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Sweet Memories

During my junior and senior years in high school and summers in college, I worked at Lone Tree Retirement Community in Meade, KS. Mostly I worked in the kitchen as a “dish washer”, but the title was a bit of a misnomer. My job description, had it ever been documented, would read like this: Responsible for everything related to serving meals to 90 residents … except cooking. Setting tables, prepping desserts and drinks, serving each resident, clearing tables, cleaning dining room aaaand washing all the dishes were some of the things on my to-do list for each meal. It was physically exhausting for obvious reasons, but it was mentally exhausting as well. Each resident had different specifications for his or her place setting. (e.g. Elizabeth is on a 1500 calorie diabetic diet/likes half-strength at dinner, full-strength at supper/prefers to drink from a red cup/will yell at me if I don’t serve her first … ) Just worrying that I would accidentally give a diabetic resident a regular dessert kept my stomach in knots most days. Despite its challenges, it was not a bad job and I generally enjoyed the company of the residents and my co-workers.

I have some really nice memories from my time working at Lone Tree. One thing I especially remember is the tasty carrot orange cookies the cooks would occasionally bake. I am not certain what brought these cookies to mind a few days ago, but once the idea was stuck in my head, I knew I’d have to try to recreate them. As I recall the cookies, I think I would now find them a little too sweet. So I’ve modified , found at allrecipes.com, to pump up the flavor and balance the sweetness.

This is one of the rare recipes in which I actually prefer to use white sugar instead of maple sugar. I’ve made them both ways and I like them both, but I feel fresh carrot is just too delicate a flavor to hold up to the power of maple.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did back during my days working at Lone Tree.

Soft Carrot Cookies with Orange Zest Glaze

Ingredients

For cookies
* 1/4 cup unsalted butter
* 1/2 cup shortening
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 egg
* 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 cup mashed cooked carrots
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
For Glaze
* 1 cup confectioners sugar
* Zest from 2 oranges (don’t skimp on the zest!)
* 1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice. (“fresh squeezed” is important. You CAN taste the difference)
* 5 packets (this is an important ingredient!)

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line cookie sheet with baking parchment.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Beat in the egg, then stir in the vanilla and carrots.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually stir into the creamed mixture.
4. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.
5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To make the glaze, put 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and 5 packets True Lemon into a medium bowl.
7. Zest two oranges into the bowl with the sugar.
8. Add orange juice. Mix until smooth.
9. Spread onto the cooled cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Special thanks, once again, to Nate Kauffman for another beautiful picture.

Around this time of year, when daytime temps hover in the high 30s and the overnight lows still drop below freezing, maple trees start to wake from their dormancy and prepare for the growing season. To fuel new growth, the tree releases its stored sugar which makes the sap sweeter than any other time of year, averaging around 2 or 3 percent sugar content.

Ever since I have been interested in maple syrup and its production, I’ve wondered how maple sap might look and taste. Although I have visited several sugar shacks* and seen the syrup in production, I never had the opportunity to see and taste maple sap right from the tree. That is until last Sunday, when Nate surprised me by taking me to the Morton Arboretum for their .

My previous experience with sap was limited to the sticky, resinous stuff produced by conifers, so I was quite surprised when I finally got a look.

from on .

It looks just like water and the sweetness is barely noticeable. This makes sense, considering it IS just water with a tiny bit of sucrose. What can I say, common sense occasionally eludes me. :-)

* In this context, a sugar shack is a small, well-ventilated shelter where maple sap is boiled into maple syrup.

It’s truly shameful how much time and money I’ve spent learning to make proper maple sugar candy. Batch after batch either set before I could mold it or simply never set at all. Not one to give up easily, I kept tweaking the times and temps with the hope of achieving the perfect molded leaf. However, my efforts continued to be in vain and the numerous attempts left me beyond frustrated. “WHY?!” I would cry out in desperation to the cold, dead universe. But I received no answer.

As with most of my grand failures, this one can be attributed to pride. Or laziness, perhaps it was laziness. But regardless of the underlying character flaw that resulted in catastrophe after catastrophe, I finally came to grips with my lack of understanding and asked an expert: Mrs. Jorn at in Egg Harbor, WI.

The process she described matched mine exactly except for one small detail. Assuming that water boils at 212°F everywhere on the globe, I did not actually check to find the temperature at which water boils in Elgin, IL. Forehead slapping ensued.

This all ends happily, however, because I now am finally able to redeem the wasted resources by passing on the knowledge I’ve gained. The first step of this recipe follows. Do not skip this step. Hopefully, it will help you avoid the same prideful trap into which I fell.

Step 1) Repeat after me: “I do not really know the temperature at which water boils”

I’m serious, say it out loud. Because if you do not acknowledge this fact, you WILL get caught in a dreadful downward spiral of trial and error which will ultimately claim your sanity.

That being said, maple sugar candy is the simplest thing on earth to make once you know how. :-)
Sooo, here’s how:

 

Maple Sugar Candy

Equipment

Heavy 3 qt. sauce pan
Candy thermometer
A metal bowl large enough to serve as an ice bath for the 3 qt. sauce pan
wooden spoon
rubber candy mold

Ingredients

2 cups grade B maple syrup
1 tbs salted butter

Prep

Fill the saucepan halfway with water. Boil the water and make careful note of the temperature when you start to see medium size boiling-type bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan. As with any cooked sugar confection, it is of utmost importance that you get the temperatures right. This recipe calls for the syrup to be boiled to 32°F above the boiling temperature of water, so you must know the temperature that water boils in your kitchen.

Instructions

1) Prepare the ice bath by filling the bowl with water to a depth of about an inch and then add lots of ice.
2) Grease the candy molds very lightly.
3) Melt butter in sauce pan over low heat
4) Add maple syrup and boil over medium-high heat until syrup reaches 32°F above the boiling temp of water.
5) When the syrup reaches the correct temperature, immediately, but gently, avoiding any agitation of the heated syrup, set the pot into the ice bath.
6) Let the syrup cool in the ice bath, undisturbed, to around 200°F then remove the thermometer from the pan.
Now the tricky part:
7) With a wooden spoon, stir the syrup until it starts to lighten, become opaque, lose it’s gloss and thicken a tiny bit.

I’ll be honest with you, determining exactly the right time to pour the syrup into the molds is the only difficult step. It needs to be barely starting to crystallize, but still pour easily like a thickened liquid. If you don’t stir enough, you’ll have maple caramel. If you stir too long, the syrup will harden before you get it into the molds. I’ve heard stories of people reclaiming their hardened syrup by adding a little bit of water and setting it over low heat until the sugar dissolves into liquid again. I’ve never done it myself, however, so I can’t speak to it’s effectiveness.

8) When the syrup reaches this state, work quickly to get it into the molds.
9) The candy should set up fairly quickly, within 5-10 minutes. When candy is completely set, pop the pieces out of the mold and let them cool completely if they haven’t already.
10) Store candy in an airtight container, as it can dry out quickly.

Special thanks to Mrs. Jorn for the advice and Nate Kauffman for another great photo.

As we close in on Thanksgiving, I want to take a few minutes to express my gratitude to some wonderful people.

I’m thankful for Kristi.
If she reads this post, she may be surprised to discover that her question about spices, asked mostly in passing, was the encouragement I needed to pick myself up, get back in the kitchen and start blogging again.

I’m thankful for Sally and Roger.
Of all the virtues I could list about these two, I will just mention the one that is most relevant to this post; they know how to throw a party. Their most recent party, a potluck, was a good excuse to work up a new recipe (which we’ll eventually get to, I promise.)

I’m thankful for .
Let’s be honest; I try really hard to impress him. So many times, I have pushed myself just a little further because of him. At Roger and Sally’s party, I held my breath as Will sampled my contribution to the potluck: Coriander Maple Corn. His response: “this is actually really good.” I turned to goo.

I’m thankful for .
She showed me that one’s day job need not interfere with one’s dream.

I’m thankful for.
He is a shining example of what it means to dedicate oneself to excellence. Many years ago he challenged me to give my best to even the smallest and most insignificant of projects. I am working to make this a way of life.

I am thankful for Nate.
He held me, prayed with me, comforted me and encouraged me as I worked through a difficult career transition that threw me off my stride and knocked me off my feet. Cue Bette Middler; he helped me rediscover joy.

And now, here is the recipe that was inspired by Kristi, Sally, Roger, Will, Olive, James and Nate. I hope you enjoy it!!

Coriander Maple Corn

3 ½  Tbs. whole coriander seeds
1 ½ tsp. black peppercorns
12 whole cloves
1 cup popcorn kernels
¾ cup grade B maple syrup
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup maple sugar
1 cup salted butter
1 tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla

Popping corn

While you may use microwave popcorn (natural, unbuttered) for this recipe, I recommend popping the corn on your stovetop instead. This gives the popcorn a nice toastiness  you just don’t get from the microwaved stuff. I won’t bore you with instructions on stovetop popcorn. You’ll find a . (skip the salt, as you’ll be adding it to the corn later.)

Prep

Measure and set aside all ingredients.
Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Read all instructions.

A note about tools

Be sure to use either a silicone scraper or wooden spoon for stirring. The success or failure of this recipe depends on preventing crystallization of the caramel. Silicone and wood discourage crystal formation more than metal.

Onward

1) Grind spices. I use a dedicated coffee grinder for this. You can also use a pestle and mortar, but it is harder to get a really fine grind this way.

2) Preheat oven to 250°.

3) In a heavy, 3 qt. sauce pan, melt butter over low heat, add maple sugar and stir until combined.  Let the maple sugar dissolve a bit before adding remaining ingredients.

2) Add maple syrup, corn syrup, and ground spices. Stir just until combined.

3) Bring ingredients to a boil undisturbed over medium heat to 250°.

4) Remove candy thermometer then add baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will foam. Let this foaming subside a bit.

5) Pour the caramel over the popcorn.

6) Fold the caramel into the popcorn, making sure the corn is coated evenly. The caramel should be smooth and shiny. Here is a good explanation of .

7) Spread popcorn onto baking sheets and place in oven.

8) Bake for 45 minutes, turning corn every 15 minutes.

9) Before you put the corn in the oven for the third time, sprinkle with sea salt.

10) Remove corn from oven and let cool thoroughly before placing in an airtight container.

Thanks to Nate for another stunning picture.  I married well, folks.

My mother made no-bake cookies only one time when I was growing up. The occasion was our annual summer vacation and I was so young the only thing I remember about that vacation is the no-bake cookies. They were the standard cocoa powder/butter/sugar/peanut butter/oats concoction, but it was love at first bite. Sadly, she never made them again. I recall requesting them a couple of times since that vacation, but she had no memory of the cookies I had loved so much. They were lost in the Bermuda Triangle of family vacation memories.

Years later, a friend of mine happened to bring a batch into work. As I spotted them from across the room, I swear I heard the swelling all around me. Could these be my long-lost mystery cookies? A few short minutes later, I discovered that the standard cocoa/oat no-bakes are as common as Rice Krispy Treats and just about as easy to make.

Now, I really do love no-bake cookies, but they are not the sort of thing one blogs about. The only way to lose respect faster would be if I blogged about the aforementioned Rice Krispy Treats. However, this no-bake kicks it up a half notch.

I found the basic recipe at and modified it to balance the sweetness a bit.

And so I present it to you, unashamed, because I just think they are really tasty.

Maple No-Bake Bars

Special Equipment

Candy Thermometer
Double Boiler or an improvised double boiler consisting of a small sauce pan and a metal bowl large enough to completely cover the sauce pan
3 quart-ish sauce pan
wax paper or parchment paper

Ingredients

2 ½ cups Grade B Maple Syrup
1 stick of butter
3 cups quick oats
3 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate (I used , which added a little bit of complexity to the flavor of the end product)
Sea salt

Instructions

1) Pour 3 cups oats into a large bowl.
2) In a 3 quart sauce pan heat maple syrup and butter to 235 °F.
3) Remove syrup from heat and let rest, undisturbed, for 1 minute.
4) Stir the syrup for about 20 seconds.
5) Pour the syrup over the oats and stir until just combined.
6) Press oat mixture into a greased 7″ x 11″ pan and let cool until firm. It may take up to a couple of hours for these to become firm.
7) Once the bars have cooled and firmed, cut into small pieces. Remove bars from pan and place on a piece of wax paper or parchment paper.
8) Salt the tops and bottoms of the bars with finely ground sea salt.
9) Fill bottom of double boiler with water and place on low heat.
10) Break chocolate into the top of double boiler and place over hot water. Do not cover.
11) Keep an eye on the chocolate, giving it an occasional stir. When the chocolate is almost completely melted, remove from hot water and continue to stir until the last bits melt.
12) Drizzle chocolate over bars and cool until hardened.

Once again, thanks to Nate Kauffman for the great pic.

When I first became interested in maple as an all-purpose sweetener, it was simply because I enjoyed it’s complex, earthy flavor. But when I dug a little deeper, I discovered that maple syrup is actually nutritious!

Maple syrup nutrition fact #1:

Maple syrup has more calcium than milk.

What?!? It’s true! One cup of milk has 300 mg of calcium. The same amount of maple syrup has 320 mg of calcium.*  Of course, you’re not going to drink the stuff, but using maple syrup or maple sugar instead of refined sugar is a very easy and tasty way to get a little more calcium in your diet.

*Information courtesy of

My childhood experiences with sweet potatoes were not all that great. Even from when I was very young, I recall thinking that we could probably find something better to do with sweet potatoes than overcook them in a Pyrex dish with nasty marshmallows. Such a beautiful vegetable, made so unappetizing … what a shame.

When I first decided to make some kind of fried maple/sweet potato concoction, in my mind it was going to be a savory side item. But iteration after iteration (6 in all) just fell short. Since it is my goal to only share recipes that are truly worth sharing, I kept at it.

After the 5th attempt at making this a savory dish, I decided to stop dancing around the issue … I really just wanted something sweeter; complex and bold, but sweeter nonetheless.

So I turned it into a dessert. Once that decision was made, the recipe almost put itself together. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Sweet Potato Napoleon with Maple Butter Sauce

Special Tools

4 qt sauce pan
paper towels
slotted spoon
candy/deep fry thermometer

Ingredients

1½ cup fine ground ginger snap crumbs
1 tsp ground ginger
⅛ tsp ground cloves
2 Tbs maple sugar
1½ cup flour
1 egg white
1 Tbs milk
32 oz refined safflower oil
1¼ cup maple syrup
3 Tbs salted butter
1 large sweet potato
salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions

For Maple Butter Sauce

1) In a small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce 1 cup maple syrup and 3 Tbs butter by half, keeping the temperature under 220°.

For Sweet Potato Napoleon

1) Peel sweet potato and slice lengthwise into ⅜” to ½” thick slices.
2) Drizzle ¼ cup maple syrup over slices then season with salt and fresh pepper.
3) Bake slices at 375° for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
4) Place 1½ cup flour in a second large shallow bowl.
5) Beat egg white and milk in a small bowl until white is broken down.
6) In a large shallow bowl, mix the ginger snap crumbs, ground ginger and ground cloves.
7) Heat safflower oil to 380°-385° F.
8 ) While the oil is heating, dredge sweet potato slices in flour, coating them thoroughly.
9) Dip the slices in egg mixture.
10) Place slices in the cookie crumb mixture, coating them thoroughly.
11) A couple pieces at a time, deep fry the coated slices for 20 or 30 seconds. Remove promptly and place them on a bed of paper towels to cool.

See this site learn this here now

Assembly

1) Drizzle a bit of the sauce on two dessert plates.
2) Stack the slices, largest on the bottom, smallest on the top and carefully cut in half.
3) Place one napoleon half on each plate.
4) Pour sauce in between each slice and over the top of each napoleon.
5) Add a small scoop of maple ice cream and serve.

Special thanks to Nate Kauffman for another great pic.

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