Homemade “twix” Bars

A few years ago, a friend of a friend said to me, regarding chocolate, if you could come up with something that has chocolate, caramel, and a cookie, I would totally go for that. And I said, you mean..like a twix? And she replied, exactly like a twix. I gave her 25 cents and walked away.
Fast forward a few years…
I was digging through the freezer and came across shortbread cookie dough; and figured why not. I could take a twix and make it just a wee bit better; using fine chocolate, homemade caramel and a smattering of shaved sea salt.
This is good. This is valentine good. This is write 100 times on the chalkboard “i love you more than chocolate” good.

Rock Candy

My kitchen has been looking like a science lab lately. Not because it is pristinely clean with clutter free counter tops and nerdies wandering around; but because I have been making rock candy. Several attempts
I might add
. It all started out innocently enough: sugar, water, string. But then I got sassy. Like i am Debeers or something. I thought it would be fun and cheeky to make rock candy jewels. Something for a big night out . I settled on drop earrings. Simple, right?
Here is the rub; the fun flew faster than a spy plane out this nerdies door, while obsessive took its place.
In the end, I got the perfect pair.
Now I’m not sure if I should wear or eat them.

Rock Candy
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
food coloring (optional)
up to 1 tsp flavoring (optional)
baker’s twine
granulated sugar
cut the baker’s twine to desired length. tie the twine off to a wooden skewer or pencil. this will allow you to suspend it in the syrup. Dip the twine in water, then roll in a bit of granulated sugar to coat. allow to dry while you make the syrup.
bring water and 1 cup of sugar to a simmer in a saucepan. while the water is still simmering, add sugar, 1 cup at a time, stirring and ensuring the sugar has completely dissolved before adding the next cup. once all sugar is incorporated, remove from heat and add coloring and flavoring. allow the syrup to cool slightly, then pour into a clean and sterilized glass jar or tall glass. you will need a separate glass for each rock candy you want to make.
suspend the twine in the syrup being careful that it does not touch the bottom or sides of glass. crystals should begin to form in about 4 hours. if there is no activity within 24 hours remove the twine, pour the syrup back into a pot and heat to a simmer. return to the clean and sterilized jar and start again. if you see excessive crystallization on the sides of the jar or glass, remove the twine and perform the above steps, otherwise you will have a glass full of hard sugar crystals.
check your twine daily. when you have the rock candy of your desire, remove from the syrup and allow to hang dry for a few hours.

Crispy Duck

I love crispy duck and it has made its way into my kitchen on many occasions; already cooked and procured from one of those places that have ducks, chickens and pork belly hanging in a steamy back-alley window. So delicious, I tell ya.

My first real memory of eating crispy duck was at a very fancy Chinese restaurant in the heart of Kensington, London in the late 90s. They also served a rather expensive shark fin soup and other delicacies that I had only read about in books. At the time, I was convinced it was the most expensive restaurant EVER.
I was a guest of a wealthy business man and his wife, who thankfully,
were adverse to shark fin but loved crispy duck.
And garlic noodles.
Having been down this road before, they had ordered the duck when making the dinner reservation several days prior. A great fuss had been made. Admittedly, it was impressive and worth the king’s ransom it demanded.

My crispy duck does not hold a candle to that of the professionals, but it was still delicious. It’s a fun project, but I must admit, I am just as happy with something from the shops.

crispy duck

*this is a 2 day affair…so plan accordingly
1 whole duck–cleaned and dried
finely grated zest from 1 orange
2 tsp chinese 5 spice
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 recipe duck broth
1 recipe glazing sauce
hoisin sauce–to serve
finely sliced green onions–to serve
cucumber cut into strips–to serve
chinese pancakes–to serve
to spatchcock the duck: remove the neck and any other parts from the cavity of the duck.  wash and dry the bird.  remove the backbone and snap the breast bone and flatten the duck.

keep the neck & back in a ziploc in the freezer for use at another time. –it is great for making stock

mix the orange zest, five spice, salt and garlic powder in a small bowl. rub over the entire duck.  place the duck in the refrigerator and let sit 8 hours or overnight.  
next day or day of duck preparation: remove the duck from the fridge and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.  Steam duck for 25 minutes using duck broth in place of water. I use a bamboo steamer over a wok, but you can use whatever steaming mechanism you have.

Let the duck sit in the steamer for 5 minutes after removing it from the heat. Lift it from the steamer and place on a roasting rack..in a roasting pan.  Let it dry fully—I place a small fan in front of it for about 2 hours. Once dry, brush liberally with the glazing sauce–fully saturating the duck.  Again, let sit at least an hour..to dry the skin again.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450. Place the duck in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and cook for about another 40 minutes.  Do not continue to baste, as it will reduce the crispiness of the skin.

Duck Broth

1/2 carrot–chopped
1/2 celery–chopped
1″ knob fresh ginger–roughly chopped
1 shallot–chopped
1 rasher bacon–chopped
olive oil
duck neck (if your duck doesn’t come with it, use the back)
1/2 oz calvados
3 cups chicken stock

Heat a stock pot over medium heat.  Add about 1 TBS of olive oil and bacon.  Cook until the bacon begins to throw off some fat, then toss in the carrot, celery, ginger, and shallot.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then toss in the duck neck.  Cook for 5-6 minutes more then pour in the calvados and let it absorb.  Add the chicken broth and let simmer for about 2 hours.  Strain all solids, tossing everything except the duck neck.  Return the duck neck to the broth and cool until needed. If refrigerating overnight, skim off the solid fat and discard before using.

Glazing Sauce

juice of 1 orange
3 Tbs rice vinegar
3 Tbs honey
1/3 cup soy sauce
heat all ingredients together just until the honey melts enough to incorporate into the rest of the liquid

Cookie Dough Candy Cups

I might be one of very few whom actually prefer baked cookies to raw.
The cause possibly may have been the constant threat my mother herald:
“raw cookie dough will give you worms”
I don’t recall that it ever happened to anyone but perhaps it isn’t discussed in polite society.
Still, I find it astounding in a medical sense. I really should have paid more attention in high school biology class.
With that introduction; how could you not be hungry for a little bit of cookie dough?
 (wink, wink)
This recipe is sans eggs so no need to worry. I filled little chocolate cups but you can also roll the dough and dip in chocolate or just eat them out of hand .

cookie dough

1/2 cup unsalted butter–softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour or ground nut flour-toasted
evaporated milk (as needed)
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
toasted and chopped (optional)
chocolate ganache for topping or tempered chocolate for dipping.

With a mixer, beat the sugar and butter until creamy.  Add the salt, and vanilla and beat again.  Stir in the flour until just incorporated.  Add evaporated milk a bit at a time until you reach the consistency you want…it won’t take much.  Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if desired).  If putting into cups, generously scoop dough into cups and then dip in ganache & top with chocolate chips or colored candy. If making into truffles, scoop out desired portions and put on lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate until hardened. Remove from fridge, roll into balls and dip in tempered chocolate. Top with chocolate chips or colored candies as desired.

40 Clove Ham

I find it curious that some of the biggest insults we toss about, malign an animal that brings such great pleasure..
Things like:
don’t be a pig
he’s swine of the worst kind
this place looks like a pig pen

are part of our common vernacular
Rather than being nasty about the plucky porcine, we should be saying things like:
your skin has the milky creaminess of caul fat
Honestly, who doesn’t think Crepine is a beautiful name for a girl?

Wandering the grocery store looking for inspiration for our New Year’s Eve buffet, I found a ham, on sale, no less, and couldn’t resist the swine song of a well-spiced lightly sweet and mouth-watering salinity of the ham of my dreams

New Year, New Reflection 2011

As I bask in the glory of this year a new and begin to reflect
with the muddled mind of late evening revelry and early morning rise

This day brings an opportunity to reset my course, confirm those gathered goods, and decide the next step of this fabulous journey called life

With you, I share three truths which will satellite my year

-I will not judge in disappointment, as I am confident I too fall short of expectations others place on me
-Rather than toss the years of the past I will carry them forward both as fond memories and retrospective caution
and finally,
– I will eat more fruit starting with this lemon meringue cake

Chocolate Covered Gingerbread

It has been quite some time since I have made gingerbread cookies. With all the excitement around gingerbread houses and gingerbread cakes, in our house, the cookies take a back seat.

But I had a special request for the holiday season, so I must oblige.
I dusted off my cookie cutter and scoured my recipe archives, and found a fun idea in Nancy Baggett’s All American Cookie Book
I slightly altered the recipe, only very slightly. I think the cookie benefits from a bit of honey, and that the glaze needs a nice chocolate bump.

Chocolate Glazed Gingerbread
(adapted from all american cookie book)
6 1/2 cups flour (plus more if needed)
2 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 Tbs ground ginger *
1 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt *
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar *
1 cup unsalted butter–slightly softened
2 Tbs corn oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 1/4 cup molasses*
1/4 cup honey*
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside. In an electric mixer, beat together the brown sugar, butter, and oil until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses, honey and 2 1/2 Tbs water until well blended. Beat in half the flour mixture until well blended. Stir in the remaining flour. knead the dough until it becomes smooth and shiny. If dough is too stiff, you may add a bit more water, if too sticky, add flour. Divide dough into three pieces. Roll each piece in between pieces of wax or parchment paper to 1/4″ thick. Place in the refrigerator to firm up (about 3 hours). When ready to use, peel back the parchment from both sides and using a cookie cutter, stamp out design. Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet for approximately 6-12 minutes at 350F. Keep a close eye. Let cool, then dip in chocolate glaze

Chocolate Luster Glaze
1 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate–coarsely chopped and melted*
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
pinch kosher salt*
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1/3 cup water
1 Tbs light or dark corn syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heat the water and corn syrup in a sauce pan, over medium heat until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Sift together the powdered sugar, salt and cocoa powder. Stir the hot syrup/water into the powdered sugar mixture and beat by hand until smooth and shiny. Toss in the vanilla and melted chocolate and beat again until smooth. Dip cookies or use an offset spatula to frost. Let cookies sit a minimum of 3 hours to ensure they are set. Decorate as desired.

the ingredients marked by * have been altered, or added by yours truly.

Shrimp & Israeli Couscous Carbonara

We love carbonara around here. Black Pepper Rocks! It is a great go-to weeknight meal; it is quick and packed with goodies. Most of the ingredients are items I normally have in the larder.

I first learned about carbonara when I was in college”studying” in Italy a cooking instructor said it is what young people enjoy late-night after the cinema, or visiting with friends. We have Letterman, they have carbonara.
This recipe is an adaptation based on what I had on hand. Also, I just really love shrimp.


olive oil
1/3 cup onion–finely minced
1 1/3 cup israeli couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
white wine or broth or water
15 shrimp (approx) (raw, shelled and deveined)
1 Tbs minced chive
1 Tbs black pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup cream
parmesan cheese for serving
In a pot, pour a bit of olive oil–cooking over medium heat. Toss in onion and cook onion until it becomes translucent.  Toss in the Israeli couscous and stir until it starts to brown a bit.  Pour in the chicken stock, cover the pan and cook about 12 minutes or until the liquid has been fully absorbed.
Meanwhile, in a frying pan, cook the bacon until it just starts to crisp up.  Add in a bit of liquid (wine, chicken broth or water) to slow the cooking and make a bit of a sauce. Don’t be
heavy-handed, you want no more than an ounce.  While the pan is still hot, toss in the shrimp and cook until just done. Take the pan off the heat and set aside for a minute.

In a bowl whisk together the egg, black pepper, cream, and minced chive. All at once, toss in the hot couscous (the hot pasta will cook the egg but keep it creamy) and stir well.  Add the warm shrimp and bacon and stir again. Serve immediately.

This will make a nice first course for 4 people or dinner for 2

Gingerbread Biscotti

I love this biscotti.

2 3/4 -3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup + 5tsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbs molasses
2 Tbs butter–melted and cooled
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 Tbs sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together
1 egg–gently whisked for glazing

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.  In a bowl whisk together the whole eggs with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and butter.  Stir in the dry ingredients and mix until it comes together. If it is too wet, add a bit of flour to your hands as you form the mixture into 2 logs of about 2″ wide. Place each log on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush the top of each log with the egg and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. Bake at 350 until it is puffed and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once cooled, slice crosswise, reduce the oven to 325 and place cut side down on the cookie sheet.  Return to oven and bake until dry but not brown.

I use a little royal icing to mimic the gild of gingerbread people, but it isn’t necessary.

Game Hens with Patatas Bravas

Yesterday I was editing my photos from our trip to Spain and I came across this photo of patatas bravas; which we enjoyed surrounded by the bustle of La Rambla and a darling waiter whom was leaving fake euros under chair legs as a tease. He was getting much more joy from the fake-out than the actual and generous, I might add gratuity we left.

patatas bravas-barcelona

I immediately had a craving. Hubster is a meat and potato kind of guy and I  am a potato and potato kind of girl. If I were making this just for me I would round this off with a glass of red wine and a good read, but such is not the case. I am accompanying them with cornish hen stuffed with creamy and herbed cheese. If you can’t find game hens, or you don’t like them, you can easily stuff a chicken breast or thigh with the cheese mixture.

cornish hen

2 cornish game hens–cleaned and dried
1/4 cup chevre–room temp
1/2 cup cream cheese–room temp
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 cloves garlic-pulverized to paste
1 Tbs chopped fresh chive
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil
Mix together the chevre, cream cheese, pepper, garlic, chive, and parsley.  Split into two portions and stuff into the cavity of each hen; truss it up.   Place in a roasting dish and squeeze lemon juice over the hens, then toss the lemon into the roasting pan. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the hens, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in 400F oven for about 30-40 minutes (depending on size).

Patatas Bravas

2 russet potatoes–peeled and cut into chunks
olive oil
1  large egg yolk
3 cloves garlic–finely chopped
2 tsp lemon
1/4 tsp salt
pinch sugar or drizzle of honey
1/4 tsp paprika (smoked or sweet)
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
Place potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water.  Boil until you can easily pierce– do not overcook.  Drain and let cool. Make sure they are dry.  Heat oil in a heavy pot and fry potatoes in oil until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve with aioli.
FOR AIOLI–place egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, salt, sugar or honey, paprika, and cayenne (if using) in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Slowly drizzle the olive oil until it comes together like a thin mayonnaise.  Taste for spice.

NOTE:  If there is NO WAY you are going to make aioli or don’t want to use raw eggs…then do this: put 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 large garlic clove–crushed to a paste), 1 tsp lemon juice, pinch sugar, 1/2 tsp paprika, and as much cayenne as you like in a blender and whirl it until everything is really smooth.  This will taste delicious!

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