Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coconut Pecan Toffee & Coconut Caramel Sauce

There will be cake. It may take me a few weeks to share the recipe with you, but I promise there will be cake. Consider these your warm-up recipes - a rich Coconut Pecan Toffee and a Coconut Caramel Sauce with no dairy! Also tips for toasting nuts and coconut. 

I've been a little MIA here and on social media and even a little bit in real life. We've been traveling and working, preparing for a kitchen update and for bringing home a new baby in mere weeks. Weeks, you guys! I'm completely unprepared for a new baby and blogging seemed like reasonable enough procrastination from putting the crib back together.

Truthfully, I'm not sure that I will get back to blogging here regularly until next year at least, or honestly  ever. I have no idea what having two kids, working freelance, and still being a normal human will look like so I'm only promising you cake at this point. A one-bowl-rich-and-moist-chocolate cake, no less. Let's call it Denial Chocolate Cake.

I've been sitting on these recipes for a while, because they didn't seem appropriate for the spring or summer. The weather in the South has finally decided to be fall, which has me ready to bake, carve pumpkins, and find some new boots - basically any fall activity that helps me avoid putting the crib together or crying over tiny baby socks.

Coconut Pecan Toffee
Makes 8 ounces toffee – enough for garnishing one 9-inch cake, plus extra for nibbling

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup toasted pecans
½ cup toasted coconut flakes

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved and bring to a boilAttach a candy thermometer to the pot and continue cooking until temperature reaches 300 degrees F.

Remove saucepan from heat and quickly stir in butter, vanilla, and baking soda. Immediately add the coconut and pecans.

Pour onto prepared baking sheet and use a silicone spatula to spread the mixture into a thin even rectangle.

Cool completely on a cooling rack.  Snap the brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Brittle can be made up to a week before assembling the cake.

Coconut Caramel Sauce 
Makes 3 cups filling – enough for 1 triple layer cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup full fat coconut milk, at room temperature  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
½ teaspoon kosher salt 

optional additions
½ cup toasted coconut flakes, finely chopped 
½ cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

Combine the sugar, water, and, corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer and cook over medium heat, without stirring, until the mixture turns golden amber and reaches 320 degrees F.  

Immediately remove from the heat and add the coconut milk, vanilla extract and salt and stir carefully. Return to medium heat and cook until the mixture reaches 230 degrees F. Pour the caramel into a heat-proof bowl and cool for 20 minutes. Fold in the coconut and pecans and cool completely. The finished sauce can be made up to a week in advance – store in the refrigerator in an airtight container and bring to room temperature before assembling the cake. 

Toasted Coconut Flakes
Makes 12 ounces toasted coconut –enough for the Coconut Pecan Caramel Filling, the Coconut Pecan Brittle and garnishing the finished cake

1 12-ounce bag unsweetened coconut flakes

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the coconut into an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Stir the coconut and bake an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container. Coconut can be toasted up to 2 weeks ahead of assembling the cake.

Toasted Pecans
Makes 1 pound toasted nuts – enough for the Coconut Pecan Caramel Sauce and Coconut Pecan Brittle

1 pound whole pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pecans into an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Stir the nuts and bake an additional 2 to 5 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and just begin to brown. Remove nuts from the baking sheet to cool completely before chopping or storing. Store pecans in an airtight container. Pecans can be toasted up to 2 weeks ahead of assembling the cake. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blondie Swirled Brownies

I read about motherhood a lot. Not just because its relevant to me, but because I find modern motherhood to be particular enthralling. Never before have we had so many choices as mothers - breastfeeding vs. formula, to vaccinate or not, stay at home vs. working mother, exposing our children to technology. And these choices are continually hyped by the media. We're suppose to lean-in, cry it out, find balance, and put a tidy little label on it. 

The last 60 days of my own adventure in motherhood has been challenging. I left full time work in preparation for baby number two, but also to find a better work/life ratio. I won't call it a work/life balance, because 'balance' is a beautiful, mythical unicorn. Anyway, I thought that being a full time mom and wife might be better for our family. The first week I was so gun-ho: making a cleaning schedule, committing to a summer reading program, trips to the library, the park, and potty training (!!!). Basically I was a SUPER MOM. I was also really miserable. I found my threshold for pleasant homemaking, creative toddler activities, and reading Fancy Nancy with enthusiasm is about 4 days. 

A creative person, like myself, with no outlet can be kind of ugly. I spent a lot of time and money on finding curtains, of all things, and maybe I irrationally cried about laundry once. Luckily my husband is incredibly supportive (or terrified of me) - so I started taking freelance work. Recipe development, food styling, and a little project management for good measure. The pendulum quickly swung the other way and I was busier with work than I had been with a full time job and I was still trying to do the SUPER MOM thing. It was silly. 

The struggle, my struggle, was I felt like I needed to be something - if I wasn't a "working mom" then I had to be "stay-at-home mom", right? When I reach these questions I ask myself - "What would I want my daughter to believe"? And I realized something so stupidly simple, something that should be so apparent already (and maybe it is to everyone but me?!) If Ella wants to be a mom, start a family, have a career, become a CEO - I want her to know - she doesn't have to label it. She doesn't have to put her head before her heart just to fit into a tidy little box. She doesn't have to choose between being a homemaker or being a boss. 

I'm still finding clarity on what I am now - I'm still working (at home and sometimes not) but I don't check into a desk each day, and I have the flexibility of taking Ella on a donut picnic anytime I want to. Ella will continue to go to preschool 3 days a week, because I now understand what I need my work/life ratio to be - even if I don't know how to label it. 

Our challenge as modern mothers will be stepping away from clean profile labels and the ever-widening exposure of motherhood to understand ourselves without comparison. We will be stronger mothers without comparison or labels when we can each tell our own stories in real conversations (hopefully over lots of wine). 

These blondies meets brownie bar mash ups are much less about 'not having to choose' than they are about my  procrastination, because I would, of course, feel inspired to bake and write a blog post when the thing I need to be doing is packing my daughter and I up for a ten-day trip. I may take a few of these as gifts of thanks, bribery, or apology for our fellow travelers. Two and 3/4 years old is a very emotionally erratic time, so it either going to be smooth sailing or a complete disaster! Wish us luck. 

Blondie Swirled Brownies
Makes 28 bars

This bars are inspired by Dorie Greenspan's Chipster bar, which is basically a brownie with a chocolate chip cookie baked on top. I was feeling too pressed for time to make a batch of cookies and blondies are always the perfect solution for that! These are rich and sweet, loaded with chocolate and you are absolutely going to need a glass of milk or a strong coffee on the side!

for the brownie layer: 
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour - I used white whole wheat
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped

for the blondie layer:
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour - again with the white whole wheat
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup milk chocolate, chopped or semi-sweet chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan and line with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large microwave safe bowl using 30 second intervals in the microwave, stirring between each. This should take about a minute and a half. You can also melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler.  Beat in the sugars. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Fold in the flour, salt, and additional chopped chocolate and pour into the prepared pan.

Melt the remaining butter in another microwave safe bowl on high in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Beat in the brown sugar, followed by the egg, flour, baking powder and salt. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

The blondie batter will be slightly thicker than the brownie batter, so I like to scoop the blondie batter in 2 tablespoon scoop over the brownie batter and then swirl with the spoon to incorporate.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the pan comes out mostly clean. Cool for about 30 minutes in the pan before removing a slicing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Grilled Teriyaki Spareribs & Crunchy Napa Cabbage Slaw

Growing up in the Seattle area you take a few things for granted - the incredible sushi, the lack of a need to wear sunscreen, and teriyaki joints on every corner. You might say that teriyaki shops are like barbecue shacks in the south, they are everywhere and you can get a decent meal at any of them (even if you have just one you're loyal to). Typically you get a few pieces of slightly charred crispy, teriyaki sauce glazed chicken thighs over white rice with a small iceberg salad. Simple food at its finest. 

Whenever I feel homesick teriyaki is the thing I crave. When I started helping my mom cook 'chicken teriyaki' was one of my go-to dinner meals. It wasn't very glamorous - just chicken breasts slathered in store bought teriyaki and served with some veggie over rice.  Lately I've even been craving teriyaki A LOT and so I started tinkering with making my own teriyaki sauce

I finally dusted off the grill this week (I know - its already the middle of July), which I think might be just the thing for perfecting the teriyaki joint style chicken, but ribs were crazy on sale post 4th of July - so I gave both spare ribs and baby backs a lick with my now-go-to teriyaki sauce. The spareribs won by a long shot for me - I think they're fatter nature made kept them juicer and gave more room for saucing. 

Rib purist might contend that you should grill or smoke the ribs first and then finish in the oven, but I find the technique below easier for a week night dinner or entertaining with kids. You can do a lot of the work the night or afternoon before and then just it takes just a few minutes to finish the ribs on the grill.  

Grilled Teriyaki Spareribs 
makes 4 to 6 servings 

2 tablespoons kosher salt 
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder 
1 teaspoon black pepper 
5 pounds spareribs, sliver skin removed
Combine the salt, sugar, garlic powder, and pepper in a small bowl. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, be sure to leave enough overhang to wrap the ribs. Rub the ribs evenly on both sides with the salt mixture, cover with the aluminum foil, and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roast the ribs for 11/2 to 2 hours or until they are fork tender. While the ribs are cooking prepare the teriyaki sauce. 

Teriyaki Sauce*  
makes about 2 cups 

1 cup low sodium soy sauce
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, grated 
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger 

Combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic and ginger in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is reduced by 1/3 and slightly thickened (it will continue to thicken as it cools). Remove from the heat and cool while preparing the grill. 

Heat a grill to medium high heat. When the ribs are tender, remove from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes before slicing. Grill the ribs for 2-3 minutes per side and bast with teriyaki sauce as they cook. The teriyaki sauce will caramelize on the ribs, so don't be put off by the dark color of the finished ribs. Serve with additional Teriyaki Sauce and sesame seeds, if desired.

Both the rib roasting and the sauce making can be done up to two days in advance. Cool the ribs before refrigerating and slice just before grilling - the heat of the grill will be more than enough to reheat the ribs. 

Crunchy Napa Cabbage Slaw 
makes 4 to 6 servings 

for the maple-soy dressing: 
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce 
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup 
1 tablespoon sesame oil 
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 

for the slaw: 
1 small head of napa cabbage, about 1 pound, thinly sliced 
4 medium carrots, sliced into long strips with a vegetable peeler
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leave 
1/4 chopped chives 
1/4 cup sesame seeds 
2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted  

My friends at OXO sent over this Little Salad Dressing Shaker and I'm kind of obsessed with it. You can measure dressing ingredients right into it and the spout is perfect for dressing this Napa Cabbage Slaw.
Combine the olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, sesame oil, and ginger in a small lidded container - such as OXO's Little Salad Dressing Shaker or a canning jar - and shake to combine. Taste and season with additional salt, as desired. 

Toss cabbage, carrots, mint, chives, and sesame seeds together in a large bowl. Add about have the dressing, toss, and taste. Let the slaw marinate for about 30 minutes before serving. Add the almonds just before serving. 

*You can absolutely use store-bought teriyaki sauce for this recipe - you will need at least 1 cup for basting. 

**OXO provided products for this post - including Little Salad Dressing Shaker, the Silicone Basting Brush, the 16" inch tongs (which are killer for the grill BTW). For more on their #What a Grill Wants series be sure to follow OXO on twitter. All opinions are my own.