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Double Ginger Caramels

February 7, 2011

caramels!

Many evenings as I head to class at FCI, I duck off the crowded sidewalk into [the often more crowded] Dean & Deluca on Broadway. And I can honestly say, that I have never purchased a thing. It is the land of filet mignon, fancy tins of imported salts, and an entire section of elegantly wrapped chocolate bars, most priced at $10 or higher. Although there’s very little this student can afford, a wander through those aisles is the retail equivalent of good cookbook perusing session-‐a means of stowing away a glossary of new ingredients, ideas for recipes, and overall, a way of getting me fired up for a night of intense cooking. Regardless of my blunders during the previous class session (most recently, a thoroughly overcooked pork chop), the ritual calms my nerves and calls up the love of food that brought me to culinary school in the first place. Some competitors may get jazzed up for a big match with an “Eye of the Tiger,” pre-game soundtrack-‐instead of punching sides of beef a la Rocky, I’m looking at expensive grocery items, cured meats, and bakery items. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Insights to my odd, food-transfixed mind aside, let’s get back to the caramels you see pictured above. On one recent wander through the Dean & Deluca candy section, I got to thinking about these chewy, classic sweets. The options available in store were of course, expensive. And although they may well have contained the most expensive sugars, organic cream, grey sea salt, etc., I had a hard time accounting for how 10 or 12 little sweets could cost close to $40. How hard could it be to pull them off at home?

With the key ingredients already stocked in my pantry, I decided to do some at-home experimenting and over the course of several weeks of flavor/consistency tweaking, I ended up with these little nuggets of caramel-y goodness. Deviating from the ubiquitous, though undeniably delicious sea salted variety, I gave these treats a hefty dose of spice-‐fresh peeled ginger is infused in the caramel itself and each bite studded with chunks of the sweet, crystallized variety.

This recipe makes quite a lot of candies, and thus, Quincy and I have been consuming them in quantity. In fact, most of my coat pockets are stocked with a few, to ease those long, cold waits for the bus/subway. And with a certain Hallmark holiday coming up, these could come in handy, either en lieu of or as a supplement to that heart-shaped box of chocolates.



caramels, wrapped and ready!

Double Ginger Caramels (Adapted from David Lebovitz)

Keep in mind that a candy thermometer is pretty essential here-‐definitely worth picking up before you embark on any serious candy-making adventure. The difference in a few degrees either way can make a tremendous difference in texture. If you have one in the depths of your junk drawer, it’s helpful to check it’s accuracy before getting started. Simply fit a sauce pan with the thermometer, fill with water, and bring to a rolling boil–the thermometer should read 212º F, assuming you’re at sea level. If this isn’t the case, you may want a new thermometer. A heat proof spatula is helpful as well.

3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. heavy cream
4 oz. piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
4 tbsp. butter (divided 2 tbsp./2 tbsp.)
generous 1/2 tsp. flaky sea salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 to 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, tossed with a little confectioners sugar to prevent it from clumping

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just comes to a boil. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the ginger and stir; cover with a lid and allow to infuse for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your equipment (including candy thermometer, heat proof spatula or stirring utensil) and all remaining ingredients. Line a 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper or foil and very lightly coat with cooking spray or vegetable oil.

After a half hour has passed, strain the cream mixture through a fine sieve, and return infused cream to the saucepan. Add 2 tbsp. butter and the sea salt, then reheat just to a boil, cover, and keep warm while you prepare the caramel.

Fit another heavy-duty saucepan (medium sized or accommodating at least 4 quarts) with a candy thermometer. Add the corn syrup and sugar and heat, stirring gently, until all the sugar granules have dissolved. After you’ve reached a uniform, clear syrup, continue cooking it until it reaches 310º F, stirring/swirling the pan ONLY as necessary (as infrequently and gently as possible) if mixture begins to color unevenly.

When the sugar mixture has reached 310º F, remove from the heat and stir in the warm, ginger-infused cream mixture-‐it will bubble vigorously. Once smooth, return the mixture to the heat, and cook to 248º F (firm ball). Turn off the heat, remove the thermometer, and stir in the remaining 2 tbsp. butter and crystallized ginger. Once incorporated, pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Cool on a wire rack. Once completely cooled, remove the caramels from the pan (this should be easy using the lining as a ‘sling’), remove the parchment/foil and slice into desired shape–a very sharp knife is key.

It is important to wrap these individually so they don’t stick together-‐I typically use waxed paper, though if a restaurant supply store nearby you has fancy, pre-cut cellophane wrappers, those would be lovely. Once wrapped and stored in a air-tight container, these treats can hang around for about a month.

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Arugula Almond Pesto

January 26, 2011
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pesto pasta salad

The following recipe is an antidote to gray. I’m not so much against the color in general (I’ve been known to favor neutrals when it comes to my painting, wardrobe, etc.), but here in NYC, we’ve been having more than our share of murky weather. The epic snowbanks from snowstorms past have been reduced to little, heaps of smog-crusted ice. More than once, I’ve fallen victim to the lagoons of black, opaque slush that collect on sidewalks and roadsides, getting soaked up to my ankles as I dash to cross the street. But it is, after all, only January. And if I’m sure of anything after nearly 24 years living in the Northeast, it’s that we better strap on our galoshes. This kind of weather is likely sticking around.

So, in the spirit of brightening things up, I’ve been working on a pesto. Although long associated with the abundance of summer basil, it’s just as easy to but together this multi-purpose sauce/condiment with other greens/nuts/cheeses you have around the house, even in the murkiest of winter weather. In an attempt to use up some bagged arugula that had seen better days, I tossed it into the food processor with some olive oil, lemon, and a few other odds and ends that tend to hang around in my kitchen. The result? A stunningly green mixture, ripe with possibilities for pizzas, omelets, sandwiches, and, of course, pasta.

This mixture will keep for a few days in the fridge, but can easily be frozen in ice cube trays until solid, then transferred in cube form to a resealable plastic bag. Whenever the mood for something green strikes, just defrost a cube or two and use as desired.


Pesto Pizza in the making!

Arugula-Almond Pesto
This recipe yields a fairly stiff pesto. I opt to keep it this way so it’s suitable for spreading, but when making pasta, I often thin it with a little starchy cooking water to coat evenly. If thick pesto isn’t your thing, feel free to add more olive oil and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Also note that the arugula you choose will have profound effect on the flavor of the final product-‐the baby leaves that come in bags tend to be much milder than the more peppery, larger-leaved varieties that I love when the farmer’s market is in full swing.

1/4 cup whole roasted almonds
1 cup packed arugula leaves
1/4 cup grana padana (or parmesean) cheese
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil (or more if desired)
1/4 t salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper (not really necessary depending on the articular you go with)

Pulse the almonds briefly before adding the arugula, cheese and lemon. Process the mixture, streaming in the olive oil gradually to achieve the consistency you like. You may need to pause periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Season the mixture to taste, then transfer to a container to store in the refrigerator or freezer, as described above.

Pesto Pizza with zucchini and fresh mozzarella

Pastry Adventures

January 21, 2011



If the above photo is any hint, the past few weeks have been filled with an extraordinary amount of sugar, butter, and chocolate consumption-‐we’ve been in the thick of Pastry 101 at school, cranking out lots of truly decadent sweets. Read more about my recent pastry adventures in my new Food2 post, published today.

Happy weekend to all!

Caramelized Onion Crackers

January 10, 2011
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Caramelized Onion Crackers

During the days leading up to the New Year, I spent hours thinking about just the right post to kick off 2011. I had plenty of time to mull it over, especially during my record-breaking 12-hour voyage from Boston to New York after Christmas (thanks, blizzard), but in the flurry of house guests we’ve had lately, plus a bout with some nasty flu-ish symptoms, I’ve totally fallen off the wagon. And aside from some sort of uber-festive recipe, or a ‘resolution-friendly’ salad, my efforts to find a distinctively New Years-y topic haven’t turned up a whole lot. But now, it being January 10th, I think it’s time to keep trucking, ‘right post’ or not.

If the mention of crackers doesn’t quite get you going, I can understand. These crisp snacks are widely regarded as the second class members of the cheese plate, or worse, a critical part of the sick-day saltine/ginger ale diet. Crackers are usually just a vehicle for something more delicious-‐a critical means of transferring that hot spinach and artichoke dip, baked brie en croute, etc. from the plate into your mouth. But what if they could be something more?

So one rainy Sunday, likely in a moment of supreme homework/laundry procrastination, I decided to take on this very question. As so many of my kitchen adventures begin, I cracked open my copy of How to Cook Everything in search of a trusty, simple recipe. Flying right in the face of the typical supermarket boxed versions, containing a host of bizarre ingredients (who doesn’t love malt syrup, invert sugar and monoglycerides with their wedge of camembert?) Mark Bittman’s version called for only four: butter, salt, flour and water.

With the addition of some cracked pepper and course sea salt sprinkled on the unbaked dough, the first round was on the right track. And although a perfectly good cracker, I wanted something more unique-‐a bigger payoff after enlisting the food processor, rolling pin, 400 degree oven, and covering the kitchen with a thin dusting of flour. So, after several batches (over several weekends) and the better part of a bag of flour, I reached The Cracker-‐the liquid in the original recipe had been replaced completely with the moisture of a large onion, cooked with the butter and salt until deeply caramelized.

Yes, these crackers are bit of work. The onions require some TLC, and a bit of vigilance is necessary on the baking end. But the end result is darn tasty, and for the DIY-inclined, make a great homemade gift.

Crackers galore!

Caramelized Onion Crackers
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 very large onion, finely diced (about 3/4-1 lb. whole, or enough to yield about 3/4 to 1 cup caramelized onions)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
a few drops of water if neccessary
a few tsps. olive oil for drizzling
coarsely ground black pepper
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Warm a large skillet (cast iron works well) over medium high heat. Melt the butter, add the chopped onions and salt. Stir to coat and cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat, stirring frequently much of the excess liquid evaporates. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook the onions until they are very tender and deeply caramelized. This is a labor of love: in order NOT to burn the onions, caramelizing might take as long as 1/2 hour over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, pour the flour into a food processor and hold. Lightly dust a sizable work surface with flour, as well as a large sheet pan. Find yourself a rolling pin.

When the onions are done, add them to the food processor with the flour and process until the mixture comes together in a large ball that clears the sides of the bowl. This may take a minute or two of processing, plus a few pauses to adjust the contents of the bowl. If your dough doesn’t come together, you may need to add a few drops of water (this will happen if your onion is a bit on the small side and there isn’t enough moisture present), but do so slowly and very little at a time. If the dough becomes too loose, add a bit of flour.

Dough Ball

When your dough is workable [see dough ball above], remove to your floured work surface and roll as evenly as possible until you have a sheet that is about 1/16″ thick. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper and cut into desired shapes. Place crackers on prepared sheet pan and bake in preheated oven. Although I hesitate to give a pre-determined bake time–you’ll have to watch carefully because the thickness of each cracker, heat of your oven, etc. can cause fairly significant variation–the whole baking process should take about 7-12 minutes, but I’d take a peek after 5. If need be, remove any crackers that are browning more quickly than others.

When golden brown, remove crackers from the oven (they will still be a bit pliable) and allow them to cool on the baking sheet completely. When cool and hardened, store in an airtight container or storage bag.

Crackers with Brie

Culinary School Leftovers (a belated link)

January 7, 2011

Chicken stuffed with mushrooms and Italian sausage (paupiotte de voile)

Sorry for the [serious] delay on posting this link. I wrote this post for Food2.com, and when it was published on Christmas Eve, I was too busy eating copious amounts of my Aunt Nan’s delicious seafood chowder, frantically wrapping last-minute presents, and binge-watching the most recent season of Dexter (cable TV at my parent’s house is a serious novelty) to remember to put it up. Anyway, my apologies.

I’ll be contributing to Food2’s blog once a month during my time at the French Culinary Institute, so stay tuned for more.

Gingerbread with Spiced Rum Crème Anglaise

December 17, 2010

Gingerbread with Spiced Rum Creme Anglaise
Last night, Quincy came home with a Christmas tree. We had long rationalized not getting one, due primarily to budgetary constraints and holiday travel plans, but when he came across a tree lot reject lying on the sidewalk, I guess he couldn’t resist. After gathering enough chutzpah to bring it home on the subway, carrying it up three flights of stairs, and wrestling it into a makeshift stand (read: salad bowl and c-clamps), I’d say he just about made my week. It’s about 5 feet, surprisingly fragrant for a sidewalk cast-off, and despite a slightly spindly profile on one side (easily disguised against the wall), it’s really pretty charming. I guess the way to this girl’s heart is through a miniature evergreen. Who knew?

Speaking of holiday spirit, Christmas trees and the like, it seems a good time to discuss gingerbread. Although it’s most closely associated with December festivities, it’s a good treat to carry you right through the cold-weather season, packing enough spice to warm you through and through. It’s probably best consumed in a leather wing chair by a crackling fire, basset hound curled at your feet, but if you live in a 3rd floor walk-up apartment, sans fireplace (and a strict no-dog policy), you just have to use your imagination.

Gingerbread in a Puddle of Delicious

Regardless, gingerbread is pretty cozy stuff, perfect with a cup of tea, or transformed into a dinner party-worthy dessert with a little homemade whipped cream, or better yet, a few spoonfuls of boozy, rich Crème Anglaise. For a dinner party last weekend, I chose the latter topping-‐literally meaning “English Creme,” this simple custard sauce (also the basis for ice cream!) is a good one to have in your back pocket. It’s a little fancy, and as long as you have a wee bit of courage, about 10-15 minutes to concentrate, a few simple ingredients, you’re already 80% there. In this instance, I’m using rum to flavor the sauce, along with a bit of sea salt to heighten the flavors, but really, you could use any liquor, citrus zest, or other flavoring to suit your taste.

Enjoy, and of course, Happy Holidays!

Lynne’s Dark and Moist Gingerbread (adapted, barely, from the Splendid Table, and corresponding cookbook “The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper”)

2 cups, less 2 tablespoons, all-purpose unbleached flour
1 generous teaspoon baking soda
Generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup very hot water
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2-3/4 cup chopped uncrystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces and tossed with a teaspoon or two of flour*

Generously grease and and flour an 8-inch square baking pan and preheat oven to 350°F. Sift dry ingredients and spices into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the melted butter, molasses, and water together (don’t fret: mixture will be very liquid-y). Add the egg, then quickly incorporate the dry ingredients, starting with a whisk, and finishing with a rubber spatula as batter thickens, stopping as soon as batter is smooth. Fold in ginger. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan. Serve warm, or allow to cool and wrap tightly with plastic wrap to retain moisture. The cake can stick around, tightly wrapped, for a few days, and also freezes beautifully.

*I found my ginger chunks at Trader Joe’s. I just chopped them a bit, then used flour to prevent the chunks from sinking in the batter. Crystallized ginger would also be lovely.


Spiced Rum Creme Crème Anglaise
yield: about 1 cup

2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
just shy of 1 cup half & half
1/2-1 tbsp. dark spiced rum, or more, depending on your taste
a hefty pinch of sea salt

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. Reserve. Heat the half and half in a saucepan, until just boiling. Remove from heat, allow to cool very slightly, then whisk a small amount of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture to temper-‐ adding it too quickly will cause the eggs to scramble and, well, you’ll have to start over. Continue whisking in the half and half slowly, whisking constantly. When all of the liquid has been incorporated, transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and SLOWLY bring up temperature to about 170°F (it may be helpful to use a candy thermometer, particularly for your first try), whisking to prevent curds from forming on the bottom. When adequately heated, a line will hold when you draw your finger across the back of a coated spoon. Remove sauce from heat, stir in rum to taste, as well as sea salt if desired. Immediately pour through a sieve into a bowl and refrigerate until cold (creme will thicken substantially), pressing plastic wrap onto the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. When chilled completely, pour generously over the dessert of your choice.


Gingerbread, in profile

Carrot Apple Salad with Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette

November 29, 2010

Carrot Apple Salad with Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette

In honor of this lovely, post-Thanksgiving Monday, I present to you a salad. If you’re anything like me, the past few days have been ones of epic indulgence-‐from Wednesday night pie-prep bowl lickings, to the Thursday feast, followed by a weekend of eating out with visiting relatives, I for one, could go for some veggies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still looking forward to one more Turkey Gobbler-esque sandwich, especially in the interest of polishing off our unrelenting supply of Thanksgiving leftovers. But in these post-feast days, prior to the launch of Christmas cookie production and holiday party attendance, I’ll happily nosh on leafy greens and hearty winter roots vegetables. Especially if it means I can have that last slice of apple crumb pie for dessert.

This is salad is perfect for using up the carrots and thyme leftover from the Thanksgiving turkey roast, or the last few apples that narrowly escaped being made into pie. If you find yourself shopping for ingredients at your local farmer’s market, seek out the multi-colored carrots-‐it’s hard to argue with a Technicolor salad, especially these bleak November days.

carrot salad, of the multi-colored variety

Carrot Apple Salad with Mustard Thyme Vinaigrette
Mustard acts as an emulsifier in this recipe, yielding a creamy, smooth vinaigrette. There’s plenty of room for adaptation with different herbs/spices in the dressing, and the vegetable base could be altered (celery! red bliss potatoes! roasted cubes of winter squash!) for some enticing variations.

For the dressing:
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1.5 to 2 cups carrots, thinly sliced
1 large apple, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced paper thin
chopped pistachios or sunflower seeds (optional)

Put mustard in a medium bowl, large enough to accommodate the completed salad. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly and vigorously to emulsify. Whisk in the vinegar, honey, thyme and shallot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the carrots, apple and onion to the bowl. Toss, and sprinkle with the pistachios/sunflower seeds just before serving.