Almond Shortbread

Almond Shortbread

I love this variation of classic shortbread.

10 tablespoons butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar (plus 2 tablespoons)
1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal or almond flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare an 8-9 inch square or round pan by spraying with cooking spray. If the pan does not have a removable bottom, cut a piece of parchment paper to fit pan and spray with cooking spray.

In a mixer bowl beat butter, 1/3 cup sugar, salt, vanilla and almond extracts until fluffy.  Mix in flours, then sliced almonds.  Press into a buttered and floured 8" round cake tin or 8" sq. pan and sprinkle with additional 2 tablespoons sugar.  Pierce all over with fork tines. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let cool on rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and while it is still warm,  cut into wedges or squares.  Yields 16 2" squares.

Click here for the basic shortbread recipe.

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Nectarine and Burrata Appetizer

This appetizer is just what summer entertaining means to me—easy,  beautiful and using the season's best produce. It just shouts SUMMER!

Medium chop two ripe nectarines and finely chop one seeded jalapeno pepper. Toss together with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and a handful of chopped cilantro. Place on a plate with a good piece of burrata cheese, sprinkle with a half cup of toasted pistachio nuts and serve with crackers or sliced baguette.  Every bite was a combination of cool and sweet, spicy and salty, creamy and crunchy. Divine.

Stars Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

When life gives you lemons, make lemon squares. This recipe is from Jeremy Tower when he owned the Stars Restaurants in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Napa. These lemon bars are simply the best--firm but delicate, perfectly lemony and not overly sweet.

Stars Lemon Bars

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C powdered sugar
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) cold sweet butter

6 large eggs
3 C sugar
1 C plus 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 C flour
Powdered sugar for dusting.

To make crust:
Preheat oven to 325 F

Combine flour and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, add the butter and mix on low speed until mixture is the size of small peas. Press the crust into the bottom of a 9"x13" pan. Bake the crust for about 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

To make the filling:
Decrease oven temperature to 300 F

Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and then the flour. Pour lemon filling on the top of the crust. Bake for 40 minutes, until the lemon filling is set. 

Allow to cool for one hour, slice into squares, and dust with powdered sugar.

Congo Bars

My girlfriend Charlotte brought these to a cookie exchange.  Not only were they delicious, but I loved the story behind it: Throughout my childhood my mother made these for our family and for church and school gatherings.  For years she would send them to the soldiers in Germany. They loved them because they were sturdy bar cookies and therefore always arrived fresh and unbroken. I now make them for my grandchildren.

3/4 C butter, at room temperature
1 lb. brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 C flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 12 oz. package chocolate chips
1/2 C chopped nuts

Beat butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla, dry ingredients and mix well.  Add chocolate chips and nuts.

Spread dough evenly in a  12"X18" rimmed pan and bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes or until just lightly brown.  Cool and cut into squares.

(Image credit: Eat the Love)


Nebraska Caramel Corn

My girlfriend Patty brought cellophane bags of candied popcorn to a cookie exchange.  From Patty: The recipe originally came from my grandmother. Growing up in Nebraska, my mother made it for me and my two sisters when we were young. When we grew up and moved away, she made it for us when she visited our homes for the holidays.  She continued to make it for herself and her friends for her last Christmas when she was 93!  She was a strong woman and definitely influenced us all.  Jack helps me make it…that caramel sauce is boiling hot and he helps pour…both of us talk about Mom when we make it.  

From me: My husband, a self-proclaimed caramel popcorn connoisseur, says this is the best.

2 C brown sugar
2 sticks butter (1/2 lb.)
1/2 C white corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 quarts popped corn

Combine brown sugar, butter, syrup, and salt.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 5 minutes without stirring.  Remove from heat, add soda and stir. In a large bowl, pour over popped corn and stir throughly to coat.  Transfer caramel corn to rimmed baking sheets.  Bake in 250 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven to cool, then break up pieces and enjoy.  Wrapped in cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon, they make pretty party favors or hostess gifts.


Curried Cashews

Curried Cashews

My girlfriend, Rene, cut this from a magazine years ago, but doesn't remember the source.  Since she gave me the recipe, I've made it quite a few times. I love it in a pretty bowl on the drinks table before a dinner party.  It's very popular with everyone, even with people who think they don't like curry.

2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher or flake salt
2 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 C water
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. butter
2 1/2 C unsalted roasted cashews (about 12 oz.)
1 C unsalted raw shelled pistachios (4 oz.)
1/2 C dried cranberries

Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 300F.  Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  Bring the water, brown sugar and butter to a boil, stirring often.  Stir in the nuts.  Cook, stirring constantly until the nuts are shiny and the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Transfer the nuts to the spice mixture.  Add the dried cranberries; toss until well coated.  Spread the mixture out onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.


Salty Chocolate Toffee

Chocolate Salty Coffee Toffee

This is an adaptation of an old Sunset recipe.

2 1/4 C sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 C coffee or water
1 1/4 C (1/2 lb. plus 1/4 C) butter (Plus 2 tsp. butter for greasing the pan.)
2 C chopped mixed almonds and pecans (raw or roasted or oven toasted)
one 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-2 tsp. flake salt
1/4 C finely chopped roasted nuts

Combine sugar, salt, coffee or water, and butter in a large pan; bring to a boil.  Add the nut mixture if they are raw; if they have been roasted or toasted, you will add them later.  Cook, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 300F measured with a candy thermometer.  This will take about 10 minutes or so and it will be bubbling.  Immediately remove from heat (add roasted nuts at this time).  Pour into a well-buttered jelly roll pan and spread the mixture to even out.  Sprinkle on chocolate chips and wait 5 minutes for them to soften.  When soft, spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee; immediately sprinkle with finely chopped nuts and flake salt to taste.  Set aside for a few hours to cool.  Break toffee apart with a sharp knife and store covered in a cool place.

*Making candy and using a candy thermometer is not difficult, but needs your attention.  Stir the mixture constantly and be vigilant about checking the thermometer as it needs to read exactly 300F for it to harden properly.  It's not a project to be done with children as the candy is scalding hot.