Category Archives: Dessert

Shaker Lemon Pie

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Shaker Lemon Pie

I’ve been intrigued by this pie idea since a friend of ours came around crowing about it. Equal parts marmalade, curd, sweet and tart, all wrapped up in a two crust pie, what’s not to love? It also meant I got to get out my spectacular new mandoline and get to work.

This isn’t a pie for the faint of heart. It’s not gently lemony, it’s very assertive and aggressively citrusy, with lots of texture from the lemon slices. It sounded like the perfect end to an evening of crab eating indulgence and I was right: I received the highest order of pie-eater compliments, that this reminded someone of his Grandma’s lemon pie.

My suggestions: use Meyer lemons, use a mandoline unless you have the knife skills of a ninja (and you don’t, so use a mandoline), and be sure to pick out all of the seeds. Use your favorite all-butter pie crust recipe, and don’t look back.

Shaker Lemon Pie

From Smitten Kitchen, as she adapted from Saveur

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 large lemons, preferably Meyers
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 tablespons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 egg white
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Dough for one double-crust pie

Thoroughly wash lemons, then dry with paper towel. Finely grate lemon zest into a bowl. Using a mandoline, slice lemons as paper thin as you can get them; remove and discard seeds. Add slices to zest and toss with sugar and salt. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half the dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface, fit it into a 9-inch (1-quart) pie plate, and trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.

Mix the macerated lemon-sugar mixture with eggs, melted butter and flour until combined well. Pour in to prepared pie shell.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, drape it over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edge decoratively. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack and serve it warm at room temperature.

I also served mine with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, gently sweetened and laced with vanilla and limoncello. Go big or go home, right?

Way Back

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Does anyone else out there remember pudding pops? On a recent trip to the grocery store I had a sudden want for them (I’ve been on a big frozen dessert kick lately with the uptick in the mercury) and in wandering the frozen food aisle was bereft to find they didn’t have any. And when I asked the kid who was stocking the cases if they still carried them, he questioned what they were, and asked if I maybe meant fudgesicles? Obviously they’ve been gone of the shelves longer than I thought, and I suddenly felt like I was eleventy-billion years old. I wanted to ask this whippersnapper if he knew what a VHS tape was and if he’e ever heard of a man named Bill Cosby, but resisted the urge to completely embarrass myself and wheeled my cart away in shame.

After traveling through the meat counter, the deli and the produce department, I had an idea. Looking at the strawberries in my hand, I decided to try to make myself some pudding pops. Even if they weren’t the same silky consistency, they would probably be pretty damn good. I wandered to the baking aisle.

I never realized there were so  many flavors of pudding, I’m such a chocolate pudding kid that I never even thought that they made flavors other than that and vanilla. There was butterscotch, caramel, pistachio (in a very fetching shade of mint green, might I add), chocolate, milk chocolate, Oreo cookie and cream, vanilla, french vanilla, banana, and the one I settled on: cheesecake. I came up with a cold dozen different combinations of pudding and adjuncts with which to make pops; I told myself I was pudding-blind and to put back the butterscotch, with a silent promise to make the banana-butterscotch pops dancing in my head the next time if the first batch came out edible.

Back at the ranch, I rinsed and dried some strawberries and whizzed together my pudding and milk. I stirred in a little bit of vanilla extract to give it a more homemade flavor, though who was I kidding; I bought the fat-free sugar-free mix and there’s no real way the pudding was going to taste homemade. I know I crow a lot about only eating things that a 5 year old can pronounce and that processed food is the downfall of society. But sometimes a girl needs a mouthful of junk. And fewer calories and fat. And besides, I added strawberries, that had to health it up at least a little bit.

With the strawberries sliced and gently folded into my pudding, I filled up the ice pop molds, which was not as easy as it sounded. I left the strawberries in big chunks and my molds are the skinny, flat variety, so it took some finagling. Next time I’m going to mix up the pudding in a zip top bag and cut off a corner of it to faux-pipe the mixture into the molds. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I need to keep more of the pudding off the counter next time. I’m sure Bill Cosby never had this problem way back when.

If you venture out into making these, be sure to give the molds a couple of good smacks on the counter after filling, to force the air bubbles to the top. Don’t worry about splashing, the pudding is fairly set up. Total cost for 10 pops was less than $2, and each pop is less than 40 calories according to some quick math. Wallet and waistline friendly!

Strawberry Cheesecake Pudding Pops
Makes 10 in my ice pop molds, will vary with mold size

1 package instant Cheesecake flavored pudding (I used sugar-free fat-free)
2 cups cold milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 graham cracker, crushed

In a mixing bowl (or a zip top plastic bag), combine the milk, pudding and vanilla, and prepare according to package directions. Gently fold in the strawberries, and fill clean ice pop molds with the mixture, leaving a bit of room at the top for expansion (less than 1/4″ headspace). Sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs, insert popsicle sticks, and freeze until firm (1-2 hours).

What’s For Dessert?

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Summer is officially on it’s way here in the wine country. We had a couple of days of scorching heat last week, and are due for a few more hot ones in the coming days as well. The heat makes my tummy think of barbecuing, cole slaw, potato salad, and fruits and veggies at their finest. Summer eating is the greatest!

At the store the other day, peaches were on sale for a decent price. These aren’t local peaches, but because they were grown within 500 miles of here and their intoxicating perfume mesmerized me, I picked out the best of them and in to the cart they went. Stone fruits are my very favorite part of summer produce. It’s still a little early, but there was no talking myself out of them once I had a whiff!

I considered making a pie, bellinis, an upside down cake, but I really didn’t want to cook them, and we had nary a bottle of bubbles in the house to make with the cocktails (for shame!). What to  make, what to make? And then it hit me: ice cream. Wait, better yet, ice cream sandwiches.

My mom makes legendary ice cream sandwiches, with all kinds of combinations of homemade cookies and the finest ice creams money can buy. We are big ice cream people in our family; my dad and I almost always had a scoop after dinner when I was a kid. My brother still requests ice cream sandwiches for his birthday dessert every year, both to eat that evening and a handful to take home and not share with anyone. I can’t say I blame him.

I settled on butterscotch chip cookies to go with my peach ice cream, and wished quietly that I hadn’t finished off the container of Trader Joe’s Praline Pecans (have you had these things? If not go buy some, like, now). They would have been the best most tasty business to finely chop and roll the exposed edges of the sandwiches in.  My cookie recipe was the one off the back of the bag, which I of course already tossed in the recycle so I can’t give you the exact one, but it was really similar to this recipe. Simply omit the white sugar, and use a bag of butterscotch chips for the chocolate ones. Easy peasy. When baking your cookies, though, try to get them as symmetrical as possible, for easier pairing and sandwich assembly. I use a #3 scoop.

For our ritualistic ice cream makings, we use a Donvier ice cream maker with great results, as I haven’t broken down and bought the ice cream maker attachment for my mixer. We like this one because it’s quiet, does the job well, and is very, very little work. And without further ado, here’s the ice cream recipe. I’m a lazy kid and try to avoid making a custard base for my ice cream at just about any cost (tempering eggs frightens me), but if you have a favorite recipe please feel free to use it. In a pinch, buy some highest quality peach ice cream or gelato from your neighborhood purveyor.

No-Cook Peach Ice Cream
Adapted from Southern Living

1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk (I used fat free)
1 5 oz. can of evaporated milk (again, fat free)
1 1/4 c. half and half*
4 medium sized peaches, peeled and sliced
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. salt
3/4 c. peach nectar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. bourbon (optional)

In a large pitcher or mixing bowl, combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half and half. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Combine peaches, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a food processor, whiz a couple of times until the mixture is broken into chunks, but not completely pureed.  Stir this mixture and the peach nectar into the cold milk mixture, and process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remove from ice cream maker to a small freezer container, and freeze for 1 to 2 hours until firm.

* I have a method to my madness here with my half and half. I used fat free condensed and evaporated milks to cut calories and fat, but used full-fat half and half in the mixture for mouth feel and in the past have even used heavy cream (which of course is the most creamy and the most fattening). When I made the recipe in the past with regular whole milk and the full fat condensed/evap milks, it got really icy and didn’t have that true creamy consistency. After tinkering around I found that the half and half really helps to keep it creamy and luscious, but it is still a little more icy than a full-fat ice cream base. Oh! And the bourbon? That keeps the ice cream from getting too hard in the freezer. This is completely optional, of course, if you’re making this for kiddies or simply don’t want the alcohol in there, simply leave it out.

When you assemble your sandwiches, go ahead and pair up your cookies first so they all have nicely matching mates. Inevitably there are a couple of crooked ones that fit better together than with other cookies, thus making your batch more uniform. When all of your cookies are paired, plop a fat scoop (don’t be shy here) of the ice cream in the middle of one of the cookies, and smoosh it’s top on. Press down to stick them together, but not too hard so the ice cream doesn’t goosh out everywhere. Wrap each in a wax paper bag or plastic wrap sheet, and freeze for at least an hour prior to serving.

And here are the sandwiches, fully assembled. Maybe I’ll call up my brother and share with him.

I Want a Cookie

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I grew up in a two-cookie household, meaning that on any given day of the week, there were two kinds of homemade cookies in the jar. To this day my mom loves to tell the story of how I would trade her gorgeous and lovingly made lunch box treats for Oreos. In my own defense, Oreos were foreign and exotic and lusty; they rarely crossed the threshold into our house, and I only ever saw them at my grandparents’ house, along with Nilla wafers. Processed was never something we had much of in our house, because way back then the processed stuff was actually more expensive than conventional whole foods.

Nick, too, grew up in a two-cookie household; his mom’s cookies still bring back fond memories for the majority of men within a 4-year age span if Nick. As he was a kid that played sports, his mom was a team mom that always brought around snacks and goodies. Not only that, but they always had at least a couple of friends roaming around the house and she made sure they got cookies too. A few of these ‘kids’ still come to our house for dinner every now and again, and always recognize when we have a bag of her cookies on the counter. And shortly after they make it into that man’s crosshairs, *poof* they are gone.

Cookies, for me, are something that I bake in waves. Either I bake a batch a week for two months or I don’t bake them at all for half a year. And of course, because we both have moms that bake, we end up with things every now and again, which means that I don’t have to get my beaters dirty. But when the mood strikes, you better believe that  there will be cookies.

The other day I was perusing the racks of Trader Joe’s and picked up a bag of Almond Meal. My initial thinking is that this would be killer as a substitute for bread crumbs or panko for chicken cutlets or pork chops, and into the basket it went. When I got it home, though, and flipped the bag over, they suggested swapping it in 50/50 for flour in baked goods. WHAT. Stop the bus, I need to get off and bake chocolate chip cookies. Like, now.

My mom will be quick to tell you that I don’t partake of cookies with nuts in them, for the most part, and most especially when they are chocolate chip cookies. Why ruin perfection? The almond meal, though, adds just the tiniest hint of nuttiness to the cookie, but without the overwhelming texture change of adding chopped nuts. Which is a winner in my book.

I used a standard, full fat full sugar cookie recipe (and many of you will recognize the proportions below as The Only Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe). I’ve tried the lower fat versions, and the lighter versions, and the less sugar versions, but let’s face it, when I want a cookie I WANT A COOKIE and those other guys don’t make my mouth happy when it has it’s sights set on a cookie. I want one the way it’s supposed to taste, the way it’s supposed to feel in your mouth, they way that you remember them tasting when you were a kid with two on a plate and a glass of cold milk after school (and if you didn’t have this I’m sorry for your deprivation). The only way these were healthed-up was by using the whole wheat flour and almond meal in place of the regular flour. Other than that, I didn’t adjust a thing.

One little tip to give you: don’t over soften your butter. Let it sit on your counter for about 15-20 minutes, until it yields slightly under the pressure from a finger but not so that it’s glossy and completely soft. The issue that you’ll run in to will be that your cookies will run into each other on the pan, they’ll spread so much (which is why you aren’t getting a picture of the completed cookies today). If you like a lacy, thin, crispy cookie then by all means use very soft butter, but if you’re a fluffy cookie kid like I am, watch your butter. If it does get too soft on you, then stick it in  the freezer for a couple minutes to firm back up before getting started. I tell you this because, well, my butter got too soft and my cookies spread all over the place today. They still taste great, but I hate when things don’t come out they way I want them to.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Almond Flour

1 c. Almond Meal
3/4 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Whole Wheat Flour
1 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Salt (which I omit, because I’m one of those people that only subscribes to salted butter)
1 c. Butter, softened
1 c. Packed Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Granulated Sugar
2 Eggs
1 t. Vanilla Extract
1-12 oz. Bag of Chocolate Chips
1 c. Chopped Nuts, if you’re one of those people

Preheat the oven to 350*F. In a small bowl, stir together your flours, meal, baking soda and salt (if using) and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together your butter and two sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the two eggs and vanilla extract until incorporated. Add in the flour/soda/salt mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop cookies in heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, spacing evenly. Bake at 350*F for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges. Let cool for 2-3 minutes on the pan before moving onto a wire rack. Completely cooled cookies store for up to 1 week in a sealed container.

No Where But Up

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It’s been a great month, being out of work. You’re not going to catch me dragging around because I’m gainfully unemployed. Granted I have to watch each and every penny we spend and it’s put my frugal ways through the ringer, and there have been a handful of days when I’m not exactly giddy and jigging, but in all I’ve been having a great time. Hanging out with Ted, sewing, taking trips to the library to catch up on some long-awaited reading, unpacking and organizing our new house in a way I didn’t think I was going to be able to until summer because of the office rule of no time off during tax season. I’ve done some cooking and some eating and made some things that I have never made before: ricotta, pasta, pita. It’s been quite a little adventure.

Part of not working is being home alone all day, because all of my friends and family work, of course. I spend many long hours alone with the cat, who is reluctant to use his words most days. It’s given me a lot of time to think about my next move in the world of the employed, and who I want to be if I ever grow up. I have specialized myself in administrative work, which translates roughly to sitting in a chair, in an office, in front of a computer, for about 8.5 hours of every day. Sometimes more. To be honest, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of sitting all day. I’m tired of hammering away on a keyboard in the confines of a fluorescent hell all day. I’m tired of wearing heels and having to be neatly pressed with perfect hair and being something that, well, I’m not, all day. I sit and work the day away in an office, dreaming of coming home and making dinner, going to the grocery store, baking muffins or cake, and having friends over to eat all of the loveliness with me. I love to feed people. It’s what I do. A week or so ago I got to spend an afternoon teaching a group of ladies how to make ravioli and realized how passionate I am about food and cooking. I got some compliments about my kitchen skills and food prowess that did a lot for my ego. It made me start thinking.

I’ve slowly come to the realization that I’ve misaligned my work life with my dream life. And after making a couple of tearful apologies to myself, I decided that I really DON’T want to go work in an office again. I DON’T want to be an administrative assistant, I DON’T want to be an executive assistant, and I really don’t want to push paper anymore. And I don’t care what it costs me. So many years of being a cog in the machine has given me stress issues that I have difficulty sorting through and a big fat secretary’s ass that I’m quite frankly tired of. And speaking of tired, I want to come home tired every day. Not just mentally drained because of X conference call or Y unruly coworker or Z office politicking, but really, truly, physically tired. I want to stand up for a change. Literally, on my feet, and move around.

And so, without further ado, I’ve made the decision that I’m hopping back in to the food industry. And no sooner had I made this decision than an offer of a potential position came my way. I’m trading up, going from administrative assistant to kitchen and catering assistant, if all goes according to plan. How’s that for a life change? Swapping my shoes from Choos to Danskos, hanging up my slacks and putting on my apron. And you know what? I can’t wait.

I meet with the general manager of a little Italian delicatessen-slash-ravioli factory tomorrow, after having met with both the kitchen manager and the deli manager last week. And if my meeting with the GM goes well, I think I’m going to have a new job quicker than I might think. I’m mostly ready; I had dreams of having the summer off and frittering away my time in the garden and reading books on the Plaza with a homemade picnic, but there are bills to pay and a cat to feed. We can’t rest on our laurels forever.

Tomorrow around noon, when you’re heading out for lunch or opening your leftovers at your desk, please send a happy thought in my general direction. I’m going to be giving the sales pitch of a lifetime about myself, with a side of this lemon pudding for the small staff of the deli to enjoy and as an example of my handiwork. If I can spread my sunshine and happiness about this development, I’m going to do it. And how am I going to do it? With food, of course.


Meyer Lemon Pudding
Makes 6 servings

3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
2 1/2 c. milk (I used 2%)
3 extra large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. finely grated Meyer lemon zest (or 1 tbsp each lemon + orange zests)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (or 1/4 c each freshly squeezed lemon + orange juice)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. whipping cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
Lemon zest, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch.  Add the milk, egg yolks, zest, and salt and whisk until smooth.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first and constantly toward the end, until thickened (total time on the flame is about 6-7 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the citrus juice, butter, and vanilla extract.  Divide the mixture into 6 serving dishes and let cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate, loosely covered (to avoid a watery pudding) from 3 hours to 3 days.

Before serving, gently whip your cream with the powdered sugar until it forms soft peaks, dollop atop your puddings and dust with the lemon zest. Serve chilled.

Feeling Green?

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One thing I’m not is Irish; my people hail from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Like the rest of America, though, I get my green out and get my Irish on for St. Patrick’s Day every year. I washed my favorite green dress yesterday, bought some Guinness and some whiskey, and made a batch of Irish Cream so we could spike our coffee this morning.

Wikipedia says that – what, no history lesson? Well, for those that are interested to know who St. Patrick actually was, here’s some info. He was an interesting fellow, and is the most widely celebrated saint in the world. And for the rest of you lot, I give you the recipe for Irish Cream.

While this isn’t the exact consistency or sweetness of the little brown bottle on the shelf, it comes pretty close, and I like that it isn’t as thick and that I can adjust the flavors to my liking. I also made the Unemployed House Wife version, as I found myself without any freeze dried coffee, and used about a quarter cup of cold, strong brewed coffee instead. Those little insta-packets that come from America’s Favorite Coffee House work brilliantly in this application, if you have them.

You’ll see that this recipe calls for what amounts to enough whiskey to bring down an elephant. I’ve successfully made it with only 1 cup of the hooch, but hey, if you aren’t driving anywhere or are going to rebottle it to give as gifts, make it as leaded as the recipe says. Your hostess and St. Patrick will thank you.

Get out your blender, and put on a pot of coffee, because by the time the joe is finished your Irish Cream will be too. It does taste best when it’s refrigerated for a bit, if you can stand it, but if not just dive in. I won’t tell.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all! Be safe, wear green, and be merry!

Irish Cream
From Cooks.com 

Makes about 5 cups, which goes surprisingly fast.

1 3/4 c. Irish whiskey
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (NOT EVAPORATED)
1 c. (1/2 pt.) whipping cream or half and half (use the heavy cream, you won’t be sorry)
4 eggs*
2 tbsp. chocolate flavored syrup
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
In a blender, combine all ingredients; blend until smooth. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Shake before serving. Makes about 5 cups.
*If you’re worried about egg safety in your area, you can substitute either pasteurized eggs, found near the regular eggs in most markets, or powdered egg substitute, reconstituted according to the package directions.

This One Here

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This one here is going to knock the socks off more than a couple of you. I could name names, but suffice to say that, well, you know who you are, and I know who among you will let out a small cry when they see what we’re making here today.

Ahem. Is this thing on? Peanut Butter and Banana Pound Cake with Nutella Glaze.

I heard that.

Let’s cut to the chase. I found this cake on Pinterest and it was love at first glance. I didn’t even read this nice gal’s post until I had the damn cake in the oven. I didn’t have Nutella so I pulled my butter and eggs out of the fridge and blasted to the store while they softened on the counter. And then, tragedy: our local market didn’t have Nutella, I didn’t have time to go all the way to Mayberry for a jar. I hung my head in disappointment and went home. I came up with a plan along the way, though, and improvised. This cake was happening today, come hell, high water, or Nutella famine. The oven took eons to preheat, the butter couldn’t cream fast enough. What’s taking so damn long.

Yeah, it’s a fat and sugar bomb, and I know that there are many other healthy things I could tell you about, but sometimes a girl needs a slice of cake that is so good it makes her ears ring. All I ask is that you resist the temptation to eat this entire cake for each and every meal until you’re licking the plate, and be nice enough to share it with someone you love.

Peanut Butter and Banana Pound Cake with Nutella Glaze

OK, so here’s what I did instead of the Nutella: I chopped up a handful of salted dry roasted peanuts, filled the bundt pan halfway and sprinkled them and some chocolate chips in the middle (about 1/3 cup of each) then filled with the rest of the cake batter. And instead of the glaze listed, I made a regular old one with chocolate chips and some milk and drizzled it over. The Nutella would be mind blowing, but in a pinch this totally worked.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup smooth peanut butter, divided
2 3/4 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 large bananas, mashed
1 cup Nutella, divided
2 tablespoons milk or water (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter and 3/4 cup of the peanut butter until smooth. Beat in the sugar, mixing until light and airy, around 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

Add the flour and salt to the mixer, all at once, and mix just until incorporated. Mix in the mashed banana on low.

Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Drop heaping spoonfuls of Nutella over the top of the batter, about 1/2 a cup. Using a butter knife, swirl the Nutella all throughout the cake to get a marbled look. This is where I put in my chopped peanuts and chocolate chips, folks.

Bake the cake for 60 – 75 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a tester comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heat remaining Nutella and peanut butter in the microwave in 10 second intervals to soften it up enough to drizzle. If desired, mix in a little milk or water to thin the glaze out. Drizzle on top of the bundt cake.

Sweet Saturday

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Things are looking up in Upstairs Downtown Wine Country. We’re getting unpacked, the cat is mostly adjusted, and we’ve found a brand of cat litter that we are all pleased with.

Too much?

What I haven’t done is post on here very often. There will be more frequent posting again soon, once we get more settled and organized and I find my sewing corner (which is buried in boxes in what will eventually be the office, when it quits looking like a storage locker). We’ve got a little more to do at the old house, I’m smack dab in the middle of going back to school – we’ve been busy. What else is new?

In a short time I’ll get you more pictures of the place, but as of now things aren’t quite how I want them to be. (I’m also hoping a new sofa will grace our presence shortly, which will really spruce up the joint). In the meantime, though, let’s talk caramels.

We’ve discussed before how candy making isn’t for those of weak constitution. We’ve also talked about how quickly caramel can turn on you – and it does. These reasons are what made my most recent foray into candy so sexy: the prospect of using a microwave.

Cheating, I’m sure, especially since we aren’t actually caramelizing anything here, we’re simply melting together a bunch of things that make candy. But hey, a little shortcut now and then isn’t a bad thing. It’s not like we’re serving these to Martha or anything (though for the record, I would serve these to her with a smile). I discovered shortcut caramels while Pinning away one evening instead of doing my homework. They’ve been on my mind ever since and today, friends, I made them.

Literally the quickest thing ever. Prep your pan, zap your mixture 1-2-3 times, pour into your prepped pan of choice, cool and VOILA. Caramels. I don’t kid you here. Caramels that are worthy of company. Caramels that are worthy of Martha, for heaven’s sakes.

And what better than salt with caramel? I know, it’s been extremely trendy lately, I’ve been seeing salted caramel everything, from candies to caramel corn to granola bars for chrissakes. It’s everywhere. And in an inspired moment in the artisan salt aisle in my local health food mecca, I had the great pleasure of poking my nose into the Help Yourself bulk containers of balsamic salt as well as her shelf mate, salt smoked with oak barrel staves that formerly cradled chardonnay. I know, right? What in the world do you use these with? CARAMELS.

These coupled with my newest thrift store find (a mini muffin pan that I scored for $1), five ingredients and six minutes later, here’s what we had:

I had a bit more caramel than would fit in my mini muffy pan, so I poured it into a small loaf pan:

…and lived happily ever after. Be sure to grease your pans REALLY WELL so these babies don’t stick. I don’t care if the pan you choose is nonstick, the last thing you want is to find after the wait for these to set that they are welded to your pan. And it happens even in the nonstickiest of nonstick pans.

Be sure to wrap them individually in waxed paper or parchment paper when cool, and they live their best life in the fridge, if they stick around for more than a day. My money says they won’t hang out on your counter for more than the afternoon. And think of the hostess gift potential! Dipped in chocolate and presented in a sweet candy dish all hand wrapped in parchment guarantees you’ll be invited over more often. It would work on me.

Shortcut Caramels

1/4 c. butter

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. light colored corn syrup

1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk.

Grease your chosen pan (13×9, 11×7, 9×9, 8×8, the smaller the pan the thicker your caramels will be) with canola oil, butter, pan spray, or my choice, coconut oil. Melt your butter and combine all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl (and if you have one that you can nuke that has a pour spout, for Pete’s sake use it here). Zap for 6 minutes, pulling and stirring every two minutes. At the end of the 6 minutes, give it a thorough but quick stir, and pour into  your pan. Top with your chosen salt immediately. Let them set up on the counter for a half hour or so, and flip them out of the pan. Slice, wrap in wax or parchment paper, and store. Or, eat with reckless abandon. Makes as many as you slice, in whatever size you slice them.

Saving up

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As summer marches on toward my favorite season, Fall, things are finally starting to ripen around the wine country and we’ve been gifted a BUNCH of fruit from one of N’s family members. No joke, I have a grocery bag of apples, a grocery bag of green pears and a TWO gallon-size bags of French prune plums. I quickly dispatched half the prunes to some of my unsuspecting family members, put the pears in a pretty apothecary jar to be viewed and loved until they ripened, and got out a couple of pretty baskets and bowls to display the apples in.

I’m not one of those people that lays out fruit to slowly die and collect fruit flies, though, I like to use mine up. I’m just not accustomed to getting so much at once. So, we save it for a rainy day. Those plums, while tasty now, are going in the dehydrator for later eating. The pears were sacrificed into a crisp with cardamom and a nice oatmeal streusal top.

And those apples. I got another bag from an enterprising client this week which brings my grand total of appledom to way more than we can eat! Granted I’ll save a handful for juicing (yes, dear reader, I added to my collection of small appliances and bought a juicer) but the rest are what I like to call Future Pie.

Future Pie is easy to accomplish. On your next trip to the hardware store or the grocery store, grab yourself some Fruit Fresh, a citric acid based powder that keeps the brown at bay on sliced fruits. When you get home, get out your favorite mixing bowl, big enough to stir around about six cups of sliced fruit.

Now. Get out your apple slicer if you have one, or find someone in your house that you can Tom Sawyer into helping you peel and slice up your apples. Add your Fruit Fresh, a half teaspoon for every cup of fruit you slice. Stir it all up nicely and dump it into a gallon freezer bag, seal it up, lay it flat on it’s side on a cookie sheet, label accordingly. Stuff the whole business in the freezer and let ‘er go until frozen solid. And just like that you’ve made yourself a sweet insurance policy to be enjoyed in the coming months. This works with just about any fruit, too. I’ve done it with peaches and nectarines with equal success.

Later this fall or winter or whatever, when you have an insatiable need for apple pie or last minute dinner guests, defrost your fruit. Make yourself a pie crust or a crumble topping (or if you’re one of those enterprising types that keeps a spare in the freezer get that out and defrost it) and get your pan and oven ready as you normally would. Add your favorite secret squirrel spices and some sugar to your fruit and proceed as usual with your chosen recipe.

Happy Freezing!

Halloween Fun

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Every year, N and I have a Halloween get -together at our house. Not really a party, more of an open house, come-if-you-can, dress-up-if-you-wanna sort of affair. Now that some of our friends have kidlets, they are welcome too, of course, as we are firm believers that this is a kid’s holiday, adults just get to get in on the fun.

My menu every year is the same: monster pot of chili with all the fixin’s (shredded cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, diced green onions, the works), cornbread muffins, maybe a salad if I really feel like we need a vegetable (or can rope someone into bringing one), and plenty of snacks. A large pot of spiced apple cider simmering away on the stove for ambiance, aroma, and drinking, with brandy and rum on the side to spike if you like. It’s an easy menu that comes together pretty quickly, and chili is always better when made ahead, which makes this even better.

I do like to have a special surprise, though, for our pals and their little ones. These guys aren’t homemade, though, they’re a store-bought marshmallow pie, disguised as something festive and spooky. A Halloween costume for a fun treat. And, of course, it’s on a stick. As we all know, food on a stick has a certain charm that very few can pass up. These cuties come together pretty quickly and the whole family can participate, which makes it even more fun and special.

These treats would be a great treat to take in to a kid’s classroom for their Halloween bash, too. You’ll be the envy of every jealous mom in the place. Check them out:

Spooky Moon Pies

Makes as many as you buy. Required items:

– Marshmallow Pies (I usually buy the Little Debbie brand as they’re the easiest to find, but go whole hog and get real Moon Pies if you want)

– Assorted cute candies: mallow creme pumpkins, candy corn, cake decorations (I found frowny eyes and bats last year, so cute!), Reese’s Pieces, whatever you fancy

– Candy Melts: these are available at most large craft stores and at baking supply shops. Available in many colors and are sooo easy to use. You can get them pre-colored if you prefer, or can buy plain white to make your own colors. I buy the pre-colored ones as the colors are more saturated and it makes the whole business just that much easier.

– Icing bags or plastic zip-top bags for piping the candy melts onto the face of your pie. I use the disposable ones for easy clean up.

– Long bamboo skewers

– Cellophane Bags: I prefer plain so people can really see your handywork. These are available at craft stores and even at Wal-mart now.

– Cute Ribbon, for tying the bags closed

– Your unending imagination.

Follow the instructions for the candy melts to get them to a workable texture. Unwrap your moon pies, lay out all of your candy decoration options in shallow bowls so you can get at them easily. I suggest decorating the pies FIRST, letting the candy melts harden, and THEN putting them on their sticks and into the cello bags. I even let them dry overnight, loosely covered with a lint-free kitchen towel after they’d dried for about an hour, just to make sure my melts were dried and my decorations didn’t smear. No use in messing up your hard work!

In the picture above, I stuck a piece of florist’s foam into a pumpkin basket and then arranged the pops so they stood up for dramatic effect. Hope you and yours have as much fun with these as I do!