Sunday, November 29, 2009

Peanut brittle

I love peanut brittle.  It's one of those treats that is so good, and easy to prepare at home.  But there are pitfalls to doing a nut brittle at home -- caramelization of the sugar, and in particular, recrystallization of the sugar once it's poured.

I've figured out a few tricks.

1.  Do a wet caramel, and save yourself some indigestion.  Yes, you can make a caramel from just sugar melted and browned over heat, but it is so easy to burn and do wrong, it's not worth it.  Adding some water and starting out with a solution is much, much easier.  It takes a bit longer, but it's easier.

2.  Add a bit of corn syrup:  it prevents recrystallization of the sugar when it's poured over the nuts.  There are so many surfaces on salted nuts and so many opportunities for crystals to form on the salt crystals.  The corn syrup helps prevent the recrystallization.  I've had a few occasions making brittle of watching a beautiful, clear, amber caramel syrup turn into an opaque crystallized mess.  The resulting brittle is edible, but grainy.

3.  Toasting the peanuts in a non-stick foil-lined Pyrex dish helps on a few fronts.  (a) The non-stick foil is a great surface to do a brittle -- peels off without incident.  (b) The toasting helps the taste of the peanuts, and also helps if your nuts aren't too fresh (brittle is a great way to use up stale nuts), and (c) the Pyrex dish is a thermal insulator, so it retains heat very well.  When you're pouring the caramel syrup over the nuts in the hot glass dish, the caramel does not set up immediately, and has time to spread out and cover all the nuts before it solidifies.  It works very well. 

Peanut Brittle

2 cups salted cocktail peanuts
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 T white corn syrup
Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 350°F.

Line a 13" x 9" Pyrex baking dish with a sheet of Reynolds Wrap® Non-Stick Aluminum Foil, with the non-stick side up.  Add peanuts to the pan.  Toast in the oven about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Let boil until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Continue to boil until the syrup begins to take on a caramel color.  Watch it VERY carefully -- once it turns color, it will darken very quickly.  Swirl as necessary.  Do not stir it or touch it in any way.  Remove from the heat immediately when it has reached a pleasant amber color. 

Remove the baking dish with the peanuts and rest on a heatproof surface.  Pour the caramel over the peanuts, trying to cover all of them.  The heat of the dish will usually allow the caramel syrup to settle into place before it sets up.

Let cool fully, remove from the Pyrex dish, peel off the non-stick foil, and break into bite-size pieces.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving morning

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday:  it is the beginning of a long weekend; it's an opportunity to spend time with extended family; I get to cook, and cook, and cook; there's dark-meat turkey with gravy and stuffing, one of life's most perfect foods; and I don't have to send a single card or buy any gifts or feel compelled to decorate any part of my house.

It is bliss.

I'm not hosting dinner this year; Mom is.  The family decided a few weeks ago that the extended clan should get together this year.  We haven't done that in many years, and well, who knows who will or will not be around next year.  So, Mom's hosting, everyone is bringing something to dinner, and we'll have a great time.

My contribution is soup and pies.  The soup is a leek and root-vegetable soup (recipe follows).  I'll bake apple and pumpkin pies.

Leek and Root-Vegetable Soup

6 leeks, cleaned well, and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
4 Tb butter

Sauté leeks and onion in butter until well softened.  Salt & pepper to taste.

1 celeriac bulb
2 large yellow carrots
2 large orange carrots
2 parsnips
4 medium russet potatoes

The proportions of the vegetables are not critical.  As my grandmother would have said, "The more you put, the more you find."

Peel, clean, and chop the root vegetables.  Add to the sautéed leeks and onions.  Combine well, and add about 1 Tb salt & 1 tsp pepper.

8 cups chicken or turkey stock (I use homemade unsalted chicken stock.)

Add the stock to the vegetable mix.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium, and simmer until the root vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and let cool to room temperature. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (easiest way) or in batches in a blender.  Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Warm up before serving.  If you want to enrich the soup a bit, you can add about 1/2 c heavy cream to it as you're warming it up.   A nice touch, but wholly unnecessary.  

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday Supper

Had the gang over for supper last night.

Rather than serving a dinner of courses -- pasta course, meat, then salad, and dessert -- I put everything out at once:

•  Baked ricotta [recipe follows]
•  Assorted cheeses -- gruyere, gouda, provolone -- with pepperoni slices
•  Baba ganoush
•  Apple chutney [recipe follows]
•  Crostini, crackers, and Ree Drummond's steakhouse dinner rolls [
•  Green salad
•  Mezzi rigatoni with broccoli rabe and oven-roasted sausage [recipe follows]

We grazed and grazed and talked and laughed and had a great time.

Dessert was pumpkin bread [recipe follows] that I'd made earlier Sunday morning.  Mine is chock full of raisins, dates, prunes, and crystallized ginger.  Mmmmmmmmm....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Union Square Greenmarket

I had the delightful pleasure of indulging a long-time desire -- shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.

I've made annual trips to NYC during the Christmas season (and other times of the year, of course), and I've always enjoyed strolling the Greenmarket at Union Square (Broadway between 17th and 14th, if you're not familiar with Gotham geography).
Strolling a market like this brings out the creative juices in any cook, and any cook will start thinking about the many dishes he'd like to do with the bounty of produce in front of him. BUT, when you're schlepping to NYC from Philly on the train, schlepping groceries home is not an ideal situation. Consequently all I've ever been able to do is wander and wonder.
Well, this weekend was different. I was up in NYC for other reasons, and I was up there alone, and I timed my visit to the Market right before my departure on the train. It worked out great.

First trick was to find a shopping bag. I didn't bring one, though I'd thought about doing so, so I had to scramble. Turns out there's a Whole Foods Market on 14th St right on the Square. Good-quality shopping totes -- 99 cents! I bought two. Off to the broccoli!

I couldn't resist the gorgeous multi-colored carrots, and bought a bunch of yellow ones. I bought a knob of celeriac. That's a first for me. I'm doing a leek-potato soup for Thanksgiving dinner with the family, and decided I'm going to sneak in a few other root veggies -- the yellow carrots and the celeriac. Got a magnificent, wildly green head of Savoy cabbage (the crinkly kind), and a stalk of celery. The celery is wonderful precisely because it is NOT like supermarket celery from California. This celery is deeply green, has rather spindly stalks, and big, broad leaves, but has a potent, sweet flavor of celery that I've never tasted before. It will be great as part of the base for my soup and for my stuffing.

While I was there I also grabbed a 16-ounce bottle of buttermilk from an upstate New York farm, and a wedge of their cheese, too. Got some lovely wildflower honey, also from an upstate farm.
The New York City Greenmarkets have been around for some years ( and require that vendors sell only produce from the New York area. This time of year there are lots of apples, some pears, but that's about it for fruit. Lots of carrots, potatoes, radishes, greens (broccoli, cabbage, sprouts), squash and pumpkins, and of course, eggs, honey, cheese, and dairy. There are also a couple baked-goods vendors, some meat vendors, and even one selling jarred pickles.
I had to stop myself from buying the entire market. I could've and would've bought more, but very honestly, I would not have been able to carry it all home!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Orphan Thanksgiving

I'm hosting "Orphan Thanksgiving" next Saturday night. It's the time when I invite all my friends over for Thanksgiving dinner, and we have the best time -- good food, lots of laughs, and no family issues!

I do a conventional Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, something green like brussels sprouts or broccoli, maybe sweet potatoes or carrots -- then a good selection of desserts, including pumpkin pie. I might do a lemon meringue pie this year, though I admit that the last-minute effort with a LM pie can be daunting on Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll try a Pennsylvania Dutch-style milk pie (rather like a custard pie) or an apple pie. One thing about my friends, they eat what's put in front of them. They are all good eaters.

A trick I tried a few years ago, and swear by today: instead of roasting a whole turkey, I cut the turkey up (as I would a chicken), and roast it in pieces. First, you can remove pieces when they're done, and second, the whole turkey will cook in about two hours. It's brilliant. And who cares if there's no whole turkey, right? I usually add in a couple extra thighs to the roasting pan, too, because I love dark turkey meat much more than white meat, and there's never enough dark meat on a bird to suit my tastes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giving it another chance....

I started this blog in 2003, did it for a couple weeks, then stopped dead in my tracks. And I haven't touched it since.
But I find myself with time on my hands, so I'm diving back into it in earnest.
My strength in the kitchen, or so I seem to think, is that I can take one ingredient -- a can of tomatoes, a cup of uncooked rice, two bunches of broccoli -- and create a dish. Or create 6 dishes, thus the title. I'll feature that notion every so often (weekly), but I'll add in a heaping tablespoon of other ideas, too, such as:
• Recipes
• What’s for dinner tonite?
• What I had last night
• Dinner parties – stories
• Dinner parties – menus
• Dinner parties – planning
• Menu plan
• Shopping list and my favorite markets
• Restaurant reviews
• Musings on food and society
• Pet peeves in the kitchen
• Cookbook reviews
• Working through a cookbook
• Food science
• Food on TV
• Food magazines
• Eating and travel

Thanks for your interest, and let's get cooking!