Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chocolates, Three Ways

 Last year, as part of the Food 52 Secret Swap , I made ninjabread cookies, which were adorable (and I'm pretty sure my giftee liked them too). This year, in the interest of time, I decided to make chocolates instead.
Now, these were supposed to have been one box of simple caramel filled chocolates. I'd already made the first batch, and then my friend Tiffany came over. Tiffany makes her own caramels during the holiday season, and after scolding me for using storebought ("If you'd told me, I'd have made a fresh batch for you!") she took a look at what I'd done, saw all the leftover chocolate, and said, "Hey, I bet we can come up with a few more ideas. You've got some sea salt, right? And what about cayenne pepper?"

Three hours later, we had not only regular caramel chocolates, but chocolates with sea salt and cayenne spiced ones as well. After we packed them all up and tied the boxes together tower-style with a gold cord, I had to admit that it looked pretty elegant. And a heckuva lot more fancy than my one little white box.

The recipe itself is pretty simple. The hardest part is waiting for the chocolate shells to harden up before they're filled. But really, you can knock out a batch of these in an afternoon.

 Chocolate Caramel Chocolates

1 bag chocolate chips
1 bag soft caramels (individually wrapped)
1 candy mold
1 food grade paintbrush

Melt half of the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. To do this, put the chips in for 45 seconds to a minute. Pull them out and check. If the chips haven't started to melt, nuke them again for 15 seconds at a time, checking each time (don't burn them!) Once they start to melt, pull them out and stir like crazy until there are no longer any lumps.

When the chocolate is smooth, put a tablespoon in three of the mold indentations. Swirl the paintbrush around to cover the sides and bottom of the indentation. Do your best to cover as much as you can--remember, this is the shell for your caramel filling. Repeat with the rest of the indentations, and when you're finished, put the mold in the freezer for about 15 minutes or until the chocolate is solid.

As the chocolate is setting, start unwrapping your caramels. Depending on the size of your mold, you may need one half to one whole caramel. Roll each caramel into a ball. Set them aside.

Once the chocolate is set, pull the mold out of the freezer. Take a ball of caramel and firmly (but not too hard!) push it into the indentation so that it spreads out into the shell. You don't want the caramel to go over the edge of the chocolate--preferably, it'll stop just before that edge. When all the indentations are filled, take the leftover melted chocolate (you may have to reheat it) and spoon it over the caramel and the indentation. Smooth it out with an offset spatula (if you have one) or the back of a butter knife (if you don't), and put it back in the freezer to set for another 15 minutes.

When the chocolate has set again, pull the mold out of the freezer and gently twist or push to remove the chocolates. Arrange stylishly or eat them all!

Sea Salt Chocolates

Melt the original half of the chocolate chips with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of whipping cream, stir like crazy, sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt, then set aside to cool.  Use this instead of the caramel. When the chocolates are completed and out of the mold, put them on a plate and nuke them for 5-10 seconds to soften up the top, then sprinkle them with another pinch of sea salt.

Cayenne Pepper Chocolates
Follow the instructions for the sea salt chocolates, but add a pinch of cayenne instead of salt. For the top, sprinkle with red crystals if you've got them, or even a flake or two of red pepper.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Crab Feast!

For the last couple of years, my friend and I have gone to Half Moon Beach's Pillar Point Harbor to get crab at the beginning of the season. This year, we called ahead and reserved crab from the Cricket crab boat . As usual, not only did we plan on making crab rolls, but we put together a pumpkin soup too. I couldn't find my original recipes, so I had to create new ones. But with Google's help (and my friend's expert cleaning and cracking skills), we came up with a really, really tasty dinner.

Here's a few helpful hints for making these rolls:
  • Line your crab cleaning station with old towels, newspapers, anything to soak up all the liquid. And there WILL be liquid, even after baking. Personally, I prefer a large bowl or pan. After all, why waste good potential crab stock?
  • To kill your crabs as humanely as possible, I recommend putting them to sleep first. We pack our crabs in ice the moment we get them, and then cook them as soon as we take them out. If ice isn't possible, keep them as cool and wet as you can, and put them in the freezer for about 15 minutes before you cook them.  If you can't freeze them, split the head in half, placing the tip of the knife between the eyes and pushing down hard.
  • If you don't live in New England and you can't get your hands on Pepperidge Farm Top Sliced Hot Dog Buns (often used to make lobster rolls on the East Coast), find a Fuddrucker's and buy some of their hot dog buns (yes, they will sell them to you straight off the cooling rack). They make a darn good substitute.   
  • What do you do if your partner is allergic to crab or other shellfish? Swap out the crab for another meat, like shrimp, fish or chicken, or even surimi, a.k.a. fake crab. (Beef or other red meats may not work as well for this recipe.)  You can also make the sauce as spicy or tame as you wish--my husband's version got an extra dollop of red pepper flakes, as well as some chili sauce.
If anyone is interested, I'll post the pumpkin soup recipe. But however you make it, enjoy!
New England Style Crab Rolls

  • 2 2 lb crabs
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  •  1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 top-split hot dog buns 
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, put a wire rack on a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet. Set this aside. Place a steamer insert (or a loosely crumpled "snake" of aluminum foil) in the bottom of a large lidded stock pot and add 1 inch of water. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Open the pot, put the two crabs in as quickly as possible and cover pot. Let steam for exactly two minutes, then transfer to rack set in baking sheet.Bake them for 15-20 minutes.

While the crab is baking, make the crab roll sauce. Combine the mayonnaise, celery seed, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix well. For a bit of spice, add red pepper flakes, sriracha sauce, or even chili sauce. Set aside. 

Once the crabs are cooked, let them cool off enough to handle, pull off the top shell and pull the body apart. Check the meat and be sure it's a solid white, as opposed to translucent--if it's not white, put it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Once you're sure the meat is done, continue the process of  cleaning the crab.

Once the crab is cleaned, combine the meat with the sauce. Set the filling aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat. When it starts to foam, place the rolls into the pan on one side. When that side is golden brown (make sure to check every few seconds--it goes fast!) flip it over and do the other side.

Put the toasted buns on a plate and fill them with the crab filling. Stuff your face!