pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds

pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds

I’m sorry. I know you’ve probably reached your threshold for holiday sweets at this point. But I feel like I would be doing you a huge disservice if I didn’t share this with you.

pretzels

You might already be familiar with cracker toffee. I’ve been making it every year since I first encountered it here. Crackers (saltines or matzo), swimming in brown sugar toffee and topped with dark chocolate, toasted almonds, and sea salt – it is dangerously addictive. I make at least one batch of cracker toffee every holiday season because people love the stuff. It’s the right thing to do.

chocolate and pretzels

I brought the matzo toffee to a Secret Santa party last week and the entire tin was empty by the end of the day, which is always the sign of a winning treat. Even though I’ve had it a million times, I had to try a piece (quality testing). As I munched, I started thinking about pretzels. I’ve had pretzels on the brain the past few months, and have been meaning to make a toffee covered pretzel of some sort. And then I realized that the matzo could very easily be swapped out for pretzels.

pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds

So that’s exactly what I did a few days later. I picked up a bag of pretzel sticks and went to town. I decided that cellophane bags filled with hunks of pretzel toffee were going to be a nice little surprise for the peeps this year. I packed up most of it, but made sure to save a few pieces for myself. Salty, sweet, crunchy, nutty, chocolatey – all the bases are covered. Just do it.

pretzel toffee in bags

pretzel toffee with chocolate and almonds 

adapted from smitten kitchen

makes one 11×17-inch sheet of toffee

1/2 pound pretzel sticks 

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into a few large pieces

1 cup packed light brown sugar

a big pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (or a combination of both)

1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

extra sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet completely with foil, and then line the base of the foil with parchment paper, cut to fit.

Line the bottom of the baking sheet with pretzel sticks, covering as much of the pan as possible.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and stir it over medium heat until it begins to boil. Once it has begun boiling, let it bubble for three more minutes, stirring it well. It will thicken a bit as it cooks. Remove from the heat and add the salt and vanilla, and then quickly pour it over the pretzels. You’ll want to spread it quickly, as it will begin to set as soon as it is poured.

Bake the caramel-covered pretzels for 15 minutes, watching carefully as it will bubble and the corners might darken too quickly and/or burn. You can reduce the heat if you see this happening.

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand five minutes, and then spread them evenly across the caramel. An offset spatula works great here. If you’re using them, sprinkle the chocolate with toasted almonds and/or sea salt.

Once completely cool, break it into pieces and store in an airtight container.

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spinach chop

Now that I’m back from vacation and back to reality, I am putting myself back on a healthy eating regimen. It must be done – I ate those malasadas with reckless abandon while I was in Hawaii. I’m ready to return to my breakfast smoothies and greens.

I try to make sure to eat at least one serving of leafy greens a day. Lately I’ve been really into raw kale salads. And spinach. I’ve been buying Bloomsdale spinach from the farmers’ market every week and I can’t get enough of it. It’s a little more substantial than regular spinach, and has a bit of a nutty flavor that I really like.

This dish has been in heavy rotation in my kitchen for a couple of months now; I find myself making it at least once a week. This is what Heidi calls spinach chop. It’s wilted spinach, seasoned with garlic and harissa, and topped with hard boiled eggs and crunchy toasted almonds. It’s a great way to have your veggies and is packed with protein. It has become my favorite thing to munch on, especially when I’m eating low-carb. I also really like it for an on-the-go breakfast or lunch. This is what I ate during the flight to Oahu. It was a million times more satisfying than anything I could have ordered on the plane. Pat on the back for planning ahead.

spinach chop

from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson

serves 4

1 pound spinach, tough stems removed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon harissa

4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted

scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

grated zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)

Add 1/2-inch water to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the spinach and stir constantly until the spinach collapses entirely, about a minute. Drain spinach and run cold water over it until it’s cooled. Spin the spinach in a salad spinner to get rid of as much water as possible. Or press it in a clean kitchen towel. Finely chop the spinach.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute; do not let it brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the harissa and spinach. Add eggs, almonds, salt, and lemon zest and stir again gently until well-combined. Serve warm or at room temperature.

granola!

2011, I like you already! The new year has been full of friends, old and new, laughter, great food and great drinks. I rang in the new year at a spectacular dinner party hosted by the lovely and talented Mr. Anderson. Chocolate mousse, Veuve Clicquot, an amazing view of San Francisco and fireworks – it was an ideal way to start the new year. I really couldn’t have asked for more.

Since we all want to start off the year on the right foot, how about some granola? Every new year, I swear to myself that I’m going to eat healthier. And I know I’m not the only one, which is why I decided a few weeks ago that I would give the gift of good health in the form of homemade granola (along with salted caramels and marshmallows, and a few other sweet things – you can’t deny the people of all the good stuff!).

Why granola? Because it’s healthy! Or maybe wholesome is more fitting. And because a little bag of homemade granola landed on my desk one evening (thanks, Ginger!) and inspired me to make my own. And when poured into jars and tied with some good looking ribbon, it’s practically begging to be given away.

This is my dream granola. It’s full of nuts and dried fruit and toasted coconut and sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup.  It’s a sweeter granola, which makes it perfect over plain yogurt. I think next time I’ll throw in some candied ginger, maybe some pumpkin seeds. Or dried figs. Mmmmm. The possibilities are endless, sort of like the year to come. Happy New Year, my dears!

homemade granola

adapted loosely from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

makes 1 pound of granola

2 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 cup nuts ( I used a combination of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts)

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1 cup dried fruit (I used dried cherries, golden raisins, and chopped dried apricots)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with salt and cinnamon.

In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, brown sugar,  oil and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Pour the syrup mixture into the oats and stir until evenly coated.

Spread the oat mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving a few clumps for texture.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip the oats with a metal spatula. Scatter the nuts and coconut over the granola and return to the oven.

Continue to bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip the mixture again. Return the baking sheet to the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip the oats one last time.

Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Cool completely. Once, cooled, toss the granola with dried fruit. Store in an airtight container. The granola will keep for 1 week.