Dark Chocolate Toffee

Dark Chocolate ToffeeCookie Palooza
It’s Cookie Palooza this weekend. For those of you who may be confused, Cookie Palooza is the weekend that my daughter and I make an insane amount of holiday cookies and other treats to give to our family and friends. This year my sister is joining in on the fun so I am expecting any number of crazy shenanigans and a whole lotta sprinkles. (Don’t worry. My sister and her family have been in our pod since Day 1).

There will be Gingerbread Men with scarves (my sister), there will be Macarons (my daughter) and there will be Toffee and Caramels (me) as well as an explosion of other cookies from Swedish Ginger Cookies to home made Cranberry Orange Biscotti  (I like the dried cranberries and some grated orange peel to make them more festive.)

Cookie Palooza could not happen if I didn’t have decent cookie sheets. Of course, everyone’s definition of decent will be different. Some bakers prefer the double-layer cookie sheets that allow the air in the pocket between to heat up. Others like the heavy duty rimless sheets that allow your cookies to slide right off. Personally, I like my heavy duty half sheet pans they’re just so versatile. You can make drop cookies or bar cookies and of course, you can make an excellent dinner. At an average of $20 for a quality cookie sheet, they also make a useful and cost-conscious holiday gift for your favorite baker. And if you really want to treat them, pre-cut parchment sheets can be life changing.

While my family has already enjoyed the first batch of our traditional ginger cookies, (You can’t trim the tree without ginger cookies.) what they are really waiting for is the toffee I make every year. It’s melt-in-your-mouth happiness and must be kept under lock and key if you want to have it around for more than an afternoon.

With the latest stay at home order in full swing, now is the perfect time to plan a Cookie Palooza of your own…

Dark Chocolate Toffee Recipe
Yields 24 pieces
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

This toffee is a lot like a Heath Bar—both tasty candy and delicious crumbled over ice cream and other desserts. Read more…

Cranberry Curd Tart

Cranberry Curd TartBird of A Different Feather
Plans for Thanksgiving are different this year. Traditional, over-the-river-and-through-the-woods (or worse, the airport) get-togethers aren’t happening this year. For the vast majority of folks, the Thanksgiving celebration will be a much smaller gathering. And, while it is disappointing that you will not be with loved ones you haven’t seen in a while, there can be a few silver linings as well.

There will only be six of us at my house for Thanksgiving this year which means that I won’t need to make the usual amounts of food to make sure all of the favorite must-haves are on the table. Let’s face it, there are certain side dishes that have to be there (mashed potatoes) but there are always some dishes that only a few people actually eat (creamed onions = bad childhood flashbacks). Not having the usual crowd leaves room to set your imagination free and try something different.

Cranberry sauce is a must-have at my holiday table but there are a number of people who don’t like cranberry sauce, either the canned or fresh version. There are also a number of people who aren’t big fans of pumpkin pie—or pie in general. So, when I saw this recipe for Cranberry Curd Tart I was intrigued and I knew I had to try it out.

True, some may argue that a tart isn’t all that different from a pie. This is sort of true, but not really. At least not to me. In my mind tarts are a totally different experience and if they were exactly the same why give them a different name in the first place? Something to ponder…

If you like a good lemon curd tart, you will enjoy this gorgeous dessert as it has a very similar citrusy tart flavor. It’s also light—which can be a good thing after all of the carbs. The color is ridiculously vibrant and eye-catching especially when placed alongside the neutral colors of turkey and stuffing. This recipe is flexible enough that you could just as easily make smaller tarts to accommodate a smaller crowd.

While it’s definitely a bummer that the usual Turkey Day celebrations are on hold this year, try to have some fun with it. Switch things up. Get dressed up if you want or wear your jammies to the table if you so choose. For that matter you don’t even have to go to the table. Don’t like turkey? Make whatever you want. And for those who don’t want to celebrate at all? Go for it! You be you.

Cranberry Curd Tart
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated November/December 2020 issue
Yields 8 servings Read more…

Caramel Apples

Caramel ApplesBoo Humbug
I don’t know what Halloween will be like in your neck of the woods, but where I live there will be no trick or treating. It’s beyond disappointing, especially for the kids. But, I get it. That doesn’t make it any less depressing. As the mother of a kid who is not handling the isolation well, it’s just one more item to add to the list of things she has looked forward to that have now been taken away during this pandemic. No getting around it. The whole situation stinks…

In talking with friends and neighbors I have heard different ideas on how to still make Halloween fun while keeping everyone safe. Some are planning social distanced “pod” parties with costumes. Others are buying the King Size candy to give to the kids next door. And for others it’s just a regular Saturday night…maybe with a horror movie on demand. For me I see this as an opportunity to do something for Halloween that I have always wanted to do, but just wasn’t practical.

love caramel apples and I have always wanted to be “that house” that gave out the really cool caramel apples to kids on Halloween but haven’t for a few reasons. First, most parents aren’t too cool with their kids getting the homemade treats in their candy bags. This is mainly because you just don’t know what’s in them or if they are safe. I totally get it and have been guilty of making my kids toss those items ‘cause I’m not sure about them.

Second, who has that much time? In a regular year I’m lucky if I remember to stock up on fun size Snickers and Reese’s in between Halloween concerts and sporting events. Also, making caramel apples requires a decent amount of caramel and whether you unwrap all of those little caramels and melt them or make your own, it’s labor intensive. Lastly I have come to the realization that while I have Martha Stewart tendencies I am not, in fact, she. The thought alone makes me tired.

If ever there was a year to make caramel apples, it’s this Halloween. I would only do it for the kids in my neighborhood that I know really well which has the added bonus of limiting the number I need to make. It would be like my version of the king sized candy bar. You could add marshmallows and chocolate chips or even some cute Halloween sprinkles. Wrap them up in Halloween cello bags and it’s a fun tasty treat. The bonus, of course, is that any extra caramel can be used to dip apple slices for a treat of your own….

Caramel Apples
Adapted from the Food Network
Yields 6 servings (6 apples)

You will need a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the caramel. And, candy apple sticks are available in many supermarkets. Read more…

Nutella Panna Cotta with Frangelico Whipped Cream

Nutella Panna Cotta with Frangelico Whipped CreamPod People
My sister invited my family over for dinner about a week ago for no real reason except to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t live within the walls of her home. We’ve done this a lot over the past few months. We are a pod.

Much like many people these days, coming up with something to make for dinner is a bit of a challenge. Even devout cooks like my sister and I are fairly tired of preparing three meals a day. Cooking fatigue is real, my friends. After some heavy thinking (and since it’s a family favorite) she decided to go with paella for dinner. I was put in charge of dessert.

You would think deciding on a dessert would be easy, you would be wrong. Because we were having Spanish cuisine, I wanted to make something chocolate-y because when I think of Spain I think of Spanish hot chocolate and churros. However, I had no desire to fry up churros. I also did not want to do the usual cake because I didn’t want to turn on the oven and make the house hotter. I wanted something different.

I came across this recipe for Panna Cotta and knew it would be the perfect choice. Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream that uses gelatin for thickening so it can be molded. It is essentially a custard without the eggs. The recipe I found uses Nutella as the base—and you just can’t go wrong with the flavor of chocolate and hazelnuts. It was a hit all around and the perfect ending to a tasty meal.

Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to make this. The Panna Cotta needs as much time as you can give it to set. Topped with plain, sweetened whipped cream, this dessert is so good. Adding a little booze to your whipped cream takes it to an even higher level. I chose to use Frangelico to keep the flavors consistent, but Cointreau would also work well with the chocolate.

Nutella Panna Cotta with Frangelico Whipped Cream
Yields 6 servings
Adapted from NY Times Cooking
Read more…