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Archive for the 'nablopomo' Category

NaBloNoMo, plus Shrimp and Braised Fennel

Friday, November 30th, 2007

gambas and braised fennel

I can’t believe I did it. I honestly cannot believe that I posted every single day on two blogs for 30 days. More importantly, I can’t believe November is over and December is here and 2008 is nearly upon us and oh God I think I just got short of breath from a touch of anxiety.

Today I got a little wild hair up my ass and decided it was well past high time to get on the organization train. Late this afternoon I went around town procuring items for baking (although what is up with most stores having only sweetened coconut?) and I scrubbed the holy hell out of my sink. We’re talking a serious deep clean – I soaked it in hot water and bleach, scoured it with Bar Keepers Friend (how that missing apostrophe breaks my heart) and with S.O.S. pads, used a toothbrush in the hard to reach places, and wiped it down repeatedly with paper towels and dish rags. Oooh, does that baby shine. It’s great! But also sort of a bummer because a) was it that dirty before and if so, ew and b) now I don’t want to use it.

gambas and braised fennel

I was going to start baking tonight, but by the time errands and sink spit-shining were done I was so hungry I could barely see straight. So instead I cooked, and messed up my nice pretty sink.

The other day, my mom (who is a physician) told me that fennel is supposedly very good for digestive problems. Well, boy howdy, and here’s me over here been dying to try that braised fennel with Meyer lemon and parmesan that Luisa wrote about earlier this year. And I have all these Meyer lemons lying around because I’m making so many of those Meyer lemon sablés. So at the store, I got some fennel, and tonight I made it.

There must be an error somewhere in whatever information my mom was given, because there’s no way something that tastes this fantastic can also be good for me – particularly not me of the endless digestive woes. Oooh, if this is good for me, I am in heaven.

I laid it atop some pre-made grits-in-a-tube (thank you Trader Joe’s! Like polenta-in-a-tube, only white) and I paired it with one of my favorite quick ‘n’ easy main dishes: gambas a la plancha. Or, at least, my version of them.

gambas and braised fennel

Do you have frozen shrimp in your freezer? No? You should. Especially if you are an IBS-sufferer. Frozen shrimp are so perfect and so very handy, when it is 7:30 p.m. and you are starving and you need to eat NOW and there is nothing in the fridge and you refuse to risk getting sick and you’re also not hauling your ass to the store. I have both the e-z to peel shell-on shrimp, as well as the pre-shelled kind; the latter come in handy when I’m putting the shrimp in something or need to chop them up into bits. I get both at Trader Joe’s, I’m sure you can find a similar version at a happenin’ store near you.

The rich saltiness of the shrimp played off the creaminess of both the fennel and the grits, and the deeply infused lemon flavor of the fennel gave the shrimp the extra bit of pizazz they needed. And the grits were the perfect foil to the powerful, complex flavors of the two stars. Best of all? It’s honestly good for you, IBSers and gluten-free people alike. Lactose-intolerant too, if you leave off the parmesan! Ah, a meal for the arsenal. So to speak.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go lick out the pot and re-scrub the sink.

Gambas a la Plancha, a la Leah

4 oz. jumbo shrimp, preferably shell on/e-z peel (16-20 count, so this will be about 5 or 6 large shrimp)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Italian parsley, chopped (I know there’s none in the photo – in my rush to eat, I forgot to put it on)
lemon wedge

1. Defrost the shrimp: place in a strainer and run cold water over them for 5-7 minutes until they are defrosted. They’ll be nice and pliable.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft, 1-2 minutes. Before the garlic browns, add the red pepper flakes and cook for a minute more to release the flavor. Remember, the more you add, the spicier they will be – I usually do a sprinkle or three of the shaker.

3. Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until bright pink. Turn the shrimp and cook on the other side. They should be bright pink on both sides, with a nice white inside. Do not overcook or you will have rubbery shrimp. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with lemon on the side.

Serves 1

Celebrate!

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Tomorrow is the final day of NaBloPoMo. I can’t believe I made it. I can’t believe I posted every single day this month – on TWO blogs no less – all while managing to advance to candidacy, spend time with a certain someone, candy a metric ton of orange peel, scour the stove, go up north, see a few friends, and adore the cat and both dogs in my life. I can do it all, people. I CAN DO IT ALL.

Except, apparently, get back into the healthy regimen (regime!) that was so amazing over the summer. The one where I was eating the magical Leah is happy and healthy and glowing and has perfect skin, no headaches, and no digestive trouble diet. The one where I was riding my bike and swimming and walking and jogging and going to pilates and yoga. The one where someone else was watching over me, which means apparently I have no self-discipline or will-power. I planned to start going without sugar starting today and I couldn’t make it one day. 10:00 p.m. rolls around and I gave in. I would make myself go to bed without dessert as punishment but, um.

Anyhoodle, there’s a lot to say on all of this, and I swear sometime soon (maybe even tomorrow! so exciting!) I am going to say more than “golly gee gosh, I sure am bad at sticking to being healthy, even though I have known digestive problems, oopth!” But for now, I would like to celebrate this whole posting every single day thing. Tomorrow is the last day, but I won’t end up posting until later, and you guys might not see it until later on in the weekend or even Monday, and that’s sort of anti-climactic. So, in celebration of actually doing what I set out to do – and in celebration of accepting that structure and deadlines and having someone to answer to besides myself are all good things and should be applied in other areas besides blog writing, HINT HINT LEAH – I would like to show you a cake I made a few months ago for another celebration. Because it is so friggin’ celebratory that it can do double duty. Oh I am so excited to finally post this here! I’ve been waiting for just the right time and this is so it, I can feel it. My nerd sense is tingling.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Giant Hostess Cupcake Cake.

Giant Hostess cupcake!

I made this for my darling friend Sooz’s birthday. Yes, that’s right. A giant Hostess cupcake. I found this recipe on Baking Bites and knew immediately: THIS IS IT. It is the cake I have to make. So I did. It took me the better part of the day (I had to make six layers instead of four because the first two turned out a little funny, but that was my own dumb fault*), but I was so glad I did. Not only was the cake a visual delight to everyone who saw it, it was delicious. Chocolatey and rich and moist, a light crumb but sturdy enough to stand up to the vanilla cream center. A certain someone ate a whole slice without even pausing, which is in itself a miracle, since cake doesn’t usually thrill him.

The next time someone has a thing worth celebrating, like a birthday or an advancement to candidacy or a month’s worth of high quality blog posting, make this cake. The layers seem to meld together, making it look like it really is a giant cupcake! Everyone will ask how you got the cream center** in there (and will be slightly disappointed by the layering technique – apparently they want billows filled with vanilla cream) (well, that sort of makes sense – who doesn’t want billows filled with vanilla cream?). This cake will blow everyone’s minds and make them happy.

Just like me posting every day!

*The dumb fault thing was that my cocoa was lumpy. Make sure your cocoa is not lumpy at all – sift it if you must – and that your batter is very, very smooth when you pour it into your pans.

**Nicole of Baking Bites suggests cutting a 5″ diameter hole in the layers, but I found that to be a little too big. I’d start with 4″ and work from there.

***I wish I had made the white squiggle on the top better, with fewer, bigger loops. Can someone have a birthday or something so I can make this again?

I’m A Space Cadet, Plus Some Romanesco Cauliflower

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

romanesco cauliflower

Oh my GOD, you guys. I am so out to lunch. Tonight I burned my favorite (but thankfully inexpensive) little stand-by pan, the 8″ omelet pan I use all the time, I mean all all all the time*. I got off the plane, got picked up by Mister Certain Someone and his dog, came home, and had to eat something. So I fried up some sausage and steamed some greens (that were somehow still good, after hanging around in the crisper drawer for I don’t know how long and don’t want to know and probably shouldn’t even be admitting this), while also adoring the cat, going through the mail, catching up on Internetty stuff, blogging, and watching TV. A little while – ok FINE, quite a while later – I’m on the couch, wondering why the smell of sausage is still so intense and why it’s still pretty smoky in the house and, no wait, why the house is filling up with smoke, HOLY CRAP I LEFT THE BURNER ON UNDER THE EMPTY PAN. Which meant the little cribbly bits in the pan and the wee smears of grease burnt up all nice and fused to the pan, making it a useful pan no more!

Thankfully the flame was low enough that there was no other damage besides the pan. Also, it’s good to know I am at least with-it enough to figure out what’s going on before it gets smoky enough in my house to make the smoke alarm go off. Let this be a lesson to us all: No cooking when overly tired, and less multi-tasking when cooking. See America, you need more rest and you need to SLOW DOWN. I am living proof of that. Rush, rush, rush, and all the things you don’t pay attention to burn down.

Wow, that’s deeper than I meant it to be.

romanesco cauliflower

So right, about that cauliflower! (How’s that for a totally fantastic segue?) On Saturday, my parents and I went to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, and I was entranced by the Romanesco cauliflower. Some people like to call it fractal cauliflower, others (like my mother and apparently my grandmother) call it “alien sex organs.” If I have not totally turned you off eating it now, you should go buy some immediately, because it is beautiful and fascinating and fun and also tasty.

There are probably a million and one fancy ways to cook it. I wanted to roast it and make it all caramelly, but by the time dinner rolled around that would have taken too long, and I was hongry. So I did a quick and easy version of it one night, and it was tangy and sparkly, tender to the tooth but still firm. It’s a perfect “o noes, I have IBS and I better eat more veggies today but they take so long to cook whatever shall I do!” recipe. Go on and get some. Plus I hear alien sex organs are good for the digestive system.

cooked cauliflower

Sautéed Romanesco Cauliflower

1 large head Romanesco cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

1. Remove the tough bottom stem from the cauliflower, and cut it vertically into four quarters. Cut the quarters into slices 1/2″ thick. The cauliflower will crumble, and you may want to cut some of the florets into smaller pieces. Cut the center core into small chunks as well.

2. Heat a pan with about 1/2″ water and place the cauliflower into a steamer basket. When the water boils, place the steamer basket into the pot and cover, steaming until the cauliflower is just tender, about 4-5 minutes.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the steamed cauliflower and sauté until the cauliflower begins to brown. Add the Herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, and the vinegar (you may want to adjust the vinegar depending on how vinegary you like your food – start with less and work up, if you prefer). Sauté another minute or two more, until the cauliflower is nice and brown on the edges.

Serves 2.

*Why is it that the little cheapie items are always the ones I use the most? I have this one knife that I must have bought at a big grocery store, some really basic knife, maybe 4 or 4 1/2″? (I should measure it but that would require effort and right now I have to hurry so I can post this, so maybe I’ll be more specific later.) It’s just this basic $5 knife, larger than a paring knife but way smaller than a big serious knife, and I use it for everything. Even when I know damn well I should bust out the big guns and do some chopping, I’ll lazily slice away using my favorite one, a) because it’s always out and b) because it’s easy. Same with that little pan. Maybe I just like little utensils. I prefer teaspoons over soup spoons. Does anyone know where I’m going with this paragraph?

Today in Oh Hey Great: ok, you know what

List Making (But Not That Kind)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

1. I have so many things to write about, you guys. SO MANY. But work! And cooking for my parents! And, uh, Nip/Tuck! And other important excuses! Suddenly it is 11:30 p.m. and I’m fiddling around, trying to figure out how to write a good long post in 30 minutes. Plus this writing every day? Is making me less able to get my creativity on, so to speak (because I am SO creative here, right? I mean, am I right or what). I think I need a little room to breathe but not too much, some pressure to write but not too much. Jesus, I’m like the Goldilocks of blogging. Good thing my bed is just right.

1a. In other words, I am so limping toward the NaBloPoMo finish. Has anyone else done NaBlahBlah before and been totally over it by the last week? Maybe I didn’t pace myself. Because, you know, I always pace myself. Very steady, this one. Year of the Rabbit, represent.

2. I have to go back on the No Fun Ever, Not For Anyone, Time To Be Boring and Sad diet again. Okay, okay. Maybe not that one. But I am like the worst New Year’s Eve resolution maker ever, and it’s not even New Year’s Eve. It was NOVEMBER, for chrissakes, and I couldn’t even stick to being all “yay! IBS diet! I’m gonna make it happen!” for more than a week or two. But I have to. Because hooo boy, it’s not good in there. Yes, I know I keep threatening it. But it will happen. The diet with the good recipes and the relatively enjoyable eating and the much happier body. Not the aforementioned Are You Kidding? I Cannot Eat Steamed Greens With Lemon One More Time, Plus What I Wouldn’t Do For A French Fry diet.

3. I love the East Bay! That’s the other reason I’ve been such a bad bad bad blogger. I arrived and whammo, my routine was off and there was a dog to play with and parents to hang out with and the Berkeley Bowl to stumble around and Thai Buddhist temple Sunday brunch and… See? Stuff to write about. It’s all excuses. I am just rotten and lazy and also probably cheat at cards.

4. That is not true. I can’t cheat at cards. I can’t cheat at almost anything. I still feel guilty for cheating on a math test in junior high. Do any of you know how long ago junior high was for me? 20 years ago. (OH MY GOD TWENTY YEARS.) I’m not a paragon of virtue by any means, yet I have weirdly high moral standards for myself and also a fabulous guilt complex (imagine what havoc those three things combined can wreak). I’m very much a “do the right thing” kind of person. OK, now I’m thinking about all the dumb things I’ve done over the years and feeling terrible about them and that’s not a road we need to go down. Not unless by terrible I mean we are laughing and also eating chocolate, listening to Wham! and watching the first season of Nip/Tuck, anyway.

5. I think this post needs to end before I end up telling you about something that does not ever need to be published on the Internet.

some cauliflower, just because
Some cauliflower, just because.

Today in Oh Hey Great: Clarification

Persimmons, for days and days

Monday, November 26th, 2007

persimmons into infinity

This year, I decided I like persimmons. Both fuyu (at the farmers’ market, above) and hachiya. I mean, I already liked them for their color (no surprise, as I am a huge fan of all things orange) but now I actually like the fruit part too.

So what are some good ideas to do with persimmons, besides just eat them? I’ve heard tales of a wonderful persimmon cookie, but I don’t have a good recipe. We have a whole tree full of hachiyas, waiting to ripen and be enjoyed. Come on, Internet, pony up. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

more persimmons!

Today in Oh Hey Great: the blues 

Up Your Arsenal!

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Build it up, I mean. Oh, puns, how you delight me!

About arsenals, though: Do you have one? Because I’ve been thinking lately about arsenals, and whether I even have one. Or many. You know: Recipe arsenals, style arsenals, entertaining arsenals, joke arsenals, foreign affairs knowledge arsenals, karaoke song arsenals, and so on.

This is not an excuse to say “arsenal” over and over again, and I don’t find the word “arsenal” funny, because I am not juvenile.

But so anyway, like I was saying, do you have an arsenal or two? A quiver of surefire hit makers, or at least a few little numbers that will get the job done? Say, recipes. I was thinking to myself whether I have what I consider to be tried & true recipes, or things I know will delight everyone, or stuff I can make with one eye closed. And the answer is: Kind of?

sea of sables

For instance, today I got to visit with two of my favorite people in the universe, in town from New York. We went over to another old friend’s house for a very impromptu lunch – we’re talking no more than 15 minute prep time. By the time we got there, she had a gorgeous spread almost entirely prepared for us. An elegantly arranged cheese platter with four types of cheese and her husband’s homemade tapenade; an arrangement of tomatoes with vinegar, parsley, and shallots, plus avocado and cucumber; edamame, olives, and chopped tomato relish; crostini with smoked salmon salad; and a big plate of ribs she just happened to have. All of this was artfully displayed on lovely serving platters and was accompanied by red wine.

Did I mention she has two small children and relatives in town?

sables in the sun

Sure, she’s always been the consummate hostess, very fabulous and together. Plus, she and her husband own a lovely cafe, and they cater, so they do have some experience with this. But this goes beyond experience and to the heart of an ability to throw things together, to rely on what you know, to make it happen. So of course I was thinking about whether I could pull something like that off with what I had lying around and make it look good.

Probably not. But I’ll keep trying.

So I’m working on beefing up my entertaining arsenal. Not just having the makings of an insta-feast neatly stockpiled in tins and jars in the cabinet, but working with recipes that are quick and easy, that I can throw together in a pinch, that don’t need to be fancy and intricate but make everyone happy and satisfied, that are simple but look pretty (’cos sometimes looking pretty is half the battle).

As far as other arsenals, I’m also building up the baking quiver – rather than flit around from recipe to recipe like I usually do, I’m working more on making favorites over and over, so they become second nature. Like, for instance, those sublime little Meyer lemon sablés that Molly wrote about just around this time last year. I made them once, after she posted them, and was entranced. So unassuming, so perfectly lemony, so crumbly-buttery-hint of salt-just sweet enough, these shortbread like cookies flecked with lemon zest won me over in a single bite. They they bowled over a wide swath of taste testers in the Southern California area – many of whom preferred them to classic chocolate chip and “is there a pound of chocolate in EACH cookie?” chocolate rads. They were greatly enjoyed by a certain someone’s father, who received a large bag of them for the holidays last year.

meyer lemon sables

This year? The little darling conquered Northern California. But the final vote into the Hall of Fame came from, of all people, my father – the man who mostly likes plain milk chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and that’s about it, no other sweets thanks. He turned to me at a stoplight on the way to the house from the airport and said, “Can I have another cookie?”

Folks, we have a winner. Put it in your arsenal.

Hee hee, arsenal.

Meyer Lemon Sablés
Adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte and Orangette

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from about 2 good-size fruits)
¾ tsp coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup coarse Turbinado sugar, for rolling logs of dough

1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder, and whisk to mix thoroughly. Set aside.

2. Put the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl). Beat (with the paddle attachment, if you’re using a stand mixer) on medium-low speed until the butter is creamy; then add the confectioner’s sugar and beat for a minute. Add the granulated sugar, and beat for a minute more. Sprinkle the lemon zest and salt into the bowl, and mix briefly to just combine. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing briefly to incorporate after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the flour in three doses, mixing just until the flour is absorbed. Use a rubber spatula to do any last scraping and stirring; do not overmix. The dough will be quite thick and dense and sticky.

3. Divide the dough between two large sheets of wax paper. Using the paper as an aid, smoosh and roll and shape one blob of dough into a rough log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Roll up the log in the paper, and twist the ends to seal it closed. Repeat with the remaining blob of dough. Chill the two logs until the dough is cold and firm, at least two hours and up to a couple of days.

4. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Put a large sheet of parchment paper on the counter, and pour the Turbinado sugar onto it, making a ridge of sugar approximately the length of the dough logs. Remove a log from the fridge, unwrap it, and roll it lightly in the sugar to press the crystals into its sides. Coat the log as thoroughly as you can; then slice it into ¼-inch-thick slices. [I found that a thin paring knife works well.] Lay the slices on the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Refrigerate the remaining dough.

5. Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes or until just golden around the edges, rotating the sheet 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. [Keep in mind that the cookies will continue to brown a bit after you have removed them from the oven, so it’s best to err on the pale side.] Cool them on the silicone mat or parchment paper on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

6. Store the cookies in an airtight tin at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze them in a Tupperware, with a sheet of wax paper between each layer.

Yield: about 80 silver-dollar-size cookies

Today in Oh Hey Great: Assorted Items

Up North

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

So here I am back in Berkeley, and I feel a little discombobulated. Do I finish up writing about what I baked down south before I left, or do I save that for another day and immediately begin waxing rhapsodic about the joys of the Bay Area? Do I get so distracted by all the wonderful happy things up here and by my old familiar neighborhood that I nearly forget about my blogging routine altogether? Or is that just an excuse for getting less and less gung-ho as NaBloPoMo wears on?

Or, as my mother called it tonight, when wondering why on earth I had to go write again, “NaBlahBlah.” At first I thought she said “NaBlobBlob,” and that made me laugh equally hard.

Now I’m getting ready to go see a transvestite karaoke singer (or something along those lines, I’ll be sure to report back later). Today I hit the Berkeley farmers’ market (and forgot to take photos of my favorite croissants ever of all time), and last night I met up with some friends late night at César on Shattuck. Tomorrow morning I’m getting up to head over to the Thai Buddhist Temple for Sunday brunch. Add that to the cookies I made before I left as a Thanksgiving gift for a certain someone’s dad, and there are clearly a million things to write about. Then why can’t I just pick up a thread and go?

Maybe too it’s because my mom and I were flipping through food magazines and talking about the endless stream of things to buy and recipes to make and how, my Lord, sometimes enough is enough. Food is amazing but let’s take a break! As much as I love food (and love having a blog devoted to food), I also love to talk about other things (which is probably why I have another blog for doing just that but, um, that’s not the point tonight).

Since I seem to be at such a loss for words tonight, at least about food, let me rely on some photos. Non-food related photos. Let me show you two things that makes me happy. First, a little proof that we do get a bit of autumn here in California.

autumn

Second, one of my favorite excuses for spending so much time in the Bay Area. Tell me those brown eyes don’t break your heart a little.

charles!

Food will be here. So will the Internet. I’ll still be loving (and occasionally hating) both tomorrow. But for today, I just want to be excited and in love with the world, and head back out into it. I hope you all are doing the same.

Oh Dear

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

In the rush of getting ready to fly up to Berkeley (to see my parents, my dog, and some wonderful friends, and to do some research), I plum forgot to write anything. I’ll be back later tonight, or maybe tomorrow!

Mmm, Berkeley… and Oakland… and San Francisco.

Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

It’s so quiet over here. My neighborhood is never this silent. And I don’t just mean all the blogs and sites I usually read, I mean my actual neighbors. Everyone’s eating or napping or digesting or out of town or hiding out and ignoring the holiday altogether.

Me? I’m suffering as gracefully as I can manage, having put away a pile of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and prime rib and rolls and and and… that was a bad, bad idea, but tasted good, good, good going down. I’m thankful I got to eat it, and I’ll be thankful when I’m no longer questioning just how many more times I’m going to torment myself by going off the IBS diet.

But hey. It’s Thanksgiving. And I for one love this holiday, more than any other holiday out there. That’s probably no surprise to you – after all, what other holiday revolves more around food and spending time with people you (hopefully) like? So I’ll only complain this little tiny bit, and then it’ll be back to mostly healthy eating, along with a lot of baking for others.

meyer lemon sables

Yes, I baked more today. But do you mind terribly if I wait to tell you about it until tomorrow? All the blood has rushed from my brain to my stomach….

Happy Thanksgiving!

Candied Orange Peel, part 2

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Chocolate-covered candied orange peel

I have a new goal. Sometime in the next year, I am going to learn – and by learn I mean stop ignoring what I already know full well – that whatever I think will take two hours will take four. Or possibly six. Maybe even eight.

So, as you read yesterday (or probably this morning, since I posted it late late last night), I decided to make candied orange peel. Should you ever decide to make candied orange peel, know this: It is a far more significant undertaking than you realize. Especially if you, like me, think it will be very clever to make 1 1/2 times the recipe. About a third of the way through removing the pulp from the thrice-boiled slices of peel, you’ll be thinking things like “Why did I start this so late when I could have started it hours and hours earlier” and “If I lived here I’d be home by now, but no, I’ll be doing this all night” and “Why am I even doing this in the first place.”

Candied orange peel

But, like I mentioned, you’ll keep inhaling that incredible scent. Which will get even better when you put those peels back on the stove, this time with orange liqueur and sugar. It’ll be like an orange explosion in your house, a smell so bright and cheerful and sunshiney that you can’t really stay too annoyed at yourself. My roommate came home in the middle of my orange peel madness and said the whole house smelled “friendly,” like a happy memory from his grandmother’s house. Trust me, that’s big comfort at 1:30 a.m.

So why was I even doing this in the first place, you ask? I got it into my head that this year, I was going to only give handmade gifts. You know, stop buying so much, make delightful treats, try new recipes, and save money. (The saving money and buying parts are questionable, what with all the ingredients and occasional tools, but other parts are certainly coming to pass.) One of the recipes that caught my eye was in Carole Bloom’s Truffles, Candies, & Confections, which I bought last year based on David Lebovitz’s recommendation, while trying to make some caramels and truffles. It was a recipe for California Fruit and Nut Chocolate Bars, which were sort of similar to the Chocolate Blocks with Fruit and Nuts Molly made last year around Christmas. This one has all sorts of variations, but one option was candied orange peel.Candied orange peel Candied orange peel

Which, for reasons partly unknown, I decided to try and make.

Now, I practically live on fresh fruit. I like dried fruit a lot. Yet I’ve never been much for candied peel or fruit chews or any of those types of sweets. I could have just made the bars with any dried fruit available at the market – raisins, cranberries, cherries, apricots, peaches. But something about the idea of candied orange peel suddenly appealed (oh yes I did) to me. I don’t think it’s because I’ve been reading Orangette for so long now. No, there was something in the idea of these being “California” fruit and nut bars, and oranges being very much a California fruit. I mean, I live in Orange County. But more than that, something about the oranges said “holidays” to me. Maybe it was from reading Little House on the Prairie too many times, and the girls being excited when Pa would bring them each an orange for Christmas. Or maybe I have some Fanny & Alexander-type image stuck in my head, a little girl with long hair and a bow, with a candied orange, in a house with gilded boughs.

Whatever the reason, I was hell-bent on making candied orange peel. So I did. Many, many, many (many) hours later, my house is covered in a fine layer of granulated sugar, I don’t want to go anywhere near the kitchen for at least 12 hours, and I am so glad I went for it.

Really? Absolutely. The candied peel is so good it’s hard to know where to begin. Tender and chewy, like softer gummy candies, sweet and so full of a pure orange flavor. There’s not even a hint of bitterness in the peel, but a tiny titch of sour remains, to add an edge of complexity to the luxurious sugar coating. And when I dipped them in quick-tempered dark chocolate? Oh boy. I always liked Molly’s site, but consider me an official orangette convert.

Next time, I’ll just plan to convert a little earlier in the day.

Chocolate-covered candied orange peel

Candied Orange Peel
From Carole Bloom’s Truffles, Candies, & Confections

Yield: 6 cups**

6 to 8 large, thick-skinned oranges
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur [Leah says: I used Patrón Citrónge, which is not cognac-based but is less expensive]

1. Slice the ends off the oranges and discard. Cut the oranges into quarters, then cut off all but 1/2 inch of the pulp, which keeps the peel from becoming bitter as it cooks. Cut the quarters into thin slices.

2. Place the orange slices in a 6-quart saucepan and cover with cold water. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Drain off the water and repeat this process with fresh cold water two more times.

3. After the third boil, drain the orange slices, rinse them in cold water, and remove any pulp that is still attached. In the saucepan, combine the orange slices, 3 cups of the sugar, and the orange liqueur, and cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly. Continue to cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently. Most of the sugar will be absorbed by the peel as it cooks. Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately begin the next step.

4. Place the remaining 3 cups sugar on a sheet of waxed paper. Roll spoonfuls of the orange slices in the sugar, separating the slices to coat them completely. Transfer the slices onto another sheet of waxed paper and let them air-dry (20-30 minutes).

5. In a tightly covered container, the peel will keep for 2 to 3 months in the refrigerator. *

*Dipped in tempered bittersweet chocolate, it will keep (in an air-tight container, wrapped tightly in foil) for 1 month in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer. If you’d like directions for tempering the chocolate and dipping the peel, please let me know!

**Please tell me why I did not read this before deciding to do 1 1/2 times the recipe.

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