Thursday 26 September 2013

Hazelnut Brittle

I've been gathering hazelnuts while out on my walks.  When I bring them home, my husband patiently removes them from their shells, spreads them on cookie sheets, and toasts them in the oven.  Once they're toasted and cooled, he gently rolls them in a kitchen towel to loosen some of the brown skin from the outside of the kernels.  

The prepared nuts are bagged or packed in mason jars and stored in the freezer.

Preparing the hazelnuts is time consuming work and I appreciate my fella doing it while I'm at work.  It's a chore I'm glad to cross off my list! 

I wanted to thank my guy for his time and effort so I used some of the nuts to make him a batch of hazelnut brittle.  It's quick and easy to make, and he loves it.

To make hazelnut brittle, you'll need:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

You'll also need:
  • A heavy saucepan with a tight fitting lid
  • A small baking sheet
  • butter or oil to prepare the baking sheet for candy making
  • a candy thermometer
  • a pastry brush
  • a small bowl of ice water
  • a wooden spoon

Begin by buttering or oiling the cookie sheet and spreading the chopped nuts fairly evenly over the surface of the pan.

Once that's done, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water in your saucepan and cook it, uncovered, over high heat, until it comes to a boil.

When the mixture has come to a boil, put the lid on the pan and let it boil for two minutes.

Remove the lid and brush the sides of the pan down with ice water. 

Attach your candy thermometer to the side of the pan.

Continue boiling the sugar mixture until it reaches 285F.

Remove the pan from the heat, add in the butter, and swirl the mixture around in the pan (don't stir it) until the butter dissolves.

Return the pan to the heat and cook the sugar/butter mixture until it reaches 290F.

Remove the pan from the heat again and immediately stir in the baking soda.  Be careful!  It will foam up.

Once the baking soda is stirred in, quickly spread the sugar mixture over the nuts on the prepared pan.  It probably won't cover the entire pan.  If any nuts are left uncovered by the sugar mixture, pick them up and gently press them into the candy before it sets.

Allow the brittle to cool completely, then break it in large pieces and store it in an airtight container.

Monday 23 September 2013

Nature's Pantry - September 23

I haven't posted one of these for a while, not because I haven't been foraging but because it's harvest season.  I'm busy in the kitchen these days, canning produce while it's at its best and most affordable.  It's satisfying work, but time consuming.  There's not a lot of time left for writing when I'm done.  

I do have a few minutes now though, so I thought I'd pause and bring you up to date on what I've been gathering.

There are a great many hazelnut trees around our neighbourhood and on public lands in our area.  No one (other than the neighbourhood squirrels) seems to take much notice of them.  Fallen hazelnuts are considered litter.  They're walked on, and driven over, and left to spoil on the pavement.  

It drives me crazy!

I take my carrier bag with me on my daily walks and I've been gathering a quart or so of hazelnuts each day.  My fella cracks them while I'm at work, spreads the shelled nuts on a baking sheet and toasts them just until he can smell them cooking.  Once they're toasted and cooled, he bags the shelled hazelnuts and stores them in the freezer.

Apple trees grow at the edges of the woods near railroad tracks, and beside roadways all over the island, likely seeded from apple cores tossed from train and car windows by passersby. Unlike the apples we buy at the market or the varieties we plant in our yards, these accidentally-seeded apples are often small and quite sour, but they're useful even so.  I use them to make jelly, and as a source of pectin for use in other preserves.

A few heavily laden pear trees grow along the sides of our roads but they're not quite ready for picking.  I'm watching them closely.  I put by pears every year, and the fruit on these un-pruned trees tends to be on the small side; perfect for canning whole.

The chicory roots that I dug up from the roadside and replanted in pots on our balcony are still producing greens.  I cut each plant back completely and cover it with a black plant pot to keep the greens from getting too bitter.  They're producing this quantity weekly; a tasty addition to our salads.

For projects not food related, I'm gathering some maple leaves.  Our big leaf maple trees are aptly named and the leaves are at their very largest just before they fall from the trees.  I've picked some while they are still supple enough for use in print making.  You will probably see a maple leaf project of some sort from me soon.

Do you forage for food in your area?  What are you gathering right now?  I'd love to hear about it.  Please stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed and join the conversation.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Ham Croquettes

Long before there were frozen fish sticks or Chicken McNuggets, there were croquettes.  Every Home Ec student learned how to make them.  Every mom knew they were a great way to present yesterday's leftovers in a new guise.  Hostesses loved them because they could be made ahead in miniature form; part of the handy selection of foods to be reheated and served on toothpicks when passing trays at a party.

No one much seems to make them any more.


I'm here to revive the custom.  
Croquettes are easy and inexpensive to make. They freeze well, and kids love 'em.  Their crispy outer crust and moist filling are a pleasing combination of textures, and they're perfect for dipping.
My husband says they should be called crispy coated bundles of excellence. 

'Nuff said.  ;^)

I'm sharing ham croquettes here but this is really more technique than recipe, and very easily adapted.  You can use any meat you have on hand in these, or leftover cooked white fish like cod, or halibut.  You can even use canned salmon.  Let creativity and your available ingredients be your guide.

Croquettes are deep fried, so not an every-day food at our house (more a sometimes treat), but it takes almost the same amount of time to make many as it does to make a few so, when I do make them, I make big batches.  They're handy to keep on hand for those days when I just don't feel like cooking.
Deep frying is best done with oil that has a high smoking point.  Because I wish to avoid GMOs, I no longer use canola oil.  I fry my croquettes in peanut oil.  

Peanut oil is not inexpensive but you can reduce the cost per portion by filtering the oil after it cools, storing it in the fridge, and using it again.  If well filtered and properly stored, peanut oil can usually be re-used for frying several times.

To make ham croquettes, you'll need:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 pounds cooked ham
  • 1/4 cup finely minced onion
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • seasonings to taste
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I used focaccia crumbs but any bread you like will work.  Just season it to taste.)
  • 2 eggs
  • oil for frying

Begin by making a thick white sauce.

Melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the flour to make a roux.  

Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  It will be dryer than a more traditional roux made from equal amounts of butter and flour, and should look something like this:

Whisk the milk in bit by bit, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and forms a very thick sauce. 

Season the sauce to taste.

Allow the white sauce to cool to room temperature.

When the sauce has cooled, make the filling for your croquettes.

Chop the ham finely, in a food processor or by hand.

Transfer the chopped ham to a large bowl and add in the onion, parsley, and mustard.

Add about half the cooled white sauce and stir it in.

Does the mixture hold together?

If not, continue adding more white sauce - a little at a time - until the mixture binds enough so that you can form it into balls using just a little pressure from your hands.

Taste the ham mixture and adjust the seasoning.

Divide the breadcrumbs between two bowls.

Beat the eggs in a third bowl.

Scoop portions of the ham mixture and form them into balls or shape them into logs.  (I made mine into 1-1/2 inch meatballs.)

Coat each portion in bread crumbs, then in beaten egg, then again in bread crumbs. 

Place the breaded croquettes on a parchment lined cookie sheet or non-stick pan and refrigerate them for at least half an hour.

When the croquettes have rested in the fridge for at least half an hour, pour couple of inches of oil into a large pot.  The oil should not fill the pot more than half way.

Heat the oil to 360F, and preheat your oven to 225F.

While the oil is heating, set a wire rack over a jelly roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet and set them to one side.

When the oil is heated, use a slotted spoon to add croquettes to the pot one at time. 

Don't put too many in there.  Leave some space around them. Over crowding the pot will cause the oil temperature to drop too low, resulting in a greasy-tasting finished product.

The croquettes will cook quite quickly.  When they're nicely browned, remove them to the prepared wire rack and jelly roll pan.

Season the croquettes immediately, then put them in the oven to keep warm. 

Repeat the process until all the croquettes are cooked. 

Serve your croquettes piping hot, while the outside crust is still nice and crispy. 

We like to pair ours with a condiment or sauce for dipping.  We served this batch with applesauce, but mustard, ketchup, chutney, or a spicy mayo would be good too.

Allow any leftover croquettes to cool completely, transfer them to a parchment lined cookie sheet or non-stick baking pan, and freeze them.  Once they're frozen, transfer them to a plastic freezer bag.

Reheat frozen croquettes directly from the freezer, without thawing them first, in a 400F oven.

Thursday 12 September 2013


You' d pretty much have to be living under a rock not to notice that grocery prices have gone up a lot this year, right? 

And the price of gasoline too.

I'm not living under a rock and I track our spending, so I've definitely noticed!

We're okay on the gas thing.  We can walk most of the places we need to go and that leaves gas enough for me to get to and from work.

Groceries...not so much. We've been running over budget for groceries for months now. 

Clearly our budget needs readjusting. 

Our income is not increasing so whatever we add to our grocery budget has to be taken away from something else we currently spend money on.  Debt repayment is the big priority in our budget, so we won't take away from that, and otherwise things are already pretty lean. 

It's hard to find somewhere to trim the fat when so little fat exists, but there's no question that something's got to go.  So, after knocking it around for weeks, we've decided to take a big step and ditch two of the few remaining luxuries in our budget:  We're dropping cable TV and disconnecting our home internet. 

Starting next week, all of our at-home time will be off line time. 

My fella says it feels like we're traveling backwards in time:  We gave up our cel phones a few years ago because our budget could no longer support the expense.  When our dishwasher broke, we chose not to repair it; going back to washing dishes by hand and converting the dishwasher space into cupboard space instead.  Now cable and internet are going. 

If it weren't for our quite modern microwave and range, our home technology would be in pretty much the same place it was in 1980!

What does this mean in terms of my on line activities?

I'll still have access to the internet at work (and, thankfully, a boss who allows me to play on line when it's not busy) and we'll also be able to access the internet through public WiFi connections and our local library. 

I'll be posting on my Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest, but I'll be posting less often:  On weekdays only, and only as it fits in around my work schedule. 

I'm hoping you'll stick with me, despite the change.

What will I do with my off line time?

Well, since I seem to be traveling backwards in time anyway, I've decided to return to some old loves.  I'll visit with people face-to-face, and write real letters; the kind that actually go in the mail.  I'll walk, and cook, and craft.  I'll take photos and make art.  I'll read books, printed on paper, with pages that turn. 

I'll have more time available to concentrate on all these things. 

Maybe, I'll even relax a bit. 

Who knows?