Archive for the ‘baking / cooking’ Category

It’s December, and I’ve got the baking bug, so I spent this afternoon whipping up a batch of my most favorite almond toffee.  I only make this at Christmas-time (see the copious amounts of butter used and you’ll understand why), so it’s an extra-special treat.  Recipe below, in case you’re also tossing out any notions of a holiday diet…

20091213 butter toffee small

Chocolate-Covered Almond Toffee (recipe adapted from here):

10 ounces chopped, toasted almonds (almonds can be toasted on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup rum
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces

Place sugar in a small deep saucepan. Add the corn syrup and rum and, over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Let boil until large bubbles form on the surface, 3 to 4 minutes.  Cover with foil and boil 5 minutes longer.  Add the pieces of butter and continue cooking, uncovered, over medium heat until temperature reaches 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and immediately add the salt, baking soda, and 1 cup of chopped nuts. Stir until well combined.  Pour the toffee mixture on an oiled baking tray and spread the mixture out, making a block about 10 by 13 inches.  While the toffee mixture is cooling, melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl placed over simmering water*.  Keep warm.  When you can lift up the block of toffee, transfer it to a flat work surface or to a clean baking tray*. Pour the melted chocolate over the toffee and sprinkle with the remaining chopped nuts. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes to set the chocolate.  Cut into pieces of desired size.

***LESSONS LEARNED:  Today was not my day kitchen-wise, and though I’ve made this recipe several times before, I somehow managed to royally screw a couple of things up.  Take heed:  1) Melting chocolate is a sensitive process.  I set my metal bowl over the pan of simmering water, but neglected it for just a moment and it turned into a solid, chunky mess.  The stove should be on low, and the chocolate should be stirred constantly until melted.  Thank goodness for my extra chocolate stash.  Crisis averted.  2) This one is embarrassingly obvious, but do not (I repeat DO NOT) set your block of toffee on a sheet of wax paper to cool.  I meant to grab the roll of parchment paper, but instead grabbed the wax paper, and when I went to lift my block of toffee to transfer it to a plate, the paper stuck to the bottom and was impossible to peel off in places.  This whoopsie forced me to toss out nearly half my batch.  What a shameful waste of good butter…

Mishaps aside, this is good stuff.  Happy holidays!

Since I want to wait until apple season to recreate the pie that we loved last fall, I’ve been looking for some good in-season desserts to share with friends and guests.  This recipe from Everyday Food caught my eye, and since we had a couple of pounds of strawberries in the fridge, so I decided to give it a try:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend graham crackers with 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground; add butter and pulse until crumbs are moistened. Press mixture into the bottom and up the side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until crust is lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, cranberry juice, 2 cups strawberries, cornstarch, and salt. Using a potato masher, gently mash strawberries. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until very thick, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in remaining strawberries. Pour into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours (or up to 1 day).

In a large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over cream and continue to beat until soft peaks return (do not overbeat). Spread whipped cream over pie, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border around edge. Garnish with whole berries.

20090711 strawberry pie2 small

20090711 strawberry pie small

Looking forward to slicing into this one with friends tonight!  Have I mentioned how much I adore summer and all its goodness?

I’ve often wished that Shane had more of an interest in meal preparation, and yesterday I discovered the secret to stimulating his enthusiasm for cooking.  We’ve been talking about buying a grill for a couple of years, and yesterday we took the plunge and picked up a great four-burner gas grill to call our own.  The fact that Shane was up until midnight last night assembling all 4000 of the grill’s pieces told me that he was excited about the prospect of playing the role of backyard chef.

We decided to take the easy route for our first grilled meal and threw some bratwursts on the grill for lunch.  I wrapped a couple of ears of corn in foil and put them on as well.  Grilled meal #1 was a success.  For dinner, we stepped up our game a bit and put a nice thick filet of beef on the grill, along with some potato wedges brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with rosemary, and wrapped in foil.  This was trickier – a steak is so easily under or over-cooked.  We decided to err on the side of rare, but after we’d brought the meat in, let it rest for a few minutes, and then sliced into it, we found we’d erred too far – the steak was far too rare in the middle (“still mooing”, as some would say).  But the edges were perfect, so we at least got to enjoy a few tender, juicy bites.  Lesson learned.  Tomorrow we try pork, then fish later in the week.  Looks like this is going to be one heck of a meat-filled summer – I better start Googling those recipes for grilled vegetable skewers…

20090614 grill small

20090614 grill brats small

I took another licensing exam on Wednesday night, which meant that my weekends and evenings prior to that were filled with studying.  Many nights, I fell asleep with my flashcards in my hands or my study guide propped up on my chest.  Notes and books were strewn about the living room.  From the minute I schedule an exam, it becomes a constant, nagging weight on my shoulders.  What a relief to have another test over with and to be able to put that stuff away for a little while!  Thursday night, I reveled in the bliss of an obligation-free evening and spent some time knitting, baking, and returning a couple of overdue phone calls.  Made a batch of peanut brittle and finished up a knitted Christmas gift.  Called my best friend and chatted with her for nearly an hour.  That’s the upside of all these tests and all this studying – when I do have free time, I tend to want to make the most of it.  I don’t spend too many nights just vegging out in front of the TV anymore (although there certainly are times when vegging is completely necessary and acceptable).  It feels good to get back into my neglected hobbies, even if this break may be short-lived.

I’ve been trying my hand at baking lately – the cool weather is upon us and there are few things I love more right now than the feel of a cozy kitchen, filled with the warmth of the oven and the smells of baked goodies.  Last Saturday was a perfect “pie day”, with the rain falling outside and the stores full of freshly harvested Washington apples.  We had a couple of friends over and spent the afternoon chopping apples, rolling out homemade crusts, and then anxiously awaiting the moment when the pie would be pulled out the oven and ready for sampling.  And it was so worth the wait.  The crust was flaky and warm and buttery and so melt-in-your-mouth yummy.  And the apples were the perfect balance of soft, yet still just slightly crispy, spiced with just enough nutmeg and cinnamon.  My own little slice of autumn goodness, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and cup of hot tea.  I would say my first attempt at a from-scratch pie was a smashing success.  (And, I was able to cross #2 off my list.)

This weekend is cookie weekend – the dilemma now is “oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip”?  Decisions…


Satisfied my French Toast craving this morning with the delicious little number shown below. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, paired with the sweet tang of fresh blueberries… Weekday mornings always involve a mad rush to get out the door and catch the bus, so it’s nice to be able to prepare a leisurely breakfast on Saturdays. This egg-soaked, butter-fried bread was definitely an indulgence, compared to my usual fare of low-fat yogurt and granola, but it was well worth it.