Sunday, December 19, 2010

Peppermint Brownies

One of the best things about Christmas is that it’s associated with some of my favorite flavors and tastes – gingerbread, orange, chestnut, and peppermint. Last weekend I was craving Killer Brownies but wanted to make them seasonal, so I created a holiday version infused with peppermint. This is a combination I’ve tried once before – check out my Pepppermint Perfection Nanaimo Bars.

Peppermint is prized for its leaves and stems which are used to flavor and scent tea, candies, chocolates, chewing gum, cosmetics, and toiletries. Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use. It has been shown to repel insects, enhance memory, treat headaches, relieve skin irritation, act as a decongestant, relax muscles, kill bacteria and viruses, and mitigate digestive disorders.

The plant is indigenous to Europe and Asia and is a sterile hybrid of watermint and spearmint. It has been widely cultivated in the New World and is now considered invasive in Australia, New Zealand, Galapagos Islands and the United States.

Makes 48 squares

6 ounces peppermint candy canes
1 lb unsalted butter (4 sticks)
33 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
7 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1 1/3 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Unwrap and break candy canes into 1-inch pieces. Crush with a mortar and pestle. Alternately, lay pieces flat in a large Ziplock bag and use rolling pin or wine bottle to crush. The goal is to break candy canes into smaller pieces (1/8-inch in length) and not to crush into a powder. Set aside.
2. Butter and flour a 3/4 to 1-inch deep 12 x 18 inch baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. In a medium pan over lowest heat, melt butter and 12 ounces chocolate chips. Mix thoroughly and set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs (with a fork, do not use an electric beater), then add sugar, vanilla, and half the peppermint extract. Add chocolate mixture and mix well using a spatula. Allow to cool to room temperature.
5. In a small bowl mix all but 2 tablespoons of flour, baking powder and salt. Using a spatula, fold flour mixture into the chocolate mixture.
6. Toss 3 ounces crushed candy canes and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in reserved 2 tablespoons of flour. Fold these into the brownie batter with a spatula.
7. Pour batter into the baking sheet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, remove baking sheet and drop on countertop or floor several times to remove air bubbles. Be careful not to overbake these brownies – they should be moist and chewy (not cakey).
8. When brownies have cooled to room temperature, melt remaining 9 ounces of chocolate chips in microwave. Mix in remaining 1/2 tablespoon peppermint extract. Using a knife, spread thinly on baked brownies. Immediately garnish with remaining 3 ounces of crushed candy canes.
9. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into squares.
10. In an airtight container, brownies will last in the refrigerator for two weeks. To freeze, wrap individually in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container for up to six months.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laura's Latkes

This year marks my fifth Hanukkah celebration with my fiancé’s family. In anticipation, I’m sharing his mother’s latke recipe which is the culinary highlight of the holiday. Latkes are potato pancakes common to the cuisines of Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. Similar creations can be found in Persian, Indian and Korean cuisine. Latkes are traditionally eaten by Ashkenazi Jews during Hanukkah.

Many dishes associated with Hanukkah are fried in oil since the miracle of the holiday involved oil. According to tradition, the Maccabean rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem was celebrated with an eight day ceremony. The observance required that a menorah be continuously lit, but there was only enough oil for one night because the Temple had been desecrated. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.

Other traditional dishes are doughnuts (especially sufganiyot), fritters, and cheese. For another Hanukkah recipe, check out my shortbread cookies.

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, shredded or grated (not mashed)
3 red potatoes, shredded or grated (not mashed)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1/2 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
peanut oil, for frying

1. Take 1 cup of the shredded Yukon potatoes and further shred in a food processor. This will aid in binding the latkes. Add it back to the potato mixture.
2. In a big bowl, mix all the ingredients (except oil) with your hands. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.
3. Heat a skillet with oil 1/2-inch deep over medium high. The oil should not be smoking. Hot oil sears the latke and prevents it from absorbing too much additional oil.
4. Drop two tablespoons of potato mixture into the hot oil. Release the mixture so that it forms a latke about 3 inches in diameter. Latkes should be fried for 3-5 minutes on each side until dark golden brown. Flip over and fry the other side as well. Fry 3-5 latkes at a time depending on the size of your skillet.
5. Drain on paper towels to remove some of the oil.
6. Repeat with remaining mixture. Replenish oil as needed.
7. Serve warm with apple sauce and sour cream.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gram Flour Fudge (Monthar)

This is one of my favorite Indian mithais (literally ‘sweets’). It seems to be Gujarati in origin since most of my Indian friends have never heard of it. Like so many mithais, its basic ingredients are a combination of flour, sugar, butter and milk. While often too sweet and rich for the Western palate, mithais are widely enjoyed by South Asians in the homeland and diaspora.

They are traditionally eaten on special occasions, and are not really equivalent to daily desserts which have become a modern custom in North America. Often, families will make platters of various kinds of mithais and send them to neighbors and friends in anticipation of Divali, Eid or other festive occasions.

Growing up in Calgary, we had a family friend who was renowned for her monthar. She would make it in great slabs
studded with nuts and saffron threads. While I was away at college and graduate school, this was a favorite treat for me to pick up on my trips home. I’d usually freeze the whole batch, and defrost one square at a time.

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon orange food color powder
1 lb unsalted butter (4 sticks)
1lb gram flour (also called besan or chickpea flour)
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup almonds and pistachios, chopped (optional)

1. Boil sugar, water and food color until 240F on a candy thermometer. It can also be tested by dropping a small amount on a plate. It will form a soft ball when it is at the right temperature.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the butter and using a spoon carefully skim off as much of the foam as possible. Then decant the butter, discarding the milk solids that have settled on the bottom of the pan. Return butter to pan.
3. On medium heat, add flour and sauté until golden brown. This can take 10-20 minutes so be patient.
4. Increase the heat slightly and slowly add evaporated milk, stirring constantly.
5. Add the syrup mixture and remove from heat. Add nutmeg, cardamom and saffron and stir well.
6. Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, and then stir the mixture until it thickens.
7. Spread in a 9 x 9 inch pan and sprinkle with nuts. Using the back of a spoon, pat down gently to ensure the nuts are properly attached.
8. When cool, cut into 1 inch squares.
9. Store in the refrigerator for 3 weeks or the freezer for 3 months.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Peach Cheesecake

Peaches are one of my favorite summer fruits. Although they originated in China, Europeans originally thought the peach tree was from Persia which explains the scientific name Prunus persica which later became ‘peach’. From China the peach was taken to India and Western Asia, then by Alexander the Great to Persia. After that, it travelled to the Americas, Northern Europe and finally to the North American colonies in the 17th century.

Interestingly, peaches and nectarines are different cultivars of the same species. Those with white flesh are sweeter and more prized in East Asia; the more acidic, yellow-flesh cultivars are popular in Europe and North America. Peaches are closely related to plums, cherries, apricots and almonds; and within the larger Rosaceae family to roses, apples, pears, strawberries and raspberries.

Although California produces 65% of the peaches in the United States, in my mind the fruit is most closely associated with Georgia, the ‘Peach State’. Over the summer, when we were invited to dinner at the home of a friend originally from Georgia, I used the opportunity to create this peach dessert.

Serves 6


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons peach or apricot jam/preserve
1-2 peaches, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. To make crust, in a large bowl mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.
3. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, pack the crumb mixture so that it evenly covers the bottom and sides of a 9-inch metal pie tin.
4. To make filling, in another large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs until smooth. Pour into the pan and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is very light brown. Let the cheesecake cool for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.
5. Once cooled, gently spread jam/preserve on top of the cheesecake. Arrange peach slices on top. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tad's Fire Island Salad Nicoise

Last weekend we visited our friend Tad in Fire Island – a magical, summer resort located two hours from New York City. Fire Island is one of several outer barrier islands located on the south shore of Long Island. This sliver of land is 50 kilometers long and between 160-400 meters wide. There are several communities on the island, and a number of them have no roads or ban vehicular traffic during the summer months. The white, sandy beach is the primary attraction, though there is also an active nightlife. There are few hotels on the island, so the vast majority of people stay in private homes that are commonly rented out for the summer.

On Sunday, Tad made one of his signature dishes for lunch – a summery, fresh, salad nicoise. This is the second recipe on my blog inspired by the French Mediterranean classic. For details on its origins see my earlier post.

Serves 3-6

Salad dressing
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

12-16 ounces tuna steak
10 ounces mixed greens
1-2 large tomatoes, sliced into sixths
1/8-1/4 lb pitted black olives
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into quarters (optional)
4-8 small potatoes, unpeeled, roasted and cooled, sliced into quarters
8-10 anchovy slices (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the salad dressing in a glass jar. Fill with ingredients and shake until well combined. Set aside.
2. Grill the tuna steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side (for rare) and 3-4 minutes on each side (for medium) until the outside is white in color. Remove from heat and cut into 1-inch cubes.
3. On an oblong or rectangular platter, arrange a bed of heaped greens. Spread tomatoes and olives over greens and top with tuna pieces. Arrange eggs, potatoes and anchovies around the perimeter of platter.
4. Dress with salt, pepper and salad dressing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blueberry Cheesecake Pudding

I went to a farmer’s market earlier this summer and bought four pints of locally grown blueberries. I no longer have the time to wax lyrical about blueberries but you can read all about them on a previous post.

I had originally planned on making a pie, but then remembered that my friend Joe had long ago given me a blueberry recipe from his grandmother. This dessert is an adaptation of that recipe. Her version uses amaretto and vanilla wafers. I’ve replaced those ingredients, reduced the sugar, and given a few healthier ingredient options.

I took this to a dinner party a few weeks ago and it was a great hit. Be warned – ten hungry New Yorkers did not make much of a dent in this massive dish, but it's ideal for parties, potlucks and barbeques.

14-18 servings

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
8 ounces cream cheese (reduced fat acceptable), at room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract
2 packages of vanilla instant pudding mix
3 cups of milk (low fat or skim acceptable)
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 to 5 cups blueberries (fresh or thawed frozen)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Combine graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup sugar and butter and press into a greased 13 x 9 deep glass baking dish.
3. Place eggs, cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar and extract in a bowl and beat until smooth. Pour and spread over crust. Bake for 30 minutes or until cream cheese is set. Remove and cool to room temperature.
4. In a separate bowl, mix both packets of instant pudding with milk and beat for 2 minutes until mixture thickens. Spread over cream cheese and chill.
5. In a large saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and cornstarch. Add some liquid (water, juice, alcohol) if necessary. Mix in blueberries and cook over medium heat. Stir constantly and gently until mixture thickens and becomes dark. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
6. Spread over pudding layer and chill overnight.
7. Scoop out portions with a large spoon and serve in a bowl.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scallop Risotto

North Americans often complain about how arduous it is to make risotto. “All that stirring!” is a common refrain I hear. In our hectic modern lives, I think we’ve lost sight of the pleasures that can be derived from preparing food.

Many of us do not even realize that the things we eat now were much harder to make before modern innovation. For example, Irish or steel-cut oats require 15-30 minutes to prepare instead of the 2 minutes it takes to make quick oats in the microwave. The same is true for instant rice. Many young people probably consider using cake mixes and frozen cookie batter as authentic baking, not realizing that traditionally all these things were made from scratch.

In this context, stirring risotto for 20 minutes can seem like a lifetime. However, having recently served it, I was reminded that it really is not as difficult as it seems. This scallop risotto is a perfect summer dish. To learn more about scallops see another recipe from last summer; to learn more about risotto see a winter version here.

3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups pumpkin flesh, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (do not use canned pumpkin)
1 cup broccoli florets
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped garlic or garlic paste
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (about 10 ounces)
1/4 to 1/2 Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt, pepper, garlic powder to season
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 to 2lbs scallops

1. In a medium pot, warm stock until simmering.
2. In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add pumpkin and sauté for five minutes. Then add broccoli and continue cooking for until five minutes until pumpkin is slightly soft. Set aside.
3. In the same pot, heat olive oil and garlic. Once fragrant, sauté onion until translucent (after 10 minutes).
4. Add Arborio rice and stir until coated with oil.
5. Add 1/2 cup warm broth and stir gently until it is all absorbed. Continue adding spoonfuls of broth and stirring until absorbed.
6. After 15 minutes add pumpkin and broccoli.
7. Continue adding broth until the rice is tender but still al dente. You may have stock remaining.
8. Finish with Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.
9. Pat scallops dry with a paper towel.
10. Season scallops with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
11. In a large skillet on medium high, heat olive oil. Sauté scallops for 2-3 minutes on each side.
12. Plate risotto and top with scallops.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fruit and Nut Oatmeal Cookies

After a very busy spring, this weekend I finally had the chance to experiment in the kitchen. I produced another oatmeal cookie recipe for this blog.

To read more about oatmeal, see my first recipe. That one makes dense, crunchy, super sweet, chocolately cookies. This one produces soft, spicy and light treats which contain half the butter!

These cookies are fragrant and flavorful because of the cinnamon and cardamom. Feel free to use any type of dried fruits or nuts, though I would stay away from walnuts which can be a touch bitter.

Makes 30

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup applesauce
3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup dried cherries
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a small bowl mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon and cardamom.
3. In a large bowl beat butter and sugar for 4 minutes until fluffy.
4. Add applesauce and beat on low speed. Add flour mixture and continue to beat.
5. Add oats, cranberries, cherries and pecans and mix with a spatula.
6. Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour.
7. On a large, ungreased baking sheet drop heaping tablespoons of batter. Flatten with a spoon.
8. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Can be frozen for up to three months.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Seven Layer Cookies

My friend Lauren recently told me about a seven layer cookie that she makes, and I was immediately mystified. It turns out it neither has seven layers nor is a cookie; however, it has seven ingredients which I assume were originally put down in layers. The seven layer cookie (also known as ‘magic bars’) belongs to the genre of confections that – like Rice Krispies treats and confetti marshmallow squares – are tooth-achingly sweet, rely heavily on processed ingredients, and are forgiving for amateur cooks. Other hallmarks of this form include no-bake cakes and pies, ambrosia and s'mores. The origin of such recipes is unclear – I suspect it’s a combination of the desire for instant gratification and corporations inventing new ways to market their products.

Seven layer cookies are popular at Christmastime. I also found an
eleven layer version that includes dark chocolate chips, miniature marshmallows, toffee chips and dulce de leche. This recipe should not be confused with the more sophisticated Venetian seven layer cookie (often called rainbow cookie) which is a sandwich of three multicolored, almond-flavored sponge cakes separated by apricot jam and covered with chocolate. In contrast to its American namesake, the Italian version is massively labor-intensive so you’re unlikely to see it on this blog anytime soon.

Makes 32 bars

1 stick unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips
1 pound butterscotch chips
12 ounces walnuts or pecans, chopped
12 ounces shredded, desiccated coconut (unsweetened if available)
20 ounces sweetened condensed milk (do not use evaporated milk)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. In a medium bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Mix in graham cracker crumbs, and press mixture along the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass Pyrex dish.
3. Bake crust for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and set aside.
4. In a large bowl use a spatula to mix chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, walnuts and coconut. Pour evenly over crust.
5. Carefully drizzle condensed milk over mixture, making sure to spread evenly.
6. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and fragrant.
7. Remove from the oven and cool for several hours. Cut into small pieces.
8. Cookies can be stored in the fridge for one month or in the freezer for six months. Frozen cookies are best served slightly reheated in the microwave with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Baked Cod with Roasted Vegetables

Those of you who read this blog frequently know how much I love to bake. My passion for this method of food preparation is not only based on my predilection for cookies, pies and cakes. Baking also provides a controlled and predictable method of preparation that is conducive to entertaining.

Some dishes are decidedly difficult to make for guests. If you’ve ever tried to prepare
risotto for a crowd, you’re familiar with the challenges of “entertaining while stirring”. Of course one can make a dish in advance (a curry, chili or soup for example) but reheating can present its own challenges (overheating or underheating) and it often requires attention soon after your guests have arrived. For a dinner party, one is often preparing several dishes at once and ensuring that all items are at the right temperature just before serving can be a mighty challenge even for an experienced cook.

For all these reasons, I appreciate baked entrees. They come out of the oven hot, require minimal handling, and fill the house with a delicious aroma. Some of my favorite baked entrees include
lasagna, frittata, pizza and stuffed vegetables. While all of these make lovely meals, my fiancé and I have been searching for more ‘sophisticated’ baked entrées to serve to dinner guests.

We especially like to serve fish for dinner, but have had less than ideal experiences grilling fish on our
George Foreman Grill or searing scallops in a skillet. They have both created fishy smoke in our poorly ventilated Manhattan apartment. Having experimented with a few baked fish recipes, we came up with this one which we recently served to our friends Andrew and Andrew.

Serves 4

1 head of garlic, peeled
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and sliced or baby carrots
1 zucchini, sliced
1 or 2 red peppers, sliced into strips
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into eighths
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cod or hake fillets (approximately 2 lbs total) - you can substitute another light, white fish
salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In a 9 x 13 glass baking dish, toss first five ingredients with most of the olive oil.

3. On the middle rack, bake vegetables for 30-40 minutes until slightly roasted.
4. Place fish fillets on top of vegetables and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Return dish to oven for 20-30 more minutes.
6. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Valentine Borscht

Borscht is a peasant soup popular in Central and Eastern Europe. The word comes from the Slavic word borshchevik which means hogweed, a vegetable once important to the Slavs. Today the defining ingredient in borscht is beet root although there are some versions that do not contain beets. For more information about beets read my post from last year about a summer beet salad.
In the Ukraine, where borscht is likely to have originated, it is the national soup and was sometimes eaten multiple times a day as a main meal. It is also served as the first course of a traditional Polish Christmas meal. In other places, it is generally consumed before the main meal.
There are two key types of borscht – hot and cold. The hot version is often chunky, made with potatoes, vegetables and sometimes beef. The cold version is sometimes strained before serving and thus has a thinner consistency (similar to gazpacho). Variations abound and recipes have been known to include dried mushrooms, parsley, dill, lovage, green onions, basil, beans, pickled apples, plums, cherries, eggplant, olives, prunes, ham, mint, ginger, leeks, tomatoes, bell peppers, tarragon, paprika, oregano and sausage.
Many versions require the addition of an acid to sour the – this can be achieved through the addition of lemon, vinegar or citric acid. Some recipes call for natural fermentation which requires the soup to be made several days in advance. Borscht is often served with sour cream, yogurt, cream or a local dairy equivalent.
In North American borscht is closely associated with Ashkenazi Jewish traditions. The term ‘Borscht Belt’ refers to the swath of summer resorts in upstate New York that were popular with New York City Jews between the 1920s and 1960s.
As a humble and quotidian dish, I’ve never heard of the soup in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. However, it seemed perfect as a bright red starter on a cold winter day. It freezes well but will stain plastic containers so we opted to use one gallon freezer bags.

Serves 10-14

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 pound russet potatoes (about 2), peeled, chopped into small cubes
1/2 lb carrots, sliced
small cabbage or half a medium cabbage, thinly chopped
6-8 cups vegetable (or meat-based) broth
15 ounces diced tomatoes
4 large beets, peeled and chopped into small cubes
5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (balsamic or other)
1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper
sour cream, for garnish (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, potatoes, carrots and cabbage. Sauté for 10 minutes.
2. Add broth, tomatoes, beets and bay leaves. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Add red wine vinegar and 1/2 dill. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
4. Flavor with salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaves.
5. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and remaining dill.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Linzer Muffins

On a recent trip to London, my friends Teresa and Kaspar took me to Princi, a Milanese bakery in SoHo. After a healthy salad, I stood indecisively over a vast counter of rustic pastries. I opted for a large slice of linzertorte – an almond-flavored cake spread with raspberry jam.

These muffins take their inspiration from linzertorte, a traditional Austro-Hungarian specialty now popular throughout central Europe. The torte is named after the Austrian city of Linz which was founded by the Romans and was famously home to Kepler, Bruckner, Hitler and Wittgenstein.

The earliest recipe for linzertorte dates back to the mid 17th century. Traditionally it consists of three layers – a bottom layer of pastry made largely with ground nuts (usually almonds, sometimes hazelnuts or pecans, and rarely walnuts), a middle layer of jam (traditionally black currant lekvar, though apricot and raspberry are also used), and a topping of dough strips arranged in a lattice pattern.

Linzertorte is especially popular during Christmas. In addition to cakes and muffin, the concept has been extended to cookies which I sometimes make for Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Watch this space for the recipe…

Makes 12 muffins


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1/3 to 1/2 cup slivered almonds, untoasted, for garnish
confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Prepare a muffin pan with foil or paper liners. If using paper liners, spray them with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

3. In another, large bowl, beat an egg. Then add butter and sugar. Mix well. Add milk, lemon zest and almond extract.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

5. Distribute one heaping tablespoon of batter into each liner. Then add a teaspoon (or more) of jam. Fill liners with remaining batter.

6. Sprinkle each muffin with slivered almonds.

7. Bake for 20 minutes or until muffins are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool muffins in their pan for 10 minutes.

8. These muffins can be served with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Confetti Marshmallow Squares

These humble treats are evocative of my childhood. While they are fairly common in Canada, I have never seen them here in the United States. In fact, I couldn't even find multicolored mini marshmallows in Manhattan so I bought a couple of bags on my last trip home.

The modern marshmallow was invented in France in the mid-19th century by whipping together egg whites, sugar, and root sap from the Marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis). This flowering, perennial herb was originally native to salty marshes in Europe, North Africa and Asia and was valued by the ancient Syrians, Chinese, Arabs and Romans for its medicinal properties. The Egyptians mixed Marshmallow root sap with honey and nuts to produce a treat thought to have been served exclusively to the Pharaoh.

The original process to make marshmallows was labor-intensive and expensive – limiting the market for the confections to the French elite. After technological advances, especially an extrusion process patented by American Alex Doumakes, mass production of marshmallows became possible. Over the years, the recipe has changed dramatically: root sap has been replaced with gelatin; egg whites are obsolete; and various forms of sugar, coloring and flavor have been added.

The average American consumes almost 1/4 pound of marshmallows per year. They are used in a variety of American desserts and snacks including Rice Krispies treats, s’mores, and fluffernutters.

Confetti marshmallow squares are easy to make and ideal for the young, beginner or untalented cook. They are similar to an American confection called 'church windows' which also contains marshmallows and peanut butter as well as chocolate chips, coconut and nuts.

Makes 25 squares

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butterscotch chips
8 oz multicolored mini marshmallows


1. In a medium pot over lowest heat, melt butter and peanut butter. Add butterscotch chips and stir constantly until melted and smooth. The chips may take a while to fully melt but do not increase heat. Alternately, this can be done in a microwave.

2. Once melted, remove the pot from the heat. While cooling, butter a 9 x 9 inch baking pan. Line with wax paper and butter again.

3. Once the pot has cooled enough that you can comfortably touch the bottom, mix in the marshmallows until well coated with sauce. Marshmallows may melt if added to sauce that has not sufficiently cooled.

4. Spread mixture in the baking pan and use the back of a spoon to even out the surface. Place in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Using a sharp knife cut into 25 squares. Store in an airtight container for 2 weeks in the fridge or 3 months in the freezer; separate layers with wax paper to prevent sticking.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pineapple Carrot Cake

This is the second carrot cake recipe featured on this site – a follow up to my post on carrot cupcakes which describes the origin of carrots (in Afghanistan) and their use as a sugar substitute in medieval times. Predecessors to modern carrot cake were baked in a piecrust akin to pumpkin pie or steamed like a plum pudding.

Carrot cake experienced a decline in popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, it was fairly obscure until the second half of the twentieth century. In Britain it was revived by the Ministry of Food, which disseminated the recipe during the food rationing of World War Two. The signature cream cheese frosting is a modern American invention that appeared in the 1960s. Some attribute its newfound popularity to its perceived healthfulness since it contains no butter (which is high in saturated fat and cholesterol) and a significant amount of carrots; others dispute this given its sugar and oil content.

To address some of these concerns, this recipe has slightly less sugar and oil than the original, and is balanced by moist and sweet pineapple. The frosting for this recipe also uses an American Neufchatel which contains less fat than regular cream cheese without compromising the taste. Do not skip the coconut extract as it gives the cake an amazing fragrance. Carrot cake is versatile and you can add many of your favorite ingredients to it. I’ve included pineapple, coconut and walnuts; you could also add raisins, pecans, apples, cocoa powder, dried fruit or currants.

Serves 10-12


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil (canola or corn)
1lb carrots, grated (about 3 large carrots)
12 ounces crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted (optional)

12 ounces cream cheese (up to 8 ounces can be American Neufchatel cheese (also called farmer’s cheese)), softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar or to taste
1 teaspoon coconut extract
sprinkles or chopped nuts for garnish (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment. Butter again and flour.

2. In a medium bowl mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, beat sugar and eggs using an electric mixer. Add vanilla and oil and mix well.

4. Add the flour mixture, continuing to beat on low speed.

5. Using a spatula, fold in the carrots, pineapple, coconut and walnuts.

6. Divide batter into cake pans and bake for 30-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before frosting.

7. To make the frosting, beat together all the ingredients by hand.

8. Unfrosted carrot cake freezes well. Wrap in wax paper, then in saran wrap, and place in an airtight container. Should last 3 to 6 months. The frosting can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks or in the freezer for several months.

9. You have several options in terms of presentation. You could individually frost each cake and serve separately. Or you could frost one cake and place the second cake (top-side down) on top and then frost the top and sides. Alternately, you could make half the frosting, frost only one cake, and eat the other cake without frosting (a dusting of confectioner's sugar provides a lovely and light alternate). I recommend eating a frostless cake fresh; frozen cake is best served with cream cheese.