Filtering by Author: Sally Vargas

Pecan Pie Bars Recipe

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Do you have pie anxiety? I used to. Working as the dessert queen/pastry maven in a restaurant cured me. I don't exaggerate when I say I've made thousands of pies (that's right at least two thousand, anyway) in my lifetime. Phew. I still love rolling dough, and feel an uncommon satisfaction in the small pleasure a well-made pie brings.  But I concede, it is not for everyone.

No shame. Rolling the dough is the big bugaboo for most people. That's why, dear readers, I give you this: a press-in pie dough that is easy to make and as buttery as shortbread, the absolute best foil for pecan pie. To make the dough, you literally throw the crust ingredients into a food processor and whir it for a minute or two until you have fat crumbs. Then into the baking  pan they go.

All that butter also means that the bars (akin to slices of pie) will keep at least a day or two without losing quality. I've already made my pie bars for Thanksgiving (at least a week away), wrapped them snugly in foil, and put them to bed in the freezer until T-day. The filling is just like pecan pie, made with corn syrup that is not high fructose corn syrup (I like dark Karo.) A benefit to making the bars is that you end up with twelve servings, a generous amount to grace any holiday table. So go ahead, have your pie, and eat it, too.

Note: you can bake these bars ahead and freeze them for up to 2 weeks. Defrost at room temperature, or heat gently in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, if you like. This recipe was published in The Boston Globe  Want more? check it out! Ten easy recipes to get you through the holidays.

Pecan Pie Bars Recipe
Serves 12

Butter (for the baking pan)
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

1 Preheat  the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line the bottom and 2 sides with of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the 2 long sides.

2 In the bowl of a food processor, process the flour, brown sugar, salt, butter, egg yolk, vanilla and water until medium clumps form and the dough does not look dry. Pulse the machine toward the end of mixing to stop short of allowing the mixture to form a ball. (Alternatively, mix together with your fingers.)

3 Spread the crumbs loosely and evenly over the bottom of the pan. With your fingertips, press the dough into the sides of the pan to make a 1 1/4-inch-high border. Press the remaining crumbs evenly over the bottom. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the dough and use a dry 1-cup measuring cup to smooth it all around.  Press the dough into the corners so it is not too thick. Remove the plastic. If you like, use the tines of a fork to make a pattern all along the edges.

4 Bake for 20 minutes, or until light golden. If the dough puffs in places, flatten it with the back of a fork.

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4 eggs
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups dark corn syrup (Karo)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan halves
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (for serving)

1 In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla until combined. Stir in the pecans.

2 Pour the filling over the baked crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cool completely in the pan.

3 When the bars are completely cool and set, run a knife along the edges to loosen the crust from the pan. Grasp the overhanging parchment and carefully lift the whole piece out of the pan and transfer it to a cutting board. With the long edge parallel to the cutting board, make a vertical cut with a sharp knife to divide it into two 9 by 6 1/2-inch pieces.

4 Cut each half into bars: Make 2 horizontal cuts and 1 vertical cut to make 6 bars. Repeat with the second piece. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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Check out this gift idea: The Cranberry Cookbook, not just for the holidays





Posted on November 16, 2017 .

Baked Acorn Squash with Wild Rice, Farro and Cranberries

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November always seems to fly by and suddenly it's Thanksgiving. So many choices, now so little time.  Here's a quick post to satisfy the vegetarians (and vegans) on your guest list.

Here we go, folks! I'll try to keep 'em coming for the next few days.

You couldn’t ask for a more festive alternative to turkey than these squash halves packed with flavor and mounded with wild rice, farro, cranberries, and pecans. Wild rice is not rice at all, but an annual water-grass seed. Since the “rice” absorbs water slowly, the best way to prepare it is to cook it in abundant water, like pasta. You will cook the farro in the same way. Buy pearled or quick-cooking farro, or adjust the cooking time (untreated farro can take much longer to cook). The squash can be stuffed a day ahead and reheated.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Wild Rice, Farro and Cranberries
Serves 8
4 small (under 1 pound) acorn squash, halved crosswise and seeded
Salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup wild rice
1/2 cup pearled farro
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large apple, peeled and cut into small dice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 small bunch lacinato kale, stemmed, rinsed, and cut into thin ribbons       
1/4 cup water  
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to accommodate the squash.

2. On the baking sheet, place the squash halves with their cut sides down. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until tender. Remove and let cool for 15 minutes. Scoop out the seeds and pulp. Cut a sliver from the bottom of each squash half so that it will stand upright, and place the halves in the baking dish with the hollowed sides up.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the wild rice. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Set a large strainer over a bowl and drain the excess liquid from the rice.

4. Bring a separate saucepan of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the farro. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the farro is tender. Set a strainer over a bowl and drain.

5. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, celery, apple, sage, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until the vegetables soften. Stir in the dried cranberries, fresh cranberries, kale, and water. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the kale is tender, adding more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan seems dry. Stir in the cooked farro, rice, and pecans. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

6. Spoon the filling into the squash halves in the baking dish. Loosely cover the pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until it is hot all the way through. The stuffed squash halves can be made one day in advance and reheated in a microwave if oven space is scarce.

p.s., if you're looking for more cranberry recipes, checkout my new book The Cranberry Cookbook

Posted on November 15, 2017 .

Danish Sandwiches (Smorrebrod)

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I'm becoming obsessed with Scandinavian crime drama shows.

I know. Relaxing, right? 

But let's face it, when the news makes me want to head to the liquor cabinet, crime drama has a strangely calming effect. Saunas, deep woods, homemade hooch that would probably kill anyone; nefarious deeds played out among beautiful lakes and birch forests put me in the mood for pickled beets and smoked salmon on dense rye bread. 

Danish smorrebrod (from the word butter (smor) and bread (brod), and pronounced smuhr-broht ) is an open-faced sandwich that invites all kinds of improvisations. You can’t beat the sandwiches for appetizers or party fare. (Hint: holidays!) And they couldn't be easier. Mix some butter with horseradish and slather it on bread. Then go to town on the toppings.

They are also excellent to eat for lunch with a bowl of soup. You could try ham and Dijon mustard, or roast beef and horseradish, sliced hard boiled egg or any combination that appeals to you, just be sure to add something pickled, like beets, onions, capers or cucumbers. Look for dense whole meal rye bread, sometimes called “fitness bread. ” The brick-shaped loaf comes sliced and is available at specialty markets and some whole food markets.

I'm planning to have the ingredients around for the next few months to fill in when the turkey's gone.  And I know I'll need sustenance for the Scandinavian nail-biters.

Danish Sandwiches (Smorrebrod) Recipe
Serves 4

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish in brine, or more, to taste
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 slices dense rye bread
6 ounces sliced smoked salmon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 (14-ounce) jar or can pickled beets, drained
8 radishes, thinly sliced
3 to 4 sprigs of dill, snipped with scissors

1. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, horseradish, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.

2. On a cutting board, spread the bread slices, and slather each slice with 1/4 of the butter. Divide the salmon among the 4 slices, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Top with the cucumber slices, beets, radishes, and dill. Slice each piece of bread into 4 to 8 pieces to serve as an appetizer.  

Posted on November 11, 2017 .

Pumpkin soup recipe: It's (almost) that time again

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Because I always want it to be summer, I am dismayed when I see rows of pumpkins lined up in front of my local supermarket. Not yet! Not yet! But then, there's always an upside if you look for it. For anyone who is ready for the shift, this will be welcome, and if you're not ready, at least there's some consolation in delicious fall food.

Roasted pumpkin simmered with onion, celery, yellow pepper and tomatoes and spiked with coconut milk makes a quintessential vegetarian fall soup. Take the work out of roasting the pumpkin by placing halves on a baking sheet, seeds, peel and all. Once it softens in the oven, scraping out the seeds and peeling is easy.

For cooking and baking, look for sugar pumpkins, also called pie pumpkins. They have dense, smooth flesh and weigh from three to five pounds. Larger “carving” pumpkins have stringy, watery flesh and little flavor, so save them for jack o’lanterns or decoration.

Roasted pumpkin soup with coconut milk
Serves 6

1 sugar pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil for vegan)
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into large dice
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 teaspoons coriander seed, crushed in a mortar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 can (15 ounces) light coconut milk
4 cups water
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Halve the pumpkin. Place the halves, flat side down, on the baking sheet. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. Cool on the baking sheet to warm room temperature. With a sharp spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds (or save them for roasting). Scoop out the flesh and discard the peel.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter (or heat the oil.) Add the onion, celery and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until soft. Add the tomatoes, coriander seed, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 1 minute.

4. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas, coconut milk and water. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and honey.

5. In a blender in batches, puree the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and lime juice, if you like. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Posted on September 21, 2017 .

Cracked wheat salad recipe: add some spice to your life

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Syrian bulgur salad (Bazergan)
Makes 2 1/2 cups

Looking for something different? This salad is unusual but  be careful, it's addictive. P.s., it's also healthy, so no guilt.

It's hard to find this salad already prepared, even in a  Middle Eastern grocery store. It's a pity. It is from Syrian Jewish cuisine, traditionally eaten with other small plates (mezze.) Assertively spiced with cumin and seasoned with tangy tamarind, bazergan makes a terrific appetizer with pita bread, or as a sandwich in a pita pocket with cucumber and sliced tomatoes. Once you’ve tasted it, you will want to keep eating it until every last grain has disappeared. 

1 cup medium-grind bulgur
1 cup water
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon Maras or Aleppo pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (for garnish)

1. In a medium bowl, stir the bulgur and water together. Let soak for 10 minutes. Set a strainer over a bowl. Pour the soaked bulgur into the strainer to drain excess water.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the cumin, sugar, salt, Maras pepper and black pepper until combined. Add the tomato paste, tamarind concentrate, lemon juice, oil and onion. Stir well to combine. Stir in the drained bulgur.

3. Set aside for at least one hour to let flavors mingle. Mound the bazergan in a shallow bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with pita wedges or chips. Store leftovers in the refrigerator

Posted on September 13, 2017 .