Baklava Cookies

20 Mar

I made these super-easy baklava-inspired cookies a few weeks ago for FlailKef and GingerKef’s annual Oscars Party.

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In a tribute to my dear friends’ brilliant yearly invitation, I give you the following write up:

Many people think that FENCES exist to delineate those who enjoy working with filo dough and those who would prefer to find themselves on  a HACKSAW RIDGE rather than deal with all those layers. If you are among the latter, this recipe is for you! Immediately upon ARRIVAL at this Oscar Party, people came out like a LION for these cookies, which have all the syrupy, nutty goodness of baklava and none of the flimsy filo. MrKef was determined that I make them full of gluten and full of sugar, so rather than let the nutritional info send you into LALA LAND, I’ll keep those stats in my HIDDEN FIGURES file COME HELL OR HIGHWATER. The great reviews of these cookies sent me happily into the MOONLIGHT, still not giving one flying eff about MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.

Translation: these cookies are awesome and easy, full of gluten and sugar, and everyone really liked them. Oh, and I still hate Boston. Inspiration here, full recipe below.

Baklava Cookies


For the Crust

  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1.5 c flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
For the topping
  • 1/3 c pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 c almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 c light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • generous 1/8 tsp cloves
  • generous 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 TBS unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 c honey
  • 3 TBS water
  • 2 TBS fresh orange juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a rimmed metal baking dish with parchment paper (I used my square tart pan- the pan from a toaster oven would probably work too). Combine melted butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and orange zest until combined (I used standing mixer, but I am sure you could do this by hand). Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl, then add to butter mixture and fold in until incorporated. Press dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan and bake for 15-16 minutes, until lightly golden and center is set.
  2. Prepare topping while crust bakes. Combine nuts and spices in a small bowl; add melted butter and stir until incorporated. Spoon topping evenly over warm crust (which has just finished its initial 15-16 min bake), then return pan to oven. Continue baking for an additional 10- 12 minutes, or until golden.
  3. Make the syrup during the second baking session. Bring to a boil the honey, water, and orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat. Turn heat down to low and simmer until thickened and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for ~10 minutes.
  4. Place pan on a wire rack and spoon syrup over still-warm cookies, tilting pan in all directions to coat evening. Cool bars completely in pan. Cut with a sharp knife when ready to serve.

Pacers St Pattys Day 10k Recap

9 Mar

I haven’t written much about running recently- largely because I haven’t had any races since my big “A” race back in November 2015. Nuts.

With all the extra time not spent on training for a specific goal, I focused the last several months of my prolonged off-season on beating the hell out of my legs in order to gain some strength. This is a bit of a revolution for me, as I will pretty much always choose running for 90 minutes over squats, push-ups, and burpees for 30 minutes. Of course, it turns out that 100% of expert exercise science consensus is not wrong–after about 2 months of regular strength training (ESPECIALLY consistent core work…. blech), I noticed a big difference in how my muscles felt during/after runs, and an even bigger difference in the numbers ticked off by my Garmin.

I signed up for the the St Pattys Day 10k mostly because I love 10ks and just don’t think there are enough of them. I’ve been running a lot with a Oiselle Teammate who is quite a bit faster than me, and I’ve been more or less keeping up — so I had a sneaky suspicion this race could be a PR. Previously, my best was 51:30 from the 2015 Capitol Hill ClassicCapitol Hill Classic, so of course I hope I could eek it in under 50:00, but I wasn’t too sure.

Here’s how it went:

Mile 1: 7:27
Mile 2: 7:32
Mile 3: 7:50
Mile 4: 7:45
Mile 5: 7:44
Mile 6: 7:45
Last 0.29: 2:04

I spent the first two miles pretty much freaking out– maintaining any mile split that began with a 7 was absolutely new territory for me. Somewhere into mile 3, I switched from the doubting voice to the DO IT voice, and decided to commit to making this sub-50 10k happen. Per my race MO, I tuned out whatever nonsense people were engaging around me and just focused on the phrase I had chosen for the day; for this race, I went “fly fast to the finish then rest,” another Oiselle maxim.

And that’s pretty much what I did! I finished in 48:09, which came as a huge surprise and a big relief, and then went straight from the finish line to the movie theater for that rest (if you haven’t seen Get Out yet, stop everything you’re doing and go see it right now).

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Like all Pacers Races, the St Pattys Day 5k/10k is amazingly well organized. Packet pickup is easy, the race is metro accessible, and day-of logistics are a dream (plenty of portapotties, lots of volunteers, well marked gear check/info/medical/etc booths). Almost everyone else I talked to commented on how beautiful the course is- Ohio Drive is the main drag, so you pass the Washington Monument, WWII memorial, Tidal Basin, and Kennedy Center but, per usual, I was too dialed-in to say whether the course is pretty or not. It is, however, pretty flat, and I most certainly took note of that.

My next race is the the GW Parkway Classic, and I’m not sure whether I’ll shoot for another PR or just enjoy the course and the run. Both are equally appealing right about now–so only time will tell. Until then, it’s back to the burpees.


A Lemon Cranberry Tea Cake For High Class Turn Ups

1 Mar

I’m 4-5 seconds from wildin’ and we got 3 more days til Friday, so today I gotta type and dash. Because I know my readership is full of people who turn up with Rihanna on Saturday and attend pinky-up high teas on Sunday, I present this pretty little cake especially for yall. The cake itself is dainty and sophisticated–pretty much what you’d expect from a tea loaf–and the cranberry swirl and candied lemons give it just enough sour sass to be memorable.  Basically, a good girl gone bad.

To make this cake, I and combined a few recipes from the beautiful blog A Hint of Vanilla, the creator of which has artistry and genius that far exceed mine, so go check her out. Her bona fides include a world-class pastry education AND beautiful food photography, and all these recipes were easily made gluten/sugar free if you’re with me on that front. No word on whether she makes paragraphs-long Rihanna references, though.


Lemon Cranberry Tea Cake

–For the cranberry swirl

  • 6 oz cranberries (about half of the bag you get in the grocery store)
  • 60 mL brandy (I used a cherry brandy we bizarrely had hanging out)
  • juice and zest of one orange
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch cloves
  • 1/2 TBS vanilla
  • 2 TBS maple syrup

–For the Cake

  • 6TBS butter
  • 1/3 c honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 c flour (I used CupforCup for gluten free)
  • 1/2 c almond flour
  • scant 1/2 c buttermilk (or 1/2 c milk + 1/4 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice)

–For the candied lemons

  • 1 lemon
  • 200 mL water
  • 1/2 c sugar (I used coconut sugar and it was beautiful)

–For the lemon glaze

  • 2 TBS butter
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 2 TBS milk
  • zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. To make the cranberry swirl: place all the ingredients for the cranberry swirl in a medium sauce pan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir frequently. After about 5ish minutes, the cranberries will soften and burst–remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then, transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Texture will be something like smooth jam.
  2. To make candied lemons: slice the lemon as thin as you can–the original recipe suggest 1 mm, mine ended up somewhere about 3-4mm. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan, then turn heat down to low. Add lemon slices and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let lemon slices soak in syrup until ready to use.
  3. To make the cake: Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease two small loaf pans or one large one. Mix together dry ingredients, set aside. In a standing or electric mixer, cream together butter and honey until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
    1. With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg, then turn up to medium-high for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat again for about 15 seconds. Add the egg yolk and beat on medium-high for another 20 seconds. This crazy beating schedule should get you a shiny batter.
    2. Using a rubber spatula, alternate folding in the dry flour mix and the buttermilk to the honey/butter/egg mixture. Begin and end with the dry mix, so that it takes 4 additions to use all the dry mix and 3 additions to use all the buttermilk. Do not overdo it- fold in until just combined. Finally, add in your desired amount of cranberry swirl and fold in–I used about 1/2 cup and think my bread could have used a bit more… start there and, if you decide to add, move up slowly. But again- don’t go crazy mixing this beautiful batter.
    3. Fill your prepared pans so each is about 2/3 full. Arrange 2-3 candied lemon slices on top. Bake the loaves for 30-40 minutes (mine took around 36 or 37), or until center is set and top is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool in pans.
  4. To make lemon glaze: Mix all glaze ingredients together in a small sauce pan until just simmering. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour/spoon glaze over cooled cake. Allow glaze to cool completely before serving.


Practically Healthy Blueberry Fig Newtons

13 Feb

There has been a proliferation of posts that are decidedly not gluten/sugar free around here recently. Today, we’re headed back to the realm of the mamby pamby with my second crack at gluten-free/sugar-free fig newtons. Long time readers may remember that my first attempt was totally delicious but did not at all resemble fig newtons. These were just as delicious, and got a bit closer to the actual thing (though they are still a little closer to a granola bar cookie than a fig newton). I love that these are a little salty and kind of reminded me of those salty oatmeal cookies from Teaism everyone is obsessed with. Plus, the hardest thing about them was digging my food processor out of the back of my cabinet–just ten minutes of prep time and throw ’em in the oven. I whipped them up before work one day and they were very well received by a bunch of people who like healthy food but also like gluten and sugar–so safe to say that normal people would like them as much as I do.


I found this recipe buried in my email draft box, so I have no idea if it’s mine, someone else’s, or my take on someone else’s recipe. It’s hard for me to believe I would have come up with using the liquid from a can of beans instead of an egg…so, to whoever’s recipe I may/may not be plagiarizing– you have my apologies and gratitude.

Practically Healthy Blueberry Fig Newtons


For the crust

  • 1 c almond flour
  • 3/4  c oat flour (I just ground up gf old-fashioned oatmeal)
  • 2 TBS coconut sugar
  • 1.25 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lime zest
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 c coconut oil, melted
  • 3 TBS aquafaba (the water inside a can of garbanzo beans)

For the filling

  • 1 c soaked dried figs
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • generous 1/3 c blueberries
  • 1 tsp lime juice


  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Combine all crust ingredients until you have a well-mixed batter.
  2. Blend all the filling ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  3. Arrange half the crust batter in a square on a parchment- or silicon-lined baking sheet. Spread filling over top. Then layer second half of crust batter on top of filling. I found it easiest to use my fingers for all of this spreading and layering- you do you.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes (I went about 23)- or until crust is set and ever-so-slightly-browned. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Butternut and Parmesan Pancakes Riley Freeman Would Cosign

3 Feb

A few weeks ago, we went really wild and talked about how vegetables can actually be dessert..  Today I bring you the counterpoint to that mind-boggling switch up: pancakes that are savory.

Like most things I’ve been posting lately, this isn’t my recipe and it came to my attention via QueijoKef, who always has her finger on the pulse of what’s good on Instagram. These pancakes check all my boxes– they’re veggie based, easy to make, AND they incorporate the world’s must under-appreciated herb: sage. As I’ve been saying: no one knows you like your college roommate.

I whipped these up after a long run on Saturday and was thrilled to find they taste like a more sophisticated Red Lobster cheddar biscuit. This, of course, meant I decided it was appropriate to wake my poor husband out of a deep slumber with a resounding, “FAM’S EATING CHEDDAR BISCUITS, GRANDDAD!” If that reference means nothing to you, watch seasons 1&2 of the Boondocks and get back to me.


Anyway, MrKef and I both loved these without reservation or qualification. I am reposting the recipe here because our president thinks he can turn off corners of the internet and I would never want to lose this recipe– but please know it comes from the geniuses at SmittenKitchen.

Butternut and Parmesan Pancakes


  • 1 c roasted and mashed butternut squash (this was about 1/2 small squash for me)
  • 1/3 c Greek yogurt (you already know I used Fage)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c finely grated gruyere, comte or parmesan
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea or table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 c all-purpose flour (I used Cup4Cup for gluten free)
  • Butter or olive oil for frying pan
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter
  • pinch or two of salt
  • a few fresh sage leaves


  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Quarter butternut and lightly grease flesh with olive oil. Place on cookie sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes, flipping them around 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, scoop out 1 cup and mash until mostly smooth.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk squash, yogurt, eggs, cheese, salt, pepper and baking powder until smooth. Add flour and stir until just combined. Batter will be thick.
  3. Heat a large frying over medium-low to medium heat. Coat the bottom with butter or olive oil, or a combination thereof, and spoon in pancake batter, a heaped soup spoon or scant 1/4 cup at a time. Press the back of the batter mound to flatten the pancake slightly. Cook until golden brown underneath, flip and then cook until the color until golden brown on the second side. If this is happening very fast, lower your heat. If you’re worried pancakes have not cooked in the center, you can finish them for 10 minutes in a 250 degrees oven. You can also keep your pancakes warm there until needed. Repeat with remaining batter.
  4. To finish, wipe out frying pan and place butter, a pinch or two of salt and sage leaves back in it, heating over medium. The sage leaves will crisp and the butter will brown in a minute or two so keep a close watch on it. Pour leaves and butter over pancakes and quickly understand why you’ll never have them another way.

QueijoKef’s Kale Mac & Cheese Bake a la Amy’s

31 Jan

Like pretty much every post in the last year, I will use the preamble to remind you all that your friend ChefKef is a VERY busy woman and has little time to putter around the kitchen perfecting recipes these days. Turns out that that I’m not in this canoe alone, and that pretty much everyone I know is a busy m-effer. #thisisthirty

Luckily, misery loves company, and I am lucky enough to count QueijoKef among my people. This woman has been hacking the copy-cat recipe since at least 2004, when she figured out how to recreate the sweet-and-salty flavor of a Payday bar with ingredients sourced solely from the Village C vending machine. How’s THAT for ingenius? (Don’t ask, by the way, why we didn’t just get the damn Payday bar from said vending machine… that wasn’t the point.)

We’re long time fans of more or less everything in the Amy’s Frozen Meals line, and Queijo has had her eye on recreating the 3 Cheese and Kale Bake for some time now.

Because she’s so good at life, she’s put in the work and has already had her Eureka moment for 2017. She’s kind enough to share the fruits of her labor below. Truly, a thing of beauty!


QueijoKef’s Kale Mac & Cheese Bake


  • 1 box pasta, 12 ounces rotini (or similar) pasta, cooked al dente. GF or regular
  • 2 cups kale, shredded and de-stemmed
  • 4 tbsp butter + extra for baking dish
  • 1 can of coconut milk, 13.5 ounces (unsweetened)
  • 4 tbsp of coconut flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. of ground turkey, cooked (if adding an animal protein is your thing)


1. Cook pasta according to box directions for al dente. Drain, set aside.

2. Pre-heat oven to 375˚. Prepare baking dish (9” x 13” or similar) by wiping bottom and sides with cold butter stick.

3. For kale, lightly sauté shredded kale in batches, each batch with 1 tbsp of olive oil heated in a skillet with a pinch of salt until kale just begins to wilt (about 2-4 minutes) and set aside.

4. Begin to build the bake in the dish by tossing the pasta, kale, ground turkey (if using). and HALF of the grated cheddar cheese. Lightly toss. This will make it easier to incorporate the cheese sauce once done.

5. For roux (cheese sauce), begin by melting 4 tbsp of butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until just begins to bubble. Slowly add coconut flour while continuously whisking. Lower heat to medium-low and continue whisking until paste begins to lightly brown and bubble like pancake batter (2-4 minutes).

6. Slowly add about 1/3 of the coconut milk, continuously whisking. Raise heat to medium. Season with pinch of salt and black pepper and bring to light simmer, whisking occasionally until fully incorporated and no roux is left on the bottom of the sauce pan.

7. Slowly add about 1/2 of remaining cheddar cheese, continuously whisking. Slowly add next 1/3 of the coconut milk, whisking. Repeat with remaining cheddar cheese.

8. Slowly add remaining coconut milk, continuously whisking. After about 1 minute of incorporating, add about 1/2 of the parmesan cheese, continuously whisking. The mixture will begin to take on a melted cheese sauce quality. Remove from heat. If for some reason you are not continuing to step 9 immediately, stir occasionally.

9.  Carefully add roux to the prepped baking dish, tossing to distribute with all ingredients.
10. Top with other ½ of the parmesan cheese (this will be your crusty topping).

11. Bake at 375˚ for about 20 minutes, then raise to 390˚ for last 10-15 minutes of baking, or until top is golden brown and sides are bubbling. Remove and let cool.

The Tiramisu that Almost Wasn’t

27 Jan

When it was time to head home for the holidays, I had about 3 minutes to figure out what I was going to make for Christmas Eve dessert at MrKef’s family’s house. Considering that Staten Island is the epicenter of Italian America (sorry, Arthur Avenue), I decided to make Italy’s most famous sweet export: tiramisu. Without any time to prep at home in DC, I figured I could do all the shopping up there early on Christmas Eve morning, throw the trifle-like dish together and be done with the whole thing with enough time for it to sit and soak up all that delicious coffee-and-liquor flavor. What could go wrong? Ha.

I think the real determinate of a good tiramisu are homemade lady fingers, but my willingness to reinvent the wheel is low these days, so I planned to buy some delicious made-fresh-in-the-bakery-by-a-nonna-that-morning ladyfingers SOMEWHERE on Staten Island. Unfortunately, it turns out that’s not how the home of Wu Tang rolls–none of the bakeries I visited/called were willing to sell just the lady fingers… but they would kindly sell me the already-made $60 tiramisu. Grazie, ma no.  Realizing this wasn’t going to be my most authentic tiramisu ever, I was CERTAIN I could at least find the Stella D’oro packaged ones in any grocery store with this concentration of people eating 7 fishes on Christmas Eve… only to find that I was wrong again. In fact, when I asked the kind teenager at Stop’n’Shop (whose name tag read “Giovanna,” for what it’s worth) where I could find the lady fingers, she happily pointed me over to the berry section, where I realized she was talking about these:

… friggin kill me. But, I decided to go with the flow for once in my damn life, and threw them in my cart without creating too much of a scene, when what I really wanted to do was this:

Then, of course, I couldn’t find the Italian dessert wine the recipe called for in THREE different liquor stores (including one named Pete MILANO’S, for crying out loud). At this point, I had pretty much abandoned all hope that this was going to be a successful dessert, headed back to MrKef’s house a bit dejected, and put to use the weird assortment of ingredients I wanted and those that I wound up with. Somehow, I came up with this:


Not bad for a lot of pinch hitting! It looked better than most of my creations, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was going to taste great. After a lot of worrying and preambling, I dished it out after dinner, and- to my great surprise- it got universal and enthusiastic thumbs up. MrKef’s dad is a seriously discerning consumer of confections, and when even HE went in for seconds, I let out a sigh of relief and decided to claim victory after all. Staten Island, you won the battle, but you did not win the war.

My original intent was to follow Jamie Oliver’s recipe— reflected below are the many changes I had to make. The great news is that –once you accumulate the damn ingredients– this guy basically puts itself together, the idiosyncrasies of Italian Americans on Staten Island not withstanding.



  • about 20 pre-made dessert shells
  • two 16-oz containers mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 7 oz muscato
  • 1 small Dunkin Donuts black coffee
  • about 1/3 c kahlua
  • 7 oz good-quality white chocolate, melted
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 1 bar good-quality dark chocolate, for shavings


  1. Using a stand mixer or electric beater, combine the mascarpone, sugar, egg yolks, and wine until smooth.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine coffee and Kahlua.
  3. Arrange 4-5 dessert shells in a single layer in your dish- this could be a trifle dish, deep pyrex pan, or whatever you have at hand. Drizzle the coffee/Kahlua mixture over the cakes–I tend to give the bottom layer a pretty heavy drizzle and get lighter as I go up. Then, drizzle the white chocolate over the cakes, then a layer of mascarpone mixture. Repeat until you get to the top of your dish, making sure that the final layer is mascarpone.
  4. Dust with cocoa powder. Scrape a large spoon across the back of the chocolate bar towards you to make shavings– there is really no rhyme or reason to this, but I suggest keeping the wrapper on and just opening up the back of the wrapper to avoid melting the chocolate all over your hands. Arrange shavings over the top.
  5. Let sit in a cool place or refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving. If chilling in the fridge, pull out about 30 minutes prior to serving.
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