June 20, 2012

Salty Sweet Delicious Treat

One of my favorite treats when I was young was homemade caramel corn.  Now let me tell you, this was a rare treat indeed.  I nearly had to beg with tear-filled eyes to get it because making it left a sink full of dirty dishes and a bit of a mess in the kitchen.

My grandmother would would make the popcorn on top of the stove, as we didn't have a microwave then, and then she would make the caramel and drizzle it on top of the popcorn and mix it up as fast as possible before all hardened.

There is nothing like it.  The caramel corn you buy at the grocery store can't even come close to homemade.  There are pieces that are just barely kissed with caramel, then there are other pieces that are fully enrobed in caramel...  nothing perfect and homogeneous about Grandma's caramel corn and that is part of what made it so good.

I wanted to put a  twist on this most delicious treat and elevate it to something you could actually serve to guests (not that I wouldn't put out a big trough of caramel corn, but you know what I mean).

Instead of making a traditional dulce de leche, I know there is a "cheat" method which simply involves simmering the can with a few holes poked through the top.  I must be honest, this never appealed to me. 

I'm a bit of a purist with most things and I will admit, simmering milk in a can was a bit unsettling and it seemed kind of lazy.   Those of you that have done it, I know what you're thinking, so let me save you the trouble. 

Shame on me.  It was AWESOME!  I thought it would somehow taste metallic (it didn't) and that it couldn't possibly be as good as making it the "right" way (it was damn close).

It was almost zero effort except for a little whisking when it came out of the can.  It couldn't have been easier.  Really. 

This revelation has made me seriously question why I was so snobby about not making it like this before.   I doubt that I'll give up my purist ways, but once in awhile when I'm short on time or energy, this will be my method of choice.

Salted Dulce de Leche Popcorn Tart
makes 3 - 4" tarts or 1- 9" tart
  • 1 can sweetened, condensed milk
  • 8 cups popcorn (buy it, pop it on stove, microwave...  doesn't matter)
  • 4 tbsp butter, room temp
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Carefully make 3 holes in the top of the can by hammering a nail through the lid.  (I am shaking my head as I'm typing this...  I can't believe this is a step in a recipe).  Most people only make 2 holes, but I felt better giving the pressure inside the can another outlet from which to escape.  Exploding can of condensed milk was not on my agenda.

Set the can inside of a pot and fill with water until the water is about 3/4 the way up the side of the can.  Bring to barely a simmer and let it go for 4 hours.  You will have to replenish the water occasionally so that the level doesn't get too low.  You want to make sure the water is at least halfway up the side of the can at all times.

After 4 hours, carefully remove can from hot water and open.  Pour contents into a bowl & whisk about 4 - 5 minutes until smooth.   That's it.  Really.

To make popcorn crust:  Combine popcorn, butter, sugar, salt & pepper in food processor and blitz until rubble.

Press the popcorn mixture into tart mold(s).  I prefer the ones with a removable bottom, it makes getting the tart out much easier.  Use a small measuring cup or glass with a flat bottom to press into the sides and bottom of tart to make sure everything is even.

Refrigerate for an hour.  This will allow everything to set up, the butter to harden, etc.  Place into a 375 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Pour dulce de leche into cooled popcorn crust and top with flakes of sea salt.  Dig in.

June 15, 2012

Herbed Heirloom Eggs & Crispy Roasted Mushrooms

This weekend is Father's Day and while most Dads will be grillin' & chillin', they'll need a little fuel to get the day started.
This is a perfect breakfast or brunch to start Dad's day.  It is substantial, but not too heavy and it is absolutely delicious.

The roasted mushrooms take on an almost meaty taste and texture and the slight crunch from roasting them is unexpected.

This Sunday,  treat Dad to a special brunch and let him know you appreciate him.

Herbed Heirloom Eggs and Crispy Roasted Mushrooms on Grilled Baguette

  • 4 Heirloom or Organic Eggs
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp crème fraîche  (or sour cream)
  • 1 lb. assorted mushrooms (cremini, button, shiitake)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices baguette, cut on bias

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wipe mushrooms clean, if needed, and thinly slice.

Lay mushrooms in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

Season aggressively with salt and pepper.  Toss to evenly coat and roast for approximately 20 minutes or until crispy.

Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat grill pan (or broiler if you don't have a grill pan) and lay pieces of baguette on hot pan.  If necessary, weigh them down with a heavy lid so the bread makes contact with the grill.

When the bread has golden grill marks on it, turn over and toast the other side.  Remove from heat and set aside. 

In a non-stick pan, melt butter over low heat.  Crack eggs into a bowl and lightly scramble with a fork or a whisk.

Pour eggs into pan, season with salt and pepper, stir in crème fraîche, chives and parsley.
Cook gently, stirring frequently over low heat until eggs are creamy and still slightly soft.

Do not overcook eggs until they have dried out. 

Top toasted baguette with eggs and roasted mushrooms.

June 10, 2012

Flour, Salt, Water, Yeast

These basic four ingredients that most of us already have in the pantry plus a few other add ins and that's all that is needed to turn a few basic ingredients into focaccia.

I had been thinking about making it for months, but for one reason or another talked myself out of it every time... until now.  I was thinking that it was such a hassle (it's not) and that it would be a process (it hardly qualifies as work) to make it...  blah, blah, blah.   It had been awhile since I had made focaccia and I had just forgotten how ridiculously easy it is. 

It is as simple as weighing some flour, mixing yeast & water and turning on a mixer.   I should be ashamed of myself for putting it off for so long, especially when it really is that easy.

If you don't have a kitchen scale, a cup of flour weighs approximately 5 ounces. 
There are 16 ounces in a pound, so therefore 1 lb and 4 ounces of flour is 20 ounces.  Divided by 5 gives you 4 cups of flour.  I used a little more than that.  I weighed my flour first and then measured it so I could give you the cup measurement and for me it came out closer to 4 and a half cups.

I know with all this math, I've probably just talked you out of weighing flour but it really isn't all that bad.   Please forgive the math lesson and let's get on with the dough...

Focaccia with Olives, Rosemary & Sea Salt
  • 1 lb 4 oz all purpose flour  (approximately 4 - 4.5 cups)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups warm water (about 100°)
  • 1- 1/4 oz pkg dry yeast
  • 2 fluid ounces olive oil
  • 2 big sprigs fresh rosemary
  • handful of oil cured, pitted black olives
  • coarse sea salt (to sprinkle on top)

If you aren't a fan of olives (personally, I can't even conceive of it), then use something else in place of them.  Caramelized onions or shallots are great on top of focaccia, you could also skip it all together and just use sea salt & herbs.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt. 
In a separate bowl, whisk water and yeast together, then add oil.

On low speed, add water mixture to flour mixture.   Mix for about 2 minutes until the dough is smooth and thoroughly combined.

Cover dough and allow to rise until doubled.

Turn dough out onto an oiled baking sheet and (with oiled hands) stretch dough into the pan.  Using your fingertips,  make indentations about an inch apart over the surface of the dough and add olives, rosemary and a sprinkling of coarse salt.

Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let the dough proof until double.

Bake at 450 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown.

    * for the oil in this recipe, I infused arbequina olive oil with garlic and rosemary, it imparts more flavor to the bread than plain olive oil. 
    Use the leftover oil for sauteing veggies, chicken, meat, etc...

    June 03, 2012

    Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

    It is (almost) officially summer and that means lighter meals.  Most of us love cooking and ALL of us love eating (please tell me it isn't just me), but let's be honest for a minute...  Wouldn't you rather be outside instead of stuck in front of a stove on a blissfully perfect summer day?

    This pasta dish comes together in record time.  From start to finish it's about 15 minutes and then it's off to the beach or hanging out in the backyard.  There is no heavy sauce here, just a light "vinaigrette" that comes together from the oil of the sundried tomatoes & artichokes,  a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of starchy pasta water.

    A few big handfuls of spinach give it color and make a healthy addition to the pasta.  Spinach is rich in iron and the nutrients are more easily broken down and absorbed by your body with the addition of fresh lemon juice (and it's just good!)

    Lemon Squeezy Pasta
    • 1/2 lb pasta
    • 3 big handfuls baby spinach
    • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil
    • 3/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts in olive oil
    • juice & zest of 1 lemon
    • Parmesan cheese
    • 1 tbsp butter
    • salt & pepper
    • pasta water

    Cook pasta according to instructions.  I like a short pasta with this particular dish, but use whatever you have on hand,  it isn't worth a special trip to the store.  

    Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water before draining.  In a medium sized bowl, add butter to drained pasta along with the spinach.  Toss to combine.  The heat from the pasta will slightly wilt the spinach. 

    Then add in artichokes & tomatoes, lemon zest and juice.  Toss again to combine.  The oil from the artichokes and tomatoes will make a light sauce with the lemon juice.  Add enough pasta water to get the consistency of the sauce that you like,  you may not need the entire amount you reserved.

    Season with salt & pepper.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few curls of Parmesan on top and garnish with a little extra lemon zest.

    There are endless variations on this pasta dish.  Try it with broccoli instead of spinach.  Add a few handfuls of broccoli to the pasta during the final 3 minutes of cooking, drain with the pasta and continue on...  Another addition that is delicious is ricotta cheese.  Stir in a half cup of ricotta just before adding the pasta water.