Tag Archives: dessert

the only exception

I’m not usually drawn to recipes that require specialty ingredient substitutions to make a dish healthier. Brewer’s yeast, soy cheese, nut cream—not my thing. I often find little other uses for expensive health alternatives.

Oh, but today’s cookie—a whole different (do-able) story.

Pear readers know not to bother visiting this spot for dessert recipes. It’s not that I don’t like desserts—if I could bake, I would eat the entire pan of whatever chocolate-y goodness popped out of my oven. Thankfully, I flop at nearly everything I bake, which means it’s easier to be healthy when there’s no cookies in the house.

Let’s also clarify something: ours is a healthy home, so I don’t really endorse daily cookie eating. Or recipes that call for funky ingredients and substitutions. BUT HERE’S WHERE I’M WILLING TO MAKE A PERMANENT EXCEPTION.

When Vegetarian Times magazine called this “The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie in the World”—let’s say I was intrigued.

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I am an oatmeal-for-breakfast girl through and through (berries + cinnamon + honey = mmm mmm), and typically I would raise an eyebrow at you if you ever tried to put my breakfast in a dessert. But seriously, people: the exception.

Besides that this is deliciously chocolatey and moist, let’s talk nutrition facts for a sec. Take a Mrs. Fields’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (65 grams) made with butter, brown sugar, whole eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda—standard cookie ingredients…

MRS. FIELDS                                   THIS COOKIE

280 calories                                      173 calories

13 g fat                                                 10 g fat

8 g sat. fat                                           3 g sat. fat

40 g carbs                                           21 g carbs

140 mg sodium                                122 mg sodium

35 mg cholesterol                           0 mg cholesterol

1 g fiber                                               2 g fiber

17 g sugar                                           12 g sugar

Two big points I take away from this cookie comparison is the fat content—both cookies are high in fat per serving, but the cookie with walnuts and oat flour has less saturated (artery-clogging) fat. The cookie here is also cholesterol free.

It is not time to start substituting cookies for breakfast or a nutritious snack, but this is a great dessert alternative for get-togethers—a huge hit among a crowd of family members that might have freaked if I mentioned the word “vegan”… With nine people in the house the weekend I cooked these in Delaware, they were gone by morning! This cookie is work, but not complicated work. This cookie is worth it.

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Note: I found oat flour in Giant’s “Natural” health aisle. (Does it drive anyone else bonkers that a commercial FOOD store has a single aisle devoted to “healthy” products?)

The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World

Vegetarian Times, February 2009

makes 30 cookies, active time: less than 30 minutes

3 Tbs. canola oil

2 cups walnuts

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups oat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups rolled oats

3 3.5-oz. bars bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped, or 12 oz. dark chocolate chips

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Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

Blend walnuts in food processor 30 seconds, or until ground into a fine meal. Add canola oil, and blend 2 to 3 minutes more, or until mixture has the consistency of natural peanut butter, scraping down sides of food processor occasionally. Transfer to bowl.

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Whisk together brown sugar and ½ cup water in small saucepan, and bring mixture to a boil. Pour brown sugar mixture over ground walnut butter, add vanilla extract, and stir until no lumps remain.

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Whisk together oat flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in separate bowl. Stir oat flour mixture into walnut mixture. Cool 10 minutes. Fold in oats, then chocolate chips.

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Shape cookie dough into 2-inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Flatten cookies with bottom of drinking glass dipped in water.

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Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies begin to brown and tops look dry. Cool 3 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

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There aren’t too many desserts here, as baking is simply not my strong suit (ironic that I was employed as a baker four years ago…) Still, there are a few desserts I love to recreate. Find my galette, brown-butter krispies, fresh berry tart, watermelon bites, chocolate peanut-butter pie and more here.

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sweet nothings

Last time, I was talking about a sweet discovery. Today, I offer another—an indulgent recipe this nutrition student makes once every other year 😉 Because there is nothing nutritious about this dessert—perhaps dessert’s very definition? I served this as an easy end to a gourmet family dinner. This was everyone’s facial response to my announcement:

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats

Smitten Kitchen, makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

1 10-ounce bag marshmallows

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (use slightly less than half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides. I use a 9 x 13 glass pyrex.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.

Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together.

Quickly spread into prepared pan. Use a buttered piece of waxed or parchment paper to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners.

Let cool, cut into squares, get ready to smile. Ah, nostalgia.

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a firenze frenzy

This Sunday, I plan to eat delicious snacks and salty things as an ode to my American culture. I have no plans, however, to watch sporting events. My lifelong indifference to athletics led only to my parents teasing me I would surely marry a man who wanted to watch football every Sunday. Well, I married a film major (brags blogger wife whose laptop rests upon a 4th edition of The Screenwriter’s Bible). We’ll probably take the day to enjoy our own movie marathon. And eat snacks.

Last Super Bowl Sunday, I was home sick and eating this. This year, I am on the rebound to good health and endorsing some healthy appetizers (inspired by serious steroid-related weight gain). These were such a smash at our housewarming in August, and a nice treat again this week at a neighborly happy hour. Tis not the season for tomatoes and strawberries—I know, I know—but grape tomatoes help make the most of this Tuscan treat.

Note: I made this for 50 guests with nary a leftover and multiplied the recipe by six. Because the toasts and topping make excellent leftovers, it is worth at least doubling the recipe. I also used a multigrain baguette the second time around, and it was fantastic.

Crostini di Firenze

from Desperation Entertaining by Beverly Mills & Alicia Ross

makes 20 crostini

1 baguette (at least 12 inches long)

1 large clove fresh garlic

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1/4 lb. ripe strawberries (about 1/2 cup chopped)

1 lb. grape tomatoes, halved

5 or 6, fresh mint leaves (2 tsp. chopped)

Make the crostini

Turn on the broiler. Cut off one end of the baguette, then cut 20 slices, each about 1/2 inch wide. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast in the hot broiler about 3 inches from the heat source until golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove, turn the slices over, and toast until golden brown on the second side, about 45 seconds. Remove the toasted bread from the baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.

Mix the topping

Mince the garlic (on a microplane, or like this) and place in a small bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk well to blend and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve. The vinaigrette and toast slices can be stored at this point for up to 8 hours. Cover the vinaigrette. Place the toast slices in an airtight container at room temperature.

Rinse and drain the strawberries thoroughly. Remove the leaf caps of the strawberries and cut the berries in half. Place the strawberry halves on a cutting board and chop coarsely to 1/4-inch pieces. Put the strawberries in a mixing bowl with the chopped tomatoes. Rinse and dry the mint leaves; finely chop and add to the fruit mixture. The strawberry-and-tomato mixture can be refrigerated and covered up to 2 hours.

Assemble the firenze

Whisk the vinaigrette to remix, pour over the fruit mixture and stir well to blend. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your preference. Arrange the toasts on a serving platter and spoon the topping onto each slice.

Let the crostini stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the vinaigrette to penetrate the bread. They will get soggy if standing too long, so better to assemble in batches—I promise, even in the midst of a party, this is a breeze. They will go fast.

Click to some other favorite dips and appetizers from A Pear to Remember

Jalapeno-Feta Dip

Mushroom Turnovers

Watermelon-Feta Bites

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers

5-Ingredient Trail Mix

Smoked Paprika Chickpeas

Savory Tartlettes

Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Stuffed Peppadews

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Pita Chips

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pears well with meals

I promise you would not need a fancy-schmancy pot to make the following, but it adds a little fun if you do. Allow me to introduce my birthday and Christmas surprises, Mademoiselle Plum and Monsieur Pesto:

 

I grew up on applesauce, and that’s not a criticism. Sometimes on our drives home from Grammy and Pop-pop’s house, we stopped at Catoctin Orchards for jars of cider, applesauce, and other fresh goodies. I’ve had a thing for homemade applesauce ever since.

Tried the peel, slice, core, simmer with juice technique—it’s a long wait. If you have a casserole dish with a tight lid, this apple-pear sauce will make itself. With a friend and two peelers, this is especially fun.

A quiet New Year’s Eve with close friends just screamed for roasted pear sauce, and here it is, dear readers, a side dish for the years to come. Because this is ideal for breakfast, dessert, and an accompaniment to of each course, double the recipe below, as we did.

Roasted Apple and Pear Sauce

from Ina Garten, makes 2 quarts

zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges

zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 lbs. sweet red apples (8 apples, any kind will really do)

3 lbs. ripe Bosc pears (7 pears; do use Bosc)

1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

peel leisurely at the kitchen table with a friend, you would never believe this is work

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a nonreactive Dutch oven (or large covered casserole). Peel, quarter, and core the apples and pears and toss them in the juice. Lindsey’s note: I core the apples very quickly by peeling, quartering through the stem, and—with the quarter flat on the board—making a diagonal slice just beyond the seeds and stem. This preps the fruit in one swift step.

Add the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon and cover the pot.

Bake for about an hour and a half, until the apples and pears are tender. Mix with a whisk until smooth, but still a little chunky. Serve warm or at room temperature. Or eat right from the fridge.

this pear sauce isn't so bad with beef brisket, grilled haricots vert, and potato-brie gratin

 

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better to give (than to eat all the cookies)

The holidays storm in each winter just moments before we get around to our pocketfuls of good intentions. Like the grand notion of baking for every family on our new street. We had a day in mind, and Andrew swore he would stand by my side and not allow yet another baking disaster. But we found endless errands to run on Baking Day, and Christmas week was upon us.

In the end, we attempted a less complicated recipe. Naturally—as December tasks go—at the last minute.  On my only previous attempt, I had produced a succesful batch meringues. And. They. Are. So. Dang. Simple. While I don’t know if they really count as cookies, they were well-appreciated and enjoyed by our neighbors. Fewer neighbors than we planned, as only one-third baked as pretty enough to give as gifts. The remainder resembled teeny toadstools, and were utterly delicious.

Note: we doubled this recipe, and they lasted well for four days in an airtight container on the counter. Maybe they last longer, but they all were eaten by then. Also, if you do not want to purchase superfine sugar, you can pulse regular cane sugar in a food processor. I used Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips; you could also use a dark chocolate bar.

Dark Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

adapted from Emeril’s recipe, yields four dozen small cookies

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until fluffy but not at all dry. (Be careful not to over beat.) Add the sugar gradually, about 3 tablespoons at a time. When 1/2 of the sugar has been added, add the vanilla extract. Continue beating and adding remaining sugar in batches, until all of the sugar is dissolved and the meringue is very shiny and tight. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chopped chocolate.

Working one teaspoon at a time, push a teaspoonful of meringue from the tip of 1 teaspoon with the back of another teaspoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving 1-inch of space between cookies. Or, quickly spoon mixture into a plastic gallon zip-bag with the tip cut and dollop onto the parchment. Place baking sheets in the preheated oven and turn the oven off. Leave the cookies (undisturbed) in the oven for at least 2 hours and up to overnight, or until cookies are crisp and dry. I like to leave them overnight, but only when I have another dessert in the house to hold me over.

In case the neighbors want to know…

Per Cookie: (48); Calories: 44; Total Fat: 2.5 grams; Saturated Fat:0.5 grams; Protein: 1 gram; Total carbohydrates: 5 grams; Sugar: 5 grams; Fiber: 0 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 3 milligrams

Now I did not create this blog as a venue for profanities, but I had to chuckle when one meringue recipient stated, “These are fucking unbelievable.”

Some other gifts I whipped up last week:

This pillow for Mom’s birthday I stitched over an insert. It was the sweater I wore in my high school senior portrait.

And a few handmade scarves I presented in these darling World Market take-out boxes to my co-workers. Andrew called them Lindsey’s Scarf LoMein.

What’s your favorite gift you gave away this year?

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sweet birthday balsamic

Hello old friends (and new)! We moved fully into our new home in a mere 8 days, but are still without internet—hence the lack of recent posts. With the new school year and grad school semester in full swing, you might notice increasing last-minute, budget-friendly recipes. Because, let’s face it, that’s all we all have time for these days.

Sometimes the most pleasant bites come from last-minute refrigerator raids—remember our blue cheese crackers? When we received an invitation to Michelle’s birthday dinner (friend since 1st grade, on a historical note), I knew I could not show up with just Bonnie and Clyde—the pewter birds I purchased earlier.

Michelle, her brother Steven and their cousins joined me for a Saturday morning market trip to savor the scenery I’ll miss most about summer.

Including this massive melon.

So here they are friends, gobble ’em up before we embrace the season of squash.

Balsamic Watermelon Bites

inspired by Feast on the Cheap, adjust the size according to your crowd

watermelon, cubed into 1-inch pieces

feta, diced

fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

balsamic vinegar, at least 1/2 cup

Balsamic reduction, a fabulous and easy syrup, can last for some time in the fridge, so better to make more and drizzle the rest over salad or other fruits and veggies. In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup (or more) balsamic vinegar over medium heat. Swirl the vinegar occasionally and keep over moderate heat until it reduces by about half. You’ll know it’s ready when the syrup coats a spoon, or the pan surface upon tilting. Set the syrup aside, off the heat.

Use a small measuring spoon to scoop out a portion in the center of each cube.

Pour the syrup about halfway into each cup.

Nestle the feta cubes gently atop the pools of syrup and sprinkle the platter with fresh mint.

This is quick and less-messy when assembled directly on a large serving platter covered in wax/parchment paper or a paper towel. Gently slide the watermelon off before serving—these also travel wonderfully when wrapped tight in several layers of saran.

Appetizer? Dessert? You decide. A sweet birthday tweet treat. Right, Michelle?

Which piece of summer will you miss most?

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a berry delicious Fourth

You remember I don’t bake, right? Fear of diasters + actual diasterous results prevent me from trying too frequently. You would not believe how flat the almond-blueberry “muffins” I made for company last weekend, yeesh.

So how about a do-able dessert endeavor?

I want everyone to have a memorable and safe fourth of July, and surely this calls for a patriotic pie. Andrew and I will be attending a big neighborhood celebration in his hometown. I am re-posting my favorite festive treat from last year’s celebration in Pennsylvania, because you must make it this year. In case you need a reminder why:

1. It’s really easy (think: add. stir. eat.)  

2. With a food processor, it’s fast and mess-free 

3. You can make it in advance (and make lots of people really happy when you two show up)  

4. The majority of ingredients are nutrient-dense–antioxidants, dietary fiber, whole grains, monounsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals (a few points over other desserts you may be considering…)

5. It travels and keeps very well  (though there will be fights for the last piece; sneaking down before breakfast was my tactic)

      

Fresh Berry Tart with Toasted Nut Crust

Vegetarian Times

crust   

1/4 each whole almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts   

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour   

1/4 cup sugar   

1/4 tsp. salt   

6 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, diced   

1 large egg yolk   

filling   

1/2 cup light sour cream   

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt   

2 tbsp. light brown sugar   

1 tsp. vanilla extract   

1 cup blueberries   

1 cup raspberries (or halved strawberries)   

1/4 tsp. grated orange zest   

1 tbsp. orange juice (from the same orange)

other goodies to get the job done

food processor

9″ tart pan with removeable bottom (other reasons you need this pan)

 

FOR THE CRUST   

Preheat the oven to 350F. Coat a 9-inch tart pan with cooking spray.    

Spread nuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven 10-12 minutes, until browned.   

Pulse nuts, flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until the nuts are ground to powder.   

A side note about cubed, chilled butter. This is really key in certain baking recipes. When I worked in a bakery, I was cubing 20 lbs. of butter for endless cookies and scones. Ah, memories. Cut your butter with a sharp knife at the beginning of your recipe and return the cubes to the fridge until the recipe calls for them.   

Add butter to food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.   

Add egg yolk and pulse until moist clumps form.   

    

    

   

As you can see, the mixture seems really crumbly. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of your prepared pan.   

A flat surface, like the bottom of a measuring cup, is the best way to ensure an even surface. The nut mixture doesn’t seems like quite enough for the edges, but it’s just right once the bottom is even.   

Your malleable, nutty crust should be about 1/4-inch thick.   

   

Now here’s a fantastic crust technique so you’ll never need pie weights. Pierce the crust well with a fork and freeze for 30 minutes. This keeps the crust from poofing up without the mess of foil and weights and other complications. Who loves simplicity??   

Adjust the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the frozen crust for 12-14 minutes, or until golden. Cool.   

FOR THE FILLING   

Whisk together the sour cream, yogurt, brown sugar, vanilla, and orange zest in a bowl.    

Toss berries (or fruit of your choice) with the orange juice in a separate bowl.    

(Please, please don’t skimp on the orange zest, it really makes the tart special).   

Spread the sour cream mixture into the crust with a spatula. It didn’t seem like enough filling to fill the tart, but it is just enough so scrape every drop from the bowl!   

I really want to experiment with peaches on the next round of this tart, but it is ideal for berries, as they are less likely to brown or bleed color into the sour cream mixture while resting in the fridge for a few days. Nonetheless, the acid of the orange juice kept my strawberries fresh for the mere day and a half the tart lasted among company 😀   

Spoon the berries over top a little at a time, until the sour cream mixture is evenly covered. (No one says it can’t be a little artistic, though)! It really does look beautiful however you arrange your fruit—yet another thing to love about this beautiful dish. I also sprinkled additional zest over the finished tart.   

Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes before serving. And take my advice, cut thin slices—my tart somehow fed twelve, but we would have loved seconds.   

 

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fit for family: part two (or getting your frico on)

As I was writing in the last post, it’s simple to make an elegant meal with few, fresh ingredients. When you’re lucky enough to access fresh veggies and cheeses from the farmer’s market, there is something extra special about your meal. Of course, the best part, whether a mother’s day meal or Friday night with friends, is your own presentation. I can’t say hard work and sweat because this is really a basics kind of meal (though you will call me a phony when you see the Strawberry Chips below…)

To accompany my original Springtime Casareccia with Basil & Fresh Ricotta, a basic but thrilling little salad:

Leaf-Lettuce Salad with Parmesan Crisps

from Great Food Fast, serves 6

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)

3/4 lb. red or green leaf lettuce

1 fresh lemon, zested and juiced

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 small garlic clove

1/4 cup fresh herbs (basil, parsley, chives, or a mix)

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

You will need parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat

Bake the Frico

Frico (freek-o) is a delicate parmesan wafer that adds a spectacular dash of Unexpected to a very simple salad. Even if you overbake the batch by a minute or two—points to self—they remain impressively cheesey and elegant.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Divide the cheese into four mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, at least four-inches apart. With the back of a spoon, spread each mound into an even 4-inch round.

Frico stores well as room temperature for a few days. I stacked the wafers between parchment paper for safe travel.

Bake until melted and golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. With a thin metal spatula, transfer the crisps to a wire rack and let cool.

Tear the lettuce leaves into bite-size pieces.

Mix the dressing

In a blender (or small food processor), combine 2 tbsp. lemon juice, zest, mustard, garlic, and herbs (I used chives and basil). With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream.

(This can also be whisked together by hand; chop the herbs and garlic fine). Salt and pepper the dressing, taste to balance the acid adding more oil if necessary.

Just before serving, add the dressing to the lettuce along with salt and pepper. Serve the salad with frico atop.

Speaking of the unexpected, strawberry chips are one of those Special Occasion accessories for a simple dessert. My sister-in-law (doing her part, and also saving my can’t-bake-worth-squat butt) provided homemade brownies and vanilla ice cream. This little garnish was so intriguing on paper, I was thrilled to have a holiday to try them out.

Strawberry Chips

scribbled down from my working days at Azafran

1/4 lb. strawberries

3/4 cup sugar

you will also need: pastry brush, parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 225F (or 200 for a convection oven).

Boil the sugar syrup

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Slice the strawberries

Slice the stems off the strawberries so that the berries have a flat end. Slice the strawberries on a mandolin or line up the berries and thinly slice with a sharp knife.

Bake the strawberry slices

help from the hubs!

Lay out the strawberry slices on the baking pans (lined with parchment baking or silicone mats). With a pastry brush, paint a thin layer of sugar syrup over each strawberry. Bake (convection: 30 to 45 minutes; regular oven: 40 to 50 minutes), rotating the pans halfway through baking.

To test if the chips are done, remove one from the oven and allow it to cool on the counter.  If it is crispy once it has cooled, then it’s done. If the slices are browning, take them out of the oven. Remove the slices from the pan while they are hot, and cool on a clean, dry countertop.

These chips are a crunchy note on any creamy dessert, or a remarkable sweet snack. The original recipe calls for 1 lb. of strawberries for 60 strawberry chips; they keep well in a sealed container for 2 weeks. Keep them in a cool place. Or impress your mother-in-law 🙂

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people pleasers

The secret to happiness?

Some might seek the words of thinkers before our time for wisdom on attaining love and lifelong joy. But you really not need look further than today’s post—I happened upon the universal.

Show up at your next dinner party with the dessert pictured here. Then, in your most humble, casual delivery, mention you brought a chocolate-peanut butter pie. Oh the smiles, the friends-a-flocking, the joyful shouts of glee! 

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie

recipe and awkward hyphen placement by Fresh Flavor Fast, serves 8

prep time: 20 minutes, total time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with chilling)

30 chocolate wafers

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/4 cup cold water

1 envelope (1/4 oz.) unflavored gelatin

3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut-butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

you will need a food processor and a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom

(the latter of which you will soon agree is an ideal, inexpensive investment. what elegance and sophistication it brings to all your future desserts!)

Pay close attention to the unsalted items here, one may wish to avoid creating Chocolate Salt pie. I happen to buy natural unsalted peanut-butter, and it worked wonderfully. You’ll note my ingredient choices in italics—just to help.

Preheat the oven to 250F. Process cookies (Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers) in a food processor until finely ground (to yield 1 3/4 cups). Add butter, and pulse until evenly moistened.

Transfer crumb mixture to a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press firmly into the bottom and up the sides. Place pan on a baking skeet; bake crust until set, 15-20 minutes; let cool completely.

Let’s take a brief interlude to discuss Troubleshooting Lessons Learned from this initial step:

  1. my 30 wafer cookies didn’t look like quite enough, so I upped to about 37 (having consumed the remainder in the box) along with some extra butter (1 tbsp.) to accommodate the additional crumbs. was this a good idea? it didn’t seem to hurt.
  2. the crust, upon pressing into the tart pan, was not nearly as cooperative as this tart with a similar press-and-bake shell. using the bottom of a cup, like last time, might have helped spread the crust evenly to the sides.
  3. even with the addition of more melted butter, the crumbly crust did not want to stand against the vertical perimeter. I still have no ideas on how to improve this, but figure with it being both delicious and homemade, one could overlook its rustic appearance.
  4. when a crust is black, a novice baker like myself might ignore the possibility of burning. do. not. overbake. I think the crust will set if left to cool after baking twenty minutes. I wouldn’t know, I let it bake an additional ten resulting in a charred taste—didn’t I learn in elementary school to Read The Directions?

The crust, however crumbly, will bake and set to form a delicate shell. From here on out, we approach The Idiot Proof segment of our no-bake pie program. 

Place the water in a small saucepan, off heat; sprinkle with gelatin (Knox original unflavored). Let stand until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. If you are also unaccustomed to “gelatin”, the extraterrestial appearence means you’ve succeeded.

In a food processor, combine the brown sugar and peanut butter (Trader Joe’s Creamy Unsalted); process until smooth. Add cream; process until mixture is light and holds soft peaks, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Place softened gelatin over very low heat, stirring, just until dissolved. Add to peanut-butter mixture in food processor,  blend to combine. Immediately transfer filling to cooled crust, and smooth top with a flexible or offset spatula. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts, and chill until set, at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. 

To serve, carefully remove the outer ring of the pan (I left the base in place for crumbly cutting, and always use a long, sharp chef’s knife for cleanest dessert slicing).

Despite my God-I-wanted-to-be-in-bed-an-hour-ago crust frustrations, the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie really came together smoothly. Damn if it’s not gorgeous either.

And my story, like yours will, has a happy ending—the crust came out delightful in all its cookie-butter glory (what a smell to have in the house for days, mmm) and there was an extra piece for the cook 🙂

P.S. This is the 100th post on A Pear to Remember. From the bottom of my peanut-loving heart, thank you for reading.

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out of our (walnut) shell

Not that it lessens the shame, but it turns out I’m not the only one. Often I go to the grocery store and think, “I hope I don’t see anyone I know, I look/feel [self-deflating comment here] today.” Why one’s self-esteem drops upon stepping into the flourescent lights is beyond me; I never have this thought at the post office, the shoe store. Certainly not at Trader Joes.

Sure enough, upon shopping for this celebratory meal, I see two women reuniting in front of the napa cabbage. The first, with her back to me, motions her palms down her body shaking her head apologetically. The other, I can nearly hear by now, reassures, “It’s great to see you. Oh, but really, you look fine.”

Why do we walk about feeling so terrible about ourselves when there is so much to enjoy, certainly in the produce section? I wish I could say this fear of ours is irrational, but I encountered my favorite teacher (of all time, I might add) at Whole Foods before Thanksgiving. I came straight from the doctor, had not showered, my skin the shade of bitter onion. We caught up on each other’s lives and menus, and exchanged e-mail addresses; I guarantee no trauma ensued.

All the energy on our looks, fear of lengthy recipes, feelings of inadequacy, is more efficient for creating something wildly memorable in the kitchen. What better way to end the day than take loving pride in a wonderful dish you cooked?

Something new with 5 ingredients in 10 minutes? Now that sounds do-able.

Creamy Walnut Sauce

mostly from Fresh Flavor Fast, serves 4-6

tell me you would also fall for this darling orecchiette ("small ears") pasta?

1 lb. pasta (your favorite kind)

1 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove

2 cups walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

(1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional)

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant (just a few minutes).

Bring a pot of water to boil, then add a generous amount of salt (there isn’t much elsewhere in the dish). Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package. Drain pasta and return to the pot.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the cream, garlic, and 1 cup of the walnuts in a food processor. Process until smooth, and season with coarse salt and fresh pepper to your taste. (If you don’t have a $2 pepper grinder, pick up one in the spice section next time).

Transfer to the pot along with (at least) 1/4 cup parmesan, chives (if using), and remaining 1 cup walnuts. Toss to coat the pasta. Serve with additional cheese.

Since this is a simple and inexpensive dish, maybe the $2 for fresh chives won’t break the bank??

On the side? The first time I made a walnut pasta dish, I made this incredible fried bleu cheese arugula salad.

Tonight, I made a very, very basic panzanella. You may remember my first Greek panzanella, an inspiring salad experience. I recommend panzanella to every person who a) claims they can’t cook anything and b) needs to impress dinner guests. No bowls, no baking.

Panzanella requires day-old bread, so it’s a great use for a leftover dinner loaf, or any nice bread abandoned in the freezer.

There are a number of ways to transform your nearly-stale bread into remarkable croutons. You could bake them—now cut into two-inch cubes—in the oven, but I find it simpler to flip them around in a medium-hot skillet with some nice olive oil. Really toast the bread until you’re concerned it’s rock hard. This won’t take ages, maybe a little more than five minutes.

In your serving bowl, combine equal amounts olive oil and red wine vinegar (or balsamic). Stir in a little salt and pepper. For a medium-sized salad bowl, 2 tbsp. of each is a good amount. Add your veggies. I kept it to tomatoes and cucumbers, chunks of feta and fresh basil. (It was less expensive to purchase a big pot of basil at the store than a single serving, so I set it in our sunny window with abundant prayers).

Of course, red onion, white beans and all kinds of other wonderful ingredients can grace your panzanella. There is no one way to create this rustic bread salad—an overwhelming thought to some cooks. You really can’t make this incorrectly. Toss your veggies around in the oil and vinegar, and taste if it needs salt or pepper. Once your happy with your seasonings, add the bread and serve it… anytime! I don’t like the bread too soggy, though this is the point of the salad. Let it sit about twenty minutes, or even hours in the fridge. The bread absorbs deep flavors and makes this salad a substantial accompaniment. Add your basil or chives just before serving.

Finish off with this delightful dessert.

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