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Coffee Crunch Bars

Hello, my name is Claire and I’m addicted to Coffee Crunch Bars. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have company. These could easily be renamed Crack Crunch Bars. Rich and crumbly, dark with the taste of toffee and espresso, studded with nuts, a cookie to quiet all the demon devils inside. These are not in the soft and melty category, nor do they fall in the crisp and chewy one, more like biscotti is what I think. They scream to be dunked, milk would do, but coffee…now coffee is the way to go. They’re perfect to pack in a lunch for an afternoon snack or to take on the road with you. I sprinkled some Fleur de Sel (but any coarse salt you have would do) over the top before I baked them and it’s a great addition, now they have everything, coffee and toffee, and chocolate and salt. These are seriously crunchy, seriously good, and you should make them. But I’m warning you, you might be standing before the room telling your tale of addiction before you know it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ūüôā

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And we’re back. ¬†Long overdue, with not an absence note in hand, nor a good excuse to be found. Sorry about that. I’m starting out easy, getting back into the rhythm, getting the mojo back. I’ve missed all of you. This is my go to recipe for veggies in the winter. You can make this without thinking about a recipe. The chopping and mixing is soothing, and I find that by the time I pop the tray into the oven, I’ve relaxed, my mind has relaxed and I’m ready to jump into the fray.

You know my fondness for roasted vegetables. ¬†Okay, fondness might be misleading, obsession is closer to the truth. ¬†Now that the cooler temps have arrived this obsessive compulsion has kicked into overdrive. ¬†The morning checklist often starts with coffee….check, feed the cat……check, turn on the oven……check. ¬†Wait, what am I cooking? Oh, right, nothing yet, haven’t made it to the store to buy the next cache of veggies. ¬†Turn off the oven…..check. ¬†There are very few things left in the veggie aisle of the local market that haven’t made their way into my oven. ¬†Well, artichokes haven’t, and radish. ¬†(I did have braised radish this summer, what a revelation!) But every manner of squash, bean, and root have. ¬†Along with fruit. ¬†All kinds of fruit. ¬†Apples of course, and I’m currently in love with roasted citrus. ¬†But this is about roasted butternut, apples and onions.

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I know, I know, where the hell have I been? Nowhere and everywhere it seems. Except here. Where I want to be and need to be. I totally got overwhelmed and lost my way. I’m sorry. This is the year that all my loved ones have decided to visit Denver. It’s been so great to see everyone, and so long since I’ve seen them in some instances that I just couldn’t slip away for a few hours and cook and take pictures and write. I know I could of written about what I was doing but I have to try that out a few times before I’m comfortable posting here. I’ve had a few oral surgery things to deal with, and honestly, a wonderful vacation with Prince Charming.

Somewhere between all of that, I missed the summer. All that beautiful golden sunlight slid right through my fingers leaving just a soft shiny powder to blow off my fingers and watch it float away on the fall breeze.

The crisp air and changing light have got me motivated. There are things I need to get done before the snow starts to fly and we snuggle in the for winter. Small things, easy things, things to freeze and store away so that those cold evenings don’t feel so far away from the balmy, sweet breezes we’re missing. I’ll be back. Promise. With fresh butter to make, and duck to confit, and pastry fixin’s to freeze. A few things to take care of and in a few days I’ll be here to play. I’ll be looking for you!

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Beet Napoleon

For a long time I hated beets. I’m sure, no I know, that was because the only ones I had were out of a can. Pickled or Harvard style which is sweet and sour. I’m still not a fan of the Harvard style, but I will eat pickled beets on occasion. It was in a restaurant in Chicago, I don’t remember which one now, where I took a bite of Prince Charming’s beet and goat cheese salad. I had no idea that beets tasted that good! From that moment on, fresh beets have always had a place in my kitchen. ¬†Through trial and error I found out that the way I like them best is roasted (but of course). I make them year round, will eat them in salads, warm or cold, just plain on a plate with salt, or in soup. What I wanted was a preparation that would let them be a bit more “center stage” so I hit the inter-webs. I came across several recipes for beet Napoleons and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to do a little riff of my own so I took my favorite things about the Napoleons I read about and the best parts of my favorite salads and came up with this. Beet Napoleons with fig and goat cheese, drizzled with a lemon mustard vinaigrette. The beets of course are naturally sweet, the fig and goat cheese is creamy and rich, sweet yet with that distinctive goat cheese tang. The lemon mustard vinaigrette give it an acidic boost with enough mustard to balance the sweetness. These would be beautiful as an appetizer, or tiny baby ones would be a lovely amuse bouche. Give them a try!

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Pluot & Rosemary Jam

These are organic Pluot plums. They are a cross between a plum and an apricot and one I just can’t resist. ¬†They have a small window of availability here which means I’m scooping up more than I can eat because each year I’m determined to cook with them. ¬†So far, while I’ve enjoyed all the things I’ve made with them, I end up thinking the best thing to do with them is just eat them. While I was standing at the counter choosing my fruit, a warm pluot in hand, I remembered reading last year about a jam made with pluots that had herbs and pepper in it. So home to the stack of cooking magazines and shelves of cookbooks. After a few tries (I know, I can’t believe it either!) I found it. Gourmet magazine, yes I still miss it, had an article about pluots with several different ideas and recipes to try with them. This jam is a wonder and plays the lush sweetness and gentle tang of the fruit perfectly against the bite of pepper and soft herbal astringency. It’s fabulous with cheese which is all I’ve gotten to try it with so far. I’m thinking that it would be great over sweet cream ice cream, and I’m betting (and will absolutely try this) it will be a killer glaze for pork. If for no other reason, the color alone is worth making it for.

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The bins are filling up at the Farmer’s Markets. Here in Colorado we’re a bit later with our crops, so we’re seeing the baby onions, beets, and carrots in heaping mounds on tables. ¬†The new garlic and garlic scapes are finishing, fava’s are here, and lettuces from the palest green to the deepest reds abound. My favorite time of the year. Summer. (I think I might actually say that about every season, but now, summer is my fav.) I’m so happy to be back at the Farmer’s Market, I just can’t find the words. Every visit is a new adventure. Everytime I find something that makes me happy inside. As usual, I buy too much. This time is was baby onions. Sweet, tender, little baby red onions. I sliced them into everything I ate. I still had a bunch left. So I fell back onto my default way of making vegetables all year long. Roasting. Now I love to grill them too, and they’re wonderful anyway you want to prepare them, but my heart belongs to roasted vegetables. J’adore. There’s not a long story to tell here, I don’t have a history with baby onions, nor do I think that this preparation is anything that’s never been done before. But if YOU haven’t made roasted baby onions, or just roasted onions with balsamic, you need to. It’s a must. Go!

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Finally, finally we are headlong into summer. ¬†It was 98, wow it’s hot, burning your hands on the steering wheel, sleep with the air conditioning on, degrees here the other day. Huzzah! Summer! We’re finally seeing some “local” signs plastered on the front of the bins at the grocery. ¬†The farmer’s markets stalls are getting more abundant and colorful each week. I’m making icy drinks and watching the condensation run down the glass and puddle on the table. ¬†Thin cotton and linen. Bare feet. Nights on the balcony, wine in hand watching the stars and the moths helplessly throw themselves against the screen trying to get to the light. I like to take late night drives around my neighborhood and see the people gathered on the their front porches,talking and watching the cars drive by. Folks lingering at outdoor tables at restaurants and kids hanging in small groups laughing and telling each other tales. As the earth yields her colors and bright tastes, we seem to become more open ourselves. We’re out there, drinking in the warmth, reaching towards and connecting with each other. The seasons are magical to me, and summer is everyone holding hands, faces to the sun, smelling peaches and corn and peppers.

But wait! ¬†This is about melons, right? ¬†Yeah, melons. ¬†Most of the time, I just cut those babies open and eat them. No adornments necessary. Watermelon most of all. Just looking at watermelons makes me think of being little, at a picnic table with friends, having giant slices of watermelon on paper plates. Biting right into the middle, each end reaching almost to your ears, juice streaking every chin and neck, hands to elbows. Oh, and smiles as big as those slices. Great stuff. Well, this is a bit more sophisticated. A little more nuanced and complex. Don’t worry, it’s still fun. Fun! Watermelon! Yeah! Right, right, cool and sophisticated, and really, really de-ee-e-lish. (more…)

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Quietly last November, a shop opened in Lodo that I think should have been accompanied by fireworks, bands playing, and lines of people. ¬†The name of the shop is EVOO Marketplace. Yes, EVOO, but this is beyond the stuff that Rachel Ray glugs over everything. Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar like you’ve never seen before. In all kinds of flavors, like Persian Lime and Wild Mushroom and Sage olive oils, a Honey-Ginger and a Dark Chocolate Balsamic. ¬†Mick and Carolyn Major, the creative minds behind this exciting venture will pair oils and vinegar together in combinations that will send you into a dream state just thinking of all things you’ll want to put it on. ¬†The store is a gem, with high ceiling and brick walls, and lots of room to walk around the banks of stainless steel “fusti” that the oils and vinegar are kept in.

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For 15 years, I’ve been looking for a meatball as good as the ones my ex-mother-in-law made. ¬†As far as I’m concerned they don’t exist. There were no secret ingredients, no magic potions, no unusual cooking tricks. Simple, straightforward meatballs. I can tell you what’s in them, ground beef (she preferred triple ground) italian seasoned breadcrumbs, water, salt, pepper, and a grate of romano cheese. She browned them in oil on all sides and plopped them in the pot of sauce to finish cooking. That’s it. I’ve done it a hundred times. I’ve made them start to finish with her standing next to me. They NEVER tasted as good. I was convinced that there was some chemical reaction that took place when she rolled them in her hands that was the difference. I have no explanation for it, it doesn’t make a bit of sense, but it’s true. When you put one of her meatballs in your mouth, the lights when off in your brain, all your senses stood up and paid attention, and you thought, “Ooohhhhh, this is what a meatball is supposed to taste like!” and then ate every one on your plate (and anyone else’s plate you could get them off). From that moment on, it’s over for you as far as meatballs are concerned. I’ve had them everywhere and nothing compares.

So, what do you do when faced with the knowledge that the best beef meatball is unobtainable? ¬†You look for different meatballs, made from other meats, in varying sizes, in endless combinations of ingredients. Let me tell you, there are some GREAT meatballs out there. This is a search that’s fun to be on. ¬†Ok, a bit more than a search. An obsession. A small, quiet, no one ever knew it existed obsession. Anyway. I have found some great ones. I found a lamb and risotto meatball that’s so good I’ll knock you off your chair to eat yours. A pork meatball so soft and yielding stuffed into a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich that will just floor you. Then there are these. Now I’m not sure they are in the category of the best thing ever, but they’re pretty damn good. I found them bookmarked in a last years copy of Gourmet (don’t you still miss that magazine?) and finally made them. They’re flavorful, with a lovely texture. Like me, I think you’ll going to think of so many things to put them in, and like me, look down and realize you ate four of them (I know, but I was hungry!) while you were daydreaming.

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.* I had everything I needed to make almost anything in the house. I couldn’t muster up even the slightest interest in cooking. When did this happen? I woke up a few mornings ago and after brushing my teeth stood in the kitchen thinking “Isn’t there anything here that doesn’t have to be cooked?” Huh? So not like me. No idea of why. Well, maybe I know. I had a bad week, cooking wise. I pulled out all the stops, buying the ingredients I needed for the recipes I had bookmarked, made sure I had the correct pots, pans and whatever else I needed. I arranged the week so plenty of time was available. It was downhill from there. Let me break it down for you. #1, disaster. #2, Meh, not good enough to talk about. #3, Great! But I forgot to take pictures. #4, I have no idea what that was in that pan. It overflowed and jacked my stove up, and the only thing in common that it had with the recipe was it was brown. Yeah. #5, Well I didn’t exactly get to #5. I got the stuff out, but the previous 4 had me shook, and I put it all away. I called for Thai take out and called it a day. Or week. Whichever, better to forget it all. So there you have it. I fell flat on my butt in the middle of the no cooking zone.

Late at night a day or so later, I was clicking my way through my favorite cooking blogs when my eye fell upon David Lebovitz’s post for an “Easy Jam Tart”. ¬†Looked good. Reading the recipe, it did look easy. After looking around a bit, it seemed all my favorite bloggers had made this recipe and all had been successful. In fact, the praise for the ease and simplicity of it was unanimous. Was this it? The one? Could this pull me out of the no cooking zone and back to my happy cooking self? I decided it was. All I needed was a sure thing to boost my confidence a bit. After a week like the one I had, can you blame me for being a bit wary of cooking? So, here’s the thing. They didn’t lie. It is that easy. It was really good. Sometimes you forget that baking (or cooking) doesn’t have to be complicated or hours on end involved. Sure, stretching your cooking chops is fun. Learning new methods and techniques is great. Occasionally you’re going to completely duff it. Just go back to simple. It will totally reset you. Make this. You can make this. Trust me, I’m a woman who knows how badly things can go in the kitchen. You can do this, you’re going to have fun doing it, and you’ll blush from all the compliments you’ll receive.

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