Sips and Bits of Gratitude

Approach the Light‘s Project: Draw with Light theme this week is gratitude. Let me share with you a few things I’ve been grateful for in recent days:
(1) One of my favorite kindred spirits: a brother who shares my infatuation with bubble tea…

…and (2) these roses we admired on our sunny afternoon promenade through the park. I am extremely happy with the Dogwood Park expansion–Cookeville, you know what I mean–such a nice new place to meet and lounge and stroll!

(3) An unexpected evening full of chats and catch-ups–featuring a signature Carly cocktail, the Scurvy Squid–that would be equal parts spiced rum and coconut water (coconut juice) over ice. It’s a perfect summer beverage–light and sweet, but not saccharine. Try it!

I’m grateful for people who are bright, open, and focused on the pleasure of the present moment. Thanks, Carly!

(4) Every morning I am welcomed in my (parents’) kitchen by a fresh, hot pot of coffee that I never have to make. And that cake is this cake–which tastes its best exactly 2 days after baking! (I’m grateful for the glorious phenomenon that is pound cake!)

And there they are, (5) the parents who make the coffee, buy the groceries, eat my experiments, and let me run wild in the kitchen. Thanks, you two!



Baked Brie with Honey, Dates, Pecans

Chunk of brie. Score it with a knife. Chop up a date. Stuff it in the crevices. Add a handful of pecans. Drizzle with honey. Bake until slightly or so very melt-y. Eat with bread or crackers. Indulge and enjoy!

Konafa, an Arabic dessert

Sweet, simple, buttery goodness

My experience with Konafa has gone something like this–I first tasted it at an international dinner at the university. One of my ESL students motioned me to his table and urged me take half of his little square of this curious dessert–it was sweet, buttery, simple…yet I wasn’t quite sure what composed it. It was also gone, empty–the entire dish of it on the dessert table was eaten at the beginning of dinner. Abdulrahman (my student/friend) apparently knew how fast it would be devoured.

A couple months later, the university hosted its annual international festival (WOW), the cafeteria full of international dishes to savor. That same Abdulrahman was serving food with the Saudi Club, and he had announced to me that they would be selling the famous Konafa. This time I would get my very own piece of that mysterious crunchy, custardy delight!

But alas, after watching the dance of the Chinese dragon and browsing African wooden boxes, when I made it to the food, the Konafa was again gone. I’m sure it had been happily eaten by other festival attendees, though my bet is that many homesick Arabs got to it first, perhaps not having eaten this special sweet since their departure from a very different homeland. For me, disappointment. For them, an edible memory. Lucky for me, Thana and Abdulrahman know how to make it…

Before this dinner party, Thana said she would bring the ingredients for Konafa and make it there, before my very eyes. Finally! I would really get to eat it! And what’s more, I would finally know what went into creating that curious crunchy/creamy texture!

Konafa pastry--shredded fillo dough

Konafa is composed of two layers of buttery shredded fillo dough (which can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, in the freezer section), with a cream layer in between. After baking, it is drizzled with a simple sugar syrup and topped with chopped nuts. It’s actually very simple and uses relatively few ingredients. But there’s something about the sweet, buttery, lightly floral flavor that is just so right, especially when it’s fresh from the oven. Even though I was full from all the food at that dinner party, I took a second serving of Konafa, so thrilled was I to finally be relishing it!

I finally made Konafa at home. It turned out spectacular; it’s a surprising dessert that feels at once light and decadent. It tastes special, and I am so pleased.

And I share:

Thana and Abdulrahman’s recipe*
serves 10-15 people

1 package (16 oz.) shredded fillo dough
6 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon powdered orange food color (optional)**

cream filling:
1 1/2 pints (3 cups) heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold milk

sugar syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water

chopped or ground nuts (pistachios, almonds…) or coconut for garnish

Cut fillo strands into smaller pieces (2-3 inches long) with a knife, then work the strands with fingers in a large bowl to separate. Melt butter then add the food color powder and mix to incorporate. Pour the butter gradually over the fillo strands, working to coat the strands evenly with butter. Press half of buttered fillo mixture into the bottom of a large baking pan (15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1 inch). Save the other half for the top.

Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring to avoid lumps. Add the orange blossom water and stir. In a separate small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the cold milk then add it to the cream on the stove. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened (thick enough to coat the back of a spoon)–5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

For the simple syrup, stir the sugar into the water in a saucepan, and cook (don’t boil) until the syrup is clear and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (it’s done when you touch the spoon and it feels slightly sticky). Remove from heat and let cool. This will be drizzled on top of the Konafa after baking.

Pour the cream mixture over the base layer of fillo, smoothing it to evenly cover. Press the remaining half of buttered fillo over the cream mixture. Bake @ 350 degrees F 25-35 minutes, until top is crisp and beginning to brown slightly. Remove from oven and drizzle evenly with about 3/4 of the prepared sugar syrup (I think this is plenty of sweetness–add the syrup to your tastes, but it is the only sugar in the dessert. You can reserve the rest for drinks!), then sprinkle chopped nuts atop. Cut into squares and serve warm or room temperature.

*Konafa recipes vary, but this is the way my friends made it. It is scrumptious! Rosewater can be substituted for the Orange Blossom. In other recipes I’ve seen, this is added to the sugar syrup instead of the cream mixture. Nearly any nuts or dried fruit could be used for the garnish.
**The food color powder is added simply to color the fillo mixture in order to contrast the white cream layer. It is completely optional. I found powdered food color at a Middle Eastern grocery.

The making of Konafa, in pictures and smiles:

cutting down the fillo strands

coating the fillo with butter

cream layer

second fillo layer

pressing down the top layer (ready to bake!)

Konafa dance?

You're gonna want more than that...

Happy Christmas/Chocolat!

Merry Christmas, Happy Days!

Chocolate bark is popular this year according to my blog perusing as of late. I lived in France for one Christmas season, and this combination of chocolate accompaniments, discovered at a festive chocolate exposition, won my heart: Pistachio, Almond, and Candied Orange Peel. So this was one of my Christmas treats this year!

I melted dark chocolate (70% cacao) in a double boiler, spread it thinly in a pan lined with wax paper, then topped it with those delicious things (I used salted nuts, by the way)–I let it harden in the fridge, then cut it into squares. I also made a batch with milk chocolate. Such scrumptious and perfectly balanced bites of indulgent goodness!
This stuff is special.

Incredible Edible Gifts!

A little parcel of distinctive chocolate, my Cinnamon Marshmallows, and these excellently flavorful chewy molasses ginger cookies found on a blog called SavorySaltySweet made its way to some special friends!

Happy Happy Holidays, go make some love–edible or otherwise!

Candied Orange Peel

Remember those Orange Slice candies? Candied orange peels are a bit like those, but more orangey-wonderful. They’re a tasty addition to cakes, cookies, and candies. They are candy on their own, and Matt thinks they’d be nice as after dinner ‘mints’, a sort of fresh and cleansing digestif. I think they are a delight to make–so pretty and fragrant, plus the candying process yields a yummy by-product: lovely, citrus-scented orange syrup! One recipe that results in two delicious and functionally different products? Oui. Oui, oui, oui. Eat some juicy oranges, and don’t throw away those peels!

Candied Orange Peel
yields about 2 1/2 cups of candied peels

5 large thick-skinned oranges (like Navel or Valencia)
water for boiling
4 cups sugar
1 cup water
sugar for coating

Wash oranges thoroughly with warm water. With a knife, score the oranges, cutting through the peel and pith, but not the fruit. I made 5 cuts down the length of each fruit, yielding 6 slices of peel from each orange. With your fingers, slowly pull each slice of peel+pith from the orange. Once the peels are removed, slide a knife across the pith side to remove most of the white pith from the orange part of the peel (a bit of remaining pith is ok!).

Cut the peels down to your desired size, then put them in a pot and pour in enough water to cover the peels. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then remove the pot and drain the peels of water. Repeat this 1 or 2 times (this reduces bitterness). I did this boiling process 3 times. Next, stir the sugar into the 1 cup of water in the saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook 8-9 minutes, until a candy thermometer reaches 230-234 degrees F. Add peels and adjust heat to retain a simmer. Simmer peels about 45 minutes or until they become translucent. Swirl the pan to move the peels around instead of stirring them with a spoon. Drain the peels, and reserve the syrup*. Roll the peels in sugar, then lay them out on wax paper for a few hours to cool and dry. Store candied peels in an airtight container.

peels after cooking

sugar coating

*You can use that syrup as a fragrant sweetener for teas, cocktails, and sodas!

**And I’ll be back soon with a recipe idea using those orange peels. Hint: I learned this at a French chocolate fair!

my first Cookie Swap!

Thanks, fabulous Debbie, for hosting my (and several other attendees’) first-ever Cookie Swap! It goes like this: you make several dozen awesome cookies. Everyone else makes dozens of their version of awesome cookies. All those cookies make quite a spread upon a table where all are free to marvel and nibble-sample. Then you are provided with containers to fill with all these new glorious cookies, plus copies of recipes. In the end, your kitchen counter is filled with quite a varied bunch of cookies, ready for holiday drop-ins and delightful homestyle tea and coffee dates!

Cookie Swaps are an excellent holiday idea, and not just for Christmastime I think!

Here are a few photos from the Swap:

so. many. cookies.

Debbie has a lovely new house--and I loved these hanging vases!

One of each treat from the Swap!

My contribution to the cookie swap was a first-time recipe I found on a blog called, ironically, Allison Eats (it was a sign). I made Anise-Scented Fig and Date Swirls, and I was well pleased with them. The fragrant dough is paired with a sweet mixture of figs and dates, creating a unique flavor combination and a moist cookie reminiscent of a Fig Newton.

I told the other bakers I’d post my recipe here, so I hope they didn’t search for it before I got around to posting–you know, after my morning full of coffee, Christmas decorating, and COOKIES!

I hope you all are so lucky to attend a cookie swap–Heck, host one yourself! And thanks again to Debbie and all you other nice people I met and chatted with (I’m enjoying your cookies!).

Anise-Scented Fig and Date Swirls

makes about 3 dozen cookies

• 1 cup firmly packed dried figs (as soft as possible), stems removed
• 1 cup firmly packed pitted dates
• 1/3 cup water
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated refined sugar
• 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon ground anise seeds (grind in coffee/spice grinder or mortar and pestle) or 3/4 teaspoon anise extract
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
• 4 oz cream cheese
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1/4 cup granulated raw sugar (turbinado or Demerara)

1. In a blender purée figs and dates with water and 2 tablespoons refined sugar.
2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, anise seeds (if using seeds), baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter, cream cheese, and remaining 1/2 cup refined sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, anise extract (if using), egg yolk, and flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Form dough into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in wax paper, 1 hour, or until firm enough to handle.
4. On a lightly floured sheet of wax paper with a floured rolling pin roll out dough into a 13- by 10- inch rectangle, about 1/3 inch thick. Drop fig mixture by spoonfuls onto dough and gently spread an even layer over dough. Starting with a long side, roll dough jelly-roll fashion into a 13-inch log, using wax paper as a guide. Roll log in raw sugar to coat. Chill log, wrapped in wax paper, 4 hours, or until firm.
5. Preheat oven to 350° F. and lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Cut log into 1/3-inch-thick rounds and arrange about 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until pale golden, 12-13 minutes, and transfer to racks to cool.