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February 2011

Best Old Fashioned Apricot Squares

Best Old Fashioned Apricot Squares
Best Old Fashioned Apricot Squares

Apricot Squares are perfect to make during the winter months when good fresh fruit can be tough to find. They are similar to the Date Nut Bars and Raspberry Squares but the apricot crust is more like shortbread. Feel free to experiment with other dried fruit, like figs or cherries.

Download Best Old Fashioned Apricot Squares


12 ounces chopped dried California apricots

2 tablespoons brandy

½ cup sugar

¾ cup orange juice

¾ cup water

Crust & Topping

2 ¼ cups (9.5 ounces) unbleached flour

1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes (at room temperature but still cool)

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup shredded sweetened coconut

2-3 tablespoons Turbinado Sugar

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350ºF. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13- by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Make the filling: In a medium sized saucepan, stir together apricots, brandy, sugar, orange juice and water and bring to boil over medium -high heat. Cook the mixture for 8-10 minutes, until the fruit is soft and has absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then puree in food processor or use an immersion blender. Set aside.

3. Make the crust and topping: In a bowl of a food processor, pulse the flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt and baking powder just to combine. Add butter cubes and pulse 6-8 times until mixture is crumbly, but holds together when squeezed. Measure out 1 ¼ cups of mixture to a medium bowl and stir in pecans and coconut. Set aside.

4. Firmly press the remainder of the crust mixture into the bottom of the prepared 9x13 pan. Bake the crust for 14-16 minutes until pale golden; remove from oven.

5. Spread apricot filling over warm crust. Sprinkle reserved topping mixture over apricot filling. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Return pan to oven and bake for 28-32 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then remove squares from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve. (Store squares in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Apricot squares filling
Apricot squares pan
Apricot square

Easy Salmon and Leek Pot Pie with Puff Pastry

Salmon pot pie
Easy Salmon and Leek Pot Pie with Puff Pastry

This is a great comfort food recipe that’s easy to prepare and is a nice change of pace from the traditional chicken pot pie. It reminds me of the recipe for Fish Pie from J. Sheeky’s in London - a great restaurant in the West End. They use a mix of salmon, cod and haddock in a smooth and silky white sauce topped with creamy mashed potatoes (shepherd’s pie style). (click here for -J. Sheeky's recipe) Instead of potatoes, the topping of choice here is puff-pastry cut-outs, which are easy to make and add an elegant touch to the dish.  

Download Easy Salmon and Leek Pot Pie with Puff Pastry


Flour for the counter

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (9 1/2- by 9-inch), thawed

1 large egg, lightly beaten


2 pounds salmon fillets, skin removed (or a combo of salmon, boneless cod and haddock fillet)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick)

3 leeks, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 cloves garlic, minced

7 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice

2 cups whole milk

1 cup frozen peas

¼ cup minced fresh dill

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon English mustard (or Dijon)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Pinch nutmeg

Pinch cayenne pepper

Lemon wedges (for serving)

For the topping:

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Dust the counter lightly with flour and unfold the sheet of puff pastry. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the pastry into 12 rounds or rectangles. Brush the cut outs lightly with egg, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until the rectangles are puffed and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet until needed.

For the filling:

1. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Remove any pin bones from the salmon and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then spread it in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the flour and coat the vegetables. Gradually whisk in the clam juice and milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thick, about 1 minute.

3. Off the heat, stir in the peas, dill, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the salmon in the baking dish. Use a spoon to redistribute the salmon evenly throughout the dish.

4. Arrange the reserved puff-pastry rectangles attractively over the casserole. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the salmon is fully cooked, 13 to 15 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving with the lemon wedges.

Salmon pot pie salmon chunks
Salmon pot pie pan

Fast and Easy Homemade Pita Chips

Pita chips

Fast and Easy Homemade Pita Chips

These chips are great with Homemade Onion Dip (Click here for recipe) or any favorite salsa, hummus, or dip. You can also make great Tortilla chips using the same method.

Download Fast and Easy Homemade Pita Chips

4 pita breads (8-inch), cut into wedges

2 tablespoons olive oil

1teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, carefully toss the pita triangles in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the pita chips smooth-side down, over 2 rimmed baking sheets.

3. Bake the chips until they begin to crisp and brown lightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and flip the chips so their smooth side is up. Return the baking sheets to the oven, reversing their positions from top to bottom, and continue to bake until the chips are fully toasted, 6-8 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and cool the chips before serving. (The chips can be held in an airtight container for up to 3 days. If necessary, briefly re-crisp in a 300-degree oven for a few minutes before serving.)

Pita bread cut
Pita chips oil
Pita chips baked

Lindt Dark Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

Dark chocolate mousse 1

Lindt Dark Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse. 

Chocolate seems to be the universal ingredient for most Valentine’s Day desserts. I think the first authentic chocolate mousse that I tasted was at Chez Toutoune in Paris, a charming little bistro that was tucked away on a tiny street (rue de Pontoise) on the Left Bank. I was student at the time, so finding an affordable prix fixe menu that promised a great meal was always a challenge, but Toutoune delivered every time. The four course meal ended with a choice of cheese plate or chocolate mousse, so it was never a difficult decision – “mousse au chocolat, s’il vous plait.” Madame Toutoune’s version was billowy, light, creamy, and intensely chocolate, just like the recipe below. 

Download Lindt Dark Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse recipe

8 ounces Lindt Excellence Dark chocolate (70 percent cacao) chopped fine

4 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Cocoa powder, preferably Callebaut Dutch-processed

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

7 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon Courvoisier

3 large eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 more tablespoons (chilled)


1. Melt chocolate, 3 tablespoons sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and cognac in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk egg yolks, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, and salt in medium bowl until mixture lightens in color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour melted chocolate into egg mixture and whisk until thoroughly combined. Let cool until slightly warmer than room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute. Detach whisk and bowl from mixer and whisk last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape any unbeaten whites from bottom of bowl. Using whisk, stir about one-quarter of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it; gently fold in remaining egg whites with rubber spatula until a few white streaks remain.

4. Whip heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted, about 15 seconds longer. Using rubber spatula, gently fold whipped cream into mousse until no white streaks remain. Spoon mousse into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes or goblets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours. (The mousse may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)

5. Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and some chocolate shavings.

Dark chocolat Lindt
Dark chocolate melted
Dark chocolate mousse folding
Dark chocolate mousse mixed
Dark chocolate mousse 3

Creamy No Bake Lime Cheesecake

Creamy lime cheesecake slice

Creamy No Bake Lime Cheesecake

I’m always looking for new citrus desserts which I think make a nice finish to a great meal. This recipe from Cooks Country is reminiscent of Key Lime Pie, though milder and much creamier.

Download Creamy No Bake Lime Cheesecake recipe

Cookie Crust

1 cup crushed animal cracker or Lorna Doone cookie

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm



1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

2/3 cup sugar

1 pound cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks and softened 45-60 minutes at room temperature

3 tablespoons lime juice plus 2 tablespoons grated zest

Pinch table salt



1 lime, halved pole-to-pole and sliced into 12 paper-thin wedges, dredged in sugar


For the crust:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Pulse crushed cookies in mini processor until fine crumbs. Transfer to medium bowl and stir in sugar and zest, then add butter and stir well with fork until mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch spring-form pan and, using bottom of measuring cup, firmly press crumbs into even layer over bottom of pan. Bake crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 13 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack, at least 30 minutes.


For the filling:

2. Pour 1/4 cup heavy cream into microwave-safe measuring cup. Add gelatin and whisk to combine. Let stand until gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes, then microwave on high power for about 30 seconds, or until cream is bubbling and gelatin is completely dissolved. Set aside.

3. Using electric mixer, beat remaining 1 1/4 cups heavy cream and sugar in large bowl at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute (a few coffee bean-sized lumps may remain). Scrape bottom and sides of bowl well with rubber spatula. Add lime juice and salt and continue to beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl again. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes. Add dissolved gelatin mixture and lime zest and continue to beat at medium-high until smooth and airy, about 2 minutes.

4. Pour filling into cooled crust and, using offset or icing spatula dipped in hot water, spread filling out evenly. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but for best results refrigerate overnight.

5. To serve, run a thin spatula around the edge of cheesecake. Unlock pan and carefully lift off sides. Slip thin spatula under crust and carefully slide cheesecake onto serving platter.


For the garnish:

 1. Coat both sides of lime slices in sugar and space evenly on top of cake, gently twisting the ends in opposite directions and pressing into the filling.

Creamy nobake cheesecake crust

Creamy nobake cheesecake bowl
Creamy nobake cheescake zest
Creamy lime cheesecake

Easy Homemade Onion Dip

Onion dip

Easy Homemade Onion Dip

This makes a great appetizer (to take to a Super Bowl party) and is so easy to do that you’ll never bother with the dried onion soup mix version. Serve with crackers, red bell pepper sticks or better yet, make some homemade pita chips.

Download Easy Homemade Onion Dip recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions (about 1lb) finely diced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

8 ounces cream cheese

6 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. When shimmering, add onion, ½ teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion softens completely and starts to brown, about 9-10 minutes (reduce heat if onions brown too quickly).

2. Transfer onions to a food processor and the cream cheese, sour cream, thyme and cayenne. Pulse until mixture is well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Onion sauteed
  Onion dip pureed

Three Chile White Bean Chicken Chili

White bean chichen chili

White Bean Chicken Chili is a great alternative to traditional chili and makes a great dish for Super Bowl Sunday.  Adjust the heat in this dish by adding the minced ribs and seeds from the jalapeño as directed in step 6. If Anaheim chiles cannot be found, add an additional poblano and jalapeño to the chili. Serve chili with sour cream, tortilla chips, and lime wedges.

Download Three Chile White Bean Chicken Chili recipe

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 medium jalapeño chiles

3 poblano chiles (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces

3 Anaheim chile peppers (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces

2 medium onions, cut into large pieces (2 cups)

6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon aniseed or fennel seeds

3 (14.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans , drained and rinsed

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)

¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

4 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin

1.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until skin is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and lightly brown on other side, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; remove and discard skin.

2. While chicken is browning, remove and discard ribs and seeds from 2 jalapeños; mince flesh. In food processor, process half of poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and 1 cup of onions until consistency of chunky salsa, eight to ten 1-second pulses, scraping down sides of workbowl halfway through. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions; combine with first batch (do not wash food processor blade or workbowl).

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from Dutch oven (adding additional vegetable oil if necessary) and reduce heat to medium. Add minced jalapeños, chile-onion mixture, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, aniseed, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

4. Transfer 1 cup cooked vegetable mixture to now-empty food processor workbowl. Add 1 can drained beans and 1 cup broth and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add vegetable-bean mixture, remaining 2 cups broth, and chicken breasts to Dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes .

5. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate. Stir in remaining beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and chili has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

6. Mince remaining jalapeño, reserving and mincing ribs and seeds (add ribs and seeds to taste – depending on how hot you like your chili), and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones. Stir shredded chicken, lime juice, cilantro, scallions, and remaining minced jalapeño (with seeds if desired) into chili and return to simmer. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve.