Chocolate Covered Almond Apricots

A few things here:

1. These are amazing

2. They are very easy to make

3.  You will be the hit of the potluck when you unveil these babies

This recipe is very adaptable. I used almonds, but I also think that pecans, hazelnuts or pistachios would work well – I’m also interested to try this using dates. Have fun with this!

Chocolate Covered Almond Apricots

  • 25 dried apricots (sulphur-free)
  • 25 roasted almonds
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 4 oz white chocolate

Take each apricot and gently open one end and to put in an almond. Seal the ends.

Melt each chocolate bar in separate double boilers. Using tongs, dip half the apricots in the semi-sweet chocolate and half in the white chocolate – make sure they are fully covered and shake off any excess chocolate. Place the chocolate covered apricots on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper and put in the refrigerator for about an half hour or until the chocolate is firm.

Remelt the chocolate that is left and drizzle both over the tray of apricots – go abstract! Refrigerate again until firm. Store in a tupperware in the fridge until ready to serve – they are good for about two weeks, so make plenty!

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Holiday Cooking FAIL: Cinnamon Roasted Chickpeas

I’m clearly late in sharing the recipes I made over the holidays, but I wanted to share this one, because it was a complete failure! I was really intrigued by this recipe when I first saw it on Two Peas & Their Pod (great food blog, by the way!). Though these are definitely tasty, I was disappointed by the lack of “crunch” I anticipated. When I put them back in the oven to try to help this, they turned pretty dry. I think there is potential for this recipe (I really want it to work!). If you have any tips on how this could be improved, please comment!

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (you can use canned or soak and simmer dried chickpeas – a great excuse to also make a bunch of hummus!)
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Mix the oil, cinnamon and sugar in bowl and mix in the chickpeas (if you have time, you can remove the skin from the chickpeas). Spread evenly on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven (375 F) for about 40 minutes. Mix the hot chickpeas with honey and let dry. Now, at this point, I found that they were still pretty soft, so I put them back in the oven for 15 minutes at a lower temperature (300 F), but it only dried them out and didn’t make them more crunchy – while they definitely tasted good, the texture was weird, so I’m not sure if I will make these again – any thoughts on improving this? I was thinking about substituting maple syrup for honey, but the taste wasn’t really the issue. There is a fine line here between cooking enough to get the “crunch” and not overcooking so they dry out.Has anyone else tried these before? I’m interested in hearing your experience!

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New Year’s Day: Barnstead, New Hampshire

Photos by Laura Breen

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Holiday Cooking Round-up: Cranberry Chocolate Mini-Tarts

I realize that since we are only three days into 2012, everyone’s resolutions to eat less sweets is probably still going strong. However, because I’m a bit behind, you will have to indulge me (ha, get it!). Also, as far as desserts go, these are not that unhealthy and are a great way to use up all those frozen cranberries you bought too much of over Thanksgiving and Christmas. Besides, January and February are the months of potlucks – these are the perfect party dessert: you can can eat them with your hands and are not too messy.

I came to this recipe as I did have a bunch of frozen cranberries I wanted to use up and wanted to make something more exciting than cranberry sauce or chutney. I found this recipe in (of course) Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates (I swear they do not pay me). However, as I was ready to roll out the dough, I realized in a panic that the one pie pan I have was currently being used to bake the apple pie that was still in the oven. While I contemplated running to the store to pick up another pie plate, I decided instead to use muffin tins and turn the tart into mini-tarts. This recipe makes exactly ten muffin-sized mini-tarts.

Chocolate Cranberry Mini-Tarts
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates)

 Dough

  • 1.5 cups unbleached all purpose flour (or white pastry flour)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chilled butter (one stick)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped toasted almonsts
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Filling

  • 3 cups cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate

Mix the flour, sugar, butter and salt in a food processor and process until pretty crumbly. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, nutmeg and vanilla; pour into the dough and pulse until mixed. Add the almonds (to toast them, layer on a cookie sheet and cook for about 10 minutes at 350F until fragrant and browned). Add a few tablespoons of water to the dough and pulse – take the dough out and form it into a disk about one-inch wide. Chill for an hour in the refrigerator.

While the dough is chillin’, cook the cranberries in a medium sauce pot for about 5 minutes until they soften. Add the sugar and cook until it is dissolved and the berries are juicy. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce thickens. Make sure you stir constantly for about 8-10 minutes until sauce thickens. Add the orange peel, remove from the heat.

Once the dough is ready, roll it out so it is about one inch thick. Take a large mug and cut out circles that are big enough to fill the muffin tin. Place each circle of dough in the muffin tin and crimp the sides. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside until cooled.

Next, melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When melted, pour about half into the bottom of each muffin shell. Spoon the cranberry filling into each tart until evenly distributed. Take the remaining chocolate and drizzle over the cranberries. Let the chocolate harden and store in a tupperware in the refrigerator. These tarts held up well for more than a week.

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Holiday Cooking Round-up: Easy Dog Treats

This year, I was fortunate enough to have a chunk of time off around the holidays (still on vacation!), so I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up a storm and trying new items that have been on my cooking to-do list. Something I’ve been meaning to try for awhile are dog biscuits. I feel like I spend a small fortune on dog treats for one special Dalmation/American Bulldog named Daisy, so why not see what I can make on my own for a fraction of the cost?

After some searching, I found a very easy recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates. I had all the ingredients all hand except brown rice flour, so I picked up just what I needed in bulk and got cooking (though I think you can make these with just white flour, if need be). I made this recipe x4 so I would have plenty on hand for awhile and gave away some to friends with interested parties.

Dog Biscuits
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates)

  • 2/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (I used tamari)
  • 1 cup water
For the topping
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (tamari)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix together the flours, brewer’s yeast and wheat germ. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, garlic, tamari and water. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Flour your counter and knead the dough for a few minutes until it is pliable. Roll out dough thin and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter. I used a dog bone shape, since I was giving out some as gifts, but use whatever you have on hand (just be sure to label them later so no one accidentally eats them! While I was tempted to try these, I couldn’t bring myself to do it).

Arrange the sheets on the tray. They don’t spread at all, so you can keep them pretty close and make large batches at once. Whisk together the topping and lightly brush on top of each biscuit. The recipe said to bake for 20 minutes, but I found mine were done in about 12-15 minutes. Bake until browned on top. A good tip Moosewood gave is to put the biscuits back in oven (turned off) for a half hour or so to make sure they are extra crunchy.

Based on Daisy’s intent expression, they are definitely a hit in the canine world!

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Blogging for Good: Maine Historical Society

courtesy of Maine Historical Society

A few weeks ago, Corey from the Portland Daily Photo blog asked me what I thought of the idea of asking Portland bloggers to write about their favorite local nonprofit. While lots of great local businesses receive increased attention during the holiday season (thanks to the great work of Portland Buy Local), we tend not to hear as much about local nonprofits and the important work they do in our community. I thought it was a great idea! He sent the word out and Blogging for Good was born!

I decided to spotlight the Maine Historical  Society (MHS) for my post. I have been a member for the past few years and I also spent a year volunteering in their research library. They are a growing, dynamic organization that does the important job of keeping our past alive and maintaining our sense of place and community.

More than other historical societies I have visited, MHS does a fantastic job in reaching out to communities and smaller historical societies and museums throughout Maine. Through the Maine Community Heritage Project, MHS staff work with local historical societies and schools to improve access to museum collections and to connect with their local history. They work with students and local teams to create their own websites on the history of their town (for example, visit this great site on New Sweden, Maine, in Aroostook County.)

These local websites, as well as thousands of other photos and documents, are available online through the Maine Memory Network. If you have never browsed this site, I strongly encourage you to spend some time there. You can find images like the one above of a woman getting a tattoo (1925) to great photos like this:

Courtesy of Maine Memory Network

MHS also has a brand new research library behind the museum on Congress Street. They are a great resource if you are researching your family’s genealogy or local history for a school paper – or if you are just curious! Their museum features revolving exhibits highlighting items from their collection. Their current exhibit is Dressing Up, Standing Out, Fitting In: Adornment & Identity in Maine, 1750-1950. If you are interested in the history of fashion and culture (who isn’t!), this exhibit showcases everyday objects of past material culture that tell stories of how people wanted to present themselves and how they wanted society to view them.

MHS also hosts great events and programs, from lectures and open houses for First Friday Art Walk, to concerts and book clubs. I just signed up for their winter/spring book club, Extraordinary Histories of Ordinary Things. We will trace different historical narratives through stories about everyday objects and ideas – from light bulbs and cod to toothpicks and cocktails – pretty exciting!

Maine Historical  Society offers a great diversity of resources (Yikes, I didn’t even begin to explore the Longfellow House – go visit!) that are free or low-cost. Check out their current exhibit, visit the library and tour the Longfellow House. I also encourage you to become a member. One of the benefits of membership is access to their scholarly journal, Maine History, which features essays and book reviews all dedicated to Maine history. MHS helps us connect with our history and sense of place here in Portland and throughout the state – I encourage you to support them!

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Christmas Kitsch

I will be selling vintage jewelry for Goodwill at the Picnic Holiday Fair this Sunday at the Portland Company Complex (58 Fore Street, Portland). It takes places from 11 am to 6 pm and features 80 vendors selling handmade and vintage wares. We have assembled quite an amazing collection of jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches, cuff links and other accessories (photos coming this week, promise!). Everything is priced $5 to $25, so stop by and pick up a few holiday gifts!

In keeping with the vintage theme, I visited the Goodwill store in South Portland today to hunt down some vintage Christmas kitsch to accessorize our display. I was not disappointed. Vintage Santa mugs, a 1970s Christmas shag rug and classic bulbs were a few of the gems I found. Do you buy secondhand for your holiday decorations?

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Holiday Fun: Parties!

Are you attending any holiday parties this season? Parties this time of year are the best excuse to get dressed up and have a cocktail or two. In preparation for a party this week and a guest feature over at Fore Front Fashion, I assembled an outfit with items found in my closet. I can’t reveal the dress quite yet, but I’m thrilled with the coat I recently found at the Dover, New Hampshire Goodwill store.

According to the tag, it is by Findlay Fashion and states “Original by Greg.” It was made in 1963, but I can’t find any information on this company – any leads you have, please let me know! Now I just need to cross my fingers it will be cold enough to wear.

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Straight up Ginger Snaps

One of my favorite baking ingredients is molasses. It’s thick, messy and hard to not waste as you pour out your designated portion, but there is nothing like the sweet and potent taste of molasses in cookies. So when the time came to decide what desserts to bring to Thanksgiving family gatherings, I knew ginger snaps were in the running.

I turned to one of my favorite blogs, smitten kitchen, and there just *happened* to be a new post for ginger snaps that Deb had posted just days earlier. I pretty much followed her recipe, as I was intrigued by her use of white pepper. I decided to splurge and buy some. From what I can tell, many people use white instead of black pepper for aesthetic reasons (for example, in a white cream sauce), but a few sites pointed out that white pepper is milder. According to Mountain Rose Herbs, white, black and green pepper all come from the same plant and you get white pepper when the berry is picked fully ripe – did not know that! I think it did make a difference – and besides, the thought of using black pepper in cookies doesn’t really feel right.

What other gingersnap recipes have you tried?

Straight up Gingersnaps
(from smitten kitchen)

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used sea instead of table salt)
  • 3.5 teaspoons  ground ginger (I upped the ginger a bit for extra kick)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses

Mix the flour, baking soda, sea salt and spices.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and molasses until well combined. Add in the dry ingredients and blend until combined. You should have a semi-solid ball of dough. I didn’t have plastic wrap, so I put it in a ziploc bag in the fridge and let it sit for about an hour while I worked on a pecan pie (more on that later!)

Once your dough is ready, preheat your oven to 350 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. I made my cookies pretty small, about a teaspoon full of dough per cookie. These spread very thin when baking, so be sure to space them apart 2-3 inches.


Baking time is really going to depend on your oven. The original recipe says anywhere from 10-15 minutes, but I found just 7-8 minutes was all I needed. I also wanted these to be on the softer side, so if you want the “snap,” leave them in a bit longer – be careful, though, because since they are so thin, they burn pretty easily. I had a few batches that burned a bit (don’t worry, we still ate them, cookies don’t last long here).

I put some confectioner’s sugar in my tea strainer and sprinkled some on the cookies as they came out of the oven. I made these about a week before Thanksgiving and they last well. Store them in an air-tight container, or freeze them if eating later (right!)

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Cider Donuts for Breakfast

We finally made it out to an orchard last weekend – even though apple picking season has passed! We drove up to Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, Maine, and picked up organic apples, cider and of course, an assortment of cider donuts.

This visit has inspired me to try Laura’s recipe for Baked Apple Cider Donuts. What other donut recipes have you tried?

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