Swedish Butter Cookies – Svenska Pinners

Swedish Butter Cookies - Svenska Pinners RecipeChristmas cookie baking is in full swing in my kitchen.  Two batches of butter cookies are in the freezer and a double batch of gingerbread dough is chilling, awaiting to be cut into cute little ginger boys and girls, or maybe snowflakes depending on my mood.  

I keep a special folder dedicated just for holiday cookies.  With the occasional exception, I tend to bake the same Christmas cookies year after year.  Not so this year!  I am mixing it up.  So to begin, I’m stepping out with an international choice I found in an American Text Kitchen Christmas Cookie magazine from a few years back.  (The number of cookie magazines I have gathered over the years is ridiculous, but that is a different story.)
Swedish Butter Cookies - Svenska Pinners RecipeI was so happy to have happened back upon this magazine.  It is chock full of great cookie recipes, but it was this recipe for Svenska Pinners that most intrigued me.  I have been making a treasured family butter cookie recipe for decades.  These Swedish delights had the exact same ingredients as my ‘American’ butter cookie, but the execution was completely different.  I was especially attracted to the ease by which the Swedish version came together.  The dough is pressed into a rectangle and after a short chilling period, it is cut into little rectangles, sprinkles with nuts, and into the oven.  No rolling, or shaping, or pressing – just cut and bake.  It doesn’t get any easier.  And what a tender and buttery cookie it is.  

This recipe is a keeper.  It has found a permanent home in my Holiday Cookie folder.
Swedish Butter Cookies - Svenska Pinners RecipeSwedish Butter Cookies - Svenska Pinners Note:  If you are not a fan of walnuts, substitute them for your favorite nut.  Although not traditional, these cookies could also be decorated with colored sugars or sprinkles.  Whatever makes you smile!
Swedish Butter Cookies - Svenska Pinners


Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookie Magazine 2012

Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze

Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeI have been thinking much lately about ‘things’.  I’m talking about our possessions.  Those things we save, collect, and treasure that fill our homes – and our lives.  I am a collector of many things, be it vintage jelly jars, old cookbooks, wooden spoons (actually spoons of all types), antique and rare kitchen gadgets – just to name a few.  Among my most treasured possessions are my daughter’s baby book, my Grandma’s recipe jar, my Mom’s cast iron skillet, and photos that reach all the way back to my youth.  The list is as long as my arm.  Sitting within feet of where I am typing this post, I spy a glass slipper given to me by a best friend, my Mom’s turquoise encased lipliner, and a hand-thrown pottery jar accented with a bird on the lid made by my daughter.  Yes, my house is filled with items that warm my heart, snuggle me in memories of those that are no longer with me, and of times shared with loved ones.  They bring me joy and comfort.
Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeJust a few weeks back, my brother-in-law and his family lost their home in the Northern California fires.  Like so many others, in a flash, everything they owned and treasured was ripped from their lives.  Thankfully, they were not home at the time, coincidentally they were visiting us in Los Angeles.  From a distance, a monumental loss was thrust upon them, a loss that I imagine can never fully be processed.

Over the weeks that have followed that life altering event in my family’s lives, I have been pondering much about the value we place on things.  As expected, in the days following my family’s loss, over and over again I heard people’s attempt at comforting them with phrases like ‘the only thing that matters is that you are all okay’, or ‘things can be replaced, at least you are all fine’.  Even as I wrapped my arms around my niece in a hug to convey my sadness for the loss she was suffering, she parroted back to me the words we have all been trained to say during times like these – ‘it’s okay Aunt Mary, all that matters is that we are all okay’.  My words back to her were likely unexpected, but were intended to offer her permission to be sad for all she had lost.  I assured her that it was okay to grieve the loss of ‘things’.  The fact that they were all safe and sound was obviously the most important thing, but I also wanted her to know that loosing the things we love and treasure, the things that tie us to the past and connect us to our loved ones, the items that fill our home with love and comfort, those things matter, and a need to grieve those losses was not only understandable but necessary.
Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeOrange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeThanksgiving is just days away and I can’t help thinking about all those who over the past few months have lost so much.  Sadly, the list is long, from those who suffered the wrath of Harvey, and Irma, and those deeply suffering in Puerto Rico, to the thousands who are homeless due to the Northern California fires.  My Santa Rosa family will be at my Thanksgiving table this year, not originally planned but a blessing nevertheless.  I have chosen one of my treasures to pass onto them, a bridge of sorts as they begin to re-build their lives.  And even as we sit down to give thanks at a table adorned with some of my most treasured ‘things’ like silverware from my childhood, a spoon that belonged to my husband’s grandmother, and a crystal bowl that goes back farther than my memory serves me, I will look into the eyes of my loved ones and know that they are what matters most to me.  They mean everything to me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeI made this cake in honor of my sister-in-law Sherry, who favors angel food cake above all others.  I began with the angel food cake recipe from Bravetart by Stella Parks.  She is a baking mastermind!  She is the queen of American desserts, which have always been my favorite and what you are most likely to encounter here at Sifting Focus.
Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze Recipe



Adapted from Stella Parks’s Bravetart

Louisa’s Cake

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Louisa's Cake RecipeDuring this time of year, I tend to keep a variety of apples on hand just in case I want to whip up a Fall dessert on a whim.  Apples keep well when stored properly, and who doesn’t love apples anyway? When I stumbled upon this recipe, I was immediately intrigued by its simplicity.  With apples in my vegetable keeper, and everything besides the ricotta in my pantry, the only ingredient I was missing was ricotta cheese.  Feeling a strong sense that this cake was going to be worth a trip to the market, off I went.  I encourage you to do the same and go grab some ricotta cheese now!
Louisa's Cake RecipeThis cake took only minutes to get into the oven.  Needing nothing more than a sprinkling of confectioners sugar (and maybe a few berries if you prefer), you can have a moist, delicate, and satisfying cake in no time at all.  Believe me when I tell you Louisa’s Cake is a people pleaser.   It’s impressive enough to serve at a dinner party, but humble enough to be a breakfast cake or afternoon snack.

There was a twist of irony in the over-all flavor of the finished cake.  Although I assumed the cake would taste more like apples, it was the flavor of lemon that shined most brightly.  Not a bad thing at all!  In fact, it was a nice surprise.

Since I didn’t make any significant adaptations to the original recipe (I used 2 tablespoons less sugar), I am not going to post it below, however you can find the recipe here.  I wouldn’t dream of keeping it all to myself.
Louisa's Cake Recipe


Huckleberry Hand Pies

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Huckleberry Hand Pies RecipeI have a new love in my life, and my husband is completely okay with it.  When I tell you all about that new love, you’ll understand.

This past June a year ago, my Girl temporarily moved back home after living in NY for seven years.  With her education behind her, she wanted to catch her breath before deciding where her next adventure would take her.  It took her to Seattle.  As sad as I was to once again let her go, Seattle was much closer to LA than Manhattan, and I was happy to have a new city to explore.

I am currently on my fifth trip to the Emerald City and completely falling for it.  My earlier visits were mostly about helping J get moved in and settled, so this trip is really the first where I have had free time for taking in some of what Seattle has to offer.  The list of things to see and do is truly endless.  There is Pike Place Market (which  every tourist needs to visit at least once), the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, another must see for anyone visiting the area.  The expanse of islands that occupy the waters surrounding Seattle could keep you busy well into eternity.  I could go on and on, and in future posts it is certain you will be hearing more about my adventures in Seattle. For now, I will return to the point of this post, which is to tell you about my new love.
Huckleberry Hand Pies RecipeLast weekend, I was casually meandering through a local Seattle farmers market when I spotted what I thought were locally grown blueberries.  I had missed this year’s blueberry picking season in the Northwest and was excited to get my hands on freshly picked blueberries, even if I hadn’t picked them myself.  When making that comment to the grower at that stand, he said ‘oh, those aren’t blueberries, they’re huckleberries.   Whoa!  I squealed with delight!  I had heard much about the infamous huckleberry,  but they don’t grow in my neck of the woods so I was beyond ecstatic to have come across some.  One pop of a huckleberry into my mouth, and it was love at first bite.  I was truly blown away by the depth of flavor in just one tiny berry.  I took my new love home with me to get better acquainted, and to further explore all those sweet-tart little things had to offer.  🙂

Although I could have eaten the whole lot of huckleberries right out of hand, instead, I decided to bake them up into individual hand pies.  The only thing better than a slice of pie, is a personal pie – and they’re perfect for an ‘on the go’ breakfast too.  Yes, I eat pie for breakfast!
Huckleberry Hand Pies RecipeI used this recipe for my pies with just a couple changes.  I made one and half the amount of filling.  I used this recipe for the pastry dough, however, any double crust pastry dough recipe will work.  And, I used a round cutter instead of cutting the dough into squares.  With my changes, the recipe made 8 hand pies.
Huckleberry Hand Pies Recipe


Cherry Tomato Crostata with Goat Cheese and Za’atar

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Cherry Tomato Tart with Za'atar RecipeAlthough I wasn’t really aware of it as a young girl, I grew up in an area that offered the best of all worlds.  Ours was a small’ish’ town, nestled between the tall buildings and bustling streets of Cincinnati to the north, and the wide open expanse of  the blue grass hills of Kentucky just to the south.  As a child, our summers stretched wide from Memorial Day all the way through to the other side of Labor Day.  Attending summer school classes or participating in enriching lessons of various sorts just wasn’t heard of.  Instead, my siblings and I slept until our bodies woke naturally, gathered around the TV with a bowls of cereal in hand, and watched cartoons and game shows before heading out just steps from our house to cool off at the public pool.  Summer evenings brought only slightly cooler temperatures as we played under the streetlights way past school night bedtimes.  

My memory is flooded with childhood recollections of evening rides in the country to escape the stifling heat of the city, ten cent ice creams from the Mr. Softie truck, and the sounds and flickering lights of crickets and fireflies as they sang and danced along side us until curfews called us into bed, to replenish our energy so we could do it all again the next day.
Cherry Tomato Tart with Za'atar RecipeI could write a book on the summer days of my childhood, and maybe one day I will.  If I ever do, expect a chapter dedicated solely to food memories.  I would share about our neighbor’s peach tree with limbs that stretched across our shared fence, providing us with perfectly ripe and juicy fruit.  And then there was the produce peddler who pulled down the alley to our back gate.  To this day, I can recall the vegetal and sweet smells I inhaled upon entering the back of his truck.  And in the chapter titled ‘Foods of My Childhood’ there would be copious amounts written on the topic of tomatoes.  To entice you into buying that future book that I may, but likely will never write, I will share just a nibble of one such memory on the subject of tomatoes.

My grandmother, step grandfather, parents, and nine siblings all lived under the same roof.  My step grandfather, who for some unknown reason we called Uncle Bob, had a dear friend named Charles.  Charles was a man of looming stature, with field worn hands, and a deep but gentle voice.  He emanated kindness.  Charles had a farm just outside the city limits of our town, not more than a twenty minute drive away.  Toward the later days of August, bushels of hand picked produce arrived mysteriously at our back porch door.  My Dad and Grandma would work tirelessly to pickle and can for days, stocking our root cellar to the brim with chili sauce, pickles, green beans, sour kraut, and more.  One particular summer evening brought revelation to where all those bushels of brightly colored vegetables had come from.  My parents piled me and my siblings into the family car and drove us the short distance to Charles’ farm.  Upon arrival, we were handed an empty bushel basket and ushered out into the fields.  I only remember picking two different vegetables that evening, green peppers, which we called mangoes (it would be years later before I knew the reason that green peppers were referred to as mangoes), and tomatoes.  My siblings and I found ourselves (salt shakers in hand) squatting between row after row of perfectly ripe and fragrant red tomatoes.  Dusk had set in and we were desperate to pick all we could as quickly as we could.  I’m doubtful of the progress we made, since for every one tomato we plunked into our baskets, another tomato went into our mouths.  All these many years later, I can vividly recall that little girl, crouched between rows of green leaves dotted with ornament sized balls of red, sinking her teeth deep into the most perfect of tomatoes.
Cherry Tomato Tart with Za'atar RecipeThere is plenty of scientific evidence to support the connection between taste and memory, but even in the absence of that evidence,  my experience in the field at Charles’ farm that summer would be convincing enough that taste and memory are inextricably linked.  I will forever long to once again taste a tomato commensurate with those of my childhood, but I hold little hope that I will.  It wasn’t just the outstanding quality alone of those tomatoes that created such a taste memory.  It was my innocence.  It was my unmarred taste buds.  It was my lack of expectation as I bit into those red juicy fruits that enhanced their perfection.  And, although I cannot go back, I can hold out hope that one day, I might once again find a tomato as memorable as those I ate that balmy summer night on Charles’s farm.
Cherry Tomato Tart with Za'atar RecipeAbout this recipe:  Cherry tomatoes abound wherever you look these days, whether at the farmers market, the produce section of your local grocery store, or possibly even in your own vegetable garden.  The true inspiration for this tart however began with a goat cheese I found at my neighborhood Trader Joe’s.  It was packaged as a four ounce log and came seasoned with Za’atar.  I just couldn’t resist!  I realize that everyone doesn’t have a TJs in their neighborhood, so a couple teaspoons of Za’atar added to four ounces of plain goat cheese would be a fine substitute.  

Note:  Za’atar is available online, and in the spice aisle of many markets.  Click here to learn more about Za’atar and for a recipe to make your own.
Cherry Tomato Tart with Za'atar Recipe