Tuesday, December 13, 2011

old fashioned butter crunch candy

Butter crunch candy, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
The little kitchen is a bit spazzy these days. My computer is dead so I'm reduced to the limits of library computers for a while. I feel like Dorothy as I race against the diminishing time whilst trying to sum up a weeks worth of kitchen triumph and tragedy.
This butter crunch candy? triumph.  America's Test Kitchen does it again in a Holiday Cookies publication. These are the ATK mags that can be found at the check-stands of your hoitier markets like Whole Foods and Mollie Stones. I was in the market for a new cookie or two to add to my Christmas repertoire but when I spied this candy recipe I couldn't get home fast enough to make it, knowing that I had all of the ingredients at home already..not that I need any more things to go all OCD/ADD on at Christmas but I was a bit challenged the last time I tried to make caramel. It scared me. It's like stirring a pot of molten lava...but success...even without a candy thermometer!!!

Old Fashioned Butter Crunch Candy
America's Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies 2010

1 3/4 sticks of butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
4 oz. of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate roughly chopped
1/2 cup of pecans chopped

This makes about 1 1/2 pounds of candy.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread out the pecans on a cookie sheet and toast them until they become fragrant and darken just a little, about 7-8 minutes, toss them around after about 5 minutes. You won't need the oven again for this recipe so you can also toast them in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat for about 5 minutes tossing them around a little if you don't want to bother with turning the oven on.
Line a 9"x13" cookie sheet (mine was a little larger) with aluminum foil and spray it with cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the sugar, water and corn syrup and stir constantly while it boils. After about 10-12 minutes it'll turn a light caramel color. If you have a candy thermometer it should read 310 degrees. I didn't so I just watched and stirred. It bubbles like molten lava so be careful. I used a silicone spatula to stir it but you can also use a wooden spatula (something heatproof with a flat edge/bottom to keep moving the caramel off the bottom of the pot). When it turns a light caramel color remove it from the heat and pour it onto the baking sheet. My sheet was a little larger than required so I just let the caramel spread out as much as it wanted. Let it sit for about 5 minutes then sprinkle the chocolate all over the caramel. Let that sit for another 5 minutes so the chocolate can soften a bit, then using the back of a spoon ( I used a large soup spoon) spread the chocolate over the caramel. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the chocolate and let it rest for at least an hour.

I just left mine on my counter over night and the next morning broke it into pieces stored it in a ziplock bag drawing as much air out of the bag as I could. I've left in on my kitchen table for a couple of days now and it tastes amazing. This reminds me of Almond Roca, which has to be my all time favorite candy. This is better. Thinner...less stress on the dentals...butter crunch bliss.

Foccacia pizza

Foccacia pizza, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
I've been getting more experimental in the little kitchen lately. It's a pretty cheap form of entertainment too.
I was cruising by the clearance shelf at Fresh and Easy the other day and spied a couple of packages of foccacia dough. Having had a success with it in a foccacia throwdown a few weeks back, I couldn't help but wonder "how awesome could a pizza be made with this and those little bits of rosemary baked right into the crust?"
Uhmmm no....problem was, that the foccacia dough doesn't move onto the pizza stone like regular pizza dough , in fact it doesn't move on at all, so I had to bake it on the cookie sheet which doesn't crisp up as well. Tasted great but the crust was too doughy. Live and learn.
 My go-to pizza starts with this really simple pizza dough from Smitten Kitchen. While it's rising I heat up my pizza stone in a 500 degree oven.
I roll the pizza dough out on a well floured board then move it onto a rimless cookie sheet generously sprinkled with corn meal. This makes it easier to slide onto the hot baking stone. Before moving it onto the hot stone, I start with a generous smear of this super simple and crazy good tomato sauce from 101 Cookbooks, about 3/4 of a cup of caramelized onions (I cook these up by the pint, 6-7 onions), a 1/2 cup of fresh parmesan, 1 1/2 cups of coarsly grated  mozzarella and my new favorite thing, any one of the flavored sausages from Fresh and Easy, meat removed from the casing of two sausages and browned in a skillet on the stove top before sprinkling it on the pizza.
10 minutes in the oven and I'm in pizza nirvana for days.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

mushroom risotto

Mushroom risotto, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
If I had to choose my favorite little kitchen production, the one thing that I've made over and over again in my year and a half here, the most generous and versatile thing to ever emerge from my oven, it would be the roasted chicken.
This is what became of the first half of the stock. I was gonna make lemon chicken risotto but I couldn't get to the recipe since it was trapped inside my <gaaahhhh> dead computer. Not to worry though, my trusty Cooks Illustrated Cookbook comes through.
I've made this Mushroom Risotto several times now and I absolutely love it. Risotto requires a lot of TLC but it's worth it.

Dutch Oven Boule

Dutch Oven Boule, originally uploaded by riptideredsf.
Fresh baked bread doesn't suck, even when it's not quite as airy as I would have liked and even if it's a tad scorched on the bottom.
Ruhlman made me do it again. I just got Michael Ruhlman's new book Ruhlmans Twenty and this is the first recipe I had to run off and make. Again. Twice.
What is it about this man that makes me take his every word as gospel? He's cute and he's funny and he knows his way around a kitchen. I'm a little bit obsessed if you wanna know the truth. I've got three of his books going on at the same time. Ratio got me baking this boule last year and it pretty much convinced me that my skills as a bread baker need some finessing...at least until I hit to lotto and  buy myself a Kitchen Aid, although first things first. I need a new computer.
The third Ruhlman I'm reading is The Making of a Chef. This has been my bus book for a while now. I am certainly not planning on becoming a chef or going to cooking school (although spending a week at a cooking school in Tuscany sounds absolutely dreamy). I was surprised  by how fascinated I was by his journey through the Culinary Institute of America.
Anyhoo...bread: I need to become one with all the kneading. This simple dough recipe first appeared in Ratio, a brilliant book by the way, that breaks down most of the basics of cooking proportionally. For example a basic short cookie dough is 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat and 3 parts flour or bread dough: 5 parts flour, 3 parts water plus a bit of yeast and salt. Then batters, doughs, sauces, roux etc. What an eye-opener.
It wasn't so much the bread ratio that got me itching to make this, it was that it was baked in a dutch oven and I had only just bought one. It HAD to be made.
It turned out...ok. Well better than ok. Fresh baked bread outta the oven? great. It was nice, but I literally ached the next day from all that kneading. Ruhlman instructs that the dough is properly kneaded when you can tear off a small piece and stretch it until it's transparent. If it just breaks it needs more kneading. It never did reach the level of transparency shown in the books photo.
After what seemed like forever. I gave up and baked it up anyway. It was fine, if not a bit dense. It didn't suck. Ok. I made french bread. Done. Move on and enjoy a loaf from Boudin for $2.65. I live in San Francisco for pete's sake. The best sourdough in the world. Then I discover that my new neighborhood Fresh and Easy has fresh baked Italian loaves for 98 cents! The lightest softest bread I've ever had.
Fast forward to last week, I get my new book in the mail (yeah I know...I wasn't supposed to do this anymore...drink margaritas whilst browsing Amazon) and what do I see but this damn Dutch Oven Boule again, this time in a beautiful full color photo (Ratio is a small format paperback with black & white pics) whilst Rulhman waxes all poetic about the tranquility of kneading even after admitting that he starts it off in the Kitchen Aid, yet I'm suckered in to making it again. My OCD is not done with this.