One of my New Year's resolutions was to take advantage of New York City. Not in the "go home the next morning with your mascara still on" way, but in the "NYC has so much to offer you better enjoy it while you're here" kind of way. So in honor of the resolution, I heard about a book reading/signing last week and got some friends on board for a trip to the Tribeca Barnes & Noble.
It wasn't tough to wrangle the crew - the author was activist, journalist, professor and all around environmentalist Michael Pollan. You've seen his thick-as-bricks books (The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food) and have probably heard whispers of his "everything you eat is made of corn" theory, but if you're like me there's rarely time between work, walking the dog, going to the gym, and watching high school musical TV-shows on Fox to dig into 400-page books... unless they include sparkly 100+ year-old vampires, of course.
Pollan's new book, Food Rules, was the topic of discussion at B&N this week and the timing was perfect for everyone's quintessential New Year's resolution: to lose weight and be healthier. Though his previous books might intimidate, Food Rules is just 112 pages with eating guidelines that everyone can follow. Some of my favorites from his jam-packed discussion last week:
"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food"
"Avoid food products that have more than 5 ingredients"
"If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't"
"Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk"
"Eat when you're hungry, not when you're bored"
It was a good conversation and I felt like I left with amplified common-sense food advice to live by (or at least try to). Of course, the beer and chicken wings my friends and I had after the reading didn't quite fall in line with his message, but his rule #64 is "Break the rules once in a while." :)
I'm counting on the fact that he wouldn't dissuade baking if you're bored (as long as you don't eat the whole thing yourself) since that's often my reason for pulling out the standing mixer. I was about to pick up some sweets from my favorite neighborhood bakery for a dinner party this week but had the time and the ingredients to try these apricot bars that I'd ear-marked in Bon Appetit. And boy, they were good.
I'm usually suspect of sweets without chocolate, but these shortbread cookie bars were kinda epic. They aren't the prettiest but don't let that fool you - they're delicious and a dusting of sifted powdered sugar on top made them perfectly presentable. Next time you have a craving for a fruity non-pie sweet, here's your recipe. I'll definitely be making them again!
Joanne's Apricot Bars
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2/3 cup packed dried apricot halves, coursely chopped
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
For shortbread layer
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter, using on/off turns, process until course meal forms. Press crumbs firmly onto bottom of dish. Bake until center is golden, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.
Prepare apricot layer
Place apricots in small saucepan, add enough water to cover. Boil until soft, about 4 minutes; drain and set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat eggs in large bowl. Add brown sugar and vanilla; beat until thick. Stir in flour mixture, then nuts and apricots. Spread over shortbread. (I added a thin layer of apricot preserves between the shortbread and apricot mixture - added a tangyness to the bars that I loved)
Bake cookie until puffed dark brown and toothpick inserted into topping comes out with small moist crumbs attached, about 35 minutes. Cool in dish.
Cut cookie into strips, transfer to waxed paper. Sift powdered sugar over bars.