Raisin Sauce - ☺
This dessert sauce is yummy served over warm gingerbread, and a dollop of whipped cream makes it even better. The raisin sauce can also be used with other types of spicy cakes.
1 cup of warm water
1/2-3/4 cup of raisins
3/4 cup of packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of softened butter
Put the warm water and raisins in a small saucepan, heat on medium heat to a simmer, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
In a larger saucepan add the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice and mix well.
Add the hot raisin mixture and stir continuously, cooking over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter.
Ladle the sauce over cut squares of warm gingerbread or other spicy cake.
Add a dollop or two of whipped cream (optional).
Ray’s Almond Crunch - ☺
I was thinking about creative ways to use almond flour, and I remembered that it is not powdery like regular flour but instead it is a fine granular product. I then thought about candy that uses nuts and immediately I got an idea. Why not make an Almond Crunch hard crack candy that contains almond flour and roasted almond pieces? The presence of the almond flour in a candy of that type affects texture. The finished candy is easy to bite and break and eat for that reason.
I quickly developed a simple recipe for a hard crack candy that would go well with the almond flavor and provide the right texture. Thus, the recipe below is what I used to make it. It is easy to make and quite tasty.
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of light corn syrup
1/4 lb. of butter plus a small amount to lightly butter a cookie sheet
1/2 cup of honey
1/8 cup of dark molasses
½ tsp. of salt
2 tsp. of almond extract
2 cups of almond flour
2 cups of blanched, chopped, roasted almonds
Set the oven to 350ºF.
Blanch two cups of raw almonds in boiling water, remove and discard the skins, then dry the almonds with paper towels and roughly chop them on a wooden cutting board. Do the blanching by putting the almonds into a large Pyrex® measuring cup, filling it with water sufficient to cover the almonds, and then microwaving it on high power until the mixture boils. That can take from two to four minutes. Dump the almonds into a sieve over the sink to drain them, discarding the water. Then pinch the skins from the almonds using a rolling motion and pressure towards either end of each nut and discard the skins.
Roast the chopped almonds for ten minutes in a 350ºF oven on a large cookie sheet with high sides. After the first five minutes use a spatula to stir the almond pieces to assure even roasting, then continue with the last five minutes of roasting.
Remove the roasted almond pieces from the oven and pour them into a bowl.
Clean and then butter the cookie sheet lightly. Place the roasted almond pieces evenly on the cookie sheet and set it aside.
Melt the 1/4 lb. of butter in a three quart saucepan on low heat.
Add the sugar, corn syrup, honey, molasses and salt, stirring well with each addition to mix the ingredients.
Increase the heat to medium and continue stirring slowly until all ingredients are well mixed.
Reduce the heat to low and put a candy thermometer into the mixture.
Let the mixture temperature increase slowly to 300ºF. Watch it carefully as it boils to be sure it does not boil over the top edge of the saucepan. If necessary remove the saucepan from the heat for a minute and then return it to the heat and continue cooking.
Remove the saucepan from the heat. Put the candy thermometer aside.
Add the almond extract to the hot candy and mix well.
Add the almond flour to the hot candy gradually and mix well. Try to do this within one or at most two minutes to avoid having the candy become hard while still in the saucepan.
Pour the candy onto the buttered cookie sheet prepared earlier.
Smooth the mixture over the surface of the cookie sheet evenly with a fork and allow the Almond Crunch to cool to room temperature.
Chop the cooled Almond Crunch into large pieces by pressing down on it using both hands with a meat cleaver. Then break the Almond Crunch into irregular bite size pieces, again using the meat cleaver.
Put multiple pieces of Almond Crunch into each of six, two or three cup size vacuum sealing bags, and vacuum seal the Almond Crunch to keep it fresh.
Enjoy! Kids will love this candy. Older kids too!
Turtles - ☺♥
Many of us really like the candy known as Turtles, if we buy it from a quality shop, for it combines three of our favorite foods ... pecans, caramel and chocolate. How can anyone not like that combination? Okay, if you are a termite or herbivore I will understand. Otherwise ... You want to make turtles per this recipe.
This recipe is a modification of one I finally found on the Internet that happened to be superior to the rest of the poor recipes therein. Even this one had significant flaws in candy making fundamentals that I had to correct, but at least the recommended ingredients, or most of them, were proper.
So it is that I decided to make Turtles for the first time. I expected to make further modifications. Maybe ... Because I already know about and already possess all of the best ingredients! But one never knows for sure all that might be known about superior procedures, right?
Okay (a day later) ... I made them. WOW!!! The only issue was my mistake in assuming that plain waxed paper would be sufficient as an underlayment for the turtles. Not true! They stuck fiercely to waxed paper due to the melted caramel applied earlier. It was an easy fix. I simply froze the turtles and they popped right off the waxed paper. Thereafter they don't stick to waxed paper, provided you store them upside down in layers separated by waxed paper. A better solution is to dip the pecan and caramel clusters into melted chocolate so they are coated entirely with chocolate. An alternative is to make the final caramel temperature higher than 240 degrees F to produce a less soft caramel. It is a tradeoff. I recommend that you experiment and decide what you prefer.
Ingredients: (makes 28, 2 1/2" diameter large turtles)
8 ounces (about two cups) of pecan halves (lightly roasted and lightly dusted with powdered sea salt)
One recipe of homemade caramel per the recipe shown at the bottom of the Turtles recipe, in viscous form/right off the stove in the hot saucepan. Let me tell you, this is a no-brainer. This caramel is superb and puts anything you might find in a supermarket to shame.
16 ounces (or 24 ounces if you want to coat the turtles completely with chocolate) of finely chopped high quality chocolate, barely melted (8 or more ounces of dark chocolate and 8 or more ounces of milk chocolate, or the ratio of your choice. I use all milk chocolate.) Do not use junk like chocolate chips of the type used for making cookies. Buy Lindt® or Ghirardelli® or do what I do, which is to purchase very high couverture grade Belgian chocolate, a brand named Callebaut®, via Amazon®.
1/2 tsp. of powdered sea salt for lightly dusting the lightly roasted pecans (You can make it from plain sea salt using a small high speed blender/mixer like a Magic Bullet®, or by crushing the salt with a mortar and pestle)
Roast the pecan halves on a baking sheet in a 300 degrees F oven for ten minutes, stirring and turning the baking sheet around after the first five minutes. Dump the pecan halves onto a wood cutting board and very lightly dust them with powdered sea salt and mix them to distribute the salt evenly. Let the pecans cool to room temperature.
Line two baking sheets with waxed paper. It is very helpful later if the baking sheets will fit into the freezer. Otherwise you best use parchment paper. It has to do with getting the finished turtles to release from the surface on which they are made if the soft caramel touches/adheres to the surface.
Make small piles of pecan halves on the waxed paper sheets, each pile separated by an inch on all sides from other piles, using 5 to 6 pecan halves per pile. You might overlap some of the pecan pieces in each pile to reduce the size of air gaps so the melted caramel mostly stays on the pecans instead of mostly seeping through air gaps.
Make the homemade caramel per the recipe at the bottom of this recipe and use it directly in melted but slightly cooled form from the saucepan to cover most of the pecan surface in each pile, about one to two tablespoons of melted caramel per pile of pecans.
I use two soup spoons to make this process easy ... one to scoop out a wad of soft melted caramel from the hot saucepan and the other spoon to help release the caramel from the first spoon onto the surface of the pecans. Try not to get too close to the pecans while doing that or the motion from releasing the caramel onto the pile will disturb the integrity of the pecan pile ... in other words hold the spoons about four inches above the pecan pile and let the caramel run onto the pecan surface slowly while you move the spoons gently to cover the pecan pile surface, especially in the middle of the pile. Don't put caramel around the outer edges of the pecan pile.
Thus, you add about 1 or 2 tablespoons of melted caramel (after it has cooled enough to become slightly viscous) to the top of each pecan pile, such that it will attach the pecan halves to each other. Try to do it too early and the melted caramel will run all over the place. Do it too late and it will be too stiff to process. In other words test the viscosity as the caramel cools and use it as soon as it transitions from runny to barely viscous, about three minutes. One way to keep the caramel from becoming too stiff is to keep the saucepan warm while you are using the caramel. Putting the saucepan on a wood cutting board instead of a granite counter will help keep the caramel warm. In the worst case you might have to gently reheat the remaining caramel to make it soft enough to process.
In a one quart microwave-safe plastic bowl, add the 16 ounces (or more) of small pieces of chocolate (8 ounces each of dark and milk chocolate or the ratio of your choice. I prefer all milk chocolate.) and heat it to barely melt it, about 45 seconds in the first heating cycle. Then mix/stir the chocolate.
Heat the chocolate next for 15 seconds, and thereafter in 5 second increments, stirring after each heating period until the chocolate can finally be stirred smooth. That means some unmelted pieces should be present until the very end of the stirring to avoid having the chocolate lose temper by becoming too hot. Use a quick read or instant read thermometer to check the temperature of the chocolate after each stirring. The point is you can retain the temper of the chocolate if it never gets above 34 degrees C, or 95 degrees F. The point is to take it one step at a time. Be patient. Let the chocolate melt gradually with stirring and a number of 5 second intervals in the microwave oven. Once it has all melted and the temperature never got beyond 95 degrees F you are good to go.
Add about 2 tablespoons of melted chocolate on top of each caramel topped pecan cluster by dolloping it evenly over the top and letting it flow evenly down the sides. It is normal for some of the pecan surfaces to stick out beyond the layer of chocolate ... that's why this candy looks like a turtle, hence the name.
Note: The container I use to melt the chocolate is actually a plastic pitcher, so I literally pour the melted chocolate onto the turtles and don't have to use any spoon until I want to get the last of the chocolate out of the pitcher. But if you want to coat the turtles entirely with chocolate then use a shallow wide bowl for melting the chocolate and dip and flip the turtles in the melted chocolate using two large meat forks, then transferring each turtle to the waxed paper.
Allow the Turtles to become firm in the freezer for 15 minutes or more before storing or serving them. And remember that the caramel on the bottom of the turtles will stick to waxed paper unless they are frozen, which allows you to separate them from the waxed paper easily. Once that is done they will not later stick to waxed paper even when they are at room temperature, provided you have stored them upside down.
Turtles will keep for months in the refrigerator or freezer in an air tight container or up to three weeks in an air tight container stored in a dark, cool (65 degrees F) location.
No matter which type of storage you choose, use an air tight container and form layers of the turtles, separated by pieces of waxed paper.
Enjoy! Oh, my! ... You certainly will enjoy this fine candy!
Homemade Caramel Recipe:
1/4 pound of butter (one stick)
1/4 cup of light brown sugar
3/4 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of light corn syrup
½ cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Put the butter, sugars and corn syrup into a heavy saucepan.
Heat on low, stirring until the sugar crystals are dissolved.
Use a candy thermometer and continue to heat the mixture on low until it reaches a temperature of 240ºF. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream.
Return the saucepan to the heat. Stir gently until the mixture again reaches 240º F, or higher to about 245º F if you want a firmer caramel. This may take ten to fifteen minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Use the caramel in melted form directly from the saucepan for
White Chocolate Popcorn - ☺
Each Christmas Janet and I made many tasty treats to give away in gift bags to family and close friends. This year I have done it by myself as we are no longer together. One of the items Janet did in previous Holiday seasons was the White Chocolate Popcorn, and it sure was a hit with everyone. I didn't have any notion this year of the amount of chocolate to use with a quart bag of popcorn so I had to go slowly and figure it out as I proceeded.
As you might expect I have to be quantitative about most everything, especially Food Nirvana recipes, so I used the Internet to find a few recipes and I was not impressed. They were nothing but generalities. I experimented and learned what I believe is the right amount of white chocolate to use per quart of popcorn, and that information is shown in the recipe below. Now you have this recipe and you can make this delightful snack too. Enjoy!
Do note that it is a bit more work than might appear on the surface. The very limited number of ingredients makes one think it has be simple. Well, it is simple but time consuming with a fair amount of labor.
4 quarts of freshly popped popcorn
sea salt to taste
1 lb. of white chocolate
Make the popcorn and put half of it into a one gallon bowl with a wide top.
Lightly salt the popcorn and mix the popcorn and salt together well with two large wooden spoons.
Melt 1/2 lb. of the white chocolate in the microwave oven, following the steps below.
Use a heavy butcher knife and a wooden cutting board and cut the chocolate into small pieces and shavings.
Put the chocolate pieces and shavings into a one quart glass bowl that is microwave oven safe.
Microwave the chocolate on full power for one minute, then remove the bowl and stir the chocolate with a fork to cover unmelted pieces with melted chocolate.
Return the bowl to the microwave oven and microwave the chocolate on full power for 30 seconds. As before, remove the bowl from the microwave oven and stir the contents with a fork for one minute to cause any partially melted pieces of chocolate to melt into the already melted chocolate.
Repeat the microwaving procedure but for only 15 seconds. Remove the bowl and finish mixing the chocolate with a fork.
The chocolate is now completely melted and mixed and ready to use with the popcorn.
Drizzle/gently pour the melted chocolate over the surface of the popcorn, using a spoon to get most of the chocolate out of the bowl.
Immediately use the two large wooden spoons to mix the melted chocolate and the popcorn thoroughly so as to coat all of the popcorn with a thin layer of white chocolate.
You are now ready to package the White Chocolate Popcorn into two one quart (or slightly larger) bags. I use paper bags that I buy at the candy making supply store that are polymer coated inside and thus waterproof and stainproof. The bags have closure ties at the top. Below are the instructions for filling the bags.
I open a bag and place it in a plastic storage container slightly wider than the bag and about the same height. I then use a wide mouth canning jar funnel and place it into the top of the bag. Then I use the two large wooden spoons like a post hole digger to capture a good amount of the coated popcorn between the spoons, which I then put over the funnel and proceed to drop the coated popcorn into the funnel.
Typically you will have to use the spoons with each other to get all the popcorn from them and down through the funnel into the paper bag. Repeat the process until the bag is full.
Remove the bag from the plastic storage container and smack the bottom of it gently on a hard counter surface to cause the popcorn to settle in the bag. Repeat the filling process with that bag until it is again full. Then repeat the procedure to settle the popcorn in the bag.
At this point you are ready to seal the bag with whatever material/closure came with the bag for that purpose. Seal it and put it aside and proceed to do the second bag.
Repeat the entire above process for the other two quarts of popcorn and the second 1/2 lb. of white chocolate.
You now have four one quart bags of white chocolate popcorn sealed to keep the product fresh.
Use the white chocolate popcorn within two to three weeks while it is still very fresh. You can store it in the pantry.
COOKIES & CAKES:
Almond Paste - ☺♥
Almond paste is used in a variety of recipes, for example, macaroon cookies. It is ridiculously expensive in supermarkets for no good reason other than most people don’t think to make it themselves. I purchase three pound bags of almonds at Costco®, freeze them, and then use what I need for various recipes. Of course, I have to blanch the almonds for some recipes, like this one. Simply put the almonds in a pan with enough water to cover them and bring it to a boil. Then chill with cold water. Squeeze the skins from them by using a rolling motion of the skin around the nut while pressing the skin towards the pointed end and the skins will come off easily. Dry the almonds with a two paper towels. Voila!
1-1/2 cups of blanched almonds
1-1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 egg white
1-1/2 teaspoons of almond extract (or more, or use Amaretto® to save money)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
Place the blanched dried almonds into a food processor. Cover and process them until the mixture is smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar, egg white, almond extract and salt. Cover and process the mixture until smooth almond paste is formed.
Divide the almond paste into 1/2-cup portions; place it in airtight containers. Refrigerate it for up to 1 month or freeze it for up to 3 months. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.
I use what I make immediately.
Anise Biscotti - ?
Biscotti are fairly common in the cookie aisles of supermarkets, bakeries, etc. but it always seems to me that a premium price is charged for what is in fact a simple to make cookie with inexpensive ingredients. Also, freshly made biscotti are fairly dry compared to other types of cookies and they will keep very well for a few months if properly stored, which means sealed away from air/moisture. You don't have to wolf down a pile of freshly made biscotti all at once to enjoy them. Thus I decided to include a biscotti recipe in Food Nirvana so my readers can enjoy biscotti without paying ripoff prices.
Anise Biscotti can be delicious and I found this recipe on the Internet at AllRecipes.com. It was given the highest five star rating so I expect it to be great, but I have yet to try the recipe. I will report back as soon as I do. The best part is that once you have a good basic biscotti recipe you can vary the flavoring ingredients easily, like using chocolate chips or various nuts or even other flavor concentrates like lemon or coconut instead of anise extract. I'm getting hungry just thinking about the many varieties!
2 cups of white sugar
1 cup of butter, softened
4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup of brandy
1 1/2 teaspoons of anise extract
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of almonds
2 tablespoons of anise seed
Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.
In large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine the brandy, anise extract and vanilla in a small bowl or measuring cup. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the brandy mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the almonds and the anise seed.
Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets, forming two, 2" x 13" long strips on each sheet. Smooth the dough into logs with moistened fingertips.
Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Place the cookie sheets on racks and cool the biscottis completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF.
Cut the cooled logs on the diagonal into 3/4" thick slices using a serrated edge knife. Place the slices on the cookie sheets.
Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, until the biscottis are dry and slightly brown. Remove them to a rack and cool.
Apple Kuchen - ▲
Our dear friend, Sue Rosa, provided this recipe. She served Apple Kuchen to Janet and me during our Florida vacation in 2012 and it was so good I knew I had to add it to Food Nirvana. The recipe is simple ... Sue created it when she and Rudy owned a restaurant and she served it as one dessert item on the buffet. It was so popular she had to keep making more batches. Well, now you have this recipe too. Enjoy!
One box of Duncan Hines® or other high quality brand of butter yellow cake mix
1 stick of softened butter
1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
1, 20 oz. can of sliced pie apples, drained (not pie filling), or you can pre-cook raw apple slices (about three large apples) by barely covering them with water in a saucepan and simmering them on low heat for five minutes.
3/4 cup of sugar
2 tsp. of cinnamon
1 cup of sour cream
1 extra large egg
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Mix the cake mix, butter and coconut in a large bowl by hand until the mixture is crumbly.
Spray a 9" x 13" glass baking dish with Pam®.
Lightly press the cake mixture into the glass dish evenly.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly brown, then remove the dish from the oven.
Arrange apple slices on top of the cake mixture.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the apple slices.
Beat the egg with a whisk in a small bowl, then add the sour cream and blend with the whisk until thoroughly mixed.
Drizzle the egg/sour cream mixture over the apples.
Put the glass baking dish into the oven for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the Apple Kuchen from the oven, let it cool briefly and then serve it warm, either by itself or with ice cream.