Monday, August 29, 2011

Appetizers: Rosemary Honey Hazelnut Crackers

My local grocery stores used to carry crackers that were specifically flavored to go with certain types of cheeses. At this point the only one I can recall is that the celery-flavored crackers went with blue cheese. The amazing thing was, they really did complement the cheeses they were supposed to accompany. Often in the food world, you hear about things that are supposed to go together, and really, it's just a vile combination. The one that springs most readily to mind is chocolate and red wine. I'm not sure if this is the chocolate lobby, or the red wine growers association, or an evil alliance between the two, but it needs to stop because red wine with chocolate is just gross.

So like many good things in life these crackers seem to have vanished (and it's always the good things, with Exhibit A being Stouffer's vegetarian lasagna, and Exhibit B being Stouffer's broccoli in cheese sauce you could boil in the bag--clearly Stouffer's has let me down over the years, although in this case the crackers were not, to the best of my knowledge, made by Stouffer's). But something got me started thinking about those crackers, and I know crackers are a cinch to make, so why not make my own? And then I started thinking even more (your suspicions are confirmed--I admit I spend about 45 minutes out of any given hour thinking about food and food-related topics), and realized what fun I could have with cracker flavors. So I started with one that was inspired by another cracker I saw at the grocery store: rosemary raisin pecan. I swapped out the raisins and used honey for sweetness instead, and went with hazelnuts instead of pecans, because I like hazelnuts better than pecans.

I let my husband have one, and was accused of being "subtle." This rather surprised me, because I'm almost never accused of subtlety. He didn't think the flavors were super assertive, but that's the point. They're not supposed to clobber you over the head. And I think if you taste them carefully, you can in fact taste every flavor. However, if you want them stronger, add more rosemary, honey, and hazelnuts (keeping in mind that they're not intended to be a particularly sweet cracker in my execution, and if you add much more honey, you may need to add more flour--I haven't tested this).

On a technical note, it's best to try to cut all these crackers the same size, so they cook evenly. They may be a bit on the soft side when they come out of the oven, but they'll crisp up as they sit. And don't worry about appearances--they're intended to look rustic. Rustic, of course, is what we say when we mean "homemade and unprofessional." Rustic just sounds more deliberate.

Next I'm thinking of trying something like a Thai flavored cracker, with red curry paste, peanuts (or maybe peanut butter?) coconut milk and possibly curry or ginger or maybe even lemongrass. I also think if the basic dough were made with basil that they'd be an excellent thing to serve with tomato soup. I have a long list of things to try. I might even try to recreate the ones that went so well with blue cheese.

Rosemary Honey Hazelnut Crackers
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
2 tablespoons honey

  • In a food processor, combine flour, salt and rosemary, and pulse to combine
  • Add nuts and butter cut in 8 pieces and pulse 5-6 times
  • Add honey and pulse, then add water and pulse again
  • If dough is sticky, add 1-2 tablespoons of the additional 2 tablespoons of flour
  • Roll out 1/4" thick on a lightly floured board
  • Cut and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned
Detailed Instructions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup of flour, salt and the chopped rosemary. Pulse a couple of times to combine.

Cut the butter into 8 pieces and add it, along with the nuts, to the flour mixture. Pulse a few times to combine.

Add the honey, and then the water, and pulse a few more times to make a dough. Feel the dough, and if it feels quite sticky, add an additional tablespoon of flour, pulse, and check again. You may need the second tablespoon of flour as well. If so, add it and pulse a few times to combine.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or counter. Roll out with a rolling pin to 1/4" thickness. Using a knife or a cutter, cut to desired shape. I make little rectangles, but you could certainly stamp out circles or something decorative. You can't overwork this dough, so don't worry about that. You can reroll the scraps as often as you want.

Transfer the cut out dough to a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove to a rack and allow to cool slightly. You can serve them warm, or let them cool completely and put them in a tin to keep at room temperature. They keep well for several days, and if they're a bit soft when they're warm, they'll crisp up quite a bit over time.

Makes about 2 dozen crackers, depending on what shape you cut them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Desserts: Chocolate Caramel Tart

Caramel Chocolate Tart
For the crust:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
½ cup + 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 egg yolk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups flour

For the caramel:
2 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ cup cream
2 tablespoons crème fraiche

For the Chocolate Glaze:
3 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate
½ cup cream

· Cream together butter, sugar, and cocoa in a bowl
· Mix in egg yolk and vanilla
· Sift over flour and mix in
· Wrap dough in plastic and chill 30 minutes to an hour
· Preheat oven to 350 degrees
· Roll out dough and transfer to tart pan
· Blind bake crust for 15 minutes, remove weights and liner and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes
· Remove crust from oven and allow to cool

· Combine sugar and corn syrup in a large saucepan
· Cook over medium heat until golden brown
· Off the heat, add in butter, cream, and crème fraiche
· Once butter is melted, pour into cooled crust
· Allow to set up for 30 minutes (refrigerate if possible)

· Heat cream over medium heat
· Pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth
· Pour over tart and tilt pan to distribute evenly over caramel
· Let set 1 hour (refrigerate if possible)

Detailed Instructions

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or on a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and beat in. Sift in flour and mix to combine. Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pat into a circle, and wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9” or 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 10-11” circle (depending on the size of your pan). Transfer the dough to the tart pan (the easiest way to do this is to set your rolling pin at one end of your dough, then roll the dough up on the pin, just as though you were rerolling an unrolled length of paper towel. Position the “loaded” rolling pin over the tart pan at the edge, then unroll the dough and drape it over the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, letting the excess hang over the side. When the dough is fitted in, roll the pin over the top of the pan and let the edge of the pan “cut” the dough. If there are places that are in any way uneven—the dough tears before you can pat it into the pan, etc—just use some of the scraps to “patch” those places). Gently line the dough with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with either ceramic pie weights or dried rice or beans, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the filling, return to the oven, and bake for 10-15 minutes more. It’s hard to tell with a chocolate crust when it’s truly brown, but when you start to smell that chocolaty smell, it’s time to take it out.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool, about 20-30 minutes. This is about how long it will take to make the filling.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Bring sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. This will look strange at first, until the sugar starts to melt, but it will eventually all be liquid. Keep cooking until the sugar mixture is the color of dark honey. Watch it carefully—sugar goes from perfect to burnt in a twinkling. Just when you think, “Maybe ten more seconds…” pull it off. Off the heat, carefully add the butter and cream (mixture will foam up), then the crème fraiche (don’t wait for the butter to melt, just add it and stir to combine and melt the butter). Once the butter is melted, pour into the tart shell and let set, at least 30 minutes. If you can refrigerate it, this will help.

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Pour glaze over set caramel, tip pan to distribute chocolate evenly, and let glaze set, 1 hour. Again, refrigeration is helpful here.

Serve in slivers, each scattered with a few grains of fleur de sel. Makes 10-12 servings.


Have you ever had the feeling that certain aspects of your life were jinxed? I've often heard people say they have "bad luck" with this or that. They go through three DVD players in two years, or they keep buying travel mugs that keep breaking, or every time they have the battery changed in a watch, it dies within two months. You know what I mean.

When I decided to make this tart, I had one of those moments when I was convinced I was just cursed. Rather than use my stand mixer to make this, I decided to use a hand mixer. I was feeling lazy, and the clean up would be easier, I reasoned. Years ago we bought (or were given, I sort of forget now) a hand mixer. It was just your basic hand mixer, nothing remarkable. Then one day, about three years ago, the beaters vanished. I mean they disappeared into thin air. One day I used them for something, and ran them through the dishwasher, and the next time I went to look for them, they were gone. My kids were too little to have put them in a weird place, we hadn't had any houseguests (often after we have guests, I discover things in odd places--well, odd to us, obviously not odd to them), and my husband didn't know where they were either.

We looked everywhere those things could be, and in three years they have yet to materialize. Every so often (usually when I had the bright idea to use the hand mixer) we'd say, "Really, we should just buy a replacement set--this is silly!" but it was never a priority except in the 10 or so minutes around the time during which I wanted to use the mixer. Then it was gone from my mind until the next time I wanted to use it.

Flash forward to maybe a month ago, when my grandmother was moving out of her condo and getting rid of things she no longer used on a regular basis. I asked if I could have her hand mixer, and she gave it to me. I wanted it for two reasons: first, it was a 1950-something Westinghouse (my grandparents always bought either Westinghouse or GE appliances--my grandfather worked on the Westinghouse and GE accounts when he was in advertising in the 1950s and 60s, and he was a firm believer that if you were going to tell other people to buy the products, you should use them yourself) and after 50+ years it was still going strong, and second, it had beaters.

So, to make a long story short (too late), I now have a mixer with two beaters, and this great tart recipe to make. I get out the ingredients. I get out a bowl. I get out the mixer. I get out the...wait, where are the beaters? Where are the beaters? You're never going to believe this. I couldn't believe this. I could not find those beaters for love or money. I looked everywhere. I could only stand there in bewilderment, and assume that when it came to mixers (or, more accurately, beaters for mixers), I was simply doomed. Going forward I would be one of those people who says, "I have terrible luck with..." and would finish that sentence with, "hand mixer attachments." I was completely floored. I checked every drawer, every cabinet. Could. Not. Find. Argh!

Finally, after doing what anyone in this day and age does when something utterly maddening happens (which is to say, I posted about it on Facebook), I looked one more time. And I did find them. Not in any bizarre or unreasonable place. Just toward the back of a drawer. Now I've put them in the drawer with the whisks (which I think makes sense, since that's essentially their function). We'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, this tart is amazing. I've made it twice now, and the first time it was a bit overly gooey (but really, overly gooey caramel--so what?) and the second time the consistency was perfect, but I decided that the chocolate glaze constitutes lily gilding, and I'd skip it next time. In fact, I think it would be better without the glaze, but with some chocolate whipped cream (cream with a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder and some powdered sugar beaten into it, then whipped).

Lately my recipes have been my own. I shamelessly admit that I got this directly out of Amanda Hesser's new New York Times Cookbook (and she got it from the pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern who developed it in the first place). I wrote up the detailed instructions from my own execution. It's very rich, so a little goes a long way, but this is truly an amazing dessert. Assuming you can find the attachments to your mixer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Side Dish: Fennel Cabbage Slaw

Fennel Cabbage Slaw

½ head of green cabbage, shredded (4-6 cups)
1 medium fennel bulb, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, grated
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ cup apple juice
2 teaspons fennel seed, toasted and ground
Salt and pepper to taste

• Combine vegetables
• Combine dressing ingredients
• Toss dressing with cabbage mixture

Detailed Instructions
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, fennel and carrot. In a smaller bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Toss the dressing with the cabbage mixture. You can refrigerate this for a couple of hours before serving. If so, give it a good stir when you take it out of the refrigerator to redistribute the dressing.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that can be intimidating. Which part do you eat? Do you cook it or eat it raw? It’s not unlike a carrot, in that you’re supposed to lop off the fronds and eat the bottom, but unlike a carrot, it’s not a vegetable that we’ve been watching cartoon rabbits gnaw on since we were little tykes.

I happen to love fennel, both raw and cooked. It’s a great winter vegetable when you get tired of the usual suspects (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower). In the summer, it’s great raw, with the sort of cool refreshing flavor you get with cucumbers. In fact, I add it to my cole slaw every chance I get because I think it’s a nice flavor twist with the usual cabbage. Unlike cucumber, it’s not watery, so it doesn’t weep uncontrollably into the dressing and make it nasty. (Caveat: since all vegetables have a high water content, the dressing will eventually get nasty, but not in 30 minutes or an hour, the way it would if cucumbers were involved.)

So this recipe has a double shot of fennel, with the toasted ground fennel seed and the raw fennel. The toasted fennel seed gives the dressing another dimension—it’s not just mayonnaise cut with vinegar, as so many slaw dressings are. Also, sugar in slaw dressing makes it gritty to my taste. A little is needed to balance the vinegar, but the grit is off-putting. Since I was using apple cider vinegar in this, I decided to use the juice to sweeten it. I have four kids, so there’s always a gallon of apple juice lurking around in my refrigerator.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that will eventually oxidize and turn colors that we normally associate with a bad bruise. It takes a little longer, so you can safely make this the day before you serve it, but in my experience within two days it’s looking a bit suspect, and within three it has a distinctly sad appearance. It’s still fine to eat, and tastes OK, but after the second day I do take the time to cut the little darkened bits off the fennel when I eat the slaw. It seems to mostly change at the corners and tips, so they’re easily removed and pushed aside. However, you might want to take that under advisement in your planning.