December 20, 2012

Salted Chocolate Caramel Almond Bark and Homemade Presents

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This post is a mouthful - literally. But it's totally worth it. I'm surprised that any of this bark survived in order to make it into gift bags. As I was packing them, there was a lot of 'one-for-me, one-for-the-bag' happening.

The extent of my craftiness is cooking. I am not necessarily crafty when it comes to decorating and the like - so for me, getting to the craft store for various wrapping accoutrements was a big accomplishment this year. 

caramel | almonds
caramel | almonds

This salted chocolate caramel almond bark is the kind of gift I think most people would be really happy to receive. Plus, nothing says loving like a little something homemade, right? I always appreciate receiving a homemade gift - because I know that the giver put a lot of TLC into it, and that's enough to conjure those holiday warm and fuzzies.

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This bark, like most bark, is a cinch to make. There are basically two cooking steps - make the caramel, melt the chocolate. And you can feel free to mix and match - if you're over almonds, maybe try pistachios or pecans - you could even throw some dried fruit up in there. The actual cooking time is pretty short, so if you're still looking for holiday gifts - you've got plenty of time to whip up a batch of this bark.

Happy holidays!

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What you'll need:
~adapted from Bon Appetit

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups blanched almonds
1 lb dark chocolate (62%-70% cacao), chopped
Coarse sea salt (for sprinkling)

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat, such as a silpat, or foil.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar with 2 Tbsp water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, swirling every once and a while, and if needed, brushing the sides down with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization.
Once the sugar turns to a deep amber caramel, remove the caramel from heat and whisk in the butter.
Add the almonds, stir to coat, and turn out onto the lined baking sheet, spreading the caramel covered almonds into one, even layer. Allow to cool and once they have, break up any clumps.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water. Once the chocolate has melted, add most of the caramel covered almonds, reserving about 1/4 cup for later. Stir well to coat. Transfer this melted chocolate mixture to the sheet pan, being sure to spread it into one, even layer.
Top the with the reserved nuts and sprinkle with a generous dusting of sea salt.
Allow the bark to set by placing the sheet pan in the fridge for a few hours.
Once completely hardened, break up the bark into shards using your hands - it's ok if the pieces are uneven.

Wrap in cellophane gift bags and tie with ribbon or whatever holiday adornments you like.

December 5, 2012

Frascatelli and Eating the Whole Broccoli

Frascatelli with broccoli

Pasta with broccoli is definitely a regular weeknight meal in our house. It's got all the hallmarks of a perfect weeknight dinner - quick, easy, cheap, nutritious. From idea to fork in under 20 minutes - not too shabby. And so I have never dreamed of attempting to replicate this same easy, quick meal with homemade pasta - because then it would no longer be easy or quick, thus defeating its main function as a go-to weeknight meal. That all changed yesterday.

Semolina | Water
Semolina | Water
Semolina dumplings

So, I confess, it didn't take me under 20 minutes, but it still came in well shy of the 30 minute mark - not too bad for homemade pasta. Pillowy and toothsome, these dumplings have a texture similar to gnocchi, but they aren't gnocchi - they are simply semolina flour and water, or frascatelli.

I love the literal correspondence between a pasta's shape and its name in Italian. Farfalle - butterflies. Orecchiette - little ears. Bucatini - little holes. Well, it seems that in the case of frascatelli, the name could be derived more from the process than the shape. Frasca means branch, and I read somewhere that back in the day, folks could have been using a tree branch to shake out this pasta, rather than the slotted spoon or spatula we would use. You can go for the tree branch technique - but I don't recommend it.

Semolina dumplings
Frascatelli

Broccoli
Broccoli | florets

I've never shared my pasta with broccoli recipe with you because it just seemed too simple - I didn't think anyone would be interested. However, now that I've upped the ante with the addition of frascatelli - this once humble (and kind of boring) weeknight meal is now an exciting foray into the world of homemade pasta-making. And thus, I bring it to you.

Please note - I used the whole broccoli for this recipe and almost always do - leaves and stalks and all. I don't know how on earth the rumor started that the only edible part of broccoli is the tippy-top, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Think about how much of the broccoli gets wasted that way. Depending on the broccoli's maturity, the leaves either have a tender broccoli-ish taste or smack a bit of collard greens, as is the case with older, larger leaves. Both tasty. And the hard stalks need only be peeled to reveal a tender inside, and then diced and included in whatever broccoli dish you're cooking up. By cooking the stalks and leaves you've instantly doubled the volume of broccoli you have - ok, maybe not doubled, but you catch my drift.

Frascatelli with Broccoli
Frascatelli with Broccoli

What you'll need
For ~2

1 1/2 - 2 cups semolina flour
1 large head of broccoli or 4-5 mini ones, stalks trimmed and cut into individual florets
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more
1/3 cup veggie stock or dry white wine or water
1 tsp red chili flakes, maybe more
Salt and black pepper

For the pasta - get a large pot of well salted water on high heat.
As you wait for the water to boil, make your frascatelli.
Dump the semolina into a baking dish, shaking to create one even layer. Have one cup of water ready and waiting at the side of the dish.
Dip all five of your fingertips into the water and, lifting water with them, spray the water over the top of the semolina flour. Do this repeatedly until most of the surface is covered in splotches of water. Wait 30 seconds for the water to absorb into the flour. Then, using a slotted spoon, spatula or, really, even your fingers, gently turn the flour onto itself, forming dumplings.
Put the dumplings into a colander or sieve and shake out the excess semolina over the baking dish. Gently transfer the finished dumplings onto a baking sheet.
Return to the baking dish and repeat the same process until you have used all of the semolina and/or water. You may have a little water left at the end, which is fine. The bits of semolina that remain in the bottom of the baking dish can be pressed together to form dumplings.

In a 12' sauté pan, gently heat the olive oil, minced garlic and red pepper flakes over low heat. Once the garlic is fragrant add the trimmed broccoli.
Season generously with salt and black pepper and whichever liquid you are using - wine or veggie stock or water - to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, stir the broccoli and place a lid on the pan - steaming the broccoli for a few minutes.
Remove the lid and turn the heat off.

Once the water boils, cook the frascatelli. Use a wooden spoon to make a vortex or whirlpool in the water - this helps to prevent the frascatelli from sticking to each other and the bottom of the pot.  Cook the frascatelli for no more than 1 minute.
Drain the water and add the frascatelli directly to the broccoli. Stir well.
Taste and adjust seasoning.

To serve: top with freshly grated Pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Frascatelli with Broccoli

November 21, 2012

A Cranberry Tart and Some Exciting News

Cranberry Tart | Icing Sugar

Cranberries can be so much more than just juice and sauce.

Sweet Tart Dough
Cranberry Tart

As a big fan of cranberries, I am not against either form of cranberry - actually, I am kind of against the jiggly cranberry sauce that plops from a can and then remains a cylinder of red jelly. I just think there is more room in the kitchen for cranberries than we sometimes allow for. It's as if someone decided cranberries weren't good enough, perhaps because they aren't as naturally sweet as other berries, and they've been in the corner ever since. Think about it - they don't even make the cut when it comes to listing all the types of berries: strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries - never cranberries. And when it comes to talk about fruits packed with antioxidants and being extraordinarily good-for-you - blueberries hog all the spotlight. But then Thanksgiving rolls around, and everyone suddenly loves cranberries, only to be cast aside again on Friday - shelved for another year.

Poor cranberries - you're not bad, you're just different.

Cranberries | Tart

So, because I don't think cranberries should play second fiddle to other berries anymore, here is one attempt at letting them shine.

Almond Custard | Cranberries | Tart
Cranberry Tart

I borrowed this recipe from David Tanis via Food & Wine Magazine. The only change I made was to use almond flour instead of AP flour in the almond custard - just for an added almond boost. And while this tart will be brought along to my family's Thanksgiving festivities tomorrow, it's going to become a regular hit on my ever-growing playlist. The cranberry-almond combo is one of my all time faves, so this tart will make appearances throughout the fall and winter - not just for Thanksgiving.

And, as if the payoff of a delicious dessert wasn't incentive enough to make this tart, it has an added bonus - the bright red cranberry syrup you'll be left with in the end. I have all sorts of ideas for what I'll do with mine - I'm picturing scrumptious holiday cocktails, cranberry spiked ice cubes, cranberry-shortbread cookies and even a little tart and sweet topping for my morning yogurt and granola. And I might freeze some - so that I can get show some cranberry love in the off-season, too.

Cranberry Syrup
Cranberry Tart

Before I leave you to enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday - I'll share some exciting news. The good folks at Gather Journal just came out with their new fall/winter issue - and I'm delighted to be a contributor. Gather Journal is a dream read for anyone who is into food or just beautiful photos - so definitely check out their list of stockists and pick up a copy! You'll be hooked - just like I was.

Cranberry Tart

November 16, 2012

Pumpkin Curry and Bland Disappointment

Pumpkin Curry

Full disclosure - this dish looks better than it tasted and I loathe disappointment in the kitchen.

My friend and favorite farmer, Hector, generously gifted me with this beautiful sugar pumpkin and I couldn't wait to get it into my oven. To be honest, I have never cooked with real pumpkin before - always the store bought puree. As I schlepped it home from the market, visions of homemade pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie, roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin scones and pumpkin curry danced in my head.

Sugar Pumpkin
Sugar Pumpkin | Diced

It was a big'un - weighing in at at around 4 lbs, so I knew I would have more than enough to realize at least two of the scrumptious pumpkin dishes I had in mind. The first half went into an adaptation of Nigel Slater's pumpkin curry. The second half was destined for puree so that I could make a minified version of Kate's honey whole wheat pumpkin bread. Well, I highly recommend the bread recipe. Baked and devoured within one 24 hr period - I enjoyed it with afternoon tea, nibbled on it as pre-dinner snack, had it with vanilla ice cream for dessert and with my coffee the next morning. However, if you are going to make this curry dish, do what I immediately wished I had done after tasting it - make it with sweet potatoes or butternut squash.

Shallot | Aromatics | Curry
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I wouldn't have minded the recipe fail as much if it had been a less labor-intensive dish. However, after hitting a couple of different stores for the ingredients that I don't always have on hand, like lemongrass stalks, chilies and ginger - and then having to blend pastes, etc, ending up with a dish that is less-than tasty is, frankly, annoying.

Thai Pumpkin Curry | Lime

Part of it is my own fault - I got the bones of this recipe from Nigel Slater's Tender, and while it is housed in the 'Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash' chapter, I should have remembered from my time in Ireland that sometimes the squashes we specifically identify as winter squash all fall under the umbrella term of pumpkin in the UK and Ireland. So, the ingredient that Mr. Slater universally identifies as pumpkin in this chapter and recipe, could actually be what we know as butternut squash or acorn squash, or even the rather sweet kabocha squash. And I suspect that's what he intended because this dish needed some of those natural sugars.

I also willingly take the brunt of the blame because I broke a cardinal rule of cooking - one that was drilled into me in cooking school - to taste, taste, taste! I cut up the pumpkin and hastily threw it into the curry sauce, which I had spent the better part of an hour meticulously building, without nibbling the pumpkin first to see that it was worthy. If I had tasted the pumpkin before chucking it in there, I would have found that it was, in fact, rather bland and tasteless and not suitable for this curry. No amount of spices and aromatics were gonna save that pumpkin from the land of bland. Ah, the regret.

But, all is well that ends well - we didn't starve that night. As an antidote to the tasteless pumpkin, I doused it in lime and blanketed it in cilantro and upped the spice ante and we ate it. And I rapidly got over it - the delish pumpkin bread helped. And I learned a lesson - which is that I don't really like cooking savory dishes with sugar pumpkins. So, in the future, I'll be reserving them only for purees and baking.

But - definitely make this dish!  Because this dish really needs an extra kick of sweet and because I want to spare you the same mistake I made, I adapted the recipe below to include butternut squash rather than pumpkin.

Thai Pumpkin Curry | Lime

Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater's, Tender
Thai-style Winter Squash Curry with Chickpeas
What you'll need
For 4 servings

4 large garlic cloves
1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed
1 chili, fresh or dried, chopped
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 large shallots, minced
1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds, toasted
1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
6 cardamom pods
1 lb butternut squash, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup veggie stock
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 limes

Combine the peeled garlic, ginger, diced lemongrass and chili in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Reserve to the side.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine the coconut oil, yellow mustard seeds and shallots. Sauté over medium-low heat until the onion begins to turn translucent at the edges - 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic/ginger/lemongrass/chili paste and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the mixture becomes fragrant.
Use the back of your knife to crack open the cardamom pods - roughly chop the seeds housed within the pods. Add the chopped seeds to the pot along with the cardamom, turmeric and cayenne.
Next, add the diced squash and stock, stirring well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, so that the liquid is just simmering, until the squash is fork-tender - about 15-20 minutes.
Add the coconut milk to the pot and stir. Continue to simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for another 5-10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve over brown rice and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and half a lime.

November 9, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower and It's All in The Name

Roasted cauliflower florets

Chou-fleur.

It's a fact that some things just sound better in French. I'd rather dig into half a ruby-red pamplemousse for breakfast. Given the choice, I like the sound of sauteéd champignons layered on my steak. And Damien's favorite after a decade of French classes in school? The pommes de terre - far more romantic than a plain old potato.

Cauliflower florets
Cauliflower

But, above all, chou-fleur is my favorite. Among the first French words I learned while in culinary school, it's stayed with me ever since. Cauliflower has a quiet beauty that is often underappreciated and so I think its more-charming French name has an elegant ring to it and is therefore more apt. One thing's for sure, here in the States, no one ever accuses cauliflower of being high-brow. Universally loathed by children, and many adults for that matter, I'm not sure what places this veggie so much further down the ranks than, say, its relative broccoli. Or what about Romanesco? Romanesco, a more decorative variety of cauliflower, gets a lot of street-cred - and my theory is that, contrary to Shakespeare's thoughts on the subject, it's all in the name.

Cauliflower | olive oil
Roasted cauliflower

I think if the plain cauliflower were more widely known as chou-fleur, we'd see it on more menus and in more shopping carts and market bags. I also think that if cauliflower were roasted as a rule, rather than boiled or steamed, more cooks and eaters would sing its praises. I contend that it is hard to beat a good roasted chou-fleur - crispy, salted, caramelized edges take this humble vegetable from plain to fancy in one fell swoop. And with very little effort or seasoning - which means it had the raw talent all along - it just needs a little push in the right direction. Although as simple as can be, I love teaching this recipe in my classes because it gets them every. single. time. When I say you will eat the whole tray of this - I do not tell a lie. Made correctly, this chou-fleur is as satisfying as a tray of French fries. Almost.

bowl | roasted cauliflower

What you'll need:
1 large head of cauliflower
salt and pepper
3-4 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat your oven to 450ªF.
Rinse and dry the cauliflower and separate into individual, bite-sized florets.
Transfer the florets to a baking sheet, making sure they are in one, even layer.
Season generously with salt and black pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over the florets. Use your hands to toss the cauliflower, coating it in the oil and seasoning.
Gently press the florets into one even layer on the sheet and insert into the center of the oven.
Roast for 30 minutes, remove from the oven, toss again and place the tray back into the oven for another 30 minutes, or until the edges are crispy and browned.

{Tips}
Make sure the cauliflower florets are very dry before tossing with the oil and placing in the oven - this will help them to roast and caramelize, rather than steam and soften.
Since cauliflower make for such a beautiful blank canvas, I often make variations of this dish by incorporating other herbs and spices. Depending on what it is accompanying, I often add curry powder, or rosemary and garlic topped with breadcrumbs, or a drizzle of lemon juice, or smoky paprika.