Archive | January, 2011

Cinnamon Almond Granola

31 Jan

I have always been a healthy eater.  Not perfect, but overall a very healthy eater.

It started with my Mom when I was a little girl.  We used to shop at a place called A Beautiful Day (I kid you not).  I hated it.  It smelled like pachouli and was full of unheard of, all-natural foods.  I had fruit leathers, everyone else had Fruit Roll-Ups.  I ate eggless donuts, others noshed on Dunkin Donuts.  Carob brownies for me, boxed Duncan Hines for Sally, Susie and Timmy (okay, I didn’t know anyone by these names, but you get the point).  And, I promise you, I was eating blue corn chips before just about anyone else in America.

Don’t feel too bad for me.  My grandparents house was not quite the same.  They had (and, actually, still do) a second fridge stocked with soda – well, and beer, if I’m being truthful (a tale for another day).  A cookie jar in the kitchen filled with Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies.  And in the cabinet, Lucky Charms, Trix and Frosted Flakes.  Gasp!

I was lucky.  Best of both worlds.  And as I ventured out on my own in college and beyond, I found a happy balance.

Now that I am living back home, I maintain this balance.  The twist is just about everything “bad” is fresh baked.  No, not perfect but so much better than those Little Debbie’s in so many ways.  Okay, I do indulge in an Oatmeal Pie now and then.  Ahh, nostalgia.

Anyway, the healthy food is even healthier now.  Mom and I have committed to eating locally and in season, as much as possible.  This includes even making some of our food that we might have previously purchased.

Enter this granola.  I love granola, but the boxed kind is filled with sugar and preservatives.  I like to limit the sugar wherever and whenever possible.  I get enough tasting batter and frosting!

After some experimenting and tweaking, this is what we’ve settled on for our house granola.  Yes, it has some sweetener – brown sugar and honey – in it, but it is still significantly less than what you find in store bought granola.  Plus, we primarily use it on unflavored yogurt and on unsweetened oatmeal.  So the granola serves as crunch, extra protein and a touch of sweetness.

While it takes time, it is really easy to make and well worth it.

Start by putting the oats and almonds in a bowl.

Mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine the applesauce, brown sugar, honey, vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, cinnamon and canola oil.    Whisk until well combined.

Pour the wet mixture over the oats and almonds.

Mix until well combined.  Don’t be afraid to use your hands here ladies and gents!

Evenly divide the mixture onto two baking sheets.  As you can tell, I use the term “evenly” rather loosely here.

Bake, mixing every 20 minutes.

Once golden brown, allow the granola to cool.  One thing to keep in mind, it will become still be pretty moist.  As it cools, it will become crunchy.

This is particularly delicious over homemade yogurt.  Again, that’s for another day!


Cinnamon Almond Granola
Printer Friendly Version

6 cups Old-Fashioned oats
1 cup raw, sliced almonds
1 cup raw, whole almonds
1 cup all-natural applesauce
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup dried cranberries (optional)


Preheat oven to 300F.

In a large bowl, mix oats and nuts together.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the remainder of the ingredients, except the cranberries (if using).  Evenly divide the oat mixture on two baking sheets.

Bake, stirring the granola every 15-20 minutes.  The granola should bake 1 hour and 1 hour and 20 minutes.  It will be golden brown when ready.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  If adding cranberries, mix in once the granola has cooled.  Store in an airtight container.

Source: Kristina’s Original



Brown Butter Spice Cake – Fresh Baked Friday!

28 Jan

I’ll be honest, I was skeptical when my mom showed me this recipe.  Brown butter on some delicious pumpkin ravioli, yes, but in a cake?  Just not sure.

Well, I am here to tell you, push that skepticism aside.  This cake, which is more along the lines of a zucchini or banana bread, is absolutely delicious.  Filled with wonderful spices, a fabulous nuttiness and a perfect texture, this is surely a keeper.

You will notice some less conventional ingredients, like natural cane sugar and whole wheat pastry flour.  Feel free to sub as you see fit.  The source, 101 Cookbooks, sticks with all natural foods and ingredients, so I stuck with her ingredients this go-around.  If you sub with more traditional ingredients, be sure to let me know how it goes in the comment section.

Start by browning the butter.  This can take a bit of time, so be patient.

I forgot to keep an eye on the clock, but it was definitely close to 15 minutes.  Like I said, be patient.  You want the bits brown, but not burnt.  Fine line here, fine line.

Once browned, but the butter aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the dough.

But first, prepare your loaf pan with butter and flour.  Just in case you need it… first butter the pan (don’t be skimpy here) and throw some flour into the pan.

Now slowly, hit the flour around the pan.  You will have extra, just throw it out.  I know, a bit of waste.  Just go with it.

Now to the dough.  Whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices and sea salt,

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, pureed squash and milk.

By they way, I thought the cane sugar deserved a little close up.  Isn’t it pretty?

Anyway, test the butter.  It should still be melted, but not hot to the touch.  If it’s there, add to the sugar mixture.  Whisk until well combined.

Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.

Mix in the almonds.

Pour into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle the top with sugar and the almonds.

Bake.  Be sure to not over bake.  You want to keep that moist texture.

Once cool, slice and enjoy.  Just like I’m about to do… right now!

Looking for other sweet treats?  Take a look here!


Brown Butter Spice Cake
Printer Friendly Version

9 ounces unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon cloves
⅛ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup fine grain natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar
2 eggs
½ cup pureed roasted squash
¼ cup milk
⅓ cup lightly toasted sliced almonds

1 ½ tablespoons fine grain natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar
¼ cup lightly toasted sliced almonds


Preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter and flour a loaf pan.

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat until brown, with a nutty aroma.  This can take between 10 and 20 minutes.  Be patient.  You want the butter solids to be nice and toasted, but not burnt.  Once browned, set aside and allow to cool (but not set).

Sift the flour, baking soda, spices and sea salt in a large bowl.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs, squash and milk.  Whisk in the cooled, melted butter.  Be sure the butter is not hot to the touch before adding.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Mix until just combined.  Fold in the almonds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with the sugar and almonds.

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until the edges have browned and the center of the cake is well set.  Be sure to not over-bake.

Source: adapted from 101 Cookbooks


Like A Big Pecan Pie (Bar)… That’s Amore

26 Jan

I was overly ambitious (unfortunately, an all to common flaw of mine) in early December.  I asked Jess to send me a list of baked goods that she wanted to try or wanted to learn to bake, but either hadn’t gotten around to making or was too nervous to attempt.  I thought it would be fun to tackle some tricky desserts.

Oh, the overly ambitious part – I was going to make/bake, photograph and schedule blogs before the holiday rush.

Well, here we are.

Anyway, one of Jess’s items was pecan pie.  Although pie is not my go-to dessert, I too love (love) pecan pie.  It’s sweet, it’s gooey, it’s nutty… it’s deliciously decadent.

So when I finally had some time to do some baking, I went back to the list and remembered a recipe I marked from Blue-Eyed Bakers.  I figured rather than making a whole pie – which I would inevitably end since mom doesn’t do pecan pie (she opts for cherry… yuuuuck!) – I would make some pecan pie bars.  Kill the craving and easily  give some away!  Ahh, perfect combo.

Start with the shortbread.  In the food processor, combine the cold butter, flour, brown sugar and salt.

Pulse until small lumps, about the size of peas, form and the mixture looks sandy.  Like this.

Dump the mixture into the prepared dish, which is simply a 13 x 9 x 2 pan lined with either parchment paper or foil.  Be sure to let extra hang over the sides.  This will help you pull the finished product out of the pan.  Genius.

Evenly press the shortbread into the dish and bake until golden brown.

As a side note,  thanks to this recipe, I realized shortbread is really not my thing.  In general, I’m usually disappointed in it.  Not sure why, but it just doesn’t excite me.  That said, stick with me here folks.  I promise this blah shortbread will be elevated.  Remember caramel and pecans are coming.

Starting… now!  While the shortbread is baking, coarsely chop said pecans.  Don’t stress too much. Some can be whole.  It will be just fine.

In a heavy saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, honey, heavy cream and salt.

Bring to a bubble and allow to cook, stirring now and then, for a minute or two.

Take the mixture off the heat and add the vanilla and pecans.  Stir.

Pour over the hot shortbread.

Pop this in the oven and bake until bubbly all over.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Cut into bars.

You can either dig in or go one step further and dip the ends in chocolate.  I won’t judge.  Either way works.

They do look so fancy with the chocolate, though.

One note.  I actually thought these tasted better after they sat for a day or two.  The shortbread softened a bit and everything really melded together.  It might just be me.  If you don’t agree, then okay.  But if you do, then I told ya so!


Pecan Pie Bars
Printer Friendly Version

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold, unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt 

2 heaping cups of whole pecans
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 ounces good quality dark chocolate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan with parchment paper or foil leaving some excess hanging over the ends.

To make the shortbread, cut the butter into ½ inch cubes.  In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the butter with the flour, brown sugar and salt until the mixture begins to form tiny lumps (the size of peas) and it looks sandy.  This should take 30-45 seconds.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and evenly press the shortbread into the pan.  Bake until golden brown, about 18 – 20 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.  Start by roughly chopping the pecans.  Set aside.  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, honey, heavy cream and salt. Bring to a simmer and allow to bubble, stirring occasionally, for 1 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract and the pecans.  Pour on top of the hot shortbread crust and spread as evenly as possible.  Bake until bubbling evenly all over, about 14- 16 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before lifting out of the baking pan.  Cut into bars.

At this point you can serve the bars.  If you prefer, melt the chocolate according to the package and dip the ends of the bars.  Allow the chocolate to harden before serving or storing.

Source: Blue-Eyed Bakers


Custom Cuts: Will You Stand By Me?

24 Jan

My friend, Des, recently got engaged and was looking for a fun way to ask her bridesmaids to be in the wedding.  She came across a sugar cookie and asked if I could do something similar.

Obviously I said, “Sure!  I would love to.”  Planning and ideas immediately began flooding my brain.

I worked on some examples and sent them her way.  In the end, we decided on a black dress with simple details – a white sash with a small “pearl” and a black ruche to add some interest.

Simple, classic and elegant.  I mean, no one wants to create a bridesmaid disaster dress – even in cookie form!

I knew we needed to add something to the cookie that indicated who the cookie was actually from (small detail!).  Des came up with:

Save the Date
Desiree & Ralph

I thought it was a great idea.  I love how it wasn’t sappy, rather a cute nudge to who was sending it.

The final touch was wrapping the mailer (aka the box, which I found here) with a ribbon and a custom made tag.

And by custom made, I mean one that I whipped up using none other than Pages.  Nope, no fancy shmancy program here.

I thought they turned out great and hope Des and her bridesmaids loved them too.  And the concept could be used for so many things – to tell parents of a pregnancy, to invite guests to a small dinner party, to wish a friend “Happy Birthday!”  The list goes on and on.

Thanks Des for asking me to work on this… it was so much fun!

Cranberry Streusel Cake – Fresh Baked Friday!

21 Jan

My mom’s office holds an informal brunch every Christmas Eve.  Since I was home, baking in one form or another, Mom put me in charge of making something for her to bring.

As I was reading through new posts via my Google Reader, I came across a Cranberry Almond Streusel Cake on Sweet Paul.  I knew immediately what the Fierstein 2010 Christmas Eve brunch contribution would be.

See, I love coffee cakes, especially ones that have streusel on top.  Such a healthy breakfast.

Mom was kind enough to bring me a piece home and this baby didn’t disappoint.  Dense, sweet (but not too sweet) with tart bites from the fresh cranberries.  The only thing, I didn’t really detect a strong almond flavor.  Hence my name change.  Otherwise, delicious and definitely one to try.

Start by mixing together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs, one at a time.  Pictured, the second addition.  I like to be accurate.

Add the vanilla extract and the almond extract.

Now add the sour cream.  This is what makes the cake oh so moist.

Add the flour mixture.

You know the deal.  Mix until just combined.

In a small bowl, toss together the cranberries and the sugar.

Fold into the cake batter.

Pour the batter into the baking dish.  The batter is uber thick, so in this case “pour” is really a relative term.

In (yet) another small bowl, combine the butter, flour, salt and brown sugar.

I used a pastry blender, but a fork would work as well.  The mixture should be crumbly.

Doesn’t it look delicious?  Now sprinkle it on the top of the cake.

Bake until…

that’s right, golden brown!

Let it cool.  Right before you are ready to serve, dust the cake with some confectioner’s sugar.

Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

This would be great throughout the fall and winter months.  Think holiday guests!

Cranberry Streusel Cake
Printer Friendly Version

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sour cream
2 cups fresh cranberries
3 tablespoons sugar 

½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½  cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Butter a 9 inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  Add almond extract, vanilla extract and sour cream.  Add the flour mixture.  Mix until just combined.

In a small bowl, toss together the cranberries and the 3 tablespoons of sugar.  Fold into the cake batter.  Pour (or spoon – it will be quite thick) into the prepared baking pan.

In a small bowl, using a pastry blender or a fork, work together the sugar, flour, salt and butter until crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of the cake.

Bake until golden brown, about 55 – 65 minutes.  Remove and let cool.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Source: slightly adapted from Sweet Paul

Not Exactly a Confection

19 Jan

It’s 2011.  I know, shocking.  Well, yes, it’s kinda old news.  But sometimes it takes me a little while – like 19 days or so – for the new year to really sink in.

Come on.  I know I’m not the only one.

Anyway, I thought for this new year, I would do something new.  Like, I don’t, say post about a non-confection.  I know, shocking.  Don’t worry, it will just be now and then.

What do you think?  Yes?  No?

Well, let’s try one and see how it goes.

I’m going to start out easy.  With a good ole’ comfort dish.  Mac n’ cheese.

Start by grating the cheeses.  Yup, that’s with an ‘s’.  Gruyere and cheddar.
Get the seasons together.  Put aside for later.
Boil water.  Make sure it is very well salted.  This is your one chance to season the pasta. Believe it or not, the water should taste like ocean water (Mom didn’t believe it at first, either… she’s a convert).
Cook the pasta until al dente.
Drain and put aside.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the milk.  Make sure it doesn’t boil.  Trust me.  I speak from experience.
Also, melt the butter in a large pot.  I prefer a dutch oven.
Don’t have a dutch oven?  A large pot will do.  But, I should note that I highly recommend investing in a dutch oven.  This one is from Target.  Amazing.

Back to the baking… er, cooking.  While the butter is melting, make sure you have the flour and a whisk on stand by.
Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk together, cooking for a few minutes. (Apparently, I forgot to take a picture.  Oops!)
Slowly add the heated milk, whisking the entire time.
Once incorporated, take the mixture off the heat.  Add the cheese…
and the spices.
Mix well.  Add the pasta and stir together.
Pour into a baking dish.
Mix together the melted butter and the panko crumbs.  Sprinkle on the top and bake.
Looks good enough to eat, right?  Enjoy!

Macaroni and Cheese
Printer Friendly

Olive oil
1 pound elbow macaroni (white, whole wheat or mixture)
1 quart milk
6 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces (4 cups grated) Gruyere cheese
8 ounces (2 cups grated) extra-sharp cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg 

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375℉.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water.  Add the macaroni and cook, according to the package, until al dente, typically 6-8 minutes.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a saucepan, but DO NOT boil.  Melt the 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pot.  Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook over low heat for 2 minutes.  While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for another minute or two, until it has slightly thickened and is smooth.

Remove from heat and add the cheeses, 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Add the cooked macaroni and stir well.  Pour into a baking dish.

Mix together the 2 tablespoons of melted butter and the panko crumbs.  Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese.  Bake for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and browned on the top.

Source: slightly adapted from Ina Garten


Custom Cuts: She’s Proudly Preggers

17 Jan

My friend Stacey is expecting a baby!  I was so thrilled when her mother-in-law contacted me to make onesie sugar cookies for her baby shower.

Stacey (and her husband, Justin) decided to be surprised on the sex of the baby (yay!), so everything has a pretty neutral palate.  This included the baby shower.

After I received the shower invite (which is amazing, right?  It’s from Elizabeth Ashley.  Take a look at their work.), I thought light green onesies with little brown polka dots would be perfect.  Neutral and fun.

When Stacey’s mother-in-law received them, she was thrilled – and I let out a huge sigh of relief.  I still get so nervous that the final product won’t live up to the clients vision.  Blah!

Best wishes to Stacey, Justin and baby!  Can’t wait to meet him… or her!

%d bloggers like this: