Gingerbread Cracker Toffee: Tastes like Gingerbread Twix. Now, go forth and make some immediately.
Wow, what a year it’s been. My husband and I went on our honeymoon in May (for which I packed Spicy Spam Musubi). Shortly thereafter, I lost my appetite for months…because I got pregnant! I never dreamed that my eating habits would be interrupted by the nausea that left me couch-bound for the first trimester, nor by the severe aversions that lasted through second trimester. I was also shocked to discover that I developed a huge sweet tooth. My husband once met me at a doctor’s appointment and, before saying a word, handed me a bag containing two doughnuts. (Yes, I know he’s a keeper.) So, although I didn’t cook much since I got pregnant, I decided to experiment with cookie recipes around the holidays this year. I ended up developing this gingerbread cracker toffee recipe from a basic saltine toffee recipe. Not only does it satisfy my pregnancy sweet cravings, but it also takes less than 20 minutes of active time to make.
Now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, let’s talk about this recipe in detail. I love the basic idea of saltine toffee. I love the way that this cookie-candy hybrid slyly elevates and transforms a humble cracker that is usually relegated to the sickroom into a buttery, decadent snack. But when I actually made toffee with saltines, I…didn’t quite love it. I didn’t love that it was shatteringly crispy all the way through. Most of all, the flavor tasted a little off to me. Don’t get me wrong, I ate the whole pan of saltine toffee…but the fact that the saltine tasted so indelibly saltine-y meant that it never successfully transmuted into crunchy cookie toffee. It just tasted like its individual components: toffee, chocolate, and saltines. I suspected there had to be a better way to make cracker toffee.
Raindrop Cake, aka “water cake,” is the hottest new dessert trend. It’s certainly one of the most Instagram-ready snacks I’ve seen of late. Also called mizu shingen mochi, the dessert appears to hail from Japan, where it’s made from special spring water. Raindrop Cake is unusual, refreshing, and a great light dessert for the hot days of summer.
It’s hot, but you have to make dinner tonight. You don’t want to spend time slaving away for hours to make dessert, yet you still want something more interesting than just plain fruit and cream. I have just the recipe for these hot days: a parfait consisting of sugared, orange-scented strawberries, layered with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. What takes this dessert from ordinary to extraordinary are sbrisolona crumbs: crumbs from an Italian cookie that is crunchy with almonds and semolina flour and infused with orange flower water.
This week, because I have vacations on the brain, we’re making one of my favorite travel-friendly foods: Spicy Spam Musubi with brown rice.
Whenever I travel, I have a few rituals I like to follow. I pack a soft scarf in my bag, tuck earplugs into my pocket, and I always, always have to prepare what my husband calls a Plane Picnic. Plane Picnic involves an assortment of portable foods that can be squeezed into my over-full purse and sit at room temperature for hours before being eaten. Ideally, there would also be a variety of snacks to alleviate 10th-hour boredom, including salty, crunchy things and a sweet treat or two. But the most important component of Plane Picnic, the one that requires the most planning, is the main course.
This week, we’re making a fast, delicious, healthy, and portable breakfast: Overnight Steel-Cut Oats layered in a jar with ripe banana slices; sweet and tangy apple butter (my favorite recipe here); and rich, nutty sunflower seed butter. No more standing over a stove for upwards of half an hour, constantly stirring the pot until you get your morning oats. This recipe takes less than 10 minutes of active time. You’ll no longer have any excuse to not eat a healthy breakfast.
Rice Krispies treats are a funny business. They seem totally foolproof to make–what could be so hard about mixing Rice Krispies with melted marshmallows and butter, and then pressing them into a pan?–but I am not embarrassed (okay, a little embarrassed) to admit that it took me several tries to figure out some better techniques. This recipe yields a soft, chewy Rice Krispies treat…and instead of the usual bland bar, my version has undertones of browned butter, a deep brown sugar-caramel flavor, and a savory zing from sea salt flakes. If you don’t tell anyone that you made these changes, all they’ll probably notice is the addition of the salt. But the other additional elements create a subtle, mellow, deliciously compelling backdrop. These are definitely Rice Krispies treats for adults.
This week, we’re making Sweet & Spicy Apple Butter! I like to think of apple butter (which does not actually contain butter) as an apple jam. Much more intense than applesauce and smoother than chutney, my version of apple butter tastes of fall spices and concentrated essence of apple, brightened up with a bit of lemon and rounded out with brown sugar’s molasses notes. At the very end, a slight burn warms the back of your throat, courtesy of the cayenne pepper.
This week’s recipe, Upside-Down Strawberry Bars (aka Butter Mochi), was actually a mistake–a beautiful one, but a mistake nonetheless. You see, sometimes a dish doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped, and I despair. All that work, all those ingredients, now headed straight for the trash. But sometimes…if I remain open-minded and think creatively, that “mistake” of a dish might actually turn out to be better than what I had originally set out to create.
Initially, I made these bars as Butter Mochi–a fusion of Japanese and Hawaiian cultures–because I read the article in Lucky Peach and couldn’t stop thinking about its photo of crusty, dense, and buttery baked mochi. The photo and description made butter mochi seem decadent, worlds apart from the traditional fat-free, austere mochi. There’s something about traditional mochi that seems to take itself very seriously: rice as high art form. Butter mochi, on the other hand, is like the laid-back, fun-loving version of mochi. If traditional mochi were represented by a tailored suit and tie, butter mochi would be cutoffs and Mardi Gras beads.
[This post on Indian doughnuts in rose-scented syrup (gulab jamun) is the fifth and final post in a series about my Indian buffet adventures in Sunnyvale, California. In the first post, I reviewed Indian buffets and provided a recipe for garam masala. In the second post, I discussed the Indian buffet classic dish butter chicken (murgh makhani). In the third post, I made the other classic Indian buffet dish, spinach-cheese curry (palak paneer). And in the fourth post, I shared my recipe for garlicky Indian naan flatbread.]
Who finds sweets irresistible? Generally speaking, not me. I choose sourdough bread over birthday cake. Cheez-Its over chocolate chip cookies. My mother-in-law’s Sri Lankan rice & curry over homemade caramels. But take me to an Indian lunch buffet and park me in front of the dessert station, and I won’t complain. That’s because Indian buffets almost always serve gulab jamun, basically little fried balls of dough that are soaked in a saffron- and flower-scented sugar syrup until the doughnuts swell up to three times their size. Served in a bowl with a little extra warm syrup and maybe a few pistachios for crunch and color, gulab jamun is a comforting sugar bomb–and I absolutely love it.
[This is the fourth post in a series about my Indian buffet adventures in Sunnyvale, California. In the first post, I reviewed Indian buffets and provided a recipe for garam masala. In the second post, I discussed the Indian buffet classic dish butter chicken (murgh makhani). In the third post, I made the other classic Indian buffet dish, spinach-cheese curry (palak paneer).]
The year I lived in Sunnyvale, California, I lucked out in finding a small, close-knit community of an apartment complex. Sure, I did my fair share of grumpily lecturing the rambunctious kids, but my gregarious neighbors also made me feel a little less lonely in my time away from my family. And every day at dusk, the odors of sizzling cumin, ginger, hot chilies, and complex curries I had never smelled before would float out from the various units and drive me crazy with hunger. I imagined they’d be eating their way through piles of rice, curry, and garlic naan. I always fantasized about being invited to dinner, but alas, I never was.