Sunday, December 16, 2012
When Christmas comes everyone likes to make treats to give to friends and co-workers, or to hoard at home (ha!). English toffee is one of my favorite Christmas treats to make. It only has a few ingredients, it's easy to make, and tastes amazing. It cuts up nicely and can be packaged easily, making it perfect for giving away. It is wonderful to munch on by itself, and any little bits add a perfect tasty crunch on top of ice cream or apple pie. In other words, it's pretty much the perfect Christmas treat!
Be sure you have everything ready to go BEFORE you start cooking, because once you start you have to stir continuously until it's done, so you don't have time to run to the refrigerator to grab more butter, or to pull out the pan. Also, I highly recommend using a candy thermometer that clips onto the side of your pan, like the ones made by Taylor company.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 lb (2 cups, or 4 sticks) butter
1-2 cups whole almonds (optional)
12 oz semi-sweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
Have an ungreased jelly-roll pan sitting near by, ready to receive your toffee when cooked. Also, unwrap your butter sticks and have both the butter and whole almonds sitting within reach of your stove.
In a large heavy pan combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil over high heat with the lid on. Uncover and cook WITHOUT STIRRING until the sugar-water mixture reaches 230-degrees F. Add one stick of butter and stir constantly until the butter is completely melted. Continue stirring as you add in each remaining stick, waiting until the previous stick is completely melted before adding the next. When all the butter is melted add the whole almonds, continuing to stir vigorously. If you don't stir fast enough the bottom will burn and ruin the entire batch. Stir constantly until the mixture reaches 285-degrees F, or soft crack stage. This should take an additional 5-10 minutes. The mixture will be a golden color (about the color of peanut butter), and you may hear an almond crack. Continue stirring as you remove the toffee from the heat and immediately pour into the waiting jelly-roll pan, scraping the edges to get all the bits. Spread the toffee evenly in the jelly-roll pan and let cool completely. You can place the pan in the freezer or refrigerator to speed this process up.
When the toffee is completely cool, place the chopped up chocolate in a small bowl and melt in the microwave at high power for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the surface of the toffee, then immediately sprinkle the finely chopped almonds on top. Let cool until the chocolate is hard. Again, this can be speeded up by placing the tray in the refrigerator or freezer.
When everything is cool and hard, cut the toffee into squares (I usually cut them into roughly 2-inch squares). I use a metal bench scraper and a mallet to do this, but you can also use a large butcher-style knife. If you don't care what size the toffee pieces are, you can drop the entire pan onto a countertop a few times until the toffee cracks.
Store in an airtight container. Toffee will store practically forever, but don't worry, it won't last very long, so it won't be necessary to store it forever.
Makes about 50 2-inch toffee squares.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Winter is a time full of heavy meats and rich stews, warm breads and plentiful sweets. And in the midst of all of that, sometimes you just want a salad! This one utilizes the fruits that are at their peak in the winter months, and is a great addition to any holiday meal.
Winter Pomegranate, Orange, and Avocado Salad
6-8 cups mixed salad greens or baby spinach (or a combination of both)
1 cup pomegranate seeds*
2 Clementine oranges, peeled, and segments separated and cut in half
1 large pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2" cubes
1 avocado, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 cup water
1 cup walnuts or pecans
2 T sugar
Poppy Seed Dressing
In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook sugar without stirring until melting and light brown in color. Quickly toss in nuts and stir until evenly coated in sugar. Pour onto waxed paper or parchment paper and place in freezer for 10 minutes. When cooled, transfer nuts to cutting board and roughly chop.
In a small bowl, mix together lemon juice and water. Dip pear cubes into water to prevent browning. Discard water, and set pears aside.
In a large serving bowl or salad bowl combine salad greens, oranges, onions and pears. Top with avocados, pomegranate seeds, and chopped sugared nuts. Serve with poppy seed dressing.
Serves 6 as a side dish.
*For tips on getting the pomegranate seeds out of the pomegranate, watch this helpful video by Martha Stewart. It's definitely my preferred method!