Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pecan Bars & Pecan Pie

Day 40

Who doesn’t love the flavor of toasted, candied pecans with a fresh shortbread or pastry crust? These recipes are for all those Southern pecan lovers out there who can’t decide between a pie or a shortbread bar. Enjoy!
Both of these recipes were taken directly from the dessert sources I like best in my search for the pecan perfection. I’ve tried many recipes for pecan pie, and one of the best continues to be from the Karo Syrup website, so I’ll both endorse it and share it here. The pecan bars are from the Tate’s Baking Company, and I really, really recommend that you try them. They have a crunchy shortbread base and a gooey praline topping that is simply delicious. In fact, I’ll add that every recipe I’ve tried from Tate’s is outstanding.
Pecan Bars
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photogrphy, 2013


Shortbread Layer-
Softened butter for the pan

1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour

12 tbs. cold salted butter, cut into cubes

1/3 cup granulated sugar

10 tbs. salted butter, cut into tablespoons

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup honey

¼ cup pure maple sugar

¼ cup heavy cream

3 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13x9 inch baking pan. Line the bottom and the two short ends with a 20-inch long piece of aluminum foil, pleating the foil to fit and letting the excess foil hang over the ends. Lightly butter the foil. 

To make the shortbread layer: in a medium bowl, mix the flour, butter, and sugar with an electric mixer set on low speed just until combined and crumbly. Do not mix into a dough; it should remain crumbly. Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand on a wire cooling rack. Leave the oven on. 

To make the topping: in a medium saucepan, bring the butter, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and heavy cream to a boil, stirring until the butter melts. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the pecans. Pour and spread the pecan mixture over the crust. 

Return to the oven and bake until the pecan mixture is bubbling and golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack. 

Run a dinner knife around the edges of the shortbread to release it. Lift up the foil “handles” and remove the shortbread from the pan. Using a long sharp knife, cut into 24 rectangles. 

*Recipe from Kathleen King’s Tate’s Bake Shop: Baking for Friends, page 138 (copyright 2012). 

Pecan Pie
Copyright, Maggie Kapustin, 2013

1 cup Karo® Light OR Dark Corn Syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool for 2 hours on wire rack before serving.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fish Tacos & Salad with Goat Cheese Dressing

Day 39

Happy first day of summer! What better way to start our summer grilling season than with fish tacos, a cool summer salad, and an ice-cold beverage on the terrace!

I hope you enjoy these recipes, and remember that they are easily modified to replace the fish with another variety of your choosing, with shrimp, or with steak or chicken. 

Fish Tacos with Creamy Cilantro Remoulade
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

For the fish:
2 lbs. tilapia
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup lime juice
4 tbs. chili powder
1 tbs. black pepper
2 tsp. sea salt
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, crushed

10-15 corn tortillas, toasted on grill

For the taco veggie mix:
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups thinly sliced radishes
1 cup chopped green onion

For the remoulade: 
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
1 large bunch cilantro leaves (about 2 ½+ cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 large lemon
½ cup mayonnaise
½ tsp sea salt
½  tsp. Tabasco or favorite hot sauce

For the fish, whisk, together ¼ cup olive oil, ½ cup lime juice, chili powder, black pepper, 2 tsp. sea salt, ½ cup chopped cilantro, and one crushed garlic clove. Pour over fish filets and allow to marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour. 

When ready to cook, place on sprayed grill and grill just until fish begins to flake. 

*Using a broiler can work too, following the same doneness guidelines. Don’t overcook!

For the remoulade, combine yogurt, 1 bunch cilantro, 4 cloves of garlic, ¼  cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup mayo, lemon juice, ½ tsp sea salt, ½  tsp. hot sauce in a food processor. Blend until smooth. 

For the taco vegetable mix, combine cabbages, carrots, and onion. Set radishes aside for final garnish.

To assemble tacos, begin with a bit of remoulade on each tortilla, topped with vegetable medley, then fish, then radish slices, then a generous smattering of remoulade to finish each taco. 

Serve immediately. 

Goat Cheese Dressing*

8 oz. herbed goat cheese
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Serve over Bibb lettuce or your favorite salad. 

*Recipe modified from May, 2013 issue of Country Living magazine.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lemon Chess and Chocolate Chess Pies

Day 38

While we were visiting and my Aunt Sarah and her family on a recent trip back home, she shared my great-grandmother Sara’s Lemon Chess Pie recipe with me. We had just finished burgers on the grill and Sarah’s old-fashioned macaroni salad, and we were enjoying an apple-themed dessert of German Apple Cake and Apple Pie. I suppose it was the pie that prompted our discussion of my great-grandmother’s baking talents. Aunt Sarah asked if I’d ever tried the Lemon Chess, and I admitted that I had never tried it, although I do remember trying chocolate chess pies that both of my grandmothers made from time to time. So, needless to say, I was very excited to learn that Aunt Sarah had the original recipe.
Copyright 2013, Doug Kapustin Photography
My father and Aunt Sarah had always told me that my great-grandmother—Mama Sara, we called her—was known for a few of her pie recipes, of which Lemon Chess was considered the best. According to Daddy, Mama Sara rarely left the comforts of home, always preferring to stay indoors, baking and following a very simple daily routine. He used to tell me stories of her apple chip pies, for which she would chop apples all morning until the pieces were literally tiny chips, the width of matchsticks. I can’t imagine having that sort of patience for baking, though I do admire her attention to detail. 

She taught my grandmother, her daughter-in-law, to make a pie called Poor Man’s Pie, that was essentially a pecan pie with oatmeal instead of pecans. It was absolutely one of my favorites, and I’ll share that recipe in a future blog too. Hearing stories of Mama Sara makes me nostalgic for family cooked meals and for the days when my grandmother, Dorothy, made meals for us. Everything tasted better from her kitchen. In fact, my cousins, Cassye and Rose, would often join me at Grandma’s for summer vacation, and we each made a specific request from her kitchen: Cassye requested her sweetened bran muffins, Rose asked for her gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, and I always begged Grandma to make her buttery potato soup. Just thinking about those three dishes, lovingly prepared for her grandchildren, makes my mouth water, still today. 

 A couple of days after returning to my home in Maryland, I simply had to try the Lemon Chess recipe. True to Aunt Sarah’s promise, it was delicious; I can definitely see why everyone asked Mama Sara to make it again and again, for church suppers and family get-togethers. 

While I was gathering the ingredients to make it, I decided to make a Chocolate Chess pie to accompany the Lemon Chess, mostly to pay homage to the recipes of both my great-grandmother and my two grandmothers. I quickly learned that Chocolate Chess pie tends to crack rather easily if not perfectly cooked, but even still, the flavor is unmatched. Needless to say, the Lemon Chess was a bigger hit—a real tried and true recipe. Both pies offer a creaminess that immediately comforts and soothes the palate. 

Both of these recipes—Mama Sara’s Lemon Chess and a standard Chocolate Chess—are shared below. I hope you enjoy this tribute to special family recipes—recipes of old and new.  

And alas, here’s to you, Aunt Sarah, and thanks for sharing such a treasured recipe!

Lemon Chess Pie

1½ cups granulated sugar
1 stick of melted butter
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
3 eggs
¼ cup whole milk
zest of one lemon, optional
1 9-inch pie crust—homemade or store bought (see below*)

Melt butter. Beat in sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, beaten eggs, and milk. Pour into 9-inch unbaked piecrust. Bake at 350 degrees until just set in center, about 45 minutes. Cool completely before slicing. 

*For a homemade pie crust, try Ina Garten’s recipe. It’s easy and perfect every time. Here’s the link:

Chocolate Chess Pie

1½ cups granulated sugar
3 tbs. cocoa powder
3 eggs
1 small can (5 oz) evaporated milk 
¼ cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. instant coffee
½ tsp. cinnamon
1- 9 inch unbaked pie crust—homemade or store bought (see above*)

Mix sugar and cocoa together. Beat eggs and add to sugar/cocoa mixture. Beat in milk, butter, vanilla, coffee, and cinnamon. 

Pour into piecrust and bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely before slicing. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chocolate Almond Joy Pie

Day 37

Today’s recipe is for those of us who love the flavor of the Almond Joy candy bar, or at least for those of us who love that chocolate, almond, and coconut combination. One of the great things about this pie is that there is no baking involved, and it’s very, very quick to make and even faster to eat! It’s truly reminiscent of an Almond Joy, but with a lot more of a chocolate punch. And, it’s a winner every time I’ve served it. I hope this will become a must for your dessert rotation. 
Copyright 2013, Doug Kapustin Photography


Chocolate Almond Joy Pie

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted plus 1 tbs. extra 
½ cup shredded coconut, toasted plus 2 tbs. extra 
1 pie crust, pre-baked and cooled
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbs. stick butter

In a heavy saucepan, slowly heat cream, butter, and chocolate on low until thoroughly combined and until chocolate is completely melted. Stir constantly. When ready, the mixture should look like a smooth chocolate sauce.

 In the baked pie shell, sprinkle ½ cup sliced and toasted almonds and ½ cup toasted coconut. Pour chocolate mixture over almonds and coconut, filling the pie shell. Sprinkle with remaining coconut and almonds.
Copyright 2013, Doug Kapustin Photography

Refrigerate overnight or 6-8 hours to set. 

Slice and serve with a dollop of cream. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Company Pasta

Day 36

(modified recipe, originally by Ina Garten)

Here’s a really nice, lightly flavored pasta for those tomatoes that will be coming from the garden this summer. It’s perfect for a late dinner outside or a romantic date and movie night at home. 

I saw it on Ina Garten’s show and had to try it. Since she never disappoints, I wanted to share it here. I did modify the recipe slightly, as I prefer thin spaghetti over her original angel hair pasta choice, and I
also think that lemon juice adds the right finish to the dish. The link to the original is below if you prefer to try it, though. 

Personally, I much prefer sauces that allow each component to have a clear voice in a dish, and this pasta’s ingredients speak to your taste buds, loudly and clearly.

Buon appetito!
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2013

¾  cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
10 cloves minced garlic 
4 pints grape tomatoes
18 large basil leaves, julienned
2 tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
16 oz. thin spaghetti, cooked al dente
Juice of 2 large lemons
1½  cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften but don't break up.

Place the cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. Add the tomato-olive oil sauce and the Parmesan and toss well. Add some of the pasta water if the pasta seems too dry. Serve large bowls of pasta with extra basil sprinkled on top and a big bowl of extra Parmesan on the side.

Original recipe from Ina Garten, but modified. See link below for original: