Pecan Squares and Class

No matter what we do in life, we all need to continue learning our craft.  It only makes us better at what we love..  I started this blog a year ago, jumping in and not really knowing what I was doing.  And if we’re really being honest here, I still wonder if I know what I’m doing!

A friend and local food expert teaches a class in food writing, called “Expressions in Food”.  It’s instructional in writing blogs, journals, and food reviews so I thought it might give me some insight and help improve my blog I share with all of you.  (you’re still out there….right?)

Our first class suggested we bring snacks to share.  I had a weekend of Super Bowl, moving into a new office and this class so I decided to bake Pecan Squares, courtesy of Ina Garten.  The recipe makes so many I could cover everything with one dish! So I trudged in with my plate of bars, everyone brought their food of choice and our instructor, Patrick brought wine.  Now that is my type of class!

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For two and a half hours, we shared our interest in the class, drank wine and ate our snacks, all while learning how to describe what we were eating.  It was a cornucopia of smells, textures and flavors, from creamy onion dip that jumped off the salty crunch of the potato chip around the plate to the sweet caramel and sandy texture of the pecan squares.  What a tasty way to spend my Sunday afternoon!

I left the class, happily anticipating the next one and I hope it helps me to relay to you my love of food and recipes in such a way that you will love to read my blog even more than you do now.

Happy reading (and eating everyone)!

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Pecan Squares and Class

20 large or 40 small squares

Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 20 large

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Topping
  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup good honey
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teapoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 pounds pecan, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes.

  3. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well.

  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined.

  6. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 x 12 x 1 inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be sticky, sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour.

  7. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

  8. For the topping, combine butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

  9. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes.

  10. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans.

  11. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan.

  12. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. **NOTE**

  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

  14. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

  15. Cut into bars and serve. (at this time if you wish to make your bars a bit more decadent, dip or drizzle with warm chocolate.)

  16. **NOTE** This filling may bubble over the edge. Place a large baking sheet or aluminum foil on a lower oven rack to catch the drips.

mango tapioca ambrosia

It seems I’m always thinking.  Depending on the day depends on what it’s about and sometime it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  The one constant thing, however,  is I am always thinking about what I can make and how I will make it.   And that is exactly what happened on the day I was looking through one of my food magazines and saw a recipe for a mango and tapioca parfait.  I wanted to make it.

But I didn’t have a chance to make it as soon as I had hoped to,  which was perhaps, a blessing in disguise. I just couldn’t find small pearl tapioca anywhere!  I honestly think it is a rare commodity in my area, but if you have as much trouble finding it as I did, check your local asian market.  They will have it.  During the search, however, I was looking through my friend, Patrick Evans-Hylton’s new cookbook, “Dishing up Virginia”, and came across his Ambrosia recipe.  I now wanted to make that too.

Here’s where the thinking part came in.  What if I combined the mango parfait with the ambrosia recipe?  Now that was something worth thinking about and I have to say,  this one thought was with me almost every day.  How would I combine them, what would I take out and what would I keep?  For days I had both recipes open on my counter, reading and re-reading.  Thinking, thinking, thinking.

I may have blown a brain cell with all my thinking but I honestly believe I came up with a really great combination.  I have Patrick’s Ambrosia in a whole new way.  I don’t think Patrick would really mind me taking liberties with his recipe, in fact,  I’m almost positive he would love the fact that I did!

So the next time you see a recipe you like (including this one), think about popping a few brain cells, taking a few liberties and see what you come up with.  I think it could be something amazing!

See…..there I go again…. always thinking.  However, I believe this time it worked and it was a good thing.

mango tapioca ambrosia

Prep Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup small pearl tapioca
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 can unsweetened coconut milk (1/2 of a 14 oz can)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup peeled and diced mango
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 banana
  • 3 ounces fresh or frozen coconut, toasted
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • maraschino cherries (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the tapioca, whole milk, vanilla bean and seeds and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and cook, whisking occasionally, until tapioca is translucent and tender, about 20 minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk.

  2. In a small bowl whisk the egg yolk with the sugar. Gradually whisk in half the warm tapioca in a steady stream. Continue whisking and pour egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook the pudding over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pudding to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Discard the vanilla bean. (i usually cover with plastic wrap directly covering the top of the pudding to avoid “skin”)

  3. Whip the cream with an electric mixer in a medium chilled metal bowl until thick; fold in the sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

  4. In a medium bowl, combine the mango, pineapple, lime zest and lime juice. Take half to a food processor and purée until smooth. Add purée to the other half of the diced mango and pineapple. Slice banana and add to the purée mixture to prevent browning.

  5. Once tapioca has cooled enough, fold whipped cream into it.

  6. To assemble begin with the fruit mixture, top with tapioca and whipped cream mixture, add toasted coconut, and then toasted pecans. Repeat until you have about two layers of everything. I use jelly canning jars and got six out of this recipe. Top with a maraschino cherry if desired.

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