Monday, November 19, 2012

Cranberry Crumb Bars

Happy almost Thanksgiving! I have a lot to be thankful loving family, great friends, and amazing fiance. My job at a wonderful organization. Food, especially cheese and chocolate. The gorgeous wedding dress that I just ordered (!!). My cozy apartment and cute neighborhood with all the most delicious bakeries and restaurants packed onto one block. I could keep going! What are you thankful for this year?

Do you guys read Smitten Kitchen? If you don't, you must! Deb, the writer and photographer, not only takes incredible photos but creates simple, reliable recipes. Her blog is the first one I look to when I need to find a recipe or I need inspiration. So of course I was SO excited when the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook came out last month! I dropped the ball on ordering it so I just got it in the mail this week and spent hours flipping through it, bookmarking the recipes I want to try (which turned out to be nearly all of them).

These Cranberry Crumb Bars are the perfect holiday dessert - lightly spiced, with a perfect balance of sweet and tart. Let's be honest, very few of us actually want to eat a big piece of heavy cake or pie after a hearty holiday dinner. Make these instead!

Cranberry Crumb Bars (from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
3 cups (12 oz) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Deb recommends lining the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper - I didn't have any and just greased the pan with butter, which worked fine! In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices. With a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers, work the chilled butter and the egg into the flour mixture until it is the texture of coarse meal.  Pour half the crumb base into the prepared baking pan and use your fingers to press it evenly into the bottom of the pan.

For the filling, pulse all ingredients in a blender or food processor until the berries are roughly chopped (I may have taken mine a little too far but it still worked!).

Spread the cranberry filling over the crust base, and sprinkle the remaining crumb topping over the top.

Bake the bars for 30 to 35 minutes, until light brown on top. Cool completely, then cut into squares.

The bars are perfect served with vanilla ice cream on the side...yum!

Oh, one more thing - I'm thankful for Poppy. Especially thankful that she didn't jump on the table and start eating the bars I was trying to photograph!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Indian Flatbread and Spicy Tomato-Shallot Jam

I've mentioned this before, but Gabe's (my fiance) mom and stepdad recently moved to St. Helena, in the beautiful Napa Valley wine country. It's always great to go up and visit them, and we are getting completely spoiled by all the amazing wine and food in the area! Plus, it is incredibly beautiful up there in the fall - all the grape vines are turning yellow and orange and the air smells like Cabernet...seriously.

On Saturday, we took a cooking class through the Napa Valley College cooking school and it was SO much fun! The class was based around flatbreads and dips and spreads, with a Middle Eastern theme. Gabe and I were in charge of making an Indian Chapati (flatbread) and a spicy tomato-shallot jam. Other people made pita bread with white bean hummus, lavash with mushroom pate, Moroccan chickpea bread (my favorite!) with an eggplant dip, and naan with cilantro mint chutney. It was a carb fest for sure!

The chapati is a similar to a tortilla, and is cooked in a dry pan over the stove. Then it's brushed with butter (yum) and sprinkled with a mixture of spices. The tomato-shallot jam was SUPER spicy but a perfect complement to the bread. Next time I might make it a little more mild and add it to salads or spread it on sandwiches!

Chapati (Indian Flatbread):
Dough - 
4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and spice topping - grind all spices together with the salt using a mortar and pestle or pepper grinder or the end of a rolling pin...get creative!
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup kosher salt

Tomato-Shallot Jam:
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
About 2 tablespoons shallot, minced (about 1/2 of a shallot)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cumin
1 cinnamon stick
10 garlic cloves, minced
3 pounds tomatoes, chopped (Roma are best but you can use any kind!)
1/3 cup brown sugar
Salt to taste
3 Serrano chiles, minced (Optional!! Only use the chiles if you really like spice. Or just dial it down to one chile. Also consider wearing gloves while chopping them...seriously they're that hot!)

Ok, let's break it down. I know it's a lot of ingredients and obscure spices, so just use as many of them as you can, no need to go out and by $50 worth of new spices for one recipe. Also please excuse the iPhone photos!

For the Chapati, mix the flour, water, and oil to make a soft, pliable dough. Once it comes together, let it rest in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface until they're about 7 inches in diameter. As we learned the hard way, they will stick together like crazy, so spread them all out on a counter or a baking sheet until you're ready to cook them.

Heat a heavy frying pan (cast iron or stainless steel would be best) over high heat on the stove. Cook one Chapati at a time, about 30 seconds on each side until the dough bubbles and develops dark blisters. They're HOT so use tongs to flip them!

Brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with the spice and salt mixture, then eat up while they're warm.

Ok, it's tomato-shallot jam time! In a large saucepan, heat the oil and mustard seeds until the seeds begin to sizzle and pop. Then add the cider vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir well, then let it all simmer for 30 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. 

The mixture will reduce and start looking less like a salsa and more like a jam. You can use the back of a spoon to mash up the tomatoes a little and help the process along.

Once the jam has cooked for about 30 minutes, taste it and add salt as needed. We probably added about a teaspoon, if not more!

Here's the amazing spread we all created!

And the finished Chapati...perfectly crispy.

Don't worry, I wouldn't leave you without a Poppy she is in the bathtub. It's not my best work but I love the mischievous look in her eyes.