Monday, January 25, 2010

Honey-Balsamic Truffles

As part of our latest home-food "Challenge," I was looking for an inexpensive yet impressive dessert and decided to make a personal twist on the classic chocolate truffle: a honey-balsamic toffee coating.


-1 generous cup honey
-2 tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
-1 tsp. vanilla
-1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Heat honey in a saucepan over medium heat. When honey begins to thin and simmer, reduce heat to medium low and add balsamic vinegar.

Bring to a boil over lowest heat possible (to avoid burning on the bottom).

Add 1/4 tsp. of the sea salt and vanilla.

Using a candy thermometer, continue to boil over low heat, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning and sticking.

When mixture reaches 300 degrees F, remove from stove and pour onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. Color will be a very deep amber. Spread thin, and sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 tsp. salt. Set aside or refrigerate to harden.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE GANACHE (adapted from Vanilla Garlic @

-8 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips, but high quality baking chocolate works better)
-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used 2 teaspoons and taste was not overpowering)

Finely chop/shave chocolate (into pieces as small as possible) and set aside in a metal or heat-proof bowl.

In a saucepan, heat heavy cream and vanilla until simmering.

Remove from heat and pour over chopped chocolate, about 2 or 3 tablespoons at a time. Whisk together the chocolate and cream between each cream addition (of 2-3 tbsps.). Once all cream is added, whisk just until mixture is smooth and glossy. (If mixture is still lumpy with unmelted chocolate chunks, reheat over a double-boiler and whisk until all lumps are gone).

Let ganache cool and then cover refrigerate for at least 2 hours (can refrigerate overnight).


Using a hammer (or other preferred tool), crush hardened toffee between layers of parchment paper into pieces as small as possible. Set aside.

Remove hardened chocolate ganache from refrigerator. Using a teaspoon or tablespoon measure (depending on preferred truffle size), scoop ganache from bowl and roll between the palms of your (clean) hands until smooth. Roll quickly, as ganache will begin to melt from the heat.

Press toffee coating into the outside of the chocolate truffle (pressing in the toffee preserves the round shape better than rolling the truffle in it, although it is more time consuming). Place finished truffles onto plate or baking sheet and refrigerate until serving (at a least half hour).

The honey-balsamic toffee coating gives some structural support to the ganache, as well as a delectable sweet-n-salty finish.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pizza Stone: Attempt #1

Last Sunday we finally tried our hand at using the new pizza stone, using fresh pizza dough from whole foods and various homemade sauces.

I had wanted to make a sweet and seasonal sauce by adding some ripe persimmon in with the tomatoes, but apparently persimmons are already out of season and could not be found in 3 locations. Thus, I decided to concoct a salty-cheesy tomato sauce to pair with some fresh grilled veggies. I prefer to make my tomato sauces from fresh tomatoes, even when out of season (I'm stubborn like that), so this recipe would be more flavorful in the Summer. Otherwise, one could always substitute canned tomatoes if the fresh ones look sub-par.

Kara's Cheesy Pizza Sauce:
-4 ripe tomatoes on the vine, diced
-1/2 red bell pepper, diced
-1 clove garlic
-1/4 cup red wine
-1 dried bay leaf
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly-grated
-salt and pepper, to taste

Add the olive oil, diced tomatoes, salt and pepper to a saucepan over medium-high heat and keep covered while preparing other ingredients. Cut the garlic clove into quarters (I make 4 horizontal slices across the width) and add to the pan along with bay leaf.

Dice the bell pepper and saute in olive oil, salt and pepper until tender and moderately blackened on the skin. Add to sauce.

Leave saucepan uncovered and add red wine. Continue to simmer sauce uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When sauce has almost reached your desired consistency, remove the garlic quarters and bay leaf, and add grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine.

Total time: About 20 minutes
Can be used directly or refrigerated.

Pizza Toppings: Fontina cheese, Parmesan cheese, sauteed zucchini, spinach and yellow heirloom tomato.

Final thoughts: We need a bit more practice with the pizza peel and stone, as well as rolling out the crust thinner to prevent deep-dish fluffing up, but overall... Delicious!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Secret Ingredient: Leftovers

To circumvent typical New Years Eve costs and stressors, Morgan and I had friends over to our place for cocktail/dinner party. I spent much enjoyable time scouring Epicurious recipes, and this was the final menu:

Crackers with fig jam and Manchego cheese
Cornbread muffins with maple butter
Sweet potatoes, apples and braising greens
Garlic smashed potatoes
Butternut squash lasagna
Chicken with cracked black pepper maple sauce

As consistent with my tendency to overbuy groceries (for the fear of underfeeding guests), I had quite the pile of leftover raw ingredients in addition to the regular cooked leftovers. To avoid waste, I enlisted Steve to help me use them up in our amended version of Iron Chef. Rules totally diverged from the show, as we were allowed to know the ingredients ahead of time, consult recipes, and work without a time limit.

The not-so-secret ingredients: Butternut squash, spinach, heirloom carrots, and potatoes (small ones... purple and gold yukon).

The heirloom carrots were not actually a part of my New Years menu, but were instead a free gift from one of the produce booths at my farmer's market. After buying $12 worth of potatoes, he said, "Here, take a bag and fill it up with carrots.. these ones are sweeter and good for cooking. Take as many as you want."

Steve made a miso-glazed salmon on a bed of soy spinach, with buttermilk mashed potatoes and carrot-date cookies. (No pictures, unfortunately, as his dinner was prior to the food-blog-inspiration).

I made tangerine-balsamic glazed swordfish with a carrot-butternut squash puree and tangerine-honey sauteed spinach, with a side of garlic-parmesan roasted potatoes. Everything created was original recipe (although most likely influenced by recipes skimmed in the menu-creating process):

The carrots and butternut squash were first chopped and roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and a dash of paprika.

After roasting, I pureed them with olive oil and a splash of buttermilk, adding a bit more of the seasonings listed above, to taste. Yet the vegetables were so flavorful, they didn't need much spice at all.

My first foray into purees as the base of a dish, and it turned out much thicker than anticipated. Next time I would definitely add in some water, as I didn't want to be too heavy-handed with the oil.

The swordfish was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and marinated in a mixture of aged balsamic vinegar and freshly-squeezed tangerine juice. I also added in a splash of the white wine I was drinking because someone told me that meats are more apt to absorb and retain a marinade with alcohol than without... I must investigate to see if this is true.

After marinating, I cooked the swordfish in a grill pan on top of the stove- about 5 minutes on each side. While grilling, I poured the remaining marinate into a small sauce pan and heated on medium-high to reduce the liquid into a thicker sauce, which was brushed over the cooked fish as a glaze.

As the menu indicates, I sauteed the spinach with some onions in the leftover tangerine juice. Added salt and pepper, to taste, and about 2 teaspoons of honey for an extra hint of sweetness. (It will become apparent, in time, that I tend to like my foods on the sweeter end of the spectrum).

And while all of the above was going on, my potatoes were roasting happily in the oven with some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. About 10 minutes before removing from the oven, I covered them with a generous portion of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

The results all turned out rather tasty, even if my plating and appearance could have used some work (as you can see, the fish is almost hidden beneath its sides):

Of course, to round off every good Iron Chef competition there must be a dessert. Mine was an attempt at carrot-ginger cookie sandwiches with cream cheese filling. Let's just say that the filling was a disaster (something for which I definitely should have consulted a recipe), but the cookies turned out almost decent, albeit quite heavy on the ginger.

VERY approximate ingredients were:
-2 cups flour
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/2 cup oats
-1 cup grated carrots
-1 large egg
-1/3 cup oil
-2 tablespoons butter
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1 teaspoon Cinnamon
-1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
-1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Next time I would make them entirely with brown sugar, substitute more oats for flour, substitute butter for oil, and reduce the ginger.

We have no verdict on a winner yet... I suppose the jury's still out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A blog by any other name...

Inspired by Julia at Color Me Green, I am giving this "chronicling of life events thing" another shot. The focus of this most recent instantiation being:

Food and art.

Yes, like everyone else and their second cousin, I am starting a food/cooking blog (with an arty angle). Food I like to cook, food I like to eat, food other people like to eat, kitchen creations and disasters... with artistic endeavors sprinkled throughout when I have the time (and the yen).

But just as everyone knows that every journey begins with a single step, as does every blog begin with a single phrase: the ever-elusive pithy title. Figuring out a hooking name that hasn't already been snatched up by 20 other websites has been next to impossible. The already-spoken-for names under consideration were:

Smitten Kitchen
Salt to Taste
A la Cuisine

As well as personalized alliteration, such as:

Kara's Kitchen
Kara's Kitchen Creations

And EVEN my southern favorites were already taken:

Finger Lickin' Kitchen
Good Lookin' Cookin'
What's Cookin', Good Lookin'?

Thus I present to you, dear readers, for the first time ever (in Blogspot domain, that is):