What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Zebra Almond Bark! Isn’t it funny how things get their name? Almond Bark doesn’t even contain nuts. Seriously. I guess, technically, there is a popular candy coating people believe is white chocolate, but isn’t. It’s made with vegetable oil and often artificial flavors. It was used originally to be melted into chopped almonds to make Christmas candy that people went crazy over. So, although I borrowed the name “almond bark”, I actually preferred to use white chocolate chips instead. The ingredient list mentioned cocoa butter and natural extracts, which sounded more appealing and taste better, in my opinion. Whatever you choose, we’ll still refer to it as “almond bark”.
ZEBRA ALMOND BARK
2 cups premiere white chocolate morsels
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat white chocolate morsels on High for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave at 30-second intervals until morsels are melted and consistency is smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Spread thin. In another microwave-safe bowl, melt mini chocolate chips the same way, stirring until no lumps remain. To form “zebra” stripes, drop tiny spoonfuls of dark chocolate into the white chocolate. Take a cake tester and create a swirl pattern by dragging the dark chocolate outward into stripes. The more random the design, the prettier it looks. Place baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes to set. Remove pan and break Zebra Almond Bark apart into pieces. Store candy at room temperature.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Traditional English Toffee! So often we have those cherished childhood memories of homemade candy and cookies that accompanied holiday celebrations. They stick with us for life. I can remember being in eighth grade and determined to replicate a batch of my mother’s English Toffee. I waited for her to go into town and then pulled out her secret recipe. You know, the ones scratched on a 3.5”x5” card. More often than not, they showed a list of ingredients with instructions that simply said, “Bake at 350° for 30 minutes”. Let’s face it, that’s pretty vague compared to what we explain nowadays. As you can imagine, I melted the butter along with the brown sugar and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. So how come it wasn’t turning into this crisp crunchy texture of rich golden butter that fueled my addiction? What could I possibly be doing wrong? There was nothing written on the card to correct this runny, gooey mess. Alas, I scraped it all into the trash, washed the pan, and plopped myself at the kitchen table with my Algebra book. She walked in, smiled, and never said a word.
TRADITIONAL ENGLISH TOFFEE
1 cup pecans, chopped
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Butter a baking sheet. Spread pecans in a single layer in the center. Heat butter and brown sugar to boiling in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over Medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. Immediately spread mixture over pecans on baking sheet. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture. Place a cookie sheet over pan until chocolate chips are melted. Spread melted chocolate over candy. Refrigerate until firm. Break toffee into pieces.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Ole Smoky Cherry Drops! For those who think this is a strange name for something sweet, allow me to explain. The Great Smoky Mountains form one of the most beautiful mountain ranges along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Nestled in “The Holler” is a distillery made famous by its 100-year-old recipe base for signature flavors of moonshine. Can you see where this is going? Stick with me. From the fermenting grains of the moonshine stills come the most extraordinary combinations you can ever imagine. Bottled in quart jars are what appear to be a dozen or more moonshine variations that go by names like Apple Pie, Hunch Punch, Blue Flame, Lemon Drop, Dill Pickles, and Moonshine Cherries. Since I found a jar in my pantry, I thought going into the holidays, this might present an interesting dessert opportunity. It definitely passed the “flame test” in my house.
OLE SMOKY CHERRY DROPS
1 quart jar Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries*
12-ounce bag white chocolate chips
4.6-ounce jar rainbow sprinkles
5.2-ounce jar sanding sugar
14-ounce bag sweetened coconut flakes
Several steps are necessary to prepare your workspace. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove maraschino cherries from jar. Reserve moonshine for another use. Gently pat dry each cherry and set aside. This is important before coating them in white chocolate. Place each topping (rainbow sprinkles, sanding sugar, and coconut flakes) in a separate dish. Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. To melt white chocolate, place half a bag of chips in a microwave-proof bowl. Warm at 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval. Repeat until the white chocolate is smooth and no lumps remain. Working quickly, pierce a cherry with a cake tester. Coat it halfway in the white chocolate, then dip it in one of the toppings. Place decorated cherry on the waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all cherries are decorated. Chill to set. Two things: As the white chocolate cools, gently warm and stir. When it becomes necessary to use the remaining white chocolate chips, begin with a clean bowl. This will eliminate waste. Cherry Drops should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with party picks.
*I receive no recompense for mentioning Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Hibiscus Passion Tea Icing! If you ever get bored, take a stroll down the Tea Aisle at your nearby grocers. Choose from any assortment of gourmet blends; especially one containing full-leaf sachets. Read the label. In a few seconds, you will feel as though you have been transported to a magical land “bursting with life and tinged with the color of true love to make sure you never have to live a day without passion”.* And that’s only the beginning. Turn to the side panel for an invigorating adventure that awakens the senses as well as the imagination. After that when I decided to steep this delicacy to flavor buttercream icing, I knew it would be nothing short of fabulous. Perhaps you may think so, too.
HIBISCUS PASSION TEA ICING
2 1/2 tablespoons brewed hibiscus passion tea
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Garnish with loose tea leaves
Brew a cup of hibiscus passion tea, according to package directions. (Since you won’t need all of it, the reserve tea can be sipped over ice.) Refrigerate until slightly cool. In a medium bowl, cream together softened butter and powdered sugar. Add the hibiscus passion tea and almond extract. Stir until smooth. Spread a thin layer of icing over your favorite cake. I made a gluten-free chocolate cake.** Open a dry tea sachet and sprinkle the tea leaves over one side. When serving, place a dollop of extra icing on the side of the plate or on top of the cake. Either way, it will disappear, I promise you that.
*TAZO Passion Tea.
**For Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake, follow the link.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Bowlful of Cherries! Aren’t they lovely? Ripe cherries are an ideal snack, by the handful. For some, it’s so simple to remove the pit with your teeth. I knew a guy once who could tie the cherry stem into a bow. (I think he did it to impress his wife.) Ripe cherries pair well with Goat cheese, Camembert cheese, or Bleu cheese garnished with a sprig of thyme, basil, or mint. Their ruby-red color is as appealing as their natural sweetness. The possibilities are endless. Add chocolate pieces for a dessert charcuterie board if you like a relaxed atmosphere at the end of a meal. Whatever you choose, get a pound of cherries before they’re gone. And don’t forget a nice bottle of Chardonnay.
BOWLFUL OF CHERRIES
1 pound ripe cherries, stems on
1/2 pound cheese of choice
Dark Chocolate candies
Fill a small bowl with sweet cherries. Set aside. Make available a plate of pitted cherries. To pit a cherry, place the fruit on a cutting board. Using a sharp paring knife, press down gently on one side of the stem. Firmly slice an incision from top to bottom until the cherry loosens the pit. Do not crush the cherry. Gently pull on either side to expose the pit. Remove it with your fingernail. One side will have the stem, the other will not. Provide colorful toothpicks for piercing.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Xenial Chunky Monkey Banana Muffins! Nix the flour for old-fashioned oats for a healthier version of an old classic. Did you know oats can lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar control? It’s a fact we’re all getting older and from time to time need to make minor adjustments in our food consumption. I’m all for small plates. Portion sizes have become insane! When did it happen? As a collector of vintage dishes, modern day dinner plates are now the size of grandma’s meat platter. Did you know “in Europe, the average plate measures 9 inches while some American restaurants use plates that are around 13 inches in diameter. Research has shown that by switching to a 10-inch plate from a 12-inch plate you eat 22% less.”* Snack healthier.
XENIAL CHUNKY MONKEY BANANA MUFFINS
1/2 cup shredded coconut
3 ripe bananas, mashed
3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, whisked
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick oil. Spread shredded coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 2-3 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine bananas, old-fashioned oats, cinnamon, milk, eggs, brown sugar, vegetable oil, baking powder, vanilla extract, and sea salt. Mix well. Fold in chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, and toasted coconut. Scoop mixture into 12 muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake 30-35 minutes, until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from muffin tin. Serve warm.
*How Big Are Your Dinner Plates And Why It Matters, by Penny Klatell, PhD, RN, May 2012. Eatouteatwell.com
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream! Years ago my best friend was a specialty brand of Turkish coffee ice cream. I was working two jobs, averaging mostly 70-hour work weeks, seven days nonstop to support myself, and help my kids through college. I also admit I was hiding out from “Life”. Many evenings I’d come home, crash on the sofa, and open a pint of the creamiest concoction laced with butterscotch topping I’d ever tasted. It was bliss. Since then, the company stopped making it in favor of more popular flavors like banana chocolate chunk and coconut almond chip. Seriously? Oh well, that left me with no recourse but to make it myself. Between you and me…I think I knocked it out of the park!
NO-CHURN COFFEE ICE CREAM
2 1/2 tablespoons espresso instant coffee
2 tablespoons warm water
2 cups heavy cream
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup dark chocolate covered espresso beans, chopped
Butterscotch Ice Cream Topping
In a small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in warm water. Stir well. Set aside. Using a stand mixer, beat the heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla extract on High speed for 4 minutes until smooth and thick. Reduce speed to Low. Add the prepared coffee; continue until blended. Fold in chopped espresso beans. Spoon ice cream into a loaf pan. Cover tightly and freeze overnight. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with espresso before serving. Drizzle with butterscotch topping, to taste.
*The secret to my success was chilling the utensils overnight in the freezer and making sure all the ingredients were refrigerator cold.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Killer Skillet S’Mores! You were probably wondering if I’d ever get around to satisfying your sweet tooth. Look no further than your favorite fire pit companion: sticky chocolaty marshmallow s’mores. Bring out the inner child who remembers camping trips with family members when you’d circled a crackling fire, balancing a roasting stick on your knee. Not too close to the flames or you’d end up with a charred gooey mess. Then again, those marshmallows were ones you got to gobble down before skewering another one. Fast-forward to the Present where you can recreate that same incredible taste in an iron skillet.
KILLER SKILLET S’MORES
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup chocolate chips, divided
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 graham cracker, broken into chunks
1 milk chocolate bar, broken into pieces
8 large marshmallows, cut in half
Preheat oven to 375°. Combine melted butter, sugar, brown sugar, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Beat mixture for 30 seconds. Let rest 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times. In another bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Slowly add the butter mixture. Fold in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of mini marshmallows. Press mixture into the bottom of a 10” iron skillet. Top with remaining chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, graham cracker chunks, and chocolate bar pieces. Bake 18-20 minutes. Remove hot skillet and carefully arrange the large marshmallows around the edge of the cookie. Return pan to the oven and continue baking until the marshmallows turn golden brown. Remove from oven and allow cookie to cool 15 minutes before serving.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Frangelico Fudge Topping! It may have been awhile, but the smooth taste of Frangelico Italian liqueur is not forgotten. Need I remind you it has the same hints of chocolate and toasted hazelnut you practically eat out of a jar? Think Nutella, silly. If it were a cocktail, it would go by this name, with an added punch of alcohol. And since we’re talking dessert, let’s move on to this amazing fudge topping that works on anything from ice cream to waffles. Now I’ve got your attention.
FRANGELICO FUDGE TOPPING
1 cup butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 cups sugar
12-ounces evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
Combine butter, cocoa powder, sugar, and evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil for 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Add vanilla extract and Frangelico liqueur. Stir well. Serve immediately over desserts or waffles. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator.