Toffee and caramel and butterscotch, oh my!

Does it seem to you this is a summer of butterscotch recipes? Cookies, bars, cakes- you name it. Well lucky me because butterscotch is a favorite - doesn’t have to be in baked goods either: butterscotch hard candy, butterscotch sticky toffee, butterscotch sauce (on vanilla ice cream, what else?) butterscotch fudge and just in case you still don’t get it, I also include anything labeled toffee and caramel (nearly the same thing as butterscotch) in this list. But when you combine it with chocolate (or cinnamon like Grace did in some of her recent recipes) you have a double whammy.

Now about Grace: please tell me you read her food blog- A Southern Grace. I never miss it. I love her way with words, love her recipes and her sense of humor; best of all, Grace has been a faithful reader  of my blog which I bow down and thank her for as we all know how hard it is to get started and get comments. Don’t you love reading comments? Even on someone else’s blog. Some make me laugh, or offer great suggestions, or sympathize with our problems. I think comments keep us both happy and humble. Usually.

Well anyway….I just have to chime in on all these butterscotch recipes with my mother’s Toffee Cookies. They are always on my cookies tray for holidays. They combine chocolate with the toffee and the cookies are crunchy, not soft. As with many of her recipes, I have a feeling this one came from one of her cooking classes as no author is credited on the recipe card. Usually she says: “Sally’s Birthday Cake” or “Aunt Suzie’s Bread Pudding”; but on this card….nothing. Therefore: cooking class.

While these really are cookies (I mean it, they are), they are cooked as though they are a bar and then cut diagonally. I can remember seeing mother laying her enormous yardstick over the baking pan, measuring and cutting so that each “cookie” ended up looking like a perfect diamond. (Of course then you are always left with the corners…. perfect for sneaking bites.) Also, she loved walnuts and used those. I love pecans so I substituted them. And she used Hershey’s chocolate bars- the thin ones. I used a combination of bittersweet and milk chocolate thin Ghirardelli bars. Your choice. I refrigerate mine because I live in a high humidity state; you northerners just need to place them in a sealed container.

Toffee Cookies

1 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups flour
6 thin chocolate bars, any kind you want
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted, or walnuts if you prefer
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°.
Cream butter, sugar and add egg yolk. Add flour gradually. Add vanilla.
Spread dough in a lightly greased 15 1/2 by 10 1/2 by 1 inch pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Lay chocolate bars on top. When they melt, spread them around and sprinkle with pecans.
When cool, cut in diagonals. I do this with a yardstick from opposite corners as a guide.


More Puff Pastry

Sorry about bringing up the puff pastry subject again, but we tried a new appetizer the other night and it was fabulous. And easy to make. Using puff pastry in all sorts of recipes seems to be the latest craze, which is just dandy with me. Sweet or savory- just pass the plate my way!

Of course in this instance, I have to give Giada De Laurentis the credit. It’s her recipe. This is the woman Mario Batali referred to (in a recent N Y Times magazine article http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/magazine/02cooking-t.html - which, by the way, while long, should be mandatory reading for all of us) as the “ the beautiful girl with the nice rack who does simple Italian food.” No matter that I agree with him just a little (and do get tired of wondering how many more times she is going to lean over in her trademark low cut tops and if anything will ever spill out, though it would be edited out anyway) and nothing wrong with having a nice chest…but is it supposed to bring in a male audience? If not, what's up with this? Still, Mario didn’t need to say it in print. Naughty Mario.

No matter, I like lots of her cookie recipes and some of her appetizers. We’re not much of a pasta family so most of her main course recipes get a pass from me- still, she does make pasta from scratch now and then (Yes, Mario, she does- I’ve seen her do it.) even though she takes shortcuts on lots of things. Which makes life easier for the home cook. Isn’t that the point?

Anyway, back to the appetizer. How can this miss? Puff pastry; olive tapenade; fontina cheese; grape tomatoes; basil. How great is that combination of ingredients? Giada suggested sprinkling a little fleur de sel on top but the tapenade is salty enough so I didn’t do it. And it was perfect the way it was; they were gone in an instant- inhaled by my guests. The only sound I heard was Mmmmmm. Unfortunately I only had some old, sad basil in my salad bin, so it would have been even better with a nice fresh basil chiffonade sprinkled on top.

Tomato Basil Tartlets
(Adapted from Giada De Laurentis)

1 (10 by 9 inch) sheet frozen puff pastry (thawed in your refrigerator overnight)
1/2 cup olive tapenade
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
8 cherry tomatoes
6 basil leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 400°. Put rack in the center of the oven and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Put the puff pastry on a floured board. Prick all over with a fork. Using a 2 ¼ inch cookie cutter, cut out 16 (we only got 12 or 13) rounds of pastry. Place them on the baking sheet. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry rounds and top with another baking sheet so it will press down slightly on the rounds and keep them flat. (We didn't use a very heavy pan so I wonder if a heavier one would make them thinner? Or do we even want them thinner?) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden.
Remove the baking pan and top sheet of parchment paper.

Spread 1 teaspoon of the tapenade on each round. (We purchased some tapenade in a jar at the market and it was excellent.) Place a tablespoon of cheese on top and then top with a cherry tomato, halved. If the tomatoes were small I used 2, but I think 1 half is plenty and easier to eat.
Bake for an additional 5-7 minutes (I think we should have baked ours a little longer- keep checking). Remove from the oven and sprinkle the basil on top.


Decisions, decisions.....

My daughter is staying with me for a few weeks so life has changed around here. Well to be honest, life changed quite a bit when I had my hip replaced 5 weeks ago too! (I’m doing very well, thank you.) At any rate I am now into planning meals, something I don’t do very often since I live alone. Nor does my daughter for that matter, as she lives in New York City and ends up eating out a lot.

It’s amazing how spoiled we get when a decision about dinner involves only one person- do I get take out? Try a new dish? A Lean Cuisine? Just eggs? A PB& J? Now that there are two of us, Tracy and I actually sit down at some point every day and have one of those "I don't care, what do you want" conversations about dinner. Sometimes we end up trying some of the recipes in my “save to try” file which is fun and ambitious of us. And I have introduced her to some of my recent recipe discoveries and inventions that I think she might like.... I love getting her opinion. We seem to be spending a great deal of time (and money) poking around various grocery stores and our heads are swimming with ideas gleaned from friends, cookbooks or my old files.

I have discovered that trying out new recipes for my blog is way different than being pinned down to plan a complete meal every single night- something I haven’t had to do since the kids grew up and moved out. The exception being holidays, when everyone’s here and demanding an organized meal of some kind three times a day.

Now back to all those decisions.... luckily we don’t plan breakfasts as we don’t eat at the same time; I am an earlier riser than Tracy and anyway, we don’t like the same things. I am happy with an Ultra Meal vanilla shake with strawberries (greatly encouraged by my nutritionist) or grapefruit and an egg white omelet. Tracy likes granola, fruit and yogurt. Plain and simple. And the occasional croissant- a result of living in Paris for 6 years in the 90’s.

Shortly after her arrival Tracy asked if I had a good granola recipe. Well I do, even though I don’t like granola and never eat it. No accounting for tastes, I know. I have made it often for company or morning coffee/meetings and everyone raves about it. I’ve never even tasted my own granola, do you believe? The recipe really is a combination of several recipes that sounded good to me so I guess I can call it my own, sort of. I remember beginning with a recipe from Sarah Chase’s Open House Cookbook and adding things from other recipes over the years.

Somebody, somewhere along the line, suggested keeping the fruit and granola separate as storing them together makes the granola soggy. Up until now, I have always made the granola, combined everything and served it right away. But Tracy is eating a little every morning so we are keeping the fruit and nuts in one container and the oatmeal/granola part in another. It has stayed nice and crunchy. So unless you are serving a crowd, I suggest you store it this way. Well, have fun with the recipe; make it your own by adding or subtracting things according to your taste.

My Granola

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
1 cup diced dried figs
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted, unsalted cashews ( we used whole cashews but you might like them halved instead)

Preheat the oven to 350°.
Toss the oats, coconut, and almonds together in large bowl. Whisk together the oil and honey in a small bowl. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the oats and nuts are coated.
Pour onto a 13x18-inch baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until the mixture turns a nice, even golden brown, around 45 minutes. Remove the granola from the oven and cool, stirring occasionally to break up the bigger pieces.

In the meantime, dice your dried fruit and mix with the cashews.

If you are not going to use the entire recipe at one time, store the apricots, figs, cherries, cranberries and cashews in airtight container separately from the granola. Makes about 12 cups.


Grandma Doherty's Potato Pancakes

My mother’s mother was of German ancestry and, as I have mentioned before, a brilliant cook -you know- homemade noodles ( I would come home from school and see hand cut noodles drying on tea towels draped over open kitchen cabinet doors), potato pancakes, dumplings, kuchen… all those divine things. She was my much loved Grandma Sarah Rhyff Doherty and owned a bakery in Detroit many years ago with her sister Carrie; so need I say her pastries, breads, cakes and pies were also heavenly? And did she ever know how to make perfect long johns! Does anyone else remember what those are? Lord, no wonder I am always on a diet!

When I was a child, potato pancakes were a family favorite and not for breakfast either. We always had them for dinner. We usually had bacon or even side pork (a heavenly fattening pork item that I can find once in a while in Florida, but more readily available in the north country). And I made potato pancakes for my kids too- always for dinner. They loved them.

Oddly enough, Grandma never used onion in her recipe which is quite uncommon and she also always served warmed maple syrup, not applesauce, another break from German tradition. But it was a tradition we grew up with- therefore the way I still make them.

So, the next time you look in your larder and find it empty except for couple of potatoes, dinner is right in front of you. Could any meal be cheaper? Or easier? Or more delicious? Or quicker? I mean there are lots of things you can do with potatoes, but just wait until you try this potato pancake recipe; it hits the spot. Better than waffles. Better than regular pancakes except, perhaps, for my Grandfather’s buckwheat pancakes, which I promise to discuss in another post. And we didn’t have potato pancakes on a regular basis- it was always a special treat.

I suppose grating the potatoes would be a snap now with food processors, but there is something special about hand grated potatoes- so that is still how I make them. You have to be careful with your knuckles, but the finished product is just plain better. You need a little egg, a little flour, and vegetable oil to fry them, but that’s about it. Syrup, of course, although you might prefer applesauce or some other fruit puree. I am a Michigan syrup person- we made our own from time to time, but if not, homemade syrup was for sale roadside just about everywhere in the fall. Lucky us. Anyway, most of these ingredients are already in your pantry. Bacon or side pork is not necessary, just icing on the cake. I am in heaven with just the pancakes.

This is going to be a difficult recipe to post because I always make it by look, not by measurement. So last night, my daughter and I had them for dinner and I sort of eye-balled what I put in just for you.

Grandma's Potato Pancakes

Ingredients:1 large Idaho potato
1 small egg
1/4 to 1/3 cup all purpose flour
pinch salt
Vegetable oil for frying

Method:Peel and hand grate the potato. Beat the egg and add to the grated potato. Add a pinch of salt and start with 1/4 cup flour- adding up to 1/3. You want the consistency to still be slightly runny, not too thick.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, add a heaping spoonful of pancake batter and spread it out a little. I can fit three at a time in my skillet. Cook until golden and then flip and cook until brown on the other side. Keep warm in a slow oven while you finish the rest and then serve with heated maple syrup.

This recipe served two of us.


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