These cookies walk into a bar: you need this recipe during your quarantine …

Two days ago found me taking everything out of the freezer so I could see what the heck was really in there. Actually I was looking for one last bag of frozen cherries from  summer’s bumper crop. There were no cherries left, but I did find two jars of frozen raspberry puree that were dated two years ago. They had been meant for jam, but, well, jam is not really my thing, and Mr. H.C. has been too busy to make jam. Yeah, for the last two years…

I took one jar out and let it thaw. Yesterday I used some in my breakfast smoothie, but these were quart jars, folks. Then I thought maybe I’d make a raspberry rhubarb pie, because, yeah, I found some rhubarb too. But the thought of making a pie crust was too daunting. I’ve been cooking a lot. I’ve been eating a lot. And I’ve been adventurous in trying out new recipes, but yesterday just wasn’t a day for pie crust. I’m sure you know what I mean.

During this quarantine, we’ve been working on the bathroom. Mr. H.C. has been doing the lion’s share of the work. I’ve been doing what I can, when I can, but today he is taking out the old toilet and probably replacing some of the floor that has rotted around it. That seemed like a rotten one-person job, so I thought I would make him a treat out of this raspberry puree. After all, he picked the berries, he made the puree, and he’s taking out the old stinky toilet; it’s the least I can do.

It took me awhile to find a recipe that passed muster. Quarantine kitchens are odd to cook from, you know. Some things you have, some things you don’t. And we’ve been trying to be good, and only go to the grocery store once a week. So when I found this recipe, it seemed to be a basic bar cookie recipe that could take a lot of changes. Feel free to change it up if you don’t have a jar of raspberry jam or puree in your pantry; but I just gotta say, that the raspberry and chocolate combo is REALLY DELICIOUS. Plus, I really like bar cookies. So easy. No spoons. No baking sheets. No 8-10 minutes and then do it all again. I really like bar cookies.

This is an old Cooking Light recipe. Here are the ingredients, with comments on how you can make this your own. This has no eggs, so it could easily be vegan if you use coconut oil instead of butter.

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup flour (I used regular unbleached because I had it, but often I use almond flour or coconut flour as a substitute, and I think that would work here too.)
  • 5 T. softened butter (I used 3 T. ghee and 2 T. coconut oil–any combo would be good.)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (Sugar. Ahem. I lost 25 pounds last year by not baking much, and when I did, I used Swerve or Lankato as a sugar replacement. I’m currently out of all sugars except some organic cane sugar I get from Aldi. So that’s what I used. I cut it back to 1/2 cup in the crust though, with no problem and I added a teaspoon of molasses to give it the brown sugar feel and taste.)
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla, or almond, or whatever goes with what you are making…
  • 10 oz. raspberry jam (So…I had puree. Which is runnier and unsweetened. So I took that 1/4 cup of sugar that I left out of the crust, and added it to the puree. It tasted good, so I went with it. The runny bit I just hoped wouldn’t matter, and it didn’t… Feel free to sub here. I think this was originally a type of date bar cookie, so you could add any kind of jam you have, or pumpkin, or applesauce, or cooked dates, or raisins… it can be your own jam…)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (Yeah, I didn’t have chocolate chips either… But what I did have was a Moser-Roth dark chocolate and sea salt bar from Aldi. I chopped up three of those little individually wrapped bars and got a heaping half cup. This is a lesson in using what you have. If you’re using applesauce or pumpkin, nuts would be good…)
  • I added 1/4 cup shredded coconut to the flour mixture. Cacao nibs would be good too if you like crunch.

Lightly grease an 8×8 pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together the flour, oats, salt, and soda and set aside.

Mix the softened butter/oils and sugar until well combined. Add the vanilla, and then add the flour/oat mixture and stir well. It will be crumbly.  Take out 3/4 cups of the flour mixture and add the chocolate chips. Here is where you can make any other additions as well–coconut, cacao nibs, nuts, etc.  Press the larger amount of the flour/butter mixture into the pan. Reserve the part with the additional ingredients–this will be the topping.

Pour the jam, fruit puree, applesauce, pumpkin, whatever you are using for the filling on top of the pressed in crust. Then sprinkle the reserved topping all over and pop into the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned or bubbly. Cool on a wire rack and cut into 16 squares for nice dainty bites, or 9 squares for a good dessert-sized bar. If you used chocolate, I would recommend serving after 30 minutes, while the chocolate is still melty…

I’m thinking that this recipe is going to be different each time I make it. The texture of the chocolate-raspberry is almost like a moist brownie. But with no eggs, I had to think about what gives it that deliciousness. The liquidity of the raspberry purée ran down through the crust and changed the texture in a wonderful way. I’m pretty sure the texture and thickness of the raspberry jam called for in the original recipe would give these bars more of a traditional date bar type feel.

In the interest of not wanting to give you all disinformation (Ahem. I could go into a rant here…) I made this same recipe the next day with my frozen pumpkin purée. This might indicate to you that, yes, we ate the whole chocolate raspberry pan very quickly. What else is there to do?

So I can verify that this recipe can take whatever substitutes you want to throw at it. The pumpkin version was made with half almond flour and half unbleached flour. The crust was delicious. Again, I only added 1/2 cup sugar and added the other 1/4 cup into the pumpkin puree. I did not add anything else to the pumpkin (except spices) but I’m also pretty sure, you could add eggs and cream and make it a pumpkin pie bar…)

I added cashews to the topping but any kind of nuts would be good. Except sunflower seeds. Don’t add sunflower seeds. I made that mistake earlier in my quarantine baking experiments. They turn your baked goods green. It doesn’t taste bad, but it looks moldy and unappetizing.

I think my next experiment with this recipe will be rhubarb/raisin. But peanut butter and grape jam might be good too… Hey, we’ve got time to try lots of combinations, don’t we?

Happy Soup for February

The twenty-eight long days of February inspire me to find beauty in the ordinary things of the day.
Today’s inspiration is Happy Soup. It’s perfect for beginning a Valentine’s meal, and it’s also perfect for lean days of Lent. It’s also a soup that can be made start to finish in about an hour. It’s filling, delicious, and beautiful to serve. That’s why I call it Happy Soup. The real name is Roasted Beet and Carrot Bisque.

Yes, I didn’t tell you that at first because I know many of you will stop reading at the word Beet. But just look at how lovely it looks in that little soup bowl. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and swirl it around? Mr. H.C. was dubious, but two spoonfuls later, he exclaimed, “This is delicious!” (in a surprised voice…)

The last of the garden beets were looking sad in the fridge, so they inspired this soup day: four beets, three carrots, one large potato, and one large onion, broth, and herbs and spices is all you need. (You could substitute parsnips for the potato if you have some). But the one ingredient that you might not have, and is really critical to the taste, is Zatar.

It is a middle eastern spice blend; you can order it online here if you don’t have a Middle Eastern market or a Penzey’s nearby… This is not some odd spice that has one use — truly, it is delicious, and can be sprinkled on vegetables, chicken, breads, sauces, soups, rice… Zatar (or Za’atar) has a tangy, salty, earthy taste that you really need to try.

So, get your Zatar, and try this Happy Soup with bread and a salad.

HAPPY SOUP

Have on hand: 4 beets, 3 carrots, a large onion, and 1-2 potatoes or parsnips, depending on size. Enough broth to cover vegetables; 2-3 tsp. Zatar; assorted spices (salt, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, 2 T. honey or agave syrup.)

Chop the vegetables into small cubes of a similar size and toss them in 2 T. olive oil, 2 T. balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pour them on to a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes; take the veggies out, stir them around with a spatula, and roast again for 10 minutes longer, or until they are fairly soft. (You are still going to cook them for longer, so they don’t have to be totally done.)

Here are the vegetables prepared for roasting. I have about 4 cups, and that made enough for 4 servings. How big or small you cut the vegetables will determine how long you have to roast them.

Scrape the veggies from the pan into a soup pot. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary if you have one, 2 tsp. Zatar, and cover the vegetables with broth. I used chicken broth because that was what I had, but vegetable broth would be just as good. Simmer the vegetables until really soft –about a half hour — but don’t cook down all the broth, because you need it in the next step.

Pour the vegetables and hot broth into a blender (carefully) and puree. Alternately, you could use an immersion blender, but I can’t say how that would work, because I don’t have one. If you need to add a bit more broth to blend the vegetables up well, go ahead. I added an extra 1/4 cup.

Pour the blended bisque back into the soup pot and add 1 t. cardamom, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 2 T. honey or agave syrup, salt & pepper to taste. Simmer and stir gently just till all is mixed in. Keep tasting and adding spices to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with more Zatar, and serve.

This….

…to this — in about 40 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Sit and enjoy the brilliant red color in your bowl, the warming earthiness in your mouth, and the filled feeling in your stomach.
And be glad.

Plain or fancy?

The kitchen here at Apple Hill is a busy place these days. You know those days? When you are cooking, peeling, stirring, canning while in your yoga pants and t-shirt, and hoping desperately that no one just drops in to visit because 1. every pot in your kitchen is in use; 2. you surely don’t have time to take a break to talk to anyone; and 3. you were so busy getting into the kitchen that you might have forgotten to brush your teeth and you definitely didn’t comb your hair.

In between making tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, applesauce, apple butter, and canning gingered pears, I made this most-delicious-apple-cake-in-the-world.  I posted the plain recipe before in a post about walnuts, but the fancy version (without walnuts) is, perhaps, the very best recipe ever that you can make with apples. And we do apples right around here…

It goes by the humble name of Apple Pudding Cake. I know, not exactly exciting or gourmet sounding is it?

But this is the most luscious, caramel-ly, apple-ly, golden brown earthy goodness you will ever taste. And if you want to make it even more so, there is a simple warm caramel sauce that you can ladle over the cake that will just send you and your tasters over the moon. Or at least over your favorite apple tree.

You can see how old and spill-covered the recipe is…

And after a quick scan of the ingredients, you can also see how basic the ingredients are. Most likely they are sitting in your food pantry this very moment, just calling out to be made into this simple, simply amazing pudding cake.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and butter an 8 inch square pan. (This recipe can be doubled for a 9×13 inch pan as well. If you double it, bake the cake for 50 minutes.)

Beat 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 c. softened butter until well combined . Add one egg and beat until fluffy. Add the dry ingredients: 1 t. baking soda, 1 t. cinnamon, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 t. salt, 1 c. unbleached white flour. Mix well. The batter will be thick — so thick a spoon will stand up easily in it. (If you are the type of person who likes spoonfuls of batter, try to control yourself — you still have to add the apples.)

Peel and chop apples to make two cups. Depending on the size of your apples, 2 or 3 is likely. I also like to mix and match the  apples — you can see in the first photo I used a red apple (Jonathan) and a yellow/green apple (Grimes Golden). But really, just use what you have. I don’t think this dessert could possibly be ruined by using the wrong apple. Although I will say that if you are using a bland Red Delicious sort, you might want to zing them up slightly by squeezing half a lemon over them.

Do not skimp on the apples. As you are mixing them into the batter, it looks like quite a lot of apples, but they soften while baking, imparting to the cake its pudding-like consistency. Bake 25-35 minutes, depending on how gooey you like it. The brown crustiness on the top is amazing with the pudding-like texture inside. Do not overbake it…

If you are reading the recipe card in the photo above, you will notice that it also suggests using mini-bundt pans. I tried this several times and had no success getting them out of the pans in any kind of decent shape. Maybe you will be better at that than I am, but I gave up and now just serve it as homely squares on a plate. When you make the caramel sauce to go over it, no one will care that it isn’t in some fancy shape.

This recipe was given to me over ten years ago by a friend of the woman whose name is on the recipe card. Last year, at a church potluck supper, a new friend brought an apple cake. I commented to her how delicious it was and she brought me the recipe. It was the exact same recipe, except hers added walnuts and a teaspoon of baking powder as well. I’ve been making this cake without baking powder for ten years, but comparing hers and mine, I will tell you that if you add baking powder you might get more of a cake type outcome. And of course, should you care to add walnuts, feel free…

To make the caramel sauce, melt 1/3 cup butter in a small pan. Add 2/3 cup sugar (I use 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar and 1/3 cup raw sugar) and stir until well-mixed and starting to bubble. Add 1/2 t. cinnamon and slowly add 1/3 cup half-and-half, whisking well. Let simmer over low heat until it is no longer sugar-y. Drizzle, ladle, or pour the warm sauce over individual squares of cake. This sauce guilds the lily. Truthfully, I only make the caramel sauce when I’m serving this for company (or taking pictures for a blog post) but the first time you make the cake, you should definitely have the sauce with it. You need to be able to make an accurate decision about when to make the sauce and when to have it just plain.

Plain or fancy — Which are you?

Smell the apple-cinnamon-brown sugar deliciousness?