Blood Orange Caramels

If you heard a giant thud last week or a heavy sigh sift through your window then chances are it was me. I apologize for the interruption. You see, I just managed to wrap up two cookbook projects within the same week, a feat that has surprised even the most doubting me. I suppose this is what happens when you work with amazing people. They will forever have your back.

One book involved sandwiches, and boy, do I mean sandwiches. The other was a lovely vegan cookbook from a woman that is sometimes known as one half of the skinny bitch empire. Although I know the B word is used solely as empowerment it’s not a word I’d use to describe her. Sweet, funny, gentle, hot, yea, those words, anything but bitch. And I really can’t wait for this book to hit the stands as the recipes were ridiculously delicious. More about that in a few months.

On the last day of the shoot my dear friend Cindie (who is also an amazing food stylist) brought candy to the shoot. I have the world’s smallest sweet tooth (you wouldn’t know this from things that I enjoy making) and I don’t usually freak out over sweets. However, Cindie told me that she whipped up this recipe for Blood Orange Caramels because she needed something to do with the oranges. And when my pal Cindie says she needs something to do it’s best if you create a clear path and step aside. An exquisite crafter, a notorious organizer, a brilliant designer and gifted knitter (her dog Peanut proudly wears monogrammed sweaters, thankyouverymuch), Cindie is destined to create. I love that about her. Anyway, these caramels. Oh my god, these caramels. Soft and chewy, the initial stickiness gives way to buttery and tart citrus flavors before ending with tiny salty fireworks once the crystals have had time to dissolve on your tongue. The whole shebang ends with a crunch of the toasted nuts, and before long you realize these caramels have sent you over the edge with very distinct flavors all working together harmoniously.  I saved a few to take home to Adam and it was nothing but torture.

It turns out the other half reacted the same way I did. You have one and then you want another. You keep thinking about that citrus tang combined with those heavy caramelly flavors. I could stand it no longer. I grabbed my phone and texted her (I even used some harsh language, I don’t like the “kill” metaphor but I was exhausted and feeling dramatic, fyi). And being as wonderful as she always is she said yes! Have I stepped over some unwritten blogging etiquette rule by re-blogging about something she just did? I’m sure of it!  But you’ll just have to forgive me because I love these candies, damnit!

Cindie’s Blood Orange Caramels with Toasted Almonds and Sea Salt
Could you use regular oranges? Perhaps. I wouldn’t. Blood oranges are very special and I’m quite fond of them. And they are in season right now. Cindie says if you prefer a tart candy you can cut the brown sugar in half. I happen to think they were just perfect as written.

3 cups blood orange juice, strained
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup toasted almonds
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper and set aside.

Place blood orange juice in a 4-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let boil until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup.

Remove from heat and stir in sugars, butter, and cream. Return to high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat to medium and let boil until a candy or deep fat thermometer reads 248 degrees F (or when a half teaspoon placed in a glass of icy cold water turns into a firm, chewy ball), about 17 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Scatter almonds on bottom of parchment paper. Pour caramel over almonds. Let sit until cool and firm, about 2 hours. Remove from baking dish and sprinkle salt flakes over top. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Thanks to Cindie and Denise over at Food Fanatics. You know I’m teaching another workshop with them at my studio in March, right? Make sure to click on over there if you’re interested.

Cheese Plate Tips (and a sneak peak inside my studio!)

Well hello there! When I posted my video teaser the other day I had no idea you folks would be so kind to me and as excited as I was about it. For this I say THANK YOU! I’m flattered beyond belief and hope to keep you entertained with this new little video project I’m launching.  In the next couple of weeks I’ll be working on some new segments in some pretty cool places and can’t wait to share with you.  In the meantime enjoy the first video about my one true love — cheese.  The idea came from the fact that I’m forever bringing cheese to parties, serving it to guests, and stuffing as much as I can down my mouth. I love cheese. I think I’ve already said that.  And when you watch it go easy on me, I’m just getting my bearings with being followed around by a big honkin’ video camera! I’m a little ruff around the edges but hey, at least I smell nice.

A special thanks to Dean & Deluca for letting me get excited about those condiments and also to Wayne, Mark and Greg!

New Column: Cookbook Reviews

As food lovers I bet we have this in common: cookbooks. Tons of cookbooks.  Stacks and stacks of cookbooks actually. That’s why I’m so excited to have my good friend Kristina Gill contributing regularly to Mattbites. She’ll be writing regularly about cookbooks here and she just might help me with my desperate case of cookbookitis. Thank you Kristina, I’m so glad to have you!

These cookbook reviews previously complemented my Friday column, In the Kitchen With at Design*Sponge.  We felt that the reviews would be a better fit for a place where people visit for the food (and the photography).

I should properly introduce myself–  I am Kristina.  I live in Italy, but am American.  By day, I work in the field of development, mostly food aid.  If you’ve ever met me, chances are I’ve told you how much I love my dog Crash! (that’s him in the photo, how adorable is he?–matt) and I’ve given you a 30-second elevator pitch on why you should support the UN World Food Programme (and probably told you a bunch of other things, too).  I have a photography portfolio here, I tweet here, can be found every Friday here, and am in the process of resurrecting my own website.

This week’s cookbook selections are a result of my current cravings.  When people hear that I live in Italy, they think “Foodie Paradise!”  Of course, it’s true.  The food in Italy is great– if all you’re in the mood for is Italian.  If you want any other type of food, you have to travel elsewhere, or learn to make it yourself.  That’s what I do (both options) all the time.  When I can’t travel, I cook.

Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen (TenSpeed Press 2009; photography by Penny De Los Santos).  This made all the buzz last year, including NPR’s Best of 2009 cookbook list for a reason.  Andrea has done a bang up job producing a collection of carefully tested recipes for all sorts of dumplings to fill every desire.  The recipes include steamed and fried dumplings, filled buns, spring rolls,  filled pastries, potato dumplings, sweet dumplings, dipping sauces, broths, doughs…everything!!  The instructions are clear, and while I am not so great at following diagrams to learn how to fold things (I use YouTube!), there are diagrams to illustrate the various folding techniques used in the book, and  of course Penny’s food photography is stellar.  If you ever have a craving for any sort of dumpling, this is your book.  Andrea was also nice enough to offer an exclusive vegan dumpling recipe for the In The Kitchen With column on Design*Sponge this Friday, Feb 5th,  breathtakingly photographed and styled by Matt and Adam C. Pearson.

Warm Bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra (Pavilion 2009; photography by Vanessa Courtier).  I have a sweet tooth.  In fact, I have 32 sweet teeth.  If left to my own devices, I’d eat cake for every meal.  And have been known to do so.  When I travel, I love to try the traditional cakes of the place I’m visiting. Gaitri has put together a fantastic collection of recipes for traditional breads and cakes from around the world.  When I was craving Lamingtons, guess what book I turned to.  Needed to use up some bananas…I opened this book, too.  Had a baklava query, turned to this book (there are three different recipes!).  This book presents international variations on fruit cakes, spice cakes, chocolate cakes, nut cakes, cheese cakes, coconut cakes, and so on.  It covers yeasted bread and all manner of flatbreads.  An Australian food blogger I follow on Twitter calls it her new cookbook crush.  I found cooking with this book to be a cinch, and it is definitely one of my happiest finds in 2009 for the variety of recipes and inclusion of every non-American cake recipe I have ever had a hankering for.  Photography is also quite nice.

My favourite ingredients by Skye Gyngell (Quadrille 2009; photography by Jason Lowe– will be released by Ten Speed Press later this month)  These days, I find that the pursuit of ‘good food’ can sometimes water down recipe collections.  This collection of recipes, based on the author’s favorite ingredients (the book’s chapters are by food type– e.g. leaves, citrus, pulses & grains, nuts, etc.), are really quite simple yet sophisticated.  This is really ‘adult’ food.  You will have to work to pull many of these together– the ingredients aren’t easy to come by in some cases, and the preparation a bit involved– but the end result will be so very satisfying.  For the winter, dishes like Ribollita with great strong cavolo nero (that’s kale isn’t it?), pickled pumpkin with burrata (or butternut squash), Clementines with Medjool dates, pomegranates and honeyed almonds (served with mascarpone), or blood oranges with warm honey and rosemary (and hot red pepper) make you want to stay inside.  But the book overall makes you want to find the time, space, and energy to have your own little garden so you can enjoy these full flavors.  This is a great book if you like to take your time in the kitchen and don’t mind shopping for specific ingredients to prepare a particular recipe.  Alternatively, this is a great book to inspire you to make adaptations with your own favourite ingredients.

Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes from the Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter publishers 2009; Photography by Con Poulos and others).  OH NO!  NOT ANOTHER CUPCAKE!  I know that’s what you’re all saying.  And if you’re like me, and you look at the $2.75 price tag of a cupcake in a shoppe or bakery and say “Hmph, I can make a dozen of those for $2.75” then THIS is exactly the book you need.  Martha and her editors have mad skills and need no introduction or explanation.  You know the recipes are -tight-.  You’ve got the decorating step-by-steps, the holiday variations (St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, Easter, etc.), and most importantly you’ve got the coconut cupcake recipe, which happens to be the best coconut cake in the world.  This whole book is worth it for that recipe alone.  What more can I say about a cupcake book?

(Matt’s notes: We all know how I feel about Martha, right folks? This book rules and I’m not just saying that because she’s been very good to me. It’s really a great book.)