An Italian Sugar Rush

The last article I posted was all about forgetting about time. It was about leaving that sauce on the stove until it was good and ready. This post, however, is the complete opposite. Making torrone is one of the rare moments where I can be seen moving quickly, almost rushing. It’s such a rare event, that my family doesn’t know what to do with me. They laugh as I buzz around the kitchen, impatient while the sugar is melting and having a mild-panic attack as the hot candy hardens while I cut it, little stands of sugar freezing mid-air.

 
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This kind of torrone is not the typical variety that most people are accustomed to. It is not the white, nougaty candy that comes packaged in a pretty box. For years, I didn’t even know that type existed. All I knew was the dark, honey- colored, almond candy topped with “dottie sprinkles” that my great Aunt Mary made every year for Christmas. Maybe, like me, Aunt Mary got a kick out of the hustle and ‘danger’ of making torrone and that is how it became a family tradition that hasn’t been skipped in what I can imagine is well over 50 years. Torrone di mandorle e miele (as it is formally known) is a sweet adventure in what toasted almonds, honey, and sugar can be capable of doing. An adventure in how three ingredients can transform into cheerful, little bites of holiday bliss and memory.

 
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Almond and Honey Torrone

From: Christina Esposito

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups toasted, slivered almonds
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1 orange
  • Dottie sprinkles (rainbow non-pareils)
  • Greased (buttered) glass/marble/pyrex cutting board (a non-wooden surface that can withstand high temperatures without breaking)
  • A wooden or metal mold

Directions:

  1. Before you begin, make sure that everything is ready to go. Grease your cutting surface and candy mold, get out the dottie sprinkles and orange, and pour your glass of drinking wine (optional). In French, gathering all of your cooking materials and ingredients before you actually start cooking is known as having your “mise en place”. Most of us don’t cook at home with everything carefully thought out and prepared ahead of time, but for torrone, having your mise en place is essential.
  2. Now, put the two cups of sugar in a medium to large sized pot over medium-low heat. Be sure to stir the sugar even at this beginning stage. Keep stirring until the sugar is melted. This might take a little while. First, the sugar will start to clump together. Then, it will darken in color and melt.
  3. When all of the sugar is melted and there aren’t any clumps, add the honey. The honey will make the sugar bubble and fizz a little- this is normal.
  4. Next, take the sugar and honey off the heat and quickly stir in the almonds. This will be a bit messy, but that’s okay. This is also the point where mild chaos might ensue because you need to work quickly from here on out!
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased candy mold. Being VERY careful, use the orange (which acts like a greased spatula) and roll it over the mixture to flatten it out. The candy will be super, super, hot.
  6. Once the mixture is flattened, liberally shake on the sprinkles. Use the orange once again to push the sprinkles into the candy.
  7. Continue to work quickly and carefully and begin to cut the candy into little squares. This must be done with haste because as you will find out, the candy is fast to harden and might even freeze in little strands in mid-air. Also be sure to eat a few pieces while the torrone is still kind of hot. You’ll regret it if you don’t!
  8. Once all the candy is cut and cooled, store in an air-tight container. Torrone lasts for a good three or four weeks so you can enjoy it during the entire holiday season!
  9. Note: cleaning the pot that you melted the sugar in will look impossible and menacing. I promise it isn’t. Just fill the pot back up the water and heat on the stove. The hard sugar and almonds will melt off into the water.

Caramelized Shallots

I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a  12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

So what, you say?  Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are).  There’s really no end on how you can use them.

 

Easy Caramelized Shallots – the latest, greatest kitchen cheat | The Road Home

 

Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!

 

 

 

 

Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • 8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
  • 4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)

Directions:

  1. Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
  2. Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
  3. Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
  4. Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
  5. Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)

This Cocktail Will Make Your Fall

When most households say they have a secret ingredient, they generally mean something normal like love, mayonnaise or grandma’s special seasoning mix. But in my house, where we are not normal, I learned from a very young age that everything (every single thing) tastes better with whiskey. All of my favorite family standbys – Irish Whiskey Potato Soup, Jack Daniels Fudge Pie or Bourbon Sweet Potatoes – owed their indescribable special to what can only be considered the world’s greatest spirit. Some of these I grew up with, some of them were added over the years, but there’s a rich, nutty, I-don’t-even-know (is amber a flavor?) that has defined almost every food I’ve ever been obsessed with. And now that I’m 21, I’ll happily drink a well margarita, and only believe in cheap vodka, but even in my young age, I take my whiskey very, very seriously.

Hot Cider with Irish Whiskey | The Road Home

 

I could wax poetic for hours about cooking with whiskey – fun for all ages, and I have yet to find a food it doesn’t improve. But in my nearly 6 months of being 21 I have never yet written about a cocktail, so I’m going to celebrate my impending half birthday with a simple fall cocktail my friends and I dreamed up. I’ve actually wanted to make this for weeks but I decided to wait until it was seasonally appropriate. All it takes to make it is to heat up a cup of apple cider and add 1/8-1/4 cup of whiskey (afterwards, of course, so it doesn’t evaporate). And it tastes like a fall serenade swirled up your mind and heart and dropped them in… I don’t know, a fiery maple tree or something. Ireland wins my love all day every day so I used Bushmills but I bet this would taste amazing with Scotch too. Extra points if you mull the cider but I’m lazy so I won’t fault you if you are too.

 

Hot Cider with Irish Whiskey | The Road Home

 

Do you have a fall drink you make? Whether it’s spiked or child appropriate, we want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments below!

The 30 Second Side Dish

*Disclaimer: there is no such thing as a 30 second side dish, but this does come as close as you can possibly get.

 

As any friend, acquaintance or probably even stranger could tell you, I have a slight tendency to overprogram. I can’t stand the idea of letting a single moment of any day go by without it being used in the most efficient way (and yes, that includes efficiently watching How I Met Your Mother). This should be a relief for you, because if I’m making anything on a weeknight, you better believe you have time to make it too. But it did lead to a slight panic moment this past Thursday when I left babysitting, had to be at a Rosh Hashanah potluck more or less immediately, and it was too late to make even the simple string beans with crispy shallots I had intended to bring. With no idea what I was wearing, let along making, I called my mom in a tizzy from the supermarket.

 

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Granted, I could have probably been late to the party and the hidden truth here was that I really hate chopping shallots, but thank goodness I’m a lazy bum! Because rumor has it involved side dishes among friends are a waste of everybody’s time. My mom let me in on the best secret I’ve heard in a long time – if you set an oven to 350°F, and chop up some broccoli and cauliflower, all you have to do is toss it with a little canola oil, a lot of salt, and whatever herb or spice you like, bake it for 45 minutes and call it a recipe. And you can brag about it too because it’s freaking awesome! I claim no credit for this one, but I thought  you should be in the know. I’m planning to make this on a weekly basis probably for the rest of my life, and it’s vegan and gluten free and kosher and EVERYTHING so you should bring it to every party. Try this – you won’t be disappointed.

 

How about you? If you had to be at dinner in, say, 1/2 an hour what would you bring? Bonus points for shorter prep time!

 

And Update – Apparently this isn’t a secret at all, because the 13-year-old I babysit made this for me last night. Granted, Zoe is kind of a superstar of everything, but even so, I guess the cat has been out of the bag for a while.

Persian Heaven in a Stew

Francesca is a very picky eater. She’d be happy to eat “yellow pasta,” penne with a little bit of kosher salt and olive oil, practically everyday. But like every kid, she can be unpredictable. Her eyes light up when I open the lid of the Dutch oven and she sees we’re having “fesenjoonie,” as she calls it. The actual name of this ridiculously delicious Persian khoresh (stew in Farsi) is fesenjan, and it is also one of favorite dishes of all time.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

We had the privilege of visiting Iran 10 years ago with when hubby Mark was invited to give a talk in Tehran. I foolishly thought before visiting that I had tasted all the great cuisines of the world, so I gave little thought to Persian food and spent most of the time reading about the great sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis and ancient city of Esfahan.

 

Square in Esfahan, Iran – one of the most beautiful places on earth | The Road Home

 

Dumb dumb me should have thought about the food. I probably had never tasted real Persian cuisine before and just assumed it would be in line with more familiar Middle Eastern foods, such as hummus and pita bread. I was so very wrong.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

We arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night, and almost instantly a whole world of spices, nuts, and fruits opened up to us. We stayed with relatives of our dear friends Vahid and Shahla Mohsenin and were greeted by mounds of perfect pistachios, dried apricots, and dates. This 3 a.m. greeting party was considered just a little nibble. The food essentially never stopped coming for the two weeks we visited this beautiful and baffling country.

 

A Traditional Persian Restaurant in the Hills Near Tehran | The Road Home

 

You will no doubt hear a lot about Persian food from Gabrielle and me. Persians are famous for their hospitality and it seemed there was a lavish dinner party every night once the word got out that there were Americans in town (fewer than 500 Americans were allowed to visit Iran at the time). Many dishes combine the same ingredients – saffron, rose water, orange water, nuts, pomegranates and dried fruits –in countless ways to create unforgettable dishes. Fesenjan, for me, combines all of my favorite Persian flavors. The blend of slow-cooked pureed walnuts, saffron, pomegranates, and onions with chicken creates an earth, nutty, exotic taste you can’t imagine until you’ve taken your first bite.

 

Pomegranate Juice for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

I’m not sure how Persian households eat this way all the time (and they seem to), because some Persian dishes take a little while to prepare. Not only is the investment worth it, but also keep in mind that any Khoresh, like most stews, usually tastes better a day or two later so they are perfect do-ahead company food.

 

Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

I became a fesenjan connoisseur while we were in Iran, and sampled many interpretations of this extraordinary dish all from Teheran to Yazd. When we arrived home, I immediately bought the classic Persian cookbook available in English by Najmieh Batmanglij titled, Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Her version of fesenjan inspired my own, which is quite different. I’ve substituted some of the traditional pomegranate juice, God help me, with wine! Alcohol is forbidden in Iran, but I think wine adds a lovely fruitiness to this exquisite dish. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 very fine Syrah was produced in Shiraz, and so I’ve used a full-bodied Syrah in this dish. (Sadly the vines are now used to only to produce grapes.)

 

Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

 

Here is the recipe, and do let us know if your taste buds are as tickled as ours by this very unique dish:

Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh (Chicken Pomegranate Stew)

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound (2 cups) walnuts finely chopped
  •  5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
  • 12 chicken thighs, bone-in (approximately 5 to 5 ½ pounds)
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 2 cups Syrah wine
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 2 tablespoons grape molasses or sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons toasted walnuts (optional)

Directions:

  1. Toast the walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (8 quarts is ideal) over medium heat until very hot. Sauté the onions until they are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1-2 tablespoons of additional oil and brown the chicken (you will need to do this in two batches).
  4. Remove the chicken from the pot into a medium bowl and set aside.
  5. Puree the onions and the walnuts in a food processor. Add 1 cup of pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron water and grape molasses (or sugar) and mix well to a creamy paste.
  6. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl and add the remaining pomegranate juice and wine.
  7. Add the onion-walnut mixture to the Dutch oven and stir well. Add the chicken and gently mix again (if stirred to aggressively, the skin will come off the chicken).
  8. Bring Mixture to a boil and give the stew a good stir. If you are cooking the stew in an oven-safe Dutch oven or pot, cover and cook in the middle of the oven at 350 for one hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may also cook the stew on the stove top on low for an hour.
  9. Taste the khoresh sauce after the first hour. It should be sweet and sour and have the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust the taste by adding more pomegranate molasses for sour, and more grape molasses (or sugar) for sweetness.
  10. Stir the stew well again and place back in the oven until the chicken is thoroughly cooked the sauce is the thickness of heavy cream.
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool uncovered before refrigerating (covered) overnight. When ready to serve, re-heat in the Dutch oven at 350 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, heat on stovetop with a low-medium flame, stirring occasionally.
  12. Serve over basmati rice or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Chelow, a saffron steamed rice with a golden crust. You may also add sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts (optional).