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Archive for the ‘Cookies & Candy’ Category

Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary

Hello there. I know, I know, it’s been a long time. Apologies to my loyal followers, all seven of you, including my mom. I’m not sure where the time has gone. I’ve still been cooking. Lots. But other diversions of life have kept me from the writing and photography part…

This month, the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 was published, featuring my recipe for Corn Salad with Cilantro and Carmelized Onions. What a thrill to hold that book in my hands, and see “Ms.T” in print, right there on page 253. How exciting to see my photo in the back, as part of such a wonderful mosaic of home cooks from all over the world. (Thank you to those who voted for the recipe last summer, and to Sandra and Chris for sharing it with me in the first place!)

And then, before the high had even worn off, I discovered that my recipe for Pine Nut Brittle was featured on Saveur’s web site! Included in their very cool  Cookie Advent Calendar, hiding behind door #19. Professionally tested and photographed and practically glowing in its spotlight. (ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a little bummed they credited the blogger who told them about the recipe rather than the cook who created the recipe. But I know it’s mine. And now all seven of you do too. And I do appreciate Kimberly from The Year in Food turning them onto the recipe–after all, her blog is one of my favorites, and she was quite lovely when I met her at the Food52 potluck last year.)

Anyway, all this “fame” got me thinking. A year and a half ago, when I started this blog, and began entering recipe contests, and devoting an extraordinary amount of time to obsessing about food, I did it because I really needed a diversion. Some bumps in the road, at work and in life, made me question the path I was on. Made me crave another outlet to pour my passion into. Made me need some new hopes and daydreams for future possibilities.

Early morning holiday shadows

Holly branch in sunlight

And it worked. It’s been really rewarding–for me, and hopefully also for the people I cook for–to spend a little more time on this hobby of mine. But a funny thing happened along the way. The other stuff–the bumps–worked themselves out. When I shifted my attention, ever so slightly, away from the frustrations I couldn’t control and stopped banging my head on the wall, it all seemed to get better.

So here I am, at the end of 2012, with a suddenly more balanced contentment spread across career, cooking, and other hopes for the future. And feeling very, very grateful for all three.

Thank you for bearing with me. I’ve been doing a lot of holiday baking lately, which also means eating a lot of sweets at all hours of the night. (QA testing is a crucial part of any production process, right???) So the ramblings above are admittedly fueled by too much sugar and too little sleep.

Wishing you all happy holidays and a very sweet New Year!

Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary

Ms. T’s Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary
(winner of “your best holiday confection” on Food52)
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups pine nuts (yes, I know, they are crazy expensive. that’s why this treat is only for the really nice people on your list.)
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely ground sea salt

Place the sugar in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar begins to melt. Lower the heat to medium-high and keep stirring just until the sugar is melted. Stop stirring and watch for it to turn a medium caramel color. About 10 minutes total.

Stir in pine nuts, and then butter. Allow pine nuts to cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in half of the rosemary and half of the sea salt. Note: Don’t panic if your butter separates and looks like an oily unappetizing mess. This probably has something to do with temperatures–if you want to know, ask a more scientific cook than me. My advice is just keep stirring and it will eventually all come back together.

Turn the mixture out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (NOT wax paper–I learned this the hard way), and spread it evenly to the desired thickness with a wooden spoon or stiff rubber spatula. Sprinkle remaining rosemary and salt on top, while brittle is still warm.

Allow to cool completely–at least one hour–then break the brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature. If your brittle isn’t brittle enough to break into pieces, pop it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, until it hardens enough to snap easily.

Holiday baked goods

In addition to the pine nut brittle, my goodie bags this year included rugelach (inspired by this lovely post on Sweet Amadine), chocolate gingerbread cookies, and coconut macaroons with lime zest (had to sneak in a hint of limes from our tree.)

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Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. That’s her on the left in the photo below, with her brothers, circa 1955.

It’s days like today that really make me wish I lived closer. But since I couldn’t be there to celebrate with my mom, I wanted to send something that would really make her smile. Something homemade and thoughtful. Something you couldn’t buy at Amazon.com. That’s when I stumbled upon this recipe for homemade Oreos on the smitten kitchen blog.

My mom has always had a thing for Oreos. She grew up in a 1950’s household with two parents who were astonished and amazed by the conveniences of “modern” food. Jell-O, Cool Whip, Velveeta–anything that came in a package and never ever lost its color or “flavor” held a special place in my grandmother Phyllis’ heart and kitchen. (Let’s just say that neither my mother nor I got our love of cooking from Phyl.)

When my mom got older and started her own household in the 70’s, the pendulum swung in the other direction. We were a home-grown, home-cooked, health food kinda family before the word “organic” was even invented (or discovered by marketers). Even our peanut butter required laborious stirring before it could be slathered on whole grain bread and dutifully gummed down.

Junk food was strictly verboden. Except of course, when we visited my grandparents. Their house was always stocked, and my grandmother made sure the cookie jar was filled to the brim with Jaynie’s favorite: Oreo cookies. My mom would go on a three-day bender of Oreos and Hershey’s kisses, only to repent with kale smoothies when we got home.

Now that my grandparents are no longer around, it’s probably been years since my mom’s even had an Oreo. So I hope that today, on her birthday, she pours herself a tall glass of ice-cold milk and enjoys a few of these–hell, maybe even the whole box. And I hope the sugar rush kicks in and makes her feel like she’s 6 years old again. Not that she’s ever had any problem looking or acting like a kid. If my mom is any indicator, 60 is the new hip.

Happy birthday, Mom. Thanks for teaching me that home cooking always trumps junk food. But today, you can have your cookies and eat them too.

      

For the Oreo cookie recipe, go to smitten kitchen, since I definitely can’t say it any better than she did. And you should see her mouth-watering photos. It’s a great recipe, and she is right: you’ve been warned.

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This month, Erica invited our cooking club to explore the theme “Quintessential San Francisco” during one of our epic four-hour eating fests. The meal did not disappoint: sourdough bread made from scratch, bay shrimp salad, an Alice Waters-inspired goat cheese souffle, and a hearty cioppino with lots of fresh seafood, including (of course) Dungeness crab.

I signed up for dessert duty and took my inspiration from the classic San Francisco treat I fell in love with when I first moved here years ago. No, I’m not talking about Rice-a-Roni (but wouldn’t that be an interesting dessert challenge?). I’m talking about “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches: vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and dipped in chocolately goodness. Developed in 1928 at Playland-at-the-Beach (San Francisco’s version of Coney Island), and still available at any respectable corner store in SF.

I didn’t want to drift too far from the original combination–why mess with a good thing?–but I did dress it up a bit. This is cooking club after all, which is nothing if not over-the-top. After a little rummaging around in the spice cabinet, I ended up with a creation that was sort of like It’s It‘s sassier granddaughter. And It was good. Damn good. Which is why I feel compelled to share the recipe with you.

I’m not gonna lie. This was an all-weekend commitment. If you’re looking for quick and easy, you’re better off getting your It’s It at the corner store. But if you like an excuse to spend the day making a big mess in your kitchen, and licking all kinds of yummy spoons along the way, It’s totally worth It.

“It’s It” Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Sandwiches with Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies, Dipped in Mexican Chocolate 

Step 1: Make your ice cream custard (see vanilla bean ice cream recipe below), and stick it in the fridge to chill. I chose to make vanilla bean ice cream, but I have to admit, once it was all said and done, the other flavors kinda stole the spotlight, so I’m not sure it’s worth wasting two expensive vanilla beans for this recipe. You might be better off with a simple vanilla ice cream, made with extract. But I’ll leave that up to you. Vanilla bean certainly sounds fancier, for when that sort of thing matters.

Step 2: Make cookies (see recipe below). I experimented with the cookie recipe. I looked up a bunch of recipes and then more or less decided to do my own thing. I thought that using molasses might help keep the cookies soft when frozen. I’m not really sure if that worked, but I did like the flavor. Kind of like a cross between an oatmeal and a ginger cookie. The dough really spread out a lot on the cookie sheets while baking, so I used a 3″ cookie cutter to trim all the cookies into uniform circles. I can be obsessive compulsive like that sometimes. If you’re going the OCD route, it’s easiest to do while the cookies are still a little warm. And you can save the cookie scraps to munch on or crumble over ice cream. (As if you’ll need any extra calories after devouring a chocolate-dipped ice cream sandwich or two…or three.)

Step 3: Freeze ice cream custard in your ice cream maker. BTW, don’t forget–like I did–to put the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer the day before you want to use it. Oops. Any sane person probably would have said “oh well, I guess I’ll use store-bought ice cream.” But not me.  My Martha Stewart gene kicked in and I was up until 12:30 am making ice cream sandwiches.

Step 4: Assemble sandwiches. I didn’t measure, but I’d guess that I put about 1/3 cup of ice cream in each sandwich. Next time, I’d put a little more, since I had plenty left over and the proportions of the final sandwich leaned a little too far in the cookie/chocolate direction. Wrap them up in plastic and freeze at least 3 hours, or overnight. I devised a little system to keep the ice cream from oozing out too much that–depending on how you look at it–was either incredibly anal (see Martha Stewart gene above) or incredibly lazy (because it was after midnight and I didn’t want to wait for my soft ice cream to harden up in the freezer). Regardless of your verdict on my motive, it worked incredibly well, and it went a little something like this: I took ramekins that were 3.5″ in diameter and 3″ deep, and lined them with plastic wrap, leaving a generous amount of plastic hanging over the sides. As I assembled each sandwich, I placed it into the ramekin, put a little wax paper in between, and then layered another sandwich on top (2 sandwiches in each ramekin). Then I closed the plastic wrap tightly over the top and stuck the ramekins in the freezer as I filled each one. This allowed me to get the sandwiches into the freezer faster as I worked, and it was also much easier to make room in my freezer than if all the sandwiches were on one tray.

Step 5: Make the Mexican chocolate coating.

20 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli, of course!)
6 oz. milk chocolate chips
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash cayenne pepper

Melt the chocolate and shortening in a deep saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. Add spices and stir. As soon the mixture is smooth and melted, remove from the heat and set aside, letting it slowly come to room temperature.

Step 6: Time to dip! This is the fun/messy part. I looked at a few different references for technique, and the idea of adding shortening to the chocolate, but relied most heavily on Merill’s recipe for Mint Chocolate Harbor Bars on Food52.

Get a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer and line it with wax paper. Working with one sandwich at a time (keep the rest in the freezer), place the sandwich onto a slotted spoon and lower it into the melted chocolate. Turn the sandwich over with your fingers and lower it back into the chocolate to coat the whole sandwich evenly, and then lift it out with the spoon, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Transfer sandwich to the baking sheet and quickly repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Immediately return the sandwiches to the freezer until the chocolate sets, at least 15 minutes.

At this point in the recipe, me and my entire kitchen were covered in chocolate. It wasn’t pretty. All my sandwiches had little white finger prints where the chocolate didn’t cover and the ice cream was peeking out, so as soon as the chocolate covering hardened up a little, I re-dipped the bald spots. They looked pretty goopy gloppy, like a kindergarten art project, and my Martha Stewart side worried that I’d be kicked out of my cooking club. But in the end it didn’t matter. It just made them look legitimately homemade, and they were so damn delicious that nobody seemed to mind the fingerprints. It didn’t hurt that we were in the middle of a glorious mini-heat wave in San Francisco, and ice cream sandwiches seemed just the right thing to do.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

2 vanilla beans
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs

Cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into a large heavy saucepan and stir in pods, cream, milk, and sugar. Bring mixture just to a boil, stirring occasionally, and remove pan from heat.

In a large bowl lightly beat eggs. Add hot cream mixture to eggs in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (About 10-15 min.) Pour custard through a sieve into a clean bowl and cool. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.

Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden up slightly (30-60 min)—it will be easiest to assemble sandwiches while ice cream is still slightly soft. But the ice cream can be made up to one week ahead and stored in the freezer in an airtight container (ditto for any leftover ice cream). If you make the ice cream ahead of time, simply remove from the freezer and allow it to soften up a bit before you assemble the sandwiches.

Oatmeal Molasses Spice Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen.

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup molasses
2 large eggs
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried ground orange peel (I happened to have this in my spice cabinet, so I threw some in. I’m sure you could use fresh orange zest—I would do ½ tsp.—or skip this ingredient)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
3 cups whole rolled oats (old-fashioned)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses in a large mixing bowl. Beat in eggs until well blended.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, and all the spices. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix until well combined. Fold in oats with a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough onto the paper in spoonfuls, spacing them about 2 inches apart. They will spread quite a bit while baking.

Bake until cookies are golden but centers are still soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for a few minutes to cool.


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