They say that nothing good happens after midnight. It’s “the witching hour,” according to the Roomz. I guess I’m just going to take a risk, though, and write my TENTH POST(!) in the wee small hours of the night. I’ll wait to post it till mid-Saturday, for your viewing convenience.I’m two weeks into the grad school spiral into madness; it starts with the first question one of my students asks about the requirements for the final portfolio, and ends after I have cried over my laptop the day my last term paper is due.
I won’t bore you with the details of the grad school spiral, but let’s just say that multiple times this week, I have had cough drops for dinner. You’re welcome, Ricola.
Luckily for us, the more stressed I am, the more I cook, even if everything I make is small in ambition and high in starch. This week, I tested a couple recipes from Deb at smitten kitchen, that, once again, were perfect–most notably, apple cider salted caramels! (GIMME THE CARMS). And I made a lot of indulgent dinners that I can pass off to you as “holiday side dishes,” such as this side of root vegetables. In order, then, shall we?
The caramels are… okay, wait. How do you pronounce this word? Where I’m from, it’s a two-syllable affair, as in “karmles.” Up here in the North, it’s more like “kerruhmells.” You be the judges, I guess.
Anyway, these caramels are super apple-y. To make them, you reduce apple cider (the unfiltered, unpasteurized juice from whole, pressed apples–not the hot, spiced drink) and add butter, cream, and salt. Deb used cinnamon, but I’m kind of cinnamon-ed out. These taste so strongly of apples that you have to be thinking about apples when you first taste them, or you’ll just be wondering why your caramel is so tart. After two or three bites that result in a “hmm,” you just start emitting a low moan and putting as many of these down your gullet as possible. They’re so worth the effort. Plus, you don’t even really need the candy thermometer or any sixth sense about candy. I was able to drop the caramel into icy water to test its doneness.
Now on to the starches. These Balsamic Root Vegetables will work well as a side and are great leftover in the morning with breakfast. The vinegar caramelizes a bit and they are so tasty.
There’s something I haven’t been telling you. Often, after I have taken a photo of a dish I’ve made, I go back and add shameful ingredients before I eat it, like ½ cup of grated parmesan, or 3 T of olive oil drizzle, or even a chunk of butter. Sometimes, I just double my portion size until my soup bowl is an overflowing swimming pool. Basically, I do this because it tastes great without the pile of cholesterol I add, but mostly because the stuff I add is embarrassing and usually not appetizing to anyone but me. One day, I’ll tell you about the cottage cheese snack of 2009, but only after I’ve gained your trust.
Anyway, I did that in this instance. When I made these root veggies, I did that in a big way, with two extra large scrambled eggs piled on top of the assembly.
Apple Cider Salted Caramels
Adapted almost exactly from smitten kitchen (The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
4 cups apple cider
8 T butter (I know it’s wrong, but I always use salted, even when I have unsalted…)
1 cup sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
⅓ cup heavy cream
Neutral (as in, has no taste) oil for the knife
1. Boil the apple cider in a big pot, Deb says 3- to 4-quart saucepan, on high until it is reduced to only ⅓ or ½ cup. Mine was syrupy, with bits of apple-y sediment. Stir sporadically (I mean occasionally, but I’m trying to change the words here)
2. While that’s going on, use two pieces of wax paper going different directions (one horizontally, the other vertically) across a baking dish. Deb says to use a square 8 x 8 inch baking pan, but I used 9 x 7, and it was just fine. The point here is that must have sides (duh), and can’t be too big, or you will have papery sheets of caramel. Also, a note to the common sensically challenged–make sure the waxy side of the wax paper is up…or, like me, you will spend 30 minutes delicately peeling bits of wax paper off of your sheet of caramels. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
3. Similarly, get other ingredients measured out and ready, but keep the salt separate.
4. When cider is reduced, remove from heat and mix in butter, both sugars, and cream. Return to heat on medium-high. Here, if you have a candy thermometer, by all means, use it. Deb says to boil until it reaches 252 degrees. I didn’t have a thermometer, so I boiled about 5-6 minutes until the caramel formed a ball when I dropped it into a little bowl of icy water. You should be able to roll it into a ball between your fingers, and it should be “firm and chewy,” as in, edible, I think. Watch carefully! But don’t panic.
5. When you’re at 252, or what I like to call, “pliable ball stage,” pour it out over your wax paper-covered pan. Let it sit for ages, like, at least two hours, until it’s solidified. I put in the fridge to speed things, but really, the longer you wait, the easier it is to cut. (Just eat it with a spoon. Kidding.)
6. When you are ready to slice it up, pick up the wax paper sling and transfer caramels to a cutting board. Oil up your knife (I just soaked a paper towel in oil and wiped it across the knife after each cut). Then slice em up! Wrap them in wax paper (again–use the right side, fools) and store them in the fridge.
Note: I got annoyed at the slicing stage and after slicing and wrapping half of them, I rolled all the rest of the caramel into a ball and stored in the fridge. Then I rolled it out the next day and sliced again. What I mean is, don’t panic if the things don’t go perfectly at first. Just put it in the fridge and come back to it when you’ve regained sanity. Or, you know, melt it and mix it into ice cream. (Gasp! I said it.)
Balsamic Sweet Potatoes & Beets
Serves 4 as a side dish, can easily be doubled for a smorgasbord
2 medium golden beets, chopped in uniform sizes, about ¾-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, chopped in uniform sizes, about ¾-inch cubes
1 leek (chop it vertically, then wash out the layers, then chop it ½-inch wide slices)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 Tablespoons oilve oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 375.
1. Prepare ingredients.
2. Beets take longer to cook, so toss them 1 T of the olive oil and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Remove beets from pan and toss them in a bowl with remaining ingredients. Transfer all back to the sheet pan, then cook for approximately 25-30 minutes. Scrape off the bottom of the sheet pan once, halfway through cooking. I usually raise the heat to 400 for the last 5-10 minutes for extra crisping.
Serve immediately! If you’re not actually making this as a side dish, just cover it with parmesan and an egg in any form and pretend you’re being healthy.
Also, listen to Van Morrison!