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Orange Fig Bars

This year I am running behind on everything!  Shopping, baking, mailing the Christmas cards and gifts… So I am absolutely grateful to have a quiet weekend just before the big day.  I’ve been craving something fig lately and I came across this wonderful recipe in the Family Circle Magazine 2013 holiday edition.  Being a huge fan of figs, I just couldn’t pass it up!

So….(drum roll, please) here is my first attempt at homemade fig bars!

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Pre-heat your oven to 350* F. The next thing I do is get the figs cooking down so that once I finish the cookie layer, they are ready to go and I don’t have to wait for them.

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You’ll need a large, lidded pan that can hold 4 cups of dried figs that have been coarsely chopped.  In this pan will go the chopped figs, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, orange juice (I squeezed a fresh naval orange) and the zest from an orange.  I also added a little water.   The figs I used were organic, dried figs that we found at Costco.  They are wonderful!  And since figs can sometimes be difficult to find depending on where you live, this was a nice treat for me.

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First chop your figs into smaller chunks.  I cut these figs in half, the cut each of those halves into another half.  Wash your orange really well (organic is best) and take your zester, pictured above, and zest all the peel off into the pot. Then squeeze the juice of that orange. It will look like a sticky mess once you add the honey, orange juice and water!  But it will smell absolutely wonderful!!

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On medium heat, bring the figs to a simmer, lower the heat, put the lid on and let cook about 15 minutes or until they are all soft.  I made sure to stir occasionally and was actually able to resist the urge to lick the spoon!  While the figs are cooking, put together the cookie layer.  Once that is done and the figs are soft, you will put them into a food processor, or blender, and run until they are completely smooth.  This mixture will then be spread on top of the cookie layer to be baked for about 25 minutes.  Make sure you cool completely or cutting them into bars will be a nightmare!

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The recipe is below.  Have fun with it and enjoy these!  I actually ended up cutting them smaller than what is on the plate.  They are so rich and delicious and not very sweet at all!

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Orange & Fig Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour (make sure it is unbleached) or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt (I used Celtic Gray Sea Salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (vegan butter works well here)

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

4 cups dried figs, roughly chopped

1/2 cup orange juice or the juice of one large orange

1/4 cup water – this is my addition to the recipe

zest from a large orange

2 tbsp. pure honey

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  (I am partial to parchment)

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Slowly pour in the flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Press firmly and evenly in the bottom of your lined baking pan.

In a medium, lidded pot, combine figs, orange juice and zest, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, and water, if you are adding it.  Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook until soft…about 15 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor (or blender) and run until smooth.  Let cool about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula dipped in warm water to prevent sticking, spread the fig mixture over the cookie layer. (re-dip your spatula in warm water as needed to prevent sticking)

Bake at 350*F for 25 minutes.  Cool completely.  Lift from the pan to a cutting board.  Cut into small squares.

Per cookie: 122 cal; 3g fat (2g sat fat); 2g pro; 24g carb; 2g fiber; 41mg sodium; 7mg chol

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It’s a “Pizza” Tomato Pie!

Cooking shows are some of my favorite and in order to catch them, I have to DVR all the time.  They are full of great ideas and some of my favorite shows include Pioneer Woman, Not My Mama’s Meals, French Food at Home and Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam.

With an abundance of tomatoes from our garden, I decided I need to do something with them! Last week I made fresh marinara using my immersion blender and paired it with spaghetti for a wonderful meal. This week I was trying to decide what to do.  I had seen Bobby Deen remake his Mama’s Tomato Pie and while the Paula Deen’s tomato pie looked wonderful, I didn’t want all the calories of it.  And I didn’t want the “Pizza” version that Bobby made, even though it looks absolutely delicious! (And it’s absolutely because I have not mastered yeast breads yet and my pizza crusts are incredibly awful!)

I decided to make is more like a stacked pie sans crust.

Cyn’s Tomato “Pie”

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Slice 6 tomatoes fresh from the garden into extra thick slices

Stack them in a colander in a single layer and sprinkle lightly with sea salt to drain for about 10 minutes. I really had quite a bit more than the picture shows! You can use a really large colander and stack a lot at one time.

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I sprayed my casserole dish and set it aside

Next whisk together 3 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 3-4 turns on the grinder of sea salt and black pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, a big pinch of Cyn’s Dried Herb blend (sweet basil, parsley, thyme & oregano from my garden)

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Grabbing the Panko bread crumbs I started stacking starting with a layer of tomatoes sprinkle the Panko and cover generously, stacking until you run out of tomatoes.

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Once stacking is complete, pour your egg mixture over the entire dish until it fills up to the top, added shredded cheese to the top: Cheddar, Pepper Jack, and Havarti. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.  Remove from your oven and let set for about 5 minutes before serving.

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I took a spoonful of this out and tasted it. It was absolutely delicious! The Pepper Jack cheese gave it just enough bite.  Pair it up with grilled chicken, steak and salad or any vegetarian dishes for a tasty summer meal!

Bon Appetit!

Banana Bread

One of our favorite breakfast items is homemade banana bread.  I’ve been making it for years, tweaking the recipe and messing around with it changing out the bananas for other fruits.  It has become a family favorite and my husband requests it for the guys at his office every now and then.

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Gather together all your ingredients and grab a big mixing bowl and your favorite wooden spoon and let’s make banana bread!

I have found a fantastic new use for my potato masher….mashing bananas! This wonderful tool pictured below was a gift from my thoughtful friend, Tonya.

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One of my “secrets” to having plenty of bananas ready for baking at any given time: freeze those overripe Produce Manager’s specials. You know, the ones where you can buy a whole bag of bananas for 99c! Every time they are on sale at the market, I buy 1-2 bags and peel them, lining them up in a large freezer bag. Lay the flat and you’ll have bananas ready at any time!

Here’s the recipe that I have used:

Banana Nut Bread

Preheat oven to 350F

1/3 c. shortening – note: I do NOT use shortening, substitute canola oil, extra virgin coconut oil or safflower oil – cup for cup

3/4 c. sugar – I cut this back to 1/4 cup

2 eggs – I half this

1 3/4 cup flour – I take the 3/4 cup & change it out to whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp. aluminum free baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt – I use kosher salt or sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 c. mashed bananas – as you can see from the picture above, I pour the thawed bananas and the juices in all together, plus I use more than a cup…..makes it extra good!

1 cup chopped walnuts – or your favorite nut – pecans are good for this too.

3 tbsp. milk – I use unsweetened soy milk – you can use whatever you want

In a large bowl, cream together milk, oil/shortening and sugar; add egg and beat well. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and add to creamed mixture.  Stir until well mixed. Fold in bananas and nuts, blending well. Pour into greased loaf pan.

Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown and pick inserted comes out clean.

Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Wrap and store overnight.

Or as we do in our house….slice it up hot and chow down!

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Cutting back on the sugar works okay for this recipe if the bananas are super ripe. If you are concerned about any bitter taste, make sure that your bananas are just spotted, not super black. But if they are that ripe, a couple little scoops of stevia will help adjust the flavor and allow the sugar amount to be cut in half or more.  Pure honey also works well as a sugar replacement in this recipe. You’ll need to reduce the oil/shortening amount to compensate for the extra moisture that honey provides.

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Won’t you pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and a slice of banana bread with me? I’d like that very much!

Garden Delights

Each year for the past 3 or so, I’ve started dabbling in the garden. I have many wonderful childhood memories of eating wonderful things from my parent’s garden. My mom has a green thumb like no other and it’s amazing how, even to this day, her zest and energy to work in the yard puts me to shame!

My childhood gardens were filled with cauliflower, 10-lb. cabbage heads, broccoli, sweet corn, green beans, peas and so much more. I remember mom used to chase me out of the garden for standing there and eating the peas! There is nothing as good as fresh peas straight from the garden!

I’m not as much a green thumb as my mother, but I sure try! My garden is much, much smaller than hers ever was, but the bounty from it is plenty enough for me and my husband. Last summer I came across this wonderful book at my local library and just had to take it home with me. The book is by Brett Markham, Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 acre.  It is a wonderful book for refreshing your knowledge or for explaining gardening and giving wonderful tips on how best to use up the space in a small yard. The book is through Skyhorse Publishing and you can click here to see their website: Mini-Farming.

My garden is just 3 raised beds that are 4-ft. x 8-ft. x 6-in. high.  We bought a composite board kit that we found at Sam’s Club. I wanted to use the composite boards for a couple of reasons…I didn’t want any treated wood around my garden, thereby decreasing the chance of having any arsenic leech into the ground and I didn’t want to have to replace the boards any time soon.  And since I am no longer allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds, using concrete blocks was out of the question.

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We started out by putting a scoop of mushroom compost in these boxes followed with some top soil and I added a big bag of Miracle Grow garden soil to each block. I strongly believe that this combination has resulted in a much healthier and bigger plant.  Last summer my tomato plants had stalks about 1.5-2 inches in diameter! My green pepper plants had stalks that were nearly 1-inch in diameter!

The plants you see to the left are all my volunteer tomatoes that have popped up from last year’s crop! Turns out we have 8 volunteers this year! Essentially doubling my crop this year. Because about 3 weeks before they pushed through, Jeff came home from the farmer’s market with 4-Brandywine and 4-Big Boy plants. I’ve never had Brandywine, so thought it would be a wonderful addition to the mix. I believe we have Beefsteak, Roma and Big Boy volunteers based on the location where they popped up.

To help control the hornworms and other pests, I have planted marigolds (also from the seeds I’ve gathered from seasons past) and cosmos in and around the tomatoes. Doing this for the past few years has allowed me to not use any pesticides of any kind on my garden.  This year, I’m afraid of some contamination because with the mild winter, the county has taken to spraying our neighborhoods with pesticides for bug control. We’ve already noticed how bad the pests are this year and worried about how it will affect the garden.

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I’ve also begun to plan my potted garden for this season. Since I’ve been including more fresh herbs in my cooking as well as drying and making my own herb seasonings, it seemed like having a garden near the kitchen would be a grand idea. We recently added a grill to our “outdoor kitchen” and I’ve started cooking outside during the hot summer months leaving the kitchen and house inside much cooler.  As these herbs grow, the pictures will follow!

At the end of the season last year, we purchased two peach trees. The dollar value was 2-for-1 at that time, so we were able to plant more by waiting until the end of the season when the prices get slashed.  The trees appeared to be about 2-3 years old, so I figured in about 1-2 seasons, we would start seeing fruit. Well, this year we have fruit! I wasn’t sure if I should cut them off and let the tree grow another year, but in the end, we decided to see what happens.

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For now, enjoy some photos of my garden as it stands now!

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It’s official…..summer has officially started! Here’s to happy gardening and warm, lazy days filled with family, friends and lots of good food!

Blackberry Fields Forever

When it comes to fruit, it is really hard to find one that I don’t like. And when it comes to Sunday mornings, more often than not, pancakes made from scratch and fresh fruit is the menu choice of the day! Growing up, my dad and mom used to make pancakes for Sunday morning breakfast every now and then. Boy, were they delicious! I never dreamed I would one day own a home that would have blackberry bushes! It took a year, but the harvest was unbelievable! And I never had to plant them! These berries came from my bachelorette pad which we now refer to lovingly as our “other house.” To preserve them, I froze a batch of them and now have them whenever I feel like having one!

Years ago, I quit using box mixes and started learning to make my pancakes from scratch. That way, I can control what goes in and more importantly, what doesn’t go into my dishes! Let’s get cooking!

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I don’t measure much once I have mastered a recipe. So to make things easier, I have taken a recipe that I started with that is very good. If you’ve never done this, it’s a great start and as you get this recipe mastered, you can play with it and change it.

The original recipe is as follows:

4 tbsp SACO Buttermilk Blend

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg

1 c. water

2 tbsp. oil

Sift dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl. Add beaten egg, water and oil. Beat just until batter is smooth. Don’t overbeat! A few lumps in the batter will be fine. Set aside your batter for just a few minutes. Using a non-stick spray, drop by small ladle-full or by tablespoonful onto a heated skillet, turning once lightly browned. Stack and butter.

Now here is what I’ve done with the recipe:

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Cyn’s Pancakes (except for the flour, please keep in mind my measurements are approximate)

3 tbsp. SACO Buttermilk Blend

1 tbsp. raw wheat germ

1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 c. soy flour

1/4 tsp. stevia extract powder

1 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 egg

1 c. organic soy milk

2 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (I love vanilla!)

Sift together all the dry ingredients and add beaten egg, milk and vanilla. Beat just until batter is smooth. Do not overbeat! This recipe makes about 10 pancakes. Just double or adjust for servings needed.

While watching a cooking show which featured homemade syrup, I decided to try it. The first couple of tries, it wasn’t the correct consistency. I’m still working on perfecting the syrup, but here is the recipe:008

1 c. sugar (I used dark brown sugar)

1 c. water

bring to a boil, let cool, serve while warm

You can add your favorite fruits, extract flavorings, like vanilla, and/or a dash of cream to vary the flavors.

By the time our breakfast was ready, the blackberries had thawed and were ready to eat.

I use real, un-salted, sweet cream butter or a vegetarian variety, Earth Balance Spread atop the pancakes. Add a few of the thawed blackberries and finish with the homemade syrup. Mmmmm! So good!

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Bon Appetite! Until next time….

The Delicious Disaster

Years ago, I used to frequent a lovely little restaurant called La Bonne Crepes. Ever since then, I have developed a taste for wonderful savory crepes and on occasion, a delightful dessert crepe. Sometimes I just get a craving for something really good. And often times it needs to be of French or Asian origin!

Crepe batterIn my mind, I figured that the batter was essentially a thinner pancake batter and decided to plunge right in and just make it without a recipe. Pulling out my larger Pyrex measuring cup, I made my batter: flour, water, salt, a pinch of baking powder and vanilla. Mixed it all together into a thin “pancake” batter and let it set. WRONG!!!! This is why this is my delicious disaster!

The first to go in the pan wouldn’t set and then it stuck so badly, I had to scrape it out and dump it in the trash! So I grabbed my trusty iPad and went searching for a good recipe. I found a wonderful recipe by one of my favorite TV chefs, Alton Brown on the Food Network Website. So here is what you need to make crepes:Crepe pan disaster

Crepe Batter

2 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1 cup flour

3 tbsp melted butter, and enough butter to coat the pan.

Place all the ingredients into a blender and pulse together for 10 seconds. Then chill in the refrigerator for an hour. This will let the bubbles subside which will help prevent  the crepes from breaking apart. This batter will keep for 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick round pan, coat with butter. Pour 1 ounce of batter in the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for about 30 seconds and flip, cooking for another 10 seconds. Remove from the pan and let cool on the cutting board. Continue with the rest of the batter, letting each crepe cool on the cutting board until all batter is gone.

Crepes can be stacked and frozen for up to 2 months or refrigerated for several days.

Variations:

Savory – add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, spinach or sun-dried tomatoes to the batter

Sweet – add 2-1/2 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 tbsp of your favorite liqueur to the egg mixture.

Crepe PanIt is obvious that I need to get a proper pan to make crepes, but since the stainless steel one didn’t work out well, I switched to my trusty cast iron pan, and found a little bit better success with it. It was very difficult to flip the crepes and I think mine were much too thick to qualify as a “real crepe.” Once cooled, they did fold easily enough, but they were definitely too thick (blame it on the baking powder!).

Recently I picked up some lemon curd and thought that mixed with some other ingredients, would make a wonderful filling for these crepes.

Filling Ingredients:

Approx. 4-oz Neufchatel cheese

1 tbsp lemon curd

1/4 tsp organic stevia extractCrepe Ingredients

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Blend together in food processor until smooth. Filling should be thick.

Sliced strawberries

Sliced banana

Nutella

Take a cooled crepe and lightly spread a little Nutella in the middle. With a small teaspoon, add a little of the lemon curd mixture and top with banana slices and strawberries and another dollop of lemon curd mixture. Folding the crepes to overlap, then top with banana and strawberry slices and drizzle with the lemon curd mixture.

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It’s always been my favorite to include lots of fresh fruit for breakfast or brunch and this was no exception. So I decided to add some sliced pears to my plate at the last second!

While these crepes didn’t fold as easily as they should and were not the perfectly round shape they are supposed to be, they were delicious. It was a wild combination of flavors and when I do them again, I will probably tone it down a little as the lemon curd was very tart. The Nutella has a very strong chocolate, nutty flavor that is melt-in-your-mouth-wonderful, but together these two very vivid flavors almost over-powered each other. Still, it was very good and I can’t wait to go shopping for a proper crepe pan and start all over. I’m thinking a spinach/mushroom savory crepe should be next!

As Julia used to say, Bon Appetit!

Clafoutis aux Cerises

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Yes, clafoutis aux cerises….you read right! I decided to try and make it after a co-worker made it for us the other day. To say the least, it is a delightful French cherry “cake” that just melts  in your mouth. The tartness of the cherries mix wonderfully with the slightly sweet custard.

It’s very simple to make and only takes about 15-20 minutes of time to prepare then about an hour to bake. Serve it warm, just like they traditionally do in France. You’ll love to wow your friends and family the next time you have a dinner party!

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. (I am in the mountains, so if you are at a lower elevation, you may want to watch your custard closely and lower your oven temperature to 300-325F.)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 whole eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

1-1/4 cup milk (whole is best, but low fat works well, too)

Mix the flour, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla and milk together until a custard batter is formed. It will be smooth.

Pour enough to cover the bottom of your greased pie plate and bake at 350F for about 7-10 minutes, just until the custard is set.

Place 2 cups pitted cherries in the pre-baked custard and sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar. Pour the remaining batter over the top covering the cherries and sugar completely.

Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes or until the edges of the custard begin to brown.

Let cool 10-minutes, dust with powdered sugar and serve while warm.

Optional: trade out the cherries for berries that are in season or mix berries with the cherries, also good are apricots, pears, and peaches. Adjust the sugar based on the sweetness of the fruit.

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Also, no worries if the clafoutis aux cerises fluffs up in the oven. As it cools a little, it will settle down. Mine poofed up really high and I got worried, I thought cherries would be all over the oven, but they settled down as you can see in the photo.

Your guests will love it and beg for more!