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Archive for the ‘nuts’ Category

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is making offerings from kitchen and heart for friends and family.  A consistent favorite among recipients not just for gifts but also gatherings is my cashew bark, a confection of chocolate, salty nuts, butter, and sugar.  Heat transforms the butter and sugar into a crisp toffee.  The chocolate and nuts encapsulate everything.  The combination is genuinely addictive.  Thank goodness the recipe is simple!

Before you get started, make sure that you have a heavy-bottomed pot (stainless steel is good), a candy thermometer, and a jelly roll pan.  You can do without the latter, but the first two are absolute necessities.

Ingredients

I was able to get every ingredient listed in organic form.

  • 3 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate chunks (dark chocolate or semi-sweet; milk chocolate is too sweet for me for this recipe)
  • 3 cups roasted, salted cashews (option:  try other nuts, like almonds, for a toffee more like those candy bars that shall not be named)
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) real butter (no, you may not use margarine; it will not work)
  • 2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chop chocolate chips or chunks in a food processor, pulsing on and off to avoid the chocolate melting, until they are just bits of chocolate.  (You may, of course, do this step by hand.)  Transfer the chocolate bits into a big bowl and then chop the cashews roughly, pulsing again.  They should retain some characteristics of cashews, not be pulverized into nut butter.  Mix the chopped cashews with the chocolate bits and set aside.

Now put the butter and brown sugar in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot. (Electric burner users:  you may want to use a wire diffuser to avoid burning.) Let the butter and sugar melt together at first over medium heat, stirring to combine.  As the mixture combines, hook the candy thermometer over the side of the pot, making sure to keep the tip submerged but well away from the bottom of the pot.  Make sure that all of the sugar crystals are melting, and then increase the heat a bit, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, grease the jelly roll pan (about 17×11 inches) and use half of the cashew-chocolate mixture to coat the bottom lightly but evenly.  Just gently sprinkle it on. Now go back and stir the butter and sugar, which should be starting to resemble rising, molten lava.  Add the vanilla.  Be very careful, as the mixture will feel like molten lava if it gets on your hand!

Keep stirring while you watch the thermometer edge toward 300 degrees F, also known in candy making as the hard-crack stage.   Increase the heat if you must, but watch that temperature!  As soon as it hits 300 degrees, pick up the pot and quickly drizzle the butter-sugar lava over your cashew-chocolate mixture, leaving gaps that the lava will mostly fill in for you.  If any sections are left uncovered, smooth out the lava with the back of a metal serving spoon.  You need to move fast, as the mixture will start to harden almost immediately.  (No, sadly I do not have pictures, as I never have time for photographing  at this stage.)  Now quickly sprinkle on the rest of the cashew-chocolate mixture, making sure to get to the edges.  Press the cashew-chocolate mixture into the pan with the back of the same metal serving spoon you used above.  The chocolate will start to melt and hold everything together.  

Let the pan sit for a couple of minutes and then put it in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how much time you have.  Be sure that it is relatively flat or the cashew bark will be thicker on one side than the other.

After a couple of hours in the freezer or a few more in the refrigerator, the cashew bark should be thoroughly chilled and ready to break into pieces.  Lift one edge and start breaking!

Ultimately, you want pieces that one could eat in one to three bites, since the toffee is incredibly rich.  Any smaller bits will make a wonderful topping for ice cream!

Store in air-tight container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or the freezer for a bit longer.  You can package the cashew bark for gift-giving too, as you long as you forewarn the recipient to keep it cold, or simply set it out as your offering for the next potluck or party.  Just be sure to save some for home, or you’ll find your family protesting!

This cashew bark has become a holiday favorite among my friends, family, and co-workers since I started making it almost two decades ago.  Do you have a favorite sweet treat you share for the holidays?  What’s the dish or treat you look forward to at holiday gatherings and in gift baskets?

You may also be interested in last year’s chocolate gift recipe, chocolate chip gingerbread.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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I have a confession:  I like pimento cheese. I still consider pimento cheese a treat.  Unfortunately, I know that, even made with natural ingredients, it’s not good for me.  Thank goodness for red pepper pesto, which provides all of the great pimento cheese taste with none of the guilt.

red pepper pesto on whole-grain penne

For those of you who aren’t Southern, let me begin by explaining the concept of pimento cheese.  Pimento cheese is an obscenely orange creation made of grated yellow cheddar, canned pimento peppers, and mayonnaise or even Miracle Whip.  When I was growing up, you could find it most often served at ladies’ luncheons where women wore fancy hats and drank sherbet punch, student piano recitals where parents eagerly awaited their child’s labored key plunking, and non-catered wedding receptions, where loving friends of the bride and groom decked out the church fellowship hall or local women’s club with crepe paper bells and garlands and tissue paper roses.  The pimento cheese at these events manifest itself spread on white bread that had been cut into shapes like playing card symbols (hearts, diamonds) and seasonal critters and emblems (turkeys, stars) and then made into sandwiches, sans crusts of course. I actually looked forward to events where I could anticipate pimento cheese.  When I moved north for school, I craved pimento cheese as a taste of comfort food from home.  I finally found it in a small grocery store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood populated with–you guessed it–Southern expatriates.

But that was then, and even though I’m back in pimento cheese territory now, instead I feast on red pepper pesto with gusto but no guilt.

Red Pepper Pesto

Begin by broiling 3 sweet pimento peppers, turning regularly until the skin starts to separate from the peppers all over.  Yes, you can use something other than pimento, but pimentos have a special flavor.  I used sheep-nosed pimentos, fresh from the garden.  Take the peppers out of the broiler and while still piping hot, put them in a lidded glass container and set them aside for a few minutes.  Then slip off the skins, rinsing if you need to get the skins off.  Clean up the seeds and membranes inside too.

Now comes the pesto part.  Chop the peppers to get the process started.  Then using a food processing, mortar and pestle, or hand blender, blend the peppers with a tablespoon or more of good olive oil, until you get a nice paste.  Add less than half an ounce of finely grated real parmesan cheese and combine.  Add salt to taste.  That’s the basic version.

If you’d like a little more kick, add a mashed roasted garlic clove or a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts or herbs.

This pesto is great on toast points, crostini, scrambled eggs, or as a pasta sauce.  It’s tasty warm or cold.

Are you a fan of pimento cheese?  What childhood favorite have you converted to a more sophisticated, adult treat?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

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Recently I posted a savory tomato tart recipe, with the possibility of leftover pastry dough if you made an 8-inch tart.  I promised that I’d give you another use for that pastry dough, and here it is:  whole-grain apple turnovers.

I must admit that I grew up with whole pies, not turnovers nor my husband’s favorite from his Arkansas grandmother, fried pies made with her own dried fruit.  You could turn these turnovers into fried pies, but why?  They made Mr. Homesteader perfectly happy in the baked form and reminded both of us of fall when we were kids.

recipe for 4-5 turnovers

Start with 1 or 2 fresh apples.  I like to minimize waste, so I cut my apples into quarters and then eighths and then core them.  You may peel the apples if you want.  Now cut each slice in half to make chunks.  In a small, non-reactive pot, cook the apple chunks with a little water, cider, or even butterscotch schnapps and a teaspoon or more of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. If you’re feeling decadent, you can add a little cream.  Cook the apples until they release some of their liquid and it cooks off.

Now let’s assemble the turnovers.  For this recipe you’ll need about a handful of chilled pastry dough, leftover from the tomato tart or another small pie recipe. (Picture a disk about four inches in diameter and an inch or a little less tall.) Because we’re making a sweet recipe, sprinkle a bread board or obsessively clean, dry countertop with sugar instead of flour if you want.  Roll out your dough to about 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into rounds of about 4-5 inches each.  Re-roll the dough to get your last round out of the scraps if need be.

Now fill each dough round by putting a little mound of filling slightly off center.  Fold the round over the apple mound and press the edges together.  Use a fork to crimp the edges closed.  Poke holes in the top of the turnovers with a fork or small knife.  Place the turnovers on a baking sheet and sprinkle with extra sugar if you want.  Now bake them in a 375-400 degree F oven (toaster ovens work great for these) for about 15-20 minutes, until the filling reveals itself a little and the turnovers are golden brown.

Serve warm with a dollop of good vanilla ice cream or some apple butter.  Eat any leftover filling with your cereal tomorrow morning. Grin.

Mmmm.  Look at how pretty the sugar is, like a sprinkling of fall frost!

Here’s the dough recipe in its entirety, in case you want to make a big pile of turnovers.  Just remember to use about 1-2 apples for every 4 turnovers or so.

Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into bits
  • optional but really tasty!:  handful or two of toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • flour for rolling

Put the flour mixed with with salt and leavening and cold, cut butter in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry cutter or fork.  Once you’ve cut in the butter, creating a mealy mixture, mix in the toasted pine nuts, breaking them with the pastry cutter.  Now stir in the yogurt, just until you’ve formed the dough. Do not overwork pastry dough! Wrap the dough and chill for a few minutes.  Roll on a well-floured or sugared bread board and cut into desired shape.

Do you have a favorite recipe that does double duty?  Did you grow up with baked turnovers or fried pies–or something different all together?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.


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Over the past week, a pile of tomatoes accumulated on our kitchen counter.  They were tasty and ripe, but a lot of them were also ugly.  Some of them had split, while others had fallen victim to tiny predators, which took bites out of each tomato and moved on to the next.  I didn’t have quite enough tomatoes to justify a canning session, but I had to use the tomatoes before they went bad.  I’d just cut off the parts that had already been compromised.  I needed a recipe for a pile of tomatoes, something other than marinara sauce.

Regular readers may recall that I fell in love with the concept behind the cookery school at Ballymaloe, an Irish estate.  Ballymaloe focuses on using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.  Studying at the school is not in my budget, but buying Darina Allen’s cookbook was, as I described in April.  Since I got the book, I’ve used it as much for tips on breaking down whole chickens as I have for the recipes, but a recipe for tomato and pecorino tarte tatin caught my attention as I contemplated my pile of ugly tomatoes.  I ended up using Allen’s idea–baked tomato in a nice crust–rather than the recipe, so what I present here is my adaption, a right-side-up pie rather than an upside-down tarte tatin.  This tart makes a rich side dish with a light dinner but can also be an appetizer on its own or a tasty leftovers breakfast.  And you can make it without heating up your house if you use your toaster oven.

Filling Ingredients for an 8-inch cast iron pan

  • 1/4 sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • about 5-6 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of paste and slicing tomatoes; okay to use cherries too, but they’re a lot harder to peel!
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional:  1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (okay to use the yellow onion, but then your pie won’t be quite as pretty)
  • tiny bit of olive oil
  • 2-3 slicing tomatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 ounces manchego or other sweet, hard cheese, like a dry, aged cheddar
  • several fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded

Crust Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into bits
  • optional but really tasty!:  handful or two of toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
  • flour for rolling

Begin by sauteing the chopped onion in the olive oil and butter in a heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot (e.g. aluminum-bottomed stainless steel) while you prep the chopped tomatoes.  When the onions just barely start to caramelize, add the chopped tomatoes, salt, and sugar.  Cook uncovered over low heat, simmering until the tomato and onion mixture is reduced to about 1/3 or even 1/4 of its original volume.  The consistency should be like jam, close to tomato paste.

Meanwhile, roast the thinly sliced red onion with a little oil in your 8-inch cast iron pan for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Set aside the roasted, now caramelized onions.  We’re going to need the pan.

You can make the pie crust while the tomato jam cooks down and the red onions roast.  Put the flour mixed with with salt and leavening and cold, cut butter in a medium-sized bowl.  Cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry cutter or fork.  Once you’ve cut in the butter, creating a mealy mixture, mix in the toasted pine nuts, breaking them with the pastry cutter.  Now stir in the yogurt, just until you’ve formed the dough. Do not overwork pastry dough! Wrap the dough and chill for a few minutes.  When the tomato jam is ready, flour a clean surface and roll out about 2/3 of the dough and use it to line your 8-inch cast iron pan.  (Save the rest of the dough, well wrapped, in the refrigerator.  We’re going to use it for sweet apple turnovers!) Pre-bake the crust at about 375 degrees F for 15 minutes, covering the crust loosely with aluminum foil to keep it from over-browning in the toaster oven.

Now let’s fill!  Using a fine grater or even a microplane, grate a thin layer of cheese over the baked crust.  Spoon on about 1/2 of the tomato jam.  Add a the slices from one tomato and a little more cheese.  Put on a little more tomato jam, add more slices, and then sprinkle on the roasted onions.  Add more tomato slices, the basil, a little more jam, and the rest of the cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, covering loosely with foil to avoid over-browning the crust.  Let cool briefly and then slice and serve.

Would you like to make a 10-inch tart instead?  Simply prepare 50% more of all of the filling ingredients and use all of the pastry dough.

Do you have a favorite savory vegetable pie that you make or had somewhere?  What do you do with your ugly tomatoes?

 

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.  All rights reserved.

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