Take a break with light and crunchy almond bars.

on the plate stacked

Recently I was perusing the aisles my favorite local organic grocery and health food store, Herban Marketplace, here in my town. I had not been by in awhile so it took me a couple of passes to take everything in and then decide what I wanted to walk out the door with. I hit the “baking area” where I found several unusual flours. The two I chose this time were coconut flour and sweet sorghum flour.

Once I got home I did some research on both and decided to put the coconut flour to use immediately in some scratch baking. I had been thinking about resurrecting a recipe I haven’t made in several years and this seemed like the perfect match. It is unusual to get a recipe great on the first try and even though I said I’ve made this one before, I fiddled around with the ingredients and the amounts, so I thought ”there is no way this will come out great on the first try.” Hey, I can be wrong…occasionally. Let’s just say I wish I was wrong like this every time I try to concoct a new recipe and/or mess around with one so much. These are really good ya’ll.

Coconut flour is made from coconut (obviously) and because it is gluten free those with an intolerance or allergy to wheat can use coconut flour as a substitute. Now, neither I nor anyone in my family has gluten issues, I just thought it would be fun to try out coconut flour. According to the folks at Bob’s Red Mill, coconut flour is high in fiber and protein and low in digestible carbs. All of these facts do interest me, so with a bag of sliced almonds and a package of coconut flour I set about making almond bars.

A few tips:

  • Do not overbake – I read this several places when using coconut flour.
  • The bars may seem a little on the cakey side when warm, but after cooling they are crunchier. Cover any uneaten bars under plastic wrap or in a container with a tight fitting lid.
  • Be patient when pressing the cookie dough into the sheet pan, it may seem like there isn’t enough, but there is.
  • Don’t skimp on the amount of butter used in the cookie crust dough – coconut flour requires extra fat and/or liquid for proper results.

In this recipe I use a 50% all-purpose flour /50% coconut flour combination so if anyone out there tries all coconut flour or someone other gluten-free combination with this recipe, I’d love to know how it works out!

Ingredients. There is the coconut flour, on the left.

Ingredients. There is the coconut flour, on the left.

Mix the butter and sugar until well combined )no need to 'cream' them, however). Add the eggs and extracts to this mixture.

Mix the butter and sugar until well combined (no need to ‘cream’ them, however). Add the eggs and extracts to this mixture.

Then add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. It makes a thick dough.

Then add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. It makes a thick dough.

And here is the dough. It's sticky too but is easily pressed into a jelly roll pan.

And here is the dough. It’s sticky too but is easily pressed into a jelly roll pan.

...and here it is all pressed out. Girly Girl helped with this part!

…and here it is all pressed out. Girly Girl helped with this part!

Mix the topping in one bowl. Here I am whicking the egg white and extracts with the brown sugar. Then add in the sliced almonds and...

Mix the topping in one bowl. Here I am whicking the egg white and extracts with the brown sugar. Then add in the sliced almonds and…

Spread the topping on the crust and it's oven-ready.

Spread the topping on the crust and it’s oven-ready!

Here are the bars right out of the oven. It took exactly 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool a couple of minutes, drizzle with glaze and slice into delicious bars.

Here are the bars right out of the oven. It took exactly 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool a couple of minutes, drizzle with glaze and slice into delicious bars.

Almond bars - so good with a hot cup of coffee or tea... or a cold glass of milk!

Almond bars – so good with a hot cup of coffee or tea… or a cold glass of milk!

 

Almond Bars

Cookie crust layer:

  • 10 oz unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder

In a mixer combine the butter and sugar and mix well. Add in the eggs and beat several minutes, scraping down bowl if necessary. Mix in the extracts. In a separate bowl stir the flours, baking powder and salt. Slowly add this mixture to the butter/egg mixture, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Dough will be sticky.

Press dough into a 9 x 12 inch cookie sheet (with edges) or a jelly roll pan. Set aide.

Topping:

  • 1 egg white
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup sliced almonds
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl whisk the egg white until frothy. Add pinch of salt, extract and sugar. Mix to combine. Fold in almonds and spread this topping over the cookie crust layer.

Bake in 350 degree oven about 15 m9inutes. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan just a couple of minutes. Drizzle with glaze*, if desired and cut into bars. Makes 36-48 bar cookies.

*My favorite simple glaze is confectioners sugar mixed with fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix about 1 cup confectioners sugar with 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons lemon juice and ¼ tsp vanilla extract. Too thick? Add a drop or two of lemon juice (or water) to thin. Too runny? Add more confectioner’s sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you like.

By golly, it’s butternut firefly chiffon pie.

butternut firefly chiffon pie

We’re in the thick of winter around these parts. As I write this, note that it about 70 degrees today with a light southerly breeze and sunny skies, so perhaps my choice of description, i.e. thick of winter, isn’t totally accurate. Sorry to all you folks out there whose weather is not, errr… ‘ideal’. Got to love the Lowcountry, though!

However, if we look at comparables in produce that can be found at the local grocery during this time of year, I think we are all in the same boat. Yes, I see zucchini from Mexico and pineapple from Costa Rica but what about  fresh, local (or regional) veggies and fruit? In my case this means gourds, greens (like kale and collards) and perhaps some carrots (from the farmers market). Butternut and acorn squash have both been long-time favorites in my family. But what to make? One can only eat so much roasted acorn squash in one winter.

After choosing a butternut squash, I dusted off some old family cookbooks, and thought about which combination of ingredients could be delicious and unique. I settled on a pie, similar to the rich butternut ones I made with my mother back in the day, but with a lighter consistency. Nothing says “light” like chiffon so voilà, the butternut chiffon pie was born.

I also have been experimenting in the kitchen with one of my favorite spirits, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, in different ways and I must admit it is exceptional in this recipe. I used the “skinny’ version of this flavored vodka, the tea-infused essence really gives the filling an extra punch and compliments the spices nicely. I think either the “skinny” or the regular version would both result in equally delicious fillings.

Firefly Distillery is located in nearby Wadmalaw Island (just outside Charleston, SC) and you can read more about their products, history and what not on their website. They also offer several other flavored small batch vodkas, a bourbon and produce a very good muscadine wine. The grapes for the wine are grown on-site and the tea used in all their tea-infused products comes from their neighbors at Charleston Tea Plantation.

I believe there isn’t anything much better than a cool Firefly lemonade on a warm Lowcountry afternoon… especially if there is a porch…a breeze… and like-minded friends involved. Toss in some local seafood on the grill and this butternut Firefly chiffon pie, and by golly, you’ve got yourself a party!

preparing butternut squash

Prepare your squash by splitting in half and scooping out the seeds.

After roasting the squash, open the foil and allow to cool enough to handle.

After roasting the squash, open the foil and allow to cool enough to handle.

Puree the cooked butternut squash. It should be very smooth.

Puree the cooked butternut squash. It should be very smooth.

Measure out the Firefly Vodka, add the water and dissolve the gelatin.

Measure out the Firefly Vodka, add the water and dissolve the gelatin.

In a heavy bottomed pot or double boiler you will cook the egg yolks, half & half and the pureed squash. Stir in spices...

In a heavy bottomed pot or double boiler you will cook the egg yolks, half & half and the pureed squash. Stir in spices…

Add the gelatin mixture to the egg/squash mixture. Mix well,add the vanilla extract and allow to cool completely.

Add the gelatin mixture to the egg/squash mixture. Mix well,add the vanilla extract and allow to cool completely.

Whip the egg whites with the sugar until stiff and then fold into the squash mixture. Yes, this recipe uses raw egg whites so if your immunity is compromised or you do not feel comfortable about using raw egg whites, please refrain from making this recipe.

Whip the egg whites with the sugar until stiff and then fold into the squash mixture. Yes, this recipe uses raw egg whites so if your immunity is compromised or you do not feel comfortable about using raw egg whites, please refrain from making this recipe.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and refrigerate.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and refrigerate.

After setting up in the frig for a bit (1 hour at least) the pie should slice beautifully. I add some lightly sweetened whipped cream and grated nutmeg.  Just like heaven!

After setting up in the frig for a bit (1 hour at least) the pie should slice beautifully. I add some lightly sweetened whipped cream and grated nutmeg. Just like heaven!

Butternut Firefly Chiffon Pie

  • 1 envelope gelatin
  • 3 tbl Firefly Vodka mixed with 2 tbl water
  • 1 ½ cups cooked, mashed butternut squash*
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Ginger People spread (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 baked & cooled graham cracker crust
  • Ground nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the eggs. In a large bowl beat egg yolks and add 1/2 cup sugar, squash, half & half, salt, and spices. Cook until thick in double boiler stirring or whisking constantly. Soak gelatin in vodka/water mixture until dissolved, stir and add to the squash mixture. When it begins to thicken, remove from the stove, stir in the vanilla extract and allow to cool completely (to room temperature).

Beat egg whites with the 1/3 cup sugar, adding 1 tablespoon at time until stiff peaks form.** Fold into the squash mixture until combined. Pour into a baked and cooled pie shell and chill to set, at least 1 hour. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg just before serving.

* To prepare the puree from fresh butternut squash: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split a medium to large butternut squash in half and remove seeds. Spray with canola or light olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil.PLace on a cookie sheet and back in the oven until cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Remove from oven, unwrap and allow to cool so you can handle. Scoop out the cooked flesh and either puree in a food processor or blender, or run through a food mill to get a smooth puree.
** This recipe uses raw egg whites in the filling.

Persimmons! It’s what’s for dessert.

persimmon white chocolate roll

Okay, I will admit that I have become obsessed with persimmons. Once I tried fresh persimmons last fall I fell in love with their flavor, their texture and even their pretty orange/coral color. Their taste remind me of mangos and a little of peaches and papayas. But I guess they are simply “persimmons”- with their own great flavor. My first recipe was to make some tangy persimmon jam, using a recipe from the Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook by Chef Chris Hastings. Chef Hastings makes a quick jam from wild persimmons, to accompany a foie gras first course.

Now not having access to any fresh foie gras nor wild persimmons, I nevertheless purchased some cultivated fruit at the market and set about making preserved persimmon jam. It came out quite nicely! We’ve enjoyed it on biscuits and in an appetizer I made with Camembert cheese and toasted pecans. I’ll share that recipe when the timing is right.

Having persimmons on my mind, I thought they would be delicious used in a dessert as well. Maybe a mousse? Or a perhaps a cake… thus I decided to work with them incorporating my recipe for a white chocolate jelly roll cake. This fit the bill for our Christmas dinner dessert. In the future I think I may add a drizzle of  crème anglaise just to add interest to the plate as admittedly my photography does not do justice to this recipe.

One other thing to point out is that this keeps beautifully if wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated. So it’s a great do-ahead dessert that impresses! And, surprisingly just today, I saw a large basket of persimmons at my local market. Persimmons seem like an undervalued fruit, to me, so allow me to spread the “good persimmon word” before some Food Network ne’er-do-well proclaims them the next big foodie thing…and they cost $5 a piece.

Peel the persimmons. They should be soft to the touch when ripe, not hard.

Peel the persimmons. They should be soft to the touch when ripe, not hard.

puree the persimmon

Persimmon puree. It has the consistency of mango (to me) and purees like them too.

Dissolve the gelatin in some rum or orange liqueur. Then warm it some so it is smooth.

Dissolve the gelatin in some rum or orange liqueur. Then warm it and stir so it is smooth.

Add the warm gelatin mixture to the puree while the processor is running and blend.

Add the warm gelatin mixture to the puree while the processor is running and blend.

CHill the puree and then fold in the sweetened whipped cream. Hold in the frig while the cake cools.

CHill the puree and then fold in the sweetened whipped cream. Hold in the frig while the cake cools.

To make the cake start by preparing the jelly roll pan. Line with parchment AND spray with oil.

To make the cake start by preparing the jelly roll pan. Line with parchment AND spray with oil.

The cake batter begins by beating the heck out of 3 eggs, adding sugar and whipping it up some more. It will more frothy like this...before adding the butter/chocolate mixture.

The cake batter begins by beating the heck out of 3 eggs, adding sugar and whipping it up some more. It will be frothy like this… before adding the butter/chocolate mixture.

Use cake flour like this NOT regular all-purpose flour. OR make your own cake flour by sifting all purpose flour, and measuring out 1 cup. Remove 2 tablespoons of flour (per cup of flour). Then add into that 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift again and you've got cake flour...

Use cake flour like this NOT regular all-purpose flour. OR make your own cake flour by sifting all purpose flour, and measuring out 1 cup. Remove 2 tablespoons of flour (per cup of flour). Then add back to that 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift again and you’ve got cake flour…

Pour the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan, bake  and in about 12-15 minutes you've got cake!

Pour the batter into the prepared jelly roll pan, bake and in about 12-15 minutes you’ve got cake!

While the cake was baking you should have prepared the powdered sugar covered kitchen towel. LIBERALLY sprinkle with powdered sugar!

While the cake was baking you should have prepared the powdered sugar covered kitchen towel. LIBERALLY sprinkle with powdered sugar!

Place the hot cake on the prepared kitchen towel. Peel off the parchment and roll it up. Allow to cool on a rack for at least an hour.

Place the hot cake on the prepared kitchen towel. Peel off the parchment and roll it up. Allow to cool on a rack for at least an hour.

After the cake roll is cool, spread the filling all over.

After the cake roll is cool, spread the filling all over.

Now wrap that baby up in plastic and allow to cool in the frig. Slice and serve with reserved persimmon puree, whipped cream, a sprinkle of powdered sugar etc.

Now wrap that baby up in plastic and allow to cool in the frig. Slice and serve with reserved persimmon puree, whipped cream, a sprinkle of powdered sugar, etc.

Persimmon White Chocolate Roll

For the White Chocolate Roll Cake

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbl unsalted butter
  • 2 oz white chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbl water
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Lay out a clean kitchen towel that is larger than the jelly roll pan. It also helps if the towel has no texture so don’t use a terry cloth towel. Dust with a generous amount of powdered sugar.

In mixer bowl beat eggs on high speed until thick and lemon colored (5 minutes). Meanwhile melt the butter and white chocolate in small heavy bottomed pan over low heat (or use a double boiler). Stir to combine and then aside to cool.

Gradually add the sugar to the eggs, mixing well. Mix water and vanilla extract to cooled the butter/white chocolate mixture and stir. Add to egg/sugar mixture with mixer running. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the egg mixture and beat just until batter is smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Loosen edges with a knife and while cake is hot, turn out onto the powder sugared towel. Roll up the cake – with the kitchen towel.

Set the cake rolled into the towel on a rack to cool, about 1 hour. After cake has completely cooled unroll the cake and towel and spread with the persimmon filling. Roll back up, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, cut into slices (1 inch seems right). Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar, a dollop of persimmon puree and whipped cream.

Makes 8-10 servings. Leftover roll should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated.

For the Persimmon Filling

  • 5-7 Persimmons (to make about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur (good quality rum will also work)
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Peel the persimmons, chop and grind to make a puree in a food processor. Measure out so 2 cups of puree is in the processor and mix ¼ cup sugar to the puree. In a small saucepan dissolve the gelatin in the liqueur. Heat slowly over low heat. With processor running pour the gelatin mixture into the puree. Pour the persimmon puree into a mixing bowl and place in the refrigerator. Meanwhile whip the cream with the powdered sugar until set. Fold 1 cup of the whipped cream into the persimmon mixture.

Reserve any remaining persimmon puree and whipped cream to serve with the Persimmon White Chocolate Roll.

The food nerd strikes again with classic apple pie.

Once a food nerd always a food nerd. I am making this statement with this particular apple pie recipe because with it I won two blue ribbons at the South Carolina State Fair…in the junior category when I was 16 and then in the adult division when I was 17.

Needless to say, I was very proud of this accomplishment, but not enough to EVER tell any of my friends at the time, lest it get out into the general population of my high school. In those days, and actually to this day in my soul, I was what would be considered a wallflower. If I could blend into the background I was comfortable, which became tricky as I grew to a height of 5 foot 10, towered over all the boys, and sported the typecast Irish/Welsh look of ultra pale skin, freckles and thick red hair.

Even as I got older I tucked my ribbons away, dreading any mention of “the blue ribbon winning apple pie” that would surely be revealed to every boy I dared bring home. In my family of cooks it did give me a boost in confidence especially around my mother, who is a very fine baker in her own right.

We tried for years to get her to enter her superb caramel cake (my favorite) or her billowy, 4-layer coconut cake in the State Fair. But she never would, she’d just say, “It would be wasteful. You know they take one slice and then the rest of the cake just sits there… and rots.” If there’s one thing my mother is NOT, its wasteful. Long before being green was hip (like 30 years ago!), we (lovingly) called her the “original recycler” as she insisted we rinse out and reuse every plastic Ziploc bag and save all the aluminum cans to take to the local metals salvager.

Nothing was safe from the ‘original recycler’. I can still see my dad rummaging through a waste basket at the insistence of my mom, searching for pantyhose (women, even girls wore pantyhose back in the 70’s and 80’s, people) and then seeing all manner of lady’s unmentionables propping up row upon row of tomato plants and runner bean trellis in our garden. Ugh.

But in all truthfulness I do now use old tights to prop up my own tomato and pepper plants, so for that Mom and Dad, I salute you. But I still don’t ante up to the blue ribbons – well at least until now, I suppose. They reside somewhere at the family homestead – dusty and disintegrating in an old metal frame. Next time I’m there, maybe I’ll look for them and show them off to Girly Girl, who now proudly proclaims herself to be my “little sous chef”. Good girl, good girl.

I do have a “secret” ingredient to this pie, proclaimed to the world here for the first time ever, and it is… molasses. Actually when I won the blue ribbons all those years ago I had 3 secret ingredients…one was the molasses, one was the apples I used which were hand picked from a family-owned orchard in Easley, South Carolina and the last, the pièce de résistance was…

my Father. Dressed in his work suit and tie, he hand delivered the pie first thing in the morning, fresh baked and toasty from the oven. It was the first pie tasted. I’m not saying that this necessarily had any influence what so ever, and I do like to think this recipe is “award-winning”, but that pie was delivered warm and my Dad, well, he was a very charming man…

Obviously the apples are very important in this pie. I like to use a combination of McIntosh and maybe Granny Smith, but this year Michigan lost 90% of its apple crop so no McIntosh… these were organic Fugi and Yellow Delicious, the latter not usually a pie-making apple but I added a couple for their great apple-y flavor.

Sliced apples soaking in the lemon water.

Mix the sugars, the spices and the cornstarch (2 tablespoons).

Toss the sugar mixture with the drained apples.

The apples sit for awhile. Feel free to stir them, gently, a couple of times. After awhile you’ll get a sort of syrup in the bottom. This is a good thing!

Spoon the apples into the prepare crust – but NOT the syrup. How do you like the smiley face spoon? Borrowed from Girly Girl…

Time for the ‘secret’ ingredient – molasses. Use whatever brand you like, but get the unsulphured kind.

Add the molasses, flour and cornstarch to the ‘syrup’. Stir well or use a whisk.

Pour the molasses mixture over the apple slices as evenly has you can. When it heats up it will all come together in the crust so don’t stress about this!

Top with a full crust, like I did here, or use a pretty lattice crust, whatever you like. You can also brush on an egg wash and sprinkle with Demera sugar for a fancy bakery look.

Out of the oven and lookin’ good. Allow the pie to cool some for easier slicing.

Here’s another shot of a slice on the plate. So perfect with vanilla ice cream – good homemade apple pie tastes like Fall to me!

Apple Pie

  • 6-8 large apples (about 3 lbs), washed, peeled, and cored
  • ½ lemon
  • Ice water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tbl flour
  • 2-3 tbl cornstarch*
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbl molasses
  • egg wash, if desired

In a large bowl squeeze the lemon into several cups of ice water. Slice your apples and place in the water. Stir the mixture around as you continue to more apple slices. This will help the apple from turning brown. When finished, stir once more and drain the apple slices in a colander. Pat dry if necessary.

In a small bowl mix the sugars, spices, 2 tbl. cornstarch and salt. Pour the drained apple slices back into the large bowl and sprinkle the sugar/cornstarch mixture over them, stir gently to coat. Allow the apples to sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.

If I have pastry crust to make this is when I make it.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees ahrenheit . After the allotted time, stir the apples and see that the juice from the apples and the sugar mixture has created a ‘syrup’. Stir the apples again and spoon them, but not the ‘syrup’, into the prepared pie crust.

Add the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch*, the flour and the molasses into the ‘syrup’. Stir or whisk. Pour this mixture over the apples evenly. Cover the pie with the top or lattice crust and crimp the edges. If you like, brush the crust with an egg wash.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425 degrees and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 45-55 minutes or until the apples are cooked through and the filling is bubbly. Remove to a rack to cool. Slice and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Makes 8 deep-dish slices or 10 regular size portions.

* I added in 1 extra tablespoon cornstarch to compensate for the using the Yellow Delicious apples, which tend to contain more moisture than classic pie making apples.