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Since my long run on March 6, I’ve been recovering and trying to get caught up on life.  Unfortunately, I did have a Lyme relapse, but it was manageable–and a sign that it’s just not time to stop fighting.  I also, however, received a gift that has taken a bit of my time, another microscopic form of life that’s much nicer than Lyme spirochetes.  I got a preview of the gift, a.k.a. my new pets, a week before the race when this showed up in my office mailbox:

Sourdough Bread

Isn’t it gorgeous?  It’s a huge half-loaf of homemade sourdough bread.  You see, I had to attend a weekend conference back in February, but out of that loss of my weekend I got to talk with a colleague (a lot) on four long plane flights.  We discovered that his wife and I share a love of baking.  First came the bread.  Then not quite two weeks ago I got the holy grail:  her sourdough starter, now almost a quarter of a century old.  Sourdough starter saves you from buying little packages of yeast, some with chemicals added.  You can use it to make baked goods with all organic ingredients.  Sourdough starter really is magic.

My benefactor sent with the starter her own sourdough recipe.  It looked good (and I know it tasted good, because we’d gotten the first gift!) but used handmade proofing baskets and a 24-hour rising period.  The starter also (apparently) needed to be fed once a day.  Well, you know me.  I can’t stand to throw stuff out, so I determined to test refrigerating the starter to delay feeding (which definitely works) and reduce how much starter I had and to use the starter in other ways.  Since I got the starter, I’ve made several loaves of whole-grain bread, pancakes, and even pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins.  Yes, the recipes will all follow, and I promise to post them with alternatives for making them without sourdough starter.

The votes are in! Whole-wheat sourdough and whole-wheat bread are now posted here. Next up will be pumpkin-chocolate chip bread!

Do you bake with sourdough?  Did you create your own starter, or did you receive it as a gift?  How long have you kept a sourdough starter going?

Copyright 2011 Ozarkhomesteader.

Regular readers may remember that I claimed at a December party that I was going to run the 10k (6.2 miles) at the Little Rock Marathon in March this year; then I discovered that there is no 10k.  My old, pre-Lyme disease self could have easily done the next race down, the 5 k, so instead I opted for the half marathon:  13.1 miles.  I am a woman who has fought Lyme for the better part of a decade.  I am most definitely middle-aged now, by any actuarial charts.  I am  on the chubby side, thanks to inactivity during my fight with Lyme.  I got a positive diagnosis for the infection when it was thoroughly embedded in my system from muscles to heart to brain six years ago, on March 4, 2005.  I started long-term high doses of antibiotics six years ago from today, on March 7, 2005.  I’m ready to say goodbye to Lyme.

Yesterday I completed the half marathon, running and walking, in a little over three hours.  I know I was close to the back of the pack, but my goal time was to finish in four hours, and I beat my anticipated time per mile by about 4 1/2 minutes and my total time by almost an hour.  Mr. Homesteader kindly walked to various points around the course to cheer me on.  I first realized I was doing better than my goal when I hit the 5-mile mark at 9:10.  I’d hoped to be there by 9:15 or 9:20.  I knew I was doing okay when I crossed the 10k mark.  I had planned on stopping running then but kept alternating running and walking.  When I hit the 8.5 mark where a friend was serving water, I was more than 20 minutes ahead, despite a bathroom stop with a long delay at a portapotty long about mile 7.  I really started to hurt as I got close to the governor’s mansion–my twisted ankle, my pinched nerves in my feet–so I pulled out my Ipod, up until then just used for my clock, and I inserted one earbud and listened to Harry Potter and his introduction to Quidditch.  That was enough to distract me, and within a mile I’d pulled the earbud back out and was enjoying the cheerers again.  Then we hit Chester Street.  There at Chester and 7th is Vino’s legendary pizza.  The aroma of pizza and faint scent of beer reached my nostrils.  I almost stopped.  I kept going, though, although by that point I was now down to running two minutes out of every ten.

Then I hit the lipstick stop.  It’s famous as the only one on marathon courses.  I don’t wear lipstick in my day-to-day life, much less when I’m sweating.  I thought one of the volunteers there was going to block my way until I convinced her that I really did not want lipstick.  By then I knew I was within a quarter mile of the finish line.  And when a fellow runner/walker I’d had the opportunity to chat with on the course several times told me it would be easy to run the rest of the way in (thanks, Zora!), I did.  Only I really ran it, and she jogged, so she is not in this picture.  That’s me, in the black fleece.  I’m crossing the line.  I’m not really that wide; I had my gloves and headband stuffed in the pockets of my oversized pullover.

In retrospect, knowing what I know now about how close I was to breaking three hours, I wish I’d run just a little more and somehow avoided the potty stop.  Maybe next year?

Thanks to all of my readers who provided so much encouragement and who have patiently waited as I traded adding recipes here for miles to my shoes.  I should know soon if I’ve succeeded in really, finally beating Lyme.

P.S.  Mr. Homesteader took me to Vino’s after I’d showered and changed at the hotel.  Other runners were in there wearing their medals, all from the marathon relay.  I wish I’d worn my  half-marathon medal in!  They all looked a lot younger than me, and I was so happy to know I’d run (and walked) further.  🙂

Snow days . . . .

My “track”:

Look closely; it’s there!  Yes, I ran yesterday.  Actually, I ran until the snow got too deep and I had to walk.  I got in 30 laps, until I looked like the Abominable Snowman.

My running buddy:

In fact, she shows up from the neighbors’ house, runs circles around me, begs to be petted, and then races off to chase deer, cats, birds . . . and then she catches back up with me and does it all over again.

The creek in snow:

Cold frames seems a particularly appropriate name today:

I’m not sure there’s still something growing under all that snow!

Is it delivery?

No, of course it isn’t delivery.  We can’t get delivery here in normal weather, much less when there’s almost a foot of snow on the ground.  If you missed the recipe earlier, it’s here.

So, the NWS claims we got 9-12 inches of snow.  Our thermometer read 1 degree F above zero this morning.  How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

Buffalo Shrimp

Got a big pigskin party coming up?  Would you like something other than traditional wings?  How about crunchy, spicy buffalo shrimp?  These are so quick and easy that you can make enough to feed a crowd!  A delicate tempura-type coating encases the tender, spicy shrimp.  Try them piled on a plate to pass, or serve them on a bed of crunchy salad greens with celery and homemade blue cheese dressing.  

Ingredients for two servings (1/4 pound each)

  • 1/2 pound of medium or larger shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons of tabasco or your favorite vinegar-based hot sauce
  • [really, really optional:  1 teaspoon honey for the wimps out there who can’t take the heat!]
  • 1/2 cup of corn starch
  • oil for frying
  • optional:  salt for sprinkling

Peel and clean the shrimp.  I like to cut along the back of the shrimp from head end first with kitchen scissors and then slide off the peel and remove the “vein” all at once.  Pile the shrimp in a glass bowl and add everything except the corn starch and oil.  Marinate the shrimp for at least an hour.

Drain the shrimp,  not bothering to make them really dry.  We want some of that spicy goodness to cling to them!  Dredge the shrimp in the corn starch, taking care to keep the corn starch as dry as possible.

Buffalo Shrimp

Set the shrimp aside for a few minutes and then heat your oil to about 350-375 degrees F.  I actually use a wok for small batches of this recipe, but a deep Dutch oven would work well if you’re feeding a crowd.  Fry the shrimp, a few at a time, for a couple of minutes until both sides are golden.  Be careful; shrimp always cook quickly!  Drain carefully as you remove the shrimp and sprinkle lightly with salt if you want.

Serve with blue cheese dressing, made simply of buttermilk, mayonnaise,  and about crumbled blue cheese.  Use about 1/3 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, and 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese for about 2/3 cup dressing.  If you want to herb it up, try adding snipped chives or even a good quality ranch dressing mix like Simply Organic if you want.  (No, they’re not paying me.  I just like the product.)

Ingredients per pound of shrimp

  • 1 pound of medium or larger shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons of tabasco or your favorite vinegar-based hot sauce
  • [really, really optional:  2 teaspoons honey for the wimps out there who can’t take the heat!]
  • 2/3 cup corn starch
  • oil for frying
  • optional:  salt for sprinkling

Ingredients per four pounds of shrimp

  • 4 pounds of medium or larger shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 cup of tabasco or your favorite vinegar-based hot sauce
  • [really, really optional:  1-2 tablespoons honey for the wimps out there who can’t take the heat!]
  • 3 cups corn starch
  • oil for frying
  • optional:  salt for sprinkling

buffalo shrimp salad, awaiting blue cheese dressing

Copyright 2011 Ozarkhomesteader, including photographs.

Committed

A few weeks ago I signed up to run/walk a half marathon in early March.  I’m committed to doing the “race,” even if I’m the slowest competitor.  Given how out of shape I am, I’m afraid that I may be greeted by people in white coats for a whole different type of commitment!  I’m hoping, however, that the race will be an important step on my way to closure of a phase in my life, the time when I can say goodbye to Lyme disease.

Nine years ago, my heath took a nose dive.  I had been an extremely active woman, running nine miles three days a week, lifting weights, hiking, and so forth.  The plunge began following a fourteen-mile hike through the Ozarks in August of 2002.  (I was then just a visitor in what is now my home state.)  I spotted what I thought were baby spiders when I sat down for lunch; hours later I discovered hundreds of tiny ticks attached to my skin under my socks and shorts line.  I had sprayed for insects that morning, but I did so after I got dressed.  The ticks crawled to the first spray-free space of skin, and around every tick was a sign of infection.  It was like something out of a horror movie.

Here I’ll short cut the story  to say that I immediately knew I needed treatment and sought it as flu-like symptoms began but was unfortunate enough to be referred to an out-of-town walk-in clinic with an idiot doctor who didn’t know the difference between a tick and a chigger.  I contacted my home doctor who thought we could wait a week for treatment.  Sadly, he was wrong.  Within a few weeks of finishing a short course of antibiotics, I started having trouble staying awake.  I also had pain and lack of focus, but I didn’t connect the symptoms, and neither did my doctor.  I was training for a half marathon, and I beat myself up when I could run less and less each month instead of more and more.  Fast forward a couple of years.  I’d taken a year’s leave of absence from work and moved to another state and then back to whence I’d come, where both I and my doctor were stumped by my increasingly confusing symptoms, including sleeping nineteen hours a day, signs of early onset Alzheimer’s, and–although I never mentioned this to my doctor–pain.  By then too I’d met the man who is now Mr. Homesteader, and he pushed me to keep searching for a solution.

How we figured out that I had Lyme or its close cousin Master’s disease is yet another story in and of itself, one that perhaps belongs on another blog (one about Lyme, which this one is not).  In the end, I was fortunate to get connected with Dr. Edwin Masters, who treated me until his death two years ago.  Since then, my new primary care doctor in my Ozark community, where I moved five and a half years ago, has picked up where Dr. Masters left off.  I was almost dead by the time Dr. Masters started treating me, the first weekend in March in 2005.  I’ve been on high doses of antibiotics almost continuously since then, determined to beat the disease.  I genuinely hope that my war is ending.  The half-marathon I’m doing will be on the sixth anniversary of meeting Dr. Masters and starting my much-too-long climb out of the pit that is neurological Lyme.  Run or walk, I don’t care, as long as I reach that finish line.

Now, dear readers, I know that many of you have overcome health adversity and/or taken on physical challenges like running races.  Do you have any words of wisdom to carry me through the next five weeks?  One tip I have for you is that I keep myself walking (and occasionally jogging, when I feel up to it) by listening to books on tape.

P.S. (from 10 p.m.):  Today my “track” (the cleared area of the property) had dried up enough that I felt comfortable running again, without fear of breaking an ankle in the mud.  I alternated running and walking for 15 laps–about 3 or 4 miles.  I’ve got to get my track measured!  It felt pretty good.  Maybe I’m really going to pull this off!

P.P.S.  Today I felt miserable, with the kind of bone tiredness and aching that I associate with a mild herx reaction.  Still, I knew if I just got off my bohuncus and moved, I’d feel better.  I pulled off 25 laps.  I alternated running and walking the first 20 and then walked the last 5 to cool down.  I also finished “reading”  The Defector by Daniel Silva via my Ipod.  I’m more a “cozy” kind of mystery/suspense reader, so the bald violence in this book got to me a bit.  I’d still recommend it, with the caution about the torture and executions.

P.P.S. Sunday, 2/6/2011–got in 30 laps, 20 doing my half run/half walk and the rest walking.  I was slow, but I was determined to make the mileage, because we’ve got more icy and snowy weather on the way, and if it arrives as predicted it will reduce my “track” to a slippery mess for the rest of the week.  Thanks for all of the words of encouragement this week.  It really has meant more than I can say.

Fried Pumpkin Ravioli

Sometimes I think that nature gives us warm, sweet flavors that keep in storage from fall to winter to balance the chilly days until spring.  Winter squash and pumpkin have those comforting flavors, and I can’t resist enjoying them in not only pie but also in soup, bread, and even pasta.  Today let’s try pumpkin raviolis two ways:  regular and fried. For once, we’re going to short-cut the process by using wonton wrappers instead of homemade pasta dough, meaning you can have these little gems ready in a matter of minutes.  Serve them for appetizers, or make a whole bunch for a full meal.  The fried raviolis are great to pass at your Super Bowl gathering, or call them pumpkin pasties and serve them up for your next Harry Potter party.  No matter how you use them, they’ll be a tasty addition to your table.

Ingredients: makes about two dozen raviolis

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin or winter squash purée (home made or canned)
  • 1-2 cloves roasted garlic), smashed (For great roasted garlic, bake garlic cloves, covered, at about 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Store in olive oil.  If you’re feeling really lazy, substitute 1/2-1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic).
  • 1 ounce grated parmesan (about 1-inch cube before grating)
  • tablespoon or two of ricotta for extra creaminess
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste (I confess:  I used a seasoning mix called Beaverfork Blend that I get through my Locally Grown network.)
  • pinch of dried sage
  • package of wonton wrappers

Mix together all of the ingredients except the egg roll wrappers.  Place an egg roll wrapper on your prep surface.  Put about a tablespoon of pumpkin mix slightly off center in the wrapper.  Using your finger, wet two adjoining edges of the wrapper.  Fold over the dry side of the wrapper, encasing the pumpkin mixture. Use a fork to gently crimp the dry edges to the wet edges.  Set the wrapper aside and repeat steps with more wrappers until you have as many ravioli as you want.

For traditional boiled ravioli, slide raviolis one at a time into rapidly boiling water. You can cook a few at a time, as long as you’re careful not to crowd the pot.  They’ll cook really quickly (in about a minute and a half).  Use a perforated spatula to lift raviolis from water one at a time, drain well, and serve tossed with butter, garlic, and parmesan, or make a quick creamy garlic cheese sauce from minced garlic lightly cooked in butter then cooked with cream and finished with a little cheese.

For fried ravioli, follow the same procedure as above, but instead of cooking in boiling water, heat several inches of a neutral oil that can take high heat to about 350 degrees to 375 degrees in a deep fryer or heavy Dutch oven.  (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can determine when the oil is ready by pressing the tip of a wooden spoon handle or chop stick directly in the bottom of the pan.  When little bubbles emanate from the tip as it’s pressed in, you’re ready to fry.) Slide each ravioli in the hot oil and let it fry on each side until golden brown.  The time will be quick–no more than two minutes.  Drain each ravioli and set aside to keep warm until you’re ready to serve.  Garnish with fresh chopped herbs like basil or sage or just a dusting of good parmesan.

Would you like magically quick, sweet pumpkin pasties instead?

Ingredients: makes about two dozen pumpkin pasties

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin or winter squash purée (home made or canned)
  • tablespoon or two of ricotta for extra creaminess
  • pinch of ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • package of wonton wrappers

Follow directions for raviolis, using the fried version.  Dust finished pasties with powdered sugar.

Copyright, text and illustrations, 2011 by Ozarkhomesteader.


Nothing smells like home-baked bread on a cold winter afternoon–or any time, now that I think about it!  Thank goodness making bread at home is easy and even quick, if you just leave the dough on its own as it rises (and why wouldn’t you?).  Today we’re going to make a remarkably soft but also hearty, healthy whole-wheat and oatmeal bread that makes great breakfast toast, super sandwiches, and even tasty croutons.  You can add walnuts or seeds for a bread fit for the Woodstock generation, or try using herbs or garlic to turn it into rustic supper rolls, as I did with a little of the dough the last time I made this bread.  You can even make fresh, hot homemade glazed doughnuts for breakfast and still have enough dough left for a good-sized loaf of the bread in the afternoon.

Bread is really easy , as long as you remember three keys for making good yeast bread.  The first key to baking any yeast bread is to remember that yeast is a living organism.  It’s going to be happiest (and help your bread rise best) if you start with fresh (live) yeast and wake it up in a nice warm (not hot) bath.  The second thing you need to know is that yeast likes to eat, but it doesn’t like to binge; keep your yeast feed slow.  The third key is remembering that wheat gluten is your friend when it comes to yeast bread.  Wheat gluten is the substance that helps build structure to work with all the gas produced by your happy yeast.  Put together happy yeast and wheat gluten, and you’ll have great homemade yeast bread.

Ingredients

Remember to use organic when you can!

  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (comfortable for your skin)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned (not quick cooking) rolled oats (a.k.a. oatmeal before steel-cut Irish oats and Scottish oats invaded the US)
  • 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds (optional:  if you don’t have flax seeds, try using another tablespoon of butter)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey
  • 4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 cup whole-grain oat flour (or just add another 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour if you don’t have oat; I keep both in my pantry, and the oat flour helps provide softness)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup wheat gluten (Gluten has gotten a really bad rap in recent years, but it’s a must if you want to make whole-grain bread and still get the flexibility that contributes to sustaining the rise.  Gluten, by the way, also raises the protein content of the bread, so if you’re not sensitive to it, use it!)
  • 1/2 cup more warm water (same as before–like a nice hot bath but not so warm that it hurts you or the yeast)

Begin by dissolving the yeast and sugar in the 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl (preferably 4-quart, although a 2.5 quart will work in a pinch).  You’re proofing the yeast.  If it’s good, in a few minutes you should have woken up your yeast, and they should have started making a foamy mess in your bowl.  That’s what we want to see!

Meanwhile, pour the 1 1/4 cup boiling water over the oatmeal.  I use a 2-cup heat-safe pyrex measuring cup for the oatmeal, and then I can just add everything else except the flour.

Next scald the milk by bringing it to the edge of a boil, until tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the pot.  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, and honey until they dissolve.  Add them to the oatmeal.

As soon as the oatmeal mixture reaches that good bath-water temperature, add the oatmeal to the yeast mixture in your really big bowl, add the flax seed, and start working in your flour, baking powder, and wheat gluten, alternating so that they all three get thoroughly mixed.  Knead the flour in until you think you can’t add more, then do the easy thing and add the last 1/2 cup warm water–yep, bathwater temperature again.  Knead a few minutes more, until all of the flour is incorporated.  Then cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to start rising.  Thanks to the extra water, it will keep developing the gluten on its own, without too much kneading from you.

For the next twenty-four hours or so, let the dough rise.  When you notice that it’s doubles, form your hand into a fist and slam it into the middle of the dough.  Punch it down.  Give it a few good kneads.  Re-cover it and walk away again.

When you’re ready to bake, you’ll need at least two hours with the dough.  Start by punching down and kneading the dough one last time.  Then put it in a warm (not hot), buttered bread loaf pan, 9×5.  (You can use an 8×4 if you’ve taken a bit out for other purposes–see below.)  Let it rise for an hour in a warm (not hot) place for an hour.  Start pre-heating your oven to 375 degrees F.  The dough is ready for the oven when an indentation you make with your finger still bounces back but just barely.  Put the dough in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.  The bread is done when you knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow.  Cool in the pan a few minutes and then cool on a rack.

The Bonus:  Rolls or Doughnuts!

Now, I happen to know that this dough makes an ample loaf, so ample in fact that you can pull out a bit of dough for something else and have enough left.  Let’s say that you start this bread Sunday afternoon.  How about if you take out dough about the size of two or three chicken eggs that very night?  Turn that into three dinner rolls, let rise for about an hour in a warm spot, and then bake them for dinner, about 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees F.

Or you can do what we did this morning, having started the dough yesterday.  Make doughnuts! Take out a scant 1/2 cup dough.  Add 1/2 a chicken egg (or one bantam egg), beaten with a sprinkle of sugar (no more than 1/2 teaspoon) and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Knead it together until the egg is well incorporated.  You’ll have a very soft dough.  Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour on a bread board and then pull out three or four balls of dough.  First form rounds, and either cut out the middle or use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke through a hole and enlarge it.  Use flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.  Let the doughnuts rise for a half hour.  Heat oil of two or three inches to 350 to 375 degrees F in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Drop doughnuts in one at a time and fry until almost done on one side, and then flip to the other side.  Remove, drain, and drizzle with glaze.  Glaze:  three tablespoons of powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and enough milk, by the drop, to make your glaze.  Take it slow with the milk and stir with every addition; you can easily go from not enough to too much.

Hibernating

Oat and Wheat Bread

A nearby bluff

First, for my regular readers, let me say a belated merry Christmas and a blessed new year.  I have no good explanation for my long absence, short of too much off-homestead work followed by hibernation.  Yep, you read that right.  My best explanation for my failure to post is that I’ve been hibernating.  Oh, sure, I’ve kept cooking and baking and even doing winter gardening and taking long walks or jogs outside, but those things have mostly happened on the bright sunny days, and generally my days are measured by the sunlight.  When the sun goes down, I’m ready for bed.  And I don’t want to get up again until the sun rises.

Thursday the Ozarks were hit by a slick mess of ice and snow.  I was sixty miles from home when the storm changed from rain to snow, but I had the luck to make it home safely.  All the while, as the slushy mess swirled around me, I kept wishing for a place to hibernate.  When I got home, I curled up with the “barn cats” on the sofa and settled in for the rest of the winter.

Snow-Swept Ozarks Field at Dusk

 

Truth is, when I lived up north, our quick-moving snow storm would have shut down nothing.  I would have bravely ventured out, walking a bit more carefully or driving a bit more slowly but gone on with my business.  Still, I think that slowing down and re-charging during the winter is an idea from nature that most of us could use.

Cold Frames . . . . Brrrrr

Do you know the best time to plant most trees?  Autumn.  Plant in the autumn, and the tree will establish itself through its roots, growing strong while appearing dormant above ground.  Winter is important for tree growth, even if we can’t see it happen.

Miss C., cozy for winter

I’m not sure if I’m most like a tree or a bear or a ground squirrel or even one of the cats (who seem determined to teach me how to enjoy winter), but I know sometimes I just need to step back, snuggle up in a comfy chair, and re-establish my roots.  Winter is a great time to do just that.  Now, though, as the days get longer and brighter, even though it’s colder, I’m starting to feel like a tree, prepping its buds for blooming.

Copyright 2011 Ozarkhomesteader, including images.

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.

First, let me give big thanks to everyone who contributed memories and traditions to my 2010 hearth broom holiday giveaway entry.  I never expected to get such long, moving stories!  I order to select the winner, I printed off every contributor’s name, cut apart the names, folded them into identical pieces, and let Mr. Homesteader pull out a name from this vintage Santa mug.

Who is it?  Who is it?

Eleanor of Nourishing Words has won the hearth broom from the Ozark Folk Center. Eleanor, please email me at Ozarkhomesteader AT yahoo D O T com or, if you’d prefer, the email address that I use to log in to your wonderful blog.  Send me your address, and I can ship your broom on Wednesday.

As for giving away anything that can be associated with household cleaning, here’s my advice to fellow bloggers:  folks aren’t nearly as interested in brooms as cast iron Dutch ovens!   Many, many people read about the broom giveaway, but few entered.  Yes, I’m smiling, but it’s a sad smile.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.