Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

I am a big King Arthur fan. Not the King Arthur of medieval legend, but the King Arthur Baking Company. They are an employee owned company that was founded in 1790, originated in Boston, and is now based in Norwich Vermont. In the late 1800s one of the early owners attended a performance of the musical, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, inspiring them to name their new product, King Arthur Flour. This employee owned company has been named One of the Best Places to Work in Vermont every year since the inception of the award in 2006. I love their recipes, their products, and their bakeware. During this pandemic I have ordered soooo many new pieces of baking equipment, the latest being two tea loaf pans. These loaf pans are ceramic. They are longer and narrower so the slices are the perfect size. Apparently the perfect size for afternoon tea.

As soon as my pans arrived I looked up a recipe for Lemon Bread and got busy. Poppyseeds were optional in the recipe, but I think they’re a great addition. Interesting factoid, it takes about 3,300 poppy seeds to make up a gram, and between 1 and 2 million seeds to make up a pound. They are also rich in thiamine but I don’t know how much you’d have to eat to get your daily requirement. When I was still working and eating lunch out, I frequently met friends at a favorite department store restaurant. This bread reminds me of the lemon poppy seed muffins they served in the Cortland Room with a slice of their classic quiche Lorraine. My Jackson Michigan friends will remember. This bread recipe is from the King.

Bread Ingredients:

1 cup (198g) sugar

1/2 cup (99g) vegetable oil

3 T lemon zest

1/4 cup (58g) lemon juice

3/4 cup (170g) buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 T baking powder

1 T poppy seeds

2 1/2 cups (300g) flour

Lemon Glaze and Lemon Butter Ingredients:

1/2 cup (116g) lemon juice

2/3 cup (132g) sugar

8 T (113g) butter

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a large bowl combine the sugar, oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, beat together the buttermilk and the eggs.

Finally, combine all of the dry ingredients and whisk to mix evenly.

Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture alternately to the sugar/oil mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. When everything is incorporated, pour the batter into the prepared pan. I line my pan with parchment paper and spray with Pam for baking. The overhanging parchment paper makes it easy to lift the bread out of the pan for slicing once it has cooled.

Bake for 50-60 minutes if you are using a standard loaf pan, 40-45 minutes with the tea loaf pan. Bake until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove bread from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

While your bread is baking make your glaze. Whisk together 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice with 2/3 cup of sugar, and microwave on high for 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar. A little longer if necessary. Brush half of the mixture on the bread as it cools.

To make the lemon butter, pour the other half of the lemon sugar mixture into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Simmer until the liquid has a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Whip the syrup with 1 stick of room temperature butter. Chill and spread on lemon bread.

Once the bread has cooled, slice and enjoy!

The bread is very moist, and the glaze and lemon butter accentuate the lemony taste. A little bit tart, a little bit sweet.

NOTE: It wasn’t until I started baking the sour dough breads that I started weighing out most of my ingredients. King Arthur recipes always include measurements and weights. Several cookbooks I’ve looked through for baked goods recipes use only weights.

The poppy seeds were optional in the original recipe and can be omitted if you choose.

Eggplant Rollups

One of our favorite dishes is eggplant Parmesan. Eggplant is really very versatile and is used in a number of cuisines. It takes on the flavors of whatever ingredients it’s been cooked with. It is a great source of vitamins and minerals and fiber. And it’s low in calories (until you bread it and fry it and cover it with sauce and cheese). For all the vegetable haters out there, eggplant is actually a fruit. According to Wikipedia, the eggplant is not only a fruit, it is a berry.

If you google eggplant recipes you will find an infinite number of ways to prepare it. It’s great grilled, baked, fried, or roasted. It can be served as an appetizer, a side dish, an entree, or you can use it in place of pasta in a lasagna. Raw, the flesh is spongy and soft, and when it’s cooked it is deliciously creamy and tender. Several years ago, before it closed, I regularly shopped at a gourmet shop called Blackberry Rose. The owner told me how to prepare eggplant rollups stuffed with angel hair pasta tossed in a light tomato sauce and then topped with a sweet chili sauce before baking. I need to try that again sometime soon. It was delicious! These rollups are stuffed with ground beef, ground pork, or sausage, and then baked much like eggplant Parmesan.

It is not necessary to peel eggplant. If you are going to be frying eggplant it is best to slice it, generously salt it, and place it in a colander to drain for 30 minutes or so. Then rinse the eggplant and gently pat it dry. This prevents the eggplant from absorbing too much of the oil as it’s fried.

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant

2 eggs

2 T of olive oil

1 pound of ground beef, ground pork, or sausage

1 small onion grated

1/2 sweet bell pepper finely diced

Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce of your choosing (homemade or prepared)

Mozzarella cheese

Making lengthwise cuts, use a mandolin to get nice thin slices of the eggplant.

Put your eggplant slices in a colander, salt them, and set them in the sink to drain. In the meantime, prepare your stuffing for the roll ups. If you are using links of sausage remove the casings and add the grated onion and minced sweet peppers. If you are using ground beef or ground pork. in addition to the onion and peppers, you will want to add some garlic powder, Italian seasonings, and salt and pepper.

Once the eggplant has drained, rinse it and pat it dry. Whisk the eggs. Brush a heavy skillet with a light coating of olive oil. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg and cook them over medium high heat, two to thee minutes per side. Set the cooked slices aside and continue until all of the slices are browned. They should be soft and pliable, easy to roll.

Preheat the oven to 350. Once all of the eggplant slices are done begin making your rollups. Place a light coating of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish. Take approximately two tablespoons of the meat mixture and place it on the widest end of the eggplant slice and roll.

Place the rollups, seam side down, in the casserole dish.

Top the rollups with additional sauce, sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the meat is cooked through and the cheese is golden.

Cooked to perfection. Serve with the pasta of your choosing and a side salad. Some crusty bread and Chianti would also be nice.

Enjoy!

NOTE: On one occasion I tried dipping the eggplant slices in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before frying. While this works great when you’re making eggplant Parmesan, it makes the eggplant difficult to roll up.

When using sweet or hot Italian sausage to fill these rollups no additional seasoning is necessary. If you’re using ground beef or ground pork you’ll want to kick up the flavor with more herbs and spices.

From one medium eggplant I got 13 slices and I used one pound of sausage to fill them.

Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

Not only is it asparagus season in Michigan, it is also rhubarb season. Did you know that, although it is most typically used in pies and bars and other sweet dishes, rhubarb is actually a vegetable? I have lots of positive rhubarb associations. My grandmother used to make a rhubarb soup and served it over rice pudding (riisipuuro). After raspberry, my Dad’s favorite pie was strawberry rhubarb. And, as a child, I remember picking a stalk of rhubarb and eating it with salt. In Finland, tender sticks of rhubarb dipped in sugar, are a common and affordable sweet treat for children. Rhubarb is also used to make sima, a Finnish wine. Another interesting factoid…in the UK, the first rhubarb of the season is harvested by candlelight in forcing sheds where all other light is excluded, a practice that produces a sweeter, more tender stalk. Rhubarb varies in color from dark red, to pink, to light green. I have always been told that rhubarb leaves are poisonous, although in all of my years of watching true murder shows on tv, I have yet to learn of anyone meeting their demise by being fed rhubarb leaves.

It is not yet strawberry season here in Michigan, but these bars would undoubtedly be even better with sweet Michigan berries.

Ingredients:

2 cups of diced rhubarb

2 cups of diced strawberries

Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

2 T corn starch

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 1/2 cups old fashion oats

1 cup brown sugar

12 T unsalted butter melted

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Once you have diced and measured 2 cups each of rhubarb and strawberries combine them, along with the lemon juice, in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the fruit is tender, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the fruits (and vegetables) are cooking, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Once the rhubarb is tender, stir in the sugar and cornstarch and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool down while you prepare the base and topping.

Preheat your oven to 350. In a large bowl measure out the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt.

Add the melted butter and vanilla. Use a wooden spoon or a hand mixer on low speed to combine all the ingredients.

Set aside 1 1/2 cups for the topping and press the remaining oat and flour mixture into a 9×13 pan lined with parchment.

Spread the strawberry rhubarb mixture over the base.

Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the flour and oat mixture over the filling. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Once they’ve cooled, cut and enjoy just as is or with a dollop of whipping cream or ice cream. You get both the sweet and tart flavors in these bars.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t make these using a combination of raspberries and rhubarb or rhubarb on its own. If you use rhubarb without the berries taste test after cooking and adding sugar. Add additional sugar if necessary.

Asparagus, Shrimp and Lemon Pasta

Due to technical difficulties beyond my control I have not blogged any recipes for quite awhile. Hopefully I’m back in working order and can carry on. My absence certainly isn’t due to my not cooking or baking. Every so often our local newspaper publishes recipes, and my husband found one that he thought looked good. Hint, hint. We love asparagus and who doesn’t love pasta?? It is asparagus season in Michigan and the recipe was provided by the Michigan Asparagus Council. (I had no idea there was an Asparagus Council, but now I know). I made some modifications to the original published recipe, the most significant being the addition of grilled shrimp. Not only did this dish present beautifully, it tasted great. I will definitely make it again.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound uncooked shrimp

1 T olive oil

8 oz fettuccine or linguine

1 pound of asparagus

4 T butter

4-5 garlic cloves minced

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup pasta liquid

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)

zest of one lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup of cherry tomatoes halved

In a large heavy skillet heat the olive oil and 1 T of butter over medium high heat. Sear the shrimp until they turn pink, about 1 minute per side. Remove the shrimp from the skillet and set aside.

Fill a large pot with water that has been generously salted and cook your pasta according to package instructions. The original recipe called for fettuccine but I substituted linguine based on what was available in my pantry. While the pasta is cooking chop your asparagus into bite size pieces and mince the garlic.

Heat 2 T of butter in the skillet over medium heat and sauté the garlic for about 1 minute. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is tender.

Once the asparagus has cooked remove it from the pan. Set aside along with the grilled shrimp.

Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the skillet along with the heavy cream. Simmer gently until the cream thickens.

Once the cream has thickened add the pasta directly from the pot (do not drain) into the cream. Add additional pasta water until you have the desired sauce consistency.

Add the asparagus, shrimp, lemon juice and zest, and the shredded Parmesan cheese and toss. Allow all of the ingredients to simmer a couple of minutes in the sauce. This will help the pasta absorb some of the sauce and rewarm the shrimp and asparagus.

To add a little more color and because we love tomatoes, I sliced about a cup of cherry tomatoes and added them to the skillet just before serving.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with a little more grated Parmesan cheese, and serve. Enjoy! We have leftovers for another dinner.

NOTE: I cooked the shrimp with tails on but before adding the shrimp back into the pasta I removed them. Much more enjoyable when you don’t have to remove them while you’re eating.

Add a little extra pasta water to your leftovers before refrigerating (if you have leftovers). This helps when you’re reheating the dish.

I would say that this recipe will give you healthy portions for four people.

Borscht

A few days ago we got the little glossy magazine that our electric company sends out each month. The magazine always includes some recipes that people have submitted. This issue was all soup recipes, and one of them was for Ukrainian Borscht. My husband frequently mentions that he enjoyed borscht growing up. This is new to my wheel house, but I love beets and all of the other ingredients in the soup so I decided to try it. I found a recipe in one of my Jewish cookbooks, googled more recipes, and finally came up with a meld of several recipes including the borscht in our electric company magazine. I called my sister-in-law to see if she remembered how my mother-in-law made hers, but she said, at the time, she didn’t take an interest in the cooking. I think we all wish we had taken more interest and made notes on how our mothers and grandmothers prepared some of our favorite dishes. Borscht is a sour soup common to Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. It is often liked to Jews, the group that first brought it to this country from Europe. Borscht comes directly from Yiddish as the dish was first popularized here by Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi Jews. I don’t find mine to be very sour so I did a little research to see where the “sour” comes from in the references. Apparently the tart taste is traditionally obtained by adding beet sour to the soup. And beet sour is made by covering sliced beets with lukewarm preboiled water and allowing bacteria to ferment some of the sugars. The liquid becomes viscous. This process takes 2-5 days. The liquid is then strained and added to the soup near the end of the cooking time so as to not let the sour dissipate. No beet sour in my soup, and my mother-in-law probably did not use it either. Instead I added the juice of one lemon.

The soup can be served hot or cold, and the list of accompaniments is seemingly endless…from rye bread to hard boiled eggs, to boiled potatoes, to pierogis. This soup can be made vegetarian by using a vegetable broth, or by preparing a broth with beef, pork, fish, or a bone broth. Polish Christmas Eve borscht is ladled over dumplings made from pasta dough and filled with meat. Russian borscht might be served with round, cheese-filled tarts or small pancakes with cheese mixed into the batter. In East Slavic countries “memorial borscht” is served as the first course of funeral dinners. So many traditions are associated with this dish and several ethnic groups claim this as their own national dish. The history of borscht, as well as many other ethnic dishes that have been around for centuries, is very interesting.

I made a meat broth for my soup base by cooking pork ribs with half of a large onion (skin on), carrots, celery, and bay leaves. The broth simmered for a couple of hours. I strained the broth, shredded the meat, and discarded the vegetables. You can choose to use canned meat or vegetable broth or make your own.

Ingredients:

8 cups of broth

5-6 medium size beets peeled and diced

1 large onion diced

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

1-2 carrots shredded

2 potatoes peeled and diced

1/2 head of green cabbage shredded

3 T tomato paste

2 T of butter

Juice of 1 lemon

2 T sugar (optional)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel and dice the beets. I wore disposable gloves. You might want to also.

Shred the carrot and dice the onion and mince the garlic.

In a fry pan over medium heat melt 2 T of butter and sweat the carrots, onion, and garlic.

Peel, dice, and rinse the potatoes and shred the cabbage.

Using a large soup pot or a Dutch oven, begin heating your broth over medium heat. Add the shredded meat (if you’re using) and all of the vegetables.

Bring the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, and cover and simmer for about an hour or until all of the vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and lemon juice.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.

NOTE: You can substitute cider or wine vinegar for the lemon juice. As mentioned, any kind of broth will work including a vegetable broth. Some of the recipes I reviewed suggested shredding the beets but I like more texture in my soups.

Limpa (Swedish Rye Bread)

Another pandemic baking experiment. Yesterday I made a loaf of Swedish limpa, not to be confused with Finnish limppu. Bread is a Finnish staple. There is always bread on the table for every meal and I’m sure the same is true for the Swedes. My grandmother made limppu, occasionally wheat bread, and, of course, the sweeter cardamom braids on a regular basis. I have my grandmother’s bread bowls and I always use them when I make bread. I like to think they give me an edge. I grew up in a household of bread lovers. My grandfather and my dad had bread with every meal. Some of my brothers still carry on that tradition. The Finnish limppu is always baked in a round loaf, is dark, dense, heavy, and on the dry side. A little bakery near my hometown in the UP of Michigan, the Trenary Home Bakery, makes a great limppu bread. My dad liked his limppu toast in the mornings with his coffee and I would frequently buy a loaf or two to bring home when I visited. The recipe that I used yesterday is another King Arthur bread recipe and it is for Limpa, the Swedish Rye. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had the Swedish variety before. The consistency is moister and lighter than the Finnish bread and, since it calls for currents, dark beer, and molasses, it has a sweeter, malty flavor. Neither the Finnish or the Swedish rye is what you would imagine for a Reuben sandwich, but the limpa tasted great this morning with a little smoked salmon. After baking all of the sour doughs that require a couple of days to completion, this loaf came together rather quickly.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup orange juice

1 cup currants

3/4 cup lukewarm water

1/2 cup dark beer at room temperature

3 T molasses

2 tsp instant or active dry yeast

1 T grated orange zest

2 T unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp fennel, anise, or caraway seeds

1 1/2 cup (156g) rye flour

3 cups (361g) AP flour

Pour the orange juice over the currants and let them soak while you measure the remaining ingredients. In a large mixing bowl combine water, beer, molasses, yeast, orange zest, butter, salt, ginger, and seeds. Add the rye flour and mix thoroughly. Pour in the orange juice that the currants were soaking in. Set the currants aside for now.

Add the AP flour, one cup at a time, mixing until the dough thoroughly absorbs the flour. If you are mixing by hand set aside 1/2 cup of the flour for your work surface and hands as you knead. Mix in the currants. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl.

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours or until puffy. Deflate the dough, reshape it into a ball, and place it in an 8” round cake pan that has been generously greased. Allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes to an hour until puffy but not doubled in size. Halfway through the rise, preheat the oven to 375. Whisk an egg with 1 T of water and brush the loaf with the egg wash. Make a 1/2” deep cross in the top.

Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes, tenting loosely with foil after 20 minutes, to prevent it from browning too quickly. When a digital thermometer inserted into the center reads 190 degrees remove it from the oven. Tip the bread out of the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool.

Once the bread has cooled, slice and enjoy.

Store, well wrapped, at room temperature for three days or freeze for longer storage.

NOTE: I thought I had currants but did not so I substituted golden raisins. Research told me I could have also substituted pitted, chopped dates or soft prunes. If you don’t like dark beer (I do not) it’s fortunate a lot of groceries and party stores, at least in Michigan, sell beer by the bottle.

Coconut Macaroons

The Spring 2021 issue of Cuisine at Home had a great macaroon recipe. What made it different than macaroon recipes I’ve used before is the chocolate kiss you put in the center. In addition to subscribing to a few cooking magazines I also like to watch the cooking and baking shows. On the baking shows they frequently make macarons pronounced mack-a-ROHN, not the coconut variety pronounced mack-a-ROON. The former is a cookie, French in origin, that has a meringue-like consistency and is made primarily with egg whites, confection sugar, and almond flour. They are usually tinted in pastel shades and made into sandwich cookies with a creamy filling. When they make them on the baking shows the judges always talk about how perfect the “feet” are on the macarons. I have never made them, but I’ve eaten them, and prefer the less sophisticated coconut macaroon any day. And I don’t have to worry about them having perfect feet. This recipe is embarrassingly easy and everyone I shared the cookies with loved them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (7oz)

2 egg whites lightly beaten

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp pure almond extract

1/8 tsp kosher salt

24 Hershey’s kisses

4 oz bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate finely chopped

1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Using a whisk or a hand mixer lightly beat your egg whites.

Add the coconut, almond extract, sugar and salt to the egg whites and stir until well combined and the coconut is evenly moistened.

Take about 2 teaspoons of the coconut mixture using a small cookie scoop or teaspoon and insert a kiss in the center until enclosed on all sides but not the bottom.

Put the macaroons on a parchment lined cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake about 20 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet about halfway through.

The macaroons will be a golden toasty brown when they are baked. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the macaroons are cooling heat the chocolate and cream in a double boiler stirring until smooth.

Drizzle the ganache over the macaroons and let it set up before serving.

I made a double batch. The recipe said it would make 24 macaroons. Each batch that I made yielded 16 cookies. Maybe I was a little heavy handed. But I got no complaints from any of my cookie eaters.

Enjoy.

NOTE: You could also make these without the kisses in the center. I don’t eat chocolate so I made a couple for myself chocolate free. My dear friend Joyce makes macaroons and drizzles them with a sweet orange glaze which is excellent.

If you don’t have a double boiler put the chocolate and cream in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Works perfectly.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Soup is always a good choice for cold weather dinners. I love chicken and matzo ball soup but have never been a big fan of chicken noodle or chicken rice soup so I don’t make either. Maybe I had too much canned chicken soup as a child. We do like a good, homemade chicken pot pie so I decided to make it into a soup. I made my favorite pie crust recipe (part of my Meat Pie blog post if you’re interested), and made cut outs to put on top of the soup bowls. Because who doesn’t love flaky, buttery bites of pie crust! A couple years ago I spotted this cutter with the little chickens, and bought it for the express purpose of using it on individual pot pies. A few days ago I found it searching for something else in a drawer, and it’s what gave me the inspiration. This morning a friend asked me where I find all of the ingredients for my exotic dishes. Most all of my cooking uses basic, ordinary ingredients. Particularly in this pandemic I try extra hard to make things appetizing and fun to eat. And fun to cook. I must admit, I have had a few failed, lets not make this again, dishes!

For the soup I pretty much used all of the ingredients I would use when making pot pies except I added more broth. The soup would have been even better if I had made my own broth, but I used the Roasted Chicken Better than Bouillon which is an excellent substitute. You could also use boxed or canned broth.

Ingredients:

One package chicken thighs or breasts diced

1 T olive oil

3 T butter

1-2 russet potatoes peeled and cubed

1 medium onion diced

2-3 celery ribs chopped

2 medium carrots thin sliced

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp sage

1 tsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

5-6 cups of broth

1 cup of frozen peas

1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half

Season the chicken cubes with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven heat 1 T of olive oil and cook the chicken bits until they are no longer pink. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add the butter to the dutch oven and sweat the onions, celery, potatoes and carrots over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the flour, garlic powder, and sage. Add the broth and chicken and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are fork tender, 10-15 minutes. Add the peas and heavy cream and heat thoroughly. Serve with the pie crust bites. I made hearts (it is Valentine’s month) and the discs with the chickens.

My pie crust recipe makes two crusts so I couldn’t let the second one go to waste. Yesterday I bought raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries and made a rustic tart.

Bonus!

NOTE: I made my crust first, wrapped it in wax paper, and refrigerated it while I prepared the soup. While the soup was simmering I rolled out the crust and baked my cutouts. If you’re short of time you can use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery and just shred the chicken for the soup. Add any vegetables you like near the end of cooking…frozen peas, corn, green beans. Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust would also shorten your prep time, and you’ll still have an extra crust for a tart.

Pecan Pie Bars

My favorite slice of pie is pecan so I was excited when I found this recipe. It’s another wonderful King Arthur recipe. I’m thinking that one, or even two, pieces are less calories than a slice of pecan pie. So actually, I would consider this a lo-cal, diet recipe. Plus pecans have antioxidants, dietary fiber and so many vitamins and minerals that I don’t have time to list them all. So not only are these bars lo-cal, they are also healthy! It’s all about positive thinking.

We never had pecan pie when I was growing up. We had berry pies made from the berries we picked, apple pie, sugar pie, and raisin pie. If you asked my dad what his favorite kind of pie was, he would always add that raisin was his least favorite. I actually liked raisin pie. It is very similar to a mincemeat pie. Sugar pie had a graham cracker crust, a very, very sweet custard filling, and meringue on top. We all loved sugar pie. At least I certainly did. Haven’t made that in years but I have my mother’s recipe. All of our pies growing up were made with ingredients that were, at the time, relatively inexpensive. Pecans certainly don’t fall Into the inexpensive category then or now. You’ll see how simple these bars are to make. You may even have everything you need on hand.

Crust Ingredients:

18 T unsalted butter at room temperature

3/4 cup (160g) light brown sugar, packed

3 cups (360g) AP flour

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan and line with parchment paper leaving an overhang for easy removal from the pan. In a medium size mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour and salt to make a soft dough. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Lightly flour your hands and press the dough into the pan in an even layer making sure to get into the corners. Using a fork, prick the dough all over.

Bake until the crust is lightly golden, 14-18 minutes. Remove from the oven. While the crust is baking prepare the filling.

Filling Ingredients:

8 T unsalted butter

1/4 cup honey

6 T (80g) light brown sugar, packed

2 T heavy cream (or milk)

2 T granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups (227g) pecan pieces

Place all of the filling ingredients in a heavy medium size sauce pan.

Cook over medium high heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture is smooth and starts to boil. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour the filling mixture over the hot crust, letting it spread to the edges and corners. If necessary, use an offset spatula to smooth the filling into an even layer.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the filling is bubbling across the surface. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before lifting from the pan to cut and serve.

Cut and enjoy…this lower cal than a slice of pecan pie…treat.

NOTE: As with any recipe you can personalize these bars. If you prefer walnuts substitute them. If you don’t have light brown sugar dark would probably be fine. Likewise, milk would work if you didn’t have heavy cream. Whatever you do to these, I think they would still be delish!

Mustikkapiirakka Kukkaset aka Blueberry Pie with Flowers

One of the sites I really enjoy on Facebook is called Finnish Cooking & Culture. A few days ago I came across pictures and a recipe for these blueberry tartlets and decided I wanted to make them. I made a few modifications but the recipe was originally posted by Karoliina Reinkainen, truly a Finn. These gave me a couple of challenges, but once I got going I think I mastered flower pies. They are a perfect, two (or three) bite dessert. Most of the Finnish pastries and desserts that I’ve made and/or sampled are not overly sweet which is perfect for me. My husband’s general philosophy with regard to desserts is, the sweeter the better. But he did really like these.

When I was growing up, one of the things we did in the summer as a family was blueberry picking. My father worked for the US Forest Service and, while he was working in the woods, he’d come across these great blueberry patches. Then, on the weekend, we’d pile in the car with our coffee cans or little buckets and we’d go picking. Wild blueberries are much smaller than commercially raised berries so picking would sometimes be pretty tedious. And there were the mosquitos. But the picking had its rewards. When we got home we’d dump all of our containers into a sink full of water to wash them and remove stems and the occasional leaves that got in our coffee cans. Then we would each get a bowl of berries sprinkled with a little sugar and doused in cold milk. And then there were blueberry pies, and the blueberry fruit soup my grandmother would can and serve over her rice pudding. Those are all such good memories, even the picking.

Blueberries are a very tasty and also a very healthy treat. The wild blueberries we picked as kids boast twice the health boosting antioxidants as their commercially cultivated counterparts. Apparently the harsher the environment, the more potent the protection. Anyone who is familiar with Michigan’s Upper Peninsula knows that that environment can be pretty harsh. Eating a cup of blueberries a day is said to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 15%. They also contain flavonoids that can help fight inflammation. Regardless of the health benefits, they are awful good eating! And now we can all justify the caloric content of these little sweet treats.

Cookie Base Ingredients:

125 grams/4 1/2 oz room temperature butter

1 dl/just under 1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups AP flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla

In a medium size mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. On low speed, or with a wooden spoon, stir in the flours and baking powder until well combined. Work the dough a bit with our hands and divide into two discs. Wrap in wax paper or Saran Wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the berries and the topping.

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup of blueberries (wild or commercial)

1 T corn starch

Sugar to taste

3 T jam (I used peach)

Gently stir all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Topping Ingredients:

150 grams/5 oz of creme fraiche or sour cream

1 egg

2 T granulated sugar

Vanilla to taste

Lemon zest

In a small bowl whisk all these ingredients together and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375. Lightly grease a miniature muffin tin. Now you’re ready to start rolling out your dough. Remove one of the discs from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured surface. If you’re having a problem with the consistency work the dough a bit with your hands. Use a cookie cutter with a scalloped edge.

Drape your cutouts over the openings.

Gently press the cookies into the openings taking care not to tear the dough. I tore a few. Just gather than up and re-roll the dough.

Now you are ready to start adding the filling and the topping. My blueberries were good size and I put 3 or 4 in each cup.

Next, add about 2 tsp of the topping, taking care not to over fill them.

Now you’re ready to put them in the oven. I baked mine on the center rack for 14 minutes. Oven temperatures vary so check on them toward the end of the baking time. Once they are done cool them in the pan on a wire rack.

Once they are completely cooled you are ready to serve up and enjoy.

This recipe made about 34 tartlets.

NOTE: Take care not to overfill. You will notice I did that on a few tartlets. I also learned that it is much easier to remove them after they are completely cooled. I just ran an offset spatula around the edges.

I loved the little hint of rye in the cookie base but you can use all AP flour if you prefer. There is really no end to the variations on this treat. You could use whatever you have on hand; apple, raspberry, blackberry. You could also add a little seasoning to the base like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.