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…

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with LemonCookin’ Up Christmas
I think it’s safe to say that we all have all been doing more cooking than ever this year. Some of it born out of necessity and some of it just out of mind-numbing boredom. On the positive side, maybe you learned a new skill. Or, even better, found a new passion for preparing your own food. To do it right though, you need the right tools.

I have always loved to cook—and I have an embarrassing collection of tools in which I create my favorite flavors. However, there are certain pieces that I use day in and day out. The workhorses if you will. These are my “stuck on a desert island” tools and there are a variety. But, if I had to choose the single most useful thing I have in my cooking arsenal it would be my 12-inch cast iron skillet.

I am fortunate to have collected a number of Le Creuset enameled pieces over the years. Their Dutch ovens are hands down the best investment you can make. But, that’s the thing, they are a rather expensive investment.

My Lodge cast iron skillet however is $25 at Target for the 12-inch. (Or you can check out the Lodge Cast Iron website for the whole line.) If you are looking for the perfect gift for someone who has just discovered cooking, this is the one. And, even better, the price is right. What if your recipient already has one? It’s never a bad idea to have two of the same or another one in a different size.

Cast iron skillets heat evenly and they hold the heat well. You can take the skillet from the stove top to the oven and not have to worry about ruining the pan. They are basically nonstick once you get a good “season” on it. They last forever if you take care of them correctly . More than any other benefit I have found is that you get much better browning with a cast iron pan than with any other.

One of my favorite recipes I use my skillet for is this one for These Canal House Style Chicken Thighs. If you already have a cast iron pan, pull it out and make this for dinner tonight. I promise it will become your new favorite. I admit I leave the preserved lemon out more often than not. Sometimes less is more. The real star of this dish is the crispy skin.

If you like the idea of cast iron as a gift, include a card with this recipe on the pan and maybe a few other favorite recipes for your recipient to try out.

Canal House Style Chicken Thighs with Lemon
Recipe adapted from Food 52 Read more…

Slow-Cooker Braised Butternut Squash

Slow-Cooker Braised Butternut SquashSlow Turkey
With a lot of people potentially making Thanksgiving for the first time this year, we at Piedmont Grocery have been looking for recipes that strive to make life a bit easier on the big day. The best option we found? Your slow cooker…

Stock
Good turkey stock is essential for many of the other dishes that make up a Thanksgiving feast. You use it for the stuffing, the gravy, and a little drizzle over the meat on the platter before serving helps keep it moist. Sure, you could buy turkey stock, and there are lot of good ones out there. But, nothing beats the flavor and nutrition of homemade stock. The drawback is the time it takes to make it.

Enter the slow cooker. Making stock in your slow cooker is the no-hassle way to have the good stuff on hand for the big day. Throw the ingredients in the cooker in the morning and walk away. By dinner time you have a rich tasty stock. Even better, set the cooker on low and do it in your sleep. Literally. Check out our post on making your own stock.

Sides
You can also use your slow cooker for the side dishes that you don’t have room for in the oven. No matter how big your oven is, chances are there will be something that just won’t fit. So, why not throw it in your slow cooker or Instant pot? There are so many Slow Cooker/ Instant Pot recipes out there for you to search that would work well for Thanksgiving or any day frankly. My favorites tend to be the squash recipes.

My favorite find is our recipe for Braised Butternut Squash with Pecans and Cranberries. It’s simple—but looks so festive on a platter. And, the best part is you put the ingredients in the crock pot and don’t have to think about it until you’re ready to eat.

If you’re one of those souls who is cooking for the first time this Thanksgiving, first, take a deep breath. There’s no need to make it more stressful than it needs to be. Nor does it need to be exactly like Mom would make. Everything is different this year so try to roll with it and think of ways to make it easy. No matter what you do to celebrate, the important thing is that you are celebrating.

Slow-Cooker Braised Butternut Squash Recipe
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Yields 4 to 6 servings 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…