Salty Pretzel Carmelitas

Salty Pretzel CarmelitasI’m on the first of two back-to-back trips to Maine, but I’m popping in to tell you something important:Salty Pretzel CarmelitasYou should make these Salty Pretzel Carmelitas ASAP. Like tomorrow. Or tonight. Or right now. Call in sick, go get yourself some pretzels and a bag of caramels, and get ready to fall in love.Salty Pretzel CarmelitasOkay, maybe don’t skip work, but definitely do make some time for these. Salty Pretzel CarmelitasSalty Pretzel Carmelitas are everything. I’m not exaggerating. They’re sweet and salty…Salty Pretzel Carmelitascrispy, crunchy…Salty Pretzel Carmelitaschewy, gooey…Salty Pretzel Carmelitaseasy peasy bites of magic. Magic, I tell you.Salty Pretzel CarmelitasSalty Pretzel CarmelitasI really feel like I could just leave it at that, but perhaps you need a more convincing argument as to why you absolutely should make these this weekend.Salty Pretzel CarmelitasBut if two layers of salted, brown sugary, pretzel- and chocolate chip-studded cookie…Salty Pretzel Carmelitasand stretchy, glossy caramel don’t have you running to the kitchen, I don’t know what will.Salty Pretzel Carmelitas

Salty Pretzel Carmelitas
makes one 8-inch square pan, about 9-16 bars

3 cups salted pretzels
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips + more for sprinkling (optional)
1 11-ounce bag caramel candies, unwrapped
6 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and grease with butter. Set aside.

Place pretzels in a large zip-top bag. Seal bag and place on a counter or other hard, durable surface. Use a rolling pin or heavy pan to crush pretzels until the largest pieces are no more than 1/2-inch in length. This should yield about 1-1 1/3 cups crushed pretzels.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and crushed pretzels. Use a silicone spatula or wooden spoon to fold in melted butter—mixture may be crumbly, but should hold together when pinched. Ensure that the dough is not too warm before folding in chocolate chips. Set aside.

Combine caramels and heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Firmly press half the dough (about 2 cups) into an even layer at the bottom of the prepared pan. Pour caramel over the top and smooth to the edges. Scatter remaining dough mixture over the top. Use the palms of your hands to gently pack it into a even layer, covering the caramel.

Bake full pan for 23 minutes, or until turning golden at the edges. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack (you can speed this up in the refrigerator).

Slice bars with a lightly greased chef’s knife, wiping the blade clean between cuts. Do not try to slice bars until they are completely room temperature. If you cooled them in the refrigerator, let them return to room temperature before slicing.

Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days. Layer them with wax paper to keep them from sticking together.

Salty Pretzel Carmelitas

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Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté

Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéLast Monday night, I took a picture of a dinner I had made at work that included this simple Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté, among other delicious things. I have received multiple requests for the recipe and, as it’s so dang easy, I am happy to oblige.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéThis quick, fresh one-pan meal is one of my summertime staples. It’s made with all sorts of great seasonal produce like corn and zucchini (duh), tomatoes, spinach, and fresh herbs. And shrimp. And a squeeze of lemon.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéIt’s my favorite meal this time of year.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéI measured all the ingredients out so I could write the recipe for you, but I usually just make this by feel—it’s that simple.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéThis dish is the sort of thing that works just as well for a weeknight meal as it does for a party. It can be scaled up and down without any fancy math—a relief after all the math I did last month.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéYou can adapt this recipe any way you please—take this and make it your own. Don’t care for shrimp? Swap in chicken (but, uh, cook that longer). Halve the amount of corn. Add more zucchini. Nix the tomatoes. Fold in fresh arugula instead of spinach. Use bacon grease instead of butter. Heck, you could even take this in a southwestern direction by adding jalapeño, black beans, cilantro, a dash of cumin and a squeeze of lime! Really, the possibilities are endless.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini SautéHowever you choose to make this…well, just make this.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté

Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté
makes 3-4 servings

2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound peeled, deveined raw shrimp (fresh or thawed frozen)
cloves garlic, minced
1-2 shallots, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
2 cups diced zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears of corn)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 packed cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 medium lemon

For serving:
chopped fresh parsley
sliced or torn fresh basil
lemon wedges

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and swirl until the butter is melted and any foaming has subsided. Working in batches, cook shrimp about 2-3 minutes per side, until pink and tightly curled. Set aside.

Add remaining tablespoons of butter and olive oil to the pan, and swirl until butter is melted. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and starting to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add diced zucchini and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in corn and cook for another minute or two. Stir in halved grape tomatoes, salt and pepper. Fold in half the chopped fresh spinach leaves, followed by the other half. Remove pan from heat. Stir in the juice of half a lemon.

Divide sautéed vegetables among four shallow bowls and top each with 1/4 of the shrimp. Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley and basil over the top of each bowl and serve with lemon wedges.

Sauté is best the day it is made, but may be refrigerated for up to three days. I like to reheat the vegetables by themselves and then stir in the shrimp cold, so as not to overcook them.Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté Shrimp, Corn & Zucchini Sauté

Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate GravyI know what you’re thinking. “Chocolate…gravy? GROSS.”

But hear me out. I have hated almost every gravy I’ve ever encountered, if I was even willing to take a bite in the first place. I’m not generally opposed to sauces, but the…gloppiness…of the cream gravies of my Texan childhood pretty much ruined them for me, with one notable exception: Chocolate Gravy.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

If you’ve never heard of such a thing, imagine a thin, flour-thickened chocolate pudding that you spoon over Buttermilk Biscuits, preferably made by your old Texan grandma. You know, the one who lets you stay up late watching The Golden Girls and always has chocolate cake on the counter (and lets you slice it without supervision, so you’re really sugared-up when you go back to your parents’ house).Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

I had one of those grandmas. Her name was Dorothy, but I called her Nonnie, and she was the very best. She let my little sister and I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch and frozen pizza for dinner on Friday nights (followed up by the aforementioned chocolate cake), but Sunday mornings were sacred.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

You see, my dad went to her house for breakfast on Sundays, so she’d pull out all the stops. Even when she was very old and had arthritic hands, she would make sausage patties, eggs fried in bacon grease, sliced tomatoes, and biscuits & gravy. They’d eat breakfast and she’d play with our dog, Lily, while my dad took one of his signature twenty-minute snoozes in the recliner. On the rare occasion that my sisters and I were allowed to skip church and join in on Sunday breakfast at Nonnie’s, she’d add Chocolate Gravy to the menu, just because she loved us.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

I’ve been thinking about Nonnie a lot lately. Maybe it’s because what would have been her 100th birthday is coming soon or because she was an amazing improvisational baker or because today marks eleven years living in NYC. Or maybe just because she was a badass lady. Whatever the reason, I’ve been craving Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy lately. And so, here we are.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate GravyButtermilk Biscuits & Chocolate GravyButtermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

This is not Nonnie’s recipe—as far as I know, she never wrote anything down. Instead, it’s the product of a little trial and error and some taste memory from twenty years ago. I do know that the chocolate gravy I ate as a child was made with the Hershey’s cocoa that came in a can, but as I have never seen that in NYC, I recommend using whatever unsweetened cocoa you like. Dutch process cocoa will make for a deeper chocolate flavor, but natural unsweetened yields the lighter flavor I remember.Buttermilk BiscuitsButtermilk BiscuitsButtermilk Biscuits

As for the biscuits, this recipe is a slight departure from my previous all-time best biscuit recipe. Both are delicious, but I am currently partial to this fluffier, slightly more tender version. Buttermilk BiscuitsButtermilk BiscuitsButtermilk BiscuitsButtermilk BiscuitsThese buttermilk biscuits are made with a touch of cornstarch to mimic the tenderness of cake flour. I also added a smidge more flour and buttermilk, yielding a slightly softer dough. In addition, I’ve taken out the beat-with-a-rolling-pin step, and chosen to bake the biscuits close together on a parchment-lined baking sheet instead of packed into a casserole dish. Regardless of which biscuit recipe you choose though, you’re going to love them drizzled (or smothered) with Chocolate Gravy.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

This weekend, do like Nonnie. Make some Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy for someone you love.Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy

Buttermilk Biscuits
makes about 12 biscuits

1/2 cup unsalted butter, very cold
2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3/4-1 cup buttermilk,* very cold
Chocolate Gravy, for serving (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

Cut your stick of butter into two 4 tablespoon pieces. Cut one piece into four batons, and cut the other into very thin pats. Refrigerate until needed.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add chilled butter. Using your fingertips (not your palms!) or a pastry blender, cut cold butter into flour mixture until it is roughly the size of peas.

Pour in 3/4 cup cold buttermilk. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms. If it seems dry, add more buttermilk by the tablespoon.

Turn dough (and any unincorporated flour bits) out onto a floured surface. Flour your fingertips and pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Fold dough in half, and turn one quarter turn. Pat out until it is 1/2-inch thick again. Repeat folding/quarter-turning/patting out until you have done it four times total. Re-flour your surface as necessary.

Cut dough with a biscuit cutter or sharp knife (not serrated). Cut directly down—do not twist. Place biscuits close together in your prepared pan. Pat biscuit dough scraps into a cohesive piece, and cut until you have used all your dough.

Brush biscuits with extra buttermilk.

Bake biscuits for 14-15 minutes, until they have risen and are starting to brown. Let cool 5-10 minutes. Serve with Chocolate Gravy, if desired.

Biscuits are best the day they are made, but can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Note:

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, use this alternative. Pour 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice) in a liquid measuring cup. Pour regular milk up to the 1-cup mark. Let sit 5 minutes in the refrigerator. Stir mixture before proceeding with the recipe.

Chocolate Gravy
makes about 2 cups

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups milk (preferably whole)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift cocoa, flour, sugar, and salt into a 4-quart pot. Gradually whisk in milk. Place pot over medium heat and whisk continuously until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Transfer to a gravy boat or other serving vessel. Serve over split Buttermilk Biscuits. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few days. Reheat before serving.

Buttermilk Biscuits & Chocolate GravyButtermilk Biscuits

Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas

Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasNew York City has reached a level of heat and humidity that can only be solved with one big cleansing thunderstorm. The trouble is, we don’t really get thunderstorms in New York City—maybe three times a year, and they’re never as spectacular as the storms in Texas.

I recall many times over the course of my childhood where my whole family would gather on our covered porch to watch the rain. Sounds dull, but when you live in a place that’s almost always teetering on the edge of drought, heavy thunder-and-lightning temperature-dropping rain is a thing to see.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasI had forgotten all about watching thunderstorms until I visited my older sister last summer. We had spent all morning boating on Lake Austin, where it was sunny and very hot (because Texas). By time we all got home and cleaned up though, the skies were ominous and the air was so thick, walking outside was more akin to swimming than anything else (because Texas).Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasSpicy Mango Aguas FrescasWhen thunder started cracking, my sister broke out the blender, made some watermelon aguas frescas, and shuffled us all (three geriatric dogs included) out onto the covered porch to watch the storm. I don’t remember what we talked about out there, but I know I’ll remember watching that storm with (almost) all my favorite people and those cool lime-scented watermelon aguas frescas for a long time.

And also how my sister and I put on head lamps and took jigsaw puzzling to a new level as the storms continued and the electricity went out three hours later.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasBut back to aguas frescas. I should probably explain what they are. That’s a good place to start, right? Aguas frescas are a blended beverage made of water, ripe fresh fruit, and sugar, that are popular in Mexico and parts of the U.S. They’re super refreshing and make for a great non-alcoholic option on hot summer days.

I love my sister’s watermelon version, but I got the idea for these Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas last weekend and just had to figure them out. It only took one try—when you’re blending mango, lime, and jalapeño, you’re all but guaranteed to have great results.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasSpicy Mango Aguas Frescas begin with a jalapeño simple syrup. This is the most difficult part of the entire process. Heat equal parts sugar and water with two split jalapeños until the sugar has dissolved.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasLet it steep until the syrup has a good amount of heat…Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas…and strain it out.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasSo, yeah, not difficult at all. This recipe makes more than you’ll need for aguas frescas, but you can keep jalapeño simple syrup in the fridge for weeks on end. It goes well in cocktails and mocktails too—you won’t have any trouble finding excuses to use this combination of sweetness and heat, I promise.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasPour 1/2 cup of your jalapeño simple syrup into a blender, along with some fresh lime juice, water, and 3 cups of fresh mango chunks.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasBlitz it all until smooth…Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasSpicy Mango Aguas Frescas…and strain out the pulp.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasPour it over ice and garnish with lime slices. And maybe some of those paper straws you bought at Target four years ago and keep forgetting about.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasIf you love mango and sweet heat, this is the drink for you. Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas have a rich, sweet mango flavor and a bit of a kick from the jalapeño simple syrup, while the lime and water balance it all out. This is what summer tastes like. For me, anyway.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasWe have storms in the forecast later this week. I’d love to invite you all over to watch them and drink some Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas on a covered porch, but this is New York and nobody watches storms. Also, I don’t have a covered porch.

It’s the thought that counts though, right?Spicy Mango Aguas Frescas

Spicy Mango Aguas Fresca
makes about 6 servings

3 cups fresh mango chunks (about 2 large mangos)
1/2 cup jalapeño simple syrup (recipe below)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2-3 cups water
ice, for serving
lime slices, for serving (optional)

Combine mango chunks, simple syrup, lime juice, and 2 cups of water in a high-powered blender. Put on the lid and blend on medium speed until smooth. Taste for sweetness and heat, and add another cup of water, if desired (I did).

Place a mesh strainer over a large mixing bowl. Pour mixture through the strainer, pressing the pulp to get as much liquid as possible. Discard pulp.

To serve, place a few ice cubes in each of 6 small glasses. Divide aguas frescas among glasses. Garnish with lime slices.

Leftover agua fresca may be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Mixture will separate over time; stir before serving.

Jalapeño Simple Syrup
makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2-3 fresh jalapeños, stemmed and halved

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar has dissolved (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Let cool for 45-60 minutes, or until the concentration of flavor/heat is to your liking. Strain out jalapeño halves and any seeds. Store simple syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator.Spicy Mango Aguas FrescasSpicy Mango Aguas Frescas

Flourless Almond Cake

Flourless Almond CakeThis is my third gluten-free recipe in a row. As far as my inspiration goes, when it rains, it pours.Flourless Almond CakeYou might think that since I kept it for last, it’s subpar in some way. Quite the opposite—Flourless Almond Cake is really something special. It’s one of those recipes you’ll want to have in your repertoire not only because it’s grain-free and relatively quick and simple, but because it can adapt to any occasion. It’s as perfect for a dinner party as it is for a cookout or taking to a friend who needs a pick-me-up. The holidays are still a while away, but I can imagine this cake being a welcome addition to any dessert spread.
Flourless Almond CakeBut it’s barely August and I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me show you how this cake comes together.Flourless Almond CakeIt starts by measuring out some blanched almond flour. I measure using the spoon & level method, as I do with all my dry ingredients. It’s just what it sounds like—spoon the almond flour into the measuring cup until it heaps over the top, then level it with the flat edge of a table knife.Flourless Almond CakeFlourless Almond Cake This may sound tedious if you’ve never done it before, but it only takes a few seconds longer than other common volume-based measuring techniques. While it’s appealing to scoop ingredients with a measuring cup directly, it may cause your final product to be too dense.Flourless Almond CakePut your almond flour in a large mixing bowl and mix in some light brown sugar, salt, and touches of cinnamon and nutmeg. Next come four egg yolks, vanilla and almond extracts, and a little butter. You may certainly just use plain melted butter here, but I like to use brown butter for the extra toasty flavor it imparts.Flourless Almond CakeNext up, wash and dry your mixer attachment and whip four egg whites to stiff peaks. Don’t skip the wash/dry step or your egg whites won’t whip, and you’ll be cursing my name while you separate four more eggs. I tried bypassing this step and using the egg whites as-is, and the result was a dense, flat cake. No, thanks.Flourless Almond CakeFlourless Almond CakeStir 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the almond mixture before gently folding in the rest.Flourless Almond CakePour the batter into a prepared pan, scatter sliced almonds over the top, and bake until the center is firm.Flourless Almond CakeFlourless Almond CakeTurn the cake out onto a serving platter and let it cool completely. Slice it up and serve it any way you see fit.Flourless Almond CakeLike Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, this cake toes the line between celebration cake and everyday cake, and it does it with style. The soft, sweet cake and elegant sliced almond top are party-ready on their own or with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Or you could add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzle caramel over the top. As you can see, I am partial to a little whipped cream and a side of seasonal fruit.Flourless Almond CakeNo matter which suggestion you go with, this simple little cake is sure to be a winner.Flourless Almond Cake

Flourless Almond Cake
makes one 8-inch round cake

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour (measured by spoon & level)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup raw sliced almonds

For Serving:
whipped cream
seasonal fruit

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8-inch round pan. Line the bottom with parchment and grease again. Set aside.

Brown the butter. Place butter in a light-colored saucepan over medium heat. Let butter melt. Butter will bubble and crackle as the water content evaporates. Swirl the pan frequently for 3-6 minutes, keeping an eye on the color. When the solids are turning brown and the butter is nutty and fragrant, remove the pot from the heat and immediately transfer the brown butter into a small bowl. Set aside.

Separate egg yolks from whites. Set whites aside.

Combine almond flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer on low speed to mix the ingredients together—this will take all of 15 seconds. Add egg yolks, brown butter, vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. It will be very thick, almost like cookie dough.

Wash and dry mixer attachments, along with a medium mixing bowl. I also like to wipe down the equipment with vinegar, just to ensure that everything is completely clean before I add the egg whites. There is no way to salvage this recipe if the egg whites are contaminated with oil, yolk, or even water.

Transfer egg whites to the very clean, dry medium mixing bowl. Use the very clean, dry electric mixer to whip them until stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.

Stir 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the almond mixture. Gently fold half the remaining egg whites into the mixture, followed by the other half.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Scatter sliced almonds over the top. Bake for 21-23 minutes, or until firm in the center.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before running a thin, flexible knife around the edge of the cake. Invert cake onto a clean plate. Remove parchment. Revert onto a serving plate or cakestand. Let cool completely before slicing. Serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit, if desired.

Leftover cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to two days or in the refrigerator for up to five.Flourless Almond Cake