucchini soup.

The signature flavor of this treat is cloves which are the aromatic, dry flower buds of the evergreen clove tree. Named for their resemblance to nails (clavus in Latin), cloves are native to the Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands) of Indonesia, though they are now cultivated in countries throughout the Indian Ocean. Cloves have been traded and used in South Asia, the Middle East and Europe since antiquity. In addition to their culinary use, they are valued in Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, herbalism and dentistry for their use to dull pain, expel parasitic worms, improve peristalsis, relieve skin disorders and many other uses.

I can’t promise any medical benefits, but a warm piece of zucchini bread slathered with butter or cream cheese usually hits the spot.

Serves 18-24

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil (canola or corn)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 small zucchini, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two loaf pans. Place parchment in the bottom to prevent sticking and re-grease.
2. In a large bowl, combine first six ingredients. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Then add remaining ingredients.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.
5. Divide the batter between loaf pans. There will not be very much batter. Do not worry as it will rise.
6. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Cool for 15 minutes and then remove from pans to cool completely.
8. Store in an airtight container at room temperature and consume within 2 days. Alternately, it will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Persian Herb Frittata (Kuku)

Next Saturday, March 21, marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Persian new year. Nowruz/Navroz, or new day, is celebrated in Iran as well as parts of Central Asia, South Asia, China, Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus and by people who trace their origin to these parts of the world.

In Iran Nowruz is observed with spring cleaning, purchase of new clothes, haircuts and gift exchange. A table is set with seven auspicious symbols, known as haft-sin, including sprouts symbolizing rebirth, sweet pudding symbolizing affluence, dried fruit symbolizing love, garlic symbolizing health, apples symbolizing beauty and health, sumac berries symbolizing sunrise and vinegar symbolizing age and patience. Many other items may also be added including candles, books and decorated eggs. Families spend the twelve day celebration visiting friends and family and on the thirteenth day finish with a picnic. In the Ismaili tradition, which I grew up in, the event is marked communally in the mosque.

Kuku is commonly served during Nowruz since it incorporates herbs and eggs which symbolize fertility. Akin to a Persian frittata, kuku is traditionally flavoured with advieh (a spice mixture containing dried rose petals). This version uses items likely to be in your pantry.

Serves 8-12

1 cup scallions
1 cup packed spinach (about 3 ounces)
1 cup parsley
1 cup cilantro
1 cup fresh dill
16 eggs
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, fresh ground
1 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 13x9 inch baking dish with parchment. Butter the bottom and sides of the dish.
2. Finely chop the first five ingredients and combine in a large bowl. You can use a food processor to save chopping time.
3. Beat eggs in a medium bowl and then add remaining eight ingredients. Mix well.
4. Add egg mixture to greens until thoroughly combined.
5. Pour into baking dish and bake for 45 minutes or until firm in the center.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Snickerdoodle Cake

My boyfriend’s aunt was a home economics teacher for many years. This was one of her most popular recipes – a cake incarnation of the crowd pleasing snickerdoodle cookie. As a child I mistakenly thought the cookies contained bits of Snickers chocolate bar and was disappointed to find that they were chocolate-free sugar cookies rolled in cinnamon. The word ‘snicker’ most likely comes from the German word schnecke or the Dutch word snekrad which describe a snail-like shape. This light cake is made with whole wheat flour, reduced sugar and a modest amount of butter.

Serves 9

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon cocoa (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8x8 inch baking pan.
2. To make topping mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl or glass. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl sift together flours, cocoa, cinnamon, sugar and baking powder. Set aside.
4. In a small bowl beat one egg. Add milk and mix well.
5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir. Add butter and mix thoroughly.
6. There will not be very much batter, but spread it into the greased pan in an even layer. Sprinkle with topping.
7. Bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool cake for 10 minutes and serve warm slices with ice cream, frozen yogurt, whipped cream or on its own.