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Homemade Peanut Butter Taffy

October 28th, 2011

Did you ever get that kind of present that makes you feel like crying? So, I got one this week, a cheese. I know, you must be thinking right now “What kind of person wants to cry in front of a cheese??”. Well, it happens that the cheese is a very special one, the legendary Serra da Estrela cheese, made in Portugal and brought here by my cousins Nádia and Alê, two people I really love having around.

The pic is here. As you can see, I had a pretty good week!

But it was busy too; crazy busy and I didn’t have time to think about Halloween until today. And while looking for a recipe for the theme, I had an insight: what could scare people more than candy making on October 31th?

Kidding people, just kidding!! The idea is exactly the opposite here, show anyone can make candies, including me. Really, I’m not a fan of sugar work. I mean, I admire who does but for me it’s more like I’m going to fail anytime I try to melt sugar.
Funny is during our road trip last summer we got to visit the Sweet Palace in Montana, an old fashioned candy store that makes “billions” of different taffy flavors and sells any kind of candy you can possibly imagine.  The experience really triggered my desire of making my own candies; I was just waiting for the opportunity.

So, Halloween would be enough for that but I had another reason I wanted to make this recipe. It happens there is an act going on this month among food blogs, the October Unprocessed. And although I’ve been following the adventures of Tiffany and thinking it’s a brave and very nice initiative, I did not participate or wrote a note to support the case.

Fortunately, there is still time. My contribution is here, for Halloween and for the “unprocessed month”: homemade peanut butter taffies.

The recipe was adapted from the book Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner. The book is for people who is serious about candy making but this recipe in particular is surprisingly easy. I took about 30 minutes plus the cooling time to get a batch of 60 taffies (not counting the one I ate before wrapping!).

Combine corn syrup, molasses, sugar and condensed milk in a saucepan. Cook to 245ºF while stirring constantly. To make the test, drop a small portion of the mixture into a bowl with cold water, the liquid should form a ball that will flatten with resistance.

Remove from heat, stir in the salt, and then add the peanut butter.

Pour onto an oiled marble slab or a greased baking sheet and turn occasionally until cooled to a plastic consistency.

Pull taffy until a bit lighter in color and texture. Pull into a rope with a 1/2” diameter. Cut 1” pieces off the rope. Here it is a good example of “how to do”.

Wrap immediately to maintain shape and to protect from humidity.

Note: A temperature of 245ºF will produce taffy of a relatively firm texture. For a softer result, cook the batch at several degrees lower but not less than 235 ºF (soft ball stage).

Saturday was the last farmer’s market in my town and of course I run there to get some fresh stuff and say good bye to things I will just see again in probably 8, 9 months or so. I felt sad; the mood was totally like a farewell, sellers saying good bye to their loyal customers and the wind always blowing the little empty baskets. Even the tents didn’t have covers, increasing the idea of a rush, of parting, almost like the farmers were saying “It’s your last change, we gotta go”.

But again, I remembered there was no reason to suffer. Fall, the season I just called two posts ago the tastiest of all, is here. So, I grabbed my organic tomatoes, some beautiful squashes, a few eggplants and came home thinking what would be the best way to use them. I know it’s a cliché but I decided I wanted to make vegetable lasagna. I thought “ok, it’s time – at least for me – to leave cold salads aside, stop counting calories and eat a good, rich and warm dish to heat me up”.

Actually, this is a pseudo lasagna because it doesn’t have lasagna noodles in it. They are replaced by the thinly sliced and grilled vegetables, everything put together by a rich roasted tomato sauce and generous portions of mozzarella. At the end it’s still looking like a real one, probably the reason why in Brazil we call it lasagna any way. Hope you like!

Of all the recipes of tomato sauce I made during my live, and that is a lot, this one has been my favorite lately. The roasting process deeps the flavor of the tomatoes and gives you a super rich sauce. Besides, it is super simple to prepare.

Pre heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the tomatoes in half, season with garlic, salt, pepper and sugar. Add the olive oil and mix. Arrange tomatoes in a baking pan with cut side facing up. Add the onion and roast for 35 to 45 min. or until tomatoes are soft and the bottom of the pan starts to caramelize.
Let it cool and puree in a blender until desired consistency. I use the whole tomatoes with skin and seeds but you can strain them if you want a thinner sauce.

Makes enough sauce for two lasagnas.

Start preparing the olive oil – the amount of oil can vary depending on the size of the vegetables, so start using ¼ cup and get a little extra on hand.
In a small bowl, place olive oil, garlic, pepper and oregano. Arrange the slices of eggplant and zucchini in a single layer and season them with salt. With the help of a kitchen brush, brush both sides of each slice with seasoned olive oil and grill them on both sides until fully cooked.

I like to grill whenever I can, I just love to flavor of the grill, it is something unparalleled.
If you can’t, in order to prepare the eggplant and zucchini in the oven season them the same way and roast separately (400ºF) until they are cooked.
Assemble the lasagna. Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 6X8in baking dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant, cover with a thin layer of sauce and sprinkle mozzarella on top. Arrange a layer of zucchini, sauce and mozzarella again. Continue the process alternating layers of eggplant with layers of zucchini until all the ingredients are gone, always ending with a layer of sauce. Heat the oven to 375°F and bake it for 20 minutes, sprinkle more mozzarella on top and bake for extra 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.

There are two things I can’t live without: my computer and a good loaf of bread. Three days ago my computer crashed and put me down very badly. He is just a six months old machine that has been used intensively since it came to my hands. I knew he was trying to tell me something, maybe he was tired and needed a break but I didn’t pay attention. So, he decided to rebel.

Fortunately, my husband patiently is borrowing me his PC and I’m able to post again. In fact, despite my entire lament, a bit of time away from the computer has been handy. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, right? So, I took some time to organize my things and came across a very special book I got as a gift from my English teacher and my best classmates ever, a first edition (1973) of The complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton Jr.

As I started to search about Bernard, who died on March 28th of this year at the age of 94, I found out his enthusiasm for making bread leaded him to transform his hobby into a carrier, inspiring a lot of other bread bakers across America. And everyone who embarks “on a quest to explore the intricacies of bread and pastry making” with such passion deserves my respect and admiration. So, this whole thing inspired me to celebrate bread one more time and create this sandwich.

The idea here is to use a raisin and walnut loaf since the roasted garlic and blue cheese filling was thought to pair with the raisins and bring up its sweetness. As an option, you can choose any good artisanal bread with sweet elements in it such cranberries or figs.

The sandwich is quite simple but the spread is a little time consuming. So, you can make it ahead and keep on the fridge. In fact, this is a great “wildcard” to have in your fridge all the time, goes well on top of a steak, to season a potato salad or to improve a pasta dish.

Pre-heat oven at 300˚F. Peel the garlic and place the gloves in a 4 inch round baking dish. Season with salt, black pepper and add thyme.

Cover tight with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Take the dish out of the oven, add the blue cheese, cover and bake for extra 15 minutes or ‘til the garlic is tender.

Discard thyme, strain out the oil – tip: the olive oil will be amazingly flavored and can be used in different preparations; don’t discard it! Smash garlic and cheese into a paste.

Spread the paste in one slice of bread, cover with a handful of mussarela, top with another slice of bread and grill in both sides ’til cheese is melted and bread is crispy and golden brown. Enjoy with a beer!

If I could choose one thing from the Northern hemisphere to take with me it would be the changing of seasons. I’m really, really jealous about each tiny aspect of it. The breeze that announces summer is over and berries that announce summer just began again; melting and muddy snow telling winter’s gone and its same hard flakes predicting a cold and grey winter came to stay.

Spring, well, it’s an entire new concept to me now. It’s not all about flowers – we do have flowers in Brazil, and they adorn my precious land all year around – but the expectation of it, the little tiny springs beginning to show up to color the trees, the hidden sun starting to shine,  warming us up and giving the real meaning winter is over.

And last but not least, there’s fall. It is not the grey season anymore, stopping summer to play around, showing we have responsibilities and life can’t be a timeless picnic – or carnival, depending on where you are. Instead fall is an unusual (to me) palette of colors that combined with a chilly air and the sound of crunch leaves makes me a hungry girl!!

So, these little pumpkin and goat cheese pocket pies are just the beginning, an appetizer to welcome the tastiest season of all!!

I think we had a conversation about this dough but it doesn’t hurt to warn you one more time: that’s THE DOUGH RECIPE YOU WANNA KEEP!!! It’s totally the apple of my eyes, I use it for making quiches but it’s also very malleable and  easy to work with, especially if the matter is little and individual things like these pies.

In hot days, measure all ingredients and put them on the fridge for about an hour. Temperature is the key to succeed here.

1. Place flour, salt and butter in a big bowl. Work with your fingertips or with a pastry blender ‘til the mixture resembles coarse meal.  You want to keep some visible pieces of butter

2. Beat together egg and 3 tbsp of cream. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients.

3. Using your fingertips, mix them smoothly by making circular movements. Don’t knead the dough.

4. Keep mixing. The dough should get together quickly and if it doesn’t happen, add one more tbsp of cream.

5. Don’t worry about spots, visible pieces of butter and stripes of cream; they are a good sign.  Press to form a ball, cover with plastic film and keep on the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

IMPORTANT: You can keep this dough on freezer for about a month. Just place it on the fridge and let it defrost overnight before using.

*I used Bucheron for this recipe but I highly recommend you to taste it before buying. It’s a bit strong and if you don’t like those kinds of cheese, opt for fresh goat cheese instead.

Preparing the filling:

1. If using pumpkin puree:

Sauté chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Add all ingredients, mix well and let it cool completely before using.

2.If you are using fresh pumpkin:

Cut pumpkin in quarters, scoop seeds out and cut each quarter in half. In a big bowl, mix pumpkin slices with other ingredients. Arrange everything in a baking sheet and bake it for 30 min. or ‘til pumpkin is tender and skin comes out easily.  Puree pulp and let it cool completely before using.

Preheat oven to 350F˚. Cut the cheese in approximately 24 pieces.

Place dough in a floured surface and roll it out into a 1/8 inch thin layer. Using a 4 inch round cookie cutter cut the dough into circles. Place the pumpkin filling in the center of the circle, place a piece of cheese on top and fold the dough over into a semicircle. Crimp down the edges and arrange  in a baking sheet. Keep doing the same process until the whole dough is gone. It makes approximately 24 pies.

Brush with eggwash, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 30 minutes or until golden in color.

A real breakfast dish

September 30th, 2011

For a while, the only idea I had in my mind about American breakfast was the one pictured on the movies: a humongous and sweaty guy seated in a red booth inside of a 50’s style restaurant, eating a huge pile of pancakes topped with greasy strips of bacon and a couple fried eggs. Suddenly, he grabs a bottle filled with a viscous liquid and starts to pour this kind of “honey” – which I discovered later it was maple syrup – on top of his meal making the mess even bigger.

Let’s agree, that’s not the best way to present a meal Americans consider to be the most important of their day, right?

Fortunately, I know now breakfast is much more than that and this egg casserole helped me a lot in this process. It was introduced to me by my English teacher, Ceci. She brought it to class one morning and the whole entire pan was gone in less than five minutes. That’s even more significant if you consider my class has probably more than ten nationalities represented, a bunch of different people used to so many different tastes; and this powerful dish pleased all of them.

A few days later she gave me the recipe and I’ve been told it was her mom’s specialty. I made it a few times, always on weekends, when we like to have a later breakfast – or a brunch, if you prefer. It’s simple, easy and holds as many variations as your imagination can think about.

To help the folks in Brazil and give them a more authentic flavor, I’m adding here an Alton Brown’s recipe for homemade pork sausage. You can just buy your favorite brand or give it a try.




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