Pasta Shells with Beef, Artichokes & Roasted Red Pepper

Creating interesting, flavorful meals with the smallest number of ingredients and the least fuss, lets you explore new avenues. Using roasted red pepper puree can do just that. To give an example, spoon some puree on a plate, lay a piece of grilled chicken or fish on top. Next sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs and you’ve got it — stunning and delicious!

Roasting red peppers not only makes them easy to peel but incredibly sweet and flavorful. When pureed, they give an amazing boost of flavor to whatever you choose to use them in.

I’ve always loved stuffed pasta shells, Brion probably not so much, but once in a while it works. Instead of using a pasta sauce in this version, I decided to go with the puree. Since a jar of roasted red peppers is a staple in my pantry, I’m doing a short cut idea. It actually worked out quite well.

Pasta Shells with Beef, Artichokes & Roasted Red Pepper
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Servings
3-4
Servings
3-4
Pasta Shells with Beef, Artichokes & Roasted Red Pepper
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Servings
3-4
Servings
3-4
Instructions
  1. In a large stockpot, boil jumbo shells in salted water for about 15 minutes; drain & rinse under under cold water. While pasta is cooking, stir-fry ground beef & drain on a paper towels; set aside. Add oil & butter to saucepan & saute garlic, onions, mushrooms for about 2-3 minutes. Add chopped red peppers & sun-dried tomatoes; cook another 2-3 minutes.
  2. Cool slightly, transfer to a food processor & process mixture ( you should still have some texture in the peppers when finished). Pour puree back into the skillet; add broth, spices & Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce, combine well. Add a small amount of sauce to ground beef; mix well.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread some sauce mixture over bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Inside of each pasta shell place a piece of drained artichoke; divide beef mixture between the shells.
  4. Stand filled pasta shells, single file on top of sauce. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with grated parmigano-reggiano cheese. Cover with foil & bake about 35-40 minutes.
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Easter Bread with Anise & Orange Blossom Water

Rich with tradition, symbolism and treasured ingredients, Easter breads figure prominently in many cultures’ Easter celebrations. These yeast breads, full of eggs, butter, fruits, nuts and spices are a symbol of breaking the Lenten fast on Easter morning. Each ethnic group seems to have its own unique version of this sweet bread. Bread has long played an important role in religious ceremonies and holidays and is often baked in symbolic shapes. It has been said that bread is the ‘staff of life’ with Easter being the ‘celebration of life’.

I have wonderful memories of my mother’s Easter bread. It wasn’t iced or decorated but it had such a glorious flavor. She would bake it in tall cylinder shaped loaves and it always had a nice yellow color. Oh, the taste of a memory!

Every Easter I like to try something slightly different from the previous year when making Easter bread. Lately I have been using orange blossom water in different recipes with good success. So why not in Easter bread with anise seeds and almonds? The method is a little different in that the egg whites are beaten separately. Brion and I both thought it tasted real good.

Easter Bread with Anise & Orange Blossom Water
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Servings
1 LOAF
Servings
1 LOAF
Easter Bread with Anise & Orange Blossom Water
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Servings
1 LOAF
Servings
1 LOAF
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, 2 Tbsp sugar & salt; mix well. Add lukewarm water, butter & egg YOLKS. Blend at low speed until moistened; beat about 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, stir in orange zest, mixed peel, aniseed, almonds & orange water.
  2. In a small bowl, beat egg WHITES until stiff; gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Fold into flour mixture. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a SOFT dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth & elastic, 3-5 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl & turn to grease top. Cover & let rise until doubled in size.
  3. Punch down dough. On a lightly floured work surface, pat to a 14 x 7-inch rectangle. Starting with shorter side, roll up tightly, pressing dough into roll with each turn. Pinch ends & edge to seal. Place in a greased 9 x 5-inch bread pan. Cover; let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. If you wish, you can glaze the loaf with egg wash before baking. Bake about 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan & cool on a wire rack before slicing.
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Kahlua Cinnamon Nut Roll

Today, March 28th, marks the date of my mother’s birthday. She passed away in 1978 at the age of 60. No matter how many years go by she will always be the never ending song in my heart. She had such a wonderful ability to make the everyday things more enjoyable. I have so many great memories of those times that I just took for granted and now realize how special they were. Her courage and strength to endure the harshness that farm life sometimes throws at you was nothing short of amazing. As we honor my mother today, we hold on to those precious memories that will never fade from our minds.

As I have mentioned so many times before, my mother was exceptional in her ability to cook and bake. Regularly, when she baked bread, one of the extra treats was a pan of cinnamon rolls. This Kahlua Nut Roll seemed perfect for today’s blog recipe. 

In 1986, a little recipe pamphlet was published by Maidstone Wine & Spirits Inc. using Kahlua liqueur. All you had to do was write to them and request as many copies as you wanted free of charge. It contained about 90 recipes all using Kahlua. What a great bit of ‘PR’ work!

The oldest proof of Kahlua’s date of origin is a bottle found by Maidstone. The bottle came from Mexico and was dated 1937. The word Kahlua was discovered to have ties to ancient Arabic languages and the old label, which bears similarity to the current label, shows a turbaned man smoking a pipe beneath a Moorish archway. The only obvious change in the current label is the man has become a sombrero wearing man, napping beneath the same Moorish archway and in some labels there is no man pictured at all.

My  Kahlua Cinnamon Nut Roll  was adapted from this great little recipe pamphlet.

                              WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF OUR BEAUTIFUL MOM!

Kahlua Cinnamon Nut Twist
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Servings
12
Servings
12
Kahlua Cinnamon Nut Twist
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Servings
12
Servings
12
Ingredients
Yeast Dough
Cream Cheese/Pecan Filling
Kahlua Syrup
Servings:
Instructions
Yeast Dough
  1. In a small dish, add yeast to lukewarm water; set aside. In a large bowl, combine milk, shortening, sugar & salt. Add 1 cup of flour; beat well. Add egg, yeast mixture & remaining 1 1/4 cups flour.; beat to form moderately stiff dough. Turn out on a floured work surface. Knead gently until smooth & elastic. Lightly butter bowl, form dough into a disk & cover with clean tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 50-60 minutes.
Cream Cheese/Pecan Filling
  1. In a bowl, combine cream cheese & butter until smooth. In another dish, combine pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon & salt. Set aside.
Kahlua Syrup
  1. In a small sauce pan, melt butter; add brown sugar & Kahlua liqueur. Bring to a boil; simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; reserve 1/3 cup syrup. Pour remaining syrup into a 9-inch round cake pan.
Assembly
  1. When dough has risen, turn out on a lightly floured work surface & roll into a 14-inch square. Spread dough with cream cheese mixture & sprinkle sugar mixture on one half. Fold other half over sugar & press lightly to adhere.
  2. Cut dough lengthwise into 5 strips. Beginning in the center of prepared pan, wrap strips in a spiral pattern, pinching ends together. Cover & let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake until golden & cooked through, about 25-30 minutes. Remove & let stand in pan 5 minutes. Invert onto serving plate; spoon reserved syrup over top.
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Almond Orange Blossom Cookies

A special memory that comes to mind at this time of year is the scent of orange blossoms. While it is still winter in our part of Canada, in Seville, Spain spring is in the air. Mid March to early April, for about three weeks in Spain’s sun-bleached region of Andalusia, there’s a soft intoxicating fragrance reminiscent of magnolia and wisteria flowers. The heady, powerful smell of orange blossom pervades the whole city.

Brion and I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Seville, in early spring one year. It was an amazing sight seeing all those beautiful orange trees. A number of our pictures in this blog show the abundance of the fruit that is produced.

These bitter orange trees from China were introduced to Spain by the Moors in the eighth century and were planted in the beautiful courtyards of the Alhambra  in Granada, and throughout the south of Spain. They have become known as Seville Oranges. Unique to citrus trees is the fact that fruit from the previous season can remain on the tree while the blossoms for the next season’s crop arrive. A flowering deciduous, evergreen that provides shade in the summer and thick swatches of lush green to line the streets in winter.

The fruit of the Sevillian orange tree is too bitter for fresh consumption. It has been put to good use in many other ways such as in the production of liqueurs and wine or for making confectionery like creams, pastries and chocolates. But above all for the well known Seville Orange Marmalade.

Orange Blossom Water is another product which is derived from the distillation of the orange tree flowers. This use of orange blossom water in cooking comes to the west from North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The flavor of this distilled water is flowery but not too overpowering. The important thing is to use very little to give the merest hint of fragrance. Orange blossom pairs well with apricots, figs, strawberries, rhubarb, pears and dates. Add a few drops to fruit salads, stewed or poached fruit and fruit crepes.

The cookies in this blog are delicate like their namesake blossoms and lightly ‘perfumed’ with orange blossom water and orange zest. The almonds add an extra bonus in the flavor. I just love the ‘exotic’ touch fragrant water gives to baked goods.

The Plaza de Espana that Brion and I are standing in front of is a spectacular building, waterway and square. It was built as the centerpiece of the 1929 Ibero-American Expo. Colored ceramics feature heavily around the plaza. The provincial alcoves, walls, ornate bridges and balustrades are also covered in ‘azulejoz’. The plaza has been used over the decades as a location for filming several movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia.

I hope you will enjoy the cookie recipe as well as my mental journey to Seville.

 

Almond Orange Blossom Cookies
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Servings
36
Servings
36
Almond Orange Blossom Cookies
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Servings
36
Servings
36
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, beat butter & orange blossom water together until smooth & creamy. Add sugars & salt; continue beating for about 1 minute. Add egg yolks & zest; beat on low until well blended.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together flour & almond meal. Combine flour mixture with wet mixture, mixing only until combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
  3. Using a rubber spatula, transfer this soft, sticky dough to a piece of plastic wrap & gently form into a disk. Wrap the disk & refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove disk from refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter with a fluted edge, cut out cookies & place on baking sheets.
  5. Top cookies with sliced almonds. Bake for 12-15 minutes. When baked, cookies should have a light brown bottom, light golden edges & pale tops. Remove from oven, letting them rest on baking sheet for a couple of minutes before carefully sliding parchment paper with cookies onto a rack. DO NOT OVER BAKE! The cookies finish setting up as they cool.
Recipe Notes
  • If you would rather not cut them out with a cookie cutter,  just form a log when you wrap the dough in the plastic wrap. After refrigerating, unwrap, slice & bake.
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Oatmeal Pie / Tarts

As basic as it seems, oatmeal is like an artist’s canvas with unlimited ways to prepare, cook and bake it. During the economic depression of the 1930’s, everything  was in short supply. Sometimes oatmeal was substituted for expensive pecans, resulting in a delicious oatmeal pie that tasted similar to a pecan pie. It also became known as ‘mock pecan pie’ or ‘poor man’s pecan pie’. 

There are a great many recipes for oatmeal pie on the internet. Some use molasses, some brown sugar and others, a combination of the two. I’ve also seen the pie having coconut in it. For me, I’m not big on molasses or coconut so I decided to just go with the brown and white sugar version. For the pastry, it is one of my favorite single crust shells using a cornmeal/flour mix. Instead of making a single pie, I opted for tarts and served them with a bit of whip cream. Brion and I could really understand how this ‘mock’ oatmeal pie made a good substitute for a pecan pie.

Oatmeal Pie / Tarts
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Servings
6-8
Servings
6-8
Oatmeal Pie / Tarts
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Servings
6-8
Servings
6-8
Ingredients
Filling
Servings:
Instructions
Pie Crust
  1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a food processor, pulse cornmeal for a few seconds. Add flour, & salt; pulse just to combine. Empty mixture into a medium bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas. Add sour cream/ water mixture, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute & forms a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate until filling is ready.
Filling
  1. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, oatmeal, sugar & salt. Add milk, eggs, butter & vanilla; stir until fully combined.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place pie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap; roll it fit a 9-inch pie pan. Pour filling into pie shell & place in oven. Bake 45-50 minutes or until tests done. Centers will rise slightly when baked & become flat when cooled. Allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Recipe Notes
  • If you can, allow the pastry to cool for a longer period of time.
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Chicken Ranch Mac & Cheese

Despite our ever present nostalgia for the foods of childhood, tastes and recipes are always evolving. I came across this recipe in a Taste of Home magazine recently. It has all the flavors of a favorite casserole come together in the comfort of ‘mac & cheese’.

During the Great Depression era, the idea for boxed macaroni and cheese was born when a salesman used a rubber band to pair packets of the then newly developed, grated Kraft cheese with boxes of pasta and convinced stores to sell them. In 1937, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner in Canada) was introduced with the slogan ‘make a meal for four in nine minutes for the cost of around nineteen cents’. It was an immediate success in the USA & Canada.

Traditional mac & cheese is a casserole baked in the oven, however, it may be prepared in a saucepan on the top of the stove. This particular casserole recipe takes the whole idea to a new level. Chicken, bacon, macaroni, three cheeses and Ranch dressing! I had tasted ranch dressing on chicken and bacon pizza so why not? Brion and I loved the end result making it a ‘keeper’ in our meal rotation.

Chicken Ranch Mac & Cheese
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Chicken Ranch Mac & Cheese
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, cook macaroni to al dente stage; drain & return to pot. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan; set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt & pepper until smooth; gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook & stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheeses until blended. Stir in ranch dressing. Add chicken & sauce to macaroni, tossing to combine. Transfer to baking dish.
  3. Toss bread crumbs with melted butter; sprinkle over macaroni. Top with bacon. Bake, uncovered, 30-35 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
Recipe Notes
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Caramelized Banana & Mango Crumble

Crumble, a dish of British origin, can be sweet or savory. The sweet variety generally contains stewed fruit with a crumbly topping of butter, flour and sugar. A savory version uses meat, vegetables and sauce for the filling, with cheese replacing sugar in the crumble mix.

Crumbles and crisps are very similar. They both contain fresh fruit with a streusal-like topping. The original difference between the two was in the  topping: crisps would contain oats and crumbles would not. Overtime the lines have blurred and the names crumble and crisp are now used interchangeably.

Oatmeal ‘anything’ is very nostalgic for me. I can’t remember one thing my mother made using oatmeal that I didn’t like, including ‘porridge’. Oatmeal is still as much a staple in our pantry as it was in my mothers.

For this dessert, I thought it would be unique to add a little caramelized twist to an old classic crumble. Caramelization is a chemical change that makes naturally occurring sugars in fruit, when gently sauteed in butter, turn brown and quite flavorful. The combination of caramelized bananas, fresh mango and lemon juice topped with a spicy crumble is wonderful (and easy).

Caramelized Banana & Mango Crumble
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Servings
2-4
Servings
2-4
Caramelized Banana & Mango Crumble
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Servings
2-4
Servings
2-4
Ingredients
Crumble
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. On a parchment lined baking sheet, slice bananas into discs. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp brown sugar & bake for about 10 minutes or until caramelized. Remove from oven. In a medium bowl, place mango, 1 Tbsp sugar & lemon juice. Mix until combined; add Caramelized bananas & toss gently. Spoon fruit mixture equally into 2 or 4 ramekins.
  2. In a small dish, toss together all of the crumble ingredients, using your fingers to combine. Divide crumble between ramekins. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with either ice cream or whipped cream.
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Mug Cakes

Mug cakes have been around for a while. We seem to like eating food out of mugs. Whether it’s a mug full of chili or just some cereal and milk, we like being able to hold our whole meal in our hands and enjoy it by the spoonful. Mug cakes have gained popularity not only because they are delicious, but because you can make them in five minutes. The technique uses a mug as the cooking vessel and takes just a few minutes to toss in the ingredients. It then goes into the microwave; as the butter in the mixture heats up, it creates air pockets that will cause the cake to quickly rise. The problem is that microwave baking is tricky and not every ‘cake-in-a-mug’ recipe you come across will work well. 

I’ve tried a few with varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, they are a great way to satisfy an emergency homemade treat craving without even turning on the oven.

Here are some ideas you might like to try.

Mug Crumble Cake/ Chocolate Mug Cake
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Mug Crumble Cake/ Chocolate Mug Cake
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Ingredients
CRUMBLE
CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE
Servings:
Instructions
FRUIT CRUMBLE MUG CAKE
  1. In a small bowl, combine apple with sugar & butter. Divide between 2 mugs. Cover each with plastic film & pierce several times. Cook in microwave for 1 minute at 800 watts or 50 seconds at 1000 watts. Add dried fruit & nuts & stir.
  2. In a bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, oatmeal, flour & salt with your fingertips. Crumble on top of fruit in each mug. Microwave for 1 1/2 minutes at 800 watts or 1 minute 10 seconds at 1000 watts. Remove mugs from microwave & sprinkle with sliced almonds.
CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE
  1. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add milk & oil; whisk together until smooth. Divide between 2 mugs & microwave on high for about 70 seconds. Remove from microwave. Cool a bit before eating.
Recipe Notes
  • Be aware that success will depend on knowing how to adjust the cooking time according to YOUR microwave strength (watts). Be careful not to overcook your mug cakes.
  • Each recipe should yield 2 mugs worth. 
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Wild Rice & Turkey Casserole

I realize you have probably, long ago used up your (frozen) turkey leftovers from Christmas. Nevertheless, casseroles are always a good choice at this time of year. These satisfying blends of favorite flavors are easily assembled, can be made ahead  and you don’t necessarily have to make them from leftovers. One-dish oven dinners are economical and can range from casual to elegant.

I recall making this particular casserole as one of the buffet entrees at a staff gathering. Wild rice is one of those foods you either like it or not, it seems to have no ‘middle ground’.

Wild rice is actually a semi-aquatic grass that has historically grown in lakes, tidal rivers and bays, in water two to four feet deep. It originated in the area of the upper Great Lakes which is both the USA & Canada. Because it is difficult to grow, with low yields per acre, wild rice usually costs more than other grains. To bring the cost down, it is often mixed with other grains (white and brown rice especially) rather than eaten on its own.

This casserole has a nice mix of ingredients. There seem to be numerous versions of the recipe but this is the one we enjoy the most. Hope it works for you.

Wild Rice & Turkey Casserole
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Wild Rice & Turkey Casserole
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Instructions
  1. Prepare wild rice mix, being careful not to overcook. In a saucepan, saute onions, mushrooms & celery in butter until softened. Add soup, sour cream, soy sauce & broth & heat through. Then add turkey, water chestnuts & prepared wild rice mix, stirring gently.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place mixture into lightly buttered casserole dish. Bake for 25-35 minutes, gently stirring once. After stirring, top with chopped or slivered almonds.
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German New Years Cake

The German New Years cake is a traditional round cake with three layers of different fillings: poppy seeds, nuts & apple. Going back to pre-Christian days, ring-shaped breads and cakes were always considered fortunate because they signified continuity by ‘coming full circle’ or ‘the circle of life’.

The start of the new year has a tenancy to turn even non-believers a bit superstitious.  All around the world, New Years Day  is filled with traditions and symbolic ritual with many of the traditions revolving around food. Certain foods symbolize wealth, prosperity, health and good luck for the coming year. In some cultures, cakes or bread have symbolic items baked inside.

Poppy Seed is believed to bring a year of abundance. Nuts are a symbol of new life and potential. Apples, along with healing properties should bring a ‘sweet new year’!

Keeping all that in mind, it seems like a good reason to invest some time into making this special layered GERMAN NEW YEARS CAKE.

German New Years Cake
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Servings
12-16
Servings
12-16
German New Years Cake
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Servings
12-16
Servings
12-16
Ingredients
Cake Dough
Poppy Seed Filling
Apple Filling
Servings:
Instructions
Cake Dough
  1. In a large bowl, combine dough ingredients & knead until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap & place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Poppy Seed Filling
  1. In a small saucepan, combine all poppy seed ingredients. Place over LOW heat for 1-2 minutes; remove from heat & cool.
Nut Filling
  1. In a small bowl, combine all nut filling ingredients; set aside.
Apple Filling
  1. In a small saucepan, saute peeled & chopped apples over low heat with butter & sugar. Do not add any water as they need to be semi-soft, NOT MUSHY.
Assembly of Cake
  1. Divide chilled dough in HALF, then divide one of the halves into THIRDS. Roll out the largest piece into a circle big enough to cover the bottom & sides of a 12-inch spring form pan. Make sure to have a bit hanging over the top of the ring.
  2. Add the poppy filling. Roll out one of the small pieces of dough to fit neatly on top of filling. Gently cover with nut filling. Roll second small piece of dough; fit over nut filling. Add apple filling layer. Fold extra dough edges onto apples & top with third piece of dough. Your dough base & dividers should all be rolled quite THIN.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat egg & add a tiny bit of water. Brush it over top surface. Bake for about 1 hour & 20 minutes until golden. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack to cool. This cake is best if left in a cool place for a day or two before serving so the flavors will marry. Dust with a layer of powdered sugar before serving.
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