Saturday, December 18, 2010

tipsy rum balls

I’m not sure when I first tasted a rum ball, but I know I wasn’t of legal drinking age.

I grew up in a town full of German bakeries, so rum balls – like marzipan and rye bread – were inevitable.  My favourites were always the soft ones rolled in chocolate sprinkles, so saturated with rum they almost fell apart. (I believe rum balls that only have a faint whiff of rum should be called something else.)

I was also fed brandy beans at a very young age. I assume all that early exposure to liqueur was good for my development. In any case, it has given me a mature palate to appreciate alcohol and dark chocolate.

Now, sadly, I am not surrounded by German bakeries, and this year I have been dreaming of rum balls. I knew I wanted a soft, dark chocolate rum ball but I also knew my rum ball needed something else, something that would give it a secret background of flavour. After extensive research, I found the mystery ingredients: hazelnuts and walnuts. Germans love these nuts because they meld so well with dark chocolate that they almost become a whole new species of choconut.  

I also thought long and hard about the chocolate sprinkles I would roll the rum balls in. After all that work on the rum ball interior, I couldn’t take a chance on a waxy exterior. In the end, I made a special trip to the Dutch store to buy chocolate sprinkles there. I was not let down – these are indeed chocolate-y enough to sprinkle on toast. (Those crazy Dutch people!)

These rum balls are just what I remember: deep and dark and full of rum. In fact, they are so rummy that I made them very small – then you can also have some brandy beans and not be over the legal limit.

Merry Christmas!

A note for the gluten-free among us: These work perfectly with gluten-free chocolate cookies. I like this brand

tipsy rum balls

rolls 48

1 c. crushed chocolate cookies (about 1 1/2 c. before crushing)
1/4 to 1/3 c. rum, to taste plus more to dip
generous 1/2 c. hazelnuts
generous 1/2 c. walnuts
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tbsp. sugar
sea salt, to taste
3 oz. semisweet chocolate
lots of chocolate sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crush cookies in a sturdy plastic bag or a food processor. Pour into a bowl and mix in the rum. Set aside.

Roast the hazelnuts and walnuts in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes. Keep an eye on them – don’t let them burn! Pulse nuts in food processor with cocoa, sugar and a couple sprinkles of sea salt until fine, but not a paste. Mix nuts into rummy cookie crumbs.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl suspended over boiling water. Stir well into nutty cookie mixture.

Pour 1 – 2 tablespoons rum in a tiny prep bowl. Pour chocolate sprinkles in a cereal bowl. Use a teaspoon to grab dough and roll with hands, sometimes using fingers to keep it together. Dip the ball into the rum, then roll in sprinkles. Repeat until you’re done. Store in the fridge.

Friday, December 10, 2010

butter lettuce for a break

It’s Christmas party season.

Holiday brunches.

Festive buffets.

Work party dinners.

A lot of good – and heavy – food.

Sometimes, I want something a tad lighter. That’s when I think of how my German Oma made salad.

Take a butter lettuce – or any green lettuce, really – and squeeze out some drops of fresh lemon juice. Sound exciting? Well, of course it’s not exciting yet.

Now for the fun part: carefully sprinkle just a bit of sugar over your salad. (Pretend it’s snow falling if you live on the West Coast and only ever see rain falling right now.) Eat.

This is not rocket science, I recognize. But it is much, much more than the sum of its parts. These three magic ingredients make a light and delicious salad that will help your stomach make room for the next Christmas treat. Das schmeckt gut!

butter lettuce salad with lemon and sugar

butter lettuce (also called Boston Bibb)
lemon, cut into sections
white sugar

Rinse and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces. Put on plate.

Squeeze a lemon section over a serving of salad. Sprinkle sugar on top.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

spicy cajun almonds

You know when you go to a party and you see a little dish of interesting-looking nuts?

And you will yourself not to be disappointed, because so often party nuts are a disappointment? Because so often they’re too salty or too greasy or too synthetic tasting?

But you keep trying the party nuts because you remember that once you ate the perfect party nut and it was crunchy and salty and slightly sweet and altogether the best thing you ate that night?

These are those nuts. The nuts you have been longing for: a hint of sweet and salty, a kick of pepper, and a resounding crunch.

They come from my old colleague Judy in Ottawa. Judy gave me a little bag of these nuts as a Christmas present and I immediately begged her for the recipe. She obliged, and says they are the best spiced nuts she’s ever made. Judy says she found the recipe in the Ottawa Citizen about 20 years ago.

The recipe is simple and you can see how very happy the almonds are to be wearing such a lovely, tasty coating. Thank you, mystery Ottawa Citizen recipe writer!

spicy cajun almonds

2 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. corn syrup
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or less
1 lb. (454 g.) almonds, skins on

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients except almonds in a medium saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.

Turn off heat. Add almonds and stir to coat well. Spread over prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.