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November 2007
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January 2008

Karen DeMasco's Cashew Brittle


It's been five days since I turned 30. It'll be four days until I leave for Brussels. Seven to Christmas, nine to when I get to Berlin, thirteen until 2008, and sixteen until I'm all the way back here again, sitting at my desk, waiting for Ben to come home. I've got a lot of numbers on my mind these days.

The end of December: it's artificial, in a way, but it really does feel like the end of something. You start, inevitably, looking back over the year, over everything that happened or didn't happen to you. But you've also got a fair dose of excitement in you for what lies ahead. Yeah, sure, when January 3rd rolls around and you've worked off your hangover and you're back in your daily routine and the sky feels somewhat oppressively gray, you might think January is just as stinky as any year, but right now you're still thinking that January is 2008! And 2008 is something new! A clean slate! A fresh start! And that's pretty nifty.

I didn't even realize how big 2007 was for me until the past few days. I got a new job, a challenging, interesting, fulfilling job; I moved in with Ben, discovering that one can indeed grow more love in one's heart for a person at the same time as wanting to throw that person's every last pair of sneakers left haphazardly around the house entirely out the window; I left Manhattan - my sacred space - for Queens, realizing only that I should have done the move sooner; and I turned 30, with no gray hairs and plenty of laughs in sight.

So I didn't make apple butter or chutney or homemade Christmas cookies as I swore up and down (again) that I would. That's okay. I'm totally fine with it. Part of me thinks it's because I'm 30 now and I am actively learning to Just Let Some Things Go, but the other part of me knows that's total bollocks. The real reason why it's okay? Is because I made cashew brittle instead.


Brittle is the world's easiest gift. It requires one trip to the store (for cashews and corn syrup, since I assume you've got the rest - sugar, baking soda, kosher salt, and unsalted butter- lying around), about half an hour of your time, perhaps some pretty bags for packaging, and That. Is. It. Cool, no? Very cool. Especially when you drop little bags of it, tagged nicely, off for people who think candy-making is very complicated and difficult indeed, and who, in addition, think brittle is the best thing to nibble on in the whole wide world. (They would be right, you know - about the second part, I mean.)

The recipe comes from pastry goddess, Karen Demasco of Craft and Craftbar fame (remember that chocolate cupcake I told you about ages and ages ago?) and seems absolutely foolproof. You need to be careful around boiling sugar, yes, but a calm head, oven mitts, and long-handled spoons will help. You don't need a candy thermometer and though she calls for cooking spray, I just buttered parchment paper to line the baking sheets and it was perfect.

The one thing I found tricky was calibrating the flame under the pot. Too low and you'll evaporate too much moisture off while waiting for the boiling sugar to caramelize. Too high and the molten sugar will boil over, leaving you with a disaster to clean up. But don't let this discourage you - I just want to give you a heads up that you'll want the flame at about medium high and if you feel like it's taking the sugar too long to get golden-brown (Karen says it should take around 10 minutes), then turn up the heat, keeping a careful eye on the bubbling mass and its proximity to the edge of the pot. Yes? Yes!


The brittle is delectable - buttery and crispy-crunchy and sweet-salty all at once. The cashews are rich and yielding - far better than peanuts in this incarnation - and the shiny brittle snaps pleasingly. Try to stretch the brittle with the forks (as directed below) as much as you can, because that results in a thin, refined brittle that fairly shatters under your teeth. Thick is fine, too - I doubt you'd kick chunky brittle this good out of your bed - but I find it somewhat less alluring. To each his own, I think. Or hers.

Best of all, you'll feel all the satisfaction of making your own edible presents and yet none of the stress that usually comes accompanies it. Which feels like a gift in and of itself. Wouldn't you agree?

Cashew Brittle
Makes 3.5 pounds

4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews

1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap.

2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out. Allow the brittle to cool for a few minutes, then, using the sides of two forks, pull and stretch the edges of the brittle to create a thinner candy, about 3/8-inch thick.

3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.

Amanda Hesser's Beet Salad with Horseradish and Fried Capers


Close to six months of eating beets on a nigh-weekly basis will have you praising the heavens when the harvest season is over and you can finally go back to your supermarket ways, trolling the aisles for slim little green beans and heavy-stemmed broccoli, slinky sacks of frozen baby peas and the occasional lacy frond of kale. I love my CSA, I do, but its limitations are often evident; hard medicine to swallow for this seasonal evangelist. Still, relief from the never-ending supply of beets was much needed around here.

So it felt supremely odd, I tell you, to be in the grocery store the other day, picking out a nice little bundle of nothing other than beets. In fact, I'd say it felt much like a cosmic joke. Oh, bloggy blog, the things I do for you...

Truth is, I quite like beets, and miraculously, I've convinced Ben that they're pretty good things to eat, too. He used to think they tasted like sweat (his words, not mine), but not anymore. I take full credit for that, of course. Small victories must be celebrated, wouldn't you agree? But I've grown tired of my usual treatment (lots and lots of vinegar, a drizzle of olive oil, Maldon salt and perhaps some dried savory). And I've never really fallen in love with the whole toasted-walnut, slivered-blue-cheese-or-perhaps-feta thing that seems to be a staple now on so many restaurant menus. (I sort of wonder if beets get such a bad rap because of the things they're often combined with...but that's a discussion for another time.)

This recipe, which I plucked out of the pile back in 2004, offers a slightly different twist. You roast your beets, of course, and cut them into wedges, but then you dress them with a creamy dressing made of mustard, white-wine vinegar, horseradish, olive oil, and a little spoonful of sour cream. The dressing is, without the sour cream, quite something - an aggressive sauce that threatens to overpower the sweet little beet. But the sour cream rounds it out; gives the dressing some finesse - a calming hand, if you will. The beets, tossed in the stuff, turn an absolutely lurid shade of pink - no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the real color to come through in the pictures. Trust me, it was downright silly.

But the flavor? Far from it. A Franco-Russian collaboration, if you will, by way of the Mediterranean: this dish simply sings. It's got spunk and elegance and textural depth. Those fried capers are fussy, yes, but they provide a welcome saline crunch against the silky, creamy beets. Between Ben and I, this dish that supposedly serves four was gone in an instant - nothing left but a hot pink smear.


I was stuck home yesterday, sick with a cold and a pernicious sore throat and a teeny case of self-pity, when I got word that I'd been nominated for a Food Blog Award for Best Writing. Readers, seriously? I'm just speechless. And thrilled. Red-faced with bliss, if you're wondering. If you'd like to vote for me, click on this link  - you've got until the end of this Friday for your vote to be counted. Thank you!

Beet Salad with Horseradish and Fried Capers

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds small beets, trimmed and scrubbed
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for beets and frying capers
2 tablespoons salt-packed or brined capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons horseradish, more to taste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sour cream
Sea salt to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed (I'd do without this next time)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place beets on half of a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil. Fold the foil and seal the edges. Lay package on a baking sheet and place it in the oven. Roast until beets are tender, 45 to 60 minutes. (Test by poking a fork through the foil into a beet.) Remove from the oven. Be careful when opening the foil; steam will race out. While still warm, peel beets, then slice into wedges and place in a bowl.

2. Soak salt-packed capers for 10 minutes, drain, rinse, then pat dry. (If using brined capers, drain and pat dry.) Pour 1/2 inch olive oil into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot enough to toast a bread crumb in 30 seconds, add capers. Be careful; oil may sputter. Fry until capers fluff and begin to brown on edges, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on paper towels.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together mustard, horseradish and vinegar. Whisk in 1/4 cup oil, followed by sour cream. Pour half the dressing over beets; mix. Taste, adding more dressing or salt, if needed. Rub a platter with crushed garlic, then spoon on beets and sprinkle with fried capers.

Amy Scattergood's Bruleed Pumpkin Pie


Oooh, the frustration! It burns, it burns. Man! Here I was, absolutely inundated with beets, I mean, beets coming out of my ears, beets in the crisper, beets on the stove, beets in a Tupperware hidden in the office fridge, beets, beets, beets. My CSA had a glut of beets, you see. They actually called it the Year of the Beet. And so we ate a lot of beets. For most of September and October, we ate beets every time we had dinner at home. In November, I staged a little protest. I let those funky, rooty things hang out in the fridge for a while - our farmer told us the beets would store just fine in the crisper drawer and so I took her at her word. Bah. Tonight, I come home, armed with a new recipe for beets that was sure not only to taste delicious, but also be interesting enough to tell you all about (none of that toasted walnut/feta-or-is-it-blue-cheese/mint/been-there-done-that stuff), and furthermore, finally rid me of the last pound or two of beets ghosting about my fridge - and what happens? The beets went soft. Soft and wrinkly and totally grody-to-the-max, as my seven-year-old self would have told you. I stood in front of the fridge, stamped my foot, and threw the beets in the trash. So long, beets. 2007 is coming to a close anyway. May 2008 be the Year of the Something Else Entirely, please.

So, anyway, while I try to figure what else I can have for dinner tonight, I'll tell you about the pie I made for Thanksgiving. Yeah, yeah, I know - snooze. Who cares about Thanksgiving when there's Christmas to look forward to? (No roast goose for me this year as we're celebrating in Brussels - with oysters!) Well, some people, like the person I happen to share an apartment with, think that it's an abomination and a personal affront that pumpkin pie is associated with only one holiday a year. And you know, I actually tend to agree. Okay, so eating pumpkin pie would probably be strange in late June, when all you should be doing is eating soft, swollen, juicy fruit out of hand - but I don't really see why the third Thursday in November is the only Thursday in the year that really gets to own pumpkin pie.

And if you're making this pumpkin pie, the one that Amy Scattergood contributed to the LA Times's absolutely gorgeous Thanksgiving spread this year (color-coded - totally genius!), then I think you'll agree it could stand to be eaten on quite a few more Thursdays per year. And Fridays. And Saturdays, too.

First of all, the crust? A marvel. Amy credits it to Deborah Madison and I have to say it's absolutely wonderful. Faintly lemony and speckled with nutmeg, it's flaky as all get-out and a delight to eat.

Then the filling. First of all, you know that anything with Armagnac in it will turn out deliciously, don't you? You should. So that's a relief. Then, you can totally make this with canned pumpkin because that's, more relief, what the recipe calls for. (Though you should know, too, that it works out very well with freshly roasted and pureed pumpkin as well - which is what we, because we are apparently total over-achievers, did on Thanksgiving. Like there wasn't already enough stuff to do.) Thirdly, it has cardamom in it! Any pie (or bread or cookie or pudding, let's be frank) that has cardamom in it is destined to be a hit; it's simply written in the stars.

The only small (ish) problem is that you kind of have to plan ahead, like, make the pie the day before you're going to eat it, because it has to chill sufficiently before you can sprinkle sugar on top and brule it into glamly burnished perfection. We may roast our own squash for pie, but we do not plan ahead - at least not when we are at my father's house. But that's okay (yes! this pie rules), because if you are like us and can't make that happen, just add the final 1/4 cup of sugar, meant for the bruleed crust, to the filling and no one will ever know the difference. Your pie will be balanced and flavorful and delicious, with that softly yielding inside and that delicately crisp outside.

Oh, and one more thing: Do yourselves a favor when you make this, and be sure to have seconds. Because otherwise the pie will be gone in one fell swoop around the dinner table and there will be nothing - no cold slice in the morning for breakfast, or the next evening as a soothing dessert - left. But of course, that ends up making the very point I started with, that this pie shouldn't just be for that one night a year. So, buy two cans and plan ahead. Who cares that Thanksgiving's over? What are you doing this Thursday night?

Bruleed Pumpkin Pie
Serves 8

Pie crust
2 1/„4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (1 1/„2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1 egg, separated
Scant 1/„2 cup ice water

1. Place the flour, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest in a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes and add the cubes to the flour, pulsing 4 to 6 times to break up the butter.

2. Combine the vinegar and egg yolk in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to bring the volume up to one-half cup. Add the liquid in a steady stream to the food processor, while pulsing, until the flour looks crumbly and damp, 25 to 30 pulses. The crumbs should adhere when you gather them together with your fingers.

3. Turn the dough out and divide into two equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic wrap and press into a disk; refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Roll out one piece into a 12-inch circle, one-eighth-inch thick. Trim the edges flush with the rim of a 9-inch pie pan, place the dough circle into the pan and gently press the bottom and sides to fit. Roll out the other piece to a one-eighth-inch thickness and cut leaf shapes out of it. The leaves can be cut using a leaf-shaped cutter, or by hand using a stencil (ours was 1 inch by 3 inches) and paring knife. Using the back of a dinner knife, press a pattern into each leaf: Press one crease down the center, and 5 or so on each side of the crease. Mix a little water into the reserved egg white and, using a pastry brush, brush a little of the mixture around the edge of the pie crust. Press the leaves around the edge of the crust, overlapping them slightly and using the wash to adhere them, then brush the assembled crust with the wash. Freeze the pie crust for at least several hours and up to overnight.

Pumpkin pie filling and assembly
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons Armagnac
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup superfine sugar for bruleeing

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, cream, milk, eggs, egg yolk, Armagnac, light brown sugar, white pepper, cloves, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom until blended. Pour the mixture into the frozen pie shell and bake for 15 minutes, turning once for even browning. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake 25 to 30 minutes more, rotating again. Remove and let cool until room temperature. Chill overnight.

2. Just before serving, carefully fold strips of aluminum foil over the leaf-covered edges of the pie, being sure not to cover the custard. Scatter the superfine sugar evenly over the top of the pie and brulee under a hot broiler until the sugar caramelizes. (Or use a brulee torch if you have one.) Serve immediately.