Friday, January 25, 2013

My favourite English Toffee

Amy's English Toffee - you will love it!

Waiting for the chocolate chips and chunks to melt onto my English Toffee. 

I love making  this toffee every winter.  It's great to  share with friends, family, and co-workers as it makes a large pan and travels very well - in fact, I made it a week in advance and carried put the bag in my checked luggage when I went to the UK to visit friends and wanted to share a homemade treat with them. And the second best part - I've included an easy way to clean the pan!

Before you begin - make sure you have an accurate candy thermometer. We are working with sugar caramelization and sugar concentration in this system.  The temperature will tell us where we are in the reaction chemistry (heating will break the bonds in the sugar causing them to release water. As the water is released and boiled away, this will create a thicker product. This is always why the product snaps - because you have created a very hard sugar matrix without much water, ok - enough food chemistry)

Step 1. Mix 2 c sugar and 2 c butter (4 sticks) in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Bring to a boil. 

Step 2. Add 1 cup (8oz) of sliced almonds. Stir constantly while boiling the mixture. 
Start Boiling

Keep Stirring        
You are trying to get to what we call "hard-crack" stage or 300F.  Keep stirring and watching the temperature rise. I have an electric stove (heats more slowly than gas) and this took me ~12 minutes. You can see the color changes from pale gold (above) to a rich golden color (below).

Beautiful - > done at 300F
Step 3. Once you reach 300F, immediately take the pan off the heat. If you heat much higher, you will burn the candy and this is such a sad thing as the burnt taste is impossible to mask and you just have to start over. 

Pour the toffee onto a sheet of wax paper. It should be 3-5 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Use the back of a spoon to spread if necessary. Toffee will have a glossy, buttery appearance - this is normal. 

Step 4: Sprinkle 1 cup of chocolate chips (you can use chips or chunks. For this time, I used a combination of 1/2 c. dark chocolate chips and 1/2 c. Bakers semi-sweet chocolate chunks) on top of the hot toffee, see the opening photo. Allow to sit for a few minutes. When the chocolate looks shiny, use your spatula and spread the chocolate evenly over the surface. 

Step 5: Sprinkle with your favourite nuts - in this case, I used Planters chopped walnuts, but you can also use pecans. I highly recommend lightly toasting the nuts if you have time to really deepen the flavor. Lightly press into the chocolate.

Allow the toffee and chocolate to cool/harden (you may need to place in the refrigerator for a few minutes to get the chocolate hard).  Break into small pieces and keep in an airtight container. 


Step 6: The easiest bit - cleaning the sticky pan.  I normally dread this part because making caramel is always a mess. BUT - if you just add some soapy water to the pan, bring it to a boil and then let the boiling action melt away the sugary mess, all you have to do is dump out the very hot water (be careful!) and give the pan a rinse and you are done.  You will thank me when you see how easy this is and now have one less excuse for making my favorite toffee.

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto & Parmesan and a creamy orange sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto & Parmesan in a tangy orange sauce (Gluten free)
This dish is so tasty that you will forget that you are eating mainly vegetables - a great lighter alternative to the heavy starch-based winter 'comfort' foods.

Spaghetti Squash with Proscutto & Parmesan in a tangy orange sauce
Amy Penner

Fall and winter just beg us to eat warm, hearty, comforting food to get the chill from our bones.  This dish is a real treat that is both warm and comforting.  Growing up, we would have had peas, ham, and noodles all in one meal.  I've taken these classic ingredients and upscaled them a bit to make a delicious looking and tasting dish.

I will also mention that I 'cheated' a little on my ingredients (this was made in December, I am just now publishing it).  I went to a holiday work social which had a lot of fancy appetizers - a meat and cheese tray being one of them.  The event organizers ordered a lot more food than we could consumer, and the waiters brought out take-away boxes at the end of the event, which I thought was interesting and a bit unusual.  Knowing that hard cheeses (aged parmesan) and the prosciutto could survive sitting out at room temperature for 2 hours during the event, I felt micro-safe to take some home with me. I did eat some of the meat/cheese with crackers, but decided that I might have more fun putting them into a dish, and that is how this dish was born.

I love using EVERYTHING in the kitchen, and I have a personal vendetta about letting my fruit and veg go to waste. It makes for a creative challenge - in this test, I had previously purchased a box of clementine oranges. However, I find it really difficult  to get through the entire box of them (which is a side note - but begs the question of grocery stores - why do you have to sell clementines in those massive boxes? what happened to choosing the amount that you want like every other fruit??).

After buying a box, I normally end up with about 5 lonely clementines left and I'm just so tired of eating them, no matter how easy they are to peel.  In this recipe, I squeezed them to get the juice and also got some pulp as well to give a great fresh, tangy taste to the dish. Normally a Hollandaise sauce uses lemon juice to create the pH shift to give the creaminess, but I knew that OJ would also add that acid that I needed.

My twist on several classic ingredients:
 - Prosciutto (dry cured ham) instead of ham steak
- Spaghetti squash instead of noodles (Gluten free!)
- Peas in the dish instead of beside
- Orange (clementine) juice instead of lemon juice for a sweeter, less acid tang; the sauce is a blend between a  hollandaise & white sauce (Hollandaise from the egg & orange juice, white sauce because it starts as a roux).

Step 1: Cook the spaghetti squash
The inside of a spaghetti squash

To cook your spaghetti squash - (1 large spaghetti squash)
Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place in a microwave safe dish, cut side down and add a little bit of water.  The water will create steam in the dish and cook your squash much faster than in the oven.  Make sure to keep it covered in the microwave to keep the steam close to the squash (I use plastic wrap and poke a hole in it).  Cook for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.  Once it is cooked, you should be able to easily 'flake' the squash and you will find that it easily separates into 'noodle-like' fibers. Scoop these out with a spoon or fork.  Just be careful - it will be hot! While it cools a bit, make the orange sauce (or, let it cool, then scoop out with the fork, this is easier on your hands!  You can prepare the squash 1-2 days in advance and keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container).

Step 2: To make the orange sauce - 
Getting the noodle-like flesh
from the squash. 
(2 Tb butter/ 2 Tb flour or 1 Tb cornstarch/ 1 c chicken stock/ 2 egg yolks / 1/2 c. orange juice)
 In a heavy sauce pan, add 2 Tb of butter over medium high heat. Let this melt and add 2 Tb of flour or 1 Tb of corn starch for a gluten free option. Whisk constantly until no lumps. This will look like a paste (roux). Slowly add 1 cup of chicken stock while whisking.  Add slowly to keep the sauce hot and allow it to incorporate nicely into the paste - this will give your sauce a nice texture.
Mix together 2 eggs (beat with a fork).  Add a little of the white sauce into the eggs. This will heat up the eggs to prevent 'scrambling' them if you were to just add them to the sauce. Return the egg/roux back to the pan with the rest of the sauce in it. Season with salt and pepper.  Allow to cook over med. heat for 1-2 mins, this will cook (160F) the egg yolks for food safety. After this, take the sauce off the heat and add in the juice of 3 clementines or ~1/2 c.   You need to take it off the heat to prevent flashing off the orange flavor and you need to add it at the very end as the acid in the oranges will change the pH of the sauce (more acidic) and if you add this before cooking the egg yolks, you will denature (precipitate) some of the yolk, which does not add to the nice velvety mouthfeel that you should get from this dish.

Step 3: Putting it all together - 
(1 c frozen peas/ 1/2 c  roughly chopped prosciutto /  3/4 c. large chunks of aged Parmesan cheese)
Heat a large frying pan on medium high heat, add the frozen peas and a drizlzle of olive oil. Cook until warm (1-2 minutes).  Add the spaghetti squash shreds and warm (if cold).  Add the prosciutto and parmesan and stir until blended. Add the orange sauce and stir well.  Add a little fresh cracked black pepper and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A "Sweet" treat you can make (Sugar cubes)

Sugar cubes - simpler to make than you think!

I know we are all trying to move away from sugar, fat, and salt, but at least if you are going to enjoy it - make sure it looks great! 

When I lived in the UK, it was really common to go to a coffee shop and have a bowl of white and brown sugar cubes on the tables.  The sugar cubes looked a bit more artesianal and I found it fun to figure out what size of sugar cube that I wanted in my coffee or tea. I thought it would be fun to try making these at home. 

What you need for White Sugar Cubes
1/2 cup sugar*
1 tsp water

To make: Place the sugar in a bowl and add the water. Stir with a spoon and mix the water evenly. It helps to use your hands as well because then you can get a feel for how well the sugar is sticking together. You may need to add another tsp or two, but don't get too hasty - you don't want to dissolve the sugar! 

You have enough moisture in the sugar when you can form squeeze it together and it retains its shape.  For the shape above, I used my hands and hand-shaped all the sugar and placed them on wax paper to dry. They were hard in about an hour.

*if you want to make more, just use more sugar and based on the feel of the sugar, add more water. And vice versa - if you wan to make less cubes, use less sugar and less water. 

What you need for Sugar in the Raw Cubes
1/2 cup turbinado brown sugar + 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 tsp water

In this case - the turbinado is not fine enough to form nice cubes (doesn't pack well), so you need to add the brown sugar to essentially "fill in the gaps" and keep the cube together when moistened. Otherwise you don't have enough contact points for the sugar to hold together against itself.

Mix in the same was as above and form.  Allow to dry on the wax paper.

Fun Options to personalize your sugar cubes: 
 - Use food coloring to color your sugar
- Store new (or used) vanilla bean pods in the sugar. The beans will add a lovely vanilla flavor to your sugar.
- Add edible glitter (found in speciality cake shops) to your cubes

Place them in a fun jar, add a ribbon, attach some tongs, and share with a friend!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Looking for food trends in 2013 - check these out

Becoming an "at home" food engineer (like me!) is suddenly cool.

If you don't believe me, check out 3 of the top 25 trends for 2013 with making your own yogurt, carbonating your own drinks, and grinding you own wheat.

It also goes to show that one minute you are "in" and the next you are "out".  In the food trends for 2012, going wheat free was predicted as a trend. While I know that many choose that lifestyle for necessitated health reasons, others (myself included) were choosing it to cut out unwanted carbs and calories. However, a bread course has now made the list for hot trends in 2013.  I will admit - fresh artesian bread, and I'm not talking "Wonder Bread" is truly an art and deserving of its own course.

I received Richard Bertinet's book "Dough" for my birthday and I cannot wait to start making bread.  He really highlights the simple elegance of working with dough and creating something fully of developed flavors, crusty texture, and beautifully shaped appearance. Stay tuned for posts about my experiments as I work through the book.