Monday, November 19, 2012

Make. These. Now.

I am just going to cut to the chase and dispense with my usual ramblings. That's because I want you to quit reading this blog RIGHT NOW and get yourself to a grocery store so you can buy the ingredients for Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars. Now, people, NOW!!!

You already know that I am a huge fan of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the founders of Baked (in Brooklyn) and the authors of three cookbooks, all of which inspire me beyond belief in the kitchen.  I recently acquired their latest, Baked Elements and I couldn't wait for my kitchen to be functional so I could try out their newest recipes.  I even made a list (yeah, I'm that ridiculous) of the ones I want to make first:

Easy Candy Bar Tart
Triple Rum Black Pepper Cake
Toasted Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Pumpkin Almond Cake with Almond Butter Frosting
Cheddar Corn Souffle
Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Lemon Pecorino Pepper Icebox Cookies
Chocolate Cheesecake Muffins
Cream Cheese Chocolate Snacking Cookies

Need I say more, other than to give you their recipe for Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars?  (They were first on my list).  I didn't think so.  Here you go ...

CARAMEL COCONUT CLUSTER BARS  (Adapted from Baked Elements by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

For the toasted coconut:
3 cups shredded, sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 300-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the coconut in an even layer on the pan and place in oven.  Bake, turning coconut with a spatula every 4 minutes until it just starts to turn golden, about 15 minutes total.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For the base:
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes and softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Increase oven temperature to 350-degrees.  Lightly grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper to overhang sides.  Lightly grease parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the vanilla, then add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.

Turn the dough onto the prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom of the pan (do not press up sides).  Prick the dough with the tines of a fork and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until just golden.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

For the caramel layer:
1 cup light corn syrup
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt (I used kosher)

In a medium saucepan, combine corn syrup, granulated sugar, brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of water.  Stir gently to combine and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches 240-degrees (soft ball stage).  Do not stir.  This will take 7 – 10 minutes and watch it carefully so it doesn't burn. 

Remove from heat and stir in the cream, sweetened condensed milk and butter.  Be careful as it will bubble up.  If needed, place back over medium heat until mixture is smooth.  Stir in vanilla extract and salt.

Fold in 2 cups of the toasted coconut, then pour mixture over the baked crust, using a spatula to spread it out in an even layer.  Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup of coconut and press lightly to adhere.  Let cool at room temperature for 2 hours, then refrigerate for at least one hour.

To assemble:
6 ounces good quality dark chocolate
2 ounces good chocolate milk chocolate

Melt chocolates until smooth.  Remove bars from pan and cut into desired pieces (I cut mine into 3 x 1-inch bars).  Have ready a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Dip the bottoms of each bar into the chocolate and scrape off excess with a small spatula.  Place bottom-side-down on prepared sheet and repeat with remaining bars.

Scrape remaining melted chocolate into a pastry bag and drizzle over tops of bars.  Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow chocolate to set up.

Yield:  24 bars (or more, depending upon how you cut them)

Alrighty then.  Here is what I have to say about these babies.....

*  First off, these are addictive.  I could eat the entire batch in just one sitting, which doesn't bode well for my ever becoming a skinny cook.  It's why I had to give them away immediately, to my personal trainer no less.  Haha, Luis - better on your thighs than mine!

*  Make sure you use sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk.  They are not the same thing!

*  I think the addition of the chocolate is fifty-fifty.  If you are a chocoholic, then by all means go for it, but I actually liked these better without it.  Your call, or do what I did and only put chocolate on half of them.

*  You guys might think that I'm the baking maven, but trust me, I screw up often.  In making this recipe, I got ahead of myself and added the sweetened condensed milk to the corn syrup/sugar mixture.  Oops!  Rather than trashing it, I proceeded with the recipe and it caramelized just fine.  Moral of the story:  see if you can make something work before you hurl it in the trash.  Just sayin'.

*  One more kitchen postscript:  while my new kitchen is well-designed (and fabulous!), I did not go with a ridiculous number of bells and whistles.  A budget can only withstand so much.  I did, however, incorporate a stand for my ratty old KitchenAid mixer which I've had for a million years.  It hides neatly in a cabinet and when I'm ready to use it, I just pull out the shelf and rev it up.  Awesome!

Wishing all of you a lovely Thanksgiving.  For the first time, we have no kids coming home and I'm a little bereft.  And of course, the irony is that I now have a great kitchen!  Ah, life.......

But that said, we all have much to be thankful for.  Enjoy your holiday and I hope you are spending it with those you love the most.  Happy cooking!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Welcome Back!

Before we renovated the kitchen, my cookbooks were everywhere.  Upstairs, downstairs, in the hallway and in the cheap Ikea bookshelves in that nasty old kitchen.  As you know, I have a pretty extensive collection, so when I needed to find a particular volume, it was anyone's guess as to where it was hiding.

Not anymore!  I now have brand new floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the two rooms adjoining the kitchen and, even though everything is still unorganized, all of my cookbooks are right there, waiting for me like dear old friends.  I missed them when they were all packed up in dust-covered boxes in the construction zone that used to be my living room.

It took hours to unpack and set them on the new shelves, largely because I couldn't help myself from thumbing through them as they came back into the light of day.  They brought back lots of memories and reminded me of old recipes I had forgotten.

Like Sour Cream Apple Pie.  How did I manage to let this one fall off the radar screen?  If apple pie is good, then sour cream apple pie is even better.  Welcome back, old friend!


For the crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced
3 – 4 tablespoons ice water

Process the flour, salt and cinnamon in a food processor for 15 seconds.  Distribute the butter evenly over the flour and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 15 – 20 seconds.  With the processor running, pour 3 tablespoons of the water in a steady stream through the feed tube and process until dough just comes together.  If dough is too dry, add remaining water and process again.  Do not let dough form a ball.

Remove dough from processor, flatten into a round and wrap well with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

To roll out, place dough on a lightly floured surface.  Use a rolling pin to roll out into a 11-inch circle.  Keep the dough moving on the floured surface so it doesn’t stick.  When rolled out completely, drape it over the rolling pin and ease it into a deep dish 9-inch, lightly greased glass pie plate.  Trim edges and crimp, then place in freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Remove pie plate from freezer and line with aluminum foil.  Fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 15 minutes, or until dough starts to set.  Remove foil and beans and bake for another 10 minutes, or until dough is barely starting to become golden.  Set aside to cool.

For the filling:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tart apples (I used Granny Smiths), peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Over medium heat, melt butter in a large skillet or sauté pan.  Add brown sugar and salt and stir until combined and smooth.  Add apple slices, lemon zest and juice and cook for 8 – 10 minutes until apples release their juices but still hold their shape.

Use a slotted spoon to remove apples to a heatproof bowl.  Stir cornstarch into juices remaining in the pan and cook, stirring frequently until slightly thickened.  Pour over the cooked apples and let cool slightly.

For the sour cream mixture:
1 ¼ cups sour cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla paste (preferable) or vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs (I used extra-large)

Whisk all ingredients.  Pour over cooled apple mixture and stir gently to combine.

For the streusel:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

Place the first five ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to blend.  Add the diced butter and use your fingers to work it in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

To assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

Pour the apple/sour cream mixture into the partially baked crust.  Top generously with streusel.  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil (to catch drips) and bake for 35 – 45 minutes until top is golden and apples are bubbling.  Remove from oven and cool on a baking rack.

Yield:  (1)  9-inch pie  

*  This is a wonderful pie to make for Thanksgiving.  Just sayin'.....

*  Yes, there are a few steps required to get this baby into the oven, but I have experimented with this recipe for years and I think it makes a big difference to partially prebake the crust (keeps it from getting soggy) and cook the apples before baking (keeps them from being watery and gives the filling better depth of flavor).  One woman's opinion.

*  The pie recipe was inspired by recipes from The Silver Palate Cookbook (remember it from 1979? - oy veh, I'm dating myself) by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins and Rosie's All Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg, published in 1991.

*  The streusel recipe comes from Scott Peacock's and Edna Lewis' great book, The Gift of Southern Cooking.  This is the best streusel I have ever made and it is stunningly simple, like most of their recipes.  You probably won't use it all, but you can store any leftovers in the freezer and do your best not to nibble on the stuff when you need a sugar fix.  Who would do that????  Certainly not me!

*  So which cookbooks did I keep out during construction?  Those would be the cookbooks by Ina Garten  (the Barefoot Contessa), those by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of Baked in Red Hook, the aforementioned book by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis (probably my favorite cookbook of all time) and my own Recipes From Home.  Just in case you were curious!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kitchen Matters

I am finally out of the closet  entrance hall!  I'm happy to report that my temporary kitchen is GONE and the new space is 95% complete.  We still have a lot of tweaking to do, such as cabinet doors that aren't right and a floor that needs refinishing, but we are just about there.

I won't miss the temporary kitchen, but it did get me through the construction.
As the plumber said, "this is the nicest temporary kitchen I've ever seen!"

For the first time, I have a kitchen that is well-designed and functional.  And gorgeous!  I'll tell you, I feel like a kid in a candy shop.  (Actually, that's not a bad description since I will soon be blogging about Matt Lewis' and Renato Poliafito's - those genius boys from Baked - Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars which is in their new book, Baked Elements).  More about that in another post.

For now, I want to thank all of you for sticking with me and for your supportive comments along the way.  These past four months have been extraordinarily trying - a house in complete chaos, the loss of my beloved dogs Lucy and Roxy, a back yard full of red Georgia mud, constant people in and out of my house, inevitable construction delays and a husband with a pinched nerve who had a steroid injection exactly when the meningitis scare happened (fortunately he's okay).  It's been a wild ride and I am rejoicing in our new normal.

You can look forward to a recipe post from me in the next few days.  In the meantime, I'd like to leave you with some before and after pictures.  My kitchen makeover!

Out with the old!

And in with the new......

 Yep, I have a prep station and a clean-up station, each with a dishwasher, sink, garbage disposal and trash pullout.  Henry thinks it's ridiculous.  I think it's brilliant.

Hmmm - can I have a personal makeover next?

This was my first foray into the world of home renovation.  As you know, not only did we completely gut and rebuild our kitchen, but we also added a lovely screened porch and grilling deck to the back of our house.  In case you are considering a renovation yourself, here are a few things I learned:

*  Hire the "A" team.  I had the best architect and general contractor ever.  (If you live in Atlanta and want their contact info, I will be happy to give it to you).  In turn, that produced very skilled and wonderful people who actually made this job happen.  They were all artisans in their respective ways.

*  Think through what you want and what's important to you.  When looking at ovens, I knew I wanted very strong oven racks that wouldn't bow when I load something heavy on them, like those mason jar cakes I bake every month and send to our troops in Afghanistan.  Think about how you use a kitchen and what specifically you need to make it work for you.

*  Speaking of appliances, not everything has to match, nor does it need to be top-of-the-line.  I had a big Wolf dual-fuel range once (in the old remodeled, not renovated kitchen in our old house) and I learned that I really prefer double wall ovens, which are much more practical for me.  Sub-Zero refrigerator?  Didn't need it.  The GE Monogram made much more sense for what I needed and we could still put cabinet fronts on it so it looks built-in.  Don't be afraid to cherry-pick stuff - a little GE here, a little Kitchen-Aid there, it doesn't all have to be the same.

*  Use this as an opportunity to stop being a hoarder and get rid of tons of stuff.  I was appalled by the number of plates, wineglasses and ramekins in my possession ... and I didn't even realize how many I had.  Someone please shoot me if I ever darken the door of Bed, Bath and Beyond again.

*  Have patience.  It doesn't happen overnight and it takes forever to see real progress.  Even now, we are still not finished.  I think it's like childbirth, though.  It ain't fun when you're going through it, but at the end of the day you forget the bad stuff.

*  And finally, if you live with someone during all of this insanity, know that if you make it through this, you can probably make it through anything.  Just ask Henry!

Speaking of Henry, the only reason he agreed to embark upon this insanity was because he landed a screened porch at the end of it. Here it is.  He's a happy camper!

 Henry's favorite spot

And there is my grilling deck beyond.  Now I just have to figure out how to use the new grill.  For now, I am terrified of it!