Monthly Archives: January 2016

Apple Cider Caramels

Salt, caramel, no brainer....

Salt, caramel, no brainer….

My great friend Maggie turned me on to these amazing little candies. It was 9am on a workday, and we were meeting to talk about budgets when she pulled these out of her bag. I was a bit reticent to take a piece of candy at this early hour, but acquiesced when she said “apple cider” and “caramel” in the same sentence. I’m a candy fanatic so I try to wait until later in the day to crack the seal on the candy consumption, but this particular offer was too good. I had to have one now. These candies were homemade, they looked delicious, and we were about to start working on budgets so why not do so on a sugar high. I figured a bit of candy would kick the meeting off to the right start. And so I took a little nibble and, oh my god, they were good! I savored the flavor for what seemed like minutes. I had to have this recipe. Ten minutes later we were still talking about candy and sweets and baking and food when we realized, eek, better get to the budgets. And so, on a sugar high, we dove in deep into variances, profits, losses, expenses and fiscal years. About 2 hours later, the budget work was done, the sugar high wore off, and a little bag of caramels was tucked in my bag for later consumption. They didn’t last long, but I did manage to save a few for my boys when I got home. They loved them too.

I asked for the recipe, which Maggie got from Smitten Kitchen, and whipped up a batch immediately. The only modification I made was to sprinkle some coarse grain salt on top at the end. Here is the recipe. Enjoy and share with your friends. They will quickly become addicts like the rest of us.

Ingredients

4 cups apple cider (not apple juice)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsps flaky sea salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Method

Boil the apple cider over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup. You should have 1/3 to 1/2 cup in volume when you are done reducing cider. This will take approximately 45 minutes (it took me longer – maybe 50-55). Stir occasionally.

In the meantime, get the other ingredients organized because things move quickly once the cider is reduced. Line the bottom and sides of and 8×8 inch metal baking pan (crisscross parchment paper). Set aside. Stir cinnamon and salt together in a small bowl.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in butter, sugars and heavy cream. Return the pot to the medium high heat. Let candy boil until a candy thermometer reads 252 degrees. Watch carefully. This takes about 5 minutes. Don’t have a candy thermometer, that’s okay. Deb from Smitten Kitchen explains how to check for doneness without a candy thermometer. Have a bowl of very cold water nearby. When you think it’s done or after about 5 minutes, give or take, drop a tiny spoonful of the caramal into the water. If it becomes firm, chewy and ready to be plied into a ball, it’s done.

Immediately remove caramel from heat. Add cinnamon/salt mixture. Stir to mix thoroughly. Pour caramel into prepared pan. Let it sit and cool for about 2 hours. It should firm up so that you can cut it. You can put it in the fridge to speed up the process or try to firm it up if needed.

Once the caramel is firm, use the parchment paper to lift the caramel out of the pan. Flip it upside down and carefully remove the paper. Mine was a bit sticky but it came off by pulling gently and slowly. Use a well-oiled knife to cut into squares or rectangles. You could oil a cookie cutter and make interesting shapes I suppose. That might be fun and then you could eat all the scraps around the sides of the cookie cutter. Wrap in waxed paper and store in the fridge. You can also freeze if you’d like to save some for another time.

Bring It!

Tuck a little zip lock bag of these in your purse and bring them everywhere. It might also be wise to bring a copy of the recipe because they will surely ask.

 

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Cold Comfort Creamed Spinach and Such

Spinach-on-woodstove

Chilly? Tired? Cranky? Pale? A wood stove and a couple of cheesy dishes ought to cozy you right up.

January can get pretty dark, in every way. As it trudges along glacially, the time we do not spend pulling ourselves upright is spent talking our loved ones off a ledge. Particularly in the ski racing world—the world of my people—January gets harsh. Wind, cold, ice, wet socks and crowded  vans. Combine that with a stretch of injuries, illness and crashes (sometimes all three) and you’ve got your perfect storm of yuck.

We know it’s coming—post holiday blues, failed resolutions, short cold gray days, translucent skin, not-quite-right windshield wipers…and yet, it gets us every time. In the beginning our plan for January is all about kicking butt, but it ends up being more about getting by. Non skiers, I know you’re with me now.

Because my soft spot for underdogs is especially mushy in January, I’m marching through Food52’s best, yet most ignored recipes for 2015. These are things from odd and humble ingredients like burnt toast and lentils. I’m starting with everything on the list that’s green because, well, it’s January. See failed resolutions and cold gray days, above.

Up first, creamed spinach without the actual cream, a comfort food involving some vegetables and fiber and not a lot of work. Next on my list is a green soup suitable for Vegans, gluten-frees and paleos. But today, we’re all about easing into this gently with frozen spinach and just a few ingredients you probably already have plus a fresh green kick. I’m looking at you, jalapeño. Nothing fancy. Not even grating. We’re just getting through this together.

We all need a big hug in January. Here’s yours.

Cold Comfort Creamed Spinach (or Squash)

Barely tweaked from Laurie Colwin’s Creamed Spinach

Spinach-on-table

Overachievers Anonymous, here we come

Notes: I made this with cheddar because, well, I’m in New England. Must we discuss? For jalapeños I used fresh—half of one of those huge mutant ones you sometimes find in the grocery store. I was in my groove so I did the same thing with half a cooked butternut squash (here’s a clinic on that), using chicken broth instead of spinach liquid, the other half of the mutant jalapeno and the rest of the evaporated milk. I liked that even better. Let’s hear it for green AND orange.

Serves 6 to 8

  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk (or equivalent amount of cream and milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery salt, seasoned salt or plain old salt
  • 6 ounces Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Muenster, Gruyere or some such cheese, cubed
  • 1 or more jalapeño peppers (fresh or pickled)
  • Buttered bread crumbs (use 2 tablespoons melted butter for 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, making as much as it takes to make you happy)

Method:

Cook the spinach. Drain, reserving one cup of liquid, and chop fine if not chopped already.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Blend and cook a little. Do not brown.
Add onion and garlic.

Add one cup of spinach liquid slowly, then add evaporated milk, black pepper, celery salt, and cheese. Add one or more jalapeño peppers (know thyself and thy heat tolerance), and the spinach. Cook until all is blended.

Turn into a buttered casserole topped with buttered bread crumbs, and bake for about 45 minutes at 300° F until the top is crisp and golden. If you want to speed up the browning, toast under the broiler.

Cold Comfort Creamed Squash

Follow directions above, substituting cooked winter squash for spinach, and 1 cup chicken broth for the spinach liquid.

Bringing it:

This is the type of thing that begs to be put in a dish, covered snugly and carried elsewhere to someone who needs a little comfort.

 

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No Knead Challah

    C'mon. You know you want to at least try. Right?C’mon. You know you want to at least try. Right?

Stop right there. I know what you are thinking. NEXT! As in, I am not a bread baker, and even if I was I am surely not a bread braider and baker. But please, give me a chance here…unless you are gluten-free and/or Vegan. If that’s the case you may want to move on from this egg, honey and flour fantasia of a recipe. If you’re still with me, take a deep breath and say, “I can do this!”

The no-knead aspect of this 5-Fold Challah recipe drew me in, as did the memories of the first time I had challah while living with the classic Jewish mother, who worked all day teaching middle school English and still managed to turn out home cooked meals for 5 kids, three of whom were not even her own. Kaki, you opened your heart and your home and gave me many wonderful things, including a lifelong taste for chicken and onions, real bagels and challah. For this and so much more, thank you!

So, just to put this in context, the loaves pictured were made on my very first try at this recipe. And I am NOT a bread baker. The only bread I make consistently is Easiest French Bread Ever, which can be done in a coma, and Lifechanging “Dirt” Bread, which requires the entire contents of a birdfeeder but no yeast or skill. What I’m saying here is, I think you should try this. It would make a fine base for a chicken and onion sandwich. (To Kaki if you ever happen to read this: Sorry for all the run-on and fragmented sentences and YES, I am getting enough to eat!)

Notes: I have read you can replace the oil with melted unsalted butter. God only knows why I have not tried this yet. For non bread bakers this looks like a lot of work, but it’s tiny bits of effort (folding) with unattended time in between, and remedial braiding. Even more importantly, the timing is flexible and the challah is very accommodating to changes of (your) schedule. Finally, for all you over achievers, check out Jessica Fechtor’s full version on Food52 for all the possibilities of incorporating cinnamon sugar, raisins, etc.

No Knead Challah

From Jessica Fechtor and Food52
Makes 2 Loaves

Dry ingredients

  • 4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Wet ingredients + shaping

  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (save the extra white in a covered glass in the fridge for glazing later on)
  • 3/4 cup (190 grams) water
  • 1/3 cup (75 grams) olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
  • For sprinkling, before baking (optional): Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flaxseeds, rolled oats, sunflower seeds, and/or pumpkin seeds

Method:

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl. Dump the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until a wet, sticky dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Peel back the plastic. Grab an edge of the dough, lift it up, and fold it over itself to the center. Turn the bowl a bit and repeat around the entire lump of dough, grabbing an edge and folding it into the center, eight turns, grabs, and folds in all. Then flip the dough so that the folds and seams are on the bottom. Cover tightly again with the plastic, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Repeat the all-around folding, flipping, covering, and resting four more times. (I keep track by drawing hash marks in permanent marker right on the plastic.) The dough flops more than it folds in the first round or two. Then, as the gluten develops, you’ll get proper folds. By the final fold, the dough will be wonderfully elastic, and you’ll be able to see and feel the small pockets of air within. Pull the plastic tight again over the bowl and refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours—any longer and you risk over-proofing.
  4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into six equal pieces. Roll into six strands, each about a foot long and 3/4 inch in diameter, dusting sparingly with flour when necessary to prevent sticking. (You’ll want to add as little extra flour as possible.)
  5. Form two three-strand braids, and transfer the loaves to the prepared pan. Cover with plastic and let proof at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, until the dough is noticeably swollen and puffed and bounces back very slowly, if at all, when you poke it lightly with your finger.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaves and brush with the reserved egg white. If you’d like, sprinkle with seeds. Poppy and sesame seeds are traditional challah toppings. Fechtor typically co
    Challah1

    Not sure how that little orphan loaf worked in, but I’m sure it was well-loved.

    vers one with a combination of flaxseeds and rolled oats, and the other with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, though lately she’s been opting for no seeds at all.

  7. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the bread is golden and gorgeous and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. You can also check for doneness with a thermometer. The internal temperature of the loaves will be 190° F when fully baked.
  8. Transfer to racks and let cool.
  9. These loaves freeze very well: Wrap the cooled loaves in plastic wrap, then put them in zip-lock bags and freeze. Thaw directly in the bag on the counter, then remove the plastic and reheat in a warm oven. You won’t be able to tell it’s been frozen

 

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Chilean Butternut Squash

A great side and beautiful colors!

A great side and beautiful colors!

I had every good intention of posting before the holidays but never got to it. Please forgive! This holiday season I had more of a “just in time” approach, i.e. what do I need to do today? The blog post never quite made it onto the list. At the very least, I can now provide you with the top holiday treats I sampled over the past two weeks.  

First is Chilean Squash. I went to a good friend’s house for Christmas Eve and this was served. Everyone asked for the recipe. Come to find out, it is a recipe came from an old and trusted favorite – the original Moosewood Cookbook. Molly Katzen does not disappoint. I have had this cookbook since I went to school in Ithaca, NY in the 1980’s (and frequented the Moosewood restaurant many times while studying there) but never made the Chilean Squash. I’ll have to do double duty going forward to make up for lost time.

Below is the recipe straight from the Moosewood Cookbook and then further below is how I made it (I didn’t have the eggs on hand!).  Both are worthy but go for the original if you have the ingredients.

And before I give you the squash recipe, a little sneak preview of the other favorite holiday treat – apple cider caramel. Stay tuned…

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Ingredients

4 cups cooked squash or pumpkin, mashed or pureed
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers (add hot peppers if you like it spicy)
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
4 beaten eggs
2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Dash of cayenne (or more to taste)
1 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil

Method 

  1. Saute onions, garlic, and spices in olive oil until onions and garlic are translucent. Add peppers and salt. Cover and cook 5-8 minutes.
  2. Add saute to masked squash along with corn and beaten eggs. Mix well. Taste to correct seasoning.
  3. Spread into buttered 2-quart casserole and top with cheese.
  4. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes covered and then 15 minutes uncovered.

Sue’s version

  1. Saute butternut squash, onions, peppers and garlic in olive with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil if sticking.
  2. Add corn and spices. Stir to mix. Adjust spices. Top with cheddar cheese.
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