Ravenous Fig

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Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

[caption id="attachment_549" align="aligncenter" width="545" caption="The caramel stuck to the pan in only one place, which produced this lovely work of art."][/caption]

One of the things I'm beginning to love about the holidays is the freedom to unapologetically retreat for hours at a time to the kitchen. Today I'm preparing a rich vegetable stock with roasted vegetables and dry red wine. Tomorrow I'll use that stock for a hearty vegetarian shepherd's pie to take to a friend's house for dinner. Yesterday, though… Yesterday was a great day for caramels. Cold, rainy, and cloudy — really, what else is there do on a day like that? Cue favorite Good Will Hunting quote:

Maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

I've made caramel before, but never with any success. It has always been a miserable fruitless endeavor that ended in a sticky mess of liquid brown stuff. Sure, it tasted alright, but it didn't look like the pictures! (And that matters, okay?)

Yesterday I gave it another go. Vance's family has a long history of making Christmas cookies and candies together. In an attempt to find some sweets we'd both enjoy to continue that tradition, I landed on a recipe for caramels. I pulled out all the stops — got out the biggest pot, the best quality local and organic ingredients, and (the key tool I was always missing in the past) a candy thermometer. I also set aside the whole afternoon, as everything I'd read told me it would take two hours of continuous stirring to get it right.

Miraculously, I ended up spending "only" one hour stirring, 15 minutes of which was taken care of by the wonderful husband. Caramels truly are a labor of love. The more love you put into them, the better they'll taste.

Finished Caramels

I'll give you one piece of advice about making caramels: Do it in the largest, heaviest pot you can find. You want a pot that heats evenly and holds more than three times the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. At its highest boil, your pot will most assuredly overflow if you pick a pot that holds any less (speaking from experience). Okay, here's another piece of advice (free of charge!): don't ever walk away from the pot. Grab a stool, turn on some Cooking Channel, and keep on stirring.

Homemade Caramels with French Grey Sea Salt

This recipe is adapted from one originally found in The Atlantic magazine.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup organic unsalted butter
  • 4 cups organic unbleached sugar
  • 2 cups corn syrup
  • 4 cups organic whole milk
  • 1 cup organic cream
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • French Grey Sea Salt (or visit the Spice and Tea Exchange for another salt of your choosing)

You'll also need a candy thermometer, a huge pot, and waxed paper. Also recommended: a stool to sit on while you stir.

Preparation

Begin melting the butter in your largest pot over

Great Fall Appetizer: Endive with Gorgonzola, Pear, and Walnuts

[caption id="attachment_510" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Photo: Jana Quigley"][/caption]

I've been working on a cookbook for the past week or so. Don't get too excited; this is just a family cookbook. But I think it's going to be the start of another great tradition for us.

Some of the recipes you've seen on this blog are in there; Shakshuka and the Cape Cod Chopped Salad to name a couple. Today's recipe is also in there. It features an ingredient that the Publix cashiers inevitably look upon in fear an dismay; they almost never know the code for Belgian Endive by heart. (Or, that the strange, tiny lettuce bunch looking things are even called Belgian Endive).

Belgian endive (also known as chicory or French endive or witloof) is a small head of bitter leaves. The heads are kept completely covered as they grow, preventing the leaves from turning green. (Hint: the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the endive). It's a distant cousin of frisee, which I have a personal distaste for, unless it's covered in bacon vinaigrette.

DSC_0152

The benefit of a bitter leaf like Belgian endive is that it can stand up to the bite of a pungent cheese (like the gorgonzola dolce I use here). Paired with sweet and mild pears and toasted walnuts, it makes a perfect beginning to a classy dinner party.

I first served this at the Friday Night Supper Club with the ladies, one of whom shot the wonderful photos you see in this post (thanks Jana!). We just had to serve it again at our annual Thanksgiving dinner — and it was so well-received I think we'll be bringing it back whenever we can get our hands on some fresh Belgian endive.

Endive with Gorgonzola, Pear, and Walnuts

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Holiday Entertaining cookbook. Serves 8.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 4 firm but ripe pears such as Bosc
  • 6 oz gorgonzola cheese at room temperature

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 10-12 minutes. Pour onto a plate and let cool, then chop coarsely.

Separate the leaves of the endives. Choose about 40 of the pale ivory to light green inner leaves (reserve the others for another use).

Halve and core the pears, then finely chop. Spread a teaspoonful of the cheese on the base of each endive leaf. Top with a little pear, and a few nuts. Serve at once.

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