Fig Almond Toffee Bars

New Years has come and gone yet again. Last night, I celebrated by watching the fireworks at Boston Harbor with friends. It was fantastic, but I woke up today with a cold. Whenever I’m stuck at home I  get restless, so as a remedy I cook. I don’t start out with anything in mind–when I cook, it’s a haphazard affair. Luckily, most of my experiments turn out pretty well. People brave enough to try the final product are generally pleased.

Tonight’s pièce de résistance is a modified toffee bar recipe from cooks.com.

What You’ll Need:

– 1 package water crackers

– 1 jar fig butter (I used Trader Joe’s because that’s what happened to be in my refrigerator)

– 1/2 cup regular butter

– 1 cup brown sugar

– 1 cup diced toasted almonds

– 1 bar dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s 85% Dark)

Baking:

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×12 pan with aluminum foil and line the bottom of the with crackers.

– In a small frying pan on high heat, whisk together butter, fig butter, and brown sugar until liquefied. Pour over crackers.

– Bake the pan in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes. (In the original recipe, it says the crackers should float. Because the fig butter is so viscous, they won’t so don’t worry about it).

– Take the pan out of the oven and break up the chocolate bar into pieces and scatter on top. Once it starts to melt, take a spatula and spread out over the top.

– Sprinkle the diced almonds on top and put in the refrigerator to cool then move to the freezer to harden. Once firm, slice into bars and take pretty pictures (if you’re into that sort of thing) and serve.

Here’s to kicking off 2013 with a kick-ass new recipe!

–Cassie

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Go-to Guac

I have a severe weakness for tortilla chips. I rarely leave the grocery store without them. My current favorite are blue corn tortilla chips, but the black bean and quinoa tortilla chips from Trader Joe’s are quickly moving up the list. I could probably sit here for a while talking about how much I love them, but that would get boring pretty quickly. So, moving on…

Because I consider tortilla chips to be the best snack food, I’m a sucker for anything that goes with them: salsa, queso, dips, and of course, guacamole. I love guacamole because it never quite turns out exactly the same twice, but it’s equally wonderful every time. I have a standard recipe I usually follow, but feel free to add your own variations according to what you like!

You will need:

  • About 3 medium avocados, peeled and pitted
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lime
  • Cilantro
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 small tomato, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt (optional)

Place the avocados in a medium bowl and mash them. For a creamier texture, add the Greek yogurt and mix. Mix in the red onion and garlic. If you’re using red pepper and/or tomato, mix them in as well.

Stir in grated zest of 1 lime and fresh squeezed juice of half of the lime. Mix in cilantro (dried or fresh), salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Break out the tortilla chips and dig in!

I always have red onion in my kitchen, but I don’t always keep red peppers and tomatoes, which is why I consider those to be optional. They’ll add a little more texture, color, and flavor, but I often do without. Greek yogurt makes the guac a little fuller and creamier. I usually add it if I have fewer avocados and still want the same size batch.

Also, if you’ve never made guacamole before, be aware that it will turn brown pretty quickly even if it’s in tupperware. Science has never been my best subject, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with oxidation (I’ll let Poncie handle all science lessons). To prevent the browning, put lemon juice or oil spray on a piece of plastic wrap and place it directly on the surface of the guac before you refrigerate it. Guacamole lasts several days in the fridge, so even if it does start to turn brown on top, just stir it up to reveal the lovely green underneath. It will still taste wonderful even if it isn’t quite as pretty as when you first made it!

UPDATE 12/30/12: I recently attended a Christmas party and wanted to change up my guacamole recipe for the holiday occasion. I made my basic guac, but instead of adding in the tomatoes or red pepper, I used pomegranate seeds. They added a beautiful holiday color and fun flavor to the dish that went over extremely well with all the party guests. I had people coming up to me all evening telling me how much they enjoyed the twist on the typical appetizer.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

I’m not sure what prompted my love of baking muffins. I think it may have been because I was too lazy to ice cupcakes once. Whatever the reason, I spent the entire summer making a different batch of muffins every week (much to the joy of my coworkers). Last week after a long day, I came home and decided to give cranberry orange muffins a try. Most of my muffin recipes are adapted from Williams-Sonoma.

Image

You will need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 ½ cups fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir the flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and zest.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, melted butter, milk, and orange juice. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until evenly mixed. Fold in the cranberries (and nuts) until just mixed. Don’t overmix!

Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling it level with the rim. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold and enjoy!

Makes about 12 muffins.

Hurricane Cookies

My favorite cookies have tons of stuff in them.  So when we made them in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, we decided they should be hurricane cookies…because nothing brings rubble like a hurricane.

A few of my favorite things: chocolate, walnuts, and dried cranberries.

This recipe originated in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine but of course it includes some editing.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 14  Tbsp (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (toast them if you can; it makes all the difference)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preparation:

Move oven racks to middle positions. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line two flat baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir flour, oats, and baking soda together in medium bowl (or the large measuring cup you used to measure them, if you’re lazy like me).

Heat 10 Tbsp butter in skillet until melted.  I always attempt to brown the butter and then I get wimpy because I think that it’s burning. Remove from heat and transfer butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir in remaining butter until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining. Let stand  minutes, then whist 30 seconds. Repeat resting and whisking twice more (4 times total) until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Don’t skip this step! It allows the sugar time to dissolve in the melted butter mixture. Dissolved sugar caramelizes at a lower temperature than undissolved sugar, so that when the cookies bake the sugars caramelize. This makes your cookies extra delicious…and who doesn’t like caramelized sugar?

Use a rubber spatula to stir the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture.  Only mix until just combined, but make sure not to miss any pockets of flour. Stir in chocolate chips, nuts, and cranberries.

I didn’t have any chocolate chips so I chopped up a baking bar. What’s up, 65% cacao?

Drop dough onto cookie sheets, and bake until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, 8-10 minutes.  Edges should set but centers should be soft. Let cookies cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.