These fruit and cereal balls are an old fashioned, unique idea originally called ‘skillet cookies’. The initial mixture is made on the stovetop before its cooled slightly and rolled into mini-spheres. They’re especially appealing during the winter holidays because they don’t need to be baked. That valuable space in the oven can be used for other types of holiday baking.
The cookies get a crunch from the crispy rice cereal and pepita seeds, while the apricots and dates add an amazing sweet spicy flavor.
It seems the skillet cookie nowadays, refers to a a giant, soft and chewy cookie, baked in a cast iron pan, cut into wedges and served warm with ice cream on top. Now I have to admit, it does sound pretty good but if you are just wanting a great little addition to a casual dessert tray in the upcoming holiday season the ‘vintage’ version is quick and easy.
Crispy Apricot Date Balls
In a small bowl, whisk eggs & brown sugar together thoroughly.
In a heavy skillet, over low heat, melt butter. Remove from heat & stir in egg mixture along with dates & apricots. Set back over low heat & cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes or until mixture pulls away from sides of skillet. Do NOT overcook. Remove from heat & stir in vanilla, spices & salt.
Place rice cereal in a large bowl; pour fruit mixture over cereal & blend well. Cool to lukewarm.
Chop pepita seeds finely & place in a shallow dish. Butter your hands lightly & shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in pepita seeds to coat. Store in refrigerator.
The exact origin of the classic ‘macaroni and cheese‘ is unknown, though it likely hails from northern Europe. Although there were French dishes with pasta and cheese as early as the 14th century, it was an English writer and business woman called Elizabeth Raffald who first wrote the recipe for what we would recognize as macaroni and cheese in 1769. Elizabeth’s recipe was for macaroni, cooked in a béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese added and sprinkled with parmesan.
Many countries have a profound love and deep historical connection to a version of this dish including the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and of course Italy where pasta was first popularized in Europe. It is also possible that some of its origins may trace back to the Alps of Switzerland.
Pasta itself is neither Swiss nor European in origin; it dates to at least 3500 BC in Japan and China, likely spreading to the Middle East and northern Africa via the Silk Road. Some studies believe that the 7th century nomadic Arabs then likely brought it with them while travelling from Libya to Sicily, from where it spread north along the Italian peninsula.
Whatever the truth, this humble pasta w/ cheese dish has become an ultimate comfort food in a plethora of cultures and countries around the world. There have been many inventive twists put on this classic. The 1953 edition of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, calls for a sauce made from Velveeta, onion and cream of mushroom soup. Other variations sub in Brie, figs, rosemary and mushrooms for the traditional cheddar based sauce. Adding applesauce might sound like a weird addition, but it works. Just like cheddar melted over a piece of apple pie is an unexpectedly delicious treat.
I used some orecchiette pasta, which cups the sauce well and amped up the flavor with smoked turkey chicken sausage. Comfort food at its best!
Apple Sauce Pasta & Cheese w/ Turkey Chicken Sausage
Dice onion & slice smoked sausage. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan; sauté onion until almost tender-crisp then add sliced sausage & continue to cook for a few more minutes.
Bring a pot of water to a boil & prepare the orecchiette pasta according to package directions. When it is cooked, drain it well, drizzle it with the remaining Tbsp of olive oil. Shake it around a bit in the strainer to keep pieces from getting stuck together.
Heat the milk & applesauce in pot that was used to cook pasta, stirring constantly. Do not bring to a boil.
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter & whisk in the flour. Cook mixture for two minutes, whisking all the while then whisk in the hot milk/applesauce mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes continuing to whisk while the mixture is thickening.
Remove the Dutch oven from the heat & stir in salt, pepper, sage, gruyere (save a bit for garnish if you wish), cheddar, onion & sausage slices. Combine evenly then add cooked pasta & stir until pasta is evenly covered with sauce.
Place the Dutch oven in the oven, uncovered & bake for 30-40 minutes or until the orecchiette on top just begins to turn golden brown at the tips.
- Alternately, you can skip the oven time as the ingredients are already cooked. I thought some sautéed leeks made a nice garnish along with the gruyere.
Apple season is upon us, so its a good time to make some of those ‘homey’ kind of desserts. During the summer we have an endless array of fresh fruit available in the grocery stores. Apples are often taken for granted because their kind of a staple fruit you could say. We have countless varieties to choose from for fresh eating or cooking. One that is well known is called the Granny Smith apple. Its acidity and strong flavor makes it a frequent choice for both baking and fresh eating. Consistently rated among the top ten apples in popularity, its hard to believe it wasn’t part of the North American experience until the 1970’s.
It turns out there really was a ‘Granny Smith’. As the story goes, Maria Ann (Granny) Smith was cooking with French crab apples and discarded the remains in a compost pile near a creek flowing behind her farmhouse outside Sydney, Australia. From the pile sprouted a seedling unlike any apple she had ever encountered. She was so taken with its bright flavor and versatility, she decided to propagate the trees herself.
In the season from September through November, Granny Smith apples have become a staple of fall baking. Used extensively in seasonal pies, cakes, cobblers and crisps, it all began with a happy accident discovered by its namesake halfway around the world.
Apple Crumble w/ Vanilla Cardamom Cream
Peel, core & slice apples. Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small bowl, toss the apple slices with lemon zest & juice, sugar, cinnamon & salt. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, oats & salt with a fork until uniform. In a glass pie dish, melt the butter in the microwave until about half melts. Pour the butter into the flour mixture & incorporate with a fork. Leaving the excess butter in the pie pan, arrange the apple slices in the pan. Top with the flour-oat mixture.
Bake until apples are cooked through and the topping is golden, about 45 minutes.
Vanilla Cardamom Cream
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together 'cream' ingredients. Simmer over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly until cooked & custard will coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat & cover with plastic wrap, making sure to lightly press it over the custard to avoid a 'skin' forming. Serve over or with crumble.
If its possible, I’d like to sneak in another rhubarb recipe even if it is September. While we never grow tired of the classic pairing of strawberries and rhubarb, I love rhubarb too much to simply let it be a sidekick to those sweet berries. Rhubarb is capable of so much more, whether its used in sweet or savory applications (such as the rhubarb chutney I had featured in an earlier blog). This pretty, long, tart piece of produce is not a one-dimensional character …. it loves the spotlight!
Perhaps, not as famous as the combination above but every bit as delicious, are raspberries and rhubarb. While cinnamon may be a more common spice to pair with rhubarb, herbal cardamom lends a warm, citrusy note and is amazing in these twists.
Raspberry Rhubarb Twists
Place rhubarb, raspberries & sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer over a low heat. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken. Turn off heat & set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, combine yeast with lukewarm water or milk & 1 tsp sugar. Allow to sit for a few minutes until frothy.
In a large bowl, slightly melt butter; cool a couple of minutes then whisk in egg. In another bowl, combine flour, salt & remaining sugar. Add yeast mixture to butter mixture, whisking together. Add flour mixture, combine then turn on a floured work surface & knead for about 5 minutes. Dough will be very soft but not sticky.
Lightly grease bowl, place dough ball in it & cover with a tea towel. Place in a draft-free place & allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
Lay a piece of parchment paper over the removable bottom of a 10-inch tart pan on your work surface. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface; divide into thirds.
Place one portion on parchment paper & roll or press out dough the size of the bottom of tart pan (10-inches). Carefully spread the circle with half of the filling mixture. Roll out the second portion to the same size & transfer with your rolling pin to top the first portion. Carefully spread it with remaining filling.
Roll out third portion of dough to the same size & place it on top of the other two layers. Pinch dough around outer edge to seal. Place a small glass in center. Cut from outside edge just to the glass, forming 12 wedges.
Remove the glass. Twist each wedge 3-4 times. Tuck edge under. Place bottom of tart pan (with parchment paper & pastry) inside tart pan ring. Cover & allow to rise for about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. If you prefer, lightly brush twists with a bit of egg wash before baking. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.
Combine glaze ingredients; drizzle over warm twists.
Scallops are beloved by pretty much everyone who can eat them …. they’re tender, sweet and taste ever so slightly of the sea. Being not only expensive and easy to overcook, scallops are often considered restaurant only fare.
Wild scallops feed by filtering microscopic plankton from the water. They are hand shucked immediately and frozen at sea to capture their fresh sweet flavor.
Pan-seared scallops pair well with bright, tangy flavors that contrast their meaty sweetness or in creamy dishes that emphasize their richness.
One of my go-to ‘sauces’ that I’ve used on numerous occasions on the blog, contains hot red pepper jelly. I’ve added a raspberry preserve to the jelly for a new twist on the flavor this time. The parmesan risotto brings it all together, definitely making this meal a ‘keeper’.
Pan-Seared Scallops w/ Spicy Raspberry Sauce
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook & stir diced bacon until browned, about 5-10 minutes. Drain the bacon & reserve.
In the skillet, melt the butter & sauté onion & garlic for about 4 minutes until soft & translucent. Add the rice & mix well until it is fully coated with the butter.
Pour in 1/2 cup of the broth & lemon/lime juice. Once the rice has absorbed all the liquid, turn heat to medium low. Add one cup of broth & continuously stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat, one cup at a time, with the remaining broth. This will take about 20-25 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup water & take the pan off the heat once risotto is at your desired consistency. Add the parmesan cheese, reserved bacon & parsley; stir to combine. Add salt & pepper to taste.
In a food processor, puree ingredients for sauce & set aside.
Thaw scallops as directed on package. Rinse & pat dry with paper towels; season with salt & pepper. Add oil & butter to a non-stick skillet & heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté scallops by turning over once until browned & just cooked through, 4-6 minutes total.
Serve over a bed of parmesan risotto & drizzle with sauce.
- Of course, if you live where you have access to fresh scallops, your in a whole different class!!
No matter what the stuffing or style is, love for the empanada is not a difficult one to understand. They are cheap, easy to eat, transportable, and versatile.
Empanadas look as good as they taste; perfect food for a picnic. Eating outdoors, spaced apart is probably one of the safest ways to gather during the ongoing pandemic crisis. The great thing about picnicking is that you can do it practically anywhere you can throw a blanket down. If you can’t make it to a park or field, your yard, porch or any flat surface with a little grass (or sand), some sun (& shade) will do.
Empanadas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They can be served as appetizers or snacks (hot or cold), but they can easily make a full and satisfying main course.
The very basics for an empanada are a combination of three things; dough, filling and a cooking method. The dough can be made from wheat flour, cornmeal, mashed plantains, potatoes, yuca, sweet potatoes etc. and the fillings can consist of meat, fish or vegetables. The cooking method is usually to be baked or fried although some can be cooked on a griddle or grill.
According to food historians, empanadas with seafood filling first appeared in a 1520 cookbook, published during the Moorish invasions.
I was real interested to see what I could do to make some salmon empanadas taste special. We found they were good as a hot meal served with the remaining ‘sauce’ or eaten COLD for a picnic lunch.
Salmon Picnic Empanadas
In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in butter until mixture resembles both coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. Do NOT overwork dough.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least an hour.
In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle with flour. Allow to cook for a few minutes. In a bowl, whisk together broth, milk & soy sauce. Slowly add to flour/butter mixture, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Remove from skillet & set aside.
In the skillet, sauté salmon filet in 1 Tbsp oil until JUST cooked. Remove to a dish. With a fork, 'shred' salmon; set aside.
In the skillet, sauté vegetables in remaining Tbsp of oil for a couple of minutes. Add seasonings, shredded salmon, 1/3 cup prepared soy sauce & grated cheddar. Toss to combine; set aside to cool.
Assembly & Baking
Divide chilled pastry into 10 balls. Roll each one in cornmeal. Place a ball between 2 sheets of plastic wrap & roll into a 6-inch circle.
Divide filling into 10 portions. Place a portion on one side of the pastry circle, leaving about a 1/2-inch border (on filled side). With your fingertips, moisten edge of pastry with a bit of milk or water. Flip opposite side over filling & press edges together to enclose it well. Use a fork to make the classic look.
Repeat with remaining pastry & filling. Lay empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until pastry is baked & slightly browned.
Although there are many variations of this dish, Austria’s apricot growing tradition has made apricot dumplings (marillenknodel) an emblematic dish of Austrian cuisine. Each spring, some 100,000 apricot trees transform Wachau Valley into a fragrant pink-white sea of blossoms.
There are two types of dough that can be used to make apricot dumplings …. potato dough (made with cooked & mashed potatoes) and cheese dough. Topfen is the Austrian cheese traditionally used as its ‘sour’ taste gives the dough a nice ‘tang’. Other alternatives would be either Quark or cream cheese.
To prepare the apricots you need to slice them in half and remove the pit, then place a cube of sugar in the cavity. A few other alternatives for the centers of the apricots would be chocolate or a nougat cube.
Once the dough has been chilled, it is divided into balls and stuffed with the filled apricots. These dumplings are then boiled in salted water and while they are still hot, coated in cinnamon-flavored, buttered breadcrumbs.
Apricot dumplings are most often served just sprinkled with powdered sugar. Soft apricots provide enough liquid so they don’t taste too dry. If you wish, you could serve them with: vanilla ice cream, apricot coulis, whipped cream, vanilla or chocolate sauce.
Austrian Apricot Dumplings
In a bowl, whisk together butter, sugar, vanilla & salt; add the egg & cheese & whisk until combined. Add flour; stir until combined. Don't overmix, the dough should be slightly sticky but not dry. Form into a disk & wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Slice each apricot in half & remove the pit. Place a sugar cube in the cavity & press the two apricot halves together until the apricot closes. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine milk, sugar, salt, cornstarch & vanilla; stir well until combined. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly. Lower heat & continue to cook, stirring constantly until mixture thickens & coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat; cover with plastic wrap & chill. When sauce is cool, whisk it until it becomes smooth.
Cook & Coat Dumplings
Cook dumplings in a large amount of salted water, half of them at a time. Cook for about 12 minutes from the moment you've put them in the water. Reduce the heat to medium-low as the water should only simmer. Do not allow the dumplings to stick to the bottom. Take cooked dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon, drain well.
Place the hot dumplings in the breadcrumb topping. Roll the dumplings around to coat completely, the place on a platter.
At serving time you can place them atop some vanilla sauce or just simply sprinkle with powdered sugar (or any of the other suggestions listed in the main article).
- Other fruit alternatives for the dumplings would be: plums, cherries or strawberries.