September 30, 2014

Salted Caramel Sauce (YUM!)

My caramel, right after being poured into jars.
I love caramel. It's sweet, without being too sweet... it's gooey, smooth, soft, chewy, warm... it's sugar at it's best.

Before Saturday, I had never made caramel before- despite my apparent love for the confection. (Yes, I'm that person at work who immediately raids the shared box of chocolates and steals the caramel.) However, always looking to challenge myself in the kitchen- often at odd times (eg. the night before you're having 22 people over for your son's birthday party)- I decided to have a go at it.

My original intention was to just make the sauce for use in the Salted Caramel Cupcakes (I'll share that recipe tomorrow) that I was serving as an alternative to chocolate cake at my son's party. Luckily, however, this recipe made enough to fill those cupcakes and to enjoy in the future. (Its going to be the velvety, perfect drizzle on the top of my ice cream tomorrow night). Very happily, it was easy to make, and definitely resulted in a gorgeously brown, salty/sweet, smooth, decadent sauce that I may just make to have on hand at all times- and to give as gifts.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Makes 1 1/2 cups caramel sauce
Caramel sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month in an air-tight container.

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt

Gather all of your ingredients and have them waiting next to the stove. (If you've never worked with sugar before, Warning: it seems like things are taking forever, then all of a sudden you have to work very quickly to keep things from burning, seizing, burning you... or some other catastrophe... but it's fun, and completely worth it).

Place a heavy-bottomed 2qt saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add about half of the sugar to your pot and stir constantly with spatula or whisk. The sugar will start to melt- continue to mix until the sugar is completely melted without any lumps. (You'll start to notice it begin to caramelize and turn a light brown- don't stop stirring!)

Add remaining sugar, and continue to stir constantly. The sugar will melt and become a beautiful dark amber. (If at any time you notice that its getting darker faster than its melting, just remove it from the heat briefly while you continue to stir to prevent it from burning).

Add the butter, and whisk until the butter has melted completely and is combined. (This made my sugar bubble and foam a little- I removed it from the heat shortly after adding the butter.)

Remove from heat and slowly mix the cream into the sugar mixture. (Again, foaming may occur.)
Whisk caramel very quickly until smooth.

Stir in vanilla and sea salt. Pour caramel into glass jar or measuring cup and allow to cool.

*Notes on this recipe: If after you add the cream, you notice your caramel begins to separate or seize up, don't give up- just place pot back onto LOW heat and continue to stir until things get loose again and combine completely. I used this recipe from the baker chick for this caramel- although my ingredients are the same, I used a very different technique due to the difficulties I experienced while attempting to follow her method- I streamlined things quite a bit. Her making of caramel without messing with a candy thermometer, however, gave me the courage I needed to venture out into the world of caramel making. (Candy thermometers can get cumbersome in the heat of the moment.) I also must give her credit for her step-by-step photos- I attempted to do the same, but was about two hands short.

This is seriously some beautiful caramel. I showed everyone that I thought would care my jar of beautiful caramel... and let them try just a little bit... I can definitely see myself dipping into the jar with a little spoon to enjoy it all by its delicious self.

September 27, 2014

Oatmeal Pancakes with Warm Cinnamon Apple Topping

Good morning!

As I mentioned before, my son is a huge fan of pancakes- and I enjoy making them for him. On the weekends, I usually take my time and make breakfast from scratch because we typically have more time in the morning to relax/cook before our day begins. I enjoy coming up with variations on the regular weekday pancake, experimenting with new toppings and mix-ins to make something special. (Don't worry, we don't always have pancakes- we also enjoy waffles, eggs, and crepes).

This weekend, however, we don't have a lot of leisure time. It is my son's birthday weekend, and my mom is visiting from Florida, so we are in a hurry to have fun and get ready for his birthday party tomorrow!

This morning, I wanted to make something special and different that wouldn't take a lot of time. So, I used my favorite cheat- Bisquick... and put my own little twist on things to make a yummy breakfast full of fall flavors.

Bisquick's "The Ultimate Pancake"

2 cups Original Bisquick mix
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs

**I added: a generous 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, and about 1/2 cup of quick cooking oats.

Stir all ingredients until blended.
Pour batter using 1/4 cup measure onto hot greased pan/griddle.
Cook until edges are dry. Turn, and cook until golden.

While the pancakes were cooking, I made a quick Cinnamon Apple topping. I peeled and diced one large apple. (I only have Pink Lady apples- my favorite- in the house, so that's what I used. I would recommend using a Gala, McIntosh, or other baking apple). I tossed the diced apple pieces into a small saucepan with a sliver of butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and 1/3 cup of apple cider. I brought the mixture to a boil, then turned it down and allowed it to simmer while I cooked all of the pancakes. When finished, the apples were tender, lightly spiced, and not too sweet.

To serve, I topped my Oatmeal Pancakes with the Warm Cinnamon Apple Topping, and a little drizzle of maple syrup. (They would be pretty with a little "snow"/powdered sugar sprinkled on top, too....) Yum!

I hope that everyone has a great weekend!

I am in no way affiliated with Bisquick or Betty Crocker, and do not receive any payment or recognition for mentioning their products or recipes. 

September 25, 2014

New England Clam Chowder and Cheddar Biscuits with Old Bay Seasoning

It has been a cool, rainy Fall day today. Typically, (yes I do get pretty involved in my menu planning), I look ahead at the weather forecast and plan a comfort meal for rainy days. Tonight's dinner is a perfect, cozy example.

I based my New England Clam Chowder recipe off of several that I found online and tweaked a bit to fit my tastes and cooking preferences.

I found several recipes that called for bacon- something that I didn't choose to include this time around. I did choose to cook with canned clams rather than fresh, since I know that the canned clams are always available, and are quick and easy to use. I also chose to use dried herbs as opposed to fresh- due to availability, (I know that I'll always have dried herbs in my pantry no matter what season or what the grocery store has that looks good), and to be more budget friendly.

The end result was a creamy, light, flavorful clam chowder that warmed me up and satisfied my seafood craving. (And, not to brag, but Mr. Terrible Twos loved and devoured his whole bowl!). Paired with a simple green salad and moist cheddar Old Bay biscuits, it was definitely a meal that I will make and thoroughly enjoy again!

New England Clam Chowder
Serves about 8- Main dish servings

4- 6.5oz cans chopped clams, undrained
2- 8oz. bottles of clam juice
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion, (about one medium)
1 cup chopped celery, (about three stalks)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups unpeeled, cubed red potato
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 bay leaf
2 cups low fat milk, brought to almost room temp
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half

Open clams, strain clam liquid into bowl and set aside.
Melt butter in heavy-bottomed pot/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic to pot and saute until tender. Add clam liquid and bottled clam juice, potato, and seasonings. Bring mixture to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until potato is tender- about 15 minutes.
Whisk together milk and flour, stirring until smooth. Add mixture to pot. Stir in clams and half-and-half. Simmer 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf and serve.

Now, for the biscuits... meant to imitate Red Lobster's famous biscuits, the Bisquick Cheddar Biscuits with Old Bay Seasoning were delicious, and a perfect partner for my clam chowder. I have recently become a huge fan of Bisquick, (thanks to repeated requests for pancakes of all kinds, and the need to make them on a toddler's timeline), and these biscuits definitely further my love for the mix. I encourage everyone to try them, and enjoy!!

Cheddar Biscuits with Old Bay Seasoning
Makes 8  large, melt in your mouth biscuits

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp parsley flakes
2 cups Bisquick mix
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
In a small bowl, stir together topping ingredients, set aside.
In medium bowl, stir biscuit ingredients until soft dough forms. Drop dough by 8 spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 16-18 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown*. Immediately brush hot biscuits with topping. Serve warm.

*Notes on this recipe: "Spoonfuls" is generous! I used a serving spoon in order to scoop just 8 biscuits. My biscuits took only about 14 minutes to bake and become golden. The amount of butter used for the topping seems excessive, but it is worth every bit! There are healthier versions of these biscuits, using the Heart Smart Bisquick mix, nonfat milk, etc.

I am not receiving any payment or recognition from Betty Crocker/Bisquick or from Old Bay/McCormick & Company for reviewing this recipe or using their products. 

September 23, 2014

First Day of Fall: Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Fall is my favorite... I'm pretty sure that I was made for this time of year. Cool crisp air, apple picking, changing leaves, scarves, and pumpkin everything... perfection.

Today is the first day of fall, and sure enough we awoke to a beautiful morning... 44 degrees (which will warm up to an ideal 71 degree afternoon), clear, bright... and begging for something pumpkin!

I set out to make pumpkin muffins. I've been craving them for a few days, but I was making myself wait until Fall officially began. Because they are the first batch of the season, I decided that I would follow a recipe and I scoured the internet. I ended up using the first recipe I found, directly from Libby's (because c'mon, it's Libby's- they know pumpkin!), and because it was simple. I have come to appreciate that simple recipes are often the best- especially if your three year old wants to help you bake.

These muffins were exactly what I was craving! Moist, perfectly spiced* and just enough pumpkin flavor. Some reviewers on the Libby website did mention that they added raisins, craisins, and/or walnuts for a little something extra. We have a nut-free house so I won't be experimenting with those, but I think that either raisins or craisins would make a great add-in. I will definitely be making these again!!

Libby's Pumpkin Muffins

Makes approx. 30 muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups granulated sugar*
1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water or orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line or grease 30 muffin cups.
Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl- set aside. Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil and juice in large mixer bowl; beat until just blended. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture; stir until just moistened (there will be a few lumps). Spoon batter into prepare muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (mine took closer to 20-22 minutes), or until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store muffins in covered container or resealable plastic bags.

Serving size: 1 muffin. Calories: 170; Calories from Fat: 40; Total fat: 4.5g; Sat. fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 30mg; Sodium: 210mg; Carbs: 30g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugars: 21g; Protein: 2g

*Notes on this recipe: I do not keep pumpkin pie spice in my cabinet, so instead I made a mixture of: 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon; 1 tsp. ground nutmeg; 1 tsp. ground ginger; and 3/4 tsp ground allspice. My spice mix equaled 2 tablespoons, so I had a little bit (one tsp) of extra spice, but it was perfect. The recipe calls for 3 cups granulated sugar, but I used 2 cups- I don't care for sweet muffins, and it made things a little healthier. Lastly, I used orange juice as opposed to water. You don't get any orange flavor in the finished product, but I'm sure that it brightens things up a bit in the background and serves a purpose. I would definitely use it again- unless maybe I had a pumpkin craving and no OJ.

...I don't know if I can wait until tomorrow morning to have another muffin, I might have to try one as an afternoon snack with a little cream cheese... yummy! For now,
it's time to go enjoy the weather at the park!

You can find the original recipe and other information here

What's New??

So, it has been a long time since I last shared a recipe here... A lot has changed in the last two-plus years. Many changes that brought me away from the kitchen and computer... and some that have me coming back!

I have had two job changes. The hardest was the transition to night shift, which had me cooking quick meals or being lazy and ordering out, and really impacted what I considered to be a healthy lifestyle. I can now happily report that I am back to working during the day!! It gives me a lot more time awake and at home during normal people hours. Not to mention a renewed appreciation for breakfast foods, and a chance to really make (or have my husband make) and enjoy dinner every night (not just cook and eat as fast as I can before I run out the door).

I also now have an almost three year old, and a bun in the oven!! My older son loves helping me cook, and has really been a driving force in getting me back in the kitchen. It's important to me to make memories in the kitchen, and make sure that my family is eating healthy and delicious meals. (Not to mention it is much more budget-friendly!)

I am happy to be rediscovering this blog, and my time in the kitchen. I plan to give people-food a little face lift to fit the changes in my life and cooking. I have many more recipes and delicious stories
to share, and I hope that you'll continue to visit and enjoy!