Cauliflower & Couscous

This is the perfect vegetable side dish. It resembles a pilaf with the chewy pearls of Israeli couscous. It can be served warm as a side or it can be served at room temperature as a salad. I love dishes that I can make ahead of time and this fits the bill. What’s even better is that my eight year old son will eat it!

I’m not a fan of dates, but don’t leave them out. The subtle sweetness that they impart makes this dish work and the amount is so small that you hardly notice their presence as a distinct element of the dish. Don’t hesitate to vary the amounts given below to your own taste – they are for guidance only.  If you’d prefer a higher ratio of cauliflower to couscous, go for it. If you want a little more tang, don’t hesitate to add more wine vinegar. The inspiration for the dish is a recipe from Food Network.

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous*, cooked as the label directs

4 cups cauliflower florets

2 shallots, sliced lengthwise

olive oil

salt

pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup dates, chopped into 1/4 inch morsels

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

*sometimes referred to as pearl couscous

Rinse the cooked couscous under cold water, drain thoroughly, and toss with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Set aside.

Cook the cauliflower florets and sliced shallots in olive oil in a large sauté pan, browning the cauliflower and shallots. If needed, cover the pan to help the cauliflower just cook through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the  cinnamon and chopped dates; cook 1 more minute to marry the flavours.

Combine the cauliflower mixture with the cooked couscous, adding the red wine vinegar,  chopped parsley, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Ginger, Hazelnut and Blackberry Biscuits with Fennel Sugar

There is nothing like a good biscuit or scone. When I came across this recipe on the blog Twig Studios, I was intrigued.  It brings together so many flavours that I love; blackberries, ginger, lemon and fennel. The result was fantastic – with a nice texture these biscuits are nutty, sweet, and savoury at the same time. Spread with a little butter, they are even better!

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The recipe is much more complex that the buttermilk biscuits that I usually make in both in the number of ingredients and the method, but the good news is that it works. To make the fennel sugar, you have to plan in advance. Combine about one teaspoon of fennel seeds in a jar of sugar to infuse the flavour for about two weeks prior to making the recipe. If you don’t have the patience to do this in advance, just break up the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle, combine with the sugar, and move on.

I made some adjustments increasing the amount of both blackberries and candied ginger, and found that I needed more buttermilk than the original recipe suggested to get the dough to come together.

This recipe made a dozen generous biscuits.  I’d suggest cutting it in half if you don’t anticipate being able to use them all the same day that they are made – they are very filling and so much better fresh!

Gingered Fennel, Hazelnut and Blackberry Biscuits

1/2 cup 115g cold unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups 150g old fashioned rolled oats plus more for garnish

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup ground flaxseed

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp fine grain turbinado or granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (see comment above).

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped unblanched hazelnuts with their skins plus more sliced for garnish

6 ounces  blackberries

grated zest of one lemon

about 1 cup plus 6 tbsp shaken buttermilk

5 tbsp chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line baking sheets with baking paper or silpats.

Cut the butter into small cubes and place on a plate in the freezer.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade grind 3/4 cup of the oats until it is a fine meal, then add the flour and ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup of the fenneled sugar, baking powder and soda and salt and pulse a few times to combine. Add the remaining 3/4 cup 75g rolled oats, the hazelnuts and cubed butter pulsing and additional 7 to 9 times or until the butter pieces are pea sized.

Turn the mixture into a large bowl and add the lemon, ginger, and blackberries tossing gently to mix. Then pour in half the buttermilk and, using a bowl scraper or a spatula, gently mix the mixture adding enough buttermilk until a rough ragged dough comes together (you may not need all of the buttermilk). Hold back just enough of the buttermilk to brush the tops of the biscuits later.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a flat rectangle about one inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut into triangles or squares. Brush the tops with the remains of the buttermilk and sprinkle over the remaining tablespoon of fenneled sugar, oats and sliced hazelnuts

Bake for about 20 minutes until evenly browned.

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Candied Yams with Orange Bitters

I have to admit upfront that I am not a big fan of yams or sweet potatoes, but I keep hoping that I will find a recipe that changes my perspective.  Although my guests raved about these, to me they are still yams.  Accordingly, if you don’t like yams or sweet potatoes, this recipe might not change your opinion, but if you are already a lover of these tubers, you might enjoy this interesting sweet and salty spin.

A Pat and A Pinch - Candied Yams With Orange Bitters

The recipe as written serves 6-8 as a side dish and is very attractive to serve. It is based on a recipe by Ruth Reichel, an editor of Gourmet magazine for many years and published in Gourmet Today, a selection from the now defunct magazine. Epicurious has an adaptation of it as does the blog Drool-Worthy. Having read comments that it was very sweet with the suggested 1/3 cup of sugar, I cut back on the sugar and the sweetness seemed perfect.  The recipe below reflects this change.

Candied Yams with Orange Bitters

1-1/2 cups orange juice

1/4  cup brown sugar

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup orange bitters

1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

4-5  yams or sweet potatoes, unpeeled, halved and then cut into wedges (about 3 lbs)

1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

1 teaspoon ground sea salt

10 whole thyme sprigs plus the leaves of 5 thyme sprigs

2 heads of garlic, skin left on, sliced in half

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Prepare a 12 by 16 inch baking sheet with sides or a roasting pan of a similar size by lining it with foil or parchment.  This isn’t essential but makes clean-up so much easier.

Place the orange juice in a saucepan with the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down the heat to medium-high and simmer fairly rapidly for about 20 minutes, until the liquid has thickened and reduced to scant 1 cup (about the amount in a large glass of wine).  Remove from the heat and add the bitters, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Place the potatoes in a mound in the centre of the lined baking sheet, add the chili flakes,  the 10 thyme sprigs, and garlic halves, and then drizzle the reduced sauce over the mound. Toss well so that everything is coated and then spread the mixture out in a single layer on the sheet. I found that the garlic halves are quite delicate and need to be tossed quite gently. Grind about 1 tsp of sea salt to taste over the wedges.

Place in the oven and roast for 40 to 60 minutes, turning and basting the potatoes every 15 minutes or so. They need to remain coated in the liquid in order to caramelize, so  if the pan is drying out too much you can add a little more orange juice. If the caramelization seems to be happening more quickly than the yams are cooking, reduce the heat by 25°F. At the end, the potatoes should be dark and sticky but not burnt. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before arranging on a platter and sprinkling with the fresh thyme leaves.

Traditional English Trifle

I made this decadent dessert for a recent Christmas party. It’s a very grown up desert with the wonderful advantage that it can be made well ahead of time.

A Pat & A Pinch - Traditional English Trifle

The recipe is from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Although it calls for a Sara Lee Pound cake, which can be found in the freezer section of almost and U.S. grocery store, any fine crumbed pound cake will do the job. I used the pound cake recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible and made my own.

I baked the pound cake several days before assembly and prepared the custard the day before assembly. The trifle was assembled the day before the party and refrigerated.

1 Sara Lee pound cake (10 3/4 ounces), thawed or any fine crumbed pound cake

1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 cup coarsely broken Amaretti cookies

1 cup Marsala wine

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 egg yolks

2 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups heavy or whipping cream, cold

3 tablespoons icing or confectioners’  sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup toasted almonds

fresh strawberries or raspberries for garnish

A Pat & A Pinch - Traditional English Trifle

Cut the cake into 1/4 inch slices and spread flat on a surface to dry for several hours. Spread a thin layer of the jam on half of the slices. Top with the remaining cake slices. Cut the cake sandwiches into 1 inch cubes and scatter in a large glass bowl.

Add the amaretti crumbs and toss together. Sprinkle with the Marsala and toss to coat.

Whisk the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the milk in a thin, steady stream. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of a custard. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap directly touching the custard, so as to avoid the custard developing a skin. Let cool completely. Refrigerate until assembly.

Pour the cooled custard over the cake mixture.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Beat in the icing sugar and almond extract continuing to beat until stiff. Spoon or pipe  the cream mixture over the trifle. Arrange the fresh berries to your liking, and scatter the almonds over the top. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve, up to 3 days.

Rugelach

A Pat & A Pinch - RugelachI first experienced rugelach when a child living in Princeton NJ. My parents used to buy them at the local grocery store, Davidson’s (which sadly closed in 1997). My mother doesn’t eat walnuts which are frequently in rugelach fillings, but Davidson’s had a version with hazelnuts and raspberry jam that she loved. I thought it would be a good idea to replicate them.

For the pastry, I went to the excellent blog Smitten Kitchen, which offers a pragmatic approach to rugelach pastry and favours a simple log sliced into bite size morsels and other log variations. However, I still prefer the traditional crescent rolls to the sliced logs. The filling is my own concoction.

If hazelnuts and raspberry aren’t your ideal of a rugelach filling, the world is your oyster. There are many sweet filling choices and I’ve seen some interesting suggestions for savoury rugelach fillings.

One of the great things about rugelach is that they can be made in stages. The pastry can be made several days ahead of assembly and the rolled cookie can be chilled for a day or frozen (before applying the egg finish) for up to a week before baking.  They are best eaten in the first few days after baking, so freezing some of the unbaked ones is a good idea if you want them at their best. It is easiest to freeze the log version, but the crescents can also be frozen.

Rugelach

Dough

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1/2 pound (225 grams) unsalted butter

1/2 pound (1 8-ounce or 225-gram package) cream cheese

Filling

1 jar seedless raspberry jam (you won’t use the whole jar)

1 cup hazelnuts, blanched and roasted and chopped very finely

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Finish

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water or milk

Turbinado or white sugar

Make the dough:

Place flour and salt in a food processor bowl fitted with standard blade. Pulse to combine. Add cream cheese, chopped into large chunks, and run machine until it’s fully dispersed into the flour. Add butter in large chunks and run machine just until dough starts to clump. Dump out onto a clean counter or cutting board and form into four flattish discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap.

Chill dough until totally firm — about 2 hours in the fridge you can hasten this along in the freezer for about 30 minutes. (Dough keeps in fridge for up to a week, and in freezer much longer.)

Assemble the rugelach:

Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and hazelnuts together.

On a well-floured counter or board , roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. If the dough has been in the fridge for a while, it might be quite firm but will soften quickly. The dough is sticky so you will need lots of flour on the rolling pin.  I flipped my dough regularly to ensure that it was not sticking.

Leaving a 1/2 inch circle in the centre of the pastry clear, spread the circle with a thin layer of raspberry jam. Leaving this small circle at the centre clear of filling will make it easier to get the pastry to stick to itself when rolled.

Sprinkle 1/4 of the filling mixture evenly across the jammy surface. Lightly press the filling into the dough.

Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the circle into 12 equal wedges by cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge gently pressing the point into the rolled dough so that it won’t peel back when baking. (For the log version, see the Smitten Kitchen link above.) Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Chill for 30 minutes.

Baking the rugelach:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each cookie with the egg mixture. Sprinkle the cookies lightly with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

A Pat & A Pinch - Rugelach

 

 

 

 

 

Crazy Crunch

A Pat & A Pinch - Crazy Crunch

I love the holiday season! This is a Christmas tradition in our family.  It comes via my Aunt Robin who got it from her sister. It is an indulgence – there is absolutely nothing healthy about it but it is so delicious and incredibly difficult to resist. I only make it once a year, so that’s ok isn’t it?

It is best if you have two people to make it as the caramel begins to set almost immediately when removed from the heat, thus requiring fast action to get the popcorn coated. However, if you can’t find a helper it can be accomplished without assistance.  Rubber gloves are a good idea when working with the hot caramel and I wouldn’t make this without the benefit of a candy thermometer.

After years of making one batch with margarine and another with butter, the tasters always slightly favour the margarine batch. As a rule, I avoid margarine, but I make an exception for this recipe. Either is delicious and,if I’d never had the margarine version, I’d be perfectly content with the butter version.

The recipe also calls for a mix of almonds and pecans. I prefer all pecans, so I go with that.  It could also be made without nuts.

Crazy Crunch

2 quarts popped popcorn (not the microwave type!)

1/2 cup pecan halves

1/2 cup almonds

1 cup sugar

1 cup margarine (yes really) or butter

1/2 cup light corn syrup (Karo syrup in the U.S.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 piece of parchment paper, crumpled into a loose ball.

For a single batch without assistance:

Spread the popcorn across one or two large roasting pans or cookie sheets with sides keeping the corn close enough together to minimize gaps. If you have a pan large enough to accommodate the popped corn in a single layer, it is easier to work with than two pans. Sprinkle the nuts across the top. Place two wooden spoons or silicone spatulas and the crumpled piece of parchment beside the pan(s).

Melt the margarine or butter in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan. Add the syrup, vanilla and sugar stirring constantly and bringing to a boil. Continue boiling, stirring regularly for 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture reaches 285-290 degrees F on a candy thermometer, putting on the rubber gloves when the temperature reaches about 245 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Quickly drizzle the caramel in a stream across the corn mixture. Toss the corn with the spatulas or wooden spoons to coat the corn mixture as thoroughly as possible. Use the parchment ball to flatten out the mixture.  Allow to cool. When cool, break into pieces storing in an air tight container.

A double batch when I have help:

When I have help, I make a double batch using a larger saucepan to make the caramel and a very large stainless steel bowl filled with the popped corn and nuts to mix in the hot caramel.  As I drizzle the hot caramel over the corn mixture, my assistant (wearing the rubber gloves) vigorously tosses the corn mixture and hot caramel, being careful to avoid any contact with the stream of hot caramel. The still hot coated mixture is then turned into two roasting pans, tossed a little more, and flattened with crumpled parchment before being allowed to cool.

A Pat & A Pinch - Crazy Crunch