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Posts Tagged ‘nuts’

It’s about time I pop in and say hello!  I just had to share the salad I’ve been eating about every other day since strawberries have hit the farmer’s market in full force.  It’s really a combination of some of my favorite things in the world, all mixed together in one bowl.   There’s just such a melange of flavors and textures that it’s really satisfying–the leafy greens, the crunch from the pecans, the bite of red onion, the sweetness of the strawberries, and the acid from the balsamic vinaigrette just make this a delicious lunch.

Spring Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Grilled Chicken

Serves 2 as a small lunch dish

  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 6-8 ounces grilled or broiled chicken breast, shredded
  • 1/4 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 8 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 ounces broken pecan halves (about a large handful)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette (or you can use your favorite) to taste

Just add all of those ingredients into a mixing bowl and toss until the vinaigrette is evenly distributed.

Happy Spring, everybody!

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We’re back on the CSA Bandwagon after a break from the holidays.  Just before getting our box, my weekly newsletter from Food52 showed up advertising a Kale Salad with Apples and Hazelnuts which just sounded delightful.  I’m always looking for something new and interesting to do with kale–I usually throw it into a soup, but having it in a salad sounded really interesting.  Of course, when today rolled around and it was time to make dinner, I didn’t necessarily have everything that the original recipe called for, so I… improvised. And it was good.  So, I thank the fine people at Food52 for the excellent inspiration!  This salad worked very nicely with the broiled salmon and parmesan broccoli that were on the menu, and we knew we had something because Kiddo ate it (always a sign of success).

Kale Salad with Apples, Pistachios & Dried Cherries

  • 1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Honey
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch Lacinato Kale, washed and cut into 1″ ribbons
  • 1 large Granny Smith Apple
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped Pistachios
  • 1/4 cup Dried Cherries
  1. In a large bowl, pour in vinegar and honey and whisk until incorporated; add in olive oil in a slow stream while whisking constantly until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Add kale and toss until leaves are completely coated with vinaigrette.  Set aside for about 1 hour to let leaves break down slightly.
  3. Peel, core, and slice apple;  toss into greens, adding nuts and cherries.  Serve immediately.

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The strawberries are out in full force at the farmer’s markets right now; the bounty coming in from Ventura and Oxnard brings that heady, sweet perfume of fresh berries that wanders along the stalls, enticing you to stop and get a sample of one of those juicy little sugarbombs.  I picked up a 3-pack of some gorgeous, small, deep-red berries that packed a real punch of flavor for their size.

Now, when I have plans for a strawberry dessert, I usually either go with a pie or strawberry shortcake, but I was ready for something new.  I remembered a cake I had made years ago, with layers of meringue, strawberries and whipped cream, and I knew that’s what I wanted to make.

A dacquoise is a type of cake made with layers of nut meringue;  often, it is filled with ganache, mousse, and/or buttercream–Marjolaine is the perfect example of a dacquoise.  I decided to go with a deconstructed version, using freshly made lemon curd as a bright and tart replacement for ganache, sliced strawberries, lightly sweetened whipped cream, and crunchy-chewy almond meringues.

After baking, let the meringue layers cool completely.   This is a dessert, once assembled, that should be served within an hour or two, as the meringue softens after being in contact with the fillings.  However, the meringues can be made the night before, and left to cool in the oven overnight.  The lemon curd can also be made well in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Sure, it’s a little messy, but for this dessert, the point of it is being simple and casual–capturing the essence of early summer, like strawberries in season at the market, sitting outside drinking lemonade, and having a fun dinner with friends out on the patio.

Strawberry & Lemon Dacquoise

Meringue Layers

  • 1 1/4 cups whole almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 275°.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Trace one 8″ diameter circle on to each sheet and turn paper over.
  2. Pulse almonds in food processor with cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground.
  3. Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy, and add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, then gradually beat in remaining sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
  4. Fold ground almonds gently into meringue.  Pipe or spread meringue evenly into the traced circles on parchment.
  5. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.   Slide meringues onto a cooling rack while still on parchment.  When ready to assemble meringues, gently peel parchment off.

Lemon Curd (from marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, zest and egg yolks then whisk in lemon juice and salt.
  2. Add butter and place pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, whisking constantly until butter has melted, mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and small bubble form around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes (do not boil).
  3. Remove pan from heat while continuing to whisk.  Pour curd while still hot through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of curd and refrigerate until cool.

Note:  this recipe makes approximately 2 cups; I found this to be pretty generous for the recipe, and had about 1/2 cup leftover.  Then again, I really don’t see a problem with having some extra lemon curd hanging around the house.

Filling and Assembly

  • 4 cups sliced fresh strawberries, plus 10-12 whole strawberries for decoration
  • 2 cups cold whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla extract until it holds a soft peak.
  2. Place first meringue on a plate and spread about a 3/4 cup of lemon curd across the surface of meringue.
  3. Place half of the sliced strawberries on top of lemon curd.
  4. Spoon 1/3 of whipped cream on top of strawberries, and spread to cover.
  5. Place 2nd meringue layer atop whipped cream and repeat with lemon curd, berries, and 1/3 of the whipped cream.
  6. Top with final layer of meringue, spread remaining whipped cream on top, and decorate with whole berries.
  7. Best served within 2 hours of assembly.

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Ok, I lied.  Last post, I said it was the last of the baking.  Turns out tonight is my father-in-law’s birthday party, and he requested I bring up his favorite cookie to share.  I’ve made these many times before for the in-laws, as they’re fast and easy to make, and they love coconut (and to tell the truth, so do I).  

Back when I was a teenager (oh, it hurts to say that was in the 80’s) my mother had a recipe for a simple macaroon–a bag of coconut, a can of condensed milk, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, chopped macadamias–scooped into little balls and baked until golden.  They weren’t the lighter, fluffier macaroons that used egg whites; these were dense, chewy and caramelly–a cookie right up my alley.  The recipe was sadly lost until the day in 2001 when I was working at Border Grill as a pastry cook and I had to make a batch of their pajas (“straw” in Spanish, as they do resemble a pile of straw, or a haystack).  I laughed when I realized that it was essentially the same cookie, but their version was with chopped dried apricots, dark chocolate, and pecans.  I made hundreds of those pajas during my time at the restaurant, and the recipe is as natural as breathing. 

It’s an incredibly easy recipe–just five ingredients–and a cinch to adapt to your personal tastes.  Don’t like pecans?  Use almonds!  Can’t stand cranberries?  Swap them with dried cherries!  The possibilities are endless! 

Pajas

adapted from Border Grill

1-7 ounce bag shredded, sweetened coconut

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried fruit–cranberries, cherries and apricots (chopped) are best

1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, macadamias, or almonds

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all 5 ingredients and stir until well coated with the condensed milk.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I mean it, too–these will stick to an unlined pan!)
  4. Scoop dough into golf-ball sized pieces and place 1″ apart on lined sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until coconut is a dark golden brown.
  6. Cool completely on pan, peel off from parchment paper. 

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This is really the offical start of the holiday season, when I set aside a weekend to start cranking out the cookies and candies that will land into the hands of friends and co-workers in the coming weeks.  Half of the fun is the week before, as I go through cookie recipes and start planning:  do I make some old favorites?  Do I try to make few new ones?  I know I always like to try out one new recipe over the holidays, and my friend, Laurel pointed out this recipe from my former employers.  I’m a fan of these types of cookies, and with the combination of pistachios and cranberries (yes, I know the original recipe calls for cherries, but it’s an acceptable substitute), there would be a nice green-red-white color combination happening. 

Other than the cranberries, the only thing different I did was to make the cookies larger–I’m doing two batches, and to make the process a bit easier, I used my small ice cream scoop, which produces balls of dough approximately the size of a golf ball.  This does increase the baking time to about 20-22 minutes.  I personally like them larger–they’re cookies of substance.  Also, the recipe calls for buttered cookie sheets–save your butter and just line your pans with parchment–less hassle, less mess. 

Don’t forget to be generous while coating these with powdered sugar.  Like a good beignet, a Mexican Wedding cookie should leave you with a good dusting of powder after indulging. 

Pistachio and Cranberry Mexican Wedding Cakes (adapted)

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill  ◊  Bon Appétit  | December 2006

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 heavy large baking sheets. Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cranberries. Using spatula, stir in all flour (do not overmix dough).

Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into football-shaped ovals. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

Pour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely. do ahead Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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I was made aware that this past Saturday was Sweetest Day, which I had never known its origins as being a promotion to boost candy sales.  A holiday designed for buying candy?  How did I not know about this sooner?

That’s it, I will always celebrate Sweetest Day by making candy to give away to people I like from now on.

I had a late start this time around and after thinking of different kinds of candies I could make, I decided on a favorite:  Toffee.  You want to know one of the reasons why it’s a favorite of mine?  The recipe starts out with one pound of butter.

Yes.  You read that right.  One. Pound. Of. Butter.

toffee1

See?  I wasn’t kidding.  And to that one pound of butter (say it a few times, it feels awfully decadent)  in went two cups of sugar.  I had this in my heavy enameled cast-iron pot with the heat on medium, and once the butter melted, I slipped on the candy thermometer and it was time to stir.  And stir.  And stir some more.

toffee2

At first, once the butter melted, it was kind of odd and “broken” looking (broken being a culinary term when a fat separates from a sauce, like in homemade macaroni and cheese or hollandaise that’s been overcooked)–the melted butter acts like it doesn’t want to incorporate into the sugar, but I knew better.  Somewhere at 240°, I had this bubbling mass that still had another 10 minutes or so to go before we had toffee.

After hours and hours and hours of stirring, the syrup hit the Hard Crack Stage (I should throw in some Crack Is Wack joke in here somehow) which is 300°-310°.  This is when it’s time to work quickly.  Once the heat gets turned off on a cooking sugar syrup, it will start its crystalization process.

toffee3

Immediately I tossed in about 1 1/2 cups of roughly chopped almonds.  To be honest, I stole them from Choo’s snacking stash, and they were already roasted and lightly salted.  I don’t mind some salt in caramels, and in fact, I think it enhances the flavor of the caramelized sugar and browned butter.  After the almonds were mixed in, I (carefully!) poured this into a well-buttered 8″ square cake pan.

toffee4

I use a smaller pan because I like my toffee in big, solid chunks, but I know that others like it in thinner sheets, so a 9 x 13 cake pan or a silpat-lined sheet pan (for even thinner sheets, or if you want to break it up for little toffee pieces for other confections like pretzels dipped in milk chocolate and rolled in toffee bits).

Once this block had cooled a bit (but still very warm to the touch), I sprinkled the top with shaved dark chocolate which promptly melted so I could spread it out into a nice, thin sheet of chocolate.   And, really, that’s it–you don’t need to do anything else.  Once it’s fully cooled, it pops out of the pan very easily, and can be broken up into bite-size pieces with a large knife or a toffee hammer.

One of my ideas for the holidays is to try to find a source for little toffee hammers like See’s used to put in their boxes of Victoria Toffee.  I could just wrap up an entire block of this toffee in cellophane and attach the hammer in the bow.  Sugar and Tools:  a winning combination.

But, this time around, I just piled pieces up on a plate and brought them into work:

toffee5

Yeah, that’ll do.

Almond Toffee

1 pound unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

1-2 cups of roughly chopped toasted almonds (amount is to personal preference)

4-6 ounces dark chocolate, either shaved, or in chips

  1. In a heavy-bottomed pot turn heat to medium and add butter and sugar.
  2. Once butter melts, stir often as syrup begins to boil.  Keep a close eye on the syrup as it can scorch easily.
  3. Simmer syrup until it reaches the hard crack stage, at 300° to 310°, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  4. Turn heat off and working quickly, add nuts and stir until fully incorporated.  Pour into buttered cake pan or silpat-lined sheet pan.
  5. When the toffee has cooled slightly but is still very warm to the touch, sprinkle chocolate on top and let the heat of the toffee melt the chocolate.  Spread chocolate evenly with rubber spatula.
  6. Let toffee cool completely before lifting out of pan.  Use a heavy knife or small hammer to break into bite-sized pieces.

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I have had fond recollections of a cake I had made back in my school days;  I remembered it as layers of hazelnut meringues and ganache and (the oh-so-gorgeous Fat Bomb) French buttercream.  For some reason it had been sticking in my mind the past few months, and I decided that it had to be my birthday cake.

I still had my school recipe, but after a few searches online, I decided on Godiva Chocolate’s version.  I did a few things differently, the main thing being rather than spread the meringue into a full-sized sheet that would be cut after baking, I traced rectangles out on parchment paper and then piped the meringue into the rectangles (which is how I remember doing it in school).  In retrospect, I should have gone for the whole sheet–it would have saved me time, and I would have had more evenly sized pieces.  I didn’t bother with the Frangelico or butter in the ganache, and doubled the amount of chocolate covered hazelnuts for decoration.

One of those tricky things in life is getting those darn skins off of hazelnuts.

marj1

I didn’t need to get every little bit of skin off of them, especially when they’re getting a trip to the Cuisinart. Getting all the flaky parts is the key.  After roasting them in the oven, I let them cool for about 10-15 minutes–they were still a mite warm, but easy to handle.  I piled them on one side of a towel, and folded over the other side, giving them a rubdown.  The skins slid right off.  From there, I saved the ones to be dipped in chocolate, and the rest went into the food processor to be finely ground.

marj2

After the meringues were baked and cooled, it was time to do some layerin’.

marj3

See what I mean about the uneven sizes of the meringues?  I could have trimmed them, yes, but I didn’t.  I went with it.

Besides, my family motto is gelu exuviae a vulgus of delictum* (Frosting covers a multitude of sins), as shown here:

marj4

I used the buttercream like spackle–filling in the gaps, and creating a smooth surface. with a very thin layer (you might hear Martha Stewart call it a “crumb coat”–ok, ok, I call it that, too).  I popped that into the fridge for about 30 minutes for the buttercream to set, then I spread the final coat for a nice, smooth finish.

marg5

I finally finished this around 2:30 in the morning–note that everything was looking great until the very last part–the piping at the bottom–I had finally hit the wall and the buttercream was getting really soft… well, let’s just say I usually do a much nicer job but there was a pillow screaming my name at that point.

marj6

Ah, there’s a nice cross-section for you.  It was as good as I remembered it, if not better.  I served it with a Zinfandel Port (very yummy, and only $10 from Trader Joe’s) that was absolutely perfect.

Can I tell you I’m sad that I don’t have any more?  I gave away the rest at the office on Monday morning, because that stuff is dangerous.  Who’s birthday is next?  Any major celebrations coming up?  C’mon, give me a reason to make another!

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