Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sweet and Spicy Slow Cooker Nuts

I love spiced nuts, especially my recipe for those from Union Square. You know, their Bar Nuts. But I was surprised to see a recipe in The Kitchn for Slow Cooker Spiced Nuts. As in, why would you do this?

But curiosity got the better of me and since I have an Instant Pot I thought I'd check it out. Only instead of their "spiced nuts," which only include ground cinnamon as the spice, along with some vanilla paste, I thought I'd amp it up with a sweet and savory version--like the Bar Nuts.

My garden is filled with herbs so I clipped rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage. I chopped them up and prepped everything else--melted the butter, whisked the egg whites. And I added cayenne pepper to this to get that kick of heat. After prepping, you make the sauce in the slow cooker pot. Then add the nuts, stir up the mixture to coat the nuts, and let it rip--or, in this case, gently cook. It's actually a very easy recipe--but, it's a slow cooker recipe so it requires patience. And your presence. Unlike other slow cooker recipes in which you can head out and it all takes care of itself, with this recipe you need to stir the nuts in their salty, herbaceous sweet sauce every 20 minutes. 

The recipe also gives you an option in cooking times. Cook low for three hours or high for one hour. I went all in since this was, after all, a slow cooker recipe. But after three hours it still didn't look done--whatever that was. So, I amped the heat up to high and gave it another half an hour.

And I liked them. They're gooey, and the nuts won't be crisp as they would if you toasted them. But they actually have a lovely almost creamy texture and addictive flavor. You'll be as stuck on these as kettle corn. And don't try to have any self control. They only last a week in an airtight container at room temperature.

P.S. These are perfect little holiday gifts!

Sweet and Spicy Slow Cooker Nuts
Adapted from The Kitchn
(printable recipe)
Makes 6 cups

2 large egg whites
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper (optional)
6 cups raw, whole nuts, such as almonds, pecans, cashews, or walnuts

1. Lightly coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray.
2. Place the egg whites in the slow cooker and whisk until frothy. Add the brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, herbs, and cayenne pepper, and stir into a thick syrup.

3. Add the nuts and stir with a spatula until they are evenly coated.

4. Place a double layer of paper towels over the top of the slow cooker to catch condensation. Cover with the lid and cook, stirring every 20 minutes, until nuts are fragrant, lightly browned, and the coating appears dull and not shiny, 3 to 3 1/2 hours on the LOW setting or 1 to 1 1/2 hours on the HIGH setting. If you go with 3 hours on LOW, you can add another half hour on HIGH.

5. Stir one final time, then pour onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Spread into an even layer, separating the nuts as much as possible, and cool completely.
6. Once cool, break apart any nuts that have stubbornly stuck together and transfer to a serving dish, jar for gifting, or airtight container for storage. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tillie's Chocolate Bit Cookies

Holiday baking is upon us. I tend to associate Chanukah with two cookies: snowballs and rugelach. Both are cookies my Nana Tillie made, and later my mom and I. But there's one more cookie from Tillie that I hadn't thought about in years--chocolate bit cookies, a layered treat with a cookie base, topped by chocolate chips, then brown sugar merengue, and finally chopped walnuts. One bite gives you a crisp cookie popping with sweet chocolate, then comes the snap of the merengue and savory warm crunch of the nuts. It's heavenly. When I came across the recipe on a couple of index cards clipped into in a denim cookbook she made for me decades ago it caused a reflexive smile.

And then I realized I had to make it.

Tillie used to send me these Chocolate Bit cookies wrapped in wax paper, along with the snow balls and her other legendary sweet, mandelbread, all packed tightly in a shoe box--mailed first class all the way from Arcadia, Calif. to Manhattan, NYC, where I was living and working after college. They would arrive at the mailroom at The William Morris Agency, where I worked, the box wrapped in a brown paper grocery bag. If I was lucky, by the time the mailboy (yes, then always a guy) delivered the box to me the tape and twine were still intact and the cookies still cookies, not crushed into crumbs. But I never got many home. Once I opened that box, it would be a free for all among my friends and co-workers. That box's arrival always was bittersweet. I loved the treats inside but it would make me weepy with homesickness.

My Nana passed away many years later, after I returned to L.A. and I got her to make me that little cookbook. The chocolate bit cookie seemed to have died with her. My mom and I annually make the snowballs and mandelbread. I still love making rugelach. But for some reason the chocolate bit cookies hadn't stayed in play.

But they're back now!

I actually have two versions of the recipe--one handwritten by Tillie and the other in the calligraphy my mom was focused on back in the '80s. They were slightly different. Tillie used Crisco, Mom used butter. The number of eggs was a little different. And so on. I figured the best way to tackle it was to have Mom come over and make them with me.

That's what we did last Sunday afternoon. For my mom, reading recipes isn't good enough. It's all about the feel. She's very insistent that you have to internalize the texture when making these and other cookies. And these cookies have a special meaning to her. Tillie made them for her when she was a child.

For this cookie, the layers can seem a bit intimidating if you haven't made them. Tillie even acknowledged this on her index card, at the end of the recipe.

"This may sound like a difficult cookie--but it is not," she wrote. "Enjoy--enjoy. Nana"

She's right. It's not. We fiddled a little, compromised a little. Instead of all Crisco or all butter, we used a 3-to-1 ratio to get the butter's richness and flavor and the crispness you get from shortening. We added an extra egg white to have more merengue, doubled the amount of walnuts, and tried a slightly longer baking time. I think we ended up with a cookie Nana would enjoy. Mom certainly did!

Tillie's Chocolate Bit Cookies
(printable recipe)
Yield: About 30 squares, depending on how you cut them

12 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons shortening, like Crisco
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces chocolate chips
3 egg whites
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
2 cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped


Pre-heat oven to 350°.

Cream together butter, shortening, and sugars. Slowly add the egg yolks, water, and vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture. Mix well.

Pat cookie Fill a small bowl with water and wet your fingers. Then use your fingers to press mixture into a 10 X 15-inch cookie sheet. The water will keep the dough from sticking to your fingers. Spread chocolate chips evenly over the dough and lightly press in.

Beat egg whites and slowly add brown sugar. Beat until the whites form soft peaks.

Dot merengue mixture on top of chocolate chips and cookie dough, then smooth evenly with an offset spatula.

Sprinkle chopped walnuts on top of merengue.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

Note: These cookies are freezable, but the merengue texture won't be as great after defrosting. Also, my mom tells me that if you are eating them a day or so after baking, heat them very briefly--like 7 seconds--in the microwave to freshen them.

Happy Chanukah!

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Curry Via Oh Momo!

At the risk of being labeled a pseudo-Sandra Lee with her semi-homemade dishes, I have a thing now for Oh Momo! Fresh Curry Paste. Launched by Momoko Jackson of World Curry in Pacific Beach (Yes, you must go eat there!), the red, green, and yellow pastes are an easy way to add a ton of flavor to a stir fry, soup, or curry dish that you'd like to simplify to get dinner on the table quickly on a week night.

I'll be writing a story on their global house-made curries for the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section for February, but for now I want to introduce you to their retail product, which you can find at the restaurant, Specialty Produce, Frazier Farms, Jensen's in Point Loma, and Catalina Offshore Products.

The curry pastes themselves aren't new. Momoko Jackson, who with her ex-husband Bruce Jackson, owns World Curry, has been selling them wholesale to markets that sell hot dishes--like Cardiff Seaside Market, Bristol Farms, and Harvest Ranch--and restaurants like the Brigantine and Karl Strauss Brewing Company. But only this past summer have the Jacksons been packaging and selling the curries for retail.

For home cooks, the fresh pastes are a wonderful short cut to add new flavors to dishes you may have become boring staples. They are also something that will last a good long while in your refrigerator--up to six months, even without preservatives. And, if you have a vegan or gluten-free eater in your household, these curry pastes will work. The green basil curry paste, for instance, contains  lemongrass, Thai basil, cilantro, shallots, salt, garlic, galangal, turmeric, cumin, black pepper, and coriander, as well as organic can sugar, and non-GMO gluten-free soy sauce (something Jackson incorporated instead of fish sauce, which she said made no significant difference to the flavor).

I used the green basil curry paste for two dishes: a broken shrimp stir fry and what I'm calling my Orange Soup because it features Kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots. With both dishes I added coconut milk. Beyond that, given that the curry sauce contains all the flavorings, I didn't have to add much more. It made putting on dinner so easy and the end result was delicious.

The broken shrimp stir fry doesn't have a recipe. I had picked up these shrimp pieces at Catalina Offshore Products and used half in a stir fry their Tommy Gomes had shown me how to make. The rest went into this dish for one--Just broccolini, half a yellow onion, some shitaki mushrooms, and a serrano chili from my garden.

I heated some peanut oil in my wok, added the vegetables and stir fried them. Then added the shrimp.

Once they were cooked, I added the coconut milk and green curry paste, took it off the heat, and stirred it well. Then I poured the mixture over a bowl of brown rice.


My Orange Soup was pretty easy, although obviously it took longer to cook.

Orange Soup with Green Curry Paste
Serves 6
(printable recipe)

Vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 Kabocha squash, seeded and chopped
1 quart chicken stock
4 ounces Green Basil Curry Paste
1 cup coconut milk

1. Add vegetable oil to a large pot. Heat and add onions and garlic. Sauté until translucent.
2. Add carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash pieces. Mix well.

3. Add stock. Stir and increase heat to bring to a quick simmer. Skim foam.
4. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover. Simmer about 40 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

5. Remove from heat and using an immersion blender, puree the soup until creamy and smooth.
6. Add curry paste and coconut milk. Stir well and serve.

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