Wet coating locks moisture into chicken breasts

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts — a cut at which I have so often scoffed — proved their worth recently in my kitchen.

A sale price justified my purchase of Foster Farms’ organic chicken breasts. Pound for pound, boneless, skinless breasts typically are among the most costly meats, even if not organic, at any grocer.

Although I’ve often decried meat off the bone — and poultry, in particular, without its skin — as lacking flavor, the taste of this meat adjusted my attitude. As is the case with so many organic foods, this one really does taste better than conventionally raised versions.

The key to keeping boneless, skinless chicken breasts moist and succulent is cooking in some type of liquid. I chose to poach mine with fresh lemon and herbs and then slice them against the grain for serving. This method proved tasty enough for my kids’ young palates. If you want something a bit more flavorful, consider brining.

A recent story by Tribune News Service recommended dry-brining over wet. But each adds flavor and keeps the meat tender. For wet-brining, simply dissolve 2 teaspoons salt in 2 cups water and immerse a chicken breast for 30 minutes For dry-brining, sprinkle both sides of each chicken breast with 1 teaspoon salt and refrigerate, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Locking moisture into a piece of skinless meat also invites coating it with wet ingredients that will cook into a type of crust. I can vouch for plain yogurt. Mixed with lemon zest and lots of chopped, fresh herbs, it imparts richness and isn’t nearly as tangy as one would expect. When the proteins caramelize, they mellow and become almost sweet.

I’d also consider this recipe as a fitting repository for the tubs of prepared hummus that my husband likes to keep on hand. A longtime fan of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, he would appreciate the ease of preparing this dish all in one pan.

Tribune News Service photo

Hummus-Crusted Chicken on Vegetables

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 to 3 cups peeled and diced butternut squash

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 cup plain hummus (or you could try a flavored variety, such as red pepper)

1 lemon

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 450 F. Pour the oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add the squash and onions, stirring them around to coat with oil, then spread them in an even layer. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper to taste.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then place on top of vegetables. Cover each chicken breast with some of the hummus, spreading to edges. Squeeze juice from the lemon over entire dish, then sprinkle with the smoked paprika.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, hummus coating is lightly browned and vegetables are fork-tender.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from www.gimmesomeoven.com

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Festival’s fine cheeses just fine in grilled cheese

Oregon’s finest cheeses, and a few from farther afield, will once again be the star attraction of a weekend festival in Central Point.

The 13th annual Oregon Cheese Festival kicks off Friday, with the multicourse Cheese and Winemakers Dinner at Larks Inn at the Commons. A few tickets remained midweek for the perennially popular event.

Two days of cheese and artisan-foods sampling are set for Saturday and Sunday at Rogue Creamery on Central Point’s North Front Street. Festivities also include wine, beer, kids’ activities, classes and even cheese sculpting.

Fine cheeses purchased at the festival need little more than good bread to complement them. The simple perfection of grilled cheese was lauded in a 2015 post in which the Creamery’s cheesemonger explained his process of elimination for crafting the most appealing sandwich.

While I’ve relished the Creamery’s plain-Jane grilled cheese, I do enjoy a few thoughtful accents to cheese. This sandwich pairs one of my favorite cheeses with one of my favorite greens and adds an unconventional “jam,” one of the only ways I’d condescend to consuming onions on a sandwich. Onion jam is available a specialty markets, including the Creamery’s cheese shop and from purveyors at this week’s festival.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Cheese With Onion Jam

Brush 4 slices of rustic Italian bread with olive oil on 1 of their sides; arrange slices, oiled side down, on a work surface. Spread 2 slices with onion jam; top with slices of taleggio cheese. Mound fresh escarole, cut in ribbons, on top; season with salt and pepper. Close sandwiches with other 2 slices of bread.

Cook sandwiches in a skillet, turning once and pressing with a spatula to compact, until bread is golden-brown and cheese melts, for 6 to 8 minutes total. Makes 2 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “The Epicurious Cookbook.”

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Convenience foods make for mealtime ‘cheats’

I’m embarrassed to admit how many cans came into play for a recent weeknight dinner.

A change in plans put off the dish I had planned to make — tostadas — with freshly poached chicken breast, fresh-fried tortillas, quick-pickled cabbage and ripe avocado. Between the two mealtimes, we consumed some of the chicken, so I needed to augment our protein.

Canned pinto beans in my pantry were an obvious fix, and a nearby can of corn was sure to please my husband’s palate. Spying yet another can — green-chili enchilada sauce — I considered making enchiladas instead of tostadas. But that dish would eliminate the crunch that I was craving from the tortillas.

So I devised what I’m calling “cheater’s chimichanga.” Instead of filling tortillas, deep-frying the whole package and smothering it in sauce, I simply rolled up the chicken/beans/corn filling inside flour tortillas, puffed and bubbly in hot oil, and topped each with some of the sauce enriched with half-and-half and cream cheese. If I can’t be bothered to deep-fry, I definitely can’t be bothered to make béchamel.

And perhaps not surprisingly, this mish-mash was a hit with husband and kids alike. As my husband and I hashed over ways to tweak the preparation, my mind returned to this recipe, which I spied several weeks back on the food wire.

Refrigerated crescent rolls are among the convenience foods that I’ve taken to keeping on hand at my husband’s behest. They get even more mileage since we’ve had kids, who are coming to like pigs ‘n blankets almost as much as their dad does.

This Latin-inspired recipe, also utilizing a couple of canned items, would furnish another use for crescent rolls (I would stick with full-fat). Along with all those tortilla-chip crumbs in the bottom of the bag.

Tribune News Service photo

Enchilada Ring

3 1/2 to 4 cups cooked shredded chicken

1 small (4-ounce) can sliced black olives

1 1/2 cups reduced-fat shredded Monterey jack/cheddar cheese blend, divided

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies, undrained

3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder, hot or mild, or to taste

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1 cup favorite salsa, divided

2/3 cup finely crushed tortilla chips, divided

2 packages (8 ounces each) reduced-fat crescent rolls

1 teaspoon canola oil

Sour cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, mix the chicken, olives, 1 1/4 cups of the cheese, the green chilies, mayonnaise, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, black pepper, lime juice and 1/4 cup of the salsa. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the crushed tortilla chips and mix remaining into chicken mixture.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or have ready a baking stone.

Sprinkle reserved crushed chips over a large cutting board. Unroll the crescent rolls, do not separate and place dough onto chips, pressing down so chips adhere to dough.

Separate dough into triangles. Arrange triangles, chip side down, in a circle on baking sheet or stone. Wide ends should overlap in center, and points should be toward outside. There should be about a 5-inch-diameter opening in center.

Scoop the chicken mixture onto wide ends leaving about a 1/4-inch space from opening. Bring points of triangles up over filling and tuck securely under wide ends. Do not cover filling completely. It should show a bit between each triangle.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden-brown. Brush with the canola oil and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese during last 5 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before slicing.

Serve with remaining 3/4 cup salsa and, if desired, and the sour cream.

Makes 16 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from the Pampered Chef.

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Beer-baked macaroni recipe boasts 5 cheeses

Mac-n-cheese topped with crab, shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, chilies — all have become as mainstream as cheese-sauced noodles to accompany craft beer. I usually joke when visiting a new brew pub that the menu must have mac-n-cheese, or it’s not a bona fide brewery.

But how about macaroni and cheese baked with the beer? I’m sure it’s been done plenty, but I don’t recall seeing it at any of the brew pubs I frequent. Here’s the proof from Denver’s Rackhouse Pub, which allowed the Los Angeles Times in 2010 to publish its recipe boasting five cheeses. Local brew pubs take note.

Tribune News Service photo

Beer-Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup amber beer

2 cups half-and-half

1/2 pound Brie cheese

16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese

1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1 (16-ounce) box penne pasta, cooked and drained

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs

Heat oven to 350 F.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a light roux. Slowly whisk in the beer and half-and-half.

Add the Brie and cream cheese to sauce, stirring until cheeses are melted and incorporated. Stir in the Gorgonzola, cheddar and 1 cup of the Parmesan.

Stir in the pasta, taste and adjust seasonings as desired with the salt and pepper (some cheeses will be salty, and mixture may need only a little salt, if any).

Pour mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top mixture by sprinkling over remaining Parmesan cheese and the panko crumbs. Place dish in preheated oven and bake until sauce is bubbly and toppings are crisp and golden, for about 1 hour.

Cool slightly before serving.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

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Indispensable crab cakes celebrate Dungeness

A local, French-inspired bistro’s macaroni and cheese furnished one of my first tastes of this season’s Dungeness crab.

Although there were several plump fry legs topping the gratin with plenty more shredded crab and caramelized bacon, I hardly got my fill. Usually this late in the new year, my family already should have spent some time on the South Coast partaking in the seasonal bounty of fresh-caught Dungeness. But we’re still waiting for an ideal travel window.

Our family crab feeds, mentioned in previous posts, are purist affairs. Just firm, succulent crabs, still warm from the pot; tables lined with paper towels atop newspapers to soak up all the juice; a few sturdy utensils designed for dismantling shellfish; some slabs of garlic toast for variety; and lots and LOTS of melted butter (Tabasco optional).

Once we’ve eaten our fill, at least a couple of crabs remain, often earmarked for our family-favorite Creamy Crab and Egg Bake. When I bring a portion home to the Rogue Valley, the sky’s the limit: pasta, wontons, fried rice, salads or any dish that shows off the crab and, therefore, justifies my effort to pick it from the shells.

This crab cake recipe, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, is an indispensable Pacific Northwest rendition that definitely takes crab to the next level.

Sizzling Dungeness Crab Cakes

Tribune News Service photo

Crab Cakes:

1/4 cup butter

3 tablespoons minced onions

3 tablespoons minced carrots

3 tablespoons minced celery

2 tablespoons minced yellow bell peppers

2 tablespoons minced red bell peppers

2 tablespoons minced green bell peppers

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 pound Dungeness crabmeat (or favorite crabmeat)

1 egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups flour

1 2/3 cups egg wash (3 eggs mixed with 1 cup milk)

4 cups panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs)

3/4 cup clarified butter

Thai Sweet-and-Sour Sauce:

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon peeled and minced, fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon finely minced garlic

Thai Beurre Blanc Sauce:

1 cup white wine

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely minced shallots

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 1/2 cups butter, unsalted, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/2 teaspoon salt, sea or kosher

1 cup Thai sweet-and-sour sauce (from recipe above)

To prepare the crab cakes: Heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and bell peppers, saute until tender. Add the heavy cream and let volume reduce slightly. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and let it cool for 5 minutes.

Add the crabmeat, egg yolk, pepper and salt.

Put the flour, egg wash and panko breadcrumbs in 3 separate pans for breading procedure.

Portion and form crab-cake mix into 24 (1-ounce) balls.

Start breading process by first dusting crab-cake ball with flour. Quickly dip crab-cake ball into egg wash and then place into panko crumbs. Gently press and mold crumbs into cake, forming a 1/2-inch-thick, round patty.

Heat the clarified butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, and pan-fry crab cakes on both sides until exterior is golden-brown. Remove crab cakes from pan and keep warm.

To prepare the Thai sweet-and-sour sauce: In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and 4 tablespoons water, mix well and set mixture aside.

Combine all the other ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until sauce reaches 180 F. Add cornstarch mixture and cook for 5 minutes or until sauce has a slightly thick texture.

To prepare the Thai beurre blanc sauce: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the wine, vinegar and shallots and reduce volume to a light syrup consistency, for about 10 minutes. Add the cream and reduce volume by about half over medium-high heat.

Slowly add and whip in the butter cubes over low heat until they are melted. Strain sauce through a fine-mesh strainer, then add the salt and the Thai sweet-and-sour sauce.

To serve: Sauce front of each of 8 plates with Thai beurre blanc sauce. Transfer and arrange 3 crab cakes around outer edge of each plate on sauce. Garnish plates with pickled ginger and daikon radish sprouts. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from John Howie, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar, Bellevue, Wash.

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Fluffy semifreddo lightens up dark chocolate

Chocolate lovers are descending on Ashland this weekend for the 13th annual Oregon Chocolate Festival.

The festival has been celebrated in this blog frequently over the years, including the several I served as a judge at the event. As I’ve raved about some of my favorite chocolate products, I’ve also seeded the discussion with some of the best chocolate recipes I’ve encountered.

Previous posts have focused on chocolate cake, tart, mousse, cookies and cupcakes. But just as I prefer my chocolate dark, I also prefer it in small doses. Lighter desserts do much to tempt my taste for cocoa.

This fluffy, light semifreddo would fill the bill. And it keeps long enough in the freezer that I could eat a bit at a time for two weeks running. Or serve it up for your next chocolate-loving crowd.

Tribune News Service photo

Chocolate Semifreddo

1 cup heavy cream

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/4 cup whole milk

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

6 ounces dark chocolate, between 70 percent and 80 percent, chopped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon salt

Line a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap.

Using an electric mixer at high speed, beat the heavy cream in a large bowl until soft mounds are created. Set in refrigerator.

Clean and dry beaters. In a saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer over low heat.

In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, milk and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Set it over saucepan with water and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed, scraping and stirring almost continuously, until thickened and pale, for about 6 minutes.

Remove bowl from saucepan with water (maintain water at a simmer). To bowl, add the chocolate and vanilla extract; whisk until smooth.

Clean and dry beaters. Set another bowl over simmering water. Add the egg whites, salt and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed, stirring and scrapping continuously, until fluffy and marshmallowy, for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue beating to room temperature until shiny, for about 5 minutes.

Fold egg-yolk mixture into egg-white mixture, with even strokes, just until uniform. Fold in whipped cream, taking care not to deflate its air but getting it well-combined throughout.

Pour and scrape this mixture into prepared loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 12 hours. Store, covered, in freezer for up to 2 weeks.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “A la Mode: 120 Recipes in 60 Pairings” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, (St. Martin’s Griffin; June 2016).

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Chocolate-mint cookies ooze flavor familiarity

Playing nicely on the same plate comes easier to some foods than others. In the hands of the right chef (or home cook), however, a dish of disparate ingredients can be more than the sum of its parts, or so this week’s A la Carte story ventured.

But if the concept falls too far outside a cook’s comfort zone, the familiar is always within easy reach. For me, squares of dark chocolate with mint tea have become as indispensable as wine with cheese or bread with butter.

While both cocoa and mint can swing to the sweet or savory ends of the flavor spectrum, together they’re almost exclusively sweet, with most of the combination’s variation coming from texture: crunchy chocolate-peppermint bark, crispy-chewy Thin Mints or velvety yet tongue-tingly hot cocoa. These ooey-gooey cookies, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, are another for that list.

Tribune News Service photo

Midnight Mints

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut up

2 eggs at room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup flour

20 to 40 Andes mints, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Break up the unsweetened chocolate into a bowl. Toss with the butter. Microwave just to melt, for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir. Let cool to room temperature.

Crack the eggs into bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the sugar and vanilla. Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt. Beat until thick and pale, for about 5 minutes. Pour in chocolate mixture; beat on low until combined. Sprinkle in the flour; beat on low until combined.

Line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1 3/4-inch-diameter ice-cream scoop to portion out 20 domes of dough. Press 1 or 2 of the mints into each cookie.

Slide pan(s) into a preheated oven and bake until just set, for about 7 minutes. Enjoy warm.

Makes 20 cookies.

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It’s high time for high-quality Hass avocados

In this in-between season for so many fruits, one at least lends fresh-picked status to produce sections.

California’s Hass avocados, widely considered the tastiest, come on strong in March and persist through summer. Fall is time for Florida’s Fuerte before Mexico’s Hass take the helm in midwinter. In the season’s short gaps, Chilean and Peruvian specimens supply the U.S. market in hit-or-miss fashion.

My household has been making do for months, it seems, with subpar avocados. The fruits, for several reasons, are among my few concessions to year-round consumption. Thick skins make avocados good travelers — even across the globe — and good keepers when stored at cold temperatures. They can hang on the tree for months before being picked and, fortunately for farmers and retailers, ripen off the tree.

But undersized fruits with musty aroma and stringy flesh are all too common before the domestic harvest finally gets underway. Now that it’s ramping up, the large Hass can be had for about a dollar apiece and promise creamy texture and superior savory flavor.

When they’re plentiful, inexpensive (relatively speaking) and this good, avocados can take the lead in my meal planning. Stocking some pantry staples — canned beans, tortillas, cabbage and lime juice — allows for impromptu meals once an avocado attains the perfect degree of ripeness.

To go with them, uncooked tortillas are a favorite product that I’ve started purchasing within the past year. Available in grocers’ refrigerator sections, Tortilla Land tortillas produced by Tyson Foods cook in 60 seconds, either in a dry skillet or in hot oil.

Like a delicious avocado, a bit of extra expense for fresh tortillas (compared with already cooked) elevates otherwise simple dishes, such as these tostadas, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. It comes from The Spinster Sisters restaurant in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Tribune News Service photo

Spinster Sisters Tostadas

1 (28-ounce) can black beans

3 1/2 cups thinly shredded raw cabbage

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons lime juice

Canola oil, as needed

Salt, for sprinkling

6 small corn tortillas (about 5 or 6 inches in diameter)

1/4 crumbled Cotija cheese

Salsa verde (recipe follows)

1 ripe avocado, halved pitted and sliced

Pour the beans (and liquid) into a medium saucepan. Set over medium-low heat and let cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare remaining ingredients. Add a little water if beans look dry.

In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, radishes and cilantro. Dress with the lime juice, 2 tablespoons canola oil and a little salt.

Into a heavy skillet, pour canola oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. Set over medium-high heat. Fry the tortillas, 1 at a time, until crisp, for about 20 seconds per side. Drain on kitchen towels.

Set tortillas on a platter. Top each with some beans and sprinkle with some of the cheese. Pile on cabbage salad. Finish with a spoonful of the salsa and a few slices of the avocado. Serve with additional salsa.

Makes 6 tostadas, 3 servings.

SALSA VERDE: Place 6 husked tomatillos in a saucepan; fill with cold water to cover. Simmer until tomatillos turn from spring green to olive drab, for 5 to 8 minutes. Drain. Halve and seed 1 serrano chili. Slice one-quarter of a peeled yellow onion. In a dry, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, cook chili and onion until charred, for about 4 minutes. In a blender jar, swirl tomatillos, chilies, onions, one-quarter bunch of cilantro (leaves and tender stems) and 1 ½ teaspoons salt.

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Sweet-savory pear bread bridges fruit seasons

The appeal of strawberries arrayed in chocolate for Valentine’s Day is hard to resist. Even when the actual berries are literally pale shadows of their early-summer selves. And their flavor is more of a sour counterpoint to the chocolate rather than sweet complement.

Better to wait a few more months for fresh berries, or so I told my preschool-age son last week at the grocery store when he plucked a clamshell of blueberries from a cooler. That’s easier said than done, however, when fruits of numerous varieties aren’t at their best.

The domestic citrus harvest is still on in some spots and for some varieties. But we’ve been eating them since before Christmas.

Apples and pears still are emerging from cold storage with most of their attributes intact. But I’ve also brought home not a few of the latter that never attain luscious ripeness at room temperature. The starkrimson variety, in particular, has disappointed, despite its red hue that all but promises a stellar eating experience.

For bland, underripe pears, my solution is simply to stew them with some sugar, lemon zest, almond extract and a few spices. This quick compote is a welcome counterpoint to sausages, roasted root vegetables and cheeses.

If I wanted to infuse the fruit with even more flavor, this quick bread would be the ticket. Redolent of ginger, nutmeg and fresh sage, it straddles sweet and savory and nicely bridges the seasons.

Tribune News Service photo

Pear, Sage and Hazelnut Bread

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 sage stalks, leaves stripped

1 cup chopped and toasted hazelnuts

3/4 cup rolled oats

1 2/3 cups plain all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 cup light brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3 medium ripe pears, peeled and cored, 2 grated and 1 sliced to decorate

1 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 340 F (see note). Butter and flour a 4-by-10-inch loaf pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat together with the sage leaves. You don’t want to burn butter; just heat it until it starts to brown and sage leaves turn a little crispy. Remove from heat but keep in a warm place so butter remains liquid.

In a large bowl, mix the hazelnuts with the remaining dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, break the eggs, add the grated pear, yogurt, vanilla extract and warm sage butter; whisk together well. Gradually add dry mixture to wet, stirring together well, to form a heavy, wet dough halfway between a thick cake batter and a bread dough. Add a little more flour if dough is looking a bit wet or a little extra yogurt (1 tablespoon at a time) if too dry.

Spoon dough into prepared loaf pan and smooth top of dough with back of a spoon. Arrange pear slices on top and sprinkle over a few teaspoons of brown sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, spread with butter and alongside coffee. This toasts beautifully the next day, like banana bread, and will keep for up to a week in a sealed bag in the fridge.

Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: If you can’t set oven to 340 F, bake bread at 350 F for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once bread has been in oven for 60 minutes, keep checking it every 5 minutes until it is done.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from “Nordic Light: Lighter, Everyday Eating From a Scandinavian Kitchen” by Simon Bajada, (Hardie Grant Books; August 2016, $39.99).

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This bar cookie embraces chocolate with lemon

Rarely enthralled by chocolate, I tend to feel a tad excluded on Valentine’s Day.

While I appreciate good-quality dark chocolate one square at a time, or maybe a single, velvety truffle, my friends and family know only too well that I prefer my sweets in fruit flavors rather than cocoa nine times out of 10.

Desserts that incorporate fruit and chocolate — cherries, raspberries and banana in particular — do deserve my consideration. But chocolate with lemon? How does that work?

The answer comes by way of this bar cookie, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Arthi Subramaniam. Crushed chocolate wafer cookies compose the crust for a filling with plenty of pucker power, owing to finely grated lemon zest.

Could this unconventional combination actually tempt chocoholics? My best test subjects are two young boys who unfailingly can be coerced into compliance with chocolate. Yet they both famously love to suck lemon wedges. Given those tastes, these treats could become a new family favorite.

Tribune News Service photo

Lemon Bars

2 cups crushed chocolate cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted

1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened

3 egg yolks

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/4 cup powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lay 2 sheets of parchment paper in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Combine the crushed cookies and melted butter. Press crust mixture into bottom of prepared pan.

Bake crust in preheated oven for about 15 minutes.

While crust is baking, make filling by whisking together the cream cheese, egg yolks, condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let mixture rest for a few minutes to allow some air bubbles rise to surface.

Pour filling into warm crust. Place pan back into oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until filling has set.

Remove from oven and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 16 bars.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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