Healthy Date/Apricot Bars

date/apricot bars

Here is a receipt for a great date/apricot bar, sweetened with a monk fruit sweetener; it is complete with information on this great alternative sweetener.  This makes a healthy breakfast bar.  The recipe is another one of my sister’s notes of grandeur, derived by her ingenious cooking skills, which she originally made with sugar.  Today, however, her cooking is inspired by the keto diet (therefore this bar no longer fits in her diet plan).

Recently I have begun investigating this keto way of eating for myself, which promotes a diet of high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrates.  I am looking to it for its over-all health benefits, rather than for weight loss.  The more I read, the more convinced I am that the avoidance of sugars, as well as a high intake of the right kind of fat calories, is beneficial for our bodies both to maintain health and loose weight, but it is essential that they be the right kind of fats.

Dr. Don Colbert has an excellent plan, the keto-zone diet, in which you bring your bodies into a state of ketosis, burning fat for energy, rather than glucose (sugar), by using premium fats for 70% of your daily caloric intake.  Presently I am exploring in depth his teachings on the multi-health benefits of his diet.  Not needing to loose weight, I don’t restrict my carbohydrates quite as strictly as his diet requires-until I learn otherwise.  Therefore I partake in this bar, which is made with organic whole wheat pastry flour, oats, butter, and monk fruit sweetener.

Indeed, high quality fats (avocado, olive oil, grass-fed ghee, MCT oil, krill oil) are important also for those of us who aren’t in need of shedding pounds,.  Rather we have a need to take in enough calories to maintain weight and acquire optimum health.  Consuming lots of rich desserts and empty starch calories to keep weight can lead to diabetes among other serious conditions.  1

The use of good alternative sweeteners is equally important, as eating the right kind of fats; these bars are made with butter and Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, which is available at Costco.  Monk fruit sweeteners are typically a mixture of monk fruit extract and other natural products such as inulin or erythritol;.  This Costco product is a blend of erythritol-the first ingredient-and monk fruit, also known as lo han guo, or Swingle fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii), which is a small round fruit, native to southern China.  2

Costco’s Monkfruit has a sweetness equal to sugar, though other blends may have a sweetness ranging from 100-250 times greater than table sugar.  The intensity of sweetness depends on the amount of mogrosides present.  Mogrosides are the compound-a unique antioxidant-in monk fruit extract, which are separated from the fresh-pressed juice of this Asian monk fruit during processing.  When separated they are free of calories; these sweet-flavored antioxidants-mogrosides-are mainly responsible for the sweetness of this fruit, rather than its other natural sugars, fructose and glucose.  Fructose and glucose are actually totally removed during the processing of this extract.  3

Though more research is needed to verify the health benefits of mogroside extracts from monk fruit, there is some evidence that they may have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as possibly having positive effects on cancer and diabetes.  Current studies, however, use much higher doses of monk fruit extract than that consumed in this sweetening product.  4

We find the satisfying of our need for pleasure is much needed in healthy eating, but how this calls for balance.  Indeed, balance is a key to all that concerns us about food, and it is imperative that we make the effort to discover what works best for us individually.  Our bodies are unique and complex.  Food can work as a medicine, as well as be a rich blessing to our souls, when consumed properly.

Eating with an attitude of reverence is a key to tapping into gastronomic pleasure.  One simple tool in reaching this goal is to focus on that childhood instruction “chew carefully”.  In order to do this, it’s imperative to slow down.

We find the need to slow down and “chew carefully” is present in all of life’s endeavors, in order to reap the maximum goodness promised; as the old adage goes “slow down and smell the roses”.

To achieve this, it is important to give thanks to our Creator for our food, as well as for all the daily blessings and trials that come our way.  Such insures our joy.  We apply this gratitude to the not-so-good, not for the trouble itself, but rather for our resultant growth that develops out of overcoming hardship.  Such a heart bent on thanksgiving pleases our God immensely; it guarantees a prosperous life.  (For more on heightened pleasures of proper eating, see Parmesan Dover Sole, 2017/04/10.)

Enjoy this delightful recipe!

References:

  1. https://drcolbert.com/7-healthy-fats-to-help-you-burn-belly-flab/
  2. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-monk-fruit-sweeteners/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/monk-fruit-sweetener
  4. Ibid.

finished product

Healthy Date/Apricot Bars  Yields: 2 dozen.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 50 min.

2 c pitted dates, packed down firmly, chopped  (I suggest taking a measuring cup to the store, thus pre-measuring fruit, as you buy in bulk).

2/3 c dried apricots, cut small

1 1/3 c butter, softened  (Plus several additional tbsp, as needed for moistening last of crumbs.)

1 c Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetner, cane sugar, or coconut sugar  (This Monkfruit is available at Costco.)

1 2/3 c old-fashioned oats (Organic is only slightly more expensive in bulk; available at most grocery stores.)

3 c flour (Organic whole wheat pastry flour is best.)

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.99/5 lbs.)

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is preferable for quality and taste.)

  1. thickened fruit-sauce

    Beat 1 1/3 c butter in a large bowl; blend in Monkfruit sweetner or sugar, beating until light.  Set aside.

  2. Measure dates in a measuring cup, packing down firmly; with a chef’s knife, chop into small pieces.  Repeat these steps with the apricots.
  3. “sifting” in sealed plastic bag

    Place fruit in a medium saucepan.  Add 2 1/4 c of water, cover, and bring to a boil over med/high heat.

  4. Remove lid, lower temperature and boil softly, uncovered, until a thick sauce is formed.  Be sure to stir about every 5 minutes.  Watch fruit carefully as it thickens, so as not to burn (see photo above).
  5. mealy crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  6. In a plastic sealed storage bag, place flour, oats, and salt.  Close the seal and shake vigorously (see above photo).
  7. Blend flour mixture into butter, until mealy; see photo.
  8. Place 3/5 of flour/butter mixture in bottom of a 9” x 13” pan, which has been lightly sprayed with oil.  Pack down evenly with hand, being sure to pat edges and corners really well.
  9. initial baking of crust

    Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes (see photo).

  10. Remove from oven and gently spread thickened fruit-sauce over top of crust.  Then, taking the rest of the flour/butter mixture, firmly pat rounds of dough between your two hands, placing these solid masses on top of date/apricots, until all is covered.  (May add a little additional soft butter to dry crumbs in the bottom of bowl, to moisten them and facilitate the last of the forming.)  See photo below.
  11. forming of top crust

    Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more, or until golden brown; see photo at top of recipe.

  12. Cut into bars, while still warm.  May freeze part of batch to have on hand for a nutritious breakfast bars.

1950s’ Lemon Bars

1950s’ lemon bars

Here I give details concerning the known history of tantalizing lemons-dating back to before Christ-as well as a time-tested receipt for lemon bars.

In the 1950s, my mother often made these great bars, using a then popular recipe probably derived from a magazine, to which I have added my touches to make them simpler, tastier, better!

There are many variations of fruit that grow on trees in the genus Citrus, and these are prone to form hybrids with each other, making it hard for scientists to work out family relationships.  Today it is believed that the common domesticated citrus fruits all derive from just three parents: the citron Citrus medica, the mandarin orange Citrus reticulate, and the pummelo Citrus maxima.  1

Lemons, so valued for their acidity-often 5% of the juice-are widely used in cooking and are highly revered in the making of beverages, pectin, medicines, and beauty products.  This fruit may have originated as a two-step hybrid, in which both steps were citron-crossed with lime.  It is proposed that the first step of this hybrid arose in the area of northwest India and Pakistan, while the second took place in the Middle East, where the citron, crossed with lime, was crossed additionally with pummelo.  2

In Food in History, Reay Tannahill postulates that people may have been eating lemons and limes as early as 2300 BC, when the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Dato, of the great Indus civilizations, were at their peak.  3

Around 100 AD lemons arrived in the Mediterranean via Arab traders; by 400 they were planted in orchards in Moorish Spain.  Presently they are mainly cultivated in subtropical regions, with many varieties of true lemon, as well as a couple of further hybrids, such as the Ponderosa and Meyer lemons; the Ponderosa is large and coarse, probably a lemon-citron cross.  The Meyer, probably a cross between the lemon and either orange or mandarin, however, is thin-skinned, with less acid, and a distinctive flavor due in part to a thyme note (from thymol); this later came to California in the early 20th century.  4

“Curing” promotes longer shelf life of lemons.  Being picked green, they are held in controlled conditions for several weeks, allowing their green skins to yellow, thin, and develop a waxy surface; curing also promotes enlargement of the juice vesicles.  5

Epicures appreciate the preserved lemons of northern Africa as a condiment; they are made by cutting and salting lemons and letting them ferment for several weeks.  (Up to a month may be required, as suggested in the great recipe at https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/.)  This process allows for the growth of bacteria and yeasts, which softens the rind and changes the aroma from bright and sharp to rich and rounded.  6

Often attempts are made to shorten the steps with many in-depth cooking procedures today.  Such has occurred with these preserved lemons-for example they are frozen and thawed to speed salt penetration, then salted for a few hours or days.  This will bring some of the needed chemical changes as the oil glands are disrupted and their contents are mixed with other substances, but without fermentation, full flavor development will not occur.  7

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee writes that lemon comes via Arabic from a Persian word, reflecting the route these Asian fruits took as they made their way to the West.  8

Enjoy the explosion of great flavor in this proven lemon bar recipe!

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 373.
  2. Ibid., p. 377.
  3. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three River Press, 1973, 1988), pp. 38, 39.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 377.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid. and https://nourishedkitchen.com/morrocan-preserved-lemons/
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.

finished product

1950s’ Lemon Bars  Yields: 16 small bars.  Total prep time: 55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  inactive prep time: 10 min/ baking time: 25 min.  (There was a note on Mom’s recipe to add more lemon to this original 20th century recipe; thus, I increased both the lemon juice and flour to 3 tbsp each.)

1 c plus 3 tbsp unbleached white flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic is high quality.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1/4 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs

1 c sugar  (Coconut sugar is ideal, in place of the white; may also use turbinado, raw cane sugar.)

Zest of 2 small lemons  (Organic is very important, in order to avoid the taste of pesticides; available inexpensively at Trader’s.)

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed

1/2 tsp of salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

  1. golden crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Spray lemons with a safe, effective, inexpensive produce spray (combine 97% white distilled vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes and rinse well.
  3. With a fork in a medium bowl, blend 1 c flour, butter, and 1/4 c powdered sugar, until mealy like a pie crust.  Pat mixture firmly into an ungreased 8” x 8” pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown (see above photo).  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  4. frothy filling mixture

    Meanwhile zest lemons, then juice them.

  5. Slightly beat the eggs in a bowl with an electric mixer; blend in your choice of 1 c white, coconut, or turbindo sugar.  (For info on coconut and cane sugars, see Zucchini Bread-2017/07/24-and Pear Pie-2016/10/31-respectively.)
  6. Mix in remaining 3 tbsp flour, salt, and baking powder; add lemon zest and juice, beating until frothy (see photo above).  Set aside.
  7. bars at end of baking

    Spread lemon mixture evenly on top of slightly cooled crust.  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown.  Note: this will firm up more with cooling.  See photo.

  8. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into 16 pieces, while bars are warm.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Chocolate Mint Pie, Another Variation of Blum’s Famous Pie

chocolate mint pie

Let’s journey back to the mid-nineteen hundreds, with another variation of Blum’s coffee toffee pie.  My sister Maureen, who is a kitchen genius, created countless desserts, with this famous pie’s receipt as a basis; we served these in our family restaurant high in the Rocky Mountains, at the east entrance to Montana’s Glacier National Park, during its 50-plus years of operation.

While in San Francisco for my rare eye operation in the late 1960s, my bold mother asked Blum’s for their coffee toffee pie receipt (see 2017/08/21), which my sister expanded on over and over again; this exceptional mint pie is just one of the exquisite results of her ingenuity.  She made it with crème de menthe for the extensive dessert bar in our dining room; I, however, employ peppermint essential oil, which is healthier and more economical.

Many visitors arrive at my blog in search of information pertaining to Blum’s, which left its indelible mark on the history of San Francisco and American cuisine.  Before it closed in the 1970s, it was an upscale restaurant, serving exquisite desserts, candies, and lunch items.  I recall being fascinated with a pin-wheel sandwich there, which I saw with my one unbandaged, post-operative eye.  The swirling of white and dark bread was new and stunning to me back then.

The early ‘60s saw the ushering in of high-end cuisine for the growing middle class; this was introduced by Julia Child, teaching French cooking techniques; she became established in the kitchens of America, due to Jacqueline Kennedy’s placing a French chef in the White House.  This decade’s middle class had the money, as well as the developed acumen, to learn involved French cooking from Child, with all its vast richness-butter and more butter, cream, eggs, cognac.  1

My mother, however, was busy following Time-Life Books Foods of This World, creating foods of France and many other countries (see my 1960s French dinner, 2016/05/30).  This extensive sequel came out in 1968, as a result of the changes that Child had produced in the American palette.

Other food movements were rising along with this adoption of the gourmandise; one was the growth of fast food.  While we were spending three winters in Tucson in the early part of this decade, my parents took us kids out for hamburgers on their nights out with friends; we always preferred the burger at JB Big Boy-founded in 1961-over that of McDonald’s.  2

McDonald’s first opened its simple hamburger restaurant in 1948; nevertheless, it was with a building renovation in 1952 that they created the concept of fast food.  3  Likewise in 1962, their openness to change brought about fast seafood; this transpired when franchise owner Lou Groen creatively placed a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich on his Cincinnati menu.  He had a desperate need to increase his dwindling business, due to the meatless practices during the 40-day Lenten period, of the this Catholic-heavy population in southwest Ohio.  With this innovative addition being accepted by headquarters, a new era of experimentation and menu expansion took place for McDonald’s, as well as fast food as a whole.  4

Yet another trend in food was birthed in the 1960s; social unrest was on the rise, which my family was highly aware as we walked the streets of San Francisco, during my eye operation.  This brought about a generation devoted to Birkenstocks and bean sprouts that popularized vegetarianism and cooked-from-scratch foods.  (I, myself, produced much homemade granola in the late ’70s, during my personal reliving of the hippie movement.)  5

There seemed to be an apparent schism take place with the birthing of both gourmet and hippie food in America-while fast food was also growing ever predominant during these tumultuous years.  Nevertheless, all three of these food trends are still found to be thriving in our present day society, which has witnessed even greater diversity and imagination in its ever expanding movement of food, in the years leading to 2019.  American ailment, which was previously boring, is extremely exciting presently!  6

References:

  1. https://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-100-years-american-food.html
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JB%27s_Restaurants
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_McDonald%27
  4. https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/most-important-dishes-food-that-changed-america#slide24
  5. https://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-100-years-american-food.html
  6. Ibid.

Chocolate Mint Pie, a variation of Blum’s Coffe Toffee Pie  Yields: 1-10″ pie.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr, plus 1/2 hr for cooling/ active prep time: 1 1/4 hr/ baking time 15 min.

Note: this is best kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is high quality.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt can be purchased at Costco.)

3/4 c butter, softened

1/4 c brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

3/4 c walnuts, chopped fine

2 oz Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, plus extra for garnish

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c cane sugar  (Organic is ideal, best buy is at Costco, also available in a smaller quantity at Trader Joe’s.)

2 lg eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to raw eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety, which are available at some grocery stores.)

Peppermint essential oil, or mint flavoring of your choice

2 c heavy whipping cream  (Must be heavy, to whip properly.)

1/2 c powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Few drops of green food coloring

Ganache

1 c heavy whipping cream  (Organic is important for health; available for $3.29/pint at Trader’s.)

8 oz (1 1/3 c) semi-sweet chocolate chips  (Trader’s carries some of high quality.)

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. baked pie crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Combine flour and salt; blend in a scant 1/4 c butter well with a fork until mealy in texture.
  3. Mix in brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and 1 oz chocolate, grated with a sharp knife.  Add water and vanilla; blend well.
  4. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in a well-greased pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 18 minutes, or until light brown; begin cooling on a rack, for about 10 minutes, finish cooling in freezer (see photo above).
  5. Chill a bowl in the freezer for whipping the cream (the whipping of cream is greatly facilitated when utensils are ice-cold).
  6. Melt remaining 1 oz of chocolate over med/low heat, watching carefully as not to burn. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
  7. ganache

    Make ganache, by bringing 1 c heavy cream to a very low simmer, over med/low heat (should be very hot-steaming-not boiling).  Add 8 oz chocolate pieces and continue to cook, beating with a wire whisk, until mixture is glossy/shiny.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, set aside.  See photo.

  8. Check to make sure 1 oz melted chocolate (above) is still in liquid form; if hardened, gently add a little heat, being careful to melt it only, but not get it very warm. Beat 1/2 c butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 c cane sugar, beating well with each small addition.
  9. Add 1 egg-must be room temperature-mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  (The following makes this preparation foolproof: it is important to have ingredients at room temperature, for if your kitchen is either really hot or cold, this mixture may curdle.  You can easily correct this: if it curdles or breaks because it is too hot, make the addition of the second egg a cold one, directly out of the refrigerator, to bring the filling back to its full volume.  If the

    filling

    butter/sugar/egg combination is too cold and curdles, warm the chocolate a little and mix this in before adding the second egg; then, follow the directions for beating.  Ideally when done, this should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream, providing ingredients are room temperature, in a moderate kitchen.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)

  10. Add second egg and beat for 5 more minutes, see above photo.
  11. Blend in cooled chocolate and several drops of peppermint essential oil, or to taste.
  12. Clean and place beaters in freezer for ease in whipping the cream.
  13. Fill the bottom of the cold pie crust with a layer of ganache, freeze ganache in shell for 10 minutes, see photo above. (May have to slightly warm ganache at this point, for easy pouring.)
  14. Meantime using frozen bowl and beaters, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and several drops of peppermint essential oil, or to taste, and few drops of green food coloring.  Continue beating until stiff; set aside.
  15. Place filling on top of chilled ganache in pie shell; return to freezer for 30 minutes; see photo.
  16. Cover pie with whipped cream and garnish with drizzled ganache-may have to warm slightly for easy drizzling.  Top with chocolate curls, made with a sharp knife.
  17. May serve now, or freeze for future use.  When frozen, cover well with plastic wrap for storing; cut pieces as needed.  Serve partially thawed for optimum pleasure.

1950’s Boiled Raisin Cake

boiled raisin cake

The glorious Big Sky country of Montana was the recent setting for my mother Pat’s memorial, which holds the story of redemption.  This couldn’t have been more special, with family there from all over the state, as well as Washington, California, and Oregon.  It was a blessed reunion of next of kin and old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen for decades.  My 94-year old mother, who was so eager to be with her Maker and my father, was smiling down from heaven, highly pleased with all our gaiety.

Needless to say, the food at this week’s many meals was the greatest.  My sister Maureen, who follows a ketogenic diet, is highly gifted in creating memorable ailments. (She trains people in ketogenic-style cooking and presently is writing a cook book, which includes beautiful creative desserts; I will promote it when it comes out.)

Today’s boiled raisin cake, however, dates back to my early childhood in the 1950’s; my mother probably found this well-known cake recipe in a popular magazine.  Maureen knows the original instructions by heart, to which I have added a few twists of my own, such as freshly ground flour-this is totally optional, but oh so good!

Pleasing the palate beyond words, this world’s easiest, foolproof cake is mixed in the saucepan in which you boil the raisins.  I couldn’t help but share it at this time, thus honoring my mother.

Death normally brings loss; Mom’s departing, however, promoted life and goodness.  Her long-term desire to be with Jesus and my father “Buzzy Baby” was finally granted; our Redeemer brought great liberty to many with her passing.

Food, friends, and faith were the best description of her earthly sojourn; thus, these attributes also marked her transition to heaven, for my sister Maureen labored to insure their presence at all our gatherings, thus commemorating our beloved mother-nothing was overlooked.  This week-long series of family events highly esteemed this great woman, with the actual memorial, in our village of East Glacier Park, being the height of the glory which was signified by her home-coming.

At this treasured celebration, I was able to reunite with many childhood friends-some of whom I hadn’t seen since the 1970’s.  During the reception, extreme laughter blessed us at one table, as we traversed memory lane, for we were recalling our shared employment at my parent’s restaurant.

So many people who came to memorialize Mom’s life had worked for my parents in their fifty-plus years of restaurant ownership; all were bearing rich, belly shaking stories.  It was at this respected establishment that I first learned my love for food, in which I have a unique approach of educating with health and history.

Here I note that the raisins in this cake receipt were most likely sun-dried on rows of paper in the vineyards for about three weeks, as is their most common form of production in the United States.  There are many thousands of grape varieties, which are of the genus Vitis V. vinifera.  Here in North America, we have about 25 native grape species, where in temperate Asia, there are about 10; the major source of wine and table grapes, however, is native to Eurasia.  About two-thirds of the world’s grapes result in wine; of the rest, about two-thirds are consumed fresh, with the remaining made into raisins. 1

Urbain Dubois published a recipe in his 19th century cook book, in which he ingeniously combined raisins and capers; presently, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has capitalized on this unique paring, enhancing it even further by pureeing it with nutmeg as a sauce for skate (this popular dish is on his restaurant menu). 2

Loving food and adventure, my mother would have appreciated this daring treatment of raisins.  You may experiment with this raisin/caper combination, or just securely rest in Mom’s proven boiled raisin cake.  (I suggest making the latter with white vanilla, which is ideal for white frostings-this uncommon flavoring was my recent gift from friends traveling to Mexico, the home of the world’s most outstanding, dirt-cheap vanilla.)

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 363.
  2. Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley& Sons, Inc., 1996), p. 70.
  3. https://calraisins.org/about/the-raisin-industry/

finished cake after final frosting

Boiled Raisin Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr & 50 min, with 45 min inactive prep time for cooling raisins, unless you boil them ahead of time, following step one/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 45 min.

3 c flour  (Optional: may grind 2 c organic soft white wheat berries to make 3 c flour.)

2 c raisins

3 c water

1 cube butter

2 lg eggs, beaten

1 tbsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 c sugar  (Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index; for health benefits, see Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24.)

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

1 c pecan pieces, optional

Spray oil  (Coconut oil is best for flavor and health; Pam coconut spray oil is available in most stores; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

Glaze:

2 c powdered sugar  (Organic is best; Trader Joe’s has 1-lb packages, where Costco has more economical, larger packets.)

1/2 c butter, melted

1/2 c cream  (Organic heavy whipping cream is better for your health.)

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

  1. easy mixing of batter

    In a 3-quart sauce pan, bring raisins to a boil in 3 cups of water over medium heat; cook for exactly 5 minutes; add butter.  Place in a sink full of cold water to cool quickly.

  2. If using fresh ground flour, grind wheat berries now.
  3. Make glaze by mixing above “glaze” ingredients, set aside.
  4. When raisins are cool, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Add flour and all other “cake” ingredients to pan; blend well; do not over-beat, however, as this toughens cakes and cookies.  IF grinding your own flour, be sure to let batter sit for 45 minutes, as freshly ground flour is coarser and absorbs the liquid more slowly.
  6. Pour batter into 9”x13” pan, which has been sprayed with coconut spray oil.
  7. icing cake the first time

    Bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.

  8. When hot out of oven, immediately poke holes over the whole cake with a toothpick or skewer.
  9. Pour 2/3’s of glaze evenly on cake (see photo).  When cake has cooled, frost with remaining icing; see photo of finished product at top of recipe.
  10. This cake is dynamite, and it gets better as it sits over time!

Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968 (see 1960’s French Dinner, 2016/06/06).

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In the hot Mediterranean countries in Biblical times, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Those in medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel and bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered in the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats.  (In Webster’s, this last item is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal, or may grind 1 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (The original recipe calls for corn oil, but I use grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index, see health benefits at Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24 .)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, pitted prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (This may be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using optional, freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, or stir well with a fork.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed (using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape,  see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut shredded flakes (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, or around 108″; 2-8” x 8” pans will work; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 c brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies

plate of mor monsen’s kaker (my mother’s cake)

 

I took the winter off from college in 1973, to work at Big Mountain Ski Resort in Whitefish, Montana.  There in my small studio apartment’s kitchen, I first made these incredible bars, which are known for gracing Norwegian Christmases.

Scandinavian baking is in a class all its own.  These people are known to be masters of pastry as well as open-face sandwiches-often incorporating cardamom, rye, and saffron in their creations.   Presently, their culinary genius has reached new heights: numerous times in this past decade, Noma of Copenhagen has been the title winner of The World’s Best Restaurant; it promotes the popular New Nordic cuisine, which is a style of food that has gone beyond the boundaries of Scandinavia.

New Nordic is best known by the terms local and healthy.  In Norway, with a growing season that might last from June until August, it creatively uses the ocean, wild game, root vegetables, and cold-climate berries, such as the native cloudberry, which is highly valued in this country, as it can only be foraged, not cultivated commercially.

My simple, rich recipe exemplifies the culinary excellence of Norway; these lavish bars only call for currants and almonds, amidst the flour, eggs, sugar, and typical pound of butter.

Currants have an interesting history.  Today, these small dried seedless grapes, known as Zante currants, essentially come from the grape cultivar Black Corinth (Vitis vinifera), which is from the genus Ribes.  Related varieties, such as the White and Red Corinth (and other cultivars from the Black Corinth), are used rarely.

There are a total of about 150 categories in Ribes, including the above, as well as golden currants, gooseberries, and ornamental currants.  These various kinds are native to the northern latitudes of Europe, Asia, and North America, and within each individual species there are many cultivars-horticulturally derived plants, as distinguished from natural varieties-which have been developed over time.

Currants, which are most commonly dried, are generally referred to as Champagne grapes, when sold fresh, by U.S. specialty grocers.

The study of the origin of the word currant helps identify the history of our tiny fruit.  Written records of it initially date back to Pliny the Elder in 75 A.D.  A millennium later, we see the Middle English term raysons of couraunte, also known as raisins of Corinth (a region in ancient Greece which produced and exported these Ribes).

The word couraunte stands for (raisins of) Corinth, taken from the name Courauntz, which is of the Norman French dialect-a variety of speech used in Normandy and England in the Middle Ages-for this Greek region; this in turn comes from the medieval Old French Corinthe; thus, the dialectal name reysons de corauntz was first used for these grapes, when they were brought to the English market in the 14th century, from which the word currants eventually evolved.

In the 1600’s trade patterns shifted from Corinth to the Ionian Islands, particularly Zakynthos (Zante); thus, this small grape became known as Zante currant.

In 1854, the Zante currant the Black Corinth cultivar came via a trade ship to the United States, which eventually resulted in its commercial production in California; the related varieties the White and Red Corinth were established there in 1861.  (Presently, this state is one of the four major world producers of currants, with Greece covering about 80% of this total generation.)

Actually, trade ships were bringing varieties of Ribes to our soil as early as the 16th and 17th century; natural Corinth raisins, however, were indigenous here as well; the Native Americans had been harvesting them from the wild, long before any Europeans arrived, using them for medicines and dyes.

These Zante currants,  which were initially reported at the time of Christ, are presently hard to find.  In earlier days, I could find boxes of dried currants in many local supermarkets, but recently I can only find them in bulk at such upscale grocers as the national chain New Seasons, which also carries the seasonal, fresh Champagne grapes.

Try adding this dried delight to your next Waldorf salad, a batch of scones (see Scottish Oat Scones, 2016/06/20), or these superb Norwegian Christmas cookies.  Expect wonders!

References:

https://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/fact-sheets/pdf/currants.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zante_currant

https://1historyofgreekfood.wordpress.com/2007/10/02/raisins-currants-sultanas/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/best-scandinavian-cookbooks_us_5756c7e2e4b07823f951302c

http://www.cookingbythebook.com/cookbook-reviews/cookbook-review-scandinavian-baking-by-trine-hahnemann/

cutting bars in triangles

Mor Monsen’s Kaker-Norwegian Christmas Cookies  Yields: 4 dozen bars.  Total prep time: 60 min/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 30 min.   Note: these freeze extra well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.

1 lb plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

2 c sugar  (Organic is best; available at Costco and Trader Joe’s.)

4 lg eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may also grind 1-1/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make 2 c fresh-ground flour.)

distributing currants on dough

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

3/4 c almonds, chopped small (May purchase almond slivers for easy chopping.)

1 c dried currants

A large 11” x 16” cake pan*, or a 12” x 16” jelly roll pan  (May use a 9” x 11” pan, in addition to a 9” x 9” square pan.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease pan-see optional sizes listed above-with 2 tbsp butter; set aside.
  3. Cream pound of butter with sugar, until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition; mix in vanilla.
  4. distributing almonds on top of currants

    Blend flour and salt easily, by shaking vigorously in a sealed gallon-size storage bag; then, add this to butter mixture, beating only until all is incorporated, to keep cookies from toughening; set aside.

  5. Chop almonds fine with a sharp knife, or use a food processor, by repeatedly pressing down on the pulse button, cutting any big chunks in half with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  6. Spread batter evenly on greased pan; sprinkle surface FIRST with currants; see photo in list of ingredients; then, distribute almond pieces over the top of these; see photo above.  Press nuts and currants down into batter slightly with fingers, so they are embedded; see photo below.  (This keeps them from falling off the baked bars in crumbles.)
  7. Bake for 20-35 minutes, or until golden brown, time varies with pan-size.
  8. While bars are still hot-using an 11” x 16” pan-cut 4 rows across the width and 6 rows across the length; then, cut these squares in half; see photo of cutting technique at top of recipe.  (Amount of rows may vary with differing pan

    pressing almonds and currants into dough, to embed them before baking

    sizes.)

  9. These freeze really well, to have on hand throughout the holidays.  They are a treat!