What is better than a lovely summer evening surrounded by people who share your passion for good food and drink, the hospitality of a gracious hostess, and lots and lots of smoked pork! Last week the MN Food Bloggers got together to celebrate and boy do they know how throw a party. Molly Herrmann and Tracy Morgan of "Kitchen in the Market" provided salads and make your own kabobs with wonderous sauces, Ole Olmanson of "Food for my Family" perfectly smoked pork shoulder in a "China Box"...I know I had to google it. So, you have to wash all of this goodness down with drinks that are equally delicious. I couldn't pick so I had them all. Keep in mind this was a Monday night. I started out in a very civilized manner with a lovely taste of a beautiful red wine from Kitchak Winery in Napa Valley, I could have stopped there and been very satisfied...but oh no, someone said "Have you tasted that sangria?" I toddled over to the "punch bowl" and tried it for myself. The sangria was unique in that it was bourbon based. I don't know this recipe exactly, but I do know that rosemary, blueberries and peaches were steeped in the bourbon and then finished off with rose wine. I think most of my conversations were in the vicinity of that sangria! But wait...once again I heard delighted people say "Have you tried the dark Fulton beer with the truffles?" turns out our own "Kate in the Kitchen" made creamy chocolate truffles that paired wonderfully with Fulton's dark beer!
Here's where the rum comes in...I know you were wondering. Even though truffles and beer would have been a fine end to the evening we had a little friendly competition set up. Everyone in the group was invited to bring a pan of bars for a "bake off" (this is Minnesota you know...land of potlucks, jello "salads" and bars. Seventeen people threw their hats into the ring. I knew when this was announced I would give it a go. Trying to find something familiar but with a twist and settling on these apricot bars laced with rosemary and you guessed it RUM (although the recipe called for brandy all I could find that would even come a bit close was spiced rum)
I'm going to fast forward. I won!!! Didn't expect to. Running late, didn't get a chance to do a trial run. I am so honored because the judges were a few of my favorite food celebrities in town. Zoe Francois of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" and Zoe Bakes, Joy Summers of City Pages, and "Eating the Minneapple" and Stephanie March of Mpls/St. Paul Magazine. To top it off Andrew Zimmern was there and told me he thought the bars were "Frickin awesome". Needless to say I was a very happy girl. I think the Captain Morgan did the trick.
Rosemary Apricot Bars
Adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
and David Lebovitz
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter room temp. (I used Irish butter for the creaminess)
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Zest from 1/2 lemon (optional, but I think brightens the taste of the bar)
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 3/4 flour
2 c. California dried apricots (Trader Joe's carries this tart treat) if you can't find them add the juice of 1/2 lemon to other varieties
1 1/2 c. water
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. honey (try to get a good local honey. I used Ames Farms Prairie Flower)
2 Tbsp. brandy (I didn't have any so I substituted Captain Morgan Spiced Rum)
pinch of salt (kosher or Maldon salt preferred)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/3 c. coarsely chopped pecans or almonds ( I toasted them a bit first)
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter cut in cubes
Line a 9 inch baking pan with foil and butter the inside of the pan.
Make the shortbread dough by creaming together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You can do this by hand but a stand mixer with a paddle attachment works well. Add the salt, vanilla, lemon zest and rosemary until combined. Slowly add the flour to the mixture. Lightly flour your hands and press the dough into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 min. before baking. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown about 25 to 30 min. Let cool to room temp.
Combine all of the apricot filling ingredients in a heavy bottom pan. Simmer for 45 min. (mine took at least an hour) until most of the liquid is absorbed into the apricots. Let cool and then puree in a food processor until smooth.
Spread cooled apricot mixture on the cooled shortbread.
Make crumb topping by adding all of the topping ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment and combine until it all starts to clump together.
Top the apricot layer with the crumb topping and then bake at 350 degrees for about 20 to 25 min. and topping is browned.
Let completely cool in the pan, or if you are late for a "bake off" just go and let them cool on the way. Don't worry about them and you just might win :)