Thursday, April 29, 2010

TWD: Chockablock Cookies

I've always been a bit of a procrastinator. If there's something I'm not 100% excited about doing, I'll wait until the absolute last minute to do it. I actually baked and photographed these cookies on Tuesday. I loved the cookies, but wasn't thrilled with the photos so I've been dragging my heels on writing this post... Here goes...

This week's TWD treat is a delightful cookie with endless possiblilities for playing around! It is an oatmeal cookie with your choice of dried fruit and nuts, plus coconut and chocolate - though in the interest of feeding them to my children, I left the chocolate out. There's a first time for everything...

I used a combination of dates and pecans, which I just love together. Since I omitted the chocolate, I added a little extra of all of the other add-ins. Not surprisingly, I sweetened my cookies with palm sugar and an unbelievable local molasses. I also used all butter instead of part butter, part shortening.

These cookies are thick, soft, chewy, chock full of goodies and almost healthy enough to call breakfast! One of my favorite things about them is that the molasses is a very prominent flavor. It was a welcome surprise! I think using palm sugar as my second sweetener helped to highlight the molasses, as it is itself rather dark in flavor.

Thanks to Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet for choosing this wonderful cookie for us to bake! The recipe is on her blog.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Roasted Asparagus

I am completely obsessed with roasted vegetables. I somehow managed to go through 29 years of my life without roasting a single one, but after discovering them last summer, I now make them at least 3 times a week. You name it, I'll roast it, but some of my favorite vegetables to roast are tomatoes - cherry tomatoes, especially - zucchini, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus.

Oh, asparagus, how happy I am to see you again at less than $8 a pound! I won't buy vegetables if they are out of season, so it has been quite a while since asparagus has been in my house. As long as I can get it at the farmer's market, however, it will be making regular appearances and I couldn't be happier about it. It is one of the things I look most forward to about spring. On a side note, have you ever made asparagus pizza? If not, you have to! My absolute favorite; Peter Reinhart's Pizza Napoletana crust, asparagus, fresh mozzarella and fresh parmesan. Heaven. And on this week's menu. I know, I digress... I'm just so excited about the asparagus!!!

I roast all vegetables in basically the same way - simply; nothing but olive oil and salt. Once in a while I'll add some ground coriander, but most often it is just olive oil and salt. The amazing thing about roasting is that it cooks the vegetables more slowly than on the stovetop, bringing out flavors that you never knew could exist. It also creates wonderful textures. The edges get crispy and caramelized, while the insides are soft, almost creamy with many vegetables.

If you haven't roasted vegetables before, you really must give it a try. It is an easy, effortless way to create a healthy and delicious meal. What I'm giving you below is more of a guideline than a recipe, I never measure anything when I roast... Let me know if you have questions.

Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus - about a pound
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Wash asparagus and pat dry - the drying is very important, you don't want excess moisture, or it will steam and get mushy. Trim woody ends. Drizzle baking sheet with olive oil - just enough to give it a thin coat - and spread it evenly with your fingers. Lay asparagus on baking sheet, placing them in a single layer as much as possible. Drizzle with more olive oil and salt to taste. Toss with your hands until asparagus is evenly coated. Re-arrange in single layer and place in oven. Check asparagus every 10 minutes, turning it as necessary. Remove from oven when it is tender and ends are crispy and caramelized - about 25 minutes. This works for any vegetable, though if you use a variety with different cooking times you'll want to stagger their additions to the baking sheet. If you use a large amount of vegetables, opt for more of a roasting pan or baking dish with high sides. As a variation, add a handful of nuts after the asparagus has been in the oven for about 10 minutes, the crunchy toasted nuts add a fantastic dimension to the dish.

Also, I'm having a fabulous Le Creuset giveaway right now!!! Enter here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Le Creuset Giveaway!!!

To make up for my absence lately, I have a fabulous giveaway for you!

You could win this beautiful Le Crueset batter bowl & balloon whisk in Caribbean blue!

To enter just leave a comment on this post telling me where you're going on your next vacation - or where you'd like to go if you don't have one planned. I just got back from the beach, and am wishing I was still there!

For an additional entry, follow me on Twitter - I'm @blueridgebaker - and tweet this:
Le Creuest giveaway from @blueridgebaker

The giveaway will run through 11:59PM EST on Friday, April 30, 2010. The winner will be picked using, and announced here on Saturday morning, May 1st.
This giveaway is sponsored by and the CSN Stores. They have over 200 sites with everything from bakeware to pet products to kids beds. They have it all!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TWD: Sweet Cream Biscuits

Got 5 minutes? Then you have enough time to mix, roll and cut these biscuits and pop them into the oven. They are that quick.

I was very pleased to see these as a TWD selection this month. I love biscuits. I was raised on biscuits. We have biscuits at every family function. Small fights break out over who gets the last one. We're biscuit people.

I made these particular biscuits for the first time last summer, and have probably baked them a dozen or more times since. They are just so simple, so fast, so delicious.

That first time I made them I was skeptical, I'll admit. I didn't think they would have the satisfactory fluffy interior, the crispy edges that constitute the perfect biscuit. It was one of the most magical oven transformations I have ever seen. I continue to be awed every time I bake them. I won't say that these are the perfect biscuit - though they're close - but they are perfect for when you're short on time, and considering the minimal effort that is put into these, the result is fairly spectacular.

These biscuits are light, tall and fluffy, with a melt-in-your mouth creamy and tender interior. The edges are crispy, and though they are more delicate than a butter biscuit, they will still stand up to a good drenching in honey.

I omitted the sugar - biscuits shouldn't be sweet, in my opinion - and upped the salt a bit, and used white whole wheat flour. I also used closer to 1 1/4 cup cream - the upper end of the range Dorie gives in the recipe.

These will never replace a butter biscuit for me, but they certainly hold their own, and will continue to be a regular breakfast goody in my house!

Thanks to Melissa from Love at First Bite for hosting this week. This fantastic and simple recipe can be found on her blog.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

TWD: Swedish Visiting Cake

I know I'm a little late posting this cake - it was the TWD pick from last week - but I was at the beach, so I didn't get a chance to make it until now. More on the beach later, for now, it's all about the cake. I've paused on the picture of this cake in Baking from My Home to Yours many times, and have been intrigued by its humble appearance, simple ingredients and the harming story that accompanies it.

Dorie was introduced to this cake by a friend who described it as being so easy you can start making it when you see company coming up the driveway, and have it ready to serve by the time they sit down to coffee. It's true! It is a one-bowl cake that is mixed by hand, then baked and served in a cast iron skillet. What could be easier?!

Not only is this cake easy to make, it is delicious. Unbelievably delicious. In fact, it is one of the best cakes I've ever eaten. It isn't too sweet, it has a subtle almond flavor, a delicious paper-thin sugar crust, crunchy outer edge and a light citrus zing. There are no chemical leaveners in this cake, resulting in a texture that is moist and dense, chewy even.

Chances are, you have all of the ingredients for this cake in your pantry, so rush right into your kitchen! You won't be sorry!

This cake was chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, Nancy. She has not one, but two fantastic blogs - The Dogs Eat the Crumbs and The Corner Loaf. The latter is devoted solely to bread. Everything she makes is beautiful, and she writes the most thoughtful and descriptive posts. If you haven't read her blogs before, you must check them out! The recipe for this cake is posted on The Dogs Eat the Crumbs.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Creamy Meyer Lemon Crumb Bars

I am powerless when it comes to desserts with streusel topping. I see them, and I have to make them. As soon as The Pioneer Woman posted these crumb bars I knew I would be eating them soon. I had a little time on my hands this afternoon while nursing my sick kiddo back to health, and as there were a few Meyer lemons dying on my counter - having already made these cookies, as well as some preserved lemons which I have yet to post - I decided to put them to good use! Thankfully, I had a can of sweetened condensed milk, and I whipped these bars up in no time.

I love crumb bars because they are so easy to make, plus, one dough used in two different ways creates two different textures. Brilliant! Pair that with a simple, yet delicious filling and you have a real winner on your hands.

These bars - though not terribly photogenic - are unbelievably creamy and delicious with a light, refreshing tang from the fresh lemon juice and zest - if you look closely, you can see the flecks of yellow, mmm... After only about 25 minutes in the oven, the filling takes on a texture very similar to cheesecake - a delightful discovery! As PW mentions, you could change it up a little, use lime for the juice and zest and have lime bars, add thyme for lemon-thyme bars, or alternatively, I had the thought that fresh ginger would be amazing in them. I only wish I had had the idea before my bars came out of - or went into, for that matter - the oven. Ah well, next time...

Creamy Meyer Lemon Crumb Bars
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup oats
1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
zest from two small Meyer lemons

Preheat oven to 350.

For crust/crumble:
Combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Blend with your fingers until all ingredients are evenly moistened and there is no visible loose flour. Press 1/2 of the mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9"x 13" pan - you could go a little smaller with the pan, but don't go any larger. Set aside the remaining half of the mixture.

For the filling:
In a medium bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Whisk until well combined. Pour evenly over crust layer.

Scatter remaining crust/crumble mixture over filling - I like to have a variety of chunk sizes in my crumble toppings, but The Pioneer Woman spread hers in a thin, even layer. Use whichever method sounds better to you. Bake for around 25 minutes, or until crumble is golden. After bars have cooled in pan for 30 minutes, cut into squares with a sharp knife, then place pan in fridge for 2 hours or more before serving.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Homemade Mounds

I wasn't allowed to eat candy growing up. I mean, there were the occasional indulgences on Easter and Halloween, but even then they were carefully rationed - or so my mom thought... I had quite the sweet tooth, and found ways to sneak treats as often as possible. I always discovered the hiding places of the Easter baskets and Halloween bags, helping myself to just enough that I knew wouldn't be missed. And then there was the bookstore.

The school that I grew up attending had (has) a university attached to it, and that university had a bookstore. A small place, carrying the essentials; toothbrushes, greeting cards, tees & hats with the school's logo, and candy. Tons of candy. Oodles of candy. My favorites were Laffy Taffy, Lemonheads and some other sour, chewy thing whose name escapes me. I liked the sour chewy things best of all. Though the university bookstore has since been overhauled and no longer carries such junk food - now it is all organic, corn syrup free, etc... back then they had it all, and I ate it all. I babysat a lot, so I had my own income, and I lived on school campus because my mom taught there. Every day, I would ride my bike home, speed to the bookstore before it closed for the day, stock up on candy and ride home. When we moved out of the place on campus, my mom found a candy wrapper graveyard behind the sofa. Oops.

Mounds weren't one of the things that I bought at the bookstore - remember, it was the sour, chewy things that were my candy of choice - but my mom enjoyed the occasional Mounds, especially when we went to the movie theatre. It was the legitimatly consumed candy of my childhood. As soon as I saw a recipe for homemade Mounds, I knew I had to make them. I'm sure it has been at least a decade since I ate a real Mounds, but I'm positive that these are considerably better than the real thing.

They have a soft and slightly gooey coconut center enrobed in a delicate layer of dark chocolate. Thankfully, this recipe doesn't make very many. Feel free to double or triple it it. I got 8 candies, each a little more than an inch in diameter.

I would recommend using a silicone candy mold for these. I didn't, and they look a little sloppy. The chocolate layer would be much more even with a mold. I don't have one - yet - and I couldn't wait to acquire one before making this recipe.

adapted from Elana's Pantry

3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons agave
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Combine coconut, coconut oil and agave in small bowl. Form into desired shapes, lay shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in freezer for about 10 minutes to harden. Drop coconut shapes one at a time in bowl of melted chocolate, coating thoroughly. Remove with fork, and lay back on parchment for chocolate to set. You could temper the chocolate if you desire, but honestly, these won't last long enough for the chocolate to bloom. If using a mold, paint the inside of each well with a thin layer of chocolate, place in freezer to harden, press coconut mixture into chocolate-lined mold, paint top of coconut with chocolate, put back in freezer. Remove from freezer, pop candies out of molds and enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010


My love for baklava goes as far back as I can remember. I mean, what's not to love about a sweet, syrup-soaked nutty treat?! I have been known to dine at Middle Eastern restaurants for the sole purpose of partaking of their dessert offerings...

Though I am not a part of any organized religion, I really look forward to holidays. Since I don't have associations with the various holidays that many religious people do have, it can be hard to cut through all of the mass-produced, commercialized junk that is out there to find personal meaning in them. For me, though, holidays are about family being together, and tradition. The traditions don't have to be huge and deeply meaningful, but I believe it creates a sense of comfort and stability for kids when there are certain things they can always depend on. Even if it is as small as the food that is served. It always comes back to the food, doesn't it?

I made this baklava for Easter brunch with my family. It is something that I've been wanting to make for a long time - the last time I made it was almost ten years ago when I was in college - so I jumped at the chance! It was a huge hit, and is certain to become part of Easter tradition for me and my boys.

I looked at several baklava recipes, took bits and pieces from each one, added my own touches and came up with this beautiful and delicious version. It was a good thing I had several family members over to my house, because this recipe makes a ton of baklava, and I would have eaten it all by myself if I hadn't sent some home with everyone...

Here are a few tips before you start making your baklava:
- Make sure your phyllo dough is completely defrosted before using it. At least 24 hours in the refrigerator or 6 hours on the counter should do the trick.
- While you're working with the phyllo, lay the whole stack out flat and cover it with a barely damp kitchen towel. This will keep the thin layers of dough from drying out as you work with one piece at a time.
- Phyllo dough comes in different sized pieces. The ones I used were twice the size of the pan I made my baklava in. In order to use the entire sheet of phyllo, line two corners up in the corners of the pan, draping the rest of the piece over the side of the pan. Brush with melted ghee - see below - then fold the overhanging dough over the half in the pan. This fit perfectly in my 17"x10 1/4" pan. Even with folding, you may have to do some trimming with a sharp knife if the pan you use is smaller.
- You'll need ghee for this baklava. It is delicious and easy to make. Here's how:


1 pound phyllo dough
18 ounces pecans (or walnuts, or pecans, or a combination of nuts)
7 ounces ghee, melted*
2 tablespoons palm sugar
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pistachios for garnish

Soaking Syrup
1 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon rose water

*you want to keep the ghee liquid at all times, so if it begins to cool and thicken, just pop it back on the burner for a minute.

Preheat oven to 275. Put pecans, palm sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and salt in food processor. Pulse several times until it becomes the texture of coarse meal. Brush pan with ghee. Lay a piece of phyllo in pan, brush evenly with ghee. Repeat until there are 8 layers of phyllo. Pour half of the nut mixture in pan. Spread it evenly. Continue layering phyllo, this time, 4 layers. Top with remaining nuts, then another 12 layers of phyllo. Remember, every time you layer the phyllo, you brush each piece with ghee before adding the next. Brush the 12th layer with ghee, and cut into desired shapes using a sharp knife. Bake for about 2 hours, or until the top is slightly browned. While baklava is baking, make the syrup:

In a glass measuring cup, combine honey, water and rose water. Stir until smooth. As soon as baklava comes out of oven, pour syrup evenly over the entire thing. Let cool to room temperature before eating - this will ensure even absorption of syrup, and the baklava will be less likely to have a soggy bottom.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Meyer Lemon, Lavender and Cashew Shortbread

While people in many parts of the country are already enjoying the first produce of spring, we in Asheville have yet to have that pleasure. Thankfully, the farmer's markets start up again in the next few weeks, but until then it is still the fruits of winter that I'll be eating. I don't think I've ever had such a variety of lemon desserts as I've had this winter, and I have been enjoying them so much.

One thing I hadn't made yet was lemon cookies. Given my love for cookies, it is surprising that I waited this long to make them, but here they are!

I knew I wanted to use Meyer lemons, and pair them with lavender. I found this recipe from Canelle et Vanille and made a few tweaks, ending up with these lovely cookies.

These cookies manage to be spring-like, despite their use of winter fruit; the brightness of the lemon, the sheer fact that they contain flowers; the happy flecks of yellow and purple throughout.

They have the perfect shortbread texture, as well; crispy with a tender crumb, flaky and not at all chalky. I can't stand those shortbreads that stick to the roof of your mouth.

The only change I might make should I bake these again would be to add more cashews. I was hoping they would play a stronger role here, but there were so few they weren't really noticeable at all. I questioned the amount as I was weighing them - I should have trusted my instincts...

Meyer Lemon, Lavender and Cashew Shortbread
adapted from Canelle et Vanille

110 grams butter, softened
30 grams powdered sugar
zest of two small Meyer lemons
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender buds
140 grams white wheat flour
2 grams salt
30 grams (though I would actually double this next time) chopped cashews
granulated sugar for dusting

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and powdered sugar until creamy. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and lavender buds, and mix to combine. Add flour and salt and mix until just combined. Stir in cashews. Roll dough between two sheets of parchment to about 1/4" thick. Carefully fold edges of parchment around dough, turn dough over so it keeps the folds closed, and place dough flat in refrigerator for at least two hours. Remove dough, preheat oven to 350, and cut into whatever shapes you desire. Place about 1/2 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet, and dust evenly with granulated sugar. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until lightly golden - a little more so around the edges. Let cool on baking sheet.

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