Outdo Cupid on Valentine’s Day

This is a very special column.Normally this column is written for those of you who have an affinity for all things culinary.  Cooking, dining, food history, tips and recipes; it’s all fodder for the person who knows their way around a kitchen.  I write for the person whose refrigerator contains more than panty hose, batteries, and cocktail olives.

But this week’s column is for Petey-level cooks who desire to be heroes on February 14th.

If I disappeared tomorrow, my ever-loving spouse would probably be hospitalized for malnutrition and most likely scurvy within weeks.  His diet would consist of frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, dum-dum suckers and fast food.But even he could pull off this recipe.  I promise.

If you can read a recipe and follow simple instructions, you can create a delicious, impressive treat that will wow your significant other.It’s a combination cookie and candy.  There are layers of buttery shortbread, creamy caramel, decadent chocolate, topped with a light sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  It’s normally known as ‘millionaire’s shortbread’.  But because this version is so deceptively easy, I call it, ‘Windfall shortbread’.

The shortbread portion is adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart.  But it’s simple to prepare.  As for the chocolate, the type is up to you.  Grocery store chips or gourmet artisan bars, pick either.  Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, a combination, or even (heaven forfend) white; choose the recipient’s fave.

Making caramel from scratch is an extremely tricky business, with candy thermometers and napalm-like molten sugar.  Even for professionals, the results might be perfect, or instead, toffee-like, watery, or one big rock.  Pre-made caramels guarantee consistent, perfect results every time.

Windfall shortbreadmarthas-shortbread

1 1/3 cups (2 sticks plus 6 tablespoons) brown butter, room temperature (brown butter is optional-regular salted butter is perfectly acceptable instead)

2/3 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

The beans scraped from 1 vanilla bean

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

Make brown butter: melt butter on medium-low in small saucepan.   Watch it constantly until it foams, and then browns.  When it smells nutty and the milk solids are caramel-colored, remove from heat and pour into a bowl.  Cool until it solidifies and is room temperature.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9X13 baking pan, and line bottom with buttered parchment paper with enough overhang on sides to act as handles.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and vanilla scrapings.  Beat to combine.  Add flour, 1 cup at a time, beating on low until combined, but still crumbly.

Pour dough into prepared pan and press it down.  Level and smooth the top, using something like a metal measuring cup to pack it into a nice, neat, even layer in the pan. The pieces will separate easier after baking if you slice before baking.  Cut into 2X2-inch pieces by lowering blade all the way through.  Don’t saw, you’ll disturb the shortbread’s surface.  To forestall it from bubbling up, prick each piece with a toothpick about 4-5 times—push it all the way to the bottom. 

Bake shortbread until evenly pale golden, but not browned, 70-85 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack to cool.

Time for the caramel:Unwrap 1 ½-11 ounce bags of Kraft caramels, and place in a microwave-safe bowl.  Pour in 1 ½ tablespoons milk.  Nuke for 1 ½-2 minutes or completely melted and silky.  Pour over cooled shortbread in pan.  Place in fridge for 20 minutes.

Chocolate layer:Melt two 10 ounce bags of chips or five 4 ounce baking bars, of your choice.  Put in large bowl and microwave on 15 second intervals, stirring after each.  When completely melted, pour chocolate over the cooled caramel; smooth top with spatula.  Sprinkle with flaky finishing salt.  Allow to fully set.

When set, lift up shortbread with parchment and place on cutting board.  Using serrated knife, gently break off pieces at original cuts.  Store in an airtight container.  Recipe makes approximately 18 pieces.

Wrap these up nice and pretty, present them to the object of your affection, and then drop the mic.Because my friend; you just won Valentine’s Day.

Thanks for your time.

Blame It On Rio

Today is day twelve of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  Michael Phelps is an aqua god; part man, part some kind of fish, maybe trout or something.  Gymnast Simone Biles is possibly the best gymnast of all time, and uber-adorable teammate Laurie Hernandez looks like she fell off a charm bracelet.  Her three word motivational speech “I got this” should be the mantra for our nation.

Could she be Any.More.Adorable?

Southern Season has a special sandwich inspired by the games.  The Bauru is roast beef, gooey mozzarella, tomato, and pickle, served on a ciabatta-like bun.  The name comes from the town Bauru, who take it so seriously that the recipe has been codified into law.

One evening at the Bauru city jail:

“Whadda you in for? I killed a man to watch him die.”

“I put muenster cheese on my Bauru.”

“Guards! Get me away from this evil sandwich degenerate!”

The right way.

I’m not here today to debate the correct cheese on a roast beef sandwich (especially since it’s cold cheddar, obvi).  I want to talk about a Brazilian confection.

Called brigadeiros, they’re the love child of truffles and fudge.  They were developed in 1940 and named for a Brigadier General who ran for president of Brazil.  They’re found at children’s parties, and there are shops that sell nothing else.  I would liken their popularity to our love for cupcakes.  But brigadeiros have had a much longer run at the top of the dessert pile.

The main ingredient is sweetened condensed milk.  In the US, we use it mainly for key lime pie, and seven layer bars.   It’s also found around the world in many sweet dishes.  But in the Southern hemisphere the thick, gooey stuff is ubiquitous.  In many cultures it sweetens coffee and tea.  Caramel-like dulce de leche is made from it, and in South Asia they put it on toast, like honey.  Nestle sells it in a squeeze tube just for this purpose.


The traditional presentation is to cover these balls in sprinkles or jimmies.  I did use sprinkles.  But, I also decided to play around a little and come up with some other varieties.  I rolled some in crushed potato chips and I had some really sparkly sugar on hand that made others look like tiny disco balls.  But the ones I’m most proud of are the s’mores.  I put a mini marshmallow in the center, and then rolled it in graham cracker crumbs.

Before I share the recipe, I have a few tips:

Sift the cocoa powder.  I didn’t, and had major lumps.  I used my immersion blender to try and remove them.  I spray painted a goodly portion of myself and the kitchen in sticky chocolate and still had a small number of cocoa powder beads in the final product.

Use gloves.  This stuff gets sticky.  I even sprayed a little cooking spray on my gloved hands.  Nothing stuck, but be prepared to change your gloves to avoid contaminating one coating with another.


brigadeiro ingredients

2-14 ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

½ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa, sifted

4 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place large non-stick pan on medium.  Add sweetened condensed milk and sifted cocoa.  Whisk until totally combined.  Add butter and salt.  Whisking continuously, cook until fudge thickens.  You want to see the pan bottom when you drag the whisk across the bottom, and it should take 2-3 seconds for the thickened fudge to re-cover the trail.  Take off heat and stir in vanilla.  Pour into a greased bowl.  Refrigerate until cooled and slightly chilled.

Using a small portion scoop, scoop out equal amounts onto parchment paper.  Return to fridge and let cool.


Remove from fridge, roll portions into neat balls, and roll in coating of choice.  Return to refrigerator for at least an hour.


Makes around 4 dozen.

You could have an Olympic closing ceremony bash celebrating Rio and the next host city; Tokyo.Have samba dancers serve brigadeiros and Geisha girls serve Daifuku (red bean cakes).  For drinks have cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane, and Japanese sake.

But if you do much drinking you probably shouldn’t have real fire in your Olympic torches.  Maybe just go with a couple festively decorated flashlights.

Thanks for your time.

I’ll get you, my praline


kateys walk 2

The view near The Kid’s house in Woodstock.


After The Kid finished freshman year of college up in Vermont, an internship was landed in Woodstock, NY.  Petey and I flew up, and would rent a car to lug child and possessions to a Craigslist-rented apartment in the Empire state.

*Here’s a piece of interesting trivia that I learned up there: the famous “Summer of Love” festival was not actually in Woodstock NY, but 60 miles southwest, in Bethel NY.  And if every baby boomer that claims to have been there really was, no human under the age of thirty would have been present anywhere else on the planet that weekend.  (Actually, I did go to school with a girl who was one of those naked toddlers in attendance, but she has no memory of it; coincidentally neither do many of the adult concert-goers.)

Anyway, back to the airport…Petey uses a walking stick, and I was concerned that it would be confiscated by the TSA.  I’d done bounteous research, but the rules as written were vague, and open to wide interpretation.  I was a little nervous that a grouchy agent with a toothache or one who’d gotten a call from the IRS would nix the cane, and my husband would be physically penalized for the duration.

I’d planned to make some treats to take up for The Kid to share with friends.  So, I decided to put together goody bags full of my homemade cheese wafers and my creamy, delicious pecan pralines to hand out at security. I was hoping this good will gesture would facilitate smooth sailing through the line.

It worked.

By the time Petey, his cane, and I got through security, we were on a first-name basis with the agents.  We’d reduced one sweet woman to tears because the pralines reminded her so much of the ones her dearly departed granny used to make for holidays and special occasions.

Vanilla Bean Pecan Pralines

pralines3 cups broken pecans

2 cups light brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

 1/3 cup whole milk

 6 tablespoons butter, salted

 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped

Toast pecans:

Place pecan pieces in a dry skillet on medium.  Stirring constantly, cook until color deepens and they’re aromatic.  Remove from heat, and let cool.

In medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cream, milk, butter, empty vanilla pod, and salt. Cook over medium, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 230°. Discard pod, lower heat slightly, add toasted pecans and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it gets to 236°. Remove from heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add vanilla bean scrapings and stir with wooden spoon until mixture is thickened and slightly creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Using a small cookie scoop, spoon the pralines onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. If the mixture becomes stiff or grainy, return to burner and stir over medium heat until it can be easily scooped and dropped.

Makes 4 dozen.They were a hit in Montpelier, too.

Our first night in Vermont we were in a hotel, but The Kid was staying at the dorm to finish packing.  A school friend, Chase (Northerner and praline neophyte), came over to hang out with our child.  Despite dire warnings of the richness of the candy, and to his everlasting regret, he polished off the remaining 30 pralines in the time it took to watch Hot Tub Tome Machine.

You ever seen a praline hangover?

It ain’t pretty.

Representation–not The Kid’s school friend.

Thanks for your time.