Dark Salty Caramels – A Labour of Love

cut caramel 625 sq 2 with labelI can not imagine anything more lovely than being presented with a box of these dark salty caramels from your valentine. They are unbelievably deep, dark and delicious, hovering ever so closely to the edge of bitter but narrowly escaping, thanks to the judicious addition of salt.  These are adult caramels, for grown ups with a mature palate that no longer desires cloying sweets.

We have Alton Brown (and my sister Bonnie) to thank for this genius recipe. Reading through the ingredient list I did a double take when I came to the 6th ingredient…soy sauce!  Soy sauce brings the funk to these caramels. It adds to the deep dark colour and provides a salty element as well as contributing umami, that savoury flavour that makes your mouth water.

If you are a fly by the seat of your pants baker, the kind who likes to bake free form, without any recipes or directions, and you know who you are, then this recipe is not for you.

If you are faint of heart and don’t like danger or risk taking, then this recipe is not for you either.

Making these caramels requires precision and nerves of steel. You need to stand over that pot and watch the candy thermometer. When it looks like the caramel is very dark and you are convinced it is going to burn any second now, do not remove it from the heat until the temperature registers 350°F. Have faith that Alton Brown knows what he is talking about. He is wise. If you remove the caramel too soon, you will end up with your grandma’s insipid blah caramels. If you are patient, you will be rewarded with caramels that have a depth and complexity of flavour that you have never experienced before.

That being said, please do not bypass the first step of the recipe where I instruct you to test your candy thermometer. Candy thermometers are not infallible.boiling sugaradding creamThis molten caramel is VERY hot so wear oven mitts and resist the urge to lick the pot. It will take a good 3-4 hours to cool to room temperature so again, patience is required. After 3 hours I refrigerated them so they would firm up even more, making it much easier to get nice clean square cuts with a very sharp knife. carefully pouring caramel into lined panI found this pretty little box at Target last week. It is part of the Nate Berkus Collection and is intended to be used as a jewellery box. I tarted it up with some pretty ribbon and turned it into a bon bon box.beautiful gift boxopened box 625 F sqFor storing the caramels, it is best to wrap each one individually in parchment paper.wrapping 1wrapping 2wrapping 3

Click here to print recipe for Dark Salty Caramels.

Sticky Chicken Lettuce Cups with Corn Salad

chicken and corn saladConsider this post to be a Public Service Announcement (PSA) warning you about the dangers of drinking and grocery shopping. You would think that I had learned my lesson last year while visiting my friends Marla and Ed in Florida. After a delicious dinner which included several bottles of wine, we stopped in at the local Publix under the guise of getting some milk. Ed led me down the “Aisle of Eden” (candy aisle), and convinced me that buying the family sized bag of Twizzlers was a stellar idea. Waking up in the morning with a killer headache, and viewing the empty candy bag on the couch made me realize that perhaps our judgement was less than sound.

And yet I fell victim to drinking and grocery shopping again this week. After dinner, my husband and I stopped in at the supermarket to pick up a few ingredients I needed to make Bobby Flay’s sticky chicken in lettuce cups with a grilled corn salad. Cilantro was on my list. I was excited to see a small clamshell package of it, as I usually buy a big bunch and end up throwing out half of it once it starts to go slimy and ferment in my vegetable drawer.

Yesterday afternoon I pulled out all the ingredients to make dinner. I opened the package of cilantro and saw these huge spiky leaves. I looked at the package again closely.culantroWhat the hell is culantro?

In my defence, I only had one glass of wine with dinner, but, full disclosure here, I forgot my reading glasses. So, let’s amend that PSA to also include the dangers of shopping without your reading glasses.

Culantro, in case you’re curious, grows in southern Mexico. It is sometimes referred to as cilantro on steroids, as it has a very intense cilantro flavour. The leaf is quite tough so it is not really meant to be used raw but rather added to soups and stews.

A quick trip to the grocery store, with my reading glasses this time, and I had everything I needed to make the mint cilantro dressing for the grilled corn salad.corn salad dressingThe sticky glaze for the chicken simmers on the stove for about 20 minutes.making sticky saucegrilling chicken and corncutting corn off the cob corn salad 625 sqLettuce wraps are the ultimate in guilt free healthy eating. chicken and lettuce 625 sq Click here to print recipe for Grilled Corn Salad with Cilantro Mint Dressing.

Click here to print recipe for Sticky Glazed Chicken Thighs in Lettuce Cups.wrap

 

Slice and Bake Cheese Sables

with wineSome mammals develop an extra layer of insulation to keep them toasty during the winter. For mammals with fur, this extra layer consists of a thicker or longer winter coat of their fur. When spring and summer roll around they naturally shed that extra layer. Other mammals, like me for instance, pack on a cookie layer to keep them warm during the polar vortex. Sadly, that extra layer does not magically shed when bathing suit season rolls around.

 In order to help me shed my cookie layer I declared my kitchen a bake-free zone during the month of January. But, as anyone who knows me can attest, I can get a little cranky if I go too long without baking. I was having some friends over for drinks this week so I thought I would break my rule and bake some savoury cheese sables. (Sable is what the French refer to when talking about crumbly butter cookies) It didn’t really feel like cheating since these cookies are sugar free!

I came across a recipe for Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt in the January 2015 issue of Food and Wine Magazine. The dough came together very quickly and I rolled it into a log and chilled it. Slice and bake cookies make me very happy. slicingThey are topped with some rosemary salt as soon as they come out of the oven.adding rosemary salt While they looked quite beautiful, when I picked up a cooled biscuit to taste, it fell apart in my hands. I am not quite sure what I did wrong. Perhaps it is nature’s way of telling me that until I shed my cookie layer, and I need to lay off all biscuits, be they sweet or savoury!with rosemaryI carefully transferred them to a platter and served them anyways. They were messy but still quite delicious. If anyone has any ideas about what went wrong, let me know. I have a few suspicions. I used Manchego Cheese instead of the Parmesan called for in the recipe, so perhaps that was a factor. I also baked them while on holiday in Florida, on a very humid day, so perhaps that was what caused them to crumble.

Click here to print recipe for Slice and Bake Cheese Sables with Rosemary Salt.

Blood Orange and Belgian Endive Salad

on platter 2Cutting into a blood orange always brings to mind that famous quote from Forrest Gump; My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Same thing with blood oranges. Sometimes you cut into them and the inside is pale pink, at times they are mottled pale orange and brilliant red, and, when all the stars are aligned just right you get this:making vinaigretteI get such a kick out of slicing into these oranges and finding this brilliant scarlett surprise inside. Tart-sweet and slightly berry-like they’re only available from January to March, so slice into one now and see what’s waiting for you.

Blood oranges have been popular for many years in Italy and Spain, where they grow with wild abandon. I decided to give my salad a Spanish twist by incorporating Sherry vinegar in the dressing, smoked paprika in the spiced nuts and some manchego cheese shavings to top it all off. It would also be delicious topped with some soft goat cheese or some  thinly sliced shards of Parmesan.

For the lettuce element of my salad I settled on Belgian endive, sliced lengthwise into wedges, instead of chopped up crosswise, the way I ususally do it. I added some arugula to ramp up the bitter flavours. If you are not a fan of bitter, and prefer a gentler flavour, use boston lettuce mixed with some red leaf lettuce.

Making your own smoked spiced nuts is easy to do. I decided on a combo of pistachios and almonds. Supporting cast members include sugar, salt and smoked paprika. Feel free to add some cayenne if you like things a little caliente.mise en place for smoked nuts 2Egg whites are whisked until frothy. whisking egg whiteNuts are added and mixed until coated with egg whites. The egg whites help the spices adhere to the nuts.coating nuts in spicesSpread out nuts on baking sheet and bake in 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes. You won’t need all the nuts for the salad. Store the leftover in an airtight container. They are great with cocktails or a glass of wine or just for late afternoon snacking!

Neatly breaking down the oranges into perfect little segments takes a bit of practice but with a sharp knife in hand, you should be fine.

in bowl

Click here to print recipe for Blood Orange and Endive Salad.

 

 

Winter Farro Salad

in bowl fAlthough I have posted about farro herehere, here, here and here, I am of the opinion that you can never have enough good farro recipes. I just adore this nutty versatile grain. I discovered this winter version in the November 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. Associate Food Editor Claire Saffitz had a similar version at the NYC restaurant Charlie Bird. They simmered the farro in apple cider to infuse it with a lovely tart-sweet essence.apple cidercooked farroThe cooled farro is tossed with crunchy julienned apples and celeriac.celeriacYou have to believe that the first guy to come across one of these gnarly roots was in an extremely weakened and ravenous state. It would have taken quite a leap of faith for someone to come across this in the wild and decide that eating it was a sound idea. 

This knobby root is Celeriac (also known as celery root). I have often come across them in the supermarket, but had no idea how and where to use it. However, in January, when fresh local stuffs is in short supply, you need to go outside your comfort zone and embrace the ugly! Celeriac has a mild delicate taste, rather like a cross between celery and parsley. Beneath that grody exterior lies a heart of snowy white goodness. 

Taming this beast is not difficult. Slice off the top and bottom so it sits flat on the cutting board. Slice around the sides and hack off the brown outer skin. Julienne it for raw salads or cube it for simmering in soup. If you are using it raw in a salad, store it in water with a splash of lemon juice after cutting to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.  Drain and mix into salad just before serving.peeling celeriac

cutting celeriac into julienneSalty black olives and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese are added as a welcome balance to the cider sweetened farro. Italian parsley leaves provide a verdant fresh punch. I added some pickled red onions because I love how pickling tames their bite. A final garnish of toasted pine nuts and this salad is ready for it’s closeup!serving bowl 3 625 sq

 Click here to print recipe for Winter Farro Salad.