Christmas Toffee

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I can’t remember a Christmas of late that hasn’t included chocolate toffee.  It started when I was first married.  Eager to prove I was a grown up and a successful entertainer.  When my parents agreed to come to Delaware to spend Christmas with us I went nuts.  I am sure I made fiftimg_0769y kinds of cookies, fudge, bars, candy, you name it.  So much so that my dad and his sweet tooth were overwhelmed.  Normally a very sensible man, he was mesmerized by so much confection . . . he ate it all.  He liked to tell people that he was not a real “sweets person” but those of us who knew him knew better.  A trip to the ER with stomach pains inspired us to give lots of treats to neighbors, friends, homeless people, etc.

I have calmed down a bit after that year but one thing that never goes off the list is my homemade chocolate toffee with almonds and pecans.  It took a few years to perfect it.  The toffee was too grainy.  The chocolate didn’t harden.  Nuts were not delicious (toasted nuts are much better).  Now after about 35 years later I think I have it down pat.  Just don’t eat it all in one setting.

The hardest part of this recipe is the patience and getting use to watching the different stages of toffee.  Is it ever going to get the amber color?  Is it suppose to get this thick?  Why does it separating?  Be patient.  I tried to include some pictures of the stages the confection will go through.  Literally times no time at all to complete.

OMG CHOCOLATE TOFFEE

INGREDIENTS

 

 

1 1/4 c. unsalted butter

1 1/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

pinch of kosher salt

2 c. semisweet mini chocolate chips (if all you have is regular chips that is fine)

1/2 c. toasted chopped almonds

1/2 c. toasted chopped pecans

Sea Salt to top

DIRECTIONS

 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Toast and chop your nuts.  By the way you can sub almonds and pecans for other nuts, but why would you?

In a heavy duty saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stirring constantly with a wood spoon.  Continue cooking after the butter melts.  You will go through several stages of color and texture.  The continuous stirring keeps the butter and sugar from separating.

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Let butter melt and then cook, stirring constantly with a spatula (so the butter and sugar don’t separate!), until mixture turns a dark amber, 15  to 20 minutes, maybe even more. If it takes longer than this you may not you may not have the heat hig enough so turn it up and keep stirring.  Always stirring.  Some prefer to use a candy thermometer to determine whether it is done.  If so you should shoot for 288 degrees or the hard crack stage.) This mixture should be amber in color.

Pour toffee mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and immediately spread out the chocolate chips evenly on top of the toffee mixture. Let it set a minute to melt and using a spatula spread the melted chips evenly over the toffee mixture.

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Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.  Lightly press down on the toffee with your hand to embed the nuts.  Top with sea salt.  I like the flaky kind.

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Refrigerate until set, about 2 or so hours. Then cut or break into pieces.

Enjoy!

 

Hint:  I store the leftover crumbles, from the breaking and cutting in a container to serve over ice cream.

Chocolate. Need I Say More

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One of my favorite things to make (okay, and eat) are chocolate bouchons.  I use the recipe from the Thomas Keller Bouchon Bakery.  They are easy and delicious.  You must however, use good ingredients!  Bouchon is a french word that means,  a stopper or cork at the mouth of a bottle.  They are best seimg_0778rved warm.  It’s a little bit of heaven.  The bouchon or timbale silicone molds can be purchased at Williams and Sonoma for $29.95 or at Amazon.com for $20.00.

I make these a lot because they are delicious, chocolate, easy and very elegant looking.  There are no words for their deliciousness except, eat up!

 

 

 

Recipe courtesy of Bouchon Bakery

SERVINGS

12

INGREDIENTS

Butter and flour for the timbale molds

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly warm

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Equatoriale (55%), chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar

PREPARATION

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Butter and flour 12 timbale molds (Bouchon Bakery uses 2-ounce Fleximolds and serves smaller bouchons. You can also use 3-ounce [2- to 2 1/2-inch diameter] timbale molds for larger cakes.) Set aside.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until very pale in color. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

4. Put the timbale molds on a baking sheet. Place the batter in a pastry bag without a tip, and fill each mold about two-thirds full. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When the tops look shiny and set (like a brownie), test one cake with a toothpick: It should come out clean but not dry (there may be some melted chocolate from the chopped chocolate). Transfer the bouchons to a cooling rack. After a couple of minutes, invert the timbale molds and let the bouchons cool upside down in the molds; then lift off the molds.

5. To serve, invert the bouchons and dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Serve with ice cream if desired. (The bouchons are best eaten the day they are baked.)

Potato Soup – In the crockpot

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img_0613You always hear that you shouldn’t grocery shop when you are hungry.  You also may want to make this recipe on a day when you aren’t home–you may need to rehydrate if you don’t from all the salivating that will take place.  My house smells so good right now I can’t stand it!

For us it’s a good Sunday or Monday soup.  My husband cooks bacon on Saturday mornings out on the grill.  Why?  I do love bacon but I don’t like my house smelling like bacon all weekend.  So he cooks it on Saturdays and we refrigerate for use during the week.  This recipe is garnished with bacon so I’m sure to have cooked bacon on hand.

This recipe is simple, you will have all of the ingredients on hand, your house will smell great and it is DELICIOUS!

CROCK POT POTATO SOUP – Loaded Potato Style!

img_06116 – large or 8 medium white potatoes cubed about 1/2 inch or sliced, your choice

1 large onion (white/yellow — it doesn’t matter)

1 box chicken brother (I also have used 2 chicken boullion cubes and five cups of water

2 garlice cloves minced or pressed

1/2 stick of butter

1 teaspoon salt (less if you use boullion cubes)

1 teaspoon black or white pepper (I love white!)

1 – 1 1/2 cup half and half (depending how soupy you want it)

1 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Garnish – (or you can just dump it in!)

cooked crumbled bacon

chives or green onions

cheese for on top

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Directions:

  1. Throw all 7 first ingredients into the crockpot.  Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 7-8 hours.  Make sure potatoes are done!
  2. Mash mixture with a potato masher until soup thickens but potatoes are still a little chunky.
  3. Stir in half and half and cheese.  You can also throw in the garnish or parts of the garnish if you would like at this point.
  4. Top with remaining garnish.

It serves 6 – 8 people.

Serve with a fresh salad and dinner is done.  Boom!

Just a little extra tip:  If I don’t happen to have already cooked bacon and I have to cook it I do it in the oven.  I cover a 9 x 13 pan with foil, extending up the sides a couple of inches higher than the pan — it helps keep my oven cleaner.  I bake at 400 degrees until it’s done.

 

Fresh Pickles

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Wait.  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  I mean, don’t pickles have to sit and pickle?  Not these delicious morsels of summer.  I love pickles and these are one of my favorites.  No canning and best of all very little waiting.

One year I had a plethera of pickling cucumbers left and no energy to do anything with them.  (Yeah, that was when I had to get ready for a new school year.) I decided to make some quick pickles for dinner.  (See, I told you that you would not have to wait long.)  I remembered having them at one of my childhood friend’s house growing up.

 

I don’t know what they called them but I remember the crisp, sharp taste!  Here’s the recipe:

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FRESH PICKLES

2 quarts, unpeeled diagonally sliced pickling cucumbers. (You can use regular pickles too, slice diagonal but don’t peel!)

1 – 2 large white onions, sliced IMG_0564

2 bay leaves

4 tsp. dried dill or 3 Tablespoons fresh

4 tsp. mustard seed

1 cup vinegar

2 crushed garlic cloves

2 tsp. kosher salt

3 tsp. sugar

In a non-reactive bowl, place the cukes, dill, bay leaves anIMG_0617d toss.

In a heavy saucepan heat vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed and
garlic cloves.  Bring to a boil–making sure the salt and sugar dissolve.

Pour hot mixture over the cucumber mix –toss.  Leave at room temperature  or refrigerate.  What ever you prefer.  I like minechilled. Eat.  They could last 3-4 days in the refrigerator . . . but they won’t.

Enjoy!

 

 

Breakfast Deviled Eggs

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I’m planning a brunch.  I want something unique.  I love breakIMG_0504fast casseroles but I want some thing different.  Hmmmm . . . and Breakfast Deviled Eggs were born.  I started making these for my guests at the cottage this summer and they have been a hit.  Why not deviled eggs for breakfast?  Eggs are traditional breakfast fare.  This one time, I had leftovers (just once) and I stored the eggs in a washed empty egg carton, covered the eggs with plastic wrap, and closed the lid.  No squish, no mess — it worked great!

So the recipe

Ingredients:

1 dozen eggs (big family) boiled split and yolks seperated

1/4 – 1/2 cup mayo

2 slices of cooked thick bacon chopped into small pieces

2 Tablespoons minced pickle – I used dill

1-2 Tablespoons prepared mustard – to your taste

kosher salt, fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mash egg yolks until they are free of lumps.  I use a fork.  Add mayo and mustard.  Start with 1/4 cup of mayo and add more if it is too dry.  Add bacon and finely minced pickle.  I’m guessing that sausage would be good too.  Salt and pepper and I added a little (very little – like a dash) of cayenne pepper.  My family likes a little heat.

Arrange the empty egg halves on a platter.  Scoop with a small teaspoon the filling into the egg whites.  Some people pipe them in but I like a more casual look and then I can lick the bowl rather than pipe leftovers into my mouth.  (just kidding, well kinda).

Sprinkle with paprika and refrigerate.  Nothing worse than warm deviled eggs.  Enjoy!

Oh the brunch menu — Breakfast deviled eggs, Bagel bar (which includes warmed bagels split and lots of delicious toppings such as butter, cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomatoes and of course capers), scones, sweet breads (banana, pumpkin, my new chocolate chip bread) and fruit salad.

 

Girdled Scones with Currants

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griddled sconesNo, not a typo.  These are actually called girdled scones.  Why?  Because apparently the Scots call it a girdle  and not a griddle.  Girdle, griddle what ever you want to call it they are delicious, simple to make and they bring back so many memories of my childhood.

We grew up in Michigan.  My relatives all lived in North Dakota and Minnesota.  We weren’t able to grow up with grandparents a hop, skip and a jump away.  So often times other people “adopted” us into their folds.  Grandma Nagle was one of those people.  She was the mother of one of our neighbors–a dear, dear friend to our family, Rachel Beall.  When grandma Nagle came to visit from Massachusetts she always included us in her shenanigans–and she always made up scones.  Delicious, light, creamy slightly sweet scones.  Warm, topped with butter, it was a bit of heaven.

I had thought about these scones for many years and a couple of years ago I decided to try to find or develop a recipe.  They can be grilled on a griddle or in a skillet on the stove.  Grandma Nagle had a girdle that she would bring with her.  I use a griddle when I make them.

Grandma Nagle Girdle Scones with Currants

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup of sugar

2 eggs

1 cup of liquid (milk, buttermilk, yogurt, half ‘n half, cream)(I use cream)

pinch of salt

3  cups of flour mixed with 4 tsp.  baking powder

1/2 cup currants (you can leave these out, but, why?)

Directions:

Cream butter until it is pale yellow.  Add sugar and continue to cream until the mixture is smooth.  Add eggs one at a time mixing until each one of well incorporated.  Add cream and continue to mix at a lower speed.  You may have to scrape the sides along the way, depending on your mixer–just make sure everything is well incorporated.

Next add your salt, flour and baking powder and at a low speed mix until just incorporated.

Add currants (You can use raisins but currants are so right for this recipe).

Your dough should be slightly sticking.  If not, add a little more liquid.  It it seems too liquidy to handle, add more flour.

Heat your griddle to about 350 degrees.  If it is a no stick it will not require any additional oil on the griddle.  If it is not a non-stick you may want to give it a quick spray with a cooking spray.

Dump onto a floured surface and knead for just a minute.  Brush a bit of flour onto your hands and work your magic. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls.  Roll out each ball, making sure both sides of the disk have plenty of flour on them.  I actually just use my hands to flatten it out and shape an approximate 8 inch circle.  Cut the disk into 4 triangles and place on griddle.  Do the same for the other 3 disks.

Grill for about 5-7 minutes on each side.  Keep an eye on them because I find griddles are somewhat inconsistent.  When you flip them they should be golden brown on the bottom and have puffed up.  Continue cooking on the other side.

When done, remove from grill and let cool slightly on a wire rack.  Make your pot of tea, pour yourself a cup.  Split open a scone and slather it with butter (okay you don’t have to slather).  Take a bite.  Truly heavenly.

Grandma Gudrun Lovas’s “White Cookies”

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0Q1qz4d4bo1_500_zpsb68a339fBusy with my Christmas baking I had a flashback.  My Norwegian grandma Gudrun Lovas’ sugar cookies.  My cousin Nancy says she called them White Cookies.  They were legend.  Long after she left us there was talk of these marvelous cookies–memories.

I sent a message to my cousin Nancy asking if she had the recipe.  She quickly replied and I giggled as I read her comments:

“I found it! This is exactly how she wrote it: 1 cup butter 1/2 cup lard 2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1/2 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon soda 1 teaspoon vanilla There is no mention of flour or baking temperature. I’m sure she just added flour until it felt right for rolling out. Gudrun called them “white cookies”.”

I’m guessing 2-3 cups of flour.  Start with 2 and add until, you know, it feels right!

I’m going to try this recipe.  I’m sure the delicious memories will remind me of the gentle hugs from Grandma.

May your Christmas be filled with all kinds of hugs and warm sweet memories.  May you remember the old ones and create new ones.  Enjoy your loved ones.  Merry Christmas.  G

 

My “Peachy” Neighbor Just Brought Me Pears! Let’s Make Pie

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I was so touched when I answered the door last Monday and one of my neighbors, w2015-10-25 10.47.13-2ho I have never even met, brought me a huge bag of pears.  He said they were from the tree in his back yard and he had so many.

I haven’t cooked much with pears, but I like them.  I am a prolific pie maker and although I never have had a pear pie, I thought it would be interesting to try.

My friend Debbie had just given me some apples from her yard on Monday, hmmm, pears and apples that would be good.  Hey, I got a bag of cranberries in the fridge that would brighten up the pie both visually and taste.So it began . . . and the Apple, Pear, Cranberry Crunch Pie was born.  Where does the crunch pie come in?  I’ll get to that.

Apple, Pear, Cranberry Crunch Pie

Pie crust for a single pie

3 pears

3 apples

1 1/4 cups of roughly chopped cranberries

zest of 1 orange

2/3 cup white or brown sugar (firmly packed)

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

2 T flour

1 T corn starch

Crunchy Crumb Topping

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts (this is where the crunchy comes in)

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

4 T. soft butter (preferably unsalted)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees/

Prepare a single crust.  Whatever recipe I use, I always add a Tablespoon or more of powdered buttermilk.  It is such a great tangy addition, especially in any pie with apple in it.  Put the pie2015-10-24 17.13.40 crust shell into the freezer for about 15 minutes.

2015-10-24 17.13.06Peel, core and slice pears and apples.  Cut into slices (I liked 1/4″).  Roughly chop the cranberries.  Combine pears, apples, cranberries and orange zest in a bowl.

Mix together in another bowl, flour, corn starch sugar(s) and nutmeg.  Use a whisk to ensure the spices and starches are well combined.  Sprinkle over fruit and toss and turn with your hands until it is well coated.2015-10-24 17.22.21In the same bowl you mixed the flours, etc., combine rest of the ingredients for the topping.  Using your hands (I’m an earthy cook) blend all the ingredients together until the butter is evenly distributed.

Remove pie crust from freezer and pour the fruit evenly into the pie shell.  Top with the crumb topping and bake for 60 – 65 minutes on a oven rack placed in the bottom third of the oven.  The fruit pie will be bubbly and beautifully browned when done.2015-10-24 17.22.27

Cool pie for at least 30 minutes – preferably longer.  Enjoy with a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream.

I knew it was good when the first two people tasted it and the first words out of their mouths were “OMG!” 2015-10-25 11.52.01

Hey, wouldn’t a handful of currants be good in this too?

The Best Sounds of Summer

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photo 1The best sound of summer Is the sound of the “pop” jars make indicating that what you are canning has sealed.  I love that sound.  I canned 20 pints and 25 quarts of tomatoes last night.  They look beautiful all lined up on my counter.

I saved a little of the sauce to make homemade spaghetti sauce and oh my goodness.  I literally wept it was so good.  Was it the roma tomatoes I used?  Was it that I cooked the sauce low and slow for 2 days?  Perhaps the wine I used.  Whatever, it is awesome.

photo 4I grow my own herbs and I have learned a few tricks of the years.  I’m sure my heritage has something to do with it as I am Italian and Native American.  However, my mother was 100% Norwegian so who knows?  Maybe that stuff is just in your DNA.

The recipe is more of a story so I will tell you the story and summarize the recipe and ingredients at the end.

In a heavy pot I ad a bit of olive oil, enough to cover the 1/2 diced red onion.  Saute until the onion is soft.  So the first trick is the red onion.  They are sweeter and make the sauce less acidic.  The second trick is to use fresh herbs and fresh garlic.  The third trick is to put a handful of oregano and a handful or more of fresh basil in my Vitamix with the skinned garlic and a couple of scoops of sauce.  A quick blend saved me a lot of chopping and it melds the flavors together.

Pour that into the sauce pan with salt and pepper, the onions and add whatever red wine you have in the refrigerator to the mix.  I prefer a nice dry cabernet but I have used pinot noir and others as well.  Ina Garten always says “Only use wine in cooking that you would be willing to drink.”  Good advice from my hero.

photo 2Next add the tomato sauce and simmer, the longer the better but it is delicious right away too.  My family favorite is to add browned Italian sausage chunks, meatballs and pepperoni to the sauce.

When I cook the pasta I drain it and add a little bit of sauce to it.  I sprinkle a little parmesan or other hard Italian cheese on it and garnish it with fresh basil.

So for the recipe . . .

1/2 red onion

1/2 handful of fresh basil and oregano (you can use dried too–obvious not as much — to taste)

4 cloves of garlic

1 cup or so of red wine

2 quarts or so tomato sauce.  Homemade or canned

meatballs or sausage as you wish.

Easy peasy and delish!

PEACH FEST!

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photo (7)It’s true, peaches mean a lot to me.  I grew up in Romeo, Michigan where the Peach Festival was the highlight of the year and held over Labor Day weekend,  marked the end of summer–but in a good way.  I was in the parade, always went to the carnival and shared many wonderful memories with friends–many who I have unfortunately not seen in years!

My mother-in-law also use to make a fabulous peach custard pie with a broiled crumb top.  If my husband has behaved himself I like to make him one every once in a while.  He was on the road all week and I called him today and told him that I had made him a peach pie.  I know he will drive extra fast to get to the lake.  I mean to see me, well maybe the pie.

So I have listed a couple of my favorite jam recipes (especially good spooned over warm tapioca pudding) and my mother-in-laws custard peach pie recipe.

Romeo Peach Jam

4 cups of peeled and diced peaches  (I like Freestone peaches–there is a reason they are named Freestone–much easier to remove the stone)

1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

1 package pectin

4-5 cups sugar.

Directions:

Place peaches, lemon juice and pectin in a thick kettle and bring to a soft boil — the kind where little bubbles form at the top.  Add the sugar and boil for an additional minute or two.  Skim foam off the top if necessary.  While that is slightly cooling. . .

Sterilize 6, 1/2 pint jars, lids and rings.  I do this is the large kettle I will be process the jars in by placing them all in there and covering with water and bringing to a boil.  When the pot comes to a boil remove the jars, lids and rings.

Give them a second to dry out and fill the jars with the jam, leaving about a half inch at the top.  Wipe the rims with a clean cloth and place the lid on the jar and lightly screw on ring.

Bring the large pot of water back to a boil (it should be deep enough to cover the jars completely plus 1/2 inch minimum.  Place the jars back in the pot and process for 5 minutes.

Remove jars and place on wooden cutting board so they don’t touch.  Sit back and listen to that glorious sound of the popping of the lids sealing.  Ahhh, such a wonderful sound.  Store in dark place.  Enjoy!

And now, for the Adult Version

Peach Butter Bourbon Jam

Miss Beth, at “Parties in a Pinch”, one of the best catering experiences in Memphis, this is dedicated to you.  I believe Miss Beth’s motto is “Everything is better with bourbon!”

Ingredients

4 cups peaches – peeled and diced

1 cup bourbon

1 package pectin

2 Tablespoons butter

3 1/2 cups brown sugar

Follow the directions from the jam above.  Heavenly, oh yes, heavenly!  Try this on a bagel with cream cheese.  It also is a great glaze for baking a ham — just paint the ham.

and

Oma’s Peach Pie

This also makes a great slab pie.  What’s a slab pie?  Just like a regular pie but it is made in a 9 1/2 x 13 inch pan. (the pastry goes up the sides of the pan).  I still can picture this pie baked in Oma’s white enamelware pan.  Man, I miss that woman.

Ingredients

5 peaches, peeled and sliced (6 if they are small)

1 cup sour cream

3 egg yolks

1 cup sugar (I usually use a bit less)

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 single pie crust – purchased or your favorite recipe

Directions

Roll out your pie crust and trim the edges.  I like to prebake the pie shell for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove from oven and place the peaches in the bottom.

In a large bowl mix the 3 egg yolks, sour cream and brown sugar , flour and vanilla together and pour over peaches.

Top with the following struesel:  1/2  stick of chilled butter cubed , 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

I like to serve it warm with ice cream.  I broil the top, watching very carefully not to burn — it gives the pie character.

And yes, grown men have wept.