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Archive for 2013

RECIPE: Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

We couldn’t close out the year without a batch of buttery shortbread. This recipe, from Spice Islands, adds creamy caramel, a dark chocolate ganache icing and a sprinkle of sea salt.

The recipe includes cashews. You can substitute another favorite nut (macadamias, pecans, pistachios, walnuts) or omit the nuts entirely.

National Chocolate Caramel Day is March 18th. For another yummy recipe, check out this Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownie Recipe.



For The Shortbread

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped, salted cashews

    Shortbread topped with caramel, chocolate and sea salt. Photo courtesy Spice Islands.

    For The Caramel

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces
  • 1/3 cup Karo light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grind (you can substitute table salt)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    For The Ganache

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

    1. PREHEAT oven to 325°F. Line a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with aluminum foil leaving overhang on 2 sides. Lightly grease the foil on the sides of the pan.

    2. MAKE shortbread crust: Mix butter and sugar until well blended in a bowl. Stir in flour and cashews until a stiff dough forms. Press dough evenly onto bottom of foil lined pan. Prick the dough using the tines of a fork. Bake shortbread 20 to 23 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and place on wire rack.

    3. MAKE caramel: Stir brown sugar, cream, butter and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until mixture begins to bubble. Stir in salt and mix well. Continue to cook at a full boil without stirring for about 8 to 10 minutes until candy reaches 240°F. Stir in vanilla. Pour caramel over shortbread crust. Cool completely, about 2 hours.

    4. HEAT cream and chocolate in microwave on HIGH (100% power), stirring every 15 seconds until chocolate is melted, about 30 to 45 seconds. Evenly spread Ganache over caramel layer. Top with coarse sea salt. Place in refrigerator 10 minutes or just until chocolate is set. Cut into bars.
    Find more of our favorite cookie recipes.

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    RECIPE: Thai Shrimp Appetizer

    Shrimp wrapped in pretty puff pastry. Photo
    and recipe courtesy Campbell’s.


    We’ve been playing around with puff pastry this week, and are making these Thai Shrimp Spirals to go with the Champagne tonight. Marinated shrimp wrapped in tender puff pastry and served on skewers with a dip, they’re a fun and tasty food.

    Prep time 30 minutes; total time 1 hour 40 minutes, which includes 40 minutes of thawing time. Suggested serving size: 2 pieces.


    Ingredients For 20 Pieces

  • 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 two-inch piece ginger root, peeled and minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 20 fresh or thawed frozen large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
  • 5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet), thawed
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

  • 20 six-inch wood or metal skewers (presoak wood skewers)

    1. GRATE 2 teaspoons zest and squeeze about 1/4 cup juice from the limes. Stir the zest, juice, cilantro, garlic and ginger in a small bowl.

    2. PLACE the shrimp into a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce and half the lime mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Reserve the remaining lime mixture for the dipping sauce.

    3. HEAT the oven to 400°F. Beat the egg and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl with a fork.

    4. SPRINKLE the flour on the work surface. Unfold the pastry sheet on the work surface and roll into a 10-inch square. Cut into 20 strips, about 1/2-inch wide.

    5. SKEWER each shrimp with a wooden skewer. Starting at the top, wrap 1 pastry strip around each shrimp, slightly overlapping the pastry and ending just before the tail.

    6. PLACE the skewered pastries onto 2 baking sheets. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Let the pastries cool on the baking sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes.

    7. BEAT the reserved lime mixture, remaining soy sauce and water, the honey and sesame oil in a small bowl with a fork or whisk. Serve with the pastries for dipping.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Cocktails

    The easy way out is to uncork the Champagne, pour and serve. The fun way is to offer a menu of Champagne cocktails.

    When it comes to New Year’s Eve cocktails, we have a favorite: Champagne or other bubbly mixed with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, a French import made by a family-owned Parisian company. At about $30 a bottle, it’s one of our favorite gifts to fellow foodies.

    While “elderflower liqueur” may sound like something from another century (and it is), it is exquisite to modern palates. It has a gorgeous lychee aroma aroma with flavor notes of grapefruit, orange, pear and peach. It’s simply luscious by itself or mixed with white wine, including any white sparkling wine. Here’s our review.


    The classic Champagne cocktail. Photo courtesy Chambre de Sucre.


    St. Germain liqueur: a perfect pairing with
    Champagne and other bubbly. Photo
    courtesy St. Germain | Paris.



  • Classic Champagne Cocktail: Sprinkle a few drops of bitters onto a sugar cube; let them soak in. Drop the cube into a flute with a splash of Cognac. Top with Champagne.
  • Ginger Champagne Cocktail: Add ginger liqueur to a Champagne glass, top with Champagne and garnish with a piece of crystallized ginger.
  • Grapefruit Mimosa: The classic Mimosa with orange juice is too much of a brunch standard to be special for New Year’s Eve. But a Grapefruit Mimosa isn’t something you come across often. Here’s a recipe; garnish with candied grapefruit peel.
  • Kir Royale: A Kir Royale mixes sparkling wine with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). Add the liqueur to a Champagne glass and then pour the wine down the side. Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) is equally delicious (just don’t call it a Kir Royale). Optional garnish: a fresh blackberry.
  • Champagne Lemon Drop: Make lemon simple syrup by stirring equal parts of sugar and water over medium heat until dissolved. Juice three lemons; cut the peel into garnishes. Combine champagne, 1/2 to 1 ounce vodka, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each simple syrup and lemon juice; garnish with peel.


    Champagne punch is another special way to usher in the New Year. The trick is to keep the ingredients as cold as possible before mixing the punch, so you don’t need to use a lot of ice, which dilutes it.

    This recipe is from the Hyatt Regency New Orleans: It combines our favorite Champagne-St. Germain cocktail with a vodka kick. It’s called “garden” Champagne punch because of the aromatic herbs used as garnish. It’s lovely at any time of year and the pretty herb garnish is an eye-opener.


    Ingredients For Pitcher Or Punch Bowl

  • 9 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • 2 ounces simple syrup (recipe)
  • 1 bottle chilled Champagne or sparkling wine
  • 3-1/2 ounces fresh squeezed lime juice
  • Garnish: basil, cilantro, cucumber, mint, rosemary, thyme

  • Punch bowl or pitcher
  • Ice cubes*

    1. COMBINE vodka, St. Germain, simple syrup and lime juice in a punch bowl or pitcher combine. Chill until ready to use. Prior to serving…

    2. ADD Champagne to the mixture and pour over ice; garnish and serve.

    If you can’t get a bottle of St. Germain, substitute orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.) or other fruit liqueur, and add some orange slices or other corresponding fruit to the herb garnish.

    If you have lychee liqueur, use that with a garnish of herbs, oranges and lychees (available canned in the Asian foods aisle; fresh lychees are in season from spring through early fall).

    *The larger the ice cubes the slower they melt. One option is to freeze a block of ice in a small loaf pan or other container. You can add fruit and/or herbs to decorate the ice.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Champagne Recorker (Resealer)

    We have been using this indispensable gadget since it first came onto the market, back in our college days. Yet, when we use it in front of guests, most look on with amazement—they’ve never seen a Champagne recorker before.

    So today’s tip is: Get one for anyone who enjoys a bottle of bubbly. They’re less than $10 in chrome, and we received a plastic version freebie from Yellow Tail that works just as well.

    And for the price, it’s painless to include one when you give a gift of Champagne. Or give them as wedding or anniversary party favors.

    A Champagne recorker (also called a resealer) creates a tight seal at the mouth of the bottle, so the bubbles stay in. A rubber “cork” under the chrome cap fits the mouth of the bottle, and two “wings” clamp down to create the seal.

    It works like a dream, and makes us wonder why it wasn’t created centuries before. (Champagne has been around since the early 1700s, and rubber has been manufactured since around 1820.) We use it:


    A champagne recorker keeps it sparkling. This one is available from the Wine Enthusiast. Photo courtesy The Wine Enthusiast.

  • To keep the fizz in the bottle in-between pourings.
  • If we want just a glass or two but not the whole bottle.
  • If we need just a cup or so for a recipe.
  • If we have “leftovers” at the end of the evening.
    You can buy a Champagne recorker wherever kitchen gadgets are sold; online; and depending on your state of residence, in the store where you purchase the bubbly.

    The Champagne recorker keeps the wine fizzy for several days. The fuller the bottle, the fizzier it stays (i.e., if there’s only an inch or two of wine at the bottom of the bottle, there’s a lot of air into which the effervescence can evaporate). We just finished a bottle that was opened six weeks ago to taste just half a glass—and it was “like new.”


    According to Wikipedia, the Champenois (residents of the Champagne region) and other French who bought the wine drank it as a still wine (it’s made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes). Bubbles were considered a defect. They are the result of a secondary a fermentation process which takes place in the bottle, as yeast devour the grape sugar and create carbon dioxide.

    But the British—major customers for the wines of France—developed a taste for the unique bubbly wine, and the sparkling version of Champagne continued to grow in popularity, especially among the wealthy and royal (as opposed to the locals). More Champenois wine makers attempted to make their wines sparkle deliberately, but didn’t know enough about how to control the process or how to make wine bottles strong enough to withstand the pressure.

    In the 19th century these obstacles were overcome. Advances by the house of Veuve Clicquot in the development of the méthode champenoise made production of sparkling wine profitable on a large scale, and the modern Champagne wine industry was born. The house of Bollinger was established in 1829, Krug was in 1843 and Pommery in 1858.
    Do you know the different types of Champagne?


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    RECIPE: Mini Champagne Cupcakes

    Mini champagne cupcakes. Photo courtesy
    Golden Blossom Honey.


    If you celebrate the New Year with champagne or other bubbly, how about some champagne mini cupcake to take a sweet bite of the new year?

    This recipe is from Golden Blossom Honey, a fourth generation family company whose honey is 100% American-made (not cheap Chinese imports). Their signature proprietary blend combines honey from three different flowers: clover, orange blossom and sage buckwheat*.


    Ingredients For 72-74 Mini Cupcakes

    For The Cupcakes

  • 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 orange juice
  • 3/4 cup champagne
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest

    For The Frosting

  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 3 tablespoons champagne
  • 6 tablespoons pulp free orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • Garnish: gold or silver sanding sugar, edible glitter (especially these gold stars and silver stars), gold or silver dragées

  • Mini cupcake/muffin tin and papers


    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl mix flour, baking powder and salt.

    2. BEAT butter in a separate bowl on medium speed; gradually add sugar. Add eggs one at a time, then add honey, orange juice and champagne. Gradually add the mixed dry ingredients. Once combined, fold in orange zest.


    Delicious bubbly for less than $10 a bottle. Photo courtesy Martini & Rossi.


    3. LINE mini-cupcake tins with paper cups and pour batter evenly into each. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

    4. MAKE the frosting. In a large bowl whip powdered sugar, butter, champagne, orange juice, and orange zest on medium speed. Spread onto cupcakes and sprinkle with colored sugar, edible glitter or dragées.


    You can use any champagne you like. The champagne is more of a “romantic” ingredient in the recipe; the cupcakes won’t taste like Dom Perignon (about $200), Roderer Cristal (about $250) or even the “bargain”-priced Veuve Clicquot Non Vintage Brut Yellow Label (about $45).

    A $20 bottle will do, and a sparkling wine that isn’t from France will do. We enjoy two California sparklers made by great French champagne houses: Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley and Mumm Napa Brut Prestige both about $20. Yellow Tail Rosé from Australia is just $8 and and Martini Asti Rosé from Italy is about $15 (and you can find it in splits); they work great in this recipe.

    *Varietal honey comes from the particular flower named on the label: alfalfa, clover, orange blossom, etc. We know buckwheat honey and sage honey, from two different plants; but we’d never heard of a combined “buckwheat sage honey.” So we wrote to the National Honey Board and got this response from a representative:

    “While I’ve never heard of “sage buckwheat” honey, it’s possible that the bees could be visiting both sage blossoms and buckwheat blossoms, gathering the nectar and bringing that back to the hive. This would result in a cross between the two floral sources and thus, a mixture in the honey. Honeybees travel in a five mile radius, so if both plants were growing the that five mile area, then I’m assuming it could be possible.

    “I took a look at where each plant primarily is found. Buckwheat plants grow best in cool, moist climates. The buckwheat plant prefers light and well-drained soils, although it can thrive in highly acid, low fertility soils as well. Sage honey can come from many different species of the sage plant. Sage shrubs usually grow along the California coast and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. So again, it could be entirely possible that they blend these honey’s together to get their ‘signature’ honey.”


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