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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Homemade Caramel Apples!

Mmmm I love caramel apples. In high school there was this candy apple shop right next to the movie theater and I used to sneak in apples instead of popcorn. This was my first time attempting to make them at home and it was SO much fun and quite easy. I topped them with whatever chocolate/candies/cookies/sprinkles I had in my pantry, which meant they did not require many special ingredients other than caramels and apples. MAKE THESE ASAP.

6 granny smith apples
2 (14oz) bags wrapped caramels
4 tablespoons half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces white chocolate, melted
8 ounces milk chocolate, melted

Sticks: Chopsticks

Toppings: sea salt, sprinkles, chopped nuts, crushed OREOS, Heath Bar pieces, mini M&M's, crushed Whoppers, coconut, etc.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and submerge each apple in the water for about 20 seconds. Remove and use a vegetable brush/rough sponge to scrub the wax off. Dry the apples thoroughly and keep at room temperature. At this point your apples should look dull and without shine... this is good. If you do not do these two steps, your caramel might not stick to the apple. Take the stems off the apples, turn them upside down and stick a chop stick in the middle of the bottom. Set aside.

In another large pot add the unwrapped caramels, half-and-half, and salt and stir constantly over medium-low heat until melted. Take each apple and dunk in the caramel, making sure to coat a bit of the chop stick. Use a spatula to completely coat each apple and let the caramel drip a bit before placing on greased parchment paper-lined cookie sheet in the refrigerator. Let sit in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile get your toppings ready and put them in separate bowls. Place the melted chocolate in either a candy squirt bottle or a ziplock back with the corner cut off. One at a time, remove each apple from the cookie sheet and drizzle or coat with melted chocolate and toppings however you wish! Then devour them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

I've been wanting to experiment with a new pumpkin muffin/cupcake recipe this fall. Not because I don't love my old faithful (click here for recipe), but because I wanted something a bit less muffin-y and more cake-y, so that I could frost it with a browned butter cream cheese frosting. I've been into browning butter when baking for a few months now (see Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies and Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispies), and I thought it might make these fall cupcakes even more warm and cozy on a cold and rainy day like today. These are great classic pumpkin cupcakes/muffins and could also be served without frosting if you want to throw in a few chocolate chips or nuts or dried cranberries, or all of the above.  Cupcake recipe adapted from Paula Deen's, although just now I realized I forgot to add all of the baking powder and they still turned out great.... and the frosting I sorta made up as I went. 

1 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (apparently optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

With an electric mixer on medium speed beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, and pumpkin until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat on low until incorporated. Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

1 stick butter
12 ounces cream cheese, softened for about 30 minutes
2.5-3.5 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Take the butter and cut the stick in half. Cube half and place in a small bowl and set aside. Place the other half a stick of butter in a small pan and turn the burner on medium heat. Stir the butter with a spatula, scraping the bottom until butter is browned (the butter will first bubble a lot, then calm down, then brown pieces will begin to form on the bottom of the pan- scrape them up and continue cooking just a bit longer). Pour browned butter on top of other butter in the small bowl and stir together until all butter is melted. 

With an electric mixer begin beating the cream cheese while adding the butter mixture and the vanilla. Add the sugar, about a 1/2 cup at a time, tasting as you go until desired sweetness. You may add a bit of milk if you find it too thick, but I prefer a thicker frosting. Frost cupcakes and eat!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I LOVE CINNAMON RAISIN BREAD. It makes the best toast. I made 3 loaves of this a few weeks ago and my friends and family and I pretty much ate this and only this for a week straight. It freezes well, it makes a great gift... its just wonderful. Even though making bread takes time, don't let that discourage you. Its worth the time!

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2-2 packages of yeast (not quick rising)
8 cups unbleached flour (about)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
2 sticks butter
5 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1. Mix water and 3/4 cup of sugar in a very large bowl. Add the yeast and 3 cups of flour. Stir with a fork and cover with plastic wrap, letting it rise for about 30 minutes in a warm place.

2. Meanwhile, in another bowl measure and mix together 5 cups of flour, salt, cinnamon, and 3/4 cup sugar. Add the butter and cut with a knife or pasty blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. In a small bowl, beat 4 eggs with a fork and add vanilla. Add to yeast mixture and mix well. Add flour gradually to yeast mixture, stirring with a spoon.  When all the flour is added, dump onto a floured counter and knead for about 7 minutes. (be sure your hands are floured).  If sticky, add more flour. Dough should be smooth and elastic.

4. Oil a large bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Punch down dough and knead lightly.

5. Divide dough into 3 parts and roll eat part out into a flat rectangle (each about 8x15inches). Baste with melted butter (as much as you can put on there without it spilling over). Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (you can use light brown or white sugar). Sprinkle raisins on top and roll into a load. Pinch edges closed and place in oiled loaf pan. Let rise.

6. Baste with remaining (beaten) egg and bake in 350 degree oven until golden brown (30-45 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool. Remove from pans, eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Butternut squash is one of my favorite things about this time of year. Yea yea yea, I love fall, you get it. But I really do love fall and all the seasonal foods that go with it-- like butternut squash risotto, pumpkin muffins, apple cider, thanksgiving stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc. I wanted to make a butternut squash soup that was fairly straight-forward without the bells and whistles of some recipes (like apple or curry- i.e., the recipe I posted last fall). This one really showcases the squash and leeks, which are the best ingredients in the soup. Very good!

1 3-lb butternut squash
6 tbs. unsalted butter
2 large shallots, diced
1 large leek, sliced thin
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1/3 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel the butternut squash and then chop into 3/4 inch cubes. Mix with a little salt and pepper and olive oil and roast on a cookie sheet for about 25-35 minutes, until soft and lightly browned (toss halfway in between). Set aside.

In a large soup pan melt the butter, adding the shallots, leeks, carrot and celery. Stir occasionally and cook for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the flour and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (the the broth mixture will thicken during this stage). Once boiling add the wine, bay leaves, and squash. Stir, breaking up the squash and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and then blend (with a stick blender or stand blender) and return to pot. Add the half-and-half and taste for salt and pepper. Keep warm and either make a sauteed shrimp topping or a pancetta leek topping... or all 3 in one. Mmm.

Pancetta/Leek Topping
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 ounces diced pancetta
2 leeks, thinly sliced
3/4 pound raw, deveined, tail-less shrimp

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the pancetta and sliced leeks and cook, stirring frequently until fat is rendered from pancetta and leeks are lightly browned and a bit crispy. Just before finishing, add the shrimp and saute just until cooked through. Dollop a fair amount on the top of each bowl and serve. You do not want to skip this step. Insanely good. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Easy Apple Crisp

I recently bought a bunch of local apples at a fruit stand and wanted to make something yummy with them. I decided to make an apple crisp/crumble (mostly because I was too lazy to make a pie crust). It was so easy and absolutely delicious. In general, using firm apples, like granny smith create the best pies or crumbles, but I bought gala apples- whereas they are not as firm as granny smiths, they did stand up better than most apples.

5 gala or granny smith apples
1/2 lemon, juiced
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 8x8 pan. Set aside.

Peel and slice the apples into 1/3-inch slices. Toss with lemon juice and place in the bottom of the prepared pan. In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, flour, oats, butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg until all ingredients are incorporated. Sprinkle over the apples and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Remove from over and serve in bowls with a scoop of ice cream on top!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thai Coconut Soup

Its fall! My favorite season! Makes me want to make warm and spicy soups. This soup was recommended to me months ago by my friend Dani and is loosely based off of a Cook's Illustrated recipe. It turned out quite well and has many layers of flavor- spicy, salty, tart, etc. Just as it should be. Mmm-mm-mm. If you can find lemon grass at your store/market, add 3 stalks (with the first few layers removed, halved) with the shallots and cilantro.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 shallots, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 cups chicken broth
2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 lb. chicken breasts, 1/8 inch slice
5 oz thin rice noodles, cooked and drained
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon red thai curry paste

In a large pot heat the oil. Add the shallots, cilantro and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and the soy sauce (pour the rest in a small bowl and add the lime juice and curry paste, stirring together- set aside). Stir and cook the vegetables just until they begin to soften- about 3 or 4 minutes. Add chicken broth and 1 can of shaken coconut milk. Stir together and bring to a simmer. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain soup into a large bowl, discarding the onion/cilantro mixture. Wipe out the pot and put the broth mixture back into the pot.

Return heat to medium-high and add the other can of shaken coconut milk, along with the sugar. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add the sliced red bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the noodles and the curry/lime juice/fish sauce mixture. Taste and add extra seasoning if necessary (ex: more curry paste, more lemon juice, etc.).

Serve in bowls, sprinkling freshly chopped cilantro, scallions, and jalepeno on top of each bowl. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top and serve.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake

I absolutely love mexican chocolate. You can buy mexican chocolate at most grocery stores- it will either be in the ethnic food aisle or in the hot chocolate aisle... I usually buy the Ibarra brand, but Nestle makes some that looks and tastes the same and they call it "Abuelita." I grew up having mexican chocolate in the form of hot cocoa.... My mom used to make us mexican hot chocolate on cold winter days and the smell of this cake takes me back to winter breaks in elementary school. (To make mexican hot chocolate, take 2 tablets/~ 1ounce of mexican chocolate and place in the bottom of a blender. Add 8 ounces of very hot milk-- but not quite boiling. Blend until frothy and incorporated. Pour into a mug and drink. Mmmmm. Drool... its really very good).

And this cake is vewy vewy good. It has more than a pound of mexican chocolate in it, so how could it be bad? It is also very forgiving. I know this because I added the ingredients in the completely wrong order, and I don't think it made a bit of difference in the end. And if that wasn't enough, just now I realized I forgot to add an entire egg. Whoops. Either way it was awesome, and I can't imagine how much better it will be when I actually make it correctly. Its a major crowd pleaser. Recipe from Rick Bayless.

**Oh, and the reason that this photo is so incredible is because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. PHOTO BY Jeff Wischkaemper. Please photograph all my food from now on?

Streusel Topping Ingredients
9.5 ounces mexican chocolate, chopped
1 large egg yolk
7 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cake Ingredients
9.5 ounces mexican chocolate, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

First, prepare the chocolate. Once coarsely chopped, add 9.5 ounces into a food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Remove from processor and put in a bowl and set aside for the cake batter. Next, add the rest (9.5 ounces) of the coarsely chopped chocolate to the food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir together the egg and salt and add to processor, along with the butter, and flour. Pulse until streusel resembles a moist crumbly mixture- you do not want to over pulse. Set aside.

Add the butter, cream cheese, and sugar into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated before each egg is added. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder and add it to the batter, beat until incorporated. Stir in the reserved 9.5 ounces of mexican chocolate and pour into a buttered and floured 9x13 baking pan. Spread the batter evenly and add the streusel topping, spreading evenly, and making sure there are no large pieces.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. YUM.