Treats Week: Salted Toffee

Salted Toffee 17

I know: after overindulging during the holidays, the last thing you want to think about is highly caloric treats.   January is time for moderation and abstinence.

HA.

Salted Toffee 10

We all of us know that this is complete hooey.

Even Gren knows it’s bull pucky.  And he’s a DOG.

Russian Potato Salad 11

January, and its evil-yet-slightly-shorter twin, February, are both miserable.  Have you looked outside recently?  Blech.  Don’t come to Canada in January or February.  If you do I don’t think you’ll stay long.

Salted Toffee 18

How do we survive this gray misery?  SUGAR.  And lots of it.  Personally, I need the calories to wade through waist-deep snow while my dolphin-corgi hybrid takes his evening constitutional.

So this week I will be featuring three easy treats that are each decadent in their own ways.  These will help you get through the worst of the winter.  And if you have the fortitude to resist them, then keep the recipes on hand for the next time the indulgences of the holidays roll around.

Today we’re going to make ourselves some glorious salted toffee.

Start by buttering a 10″ x 15″ rimmed baking sheet. Set that aside.

Salted Toffee 2

Preheat your oven to 350°F and plop 2 cups pecan halves (or pecan pieces) on a baking sheet. Not the buttered one. You’ll notice here I am using hazelnuts. I was out of pecans. But pretend they’re pecans. Stick those in the oven and toast them, stirring once or twice, for about 8-10 minutes.

Salted Toffee 4

Allow them to cool completely and then chop them roughly (saves you effort if you use pecan pieces instead).  Chop half of those up to fine little pieces, and set both the roughly chopped and finely chopped pecans aside.

Salted Toffee 6

In a large saucepan (because remember, sugar expands quite a bit when it boils), mix together 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup water.

Salted Toffee 1

Heat on medium until the butter is all melted, then increase the heat to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, let that mixture come up to 310°F on a candy thermometer.

Salted Toffee 3

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Should take about 20 minutes or so.

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Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (be careful, this is where it gets fizzy) and the finely chopped half of your pecans.

Salted Toffee 8

Carefully pour your hot toffee into a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool until it’s fully set, about 30 minutes.

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If you want your toffee pieces to come out even, you can score the toffee with a sharp knife after about 10 minutes of setting.  Make sure to wipe off your knife with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.

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While that’s cooling, chop up 12 ounces of chocolate (the darker the better) and melt it over a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit (so it’s not molten) before pouring it over your set toffee. Smooth the chocolate down with a knife or offset spatula (honestly, it’s a handy item you won’t use often but when you use it, it will rock your cooking experience). Sprinkle the chocolate with your roughly chopped pecans and let it sit for about 20 minutes, until the chocolate has cooled but is still in a squishy state.

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Then sprinkle THAT with about 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt, if that’s what you’ve got).

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Chill the pan for about an hour, until it’s all set and lovely, then twist the pan to release the toffee and cut or break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for about a month.

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Tipsy Asiago Chicken Noodles

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Before we begin, let me clarify something.  This recipe does not contain any alcohol.  Rather, it was I who contained alcohol when I made it.  When you have your first few days of spring here in St. John’s, where the temperature goes up to the double digits (even 10 is sufficient) and it’s sunny ALL DAY, then the whole city mysteriously sells out of beer.  And I’m not even joking.  So this recipe came after a beer and a half on a day where I had forgotten my lunch.  As a result, I didn’t measure a darned thing.  Not that I usually measure anything anyway.

First let’s work on our component parts.  Chop up about 2 broccoli florets.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Steam them for a few minutes until they’re bright green.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Slice up 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Sauté them with a bit of garlic and olive oil until they’re cooked through.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Boil up some egg noodles until tender.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

If you have them (I didn’t), I would also recommend chopping up and cooking some mushrooms, as well, to complement the cheese and to add flavour to the chicken.

And the sauce is easy peasy.  Start with grating up some asiago, or whatever cheese you like.  In hindsight, the Pie and I think we would temper the asiago with something a little more mild, like a white cheddar.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Finely chop 1 onion.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Plop that in a small saucepan with a dollop of butter and another dollop of garlic.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Sauté the onions until they are translucent.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Add in about 2 tablespoons flour and stir that around to get all the onions coated in flour.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Pour in some milk, and stir to thicken.  Add in a bit more milk, then add the cheese and stir it in until it’s all melted.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Toss your broccoli (mushrooms) and chicken in the pot with the cooked, drained egg noodles and toss that around.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Add the sauce and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.  Serves six.

Asiago Chicken Noodles

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Egg Wonton Lasagna

I pulled this from the Get Cracking website and it just seemed so weird that I had to try it.  Plus I have a million wonton wrappers in my freezer that I bought in anticipation of making more gyoza (which of course I haven’t done).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

First we’re going to roast a few vegetables.  Put your oven on the broil setting.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and plop on your veggies.  I have here 2 red peppers and 3 Italian zucchini (or at least that’s what the sign at Costco called them).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Roast them until the peppers are all charred and black.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Let them cool for a bit, then peel the skins off the red peppers.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Then we’re going to boil ourselves some eggs.  In a medium saucepan, cover 6 eggs with water and bring it to a boil.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

When it’s boiling, remove the pot from the heat, cover it with a lid, and leave that to stand for 20 minutes.  This is a different way to produce hard-boiled eggs than I’m used to, but I figure that the Egg Farmers of Canada know what they’re talking about.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Drain the eggs, run cold water over them to cool them off, then peel and slice them.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

I liked how the cold water looked so much I took two more pictures of it.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Egg Wonton Lasagna

While the eggs are doing their thing, finely chop 1 small onion and add it to another saucepan with a drop of olive oil and 2 cloves minced garlic (or 2 teaspoons minced garlic from a jar).  Sauté until everything is soft and squidgy.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Chuck in a package of baby spinach and stir that around until it’s all wilted.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Pour in a jar/can of pasta sauce and bring that puppy to a boil, then remove it from the heat.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Get all your ingredients ready to go.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

While you’re at it, chop up those roasted vegetables of your’n.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Find yourself an 8″ baking dish (or thereabouts) and ladle about a 1/2 cup of the sauce into the dish.  Line the bottom with some of your wonton wrappers, making sure to overlap them a little bit.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Spread that with some more of the sauce you have left, then some of your eggs.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Plop on a some of your chopped vegetables, then some grated mozzarella cheese (I’m not going to limit you on your cheese — we all have our preferences/weaknesses).

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Do another layer of wontons, sauce, eggs, vegetables, and cheese.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

When you are out of vegetables and eggs you should still have some sauce, cheese, and wontons left.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Any remaining wonton wrappers you’ve got, spread them over the top, then the rest of your sauce, and then some more cheese.  Bake in your 350°F oven for 30 minutes, until you can see the sauce at the centre of the dish bubbling up through the top.  Let it stand for a few minutes before you cut it, just so the rowdiness can calm down.  Serves SIX.

Egg Wonton Lasagna

Baked’s Sweet and Salty Cake

Sweet & Salty Cake
Not only do the Pie and il Principe share a birthday, but I’ll have you know that Cait’s birthday is only four days later.  And then Jiss’ birthday is only a scant five days after that.  Because we were heading back to Ottawa for a visit at the beginning of the month, we decided to postpone our birthday celebrations until we got there so that Cait  and Jiss could share in the fun.

So, for my husband on his birthday and my best friend on her birthday, and my husband’s friend’s spouse on HER birthday, I made them this fantastic confection, which comes out of our favourite cookbook of all time, Baked.
Sweet & Salty Cake
You can read the recipe online here, here, or here.  But you should really buy the book.  The pictures are glorious and the authors explain everything so well.

This recipe involves caramel, chocolate, and salt.  Yes, SALT.  I rarely use salt in baking but this one made it all worth it.  If you can get your hands on fleur de sel, all the better, but you can use sea salt as a substitute if necessary.  It’s also worth noting that this cake takes many steps, and you can save time by making things like the caramel the day before and putting it in the fridge.
Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel:
Pour 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup into a medium saucepan and stir it around.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop a candy thermometer in the pot (making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom) and bring the mixture to a boil, cooking until the temperature reaches 350°F, which will take about 10 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Keep a close eye on it.  If you cook it any higher than the specified temperature it can burn super quickly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream and 1 teaspoon fleur de sel.  Bring that to a boil as well and cook until the salt is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Remove that from the heat and set aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

When the sugar has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for one minute.  See how it’s browned a little bit? That’s the caramelization of the sugar, but you don’t want it to get too dark.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully (very carefully) add the hot cream to the sugar mixture.  It foams and fizzes quite a bit, so you don’t want that in your face.   Whisk that all up until it’s smooth.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Whisk in 1/4 cup sour cream and let the caramel cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Cake:
Preheat your oven to 325°F and butter three 8″ round cake pans.  Cut a circle out of parchment paper for the bottom of each one, butter it as well, and dust them all with flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

You need two decent-sized bowls and the bowl of a mixer for this next part.  In one bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 1/4 cups hot water, and 2/3 cup sour cream.  Set that aside and let it cool while you do the other things.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other non-mixer bowl, sift together 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and set that aside.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now, in the mixer bowl, beat together 3/4 cup softened butter and 1/2 cup vegetable shortening.  Beat them until they are smooth and kind of stringy when the paddle is spinning around, about 7 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Beat in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 cup dark brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 3 eggs, one at a time.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat for a further 30 seconds or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add in a third of the flour mixture, then half your chocolate mixture, then a third of the flour, the rest of the chocolate, and the rest of the flour.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans and bake for 18-24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pans and peeling off the parchment paper.

Sweet & Salty Cake

For the Caramel Ganache:
First, finely chop 1lb dark chocolate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Also, cut up 1lb butter into tablespoon-sized pieces.  Make sure they’re soft but still cool.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Now we’re going to make some more caramel, but this time without the salt or the sour cream.
So, in one pot, combine 1/4 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup and stir it around.  Bring it to a boil over high heat until a candy thermometer reads 350°F, which will take about ten minutes.  Remember to watch closely.

Sweet & Salty Cake

In the other pot bring 1 1/2 cups heavy cream to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.
When the caramel has reached 350°F, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for a minute.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Carefully add the hot cream to the caramel and stir to combine, then let it cool for 5 minutes.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Plop your chopped chocolate in the bowl of a mixer and pour the caramel over the chocolate.  Let that sit for a minute, then stir the chocolate to dissolve it.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Shove your bowl into your mixer with a paddle attachment and mix the chocolate goo on low until the outside of the bowl feels cool to the touch.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Dump in your cut-up butter bits and mix on medium-high until it’s all well-combined and smooth and a little bit whipped, another 2 minutes or so.

Sweet & Salty Cake

To Put It All Together:
Now I followed the instructions up to this point to the letter, and ended up with a slippy-slide-y cake that ended up looking a bit like a giant pile of poop.  When I put my cake layers together, they kept sliding off on the caramel and the weight of the cake pushed all the lovely caramel goo out of its insides and it was altogether rather a disaster.  So I recommend cooling your ganache and your caramel slightly before you do this, just so they’re slightly colder than room temperature and a little easier to handle.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Slice the tops off your cakes to make them level and place one on your cake plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

If you are concerned about making a mess with your icing (though considering how goopy mine was it didn’t matter anyway) you can place four strips of parchment paper on your cake plate under the cake to catch the excess, and then pull them away later, leaving a nice clean plate.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Take about 1/4 cup of the caramel and spread a thin layer on the cake, allowing it to soak into the cake a bit (which will only happen if your cake or your caramel is warm, and will just make everything quite slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Layer on top of that about 1 cup of the caramel ganache (also, at room temperature, incredibly slippery).

Sweet & Salty Cake

Add another layer of cake.  See what I mean about gravity really being annoying here?

Sweet & Salty Cake

Repeat your caramel and ganache steps and top with your final cake layer.  This is where I tried to remove some of the excess and failed.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Use the remaining ganache (easy to do if it’s cold, if it’s room temperature you’ll use wayyy less) to cover the surface of the cake.  At this point the whole thing started to slide slowly and rather unnervingly to one side.  It was like watching a mudslide in slow motion.  There was much yelling.

Sweet & Salty Cake

Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel and chill for an hour or so before serving, to set the ganache.

Sweet & Salty Cake
At least it tasted good.
Sweet & Salty Cake

Sausage Risotto with Broccoli and Mushrooms

I really like risotto.  In fact, it’s one of my favourite starchy sides.  So why has it been ages (over a year) since I last made it?  Hard to say.  It’s not like it’s hard to make risotto.

The Pie really likes sausages, and they’re cheap here, so we eat them often.  I am not such a huge fan.  On this particular night, I decided that if I had to slice through another meat-and-two-veg meal with slippery hot sausages as the main attraction I might throw something at my husband.  And I like him, so I wanted to avoid such a situation.

The basic principle of risotto making is the constant adding of more and more liquid, stirring as you go.  This brings out the naturally creamy nature of the arborio rice.  If you find a recipe that tells you to add cream to your risotto while it’s cooking, then the authors don’t know how to cook it right.  The creaminess comes by itself, and don’t let anybody tell you anything different.

The traditional method for making risotto involves adding one part white wine to the mix, then three parts water, gradually.  Today we are going to use straight chicken broth instead.

Squeeze the meat out of 3 hot Italian sausages and plop that in a pan.

Slice up about 8oz mushrooms of your choosing.  You can chuck those in the pan with the sausages.  I suppose if you wanted to do it right you would saute each of those things separately, but when do I ever follow the rules?

Dice 1 whole onion and put that in a saucepan with a dab of olive oil.  Set that to sautéing, stirring occasionally, until the onion pieces are translucent.

While that is cooking, sauté the mushrooms and sausage as well.  Break up the sausage with a spatula as it cooks, until you just have little sausage-y bits. 

Drain off any juices and fat and keep warm.  We also had about 2 cups frozen steamed broccoli hanging around, so I popped that in the pan as well to thaw.

Pour 1 cup arborio rice into the onions.

Add 1 cup hot chicken broth (low sodium) to the rice and onions and cook on high heat, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed.

Add a further 3 cups hot chicken broth, one at a time, stirring in each one until fully absorbed.  The whole process should take about 20 minutes and leave you with a lovely creamy rice.

Season the risotto with salt and pepper.  Stir in about 2 tablespoons butter and 1/2 cup grated romano cheese.

Dump in your sausage/mushroom/broccoli mixture and stir well.

Serve hot, garnished with more grated romano.  Makes great leftovers.

Gluten-Free Dog Treats

In honour of Ruby’s first birthday, Cait and I got together and concocted some fabulous dog biscuits for her and Gren.  Being a corgi and therefore very food-obsessed and prone to obesity, Gren only took home a few to try, but they were still enjoyed by all.  I even had one, as I won’t feed my dog anything I wouldn’t eat myself.

Ruby murders Gren

Fortunately, we were able to easily find a dog treat recipe online that conformed to our philosophy of feeding our dogs biologically appropriate food.  That means most definitely no corn, no wheat, and no soy, and none of those other things that people seem to think dogs need, like salt, sugar, and artificial flavours or colours.  This recipe from Sandra over at dog-nutrition-naturally.com totally fit the bill and was easy to do.  We tripled the recipe so that there would be plenty of birthday treats for everyone.

First, peel yourself a large sweet potato.  And I mean LARGE.  Cut that sucker up.

Plop the potato pieces in a pot and boil them silly until they’re mashable.  Then of course mash them.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and lightly brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.

In a large bowl, plop in 1lb ground meat.  We used extra lean ground beef, but you can use turkey, chicken, pork, or lamb — or really, whatever you want.

Add to that 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt) and a large egg.  Drop in 5 tablespoons large flake rolled oats as well, just for cohesion purposes.

Chuck in the mashed sweet potato and mix it well.

Spread it flat on the prepared cookie sheet and smooth the top.

Bake for about an hour.  The cookie will shrink and pull away from the sides.  Now you can score the cookie into smaller pieces, or use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.  A pizza cutter is handy about now too.

Reduce the oven heat to 250°F and pop the cookies back into the oven for another hour or so to dry out.  Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Tada!  That’s it.  Now SIT.

Good dog.Make sure to store your treats in an airtight container, and of course remember that treats should never be used as a substitute for your dog’s regular diet.  Yum yum!

Super Moist Corn Bread

I always think of corn bread as being something out of the South (and by that I mean the southern United States), baked on a hoe over a fire after a long day of harvesting sun-drenched fields. Or from Latin America, where indigenous people have been using corn in recipes for ages and ages.

When I was looking for a modern twist on corn bread, however, every single online recipe I found was credited to someone in CANADA.  How strange is that?  Sure, we grow a lot of corn here, but the association just isn’t the same.  In any case, I adapted this particular Canadian recipe from WillowsMom99 at AllRecipes.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and generously butter a large cast-iron skillet.  We’re going to do this the old-fashioned way.  Sort of.  If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you should be ashamed of yourself and feel guilty enough to go out and purchase one immediately.  Until you do so, however, you can also use a 9″ x 13″ pan.

In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups cornmeal (not to be confused with grits, corn flour, or masa harina) with 2 1/2 cups milk and let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2/3 cup granulated sugar.  I might lower the sugar amount to 1/2 or 1/3 cup, but if you like your corn bread sweet, then go for it.  Mix in the cornmeal mixture and stir well.

Add in 2 eggs and 1/2 cup butter, melted, and stir until smooth.

Here’s where you have a chance to get creative.  I stirred in as well about 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese and 2 cups frozen corn.

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cornbread comes out clean. 

Allow to cool slightly in the skillet on a rack, then tip out and slice into wedges for serving.

Great with chili or just on its own.  Just remember to wrap it up tightly to store it, as it goes stale very quickly.