Apricot and Pistachio Bars

Another bake from ‘Baked in America’ book and another success. To be honest it even exceeded my expectations.

One of the downside of this book is a lack of photographs. I’m not into step-by-step ones, however, I appreciate at least one photo to go with any recipe. Especially if it’s a completely unknown to you recipe, at least to know what this dish should look like. In this case, there was a photo with the recipe, but it was so dark that I presumed the bake included some chocolate or cacao powder. I read the recipe again and again and still couldn’t understand what was added to make the bake so dark. Then I realised, that if you put the required amount of sugar ( a whopping 450g for the filling and another 100g for the base!!!) that anything will turn black, as well as all your taste buds will be numb forever.

Actually, this time I baked with my friend and we decided to follow the recipe precisely, apart from adding only 1/3 of the asking sugar amount. Other than the sugar issue, it is a good bake with a rather short but firm buttery base and wonderful topping, slightly gooey, but full of texture with lovely cardamon aroma.

APRICOT AND PISTACHIO BARS

Ingredients:

For the pastry base:

90g icing sugar

300g plain flour

225g butter, softened

For the filling:

225g dried apricots

115g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 salt

1/2 ground cardamon

4 eggs

190g light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the tin (30x23x5cm), and line with parchment.
  2. Place the dried apricots in a pan, cover with water and simmer for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Drain, cool, chop the apricots, then leave them aside.
  3. For the crust base, using mixer or processor, on a low speed combine the sugar, flour and butter until the mixture is crumbly. Dump the whole lot into the prepared tin, press it on to the bottom and slightly aside (I found the back of the metal spoon is good for that). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just barely browned. Remove from the oven, put aside, let it cool.
  4. For the filling, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamon and set aside. Using the same bowl from the crust mixture, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla until evenly mixed. Then add the flour mixture, until it well incorporated. At the end, fold in the cooled apricots and the pistachios. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and smooth it.
  5. Bake it for another 25-30 minutes, until it evenly browned. Let the bake cool in the tin completely , then cut into squares or triangles, sprinkle icing sugar on top, if you wish.

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Parsley Sauce

Knock Knock
Who’s there!
Parsley!
Parsley who?
Parsley the sauce please!

Excuse this bad joke, but I just couldn’t resist..
I have to admit that not only have I never made parsley sauce, I never even tried it before.  One of my colleagues always says how much she loves it. I had to try it to see what it’s all about.

I see the appeal now,  it’s a really delicious, quick and no fuss sauce to make and can be used with ham, fishcakes, baked fish, or even vegetables. We had it simply with baked salmon and green beans.

CLASSIC PARSLEY SAUCE

(adapted from BBC Food)

Tip:  Make it just before you need to use it.

Ingredients:

25g butter

25g plain flour

400ml milk

a good handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan.

  2. Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, watch the heat to ensure sure the paste does not burn.

  3. Gradually stir in the milk to get a smooth sauce. I prefer to use a whisk for that, stirring all the time, bring to the boil.

  4. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, stir in chopped parsley, serve it straight away.

 

Orange and Date Cake

This is another recipe came from ‘Baked in America‘ book. I liked the flavour combination of candied orange peel and dates, and I thought it is a good alternative to fruit cake or Panettone type of cake. I’ve reduced the amount of flour (used 2 cups instead of 3) and used less than half the asking amount of sugar (in both batter and icing).

ORANGE AND DATE CAKE

Ingredients:

(Adapted from ‘Baked in America’ book)

225g butter, softened

180g caster sugar

4 eggs

110ml buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking powder

240g plain flour

250g dates, pitted and finely chopped

150g orange peel, chopped

150g pecans or walnuts, chopped

80g desiccated coconut

150ml orange juice

150g icing sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Lightly grease and flour cake tin.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Mix flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then add dates, orange peel, nuts and desiccated coconut. Stir to coat each piece. Add dry mixture to creamed mixture. This makes a rather stiff dough, so it will be necessary to stir with a wooden spoon.
  4. Transfer mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the wooden stick comes out clean when inserted. As soon as cake comes from oven, combine the orange juice and icing sugar and pour over hot cake. Let stand in tin overnight.

Insalata di Arance / Orange Salad

We had a few versions of this salad when we visited Sicily. Because oranges were in season, this salad was available pretty much everywhere. One version had oranges and fennel, another had oranges, onion, cheese and mint. Even all of the above plus olives. The list goes on. All of them were refreshing, palate cleansing, very simple but delicious.

Since I brought back with me a few oranges, I also made a several versions of this salad at home. Here is one:

INSALATA DI ARANCE

Ingredients:

2 oranges, skin removed and cut into rounds

2-3 spring onions, ends removed and finely sliced

50g mild cheese (sorry, I know it’s not authentic, but I used Edam)

extra virgin oil to dress, to taste

1 teaspoon poppy seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix the ingredients together and serve.

 

Ortigia, Sicily

Ortigia island is the oldest part of the beautiful city of Syracuse in Sicily. It is rather small and best enjoyed by foot. Perfect for strolling through the narrow lanes, admiring the buildings and sea views, dropping into churches, stopping for a drink or a great meal. There is so much to see over there, the place is packed with hidden gems and usual finds. The layers of history are everywhere  – Greek & Roman ruins, the great Duomo, ancient baths below ground, Baroque buildings and some modern addition architectural pieces are fun to explore.

We stayed in a district of Guidecca, with very narrow streets, typical medieval houses and clothes hanging from the balconies. This district used to be a home of Jewish community. Many buildings were built around a courtyard, which had a palm and citrus tree in the center. You can still see someone of it. The local people of Ortigia are very friendly and welcoming, the tourist traffic this time of year was light and the experiences were unforgettable!

Be aware: pictures overload!

 

Taormina, Sicily

‘Taormina’s past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.’

Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred years.  Although normally, we try to avoid too touristy places, this time we couldn’t possibly miss this little place. If it was worth visiting for Oscar Wilde, Goethe, Alexander Dumas, Truman Copote, Greta Garbo and many others, it should be worth visiting for us too. So we did, we visited and liked it a lot.

Taormina is home to one of the most famous Greek Theatres in the world. Here, in summertime the main events of the International Film, Music, Dance and Theatre Festival of Taormina Arte take place. Hence so many celebrities gather here. Besides the ancient Greek Theatre, it has many old churches, lively bars, fine restaurants and all sort of shops(mainly expensive!).

Taormina is not by the sea, it is above the sea, at 200 meters. You can walk up to the top or take a cable- car. To be honest, it is usual to find an absence of any signs in Sicily, here was the same. So we didn’t see the cable-car straight away and decided to take a walk. Luckily it wasn’t a mid summer day, however, it still was rather warm and it took us nearly an hour to climb up there. We recuperated after with a large drink… Aperol Spritz. 🙂

Catania, Sicily

We’ve just returned after our week-long holiday exploring the east coast of Sicily. What a great country, full of surprises. Before we even left, we had a surprise – Etna started to erupt the day before our departure. Luckily, it didn’t affect out flights. Actually it was just a bonus for us, to see it quietly bubbling away, spitting the lava it was something magical. (Note: it wasn’t bad eruption, no-one injured, so it’s all good!)

Our trip started in Catania, Sicily’s second city. Catania is vibrant, loud, full of traffic, shabby but beautiful! It is like ginormous hot pot, with Etna on top, literally bubbling at the time we were there.

I read somewhere an interesting fact that Ancient Greeks believed Mount Etna to be the home of Vulcan, the god of fire. To the Ancient Greeks, every time Mount Etna erupted, it was merely a sign that their god of fire Vulcan was creating weapons for their God of War, Mars. Despite the frequent volcanic activity, people still choose to live in the vicinity of Mount Etna though.