seeds

seeded toffee bark

seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com
seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com

Hello, lovely people!

Despite my careful planning, I have about a gazillion things to do before we leave town for the holidays. (How does that always happen?) But I wanted to leave you with one more homemade holiday gift idea before I jump on my plane!

seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com

If you read last year’s holiday post, you know I’m a huge fan of giving chocolate bark. It’s easy, beautiful and can be topped with almost anything you have floating around in your cupboards: chopped peppermints, nuts, dried fruit, cereal, candied citrus zest, crushed cookies. You name it.

This year’s bark is a little more involved since it calls for a base of buttery toffee. Don’t be daunted though--it’s not hard at all as long as you have a heavy-bottomed pot and a good thermometer. If you want to get fancy, you can temper the chocolate. Or not. The good news is you top this bark with so many crunchy toasted seeds, it's pretty hard to tell if the chocolate is tempered or not. (Win!)

seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com
seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com

I’ll be writing to you next from the other side of the Atlantic. Until then, I wish you all a Merry and Bright Holiday!

XO,

Olaiya


Seeded Toffe Bark

  • Vegetable oil or butter for the pan
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I like 72% Guittard Onyx wafers)
  • ½ cup pepitas (raw hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 1 ½ tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cacao nibs
  • ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt (I like Maldon)
  • Special Equipment: Instant-read thermometer

*Note: Tempering the chocolate keeps it shiny and gives it a nice snap when you break it. If you decide to temper, the method described below (based on Alice Medrich’s technique) is the easiest I’ve found. A good thermometer makes tempering (and all candy-making) a lot easier. Lots of people use a classic candy thermometer, but I prefer something like this because it's more versatile. If price is not an issue, I think this Thermapen is the best thermometer you can buy.

seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com
seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com

Brush a large rimmed sheet pan very lightly with oil or rub very lightly with butter. Combine the ½ cup butter, granulated and brown sugars, kosher salt, and 2 tablespoons of water in a large heavy saucepan fitted with a thermometer. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until the thermometer registers 300° (the toffee should be a deep golden brown), 7–9 minutes.

Remove the toffee from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the baking soda evenly over the toffee and stir just until incorporated (be careful not to overmix). Quickly scrape the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan and tilt from side to side to spread mixture slightly. Do not touch the underside of the pan as it will be very hot. Set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. Wash and dry the thermometer.

In a small, dry frying pan over medium-low heat, gently toast the pepitas just until fragrant and beginning to pop and brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small plate and set aside to cool. If your  white sesame seeds are raw, add them to the same pan and toast until light golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a small plate and set aside to cool. 

When your toffee is completely cool, prepare your chocolate. Roughly chop 4 oz. of the chocolate. Leave 1 oz. in large pieces and set aside. Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water and heat over medium until just under the simmer. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low to keep the water just under a simmer. Place the 4 oz. of roughly chopped chocolate in a medium stainless steel mixing bowl and set over the warm water. Use a flexible spatula to stir until ¾ of the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and continue to stir until all of the chocolate has melted, 1-2 minutes. If all the chocolate has not melted, place the bowl briefly over the warm water and stir. 

Use the instant-read thermometer to take the temperature of the chocolate. If it is over 100°F, let it cool to about 100°F. Add the reserved 1 oz. large pieces of chocolate and stir until the temperature reaches 90°F. 

Test to see if the chocolate is tempered by drizzling a little on the blade of a knife and setting aside in a cool place. If the drizzle starts to set within 3 minutes, without streaks or mottling, it is tempered and ready to use. If it still looks wet after 3 minutes, stir the chocolate and chunks for a few minutes more and test again. When the chocolate is tempered, remove the unmelted chunks and set aside for later use.

Pour the melted chocolate over the toffee and spread evenly with an offset or flexible spatula. Scatter the seeds and cacao nibs over the top, then sprinkle with the salt. Set aside until the chocolate is firm, at least 2 hours. 

Lift the bark from the sheet pan with a thin metal spatula then break into large shards.

Makes 2 dozen 2- to 3-inch pieces.

Adapted from Bon Appetit

seeded toffee bark on Millys-Kitchen.com

easy gluten-free seed crackers

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land
easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

Crackers are rarely the star of the holiday table. Or any table for that matter. They are more often a sort of small edible platter upon which one places more decadent toppings: cheese, pâté, caviar. 

Of course the classics are classics for a reason; I have savored many a golden, buttery Ritz in my lifetime. But these days we’re all trying to eat a little cleaner and steer away from scary ingredients like partially-hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup. 

That’s where these crackers come in.

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

I took these to a Thanksgiving dinner last week in an effort to make a small dent in my holiday carb consumption. (I ate at least a year’s worth of pastries on my last trip to Europe and thought it might be a good idea to reign things in a bit. My jeans concurred.) I expected no one besides Beau and I would be interested in this gluten-free option. Surprisingly, they won over all the guests, who piled them with charcuterie, smeared them with triple-cream brie and sank them into our hostess’ formidable blue cheese dip. 

I’m chalking up these crackers’ success to the nutty crunch of the seeds and the fact that they have just enough cheese to keep them from tasting aggressively healthy as well as a hit of paprika and cayenne to keep things interesting. 

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land
easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

I’ve been baking and eating batch after batch of these crispy beauties since their unexpected triumph at the Thanksgiving table. They are a crunchy replacement for toast alongside a plate of herby scrambled eggs. They make a hearty on-the-go snack paired with a slice of sharp cheddar and a few olives. And they are stellar crumbled over a creamy bowl of soup.

I'm not saying these crackers are going to outshine your holiday roast. But they have certainly been the star of my table lately. Whether you're looking for a vegetarian, gluten-free or just plain old delicious option for your holiday spread, I think they fit the bill. 

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

P.S. As always, I hope you'll make this recipe your own. Let me know if you have any questions or if you come up with your own brilliant seed and cheese combinations! 


easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

Easy Gluten-Free Seed Crackers

  • ¾ cup white sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup black sesame seeds
  • ½ cup raw hulled sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup flax seeds
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ oz) finely-grated sharp white cheddar
  • ¼ cup (½ oz) finely-grated parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup water

*Notes: You can use virtually any seeds in these crackers. The version above yields more neutral-tasting crackers that will accompany all variety of toppings. But I've made them before swapping out some of the seeds for spices (fennel seeds, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, nigella seeds, etc.) and with different ratios of seeds. Just pull out a 2-cup measuring cup and fill it with whatever seeds you like. Keep in mind that spices should be used in moderation since they're so strong (maybe 1-3 tablespoons total). Other than that, the sky's the limit.

-The same goes for cheeses. Personally, I would keep the parmesan since it lends a nice sharp, nutty saltiness that works well with the seeds. But any other dry cheese would work in place of the cheddar. I'm going to try aged gouda in my next batch of crackers, maybe with a few caraway seeds strewn in...

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Line an 18x13-inch sheet pan with parchment paper and pour the seed mixture onto the pan. Spread the mixture as thinly as possible using a flexible spatula then use your hands to gently pat the mixture to the very edges of the pan. Make sure the cracker base is even and as thin as possible. If the crackers are too thick, they won’t dry out properly and stay crisp. 

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Loosen the par-baked seed mixture from the parchment (it will have baked into one large cracker) using a thin metal spatula or butter knife. Cool for five minutes or until you can handle the crackers, then fold or cut them to whatever size you like. I like to fold and tear the crackers for a more rustic look and I aim for roughly 2x2-inch pieces. Transfer the par-baked crackers to a plate while you place a metal cooling rack inside the sheet pan. Place the crackers on the cooling rack, overlapping as little as possible, then return them to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes longer, rotating the crackers as necessary for even browning. Cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container. Your crackers will keep for several weeks if well sealed.

Makes about 3 dozen crackers.

easy gluten-free seed crackers // image by Olaiya Land

slow-roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

One of my many “charming” idiosyncrasies is that I often intensely dislike the things I come to adore. 

Take my best friend, Sarah, for example. I met Sarah in the 7th grade. She was part of a clique of impossibly cool and intimidating girls who wore peppy Keds sneakers and adorned their shiny ponytails with ribbons with their names on them. 

They were everything I wanted to be: pretty, popular, rich--by the humble standards of my family, anyway. And so, I decided that I would hate them with every fiber of my awkward, middle-school self and wish for their social downfall. 

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Whether my adolescent ill-will had any effect on the fate of this formidable clique, I cannot say. But I do know that shortly after I vowed to despise them, something magical happened: Sarah was booted from their ranks. 

There was a shift in the 7th-grade hierarchy of power, and somehow Sarah didn’t make the cut. But one girl’s loss is another’s gain, and at a boozily unchaperoned party later that year, I discovered that Sarah was supposed to be my BFF for all time and claimed her as my own. 

She has remained my very best and most steadfast friend since that fateful eve. She is one of the few people I, introverted hermit that I am, pick up the phone for. We make each other laugh until we cry at least once a week. Last year, she officiated at my wedding. She knows me like no one else and I can’t imagine a world without her.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Tomatoes and I have a similar story.

As a kid I hated tomatoes with a vehemence that bordered on insanity. My mother and grandmother were always trying to sneak them into a ham sandwich or an iceberg lettuce salad. But no amount of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing could disguise my sworn enemy. The tomatoes I grew up eating were of the 1980’s industrially-farmed variety, shipped from the far corners of the country to the Midwest and refrigerated until mealy and almost completely lacking in flavor. They were pale and lifeless and in no way represented something I was going to stick in my mouth. 

This was pretty much the status quo until I moved to Brussels after college. It was there, at my local farmers market, that I discovered heirloom tomatoes so beautifully ripe and fragrant that I was lured into giving them a try. I recently found a picture of those tomatoes: a pile of Green Zebras and Belgium Pinks and Sungolds. The experience was apparently so transformative, I decided to memorialize it for all time.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

I have since come to love tomatoes of many stripes and colors. Our kitchen table has a bowl that remains full of some sort of tomato from late June through September. In Seattle, we are spoiled with a stunning variety to choose from. I was rounding a corner at the farmers market last Sunday when a pile of pristine yellow romas from Growing Things Farm caught my eye. I backtracked and scooped up every last one. I knew exactly what I was going to do with them; beautiful, ripe romas are perfect for slow-roasted tomatoes. And slow-roasted tomatoes are perfect on just about everything.

Gently-roasted in a low oven, tomatoes become meltingly tender and sweet. Their flavors are intensified as water evaporates and their sugars start to caramelize. Once roasted, their uses are almost endless. You can bake them into a fluffy frittata, pile them onto a slab of crusty bread with avocado or mozzarella, whiz them into a vinaigrette or toss them with white beans, fresh herbs and a drizzle of good olive oil for a hearty summer salad. You get the drift.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

After I roasted those golden beauties, I decided they wanted something creamy to balance their acidity and something earthy to ground their intense sweetness. This pasta was the result. There is velvety fresh ricotta and a hit of lemon zest for brightness. And the whole thing is topped with toasted seeds for crunch and a handful of dill that lends freshness, complexity and verve. 

But the tomatoes are what bring it all together. I guess this dish is an ode of sorts to a former foe. I’m going to have it for dinner again tonight, I think, and ponder my good luck at having made such dear friends of erstwhile enemies.


Slow-Roasted Tomato Pasta with Lemon, Ricotta and Seeds

  • 10 oz. (285g) spaghetti or other long, thin pasta
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons finely-grated zest (approximate yield of 1 large lemon)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 12 slow-roasted tomato halves (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup (about 8 oz or 225g) fresh whole-milk ricotta (preferably close to room temperature)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dill fronds, to garnish (optional)

*Notes: Homemade ricotta is easy to make and so much better than store-bought! Here's a recipe in case you want to give it a go. If not, I think Bellwether Farms and Belgioso both make great ricotta.

- I know dill is a divisive herb; some people love it, some hate it. But used in moderation, it cuts through heavier flavors to freshen a dish and provide a faintly sweet and sour complexity. And dill with tomatoes can be a beautiful thing. I encourage you to try it. But no hard feelings if you’re not feeling it--just leave it off or substitute it’s much milder counterpart: fennel fronds. A few finely snipped chives would be nice, too.

- Leftover toasted seeds are delicious sprinkled on a green salad, a rice bowl, hard-boiled eggs or a simple slice of avocado toast. They will keep, stored in an airtight container for at least a month before they lose some of their zing.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

Bring a pot of generously salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. 

While the pasta is cooking, toast the seeds. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast, stirring often, until fragrant and golden, 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Add all the rest of the seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring often, until fragrant, 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer to the plate with the sesame seeds. Stir to combine. 

When the pasta is done, use a heatproof measuring cup to remove about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Set aside. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the lemon juice and zest.

You can mix the pasta with the other ingredients before serving or you can layer the ingredients as you plate the dish, as I did in these photos, which looks a bit fancier. If I’m not photographing this dish or serving it to guests, I mix everything together, which I think distributes the flavors a bit more evenly. 

To mix the ingredients: roughly chop the tomato halves and add them to the pot with the warm pasta along with the ricotta and a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. This helps the ricotta coat the pasta better. Stir to coat the pasta. If the ricotta seems too thick or clumpy, add another tablespoon or two of the pasta water and stir again. Transfer to a serving platter or individual plates and sprinkle with some of the mixed toasted seeds and a few dill fronds. Drizzle with a bit of the oil from the tomatoes if desired and serve.

To layer the ingredients: divide the pasta (seasoned with zest and juice) between 4 plates. Top each plate with ¼ cup of the ricotta. Arrange 3 tomato halves on top of the ricotta. Sprinkle each plate with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle with some of the mixed toasted seeds and a few dill fronds and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

 

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds

 

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 lb plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise (you can use cherry or grape tomatoes, too)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling and storing
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Few sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C) Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Place the halved tomatoes, cut-side-up on a rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven.

Roast until the tomatoes have lost at least half of their moisture, and are starting to caramelize slightly. The time will vary depending on the size of your tomatoes. This will take anywhere from 45-50 minutes for tiny cherry tomatoes, to 2 hours for large, juicy plum tomatoes. 

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature before storing. To store, transfer the roasted tomatoes to a clean jar and pour the oil from the sheet pan over the tomatoes. You can pour in a little more oil if you like. The tomatoes don't need to be covered, but they will season the oil which you can then drizzle over them or use to season vinaigrettes, fish or roasted vegetables. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

slow roasted tomato pasta with lemon, ricotta and seeds