English Toffee: For Yanic and You

english toffee-5A little while ago, I posted a photo of English toffee I make and sometimes sell.

Some of you reported drooling and wanting to lick your computer screen. One blog pal, Yanic, did the more rational thing:


Yanic: Would you share your English Toffee recipe? It looks amazing.

Kerry: I’d be happy to share my toffee recipe but it’s really the same as every recipe you’d find on allrecipes.com–except instead of using chocolate chips, I temper real chocolate and put it on both side of the toffee. The only ingredients in the toffee itself are sugar, butter, water and vanilla. The only other thing you need is a reliable candy thermometer. Let me know if you want the specifics from the recipe I use.

Yanic: I would love your recipe… since I’ve never made any, even if it’s a classic, I’d rather have a recipe from someone I know. 🙂 Thank you!


So, Yanic (and all lovers of English toffee), this blog’s for you.

First, because I know you have children you love, Yanic, you absolutely must do one of two things if you’re going to make toffee. EITHER make it while they are out of the house or napping OR tell them firmly to put their bottoms in the kitchen chairs and not move until you tell them it’s safe, until the hot syrup is cooked and spread and cool.

I mean it, Yanic—scare them a little because nothing will burn them worse than 300 degree syrup that sticks to the skin.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, collect your many exotic ingredients. That would be sugar, butter, salt, water, and vanilla extract, and whatever you will use for chocolate coating. Candy coating or “melts” are easy but not really chocolate at all. Chocolate chips would be preferable, in my book. Or, if you know how to temper chocolate, use the real thing!

The most exotic necessity for making toffee is the candy thermometer! Be sure you have one!

Here is the recipe I use, which comes from the book that taught me all I know about candymaking, Chocolate and Confections at Home, by Peter P. Greweling.

English Toffee

  • Servings: about 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Print

8 oz. (1 cup) sugar

8 oz. (16 tablespoons; 2 sticks) butter, melted

2 oz. (1/4 cup) water

½ teaspoon salt

½ oz. (1 tablespoon) vanilla

12 oz. (1 ¼ cups) tempered dark chocolate OR dark compound coating, melted

6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) chopped toasted pecans or almonds

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, melted butter, water, salt, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, over medium high heat, and stir constantly with a heat-resistant silicone or rubber spatula.
  3. Place your candy thermometer and continue stirring until mixture reaches 300 degrees F. For me, on my stove, this takes about 18 minutes from start to readiness.
  4. Pour (carefully, Yanic!) onto the prepared pan and spread quickly to the edges of the pan with an offset knife—be very careful not to get the syrup on your hands! Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
  5. If you are using chocolate chips: wait until the toffee has cooled just a bit and sprinkle the top liberally with the chips. Wait a moment or two and the chips will get melty. Use an offset knife to spread the melty-ness and then promptly sprinkle with the nuts you choose. You can really only coat one side of the toffee with the chocolate chips so you should keep it in a tightly sealed container—the uncoated side will be susceptible to humidity.
  6. If you are using candy melts or tempered chocolate, wait until the toffee is completely cooled. If there is oil on the surface of the cooled toffee, wipe it off with a dry paper towel. With your melted coating or tempered chocolate, cover one side and quickly sprinkle with nuts. Give it a few minutes to set, then flip the whole thing over, using a cutting board or another baking sheet. Coat the second side and sprinkle with nuts. Because this approach coats the toffee on both sides, it will probably hold up longer than toffee coated on one side only.

The toffee can be broken with your hands or with the point of a chef’s knife. All those little pieces that split off are super-good over ice cream or mixed into chocolate chip-style cookies!!


And there you have it! The recipe, with both sides chocolate-coated, makes almost two pounds of toffee. I stack pieces in cellophane bags and add a ribbon and . . . no one ever turns it down!

If you make it, let me know!

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Spring Senses: The Taste of Maple, in a Scone

IMG_6245It’s early spring in the North Country of upstate New York and one thing says spring here, more than mercurial temperature swings and dirty, muddy snow. One thing says spring even more than news of ice fishermen having to be rescued from the melting lake.

Maple. Maple anything and maple everything—that says spring.

In my continuing yearly celebration of all things maple, I offer to you possibly the best recipe for scones you’ll ever try.

It’s also probably the least healthy recipe for scones you’ll ever see but, really, how many scones could you eat in a day?

Really, that many? Me, too!

My recipe comes directly from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. This cookbook is a compendium of recipes for popular foods, the kinds of foods for which everyone has a recipe and none of the recipes are the same.

When there are 1000 recipes for chocolate chip cookies, for instance, how do we know which one to use?

I turn to Cook’s Illustrated. The editors comprehensively test these multiple approaches to a given recipe and seek to provide the definitive recipe for such items as pasta with bolognese sauce and macaroni salad and, yes, chocolate chip cookies.

I love this cookbook because, in a very systematic way, it identifies what the cooks were aiming for and then provides details of the different tweaks they made to achieve their goals. This all just really makes my cake bake, literally and figuratively!

The Cook’s Illustrated goal for oatmeal scones was “to pack the chewy nuttiness of oats into a moist and tender breakfast pastry, one that wouldn’t require a firehose to wash down the crumbs” (714). They provide variations for cinnamon raisin oatmeal scones and oatmeal scones with dried cherries and hazelnuts but . . .

It’s spring in the North Country of upstate New York and we’re talking maple here! These scones are tender and amazing, and so very maple.


Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

from The New Best Recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ cups rolled oats (4 ½ ounces) or quick oats

½ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

1 large egg

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (7 ½ ounces) (such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon table salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into ½” cubes

For glaze

3 tablespoons maple syrup

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread oats and pecans evenly on one baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on wire rack. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. When oats are cooled, measure out and reserve 2 tablespoons for dusting the work surface.
  1. Whisk milk, cream, 1/4 cup maple syrup, and egg in medium bowl until incorporated; remove and reserve 1 tablespoon to small bowl to brush scones.
  1. Pulse flour, baking powder, and salt in food processor until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter cold butter evenly over dry ingredients and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and stir in cooled oats. Using rubber spatula, fold in liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Continue mixing by hand until a mass forms.
  1. Dust work surface with half of reserved oats and flour (if needed), turn dough out onto work surface, and dust top with remaining oats. Gently pat into 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick.  Cut dough into 8 wedges and set on parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Brush surfaces with reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes; cool scones on baking sheet on wire rack 5 minutes, then remove scones to cooling rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  1. When scones are cooled, whisk maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar until combined; drizzle glaze over scones.

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The Taste of Autumn, in a Muffin

IMG_2761A girl cannot live by chocolate alone. Sometimes, frankly, she needs to remind herself that there’s a world beyond chocolate, where chocolate does not rule her every waking moment.

Sometimes, in the autumn, when the air is crisp with a hint of snow and the smell of wood smoke, when the geese party out in the bay and raucously plan their winter in warmer waters, and when the last leaf falls from the last tree, right then, a girl needs an apple cider doughnut.

What is it about an apple cider doughnut? The doughnuts are cake-style, not yeast, so they are more dense and crumby, but still tender and light. Their sweetness comes from the apple cider used in the batter.

And the perfect apple cider doughnut, the one this girl craves, is slathered with cinnamon and sugar. It’s that taste and the incomparable mouth feel, really, that sets these doughnuts apart.

The tender, crumby doughnut, encased in crunchy granulated sugar, warmed with lots of cinnamon. Oh, yum . . .

Unfortunately, my favorite apple cider doughnut is found at an orchard stand 25 miles away—it’s hard to justify taking the time to drive out there for just one doughnut. I suppose I could make doughnuts at home, as my grandmother did, but doing my own deep frying just doesn’t appeal to me.

I got my fall copy of Yankee Magazine this week . . . and saw they included a recipe for apple cider doughnut muffins! I hoped that my life had changed for the better.

Yankee Magazine is the source of some of my favorite recipes, including the rhubarb pecan upside-down cake my husband makes. Still I worried whether a muffin would, could, live up to the whole apple-cider-crunchy-tender-sweet-doughnutty-goodness I love so well.

Heck, yeah! These muffins nail the flavors and the mouth feel. They’re pretty easy to make and kind of messy, which adds to the fun. The kitchen smells completely and thoroughly divine while it all happens. The only thing missing is the way your tongue feels kind of oily and coated after eating a deep-fried doughnut. I’m willing to give that up.

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Here’s the recipe, straight from Yankee magazine, with my annotations.

Total Time: 55 minutes

Hands On Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

For the muffins:

Ingredients (sorry—they’re all in American measurement! Pesky American measurements!):

  • 2 cups sweet apple cider (not hard cider, although that might be fun, too)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375° and set a rack to the middle position. Lightly grease a standard 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. (I guess you could use muffin paper liners but you shouldn’t. First, it would lessen the surface area that cinnamon sugar can stick to and, second, real Yankees wouldn’t approve because the papers are unnecessary and, therefore, wasteful).

Put the apple cider in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Set aside to cool.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla extract and blend. (I forgot the vanilla, as usual, and it all still tasted great!)

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat just to combine. Add half the reduced cider and beat to combine. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the cider, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups and transfer to the oven. (I was afraid to fill the cups too full so I ended up with 15 muffins. In retrospect, I’m sure I could’ve done as the recipe said and just divided the batter into 12 muffins—they don’t rise too much).

Bake until tops are firm and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes.

For the topping:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Instructions:

Now, prepare the topping (this is where it gets fun!): In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon. As soon as the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush their tops and sides with butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat (I threw the muffins in, top down, and used a spoon to ladle more and more cinnamon sugar over them . . . ahhhhhhhh).

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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I really, really like these muffins! I made them two days ago and they still taste good and have a good consistency today—and that would not be true of the leftover doughnuts, as I know from experience.

So, if you want to know what fall in the North Country of upstate New York tastes like, it is now in your power to find out! Let me know what you think!

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Manly Hands at Home: A Cake for All Seasons

Why, yes, that is rhubarb. And, yes, I know that rhubarb is a spring treat and it is not currently spring anywhere.

But, when there’s a man in the house who loves to cook and is willing, nay, eager to cook, you mustn’t quibble when he wants to bake with rhubarb out of season!

My husband is the main cook at our house. He likes it and is amazingly good at it. And since I’ve already posted the three or four recipes that I know how to make, it’s time to move on to sharing some of his concoctions!

He found this recipe for Rhubarb-Pecan Upside-Down Cake in a back issue of Yankee magazine, a US magazine featuring all things New England. And even though he is usually more of a cook than a baker, this recipe seduced him and he could not rest until he made it!

I hope it’ll seduce you, too, and that, even if you believe that rhubarb can only be cooked with in spring, you will remember it when the time comes. It’s a lovely balance of sweet and tart, crunchy and crumbly. Plus you get to use a springform pan, which, if you’re like me, will make you feel like a real cook!

Rhubarb–Pecan Upside-Down Cake by Jane Walsh

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Overview: You start with pecans, brown sugar, butter, and rhubarb, then cover those ingredients with the cake batter. When the cake is baked and inverted, the rhubarb, sugar, and nuts create a caramelized topping that is delightful!

General instructions

Preheat oven to 350° and set a rack in the middle position. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; then cut a round piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. (The original recipe says you can use a cake pan). Place the pan on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, in case your springform pan leaks. (Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do).

Ingredients for the topping (which will be at the bottom for now!):

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • ¾ pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch-long diagonals
  • ½ cup pecan halves (we used a full cup and we toasted the pecans in the oven first; see notes)
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar (we used more!)

IMG_8742Instructions or the cake topping:

To create the topping, start by arranging the pecan halves in the bottom of the pan and pour melted butter over them. Arrange the rhubarb, then sprinkle all over with the ½ cup of brown sugar. Set aside.

Ingredients for cake batter

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup whole or reduced-fat milk

Instructions or the cake batter:

In a food processor, pulse the pecans until very finely chopped.

Mix the nuts with the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. You can do this mixing of dry ingredients in your food processor or by hand in a bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining ½ cup of butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times.

Add the remaining ½ cup of brown sugar

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add vanilla.

Add the milk in two batches, alternating with the dry ingredients, and scraping down the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter over the rhubarb mixture, and smooth with a spatula.

IMG_8748Bake until the sides of the cake are beginning to pull away from the pan and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, run a knife around the edge to loosen, and invert the warm cake onto a serving plate. (If the cake cools too long, it will be hard to remove from the pan.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_8755Notes:

Toasting the pecans before using adds a great deal of flavor. I toast pecans in the oven, set at 350 degrees, for about 12 minutes. I use a heavy cookie sheet and stir the nuts every few minutes. They will start to smell yummy; be sure not to let them burn!

You may be tempted to use more than the called-for amount of rhubarb. If you do, you’ll be adding extra moisture to the cake and it will take longer to cook and may not cook fully in the center. Don’t ask me how we know that. We just do.

We served this with vanilla ice cream and a puree made from the leftover fresh rhubarb. YUM!

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Recipe For A Perfect Summer Day

pretty campI spent a lot of the day yesterday stewing. I thought about the things I should be doing and didn’t want to do any of them—I didn’t want to blog. I didn’t want to quilt. I didn’t want to iron linens or list them on Etsy. I didn’t want to thread the damn heddles on the loom. I didn’t want to follow Weight Watchers.

It was a thick and heavy stew.

Then it dawned on me—stewing in the summer doesn’t make sense. Stews are for winter and, even then, they taste good only occasionally. They have too much stuff in them. They weigh a person down.

I wanted a different concoction for summer. Something lighter, easier. I had just the recipe but hadn’t made it for far too long.

I needed to dig out my old favorite recipe for “camp,” and make a big batch.

I started with sunshine and a stiff breeze to blow the bugs away. These ingredients have been scarce this summer but I was able to find them when I needed them.

I added a book, a real book. A kind of heavy book, both physically and intellectually, because even a summer meal needs some nutritional value.

I stirred in a chaise lounge, in the sun, near the peonies, and a fleece blanket to tame the breeze.

I napped while it all simmered.

I finished the recipe with a smoky campfire, and seasoned it with some homemade music and a little bourbon.

It was a wonderful, restorative meal. And today I’m having leftovers. I’ll add a garage sale or two, just to spice things up, and go out for a deep-fried lunch, with family and a beer, two ingredients guaranteed to make leftovers better the second time around.

But the basic ingredients will stay the same. Because the recipe for “camp” is a classic and it never gets old. Something so good can’t be bad for me, right?

What are you cooking up today? I’d be happy to share my recipe.

Limoncello: Sunshine–Anytime, Anywhere

IMG_6178When winter gets to be just too much, a trip to a sunny, tropical place is in order.

The bright yellow warmth of the sun, the smell of citrus, the taste of fresh fruit on the tongue . . . ahhhhhh.

You can’t get away? Are obligations keeping you home? Is winter driving you to drink?

The answer, my friend, is limoncello.

We just got back from Florida. It was wonderful to go and we had a lovely, restorative trip BUT the downside was we had to return to winter! The day we left, we got almost two feet of snow that we’ve had to deal with and more snow is falling right now . . . ugh.

But our return to winter was tempered by a lovely glow from our kitchen closet. In there, among the light bulbs and vacuum cleaner bags, was a tightly sealed container of liquid sunshine.

We came back to our homemade limoncello, ready for drinking after about 6 weeks of steeping.

It is the color of early morning sun, a sun that promises full-blown heat later in the day but now just warms your skin.

It smells like lemons off the tree, warmed by the sun, tangy but not sour, intoxicating.

It tastes . . . well, it tastes like lemonade’s grown-up sister, sassy and kind of naughty, but lots of fun.

If this all sounds good to you, you have choices to make. You can head out to the liquor store and buy a bottle of limoncello and have it today. Or you can make your own, in true loving-hands-at-home fashion, and have it ready in about 6 weeks. Or  (and this is my favorite), you can do both, allowing you to have your limoncello and drink it, too.

Limoncello takes just a few ingredients and a little work. Mostly, it takes patience.

There are many recipes for limoncello on the Internet. We chose this one because the bag of lemons we bought contained 15 lemons and the recipe called for 15 lemons. It seemed like a sign.

Limoncello Recipe

15 lemons (zest from peels only)

One 750-ml bottle of Everclear (190-proof) alcohol OR two 750-ml bottles (100-proof) vodka

4 cups granulated sugar

5 cups water (filtered tap water or distilled water)

Prepare the lemons

The only semi-difficult part of making limoncello is zesting the lemons. You want to get just the yellow of the peel, with none of the white pith. The pith will make your limoncello bitter.

Wash the lemons in warm water.

We found that a sharp vegetable peeler worked best. We cut off the ends of the lemons and peeled from top to bottom. With some pieces of peel, I needed to scrape a little pith off, too.

You use only the peels for the limoncello. Use the lemon juice for lemonade or other purposes.

Place lemon peel in a large glass jar with a lid.* Add your choice of Everclear grain alcohol or vodka.

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Pour it on!

Cover the jar and put it somewhere cool and dark. Let it rest at room temperature for at least ten days. You can let it sit longer, up to 40 days, and that supposedly improves the final taste. I wouldn’t know.

Add the simple syrup

After 10 (or more) days of allowing the lemon oils to release into the alcohol, you will make a simple syrup of sugar and water.

Place 4 cups of white, granulated sugar in a large saucepan with 5 cups of water. Stir well as you bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Allow to boil for 5 to 7 minutes, then remove from heat and let the syrup cool.

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Simple syrup–simple to make!

Once cool, add the simple syrup to the lemon peel and alcohol jar. Give it a good stir and put it back in the cool, dark space to sit for another period of 10 to 40 days. This will bedifficult—it smells so good!

Strain and use

The last step is straining the limoncello and bottling it.

We used coffee filters to strain the mixture. Place a coffee filter into a metal strainer and carefully pour in some of the mixture.

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Strain through coffee filters or cheesecloth

It strains slowly, I think because of the oils you are removing from the mix. We replaced the coffee filter frequently.

Pour the strained, and beautiful, liquid into a pretty bottle.

Seal the bottle tightly and store in the freezer—it won’t freeze with all that alcohol in it and it tastes great when it is super cold.

You’ll end up with a generous amount of this lovely drink so use your imagination about ways to enjoy it. Obviously, you can also drink it straight out of the freezer (but preferably not straight out of the bottle!)—it’s a perfect after-dinner drink because it’s so light and fresh-tasting.

I like my limoncello over crushed ice, like a grown-up slushie, or you can mix it with tonic water for a lighter treat. It’s also lovely mixed with champagne and can be used as an ingredient in other cocktails.

But limoncello is not just for drinking! Pour a little over fresh fruit salad or berries or try drizzling it over lemon sherbet. I’m thinking it would be perfect in a traditional trifle, layered with pound cake, fruit, and custard. Or you could make a boozy pound cake—when the cake comes out of the oven, use a skewer to poke holes in it and drizzle the limoncello over. Do I have good ideas or what?

Whatever you do with your limoncello, save some for the next cold, nasty day, that day when you feel that winter will never end, and you long for a warm breeze and your toes in the sand. Put your limoncello in a small, pretty glass, close your eyes and sip. You’ll be transported.

I think I need some right now!

* We learned the hard way why glass is important. We used a plastic container and found that the oils from the lemons adhered to the plastic in what seems to be a permanent way.

The World’s Most Perfect Hors D’Oeuvres

IMG_4322I’ve been saving this for you! For this very moment, when, after the round of holiday parties and dozens of the same old snacks, you need something new and different and yummy to take to that New Year’s Eve get-together or Super Bowl party.

This recipe for a savory cheesecake spread is incredibly easy, really tasty, and unusual enough to cement your reputation as a great and imaginative cook.

What you need before you start, though, is a small springform pan. I love using a springform pan because it makes me feel like a real cook. While it’s easy enough to find a standard-size pan of about 12 inches, you may need to shop on-line to find a 6-inch pan.

And you need some sort of savory jelly or jam. I got the recipe for this cheesecake from a woman who made garlic jelly—it sounds kind of gross but it was wonderful and the resulting cheesecake was spectacular. She sold the jelly with the springform pan and included the recipe—a kit for perfection!

The first time I served this at a party, a friend who LOVES food, wandered around our house with his plate full of the cheesecake, talking with his mouth full, saying, “this is the BEST thing I’ve ever eaten.”

People don’t usually say that about the things I cook so I knew I had a winner!

Since I made that first cheesecake and used up the garlic jelly, I’ve made the cheesecake with garlic jam made by Stonewall Kitchen, as well as hot pepper jellies that are much easier to find. All of these are equally grand or you might find a jelly that has hot peppers AND garlic!

IMG_4287Hot Pepper or Garlic Jelly Savory Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1 egg

6 oz. grated Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

8 oz. cream cheese (easiest if you let it soften to room temp first)

1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns

1 jar (13-17 oz.) hot pepper jelly (or garlic jelly), divided

Mix first five ingredients together with half of the jelly.

Pour mixture into greased 6-inch spring form pan; I also cut a circle of cook’s parchment paper to line the bottom of the pan and placed the whole thing on parchment on a cookie sheet. I love using parchment paper because it makes me feel . . . well, you know.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. It’ll get quite brown and be just a little jiggly in the middle. When you take it out of the oven, the top will be puffed up and will slowly sink, to make a perfect little bowl for the remaining jelly.

Cool completely. Remove the outside of the pan. Top with remaining jelly. Serve with crackers. Wait for people to ask for the recipe.

Oh, Fudge!

IMG_4025What would Christmas be without fudge? Dick, without Jane. Tarzan, without Jane (was it the same Jane, do you think?) Santa, without Rudolph. Eggnog, without rum.

It would be sad, that’s what it would be!

While I’m away, selling candy to the huddled masses of Westchester County, New York, I thought I’d empower you to make your own holiday fudge. I could sell it to you but you’re a crafty, self-sufficient, DIY bunch and this fudge is really easy. If you do a good job with this, someday I’ll teach you to temper chocolate and you won’t need me at all!

And the recipe makes five pounds of fudge! You know you’d never buy that much candy but, hey, if the recipe provides that much, who are you to argue?

I’m giving you a basic recipe, published several years ago in the Buffalo News. I always, always, add dried sour cherries from Michigan because they counteract the sometimes-overwhelming sweetness of fudge.

I almost always add walnuts, too, because my husband loves them and it’s easier to put them in than to listen to him miss them, in that sad little voice of his.

You can add what you like—toasted pecans, raisins, craisins, toasted coconut, crispy bacon. All of the above. Or even none of the above, for purists.

This makes a pretty, always welcome, stocking stuffer, cut in 2- or 3-inch squares and tucked in a cellophane bag with a pretty ribbon. You can also add it to that plate of cookies you give all your friends and co-workers. Or you can keep it for yourself and start a diet with me on January 2!

FIVE POUNDS OF FABULOUS FUDGE

Line 10 x 15 pan with foil

* ½ cup butter or margarine
* 1 can (about 14-ounce) evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
* 4 1/2 cups sugar
* 8 ounces marshmallows; I use mini-marshmallows
* 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (all of these chocolates can be found in the baking aisle; they’re often sold under the name “Baker’s”)
* 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
* 8 ounces sweet baking chocolate
* 1 Tablespoon vanilla
*1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
* 1 cup roughly chopped dried sour cherries
(or about 2 cups of whatever add-ins sound good to you)

Combine butter, milk, and sugar in a large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cover. Turn down a little and boil for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows; stir until melted. Add the three kinds of chocolate, one at a time, stirring until melted. Blend in vanilla and whatever you’re adding.

Pour into foil-lined 10-by-15-inch pan. The 10-by-15-inch pan is often called a jelly roll pan. You could use any similarly sized pan but I wouldn’t go smaller or the fudge will be very thick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let fudge stand until firm. When the fudge has set, put a cutting board on top and carefully flip it over so that the fudge leaves the pan. Peel the foil off and cut as desired.

Fudge will dry out pretty quickly if left in the air. Wrap it in plastic and store in a plastic container for a few days or wrap tightly and freeze. Fudge freezes quite well!

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Michigan Red Hots–Hot Dog!

 

IMG_3809Looking for a new recipe for a tailgate or fall party? Need to feed a lot of people at a Super Bowl gathering? Want a recipe that most people will never have heard of before and will have them clamoring for more?

You need to make Michigan Red Hots!

Michigans have something for everyone. Well, except vegetarians. And the gluten intolerant. And dieters. Almost everyone.

They have a history, dating back to the 1920s.

They are the subject of long-standing debates and rifts among family members.

They are homey and regional yet are on the verge of being discovered. You can be on the leading edge of the Michigan revolution.

Make these now and you’ll be able to say, “I was Michigan before Michigan was cool!”

Okay, okay—so what is a Michigan? It’s a hot dog in a bun with meat sauce on top.

Don’t you think that sounds special? Well, it is.

Michigan Red Hots have been a favorite in the North Country of upstate New York almost 90 years. This area is the northeast corner of New York State, closer to Montreal, Quebec, and Burlington, Vermont, than New York City.

It’s not quite the same as a chili dog or a Coney or a Texas Red Hot.

In this part of the world, people have been going to roadside stands since the 1920s, looking for Michigans.

No one really knows where the recipe came from or why the delicacy is called a Michigan. There are many tales about Coney Island hot dogs meeting sauce made by a woman from Nashville. The Nashville woman married someone from Detroit and then they moved to Plattsburgh, New York, and starting selling the hot dogs and called them Michigans.

I say, who cares? It’s not important where the name came from. What’s important is trying Michigans at as many stands and diners as possible, to find the uber-Michigan.

Everyone, everyone, has an opinion about the best Michigan. Once there was a stand called Nitzi’s that was definitely in the running but Nitzi retired and sold the business but, the lore says, he didn’t pass his sauce recipe along to the new owners.

Is Nitzi’s sauce lost? Or is it being used at another small shop? Was it best?

Many will say Clare and Carl’s is best. You could buy them here, as long as the building continues to stand! clare carl's Others swear by Gus’s Red Hot’s as the quintessential Michigan. McSweeney’s is a relative newcomer, Ronnie’s has been around forever but is very different than all the others, and so on, and so on.

The differences among these are subtle but don’t try telling that to the fans of any of them. Husbands and wives can’t agree. Parents and children are split. Compromises abound—“I’ll go to Clare and Carl’s today but next time we go to Gus’s!

The keys for a Michigan seem to be:

  • A thick meat sauce, slightly hot with spices, spiced with cumin and almost grainy in consistency
  • A steamed hot dog, often a bright red hot dog made with a natural casing
  • A big, sturdy, top-cut bun
  • Rough-chopped raw onion, either on top or “buried” under the sauce
  • A line of yellow mustard

IMG_3822If you order a Michigan in a restaurant and want to sound like a local, you say “Two Michigans with” if you want onions. My husband says, “Two Michigans with, buried” and I say, “One Michigan, without.” They are usually served with French fries and coleslaw, which is all really nice but the focus here is on the Michigan.

In the last couple of years, the secret has started to get out. Serious Eats made the Michigan one of their hot dogs of the week a couple of years ago and the reviewer said, “New York state’s Michigan “Red Hots” are one of the most fascinating hot dog varieties that I’ve come across so far.”

Rachael Ray did what I consider to be an evil thing—presented a recipe for basic Michigan sauce but then felt the need to add macaroni and cheese to it and put the whole con-glop-eration on top of a hot dog. The woman has no sense of a) tradition or b) moderation!

If you can’t make it to upstate New York but yearn for this special treat, the recipe that follows is one I’ve had for about 30 years. It is purported to be Clare and Carl’s recipe but tastes, to me, more like the Michigans from Gus’s. Whatever. This recipe makes a sauce that is very close to the typical Michigan you’d get at most places in the North Country.

Michigan Sauce

1 29-ounce can of tomato sauce

2 pounds hamburger

3-6 tsp. chili powder (I use 4 ½)

2 tsp. dried onion*

2 tsp. garlic powder*

3-4 Tablespoons Tabasco sauce (I use 3 Tbls. and use Frank’s Hot Sauce because I lived in Buffalo a long time and Frank’s is the primary ingredient in Buffalo wing sauce!)

2 tsp. black pepper

2 tsp. cumin

  • Mix all ingredients together, except meat.

  • IMG_3792Add meat raw and cook while stirring occasionally with a fork. The fork is important to get the consistency right! Michigan sauce doesn’t have chunks!

  • IMG_3798Simmer 2-3 hours. You can do this all in a slow cooker but, if you leave the top on, the sauce will be very soupy. You want the sauce to be pretty thick when it’s done.

The recipe makes quite a lot of sauce. I freeze some of it in ice cube trays and, when the cubes are frozen, I pop them out and put them in the freezer in a freezer bag. Then, when I want a Michigan, I just grab two cubes and put them in the microwave for a little while!

If you’re not a fan of hot dogs, you can put Michigan sauce on a hamburger roll, for a Sloppy Joe kind of sandwich; up here that’s called a sauce burger!

* You can get fancy and use real onion and garlic—maybe it’ll taste good but it won’t be a Michigan any more!

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Autumn Senses–Scent of Ginger

ginger choc caramels-4It’s a rainy, cool autumn morning in the North Country, the kind that engages your senses in a variety of ways. Right now, I’m most aware of my sense of smell because my whole house carries the scent of warm ginger.

Lots of people seem to associate maple with fall but I think ginger is the signature scent. Don’t get me wrong—I have maple in my blood. I grew up on a farm where we made maple syrup, but, to me, maple is a spring thing—that’s when the sap is running and the boiling down occurs, to turn that sap into heaven.

Ginger is warm and cozy—like a favorite sweater on a cool day. I love that it has a spicy zip to it, too. I’m making ginger caramels, which involves infusing cream with fresh ginger root and then adding that to the other caramel ingredients and letting the whole thing burble for a couple of hours.

When the caramel reaches the “soft ball” stage, I’ll add finely chopped crystallized ginger and let them set. They’re amazing just cut into squares—like Reed’s Ginger Chews only creamier—but I’ll dip some in dark chocolate, too, because I am of the opinion that dark chocolate makes most things taste better!

I have more fresh ginger root and crystallized ginger on hand so I think my next step is to try these Triple Ginger Cookies. I’ll let you know how they turn out!

What is your go-to fall scent? Pumpkin? Apple? Cinnamon? Or do you love ginger, too?

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If you make caramels and want the details about giving them a jolt with ginger, let me know!