Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter Weather Advisory: Stay Home and Make Toffee

A week or so ago, I started creating a list of sweets I want to make, and perhaps it's no surprise that the list keeps growing. There are so many amazing-looking cookies, cakes and candies out there! And I never mind experimenting with chocolate and sugar. Ever.

Besides, the weather is cooler, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming very soon. Might as well start practicing my sweets menu early. (Do I even need a real reason to make sweets?)

I spotted this Pecan-Molasses Toffee recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Desserts cookbook and put it on my list immediately. What could be better than a toffee-scented house on a cold rainy/snowy day?

Turns out that this recipe is divine. It's thick, nutty, and of course, the chocolate makes a great partner with the toffee.

This is one recipe that will show up with me during the holidays, if not several times before then. It does appear that it will be a long winter, after all.

Pecan-Molasses Toffee
(Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Desserts)

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup very coarsely chopped pecans, plus 1/2 cup medium-fine chopped pecans
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Butter a small baking sheet. (I used an 8x8 metal pan, which worked very well.) In a heavy 2 1/2-qt. saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, water, and molasses. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring slowly but constantly, until a candy thermometer registers 290 degrees F, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the coarsely chopped pecans and the cinnamon. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Do not scrape the residue from the pan bottom. Let stand for 1 minute. Sprinkle the chocolate over the toffee. Let stand for 1 minute to soften. Then, using the back of a metal spoon, spread the chocolate over the toffee until melted. Sprinkle with the medium-fine chopped pecans. Refrigerate, uncovered, until the candy is firm, about 2 hours.

Break into 2-inch pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 1/2 lb.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time for the Slow Cooker!

Time to break out the slow cooker! I had almost forgotten I even owned one and then the temperature dropped, ushering in a need-to-hibernate-and-eat-slow-cooked-food kind of feeling. (That, and cookies.)

I love this slow cooked stew recipe below - it's not your typical beef stew because of the hoisin sauce, which has a wonderful sweetness. And don't be afraid of the hot sauce - the heat isn't overwhelming. (Although if you like heat, you may want to add a little bit more than what the recipe calls for.) The best part is that I was able to put this together with a toddler underfoot, which means it's rather easy too. And these days, that's the best kind of meal. Hopefully, doing more slow cooking will leave me more time to bake some cookies.


Slow Cooker Hoisin Beef Stew
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

1/2 cup beef broth
1 (10-ounce) bottle hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece peeled ginger, grated
1 1/2 pounds cubed round or chuck stew beef
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 cup baby carrots
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped

Whisk together broth, hoisin, hot sauce, garlic and ginger in a wide, shallow dish or bowl. Add beef, onions, carrots and celery and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Refrigerating overnight is optional. The stew will still turn out delicious.)

Transfer meat mixture to a slow cooker, cover and cook on a low setting until beef is very tender, 6 to 8 hours. Alternately, cook on a high setting for about 3 hours. Ladle into bowls and serve. (I like to serve this stew over rice.)