Friday, July 29, 2011

Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee

Toffee is easy peasy, fun and delicious. It's a delicious addition to ice cream. This particular batch wound up softer and flakier than normal, someone said it was kind of like pralines. But, delicious anyway, and fantastic in coffee ice cream.

One of the tricks is to prep everything before putting anything on the stove. Once, I thought I will prep while it is cooking, and that is the story of the burnt toffee and the broken fancy pants electric candy thermometer that beeped at the right temperature (I dropped the whole thing in the sink, forgetting about the computer). Lay down your nuts, measure out vanilla extracts (and bourbon, if you have it), get out your chocolate chips. Stick butter, white and brown sugars, water, and a pinch of salt in a pan. Clamp on the candy thermometer. Start to boil. Do not stir.

The one and only prep thing that I will do while the sugar is cooking is mashing fleur de sel and cacao nibs in the mortar and pestle. The are a delicious addition. Finding cacao nibs at one of the local health food stores was so exciting.

When the temperature reaches 300 degrees exactly, turn off the heat, remove from the burner. Beat in baking soda and vanilla extract. Stir the whole time, when you add the liquid everything goes a little crazy. This takes two hands, and I have been working alone in the kitchen, so I have no pictures. Pour the toffee mixture over the nuts.

Pour chocolate chips over the toffee, and add the cacao nibs-fleur de sel mixture. Let it stand while the toffee hardens and the chocolate melts, for about five minutes. Spread the chocolate around, and pour the rest of the nuts on top. Let it sit overnight. Soak everything in soapy water, and it will be remarkably easy to clean.

In the morning, cut or break it apart. Even if it mushes, it will be delicious.

Milk Chocolate Macadamia Nut Toffee

I think I orginally started with David Lebowitz's toffee recipe, from The Perfect Scoop.

1 stick butter
1 cup white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 Tablespoons water
generous pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons vanilla
about 8 ounces macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
about 8 ounces milk chocolate chips
fleur de sel and cacao nibs (optional)

Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and spread out half the nuts. Measure out the vanilla and baking soda in small glasses.

Put butter, sugars, salt, and water in non-reactive pot. Clamp on candy thermometer. Cook to 300 degrees. Mix the butter through the sugars when it melts, and then do not stir. Mash the cacao nibs and fleur de sel, if using.

When candy thermometer reaches 300, remove from heat, and immediately beat in baking soda and vanilla. Be careful when adding the liquid.

Pour over the nuts, and immediately put down chocolate chips and nibs. Let stand a few minutes, spread out the chocolate, and pour down the rest of the nuts.

Let cool and solidify overnight. Break up, and share with your friends.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lemon Lavender Curd

I am on a lemon curd kick. I bought a jar of it at Trader Joe's a few months ago for the first time in ages and I have been obsessed with it ever since. I mix it into Greek yogurt and calling it breakfast. It tastes like dessert. It is better than jam, tart and sweet and blending in so perfectly. Also, I became obsessed with the idea of mixing it with meringues, in some form. I wasn't remotely sure what that form was going to be. (In the end, it was macarons, which I will post about later.)

There are recipes that involve a candy thermometer, and recipes that use corn starch. This one does neither; the temperature is eyeballed and guessed at, and eggs do all the thickening. They are cooked eggs. (I hate working with cornstarch, and I avoid it as much as possible.)

I try to buy organic citrus if I'm using zest, and fortunately Trader Joe's had dirt cheap bags of organic lemons. I wash them off, too, before zesting. It's taken me a while to figure out how to make citrus curd that isn't painfully sour. I like sour, and it took me a while. I think my new microplane helps. It makes zesting so easy. I used four lemons, and most of the zest for all of them. Because I have 1/4 pound of culinary lavender buds (seriously. I ordered online and didn't really realize how much that was going to wind up being until it showed up) I decided to throw of those in as well. One of the wonderful things about making lemon curd is that it doesn't matter what is in there, so you juice the lemons straight in and don't worry about seeds. Or lavender flowers. You strain it all in the end. (This is the other trick that Ina Garten didn't teach me.)

Cook this all up until it bubbles a little. It doesn't take long, it's not that much lemon juice. While it's cooking, crack your eggs, and whisk in sugar. When it bubbles, slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the eggs, whisking the whole time. This takes two hands. Adding the hot lemon juice too quickly will just get you strings of scrambled eggs. The eggs need to cook slowly. Once it has all been whisked together, pour it back in the pot.

Stir constantly, using a heat proof rubber spatula. When it's mostly thickened up, add cubes of cold butter. Don't stop stirring. Never stop stirring. When it's ready, the curd will stick to the spatula.

Pour the curd through a mesh strainer into your prepared bowl. A strainer + cheese cloth is unneccessary, and it's almost impossible to get the curd through both. (Believe me, I have tried.) I am impatient, and I push the curd through, leaving behind long pieces of lemon zest, lemon seeds, and lavender flowers. This is the other trick to keeping the curd from going too crazy.

Let it cool some, and the pour it into a jar. I have no idea how long it stays good. Mine always disappears into stomachs long before it turns.

Lemon Lavender Curd
1/2 c lemon juice
zest from all the lemons
1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1/4 c culinary lavender blossoms
6 T butter, cubed
pinch of salt (optional)

Zest the lemons and mix with lavender blossoms, juice and pinch of salt. Cook on medium low temperature until bubbling.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and sugar.

Slowly pour the hot lemon juice into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

Return everything to the pot. Stir with rubber spatula. Add cubes of butter.

When mixture sticks to the back of the plastic, it is done. Pour it through a mesh strainer. Let cool at room temperature. Put in jars, and refrigerate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Print o' the Wave, Beginning

I cast of a giant ridiculous project on Sunday night, the peacock sweater I created and named Engel's Flaming Peacock. I need to pick up stitches and reinforce the collar, and add buttons, and it will its own proper blog entry. But tonight, while waiting for things to get out of the oven, and waiting for the washer to finish so I could put things in the dryer; I wanted something relatively easy, familiar, but just a little complicated. I didn't want to have to do the math for figuring out how many stitches I will need for the hood on my Pixie Hood, and it is too hot to really think about knitting with thick alpaca and silk for winter anyway.

I pulled out this lovely blue and purple skein of yarn I bought on impulse online, sight completely unseen from Posh, in one of their rare orphan sales. I think I bought it knowing the fiber content and nothing else. Its name is Chloe, the yarn that is, I haven't named the project. I trust them, they do beautiful yarn always, and this was no exception.

I sat and balled the yarn and debated patterns and watched TV and annoyed the poor dog by not paying any attention to him at all. I settled on knitting Eunny Jang's Print o' the Wave, for the third time. Familiar, simple lace, and lovely. It should go fast, since it is after all the third time I'm knitting it, and I am better now at picking up stitches than I was the first time I did this.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Biscuits for Breakfast

Food first thing in the morning usually turns my stomach. I usually pack yogurt with my lunch intending to eat it for breakfast, and then I eat it as a midafternoon snack. But on Sundays, I wake up and I want toast. I have been known to bake loaves of bread in desperation if I don't have any bread or reasonable bread facsimiles about (crumpets, English muffins, Trader Joe's frozen naan), but that tends to a lot of time. But biscuits are a perfect blend of speed and toast.

I got the recipe from my sister, and I think she got it from our stepgrandmother. I have been known to fail at biscuits and make things that turn out more like crackers than biscuits, tasty, but not light and flaky. The trick is to not overmix, and the trick to not overmixing is to be fairly sure that you are undermixing. Also, the food processor. Mixing the ingredients in the food processor is fantastic. I think part of the trick is to keep the butter away from your fingers as much as possible, it should do all the melting in the oven.
I never keep buttermilk in the house. I've only ever used it for biscuits, and I don't make them that often, so if I need it, I mix acid with milk. The trick is to add one tablespoon of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to the bottom of your cup measure, and then fill it with milk. Let it sit for five minutes, and you have a fantastic buttermilk substitute. I usually use lemon juice, since I also tend to not keep white vinegar in the house. I tried once with balsamic vinegar, and you could taste it in the finished biscuits, totally disappointing with the cheddar cheese biscuits I was shooting for. While the milk is setting, pulse the dry ingredients to mix them in the food processor, set the oven to preheat, and cut the butter in cubes. Use cold butter, fresh out of the refrigerator, or even better out of the freezer.

Add the butter and the buttermilk to the dry ingredients and pulse only until it all holds together. Because, remember, the trick is to mix as little as possible. Dump out the mix onto a floured surface, and knead quickly (less than 30 seconds). Roll (or pat) to 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick.

After cutting up and putting them on a baking tray, butter the tops before baking. While the biscuits are in the oven, put the kettle on for tea, and do the dishes to keep your roommates happy. Remove from oven when golden brown.

Short Instructions

Yes, I did write out long detailed instrcutions, but I tend to write things up short instructions, especially for things I've cooked multiple times, that are more like guidelines. My notes look like this, and slightly more written out instructions are at the bottom.

Buttermilk Biscuits

This makes about ten 2 inch biscuits. For egg sandwiches, I would recommend making fewer, larger, biscuits.

2 c flour (sifted)
3 t b.powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t b.soda
5 T cold butter, cubed
1 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450.

Mix dry ingredients. Pulse in butter cubes and buttermilk. Mix just until blended. Dump out on floured surface, and knead 30 seconds. Roll or pat to 1/2 - 3/4 inch thick. Cut up, and put on baking sheet. Place a small slice of cold butter (or butter with soft butter) on the each biscuit. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

Serve hot, with butter. Any other toppings, jam, honey, lemon curd, or nutella, as you wish. I tend towards straight up butter.