Tag Archives: sea salt

Sea Salt Caramels

DSC_6671I had a nice, leisurely brunch with a good friend today.  It was one of those enjoyable, meandering conversations that could have easily continued for several hours.  After we parted ways, I found myself thinking of several more things I wanted to talk to my friend about––what was the name of that running app she mentioned?  Avon Barksdale is in the new Creed movie!  When can we do another double date?
DSC_6656After I returned home, I started in on my holiday baking:  melting butter, whipping meringue, and rough-chopping chocolate, all the while thinking about the incredibly rich and meaningful female friendships I’ve had over the years.  There is a beautiful passage in an Anaïs Nin book that I love:  “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  She articulates so elegantly how different friends show us a side of ourselves that we hadn’t previously tapped into.  They see our potential, and challenge us within a safe space.   By the time I started cleaning up my post-baking mess, I found myself reminiscing about my college days and all of the incredible friendships I made throughout those four years.  Those women saw something in me before I really knew who I was or how I wanted to live my life.  Through their eyes, I learned so much about myself.
DSC_6668I haven’t made caramels, or any other candy, since the day I closed my business 2 ½ years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to make them, but it all came back to me.  My stepdad has asked me to make these for him ever since I closed my business, and he will finally get some for Christmas this year!

Sea Salt Caramels

Yield: 35-40

12 oz. sugar
12 oz. evaporated milk
5 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
10 oz. corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2.  Combine sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, and add corn syrup.  Stir to incorporate.
3.  Insert candy thermometer and clip onto the side of pot.
4.  When temperature reaches 230 F degrees, add butter and stir until melted.  Mixture will start to thicken and darken in color.  Turn heat down to low, and stir frequently, scraping bottom of the pan every once in a while.
5.  When temperature reaches 240 F degrees, remove pot from heat, add sea salt, and stir until combined.
6.  Pour caramel into parchment-lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the caramel out, making sure it is distributed evenly throughout pan.  Cool completely, and cut into 1×1-inch squares.

Squash with Raisins and Thyme

DSC_5186Every winter when the colder weather moves in I become anti-social.  It’s one of those things I know will happen every year– like when you first notice the guys selling Christmas trees on the corner the weekend after Thanksgiving­– and yet I always seem to think, “I will manage better this year.”  I have been feeling so good for so long, that my reclusive behavior has crept up albeit very slowly over the last month.  It really became apparent when my husband was away on a business trip last month.  Usually when he goes away for several weeks at a time, I have a strategy in place to ward off the loneliness.  I try and fill my social calendar and make a long list of things to do to keep myself occupied.  Although I braced myself with my usual approach before his most recent trip, rather than going to a book reading or a movie, I found myself coming home after work most nights just to hunker down in front of the television to watch Jeopardy and Gilmore Girls.  Endless episodes.  But the strange thing was:  I didn’t feel lonely.  Or sad.  I was actually in pretty good spirits.  However, that was over a month ago.  Eventually, my unsociable behavior catches up with me, and coupled with the cold weather and shorter days, it usually ignites the winter blues at the very least.  Sometimes it can lead to a full-on depressive episode.

I am determined to manage my depression this winter.  That is, after all, the best anyone with this illness can do.  It’s like the required radios in North Korean homes:  they can never be turned completely off, only turned down, so as to ensure that the propaganda is heard.  I can’t get rid of my depression, but I can manage it by doing what I know works for me.  I have to force myself out of the apartment at least a few nights during the week, as well as on the weekends.  My brain needs external stimulation to counter the incessant internal messages.  And it becomes really hard to do in the winter when all I want to do after work is go home, put on my pajamas, and curl up on the couch.  The impulse is so strong– it almost feels like a biological instinct.
DSC_5188Maybe it just boils down to finding something every day to ensure a moment of quiet contentment.  My husband and I discovered a great coffee shop that opened in our neighborhood recently.  We’ve started going for afternoon coffee every Sunday to make certain that we get out of the apartment and check in with each other before the day is over.  Today we decided to also purchase our first Christmas tree.  Carrying it home, I had a big, stupid grin on my face.  Of course, I suggested we put on Christmas music while decorating the tree.  Seeing our little, lopsided tree all lit up made me very happy.

This is one of the easiest things you could possibly make.  And dare I say one of the most delicious.  I pack it up for my weekday lunches, but it could also be a vegetable side if you feel the need to have something heartier during the day.  The original recipe called for dates, but I’m not a huge date fan.  You could also substitute currants, golden raisins, or most likely any other dried fruit you are fond of.
DSC_5193Squash with Raisins and Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appétit

3 small acorn squash, scrubbed, cut into 1/2″ wedges
1/2 bunch thyme
4 garlic gloves, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup raisins
Flaky sea salt

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2.  Toss squash, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and butter in a large baking dish; season with sea salt and pepper.
3.  Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender, 40-45 minutes.  Add raisins;  toss to coat.
4.  Roast until squash are very tender and raisins plump up a bit, 12-15 minutes.
5.  Arrange squash, raisins, garlic, and thyme on a platter, spoon any oil in dish over squash, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel

DSC_5113Like most people this week, I was shocked and saddened to hear about the suicide of Robin Williams.  As horrible as it feels to lose such a creative genius, I do hope that it creates greater awareness about the dark hole of depression.  It affects so many people and yet there is still a huge lack of understanding about this disease.  I recently heard someone say, “The next time someone tells you to shake off your depression by going outside and getting some fresh air, you should respond by saying, ‘Oh right, like how cancer patients can shake off their cancer.”  I think depression (and addiction) is hard for many Americans to accept as a disease.  It flies in the face of our cultural norms.  We are supposed to be a self-sufficient group, able to overcome anything.  But severe depression can level you.  And no one is exempt from developing depression at some point in his or her life.  Others will battle it their entire lives.   So let’s talk about it.  Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it’s not that big of a deal.  It matters.
DSC_5068DSC_5079It feels like there has been an onslaught of bad news this summer.  I’m not sure if media companies are just becoming more and more desperate to report anything that will get us to click on their story links, or if the world really is becoming a horrific place.  I used to think that it was my responsibility to read/listen to the news everyday so as to stay informed.  And I’m not too proud to admit that I think I became a bit righteous about it.  I would judge other people who weren’t as informed as myself.  But I’ve since come to realize that it bears no fruit if I’m not trying to create a change in the world with the information that I consume.  All it really does is depress the hell out of me.  I’m starting to scale back on my news consumption.  I think it has helped my outlook.  Instead, I’m spending more time learning about things I’m curious about.  I read my first Paul Theroux book, I listened to a podcast about the Space Race, and I watched a YouTube video on how to freehand embroider.
DSC_5083DSC_5093I love Bobby Flay’s recipes, even if they always involve 5 or 6 steps and require a decent amount of time.  I’ve heard he has a bit of a reputation of being an asshole, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to make his recipes and buy his cookbooks.  When I had my chocolate company, he actually purchased several gift boxes from me one holiday season to give to business associates.  I was over the moon.  Like his other recipes, this one does not disappoint, but it does involve several steps.  I have been eating blackberries like water this summer, so this was a fun way to do something different with them other than to eat them with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
DSC_5109Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel
Adapted from Food & Wine

Serves: 8

Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. buttermilk

Filling
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure coconut extract
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt

Blackberry Caramel
2 cups blackberries (8 oz.), halved
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
2 tsp. blackberry liqueur
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Toasted sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

1.  In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt,  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining.  Drizzle the buttermilk on top and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and pat the dough into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
2.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick.  Ease the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate.  Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch, fold it under itself and crimp the dough decoratively.  Refrigerate the crust until firm, about 30 minutes.
3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until barely set.  Remove the parchment paper and pie weights.  Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the crust is lightly browned.  Let cool on a rack.  Leave the foil strips on the crust rim.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
4.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale.  Add the buttermilk, butter, coconut milk, flour, vanilla seeds and both extracts and whisk until smooth, then stir in the shredded coconut.
5.  Set the pie plate on a baking sheet.  Pour in the custard and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until set around the edge but slightly jiggly in the center.  Transfer to a rack and let the pie cool completely.
6.  In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to burst.  Transfer the berries and any juices to a blender and puree until nearly smooth.  Transfer the puree to the saucepan and let cool slightly, then whisk in the cream, blackberry liqueur, vanilla and salt.
7.  In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over moderate heat, swirling the pan and brushing down the side with a wet pastry brush, until the sugar dissolves.  Cook undisturbed until an amber caramel forms, about 7 minutes.  Add the blackberry cream and simmer, whisking, until the caramel is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.  Let cool slightly, then stir in the remaining 1 cup of blackberries; let cool to room temperature.  Garnish the pie with toasted coconut, cut into wedges and serve with the blackberry caramel.

Chocolate Macaroons

DSC_5016Yesterday I was reminded of how important it is to stop and take a deep breath when I’m feeling stressed.  The minute I got to work chaos ensued.  There were a million little fires to put out, and they seemed to keep piling up every few minutes.  Shortly after arriving at the bakery where I work, I like to settle in with my afternoon cup of decaf and do my thing.   Even when it becomes busy, I feel prepared because I’ve logged in, reviewed orders, read emails, and checked in with my co-workers about anything that needs to be taken care of during that shift.  But yesterday, I barely had time to sit down before five items popped up that needed my urgent attention.

Drat!  I haven’t had time to take a sip of my coffee yet!  Breathe in.  Why did my computer have to crash last Friday?!  Breathe out.  Ma’am, we cannot write “Happy Birthday” on your pie.   We can’t inscribe on our pies, period.  Breathe in.  Oh no, I just touched the dry ice.  *Waits for fingers to start burning.*  Breathe out.
DSC_5007Simply taking the deep breaths reminded me to not become overwhelmed.  Yes, my body was definitely producing more cortisol than necessary, and yes, I could feel a headache developing, but by taking the deep breaths, I tried to stay present and focus on the work at hand.  I didn’t let it escalate into a general feeling of dread and anxiety.  If I had been presented this situation a year ago, I would have become enveloped in consternation.  Doesn’t it feel wonderful to see progress in your life?

I worked as fast as I could to put the fires out without sacrificing my quality of work.  I knew that things would quiet down eventually, and that I just needed to continue breathing.  When I finally took my first sip of coffee, it tasted even better than usual.  I earned this coffee.   

I felt like using up my coconut last week, but I also was craving something chocolatey.  Voila:  I give you chocolate macaroons.  I had no idea they were so simple to make!  I love how they are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside, not to mention light as air—thanks to the whipped egg whites.  They are essentially flourless cookies.  I mean, who needs flour in a cookie?  The coconut and chocolate take center stage on these gems.  Try them and let me know what you think.
DSC_5013Chocolate Macaroons
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Yield: 15 large or 30 small macaroons

1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2.  Place one cup chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl; microwave on medium-low setting until melted, stirring occasionally.  Cool just to room temperature.
3.  Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt in medium bowl until soft peaks form.
4.  Gradually add sugar, then vanilla, beating until whites are thick and glossy.
5.  Fold in melted chocolate and coconut, then remaining 1/3 cup chocolate chips.
6.  Drop batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.
7.  Bake cookies 10 minutes, then reverse baking sheets.  Bake until tops are dry and cracked and tester into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 10 minutes longer.
8.  Cool cookies on sheets on cooling racks.  Store airtight at room temp. for up to 2 days or put in freezer.

Pecan Rosemary Bark

DSCF2857Mr. K and I just drove 1100 miles from New York City to my hometown in Minnesota.  I haven’t taken a cross-country road trip since maybe 1999.  We thought it would be a nice change from dealing with the hassles of flying.  The first day of driving was a long day; we made it all the way to South Bend, Indiana.  To break up the monotony of driving, we listened to lots of podcasts and music, and made several coffee/bathroom stops along the way.  At one point, I had my ipod on shuffle and a couple of songs came up from my high school and college days.  There was a time when I couldn’t listen to certain songs without getting a knot in my stomach.  If the song reminded me of a time in my life when I was unhappy, I would immediately turn it off lest I relive that time in my head.  I chose to listen to the songs this time around.  Hearing these songs again made me reminisce about who I was back then.  I was insecure, anxious and depressed, and much less self-aware.  I don’t know that anyone around me could tell my true state of mind on any given day.  I think I did a pretty good job of hiding it from people, and I think I still do.  In fact, I would posit that most people who suffer from depression do a decent job of hiding it from others.  There is still a lot of shame surrounding this disease, and it can be difficult to talk about with others.
DSCF2847 While listening to these songs from the 90’s, I started to think about my life then and how I foresaw my life in the future.  While I always thought it would be amazing to live in NYC, I never saw myself doing anything incredible with my life or living anywhere other than Minnesota.  I didn’t think I would ever get married and wasn’t sure about my future happiness in general.  And just thinking about where I was back then made me so, so grateful for my life today.  I snuck a peek at my husband sleeping in the passenger seat and a big smile crept over my face.  How did I get so goddamn lucky?  I have a wonderful husband, and we have a great life in NYC that we love.  But more importantly, at that moment I felt proud of myself for everything that I had accomplished thus far:  moving to NYC in my late twenties, getting my Master’s degree, starting a business, and having the courage to continue bettering myself.  It’s a wonderful life isn’t it George Bailey?
photo-8

We are currently staying at my dad and stepmom’s house.  My stepmom does a great job of decorating the house at Christmas.  Beautiful garland decorated with ribbon and clear lights lining the staircase, poinsettias throughout the house, and nutcracker men by the fireplace.  You can’t help but feel festive the minute you walk in.  I made this bark a few weeks ago but I wanted to be sure to post it before Christmas.  I love all types of bark but I’ve never had a sweet/savory bark before this one.  I swoon over rosemary and I love pecans this time of year so it sounded like a great combination for the holidays.  The sea salt and dark chocolate helps unite the flavors.  If you like rosemary, I guarantee you will like this bark.  And it makes a beautiful holiday gift.  Happy Holidays, dear readers!
DSCF2851Pecan Rosemary Bark
Adapted from Camille Styles

20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan halves, toasted
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
sea salt, to taste

  1. Line a 8×8-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Gently melt the chocolate using a double boiler or microwave method.  Remove from heat.
  3. Pour chocolate into parchment-lined pan.
  4. Evenly sprinkle the pecans, rosemary and sea salt over the chocolate edge to edge.
  5. Using the back of a spoon, gently push the pecans down to make sure each piece has adhered to the chocolate.
  6. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes until firm.