April 30, 2010

Snap, Crack, Crunch

Let me be brief.  Make this.  Now. 

There's a reason why a quick Google search will turn up a rash of recipes for this confection; why it's been nicknamed "matzo crack".  This stuff is gooood.  Addictive good.  Matzo, you're thinking?  That blah cardboard-y cracker sheet?  Good, nay, amazing?  Mm-hmm.  Come on, it's covered with toffee and then chocolate and sprinkled with a little sea salt if you like.  You can't find fault in that combination of ingredients, unless you're allergic, in which case I'm sorry, you're missing out.

From the moment I started cooking the butter and brown sugar and the kitchen was filled with that warm caramel sweet smell I was counting down the minutes until I could break a piece off and gobble it up. (10 minutes to preheat the oven and cook the caramel, another 10 to bake, 5 minutes for the chocolate and salt and about 30 minutes in the freezer - yeah, I'm impatient - to chill.  That's nearly an entire hour!  To wait!  Gah!)  But oh, sweet rewards!  I now have my very own stash which is taking all the willpower I've got not to devour in one sitting.

I topped my matzo crunch with Hawaiian black sea salt because I like the bigger crystals and extra crunch it gives, but fleur de sel would be wonderful too.  Or chopped nuts.  Or nothing at all and leave it at toffee and chocolate.  Whatever you fancy.

Matzo Toffee Crunch

36 candy pieces

3 sheets unsalted matzo
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350F degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Lay the matzo crackers on the cookie sheet, as closely together as possible (you may have to break one of the crackers depending on how large your cookie sheet is) and set aside.

In a sauce pan melt the butter and brown sugar together and bring to a boil.  Let it cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken, then carefully pour over the matzo crackers and spread around with a heat proof spatula.  The cracker may curl up a bit at the edges, but once it all heats up in the oven, they'll lay flat again and the caramel/toffee should spread out nicely.  Bake for 10 minutes until caramel/toffee is bubbly and the edges are not burned.

Remove from oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.  Let it sit for several mintues until the chocolate melts, then spread evenly again with spatula.  Sprinkle on salt.  Let it cool completely in the fridge then break each matzo sheet into about 12 pieces.

Store in an airtight container in a cool place (I kept mine in the fridge.)

April 29, 2010

To Your Health (or Mine)

I've been trying to kick this cold for a week now, but it's really dug its heels in and won't budge.  And this blustery crisp weather outside seems to be my cold's co-conspirator, perpetuating the sniffles and sneezes.  If it weren't for all the flowering plants and insane amounts of pollen floating around outside I'd be confused and say it's actually autumn.  But no, it's spring, and I'm sick.  Well this is me putting my foot down, telling this cold to hit the road, I'm giving you the old heave ho, beat it!  We've had our time curled up under blankets with movies and naps and books, it's time to move on.

And that steaming bowl of soup up there?  That is how I'm moving on.  It isn't a traditional miso soup since I didn't start with dashi (a Japanese broth flavored with kombu and bonito flakes) instead I used some nori that I crumbled up to form a flavor base, and I think it worked quite well. For an extra healthy punch - and because I planned to make a meal of the soup - I threw in some kale and mushrooms too.  15 minutes and minimal effort later, I had my get-better-soon-soup.

Here's to the road of recovery!

Miso Soup 
Adapted from various sources around the web

4 servings

4 cups water
1 tablespoon crumbled nori
1/2 bunch of kale, chopped
handful of mushrooms, chopped
7 oz silken tofu, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons shiro miso paste
1-2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a medium size pan bring water and crumbled nori to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add kale and mushrooms and cook 5-7 minutes more. Add tofu and turn off the heat.

Put the miso paste into a separate bowl and ladle in some of the hot broth. With a fork or small whisk, dissolve the paste into the broth and pour back into soup. If necessary, reheat over a low flame to just under boiling. Serve topped with sliced green onion.

April 22, 2010

Brighten Up

Oh, southern California, you spoil me so.  80 degree days smack in the middle of January and February (never mind that's it's rainy and stormy out right now).   Beaches, deserts and mountains all with within a few hours drive.  And the farmer's markets are colorful year-round with vegetables and fruits.  There isn't much of the winter doldrums around here at the markets where you can most always find avocados (!), tropical fruits (!) and tomatoes (!).  See, even the strawberries started popping up about a month ago, but they were mild and only slightly sweet, still tart with newness.  But now, oh now, they're getting sweet and juicy.  They're begging to be taken home, to be put in salads and desserts and to be eaten out of hand.

There were salads with spring mix, strawberries, avocados, green onions and candied walnuts.  There were giant colorful bowls of fruit salad and yogurt topped with granola, bananas and strawberries.  But I can't think of a better way to celebrate these spring time strawberries than with strawberry shortcake.  Inspired by Fine Cooking magazine, I added a splash of cherry balsamic vinegar to the strawberries while they macerated with a bit of sugar to get nice and juicy, and folks, I may never leave it out again, and neither should you!  It really brightens the berries up and marries nicely.  The original recipe called for you to add plain balsamic vinegar, but I had the cherry variety hanging out in my fridge and it's oh-so-delicious, so I used it instead.  The shortcake recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From my Home to Yours", which really, has never let me down.  Just a hint of sweetness and soft crumbly texture, they're the perfect canvas to let the strawberries shine.  All topped with a wisp of freshly whipped cream.  Fresh, slightly decadent yet casual, it's one of my favorite warm weather desserts.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From my Home to Yours”

6 cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 oz) cold butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 F degrees.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl.  Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the butter in flour.  Quickly, using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly.

Pour the milk over the dry ingredients and toss and gently, turn the ingredients with a fork until you’ve got a very soft dough.  If there’s still some dry ingredients left at the bottom of the bowl use your hand to knead the dough until it’s evenly blended.  Don’t overdo it; it’s better to have a few dry spots than an overworked dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle that is roughly 6”x9” and about an inch thick, cut into 6 squares.

Place about 3” apart on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back about halfway through, until the shortcakes are puffed and lightly golden brown.  Remove from oven and transfer the shortcakes to a wire cooling rack.

When ready to serve, carefully pry in half horizontally with either a knife or a fork.  With the bottom half on a plate top with berries (and some juices) and whipped cream.  Gently set the other half on top.

Balsamic Strawberries
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine #86

16 oz strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cherry balsamic vinegar

Combine ingredients in a bowl, cover and let macerate in fridge for a few hours.

Whipped Cream
* This recipe will probably make more than is needed for 6 shortcakes.

1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Chill a medium sized stainless steel bowl in the freezer for a few minutes. Then combine cream and sugar in chilled bowl.  Beat with a hand held electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (about 5 minutes).

April 14, 2010

Simply the Best

I was a fairly typical teenage girl; my high school years were marked by the milestones of wearing make-up, dying my hair, going to concerts and becoming a vegetarian.  And while most teenagers drift with the trends, quickly dropping one for the newer and shinier, for some reason the vegetarian thing stuck with me for nearly 6 years.  Maybe I was being stubborn.  Who knows.  In those 6 years I passed up nearly half the offerings at Thanksgiving, walked away from bacon and ate countless Gardenburgers.

Oh why couldn't Heidi Swanson have been around when I was in high school?  Because, you see that veggie burger up there?  That veggie burger blows my teenage-vegetarian brain.  Garbanzo beans mashed and mixed with sprouts, cilantro, onion, lemon zest, bread crumbs and held together with a little bit of egg.  No weird processed ingredients with unpronounceable names, just food.  And then the burger is the bun (and if you've ever eaten a veggie burger on a bun, you know how bready and dry they can be).  You simply cut it open, stuff your fillings of choice in and maybe a little mayonnaise, and tuck into the wholesome goodness.  I may not be a vegetarian anymore, but it doesn't mean I appreciate this burger any less.

Plus, I feel a bit more grown up now, eating my veggie burgers with a fork and knife.

Ultimate Veggie Burgers
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

4 servings

1-14 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
Grated zest of half a lemon
1/2 cup micro sprouts, chopped
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Thinly sliced onion, tomato, avocado and extra sprouts for filling

Combine the garbanzo beans, eggs, and salt in a food processor. Puree until the mixture is the consistency of a very thick, slightly chunky hummus. Pour into a mixing bowl and stir in the cilantro, onion, zest, and sprouts. Add the breadcrumbs, stir, and let sit for a couple of minutes so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture.  Form into 4 equal sized patties that are about 1 inch in thickness.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium low, add the patties, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms begin to brown.  Flip the patties and cook the second side for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool for a few minutes on a wire rack, or until able to handle without being too hot. Carefully cut each patty in half and insert fillings, serve.

April 7, 2010

Pint-Sized Peppers

Someone, I'm not sure who, once likened the slow creeping boredom of consuming an entire plate of the same food to the economic principle of the law of diminishing returns.  Which is to say that after a certain amount of food each additional bite will return less and less satisfaction and appreciation.  There it is!  A scientific explanation as to why I prefer snacking to actual meals.  Truly, give me appetizers, hors d'oeuvres, snacks, finger food or nibbles and I'm a happy camper.  Not that I'm in the habit of turning down food, I just have a clear preference for the smaller offerings.

I was introduced to these stuffed peppadew peppers by a local cheese shop.  Peppadews, have you heard of these delightful little fruits?  They're little piquante peppers from South Africa, packed in a brine that are just the right amount of sweet, a little hot and completely perfect when stuffed with goat cheese.  I don't have much of a recipe here, just two ingredients.  Simple.  I used Cypress Grove's Purple Haze goat cheese that's flavored with lavender and fennel pollen (though I'm sure you could use any chevre in it's place), let it soften up for a bit on the counter, and just pinched off pieces and stuffed them into the peppers.  They're creamy and tangy and bright, perfect to bring with you on a picnic and enjoy in the warming sun.

* A note on the peppadews: I bought mine from a cheese shop, but if you're having trouble finding them, I've also seen them at the deli counter at Whole Foods or on Amazon.com.