Tuesday, June 29, 2010


A friend, (a local East Carolinian) who has a pecan tree in his backyard, gave us a huge bag of pecans.  Beautiful, big North Carolina pecans.  I was happy to get such a big bag of these yummy nuts and felt that I should reciprocate by baking something nice, something using the pecans.

I don't know about you, but shortbread is one of my favorite things to eat.  It's buttery, tender and not overly sweet.  When you add pecans, you get even more of a buttery taste.  The bourbon, while a nice idea, doesn't really add anything discernible to the cookie.  You can drizzle the shortbread with melted chocolate or caramel, if you really want to take it over the top, but I like it just as it is.  So nice with a cup of tea.

Bourbon Pecan Shortbread
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Rating:  9 out of 10

1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. bourbon
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, divided use
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
16 pecan halves

Heat oven to 325F.  In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse chopped pecans and sugar until nuts are ground to a fine crumb.  Add butter, vanilla and bourbon; pulse till well combined.  Add flour and cornstarch.  Pulse till mixed well.

Lightly spray an 8" square pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Turn dough out onto pan and evenly press with fingers, working from center to outside edges.  Score the shortbread with a sharp knife, cutting 3 lines in each direction to make 16 squares.  Poke the shortbread all over with a fork.

Place a pecan half on each square.  Score again if necessary.

Bake about 35 minutes (check the shortbread at 30 minutes for doneness), or till just lightly browned and set. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan.  Loosen edges with a knife and flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  Tap lightly to loosen from pan.  Cut into serving pieces while warm.  Yield:  16 cookies

See how nicely the shortbread cuts while warm.  The scoring lines have filled in while baking, but there are still faint lines to guide you in cutting.

Be sure to try this recipe soon.  It's so delicious -- buttery, tender, and just mildly sweet.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


One of the increasingly popular menu items at Thai restaurants across the country is green papaya salad.  I first heard about this salad from a Burmese refugee living in Texas, but I was unable to find a green papaya.  Then Molly Wizenberg wrote about it in the May 2010 issue of Bon Appetit.  I tried harder to find the green papaya, but continued to strike out.  Finally, green papayas came into season and they were everywhere.  Who knew they were a seasonal item?

The salad is a perfect example of Thai food:   a beautiful balance of salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavors.   But a firm, hard, green papaya must be used.

If the papaya is at all soft, you will have a rubbery, chewy and tough salad.

I gave it to my two testers:  my hubby (a Northern transplant to the South), and Brad (a local New Bernian).  They both gave it two thumbs up, way up.  Brad says he eats everything, and Guy says he likes the sweet/hot combo of flavors.

The recipe below will make enough for two hearty appetites as a main dish, or about 6 as an appetizer.  If you make a main dish, feel free to add cooked shrimp or other seafood.   Dried shrimp, which makes a nice addition to the dressing, is available at Asian food stores.  New Bern's Asian stores are located on S. Glenburnie Road and in the Trent Road Shopping Center.

Green Papaya Salad
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Rating:  8.5 out of 10

2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2-1/2 tsp. fish sauce
dash lite soy sauce (or 1-1/2 tsp. finely chopped dried shrimp)
1 garlic clove, minced (1 tsp.)

10 green beans, cooked till crisp-tender, julienned
2 cups finely shredded green papaya
6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 green onions, sliced lengthwise in slivers
2 tsp. minced Thai pepper or jalapeno
3 Tbsp. chopped honey-roasted peanuts

Prepare the dressing:  Whisk the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce (or dried shrimp) and garlic in a small bowl.  Set aside.

If you have a julienne peeler, use it to shred the papaya.  Otherwise, use the Thai method of shredding:  peel the papaya, then carefully using a very sharp heavy knife, hit the papaya with lengthwise strokes, making gashes down the flesh.

Then take a vegetable peeler and peel the strips.

This should give you long, thin strips of papaya.

Place 2 cups of shreds into a medium bowl.  Add tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, chile pepper and green beans.  Toss.  Refrigerate till ready to serve.  Before serving, pour dressing over salad; toss.  Sprinkle peanuts over top.

Monday, June 14, 2010


When we lived in New Jersey we had an abundance of local fruits and vegetables every summer.  Besides our own home garden, there were lots of produce stands filled with local fresh produce.  White peaches went fast, because they had the best flavor and texture, so I was always sure to get to my favorite stand early to get some.  I haven't found good white peaches in East Carolina yet, but the local peaches are pretty good.  I usually pass on the out-of-state ones that come here first, and wait for local fruit to ripen.

Last year, I filled up my freezer with peaches because they were just so outstanding.  When I tried to make a peach pie with the frozen peaches, though, I was disappointed to find that they were mushy.  So Plan B went into action:  make peach butter.  But the thought of stirring all those peaches forever in a pot turned me off.  So I decided to try roasting the peaches in the oven.  Not only was it easy, but also delicious.  The flavor of the peaches was intensified by the long, slow roasting and the end result was a richly flavored peach butter.

I heartily recommend this method.  You can use it with fresh or frozen peaches.  Peach butter is delicious on bread, toast, biscuits or rolls.  It's fat-free and loaded with flavor, and my version uses a lot less sugar than a typical recipe would.  Of course, after you make the peach butter, you can then make these delicious cupcakes.  Well, what are you waiting for?

Roasted Peach Butter
Source:  The Bear Cupboard
Rating:  10 out of 10
8 cups sliced fresh or frozen peaches, with juice
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar (I used 2 Tbsp. sugar + 1-1/2 tsp. Nu Naturals Liquid Vanilla Stevia)
1/4 cup dark corn syrup (or honey or agave nectar)
1/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed

Heat oven to 375F.  Combine all ingredients in large roasting pan and bake 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or till peaches are caramelized and excess liquid evaporates.  Cool slightly.  Puree warm peaches in batches in blender or food processor.  Yield:  about 1-1/2 to 2 cups peach butter.

Roasted Peach Butter Spice Cupcakes
Source:  The Bear Cupboard
Rating:  8.5 out of 10
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, packed
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup Smart Balance 50/50 butter blend (or butter, if preferred)
1 large egg
3/4 cup peach butter, homemade or store purchased, + 3/4 cup to swirl with frosting
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted broken (or chopped) walnuts

Heat oven to 350F.  Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.  In medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves and lemon zest.

In large bowl, cream together sugar and butter blend.  Beat in egg.  On low speed of electric mixer, add the dry ingredients alternately with the peach butter and milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Stir in raisins and nuts.  Divide batter evenly among baking cups, using about 1/4 cup for each.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted near center returns almost clean.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Frost with cream cheese frosting (recipe below) and swirl about 1 Tbsp. peach butter through frosting of each.  Yield:  12 cupcakes

Cream Cheese Frosting
Source:  The Bear Cupboard
Rating:  10 out of 10
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
Big pinch of sea salt
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla powder, or vanilla extract
8 oz. cold Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces.

In medium bowl, cream butter, salt, sugar and vanilla till very smooth, about 5 minutes.  Beat in 1 piece of cream cheese at a time,  beating on medium high after each addition till very smooth, about 2 minutes each. This frosting requires a lot of beating, but the end result is a super-creamy and delicious frosting.

Now let me tell you about the Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix Fruit and Nut Bars Giveaway on Nanbon's Corner. You might win a case of granola bars plus a $25 gift certificate to Sam's Club. Get right over there and sign up because the deadline of June 21 is looming.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Blueberries, a popular item throughout our state, are one of North Carolina's state symbols. When I lived in the Garden State (New Jersey), I grew my own blueberries. Just two bushes produced all our family needed for the year, with enough to give away to friends and neighbors. But I didn't plant blueberry bushes when we moved to New Bern because our development is a bird sanctuary. We are loaded with birds, and I love them all. I didn't want to fight them to get to the fruit. And, anyway, it's pretty easy to get blueberries around this town. There are farms nearby where you can pick your own, like Nelson's in Bridgeton, a short 10-minute ride. Grocery stores carry local produce, including blueberries, or you can buy from the farm stands that are scattered throughout our area. The farm stand on Lowe's Boulevard has blueberries from Nelson's at the best price I've seen anywhere. So there's no shortage of these wonderful little blue balls of nutritional sweetness.

I've found a super-easy dessert you can make with your blue gems. Blueberry Cheesecake Bars are light and luscious, a great party dessert. They're easy to pick up and eat, no need for fork and knife. They stay together, don't crumble easily, and are easy to get out of the pan. I love the intense blueberry flavor. Really, you must try these soon.

Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from kraftfoods.com
Bear Rating:  9.5 out of 10
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup graham crackers
1 cup almonds
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) Philadelphia brand Neufchatel cheese
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla powder (or vanilla extract)
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1 jar (10 oz.) Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves (or plain blueberry preserves)
1-1/4 cups fresh blueberries

Heat oven to 350F.  In work bowl of food processor, pulse almonds and graham crackers till finely ground.  Pour melted butter into a 13x9-inch baking pan.  Pour almonds and graham crackers over top.  Mix together with a spatula.  This is about as easy as it gets.
 Press firmly onto bottom of pan.  Refrigerate till ready to use.
Wipe out work bowl of food processor with damp paper towel.  (It doesn't have to be perfect.)  Combine Neufchatel cheese and sugar in work bowl and pulse till combined and creamy, scraping down sides as needed.  Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing till combined after each addition.  Add flavorings and pulse till combined.  Making cheesecake in a food processor is super easy.
Stir preserves in jar till softened (if necessary, nuke briefly to soften).  Spread preserves evenly over chilled crust.  Sprinkle blueberries over preserves.

Top evenly with cream cheese mixture.  The cream cheese mixture will just barely cover the berries.  In fact, the larger berries will be peeking out at you.  Bake about 30 minutes, or until slightly puffed on the edges.  Cool completely in pan on wire rack.  Cut into 4 rows by 6 rows for 24 bars (roughly 2-1/4" each), or 5 rows x 7 rows for 35 bars (roughly 1.8" each).  Store leftovers covered in fridge.

Look at how beautifully the first slice came out of the pan.  No crumbles, no mess.
These are so delicious.  Everyone loved them.  Two thumbs up, way up!