desserts, fall desserts, pecan pie, pecan pie bars, thanksgiving

Peacan Pie Bars

From the “I’ll just leave this right here” files, I’m sharing with the best dessert of the week.  For the past few days I’ve been baking every night for my coworkers (apple cider spiced cupcakes, ‘crunch’ bars from Dorie Greenspan), trying to keep them fat and happy during the onslaught of madness from the holidays. Well, if this doesn’t send them into a blissful, sugary state…then I just don’t what will.
My recommendation for you:
Don’t worry about the floralness of the honey you use. I used some from Sparky’s of Maine and it was pretty intense but that calmed down after they baked.
Serve these with some vanilla ice cream or gelato.
And a cup of coffee from Bard.
I’m having one right now with my coffee. It’s perfect.

Pecan Pie Bars
(from Just a Taste)

For crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt

For topping:
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a 9×13-inch pan with foil, leaving enough for a 2-inch overhang on all sides.

First make the crust by creaming together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in the flour and salt and mix until crumbly.

Press the crust into the foil-lined pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

While the crust bakes, prepare the filling by combining the butter, brown sugar, honey and heavy cream in a saucepan and stirring it over medium heat. Simmer the mixture for 1 minute, then stir in the chopped pecans.

Remove the crust from the oven and immediately pour the pecan filling over the hot crust spreading it to cover the entire surface.

Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes.

Remove the pan and allow the bars to fully cool in the pan.

Use the foil overhang to lift out the bars and transfer them to a cutting board. Peel off the foil, slice into bars and serve.

a reason to eat caramel, apple cider caramels, caramel anything, fall flavors, smitten kitchen

Apple Cider Caramels

I sometimes forget, maybe after an all night binge on Pinterest, that Smitten Kitchen exists. But, then I see one of her photos pinned and the next few hours are spent catching up on her blog. A recent reminder brought me one of the best recipes I’ve done in a while: Apple Cider Caramels.

Were you a fan of those neon green lollipops that are haphazardly covered in caramel?  Well, Deb–the woman at the helm of Smitten Kitchen–found a way to eliminate the lollipop portion all together, but still capture that childhood memory in a caramel. I think she even improved on the memory.

And I kind of love her for it.

Apple Cider Caramels
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Apple cider (sometimes called sweet or “soft” cider), as I’m referring to it here, is different from both apple juice and the hard, or alcoholic, fermented apple cider. It’s a fresh, unfiltered (it has sediment), raw apple juice — the juice literally pressed from fresh apples. It’s unpasteurized, and must be refrigerated, because it’s perishable. In the Northeast, I usually find it at farm stands and some grocery stores. I occasionally find vacuum- sealed bottles called apple cider in the juice aisle, but none of the bottled varieties that I’ve tried has the same delicate apple flavor as the more perishable stuff sold in the refrigerator section.

4 cups (945 ml) apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or less of a finer one
8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
Neutral oil for the knife

Boil the apple cider in a 3- to- 4- quart saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This takes about 35 to 40 minutes on my stove. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, get your other ingredients in order, because you won’t have time to spare once the candy is cooking. Line the bottom and sides of an 8- inch straight- sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment. Set it aside. Stir the cinnamon and flaky salt together in a small dish.

Once you are finished reducing the apple cider, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium- high heat with a candy thermometer attached to the side, and let it boil until the thermometer reads 252 degrees, only about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it.
(Don’t have a candy or deep- fry thermometer? Have a bowl of very cold water ready, and cook the caramel until a tiny spoonful dropped into the water becomes firm, chewy, and able to be plied into a ball.)

Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the cinnamon- salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour caramel into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm—about 2 hours, though it goes faster in the fridge. Once caramel is firm, use your parchment paper sling to transfer the block to a cutting board. Use a well- oiled knife, oiling it after each cut (trust me!), to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close. Caramels will be somewhat on the soft side at room temperature, and chewy/firm from the fridge.

Do ahead: Caramels keep, in an airtight container at room temperature, for two weeks, but really, good luck with that.

37 cooks, Breakfast and brunch, Teet's Food Store, The Teet's Challenge

Eggs Hussarde

37 Cooks recently got hooked up with Teet’s Food Store in Ville Platte, Louisiana–a specialty smoked meats store– for a group project posting.  They were contacted by Luke Deville about working together and coming up with recipes utilizing the following:
Smoked Sausage (an endless list of options were given)
Smoked Tasso
Smoked Ponce

Teet’s was beyond generous with their donations to the group (I’d easily say that they sent out over $1,000 in samples to a group of crazy cooks scattered around the country) and I think we collectively did them proud.

I have tried my sausage and tasso and I loved them both. The tasso was used in the first two days and was thoroughly enjoyed. I would definitely recommend checking out their website and purchasing a link or two (or, if you’re feeling particularly ballsy–go for the Ponce).

This is the first recipe that I made utilizing Teet’s Tasso.

Eggs Hussarde for 2
by Shannon T.
adapted from Eggs Hussarde recipe in Saveur Magazine online

I will simply say that this is the best version of Eggs Benedict (and most simple Hollandaise sauce) I’ve ever made. I even finished off the Missus’ plate.

11 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1⁄2 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 egg yolks*
Generous pinch of Slap Ya Mama HOT seasoning
White distilled vinegar
2 eggs plus egg whites separated from above listed yolks*
1 Tablespoon of cream/milk/half and half
2 English muffins, split and lightly toasted
12 1⁄4″- thick slices Teet’s Smoked Pure Pork Tasso
1 medium tomato, cored and cut into 4 thick slices

Heat 1 tablespoon of  butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until reduced by half. Remove from the heat; strain through a sieve. Set the divinity sauce aside.

Pour water into a medium saucepan to a depth of about 2 inches. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. In a metal bowl, whisk the lemon juice, yolks, and 2 tablespoons water together until frothy. Place the bowl over the simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is pale yellow and thickened. Remove the bowl from the heat and slowly drizzle in the remaining melted butter in a thin stream, whisking constantly, to form a thick Hollandaise sauce. Whisk in SYM seasoning and salt. Cover to keep the sauce warm.

Set an oven rack 4″ from the broiler; preheat. Put the muffin halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Arrange 3 slices of tasso on each, drizzle with the divinity sauce, and top each with a tomato slice. Broil until the tomatoes are bubbly.

In a bowl, mix together the whole eggs and egg whites with the dairy of your choice. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the egg mixture and immediately begin stirring with a heat proof spatula until the desired consistency is reached. Divide the muffin halves between the plates, top each with one quarter of the scrambled eggs, and spoon the Hollandaise over the top.

Chef Ric Orlando, dining out in Albany, new world bistro bar

Edible Obsessions Ventures Home

Last Monday, while most of Eastern and Southern New York hunkered down for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall, The Missus, my sister and I ventured out in a light wind and rain for a dinner out while we were home.  Because Albany was forcasted  to get high winds and a great deal of rain (which never came to fruition), many restaurants in the area took precautions and closed early, expecting to lose power and expecting that many diners would stay in for the evening. We stayed close to my sisters house, heading out to Delaware Ave., for a meal at New World Bistro Bar.  The restaurant is one of three places under Chef Ric Orlando, who may be familiar to the viewers of ‘Chopped‘ as he won his episode and participated in the ‘Chopped Champions’ entree round.

I knew from his New World Home Cooking, and his appearances on ‘Chopped,’ that his food was eclectic and that he liked to sprinkle Asian and Caribbean flavors wherever he could. So, when we sat down and read over the menu, we were not surprised to see things like Piri-Piri sauce served with crab cakes or a Panang Curry bolognese. What I was most surprised about was the fact that they call themselves a ‘Gastropub,’ which is a term I always find a little dubious and up for debate. If we’re putting restaurants into boxes, I’d say NWBB fits more into the ‘fusion’ category.

Truth be told, it wasn’t easy picking out a place for our one treat night out in Albany as Portland has us ridiculously spoiled on both quality of food and the diversity of its offerings. But, New World Bistro is by far the most eclectic restaurant in the capital city, so it had the biggest appeal for us.  Also, any restaurant with a section on its menu called ‘Forbidden Pleasures,’ automatically wins.

The Missus and I went for a good section of this meaty pleasures, with an addition of the house Charcuterie plate, which came out first. 

The plate was a trio of rich, house produced goodness: Headcheese, Chicken Liver Pate and Whipped Lardo. The headcheese lacked the traditional gelatinous texture and was packed with porky bits more in the style of a Pate Rustique.  The chicken liver was creamy, with more of an herby (thyme?) flavor than the more familiar brandy based sweetness. My favorite of the three was the lardo, which was extremely clean tasting with a balanced dose of rosemary whipped in. Though we tried, my sister refused to venture into our world. Which is understandable as I don’t think anyone in my family, except for my nephews, would. Our one complaint was that there just wasn’t enough bread–only five crostini–on the plate to spread all of the Charcuterie on to.

The next round showed off a bit of that eccentricity Chef Orlando is known for: Burbon Braised Pork Belly with Bitter Greens and Black Garlic Caramel. This dish was perfect on so many levels. The pork was extremely crunchy on the outside, as if it had spent a quick moment in a deep fryer, but was fall apart tender the second our forks cut through it. The bitter greens, which I believe were a chiffonade of kale, were lightly sauteed and added a nice departure from the sticky sweet and roasty tasting caramel that covered the plate. And that caramel…good, God, was it delicious.


We then moved on from the belly to some bones.  The presentation was cute and I was surprised to see that the bone marrow was served with out the ubiquitous parsley salad. Instead, they opted for a sweeter side in the form of some fig spread. The Missus, and I agree, was disappointed that they didn’t send out longer, thinner spoons to scoop the marrow out. It’s marrow and, unless under roasted, is kind of hard to mess up, so it was pretty standard and the fig spread was a nice companion to it.  But, like the Charcuterie board, the marrow also lacked enough bread to meet needs of the marrow. 

The last plate to hit the table was the Lobster and Sweetbread Nuggets. Do you see those things sitting on the plate that kind of look like white asparagus?  Those would actually be Korean rice cakes and this plate was all about the Asian flavors.  At first, I really enjoyed the sweetbreads, which had more of a scallop like texture than the traditionally prepared fried exterior/creamy interior. They had also taken on the flavor of the lobster and you could easily, with eyes closed, imagine that they were scallops. Then, as we ate it, I found that it was just a hodge podge of, to put it nicely, off textures.  Let’s just put it out there: the lobster was horribly overcooked to the point of being rubbery. The rice cakes? Also had a rubbery texture and, as the plate sat, the sweetbreads also got an unappealing spring to them. The Missus, though, disliked the overall sweetness of the dish more than I disliked the textures.

I think the happiest person at the table was my sister, who was enjoying a nice night out away from her family of my brother in law and three nephews. She sat down to the crab cake appetizer and, while we dined on plate after plate of meat and fat, chose the ‘No Crash’ Brown Rice Risotto with mixed mushrooms, peas and Asiago cheese. My sister is a very small woman, yet she managed to eat the better part of 3/4’s of the plate. I think she only left some so that she could savor it later that night. 

I think the three of us ordered dessert more because we wanted something sweet, though we had a questionable amount of room for it.

The gargantuan ice cream sandwich? That would be mine and I can tell you that only 1/3 of it was actually eaten (the rest went home to my brother in law). It was four massive scoops of Pecan Praline ice cream sandwiched between two giant Praline cookies that was then covered in caramel. It was so rich, especially after our intensely dense dishes, that I tried to convince myself to eat more than I really should have. But, in the end, it wasn’t much, but what I did have, I enjoyed tremendously.

The Missus had a very loose and, according to her, not too interesting Honey Peach Creme Brulee. She said you could taste the honey and that was about it. She also said that she didn’t think the custard had set very well. When I asked if she liked it, she just kind of shrugged her shoulders and offered an unconvincing, “Meh.” My sister, again, seemed to be the happiest kid at the table. By the time I asked her how her Chocolate Raspberry layer cake was–it was gone.

While there were some definite mixed opinions on some of the food, I would definitely go back to New World Bistro Bar the next time we head home to Albany.  The menu is vast enough that it would take several trips to truly get a good feel of the food being served. And, who knows, maybe next time we might even eat a vegetable.       

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