The Honey Search

IMG_0245

A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin and my son had a few similarities. First of all, William had an entourage of stuffed animal friends that came to life every night before bed time. He especially loved the stories of the bossy, but often ignorant cat named “Kitty”, the sweet, loving and naive dalmatian dog, “Goodley” and the brilliant voice of reason, “Mack” the dolphin. I cannot help but laugh as I recall the banter of Kitty and Goodley referring to Mack as a fish and Mack feeling so insulted. And then a time when the tooth fairy left a note requesting that “the mean cat be crated” on the nights of her visits.

IMG_0248

Will’s Room

The similarities don’t stop there. For those who knew Will doesn’t this passage from the book describing Pooh and Christopher Robin’s search for honey remind you of him?

“Well, you both went out with the blue balloon, and you took your gun with you, just in case, as you always did, and Winnie-the-Pooh went to a very muddy place that he knew of, and rolled and rolled until he was black all over; and then, when the balloon was blown up as big as big, and you and Pooh were both holding on to the string, you let go suddenly, and Poor Bear floated gracefully up into the sky”

A change washed over me this week. Call it a divine intervention and a lifting up of my heart. It started with me waking up in the middle of the night laughing out loud. This kind of dream has never ever happened to me before. In the dream, I was simply recalling a very funny story from years ago. The kind that makes you laugh so hard it takes your breath away and the tears begin to trickle down your cheeks. I haven’t laughed like that in…well you know. For the record it felt good to wake feeling so light-hearted. It was indeed bittersweet as I felt that bear hug coming around my shoulders, but this time I was being held by more than him.

IMG_0249

William on his 4th birthday with his new friend, Kitty

Bitter and sweet is a great combination when it comes to cooking. I do believe I promised you a recipe using honey, so here we go. Combined with the bitterness of espresso this crispy baklava drenched in a honey syrup is just right for sharing and making sweet memories with someone you love.

IMG_0777

Don’t be afraid of the fillo dough. It’s easier to use than you think as long as you follow the box instructions for thawing and keeping it covered as you prepare the recipe.

IMG_0988

Chocolate Espresso Baklava

8 ounces roasted & salted pistachio nuts

8 ounces chopped almonds

1 (12 oz.) bag semisweet chocolate chips

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 roll (20 sheets) Athens Fillo Dough, thawed

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, melted

1 ¾ cups water

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

juice of ½ lemon

¾ cup honey

Heat the oven to 350°. Place pistachio nuts in food processor; pulse until chopped. Add almonds, chocolate chips, ½ cup of sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest; pulse until nuts and chocolate are finely chopped and same size. Unwrap fillo dough and cover with a damp paper towel. Butter a 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan. Butter and stack 10 sheets of fillo into the pan. Sprinkle about 2 cups of the filling over the fillo. Gently shake the pan to even the layer of filling. Butter and stack 4 more fillo sheets and place over the filling. Sprinkle on another 2 cups of the filling. Top with 4 more buttered and stacked sheets of fillo and 2 more cups of filling. Butter and stack remaining sheets of fillo dough and place over the filling. Brush top generously with butter. Cut through all layers into about 3-inch squares and then cut each square into 2 triangles.

Bake for 25 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 300° and bake for 50 minutes longer or until until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, bring the water, espresso powder, lemon juice, honey and remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully pour the hot syrup evenly over the hot baklava and let stand for several hours or as long as overnight until completely cool. Makes 36 pieces.

IMG_0654

 

Angels Among Us & Cinnamon Bun Cookies

IMG_8621

I always knew my cooking contest friend, Patrice, was special. Over the course of many years, I came to know and admire her through her award winning recipes. The lady from Minnesota could bake and cook like no other. Having learned from her much-loved elders, Patrice had developed a beautiful appreciation for authentic ethnic ingredients and time-consuming procedures like stretching strudel dough. She had what I like to call “the knack”. Great instincts when it comes to baking are a gift and Patrice had that.

1900614_629857087088306_5105076005888303217_o

Patrice stretching strudel dough

1900614_629857083754973_62160570898697816_o

stretched, filled and rolling strudel dough at Patrice’s house

When I learned that Patrice would be competing with me at The National Festival of Breads I was thrilled to finally have the chance to meet and spend time with her. Turns out that Patrice is extraordinary. Her loving instincts go far beyond her baking. She is truly a walking, talking angel on this earth. Her heart is the kind that knows what people need when they don’t know what they need themselves.

IMG_6007By now you may recognize Patrice as the friend who made me the WHOOSH heart. She gave it to me in Kansas. It is the most beautiful symbol of my son and it goes everywhere I go. How did she know? I am telling you the lady is special.

IMG_1494

So, it came as no surprise when I learned of Patrice’s latest project. She volunteers in her local hospital’s PETAL program; Parents Embracing Time After Loss. Patrice is sewing burial gowns for stillborn babies. The gowns are made from gently used and deconstructed wedding dresses. As Patrice explains: “The theory is that a beautiful wedding dress is worn on a day filled with joy and happiness … and it possesses certain “magic. Wrapping that magic and physical love around a baby during its final moments and burial creates a human link in the circle of life and love.”

IMG_1480

I won’t lie. The thought of a mother choosing a burial gown instead of decorations for her baby’s nursery makes me sad, but when I asked Patrice why she got involved in such a program that big heart of hers just overflowed with this response, “I’ve always believed that mothers are the keepers of the universe, and that there could be no greater pain for a mother than the loss of a child – no matter how young, no matter how old – so I just knew that one day I would love to participate in a program like this.” And so she does. During this extremely difficult time, Patrice plays an important role in the love and support of these grieving families.

IMG_1477

Given little information to start Patrice participates with her whole heart and goes above and beyond what is expected. “The size of an actual preemie was a mystery to me, so I took a couple of small dolls to the maternity department and received some answers. A tiny 31-year old doll that had been a gift from my first daughter to her newborn sister provided the pattern for my dresses. A very early stillbirth results in a baby much too small for conventional preemie clothes, and these babies were usually wrapped in a small hospital blanket or washcloth. So, besides the preemie and full term gowns, there is also a need for a cocoon or wrap for the tiniest babies. While the satin was pretty, it seemed much too cold and harsh for a cocoon, so I lined the wraps with soft white fleece. While it’s an honor to create something like this, it’s a somber day of sewing. I’m always mindful of who these gowns and wraps are intended for, and I think about that with every stitch.” Yes, she is a walking, talking, sewing, crafting, baking angel and I am so fortunate to call her friend.

IMG_8608

Thank you Patrice for all you do to make this world a more loving and peaceful place and for sharing this special family-favorite award winning cookie recipe with Good Grief Cook. My husband can’t stop eating them.I am going to have to hide the rest or there will be none on the Christmas cookie tray this year. ❤

Patrice’s Cinnamon Bun Cookies

3 cups flour (lightly spoon flour into cup and level off)

1-teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons (1 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. vanilla extract

For filling

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

For icing

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (2 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 cups powdered sugar

To prepare dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; reserve. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and cream cheese until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and mix until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla extract, and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing just until smooth dough is formed. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces and flatten into disks, cover in plastic wrap and chill while preparing filling. To prepare filling: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt until smooth. Remove 1 dough disk and place on a piece of waxed paper dusted with powdered sugar*. Roll or press dough to a 9- by 12-inch rectangle dusting with additional powdered sugar to prevent sticking. Dot teaspoon-size pieces of filling over half of dough (using half of filling) and use the back of a spoon to evenly spread filling across top of dough. Beginning with 1 long edge, gently roll up dough, peeling away bottom layer of paper and taking care not to allow cracks in dough to appear.

Place dough seam-side down (and gently stretch from center outward to form a 12-inch long roll, if necessary). Using a sharp knife, cut roll in half. Wrap dough logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight. Repeat with remaining dough and filling (dough may be covered well and frozen; thaw in refrigerator before baking).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap dough logs and, using a sharp knife, trim off uneven ends. Cut dough into 1/2-inch slices and place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are just set and edges barely begin to brown, about 8 to 9 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare icing: Meanwhile, while cookies are in the oven, combine butter, cream cheese, salt, vanilla extract and almond extract in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Beat until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and mix until smooth.

When cookies are still warm, top each cookie with about 1 1/2 teaspoons icing, and gently spread icing across top of cookie (or fill a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and pipe icing over cookies). Cool cookies completely, then refrigerate until icing sets. Store cookies in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator, and serve at room temperature.

Note: I added the powdered sugar dusting technique which made for easier rolling for me. Patrice says you can also just crumble the cookie dough out on wax paper or parchment and press it into shape then smooth over the top with rolling pin. And if you compare her original recipe to today’s version the baking soda has been eliminated.

IMG_8609

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving Over From the Dark Side

IMG_8535Charlie Brown is well known for his line, “Good Grief”, but how about these lines from the famous holiday movie, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” Charlie Brown, of course, is not alone. When the world wants all to celebrate what are those who are new to grief or continue to struggle with it to do?

William & Deacon

Personally, navigating grief every day of the week is hard, but surviving the holidays takes a special kind of strength. The real strength is knowing your heart, being honest with yourself and understanding that your grief is unique to you. With an open mind and your loved one in your heart you can choose to grow and heal through the season.

100_2411

Move over from the dark side and find comfort in knowing your loved one is still with you. He/she will always be a part of you. Bake those favorite cookies from the past. Trim the tree today with those old ornaments that bring tears and some new ones that bring smiles. It’s ok to treasure the past while starting some new traditions surrounded by those who love and support you….. and bring you wine! Good Grief, always remember as you move into the future you are never alone. Cheers to hope and a more joyful tomorrow.

IMG_8538

When it comes to cooking with chicken I have learned a way to move over from the dark side. For years, all I ever bought was dark meat because I could count on those thighs cooking up juicy and tender. On the other hand, those gigantic (what the heck are they feeding those birds) chicken breasts usually cooked up dry and flavorless no matter what technique I followed. Then Cooks Illustrated mentioned marinating chicken in baking soda. Ah, I love chemistry. Apparently, the alkalinity of baking soda raises the pH on the surface of the meat causing the protein to react in a way that allows the chicken to retain its juices rather than leaching out in the cooking process. The result is succulent white meat that cooks up especially well with stir-fry technique. So go ahead and buy those, on sale all the time, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but don’t forget to marinate them for a little while in a little baking soda. You are welcome!

 

Here is my fresh take on an old favorite including the most flavorful and juicy white chicken ever in a mild all-American chili. In addition to white chicken I am using flavorful Bush’s Best white chili beans. This recipe will be entered in #BushsChiliCookOff.

IMG_8532

Stir-Fry Style White Chicken Chili

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1-teaspoon baking soda

1 large onion, chopped

2-poblano peppers, seeded, diced

1 sweet red bell pepper, seeded, diced

2 cloves, garlic, minced

1 (32 oz.) container low-sodium chicken broth

2 (15.5 oz.) cans Bush’s Best White Chili Beans

1 (4 oz.) can mild diced green chilies, drained

¼ teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

Salt, pepper, fresh lime to taste

In large bowl, toss chicken with peanut oil. Sprinkle with cornstarch and baking soda; toss well to coat. Cover and marinate chicken for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking. Heat a Dutch oven or large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in remaining 1-tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken, spreading it out as much as possible over bottom of pan; let cook for 1 minute without stirring. Then, stir-fry chicken for 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Add onions, peppers, garlic; stir for 2 minutes. Add half the broth, stirring up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Add half the beans, chilies, cumin and enough of remaining broth to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining beans, cilantro and additional broth, depending how soupy you like it. Season with salt, pepper and squeeze of lime, if desired. Serves 6.