Festive Sugar Cookie Bars

I hope everyone had a lovely Fourth of July celebration. 🙂

We had a very low-key day followed by a delicious meal prepared on the grill, in Fourth of July fashion. This fun dessert was a festive way to end the day! The meringue icing was incredibly thick and fluffy; the pattern could be easily modified to decorate for any occasion.

This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens. The cookies kept well for several days in the refrigerator.

Yield: 24 bars

For the Sugar Cookie Bars:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • Meringue Icing (recipe follows)
  • red and blue paste food colorings

For the Meringue Icing:

  • 3 cups Confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 T meringue powder
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Coat a half sheet pan (15×10-inch baking pan) with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment paper, and coat the parchment with cooking spray.
  3. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl beat butter with mixer on medium speed 30 seconds. Add sugars; beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  5. Beat in egg and vanilla bean paste.
  6. Beat in flour mixture. (Dough will be crumbly.)
  7. Pat dough firmly and evenly into prepared pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are light brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
  8. Meanwhile prepare Meringue Icing. In a large bowl beat Confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup water, the meringue powder, and cream of tartar with mixer on high 3 to 5 minutes or until thick and fluffy.
  9. Divide three 1/4-cup portions into small bowls. Cover remaining Meringue Icing to prevent drying out.
  10. Tint 1/4-cup portions with paste food coloring to make red, light blue, and dark blue. Transfer each to a small resealable (sandwich) plastic bag.
  11. Evenly spread remaining Meringue Icing onto cooled cookie.
  12. For firework “burst” design, snip a small corner from each pastry bag. Pipe concentric circles in different sizes with tinted colors. Pull a toothpick from center to outer edge to create the firework pattern; wipe or replace the toothpick between each pull. Repeat as desired.
  13. Chill, uncovered, 2 hours or until icing sets. To store, cover loosely with foil and chill up to 3 days.

 

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The Union Square Strawberry Cocktail

I have so many delicious recipes just waiting to be shared. Before strawberry season is over, I must share new recipes that I tried with my fresh-picked berries this season.

This cocktail was the very first thing we prepared with our fresh strawberries. My husband made it for me on my birthday! ❤ The recipe was adapted from cocktails that New Amsterdam Gin named to honor modern-day landmarks in New York City, via The Spruce Eats.com. I plan to also try it using vodka instead of gin. Happy birthday to me! 😉

Yield: 1 cocktail

  1. Muddle strawberries with the basil until fully mashed in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add all other ingredients.
  3. Add ice and shake vigorously.
  4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (We chilled the glass by filling it with ice while the cocktail was being prepared.)
  5. Garnish with half a strawberry, as desired.

Vanilla Flan

After gobbling up a double batch of chips and guacamole followed by Sam Sifton’s Middle School Tacos, we ate this flan as our celebratory Cinco de Mayo dessert this year.

A while ago, my son read a book that mentioned flan and he really wanted to make it. We actually made it together at that time. 🙂  It really is quite simple to prepare, and he felt like he had achieved a great accomplishment when it came out well. He’s been asking to have it again ever since!

I think that it is particularly delicious served with strawberries. This recipe is a blend of multiple flan recipes- including one from my grandmother.

Yield: One 8-inch flan

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (low fat can be substituted)
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 T pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of coarse salt
  • strawberries, for serving, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, without stirring, occasionally swirling, until amber, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Pour into a 1 1/2 to 2 qt (8-in) ceramic baking dish or 8-in cake pan, tilting to cover the bottom surface and halfway up the sides of the dish.
  5. Place the prepared dish on a dish towel or a silicone pot holder (to prevent it from shifting) inside a roasting pan. (I used an enameled cast iron lasagna pan.)
  6. Place the eggs, condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla, and salt in a Vitamix. Blend for 20 seconds. (Alternatively, mixture can be whisked in a bowl until combined.)
  7. Pour through a fine strainer into the prepared pan.
  8. Slide the oven rack out and place the roasting pan on the hot rack.
  9. Fill the outside of the pan with HOT water halfway up the sides of the flan dish.
  10. Bake for 60-70+ minutes, or until the center is wobbly.
  11. Remove from the oven; let cool to room temperature.
  12. Remove flan from the water bath. Cool and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  13. Dip the bottom of the dish in warm water, then invert onto a rimmed platter. Serve.

One Year Ago: Cheesy Enchilada Skillet

Two Years Ago: Cinco de Mayo Chicken-Chipotle Tacos

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

Five Years Ago:

Fresh Corn Grits with Shrimp & Roasted Pecan Butter

Another Easter weekend food tradition in our family is to eat shrimp and grits as a celebration of one of our favorite places- Charleston, South Carolina. The spring sunshine reminds me of how lovely it is there. It is a particularly special place for us because it’s where my husband and I met. ❤ Charleston is also an incredible food city.

I really like the story behind this amazing version. Apparently, it was created on Top Chef season 5 by Jeff McInnis, owner of Miami’s Yardbird restaurant. He was challenged to create a shrimp and grits dish without using grits. He made fresh corn “grits” using fresh corn, but, the best part was that he incorporated pecan butter in the grits because of a memory of eating fresh nut butter from his grandmother’s pecan tree. The fresh nut butter put this dish over the top. Delicious. I wish that I had the imagination to dream up a dish like this one.

This was my husband’s favorite shrimp and grits (thus far), and I’ve made quite a few versions. I pointed out that it may be because this dish didn’t actually have grits. 🙂 This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Jeff McInnis. I increased the amount of fresh corn in the grits and slightly increased the amount of prosciutto. Next time, I may reduce the amount of lager. I may increase the amount of grits as well- we wanted more!

Yield: Serves 4

For the Roasted Pecan Butter:

  • 1 cup raw pecans
  • 1/2 tsp canola oil
  • coarse salt, to taste

For the Grits:

  • 6 large ears of corn, shucked and coarsely grated on a box grater (2 cups pulp and juice)
  • 1/4 cup milk, plus more for stirring/serving, as desired
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • roasted pecan butter (about 1/4 cup), directions below

For the Shrimp Sauté:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 to 4 ounces thinly sliced country ham or prosciutto, cut into strips
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup lager, to taste (I used 1 cup but may reduce it next time)
  • lemon wedges, for serving, optional

Make the Roasted Pecan Butter:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Roast the pecans about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant.
  3. Process toasted pecans in a mini food processor with canola oil until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  4. Season with salt to taste.

Make the Grits:

  1. In a saucepan, simmer the grated corn and juices with the 1/4 cup of milk over moderate heat, stirring, until thick, 4 minutes.
  2. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the pecan butter; keep warm.

Make the Shrimp Sauté:

  1. In a large, deep skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter.
  2. Add the prosciutto and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the onion, snap peas and corn, season with salt and pepper and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they just begin to curl, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the lager and bring to a boil.
  6. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are cooked through and the liquid is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.
  7. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

To Serve:

  1. Whisk a little milk into the grits so it’s the consistency of polenta; heat until warm.
  2. Spoon the grits into shallow bowls, top with the shrimp sauté and serve at once.
  3. Serve with lemon wedges, as desired.

One Year Ago: Seared Scallops & Cauliflower Grits

Two Years Ago: Classic Shrimp & Grits

Three Years Ago: Shrimp with Fresh Corn Grits

Four Years Ago: Shrimp & Grits with Tomatoes

Five Years Ago: Hominy Grill’s Shrimp & Grits

Easter Carrot Cake

This is the best carrot cake I’ve ever had in my life. My entire family felt the same way. I’ll never be able to try another version.

When my friend gave me this special cookbook, she mentioned that the carrot cake recipe was wonderful and that it incorporated crushed pineapple. I can’t believe I waited so long to make it! The author notes that this is their most popular cake- and that its sales in the bakery double every year. It really was unbelievably delicious.

This recipe was adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop Cookbook: The Best Recipes from Southampton’s Favorite Bakery for Homestyle Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Muffins, and Breads by Kathleen King, founder of Tate’s Bake Shop. I roasted the walnuts, reduced the baking time, and lined the cake pans with parchment paper.

Yield: One 9-inch, 2-layer cake

For the Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups grated carrots (from 5 to 6 carrots)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw walnuts
  • 1 cup crushed and drained pineapple
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Roast the walnuts until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  4. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, grease paper and dust pans with flour.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  6. In another large bowl, mix sugar and oil.
  7. Beat in eggs with an electric mixer. (I used a hand held mixer.)
  8. Stir in carrots, roasted nuts, and pineapple.
  9. Stir in the flour mixture.
  10. Pour into prepared pans. (I use a scale to ensure that the pans hold an equal amount of batter.)
  11. Bake for 35 minutes on convection, or up to 45 minutes in a standard oven, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  12. Remove pans to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans.
  13. Let the cakes cool completely before icing.

For the Cream-Cheese Icing and To Finish the Cake:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Add vanilla and mix.
  3. Beat in the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Spread the icing between the 9-inch layers and over the top and sides of the cake.
  5. Chill before serving. (I made the cake a day in advance.)

Note: This cake is very moist and keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator; it also freezes perfectly unfrosted.

One Year Ago: French Apple Cake

Two Years Ago: Carrot-Cake Thumbprint Cookies

Three Years Ago: Outrageous Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Four Years Ago: Jacques Pepin’s Plum Galette and Raspberry Custard Tart

Five Years Ago: Carrot Cupcakes and Cheesecake Brownies

Beet & Dill Roasted Salmon with Potatoes

I was initially drawn to this recipe because of the “jewel-like” color of the salmon in the finished dish. The beet and dill marinade gives it the lovely color as well as a wonderful layer of flavor. My husband was completely sold when I told him that the salmon is roasted over a bed of sliced potatoes. 🙂

I served this dish on Easter weekend, on Easter Eve, along with zucchini baba ghanoush as an appetizer and carrot cake for dessert. I would serve this menu again next year and serve it on Easter Eve- it was nice to have our larger and more labor-intensive meal the night before all of the Easter festivities. We had a spring pasta dish for lunch on Easter after having challah and Easter eggs (and Easter candy!) for breakfast. Perfect.

This lovely recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I decreased the horseradish and left the skin on the potatoes. I also used a mandoline to slice the potatoes. I served it with steamed beet greens, roasted beets, and roasted asparagus on the side. Healthy and delicious.

 Yield: Serves 6
  • 1 small red beet, peeled and coarsely grated (1/2 cup)(wear gloves!)
  • 1 cup dill fronds, chopped, plus more for serving
  • 3 to 4 T freshly grated horseradish (from a 2-inch piece), or 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • grated zest of 1 lemon, plus lemon half for serving
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 side salmon, preferably wild, (1 3/4 to 2 pounds; about 1 inch thick at thickest part), skin removed
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices (preferably with a mandoline)
  1. Combine beet, dill, horseradish, zest, and 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Season both sides of salmon generously with salt and pepper; transfer to sheet. Spread beet mixture on top. Let stand 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss potatoes with remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Shingle potatoes in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, in a single layer. Bake until tender, about 35 minutes; remove from oven.
  5. Remove beet mixture from top of salmon with a spoon; spread over center of potatoes.
  6. Top beet mixture with fish (you may need to tuck part of tail end under fish to fit in pan), drizzle with oil (I omitted the additional oil), and bake until salmon is medium-rare, 10 to 12 minutes.
  7. Squeeze with lemon, garnish with dill fronds, and serve.

Note: Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish. For salmon that is 1/2 inch thick, start checking at 8 minutes. For 1 1/2 inches, start checking around 14 minutes.

One Year Ago: Swedish Meatloaf with Caramelized Cabbage (Kalpudding)

Two Years Ago: Chicken Paprikash

Three Years Ago: Pork & Ricotta Meatballs in Parmesan Broth

Four Years Ago: Pork Chops with Shiitake Mushrooms & Mustard Vinaigrette

Five Years Ago: Italian Braised Pork

Ottolenghi’s Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

I knew that I had to make this as a special appetizer after seeing it on Chef Mimi’s blog. It sounded so interesting- a baba ghanoush without eggplant or tahini, but with zucchini, yogurt, and Roquefort cheese. The charred zucchini resembled bananas when they were peeled; cooking it this way gave it smokiness.

It may not be absolutely beautiful, but it was absolutely delicious. Ottolenghi describes its appearance as “rather like a volcanic eruption.” 🙂 It was a little bit time-consuming to prepare, but was worth every bit of time and effort.

This recipe was adapted from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. I used French whole milk plain yogurt instead of goat’s milk yogurt and used regular chile flakes instead of Urfa chile flakes. I also crumbled the cheese rather than grating it. I definitely plan to make it again- we loved it. Incredible.

Yield: Serves 6 as a starter or as part of a mezze selection

  • 5 large zucchini (about 2.75 pounds/1.2 kg)
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) plain whole milk yogurt
  • 2 T (15 g) coarsely crumbled Roquefort cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 T (15 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 T (20 g) pine nuts
  • pinch of chile flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 1/2 tsp za’atar, to finish
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • warm naan, for serving
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with foil and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.
  3. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain. The zucchini can be served warm or at room temperature.
  4. Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.
  6. Put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 tsp coarse salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.
  7. Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and the pine nuts.
  8. Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once with warm naan.

One Year Ago: Vegetarian Harira

Two Years Ago: Mushroom Spinach Soup with Middle Eastern Spices

Three Years Ago: Orecchiette with Carrot-Hazelnut Pesto

Four Years Ago: Saffron Pappardelle with Moroccan Spiced Shallot-Butter Sauce and  Clams Casino

Five Years Ago: Israeli Couscous with Spinach & Onions

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