Sumac Squares

Sumac BarsI’ve been playing with sumac this weekend. I happened to catch Rachael Ray talking about sumac as a spice for cooking. Up until now, sumac was that shrub we have out by the driveway; I hadn’t heard of using it in cooking. So off I went to Google and Pinterest to see what I could find. I learned that, not only was the sumac in my driveway suitable for culinary uses, but it could be harvested right now. Sumac berriesI’d never paid much attention to these cones before, on closer inspection they are made up of tiny reddish fuzzy berries. When I rubbed a cone between my fingers it was sticky, and tasted tart. I collected several cones, put half aside to dry as a spice, and then set about making sumac extract. I put the rest of the cones in an ice cream bucket. I suppose the bucket was at least half full.  Then I filled the bucket with cold water, and rubbed the berries off into the water with my hands, as shown in this video from Leda’s Urban Homestead. I let it soak for a few hours, and then strained through a mesh strainer and then a cloth. Now I had sumac extract. Sumac ExtractThe next day I dissolved 1 part sugar in 1 part boiling water, and sweetened the sumac extract with 1 part sugar water to 4 parts sumac extract to make refreshing sumac-ade. So far so good. I made up a batch of sumac syrup according to this recipe. I haven’t done anything with that yet, but can imagine cooking it up with some blueberries and serving over pancakes. Then I went out and picked some more to make another batch of extract. Sumac Pudding CakeI made a ‘lemon’ pudding cake based on this recipe, replacing the lemon juice and skim milk with 1 cup sumac extract plus 1/2 cup whole milk. The cake part of the pudding was an odd greyish, slightly pinkish color, but the flavor was wonderful. It was enough to convince me that I wouldn’t be wasting other ingredients (that I actually have to, you know, pay for) if I experimented further with using the sumac extract as a substitute for lemon juice in other recipes. Sumac SquaresToday I made bars adapted from a standard recipe for lemon bars. This one is a definite keeper, and I’ve thrown several pre-measured packages of sumac extract into the freezer so I don’t have to wait until next fall to make it again.

Sumac Squares

Crust

  • 1+1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter, cubed

Filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sumac extract

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray
  • In a food processor, pulse together crust ingredients.
  • Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden.
  • While baking, beat eggs until light.
  • Beat sugar into the eggs.
  • Beat the flour and baking powder into the eggs.
  • Stir in the sumac extract.
  • Pour over the prepared crust and return to the oven.
  • Bake for an additional 25 minutes until the top forms a crust.
  • Loosen the edges while warm.
  • Cut when cool.
  • Dust with powdered sugar (optional)

Cut sumac squares

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Cherry Ripe Bars

closeupOne of the standard Christmas goodies around here (that is to say, in my house) has been Cherry Ripe Bars (‘slice’ in Australia, but I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to call them ‘bars’ now). As an Australian expat Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe chocolate bar is a little taste of ‘home’ which isn’t practical to have too often. For years I’ve made a variation on the recipe in one of the two cookbooks that moved to the US with me, The Esk Valley CWA cookbook (1986), as my go-to substitute. The filling has always been a bit squishy making the finished bars hard to cut and handle, so this year I went looking for alternative recipes.

I found a few recipes with a cooked filling, but some didn’t look right (beige with a few cherry bits instead of really pink) . The recipe at My Kitchen Stories seemed like a good starting point. I combined a filling based off this new recipe with a crust based off my original recipe.

This recipe makes a lot. I make it in an 11×17 inch pan. I’m sure you could make a half recipe in a smaller pan, but this just works out well as it uses a full can of sweetened condensed milk and a full package of cherries. I cut the edges off (for immediate sampling) and then get about 112 (or 8×14) bite-sized pieces from a pan this size. It freezes well though, so plenty to pull out for a special treat here and there 🙂

Ingredient and equipment notes:

You’ll want a food processor for this recipe. I’m sure it could be done without one, but I wouldn’t want to. There is no need to wash the food processor between steps.

I like to use a pastry roller (mine is from Pampered Chef) for the base, but you could use a drinking glass if needed.

Australian recipes often call for dessicated coconut, which I’m not able to purchase in my local grocery store, so I use shredded coconut which has been through the food processor. Note that the volume reduces quite a bit, so if you are using this substitution in another recipe, process it before measuring. This recipe uses one 5-1/3 cup or 14 oz package. The picture shows before and after processing it.dessicated coconut in the food processor

Candied or glacé cherries are the ones that are available around Christmas, but not during the year in some stores. One of the main ingredients in US candied cherries is corn syrup. These are not the same as maraschino cherries … or pie filling … please don’t try to use either of those 🙂

Line a 10×15″ cookie pan  (the kind of pan that has 3/4″ sides) with foil or parchment paper.

Ingredients:

Ingredients

1 C walnuts
1-1/2 C shredded coconut
2 sleeves graham crackers
3/4 C butter
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C cocoa
2 eggs

16 oz candied / glacé cherries
(approximately) 4 C shredded coconut (the rest a 14 oz package)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk

1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2-3 TB coconut oil (or butter)

three bowls

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line an 11×17 pan with foil or parchment.
  2. Crush graham crackers in food processor and put in a mixing bowl.
  3. Pulse walnuts in the food processor until finely chopped and add to the large bowl.
  4. Process 1-1/2 C coconut in the food processor and add to the large bowl.
  5. Melt butter, add sugar & cocoa on the stovetop, bring to a boil.
  6. Remove from the heat and whisk in eggs until the mixture is smooth.
  7. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well.
  8. Press into prepared pan as evenly as possible
  9. Process the candied cherries until they are a gooey mess, and put them in a second bowl.
  10. Process the remaining coconut in the food processor, and add to the bowl (the coconut will help pick up the remaining cherry goo, and will turn slightly pink.
  11. Add the sweetened condensed milk and combine.
  12. Gently spread the cherry mixture over the base.layers1000
  13. Bake for 30 minutes until it is slightly brown and slightly puffed.baked1000
  14. Cool completely.
  15. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil or butter in a microwavable bowl for 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
  16. Spread chocolate over the bars as evenly as possible. It sometimes helps to tap the pan or drop it from a few inches onto the counter.
  17. Let set overnight at cool room temperature  or in the refrigerator to hurry it up.
  18. Remove from the pan and sandwich the uncut bar between two cutting boards to turn upside down and peel off the foil or parchment, then turn right side up again before cutting.
  19. Wipe the knife off with a spatula or damp cloth if needed between cuts.

finished1000

My First Mac And Cheese

Today I caught ABCs The Chew for the first time. It was noon, the kids home on winter break, I knew I should be making lunch but I was uninspired and I’m a sucker for any kind of cooking show so I sat on the couch instead.

In the first segment they made Mac and Cheese. Now, Mac and Cheese is not my thing. I’ve lived in the US for 20 years now, but it has just never appealed to me, especially not the from-a-box variety my kids like. Bacon, on the other hand, is a whole different story 🙂

Mac and Cheese CasseroleI didn’t take any notes or look up the recipe (I found it later here), but in the first ad break I turned on a pot of water to heat, and dug out a couple partial boxes of pasta.

So, it wasn’t exactly like the orignal recipe. I didn’t have any squash. My bacon was already cooked and drained so I had to add some extra bacon grease back in (yes, there’s a reason I keep some in the back of the fridge).  I used our every day cheese instead of something fancy. I didn’t have breadcrumbs so just grated up a couple of slices of sandwich bread. Oh, and I entirely missed the garlic and nutmeg, seasoning with just a little black pepper instead. As is usual for our house, I used fresh whole milk (about 4%) instead of half-and-half.

Although some of my substitutions and guesses were probably less than ideal, it turned out well. My kids liked it. I even liked it. And, it was done and on the table before The Chew was over. I might be a Mac and Cheese convert!

Mac and Cheese Casserole

  • pasta (I used some whole wheat spirals and some of those little rings, maybe 3/4 box total)
  • 6 strips bacon
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • black pepper to taste
  • whole milk (1-2 cups)
  • cheese (I used Marble Jack, Cheddar, and Parmesan, grated to make about 2-3 cups)
  • 1 TB dried parsley
  • 2 slices bread, grated

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box, but reduce the time by a couple of minutes. Preheat the oven (I used 350F, but the 365-400F in the recipe would be quicker and result in a toastier topping).

Meanwhile, cook the bacon and onion (since my bacon was already cooked and drained I also added in about a tablespoon of bacon grease that I just happened to have handy) in an oven-safe frying pan. Stir the flour into the bacon drippings in the pan, stir in the milk. When the milk is hot, stir in half the cheese.  Stir in the drained pasta.

Mix the remaining cheese with the bread crumbs and parsley and layer it over the pasta.

Bake until slightly browned on top (at this temperature that was 15-20 minutes).

Pull-Apart Herb Bread

When I saw this recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread I just had to try it with my favorite bread dough recipe!

Pull-Apart Herb BreadSite Stats


I’ve been making variations on this easy bread recipe since I borrowed Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day from the local library last year. My “usual” variation is equal parts white, wheat, and rye flour, but for this recipe I used all white (my mother-in-law already had rye bread for this particular meal). Also, I wanted something savory rather than sweet to go with her soup, so went for herbs rather than cinnamon and sugar. It turned out well, and I made it again (with a few tweaks) for a staff potluck at church yesterday…

White Boule, Seasoning

I started with 1/3 of a recipe of White Boule dough. I’m sure any kind of bread dough would work fine, even frozen store-bought dough.

For seasoning I used

  • 1 TB canola oil
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1 clove minced garlic
I melted the oils and dried herbs together in the microwave for 20 seconds (2 10-second bursts) and then mixed in the garlic. Then I let that cool, since the dough I use tends to disintegrate if you put anything hot on it.
I rolled out the dough with lots of four until it was quite thin and maybe about 18″ across, and then spread the seasoning mixture on. I cut the dough into 8 strips..

stacking

I stacked up the strips, then cut the stack into 8 squares.

In the pan

I arranged the squares of layers into a bread pan. The pan was then covered with a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator until morning (I was taking this to work so wanted to just be able to put it in the oven the next morning).  The photo on the right shows what it looked like the next morning. I had planned time to let it sit on the counter to rise before baking, but decided this was good enough and ended up leaving it in the fridge until I turned the oven on.

I baked this according to the standard directions for the boule dough. I preheated the oven to 450 degrees for 20 minutes with a shallow pan on the bottom shelf and a pizza stone on the middle shelf. During this time the pan of dough sat on top of the stove. When I put the loaf in, I poured water (about a cup) in the shallow pan to create steam.

done!

I baked it for 30 minutes. It tipped right out of the pan, and we ate it warm with lots of melty butter during staff meeting 🙂

Raspberry Truffles

Every year I make a variety of chocolates for Christmas. It started with Cherry Cordials, and now the ‘regular’ assortment has grown to include mocha truffles and dipped turtles. Last weekend I made the batch of cordials (because they need two weeks in the fridge), and this weekend I made the mocha and turtle varieties. This year my daughters both requested I make something with raspberry and dark chocolate …

I have experimented with recipes using preserves before, but this time I wanted a fresher, more fruity result. So, I bought a bag of frozen raspberries, and then started searching for the perfect recipe.  I kept coming back to Raspberry Chocolate Truffles on Using Mainly Spoons, so decided to try making fruit ganache.

I started by microwaving the bag of raspberries in short bursts and then pressing out as much juice as I could, which was about a cup.  In making the ganache, I went with the same proportions I’ve used for years with my Mocha Truffles (1 part cream to 2 parts chocolate).

The centers turned out way too soft to dip the way I had intended, so I went with more of a peanut-butter-cup-style chocolate. They aren’t super attractive, but the flavor is perfect … the girls and think they are amazing, but (more importantly) my husband and son don’t care for them at all.

Definitely worth refining next year! I think I would tweak the ratio of chocolate to fruit in an attempt to get a stiffer ganache that I could dip. And if I did end up doing the cups again I would put one more thin layer of chocolate on the tops for a smoother finish.

Although I thought about it many times, I failed to take any step-by-step  photos. So all I can show you is the finished product.

Raspberry Truffles

Recipe : Raspberry Truffles

1 C raspberry puree (from 1 bag frozen raspberries)
2 oz butter
splash of spiced rum
zest of 1 orange
few drops almond essence
12 oz chocolate chips

I heated the raspberry puree just to a boil with the orange zest and rum. Then I removed it from the heat, fished out the orange zest, and added the butter, almond essence, and chocolate chips. (I noticed later that the Using Mainly Spoons recipe calls for adding the alcohol at the end … not sure if that makes any difference, but will try to remember that next time).

I poured the ganache into a 9×13 pan to cool at room temperature.

At this stage the ganache was somewhat firmed up and I was able to pipe it into tubes using a quart-size freezer bag with the corner snipped off. I put the piped ganache in the freezer, and figured it would be firm enough to cut into pieces and dip in chocolate the next day.

Not exactly. The frozen ganache was still way too gooey to contemplate trying to dip. With a little experimentation I came up with a putzy but workable way to get it into the mini baking cups.

I laid out 90 mini baking cups in two cookie sheets, and melted about 1 bag of chocolate chips in a freezer bag. I piped this much into the bottoms of the cups and used a knife to spread it around a bit to cover the entire bottoms of the cups.

Using a frosting spreader to scrape up dollops of the ganache (about garbonzo-bean size), and my fingers to coax them onto the chocolate bases. I was careful that they didn’t touch the sides of the cups.

Raspberry sauceI had about a cup of ganache left over that I put into a small jelly jar in the freezer … the plan is to use that at some point as a filling between layers of fudgy brownie 🙂 Since I neglected to take a photo of that (and now it is in the freezer), here it is cropped out of the side of one of the photos my younger daughter took yesterday, perhaps it will give you an idea of the consistency.

I then melted another 2 bags of chocolate chips (1 bag of Hersheys special dark + 1 bag of Ghirardelli 60% cacao) in another freezer bag and piped a couple of rings of chocolate around the sides of each cup. This used about half the chocolate in the freezer bag.

To settle everything into the cup I picked up the trays an inch or two and slammed them back onto the table (note: next time warn high school senior who is quietly doing homework in the next room).

Finally I went back and covered the tops with the remaining chocolate, and again banged the trays on the table to smooth the tops.

I let them set up at room temperature for several hours before packing between layers of wax paper in a freezer container.