Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oreo Caramel Apple

Dang, I'm kind of on a roll.  Posting four times in two weeks.  Gettin all crazy. 

I hope that I haven't just jinxed myself. 


I know lots of you are saying the same thing.  Where did October go?  How can Halloween be a few days away?  It never ceases to amaze me how fast it all goes.  Even though I'm not quite sure how October snuck up on me, I'm happy for the change of weather.  Though again, it's in the 80's much of this week here in my corner of So Cal.  But at least our nights get cool enough to snuggle under our down comforter.

I was browsing through my food photos and realized I had a perfect October treat to post.  I actually made this caramel apple several months ago and then of course forgot all about it.  If you're looking for a fun goodie to make for Halloween or just to enjoy any day of the week, you can get very creative with caramel apples. 

Have you ever been to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory?  They are famous for their vast selection of dressed up caramel apples.  They have creations such as apple pie caramel apples, to Oreo caramel apples and peanut butter cup caramel apples, to name a few.  I haven't met an apple from Rocky Mountain I didn't like.  

Making your own caramel apple at home is easy to do.  Because you have to melt a fair amount of caramel and candy coating, I recommend making several apples at one time.  I only made two, which meant some of my ingredients went to waste. 

You can also give a fancy-fied caramel apple as a gift.  Place a fully set apple in a clear treat bag (from Michaels) and tie off with a festive ribbon.  But save one for yourself.  Because they are delcious!  And look at it this way.  Indulging in a cookie coated, caramel apple is better than eating a plain old cookie or candy bar.  The apple part makes this totally okay to eat...practically a healthy dessert. 


No, really. 

Maybe.  :)


Oreo Caramel Apple
This is more of an ingredient list than an exact recipe. 

Granny Smith apples
Caramel candies (or make your own caramel)
Vanilla candy coating (or melted white chocolate)
Crushed Oreo cookies
Lollilop sticks

Crush Oreos in a sealed zip top bag using a mallet or rolling pin and place crushed cookies in a pie plate and set aside.  Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.  Remove stem from apple and insert lollipop stick 1/3 of way into apple.  Melt caramel candies (or make your own).  Dip apple in caramel and twirl around until evenly coated, leaving some green apple showing.  Allow excess to drip off and then place on prepared baking sheet and allow to set about 20-30 minutes. 

Make sure your crushed Oreos are handy.  Then melt vanilla candy coating (or white chocolate) and dip apple while still allowing caramel layer to show.  Place apple in the cookie filled pie plate and using your hands pat a generous amount crushed Oreos into the vanilla layer while still allowing vanilla layer to still show.  Some of the cookies will fall off but just keep packing them back on and patting them into the coating.  Return to parchment paper and allow to set.  You can place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set quicker.  Don't refrigerate for too long or the apple will sweat.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chai Tea

I'm loving the flavors of fall.  I can't seem to get enough pumpkin and apple at the moment.  I just had the best dessert tonight (ya, ya, I know I'm supposed to be dieting....I will gladly save calories for this anytime!).  What was so yummy?  Hubs and I went to Yogurtland and they had pumpkin pie and cinnamon graham cracker frozen yogurt flavors.  Together these two are absolutely heavenly.  A Yogurtland first for us...Hubby and I actually got the same flavors of yogurt.  This has never ever happened before.  Our tastes are typically on opposite sides of the dessert spectrum.  But I guess pumpkin is our meet in the middle treat. 

Now I'm in the mood for a real pumpkin pie with perhaps a cinnamon graham cracker crust?  I'll have to work on that.

In the meantime, this chai tea is satisfying my fall cravings.

It's Secret Recipe Club time!  For those of you haven't heard about Secret Recipe Club, it's a great group of bloggers who get assigned another person's blog each month and it's a "secret".  You stalk the person's blog you were assigned in search of recipe to make and post about.  All the participants "reveal" their secret blog on the same day and time.  It's a lot of fun and is a great way to get know new blogs and find some pretty amazing recipes.  If you're interested in joining, check out the SRC site.

This month I was assigned Aimee's blog, from Chapel Hill to Chickenville.  Aimee's a wife and busy mom to four little ones.  She graduated college from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and after a few years in the hotel business and sojourn to Australia, she met her hubby and settled down in what she likes to call Chickenville.  She really does have a brood of hens in Chickenville!  Which is pretty cool.  When Aimee's not homeschooling or tending to chickens she loves to make magic in her kitchen.  Her blog is filled with a variety of delicious looking recipes and it was difficult to choose just one.  I had my sites on a scrumptious pecan pie, a light, airy pavlova and spiced pumpkin soup

Sticking with the fall flavors I finally decided on chai tea.  Chai tea lattes are one of the few drinks I order on the rare occasions I end up at a Starbucks.  And I love it.  Chai is all about the spices.  The spices seem to vary by recipe, but common flavors you will see are cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom and peppercorns.  Mix in a little tea, sugar and milk and you have a hot spiced drink that gives you a big warm hug when you sip it.  I made a feeble attempt at making chai tea at home once a while back.  I bought chai tea bags and followed the directions on the package, which includes adding milk.  The final product was really not even drinkable.   So when I saw a chai recipe on Aimee's blog I knew I wanted to give this spiced beverage another shot.

Thankfully this go round was a huge success! 

It's creamy, it's sweet and perfectly spiced.  The recipe is a chai concentrate that you store in the fridge and then add milk and heat when you want to enjoy a cup.  I halved the recipe below (since Hubby won't help me drink it)...and made a few modifications.  I added in a vanilla bean.  This could easily be omitted.  Aimee's recipe called for star anise and instead I added a new ingredient which I just ordered online, called pumpkin powder.  The pumpkin flavor is very mild and very much in the background.  You could easily omit this as well or add in any of your own favorite spices.  The last change I made was to use ground cardamom instead of cardamom pods since that's what I had on hand.  I was very happy with the final spice blend.

The coolest part about Aimee's recipe is she also makes this to give as gifts.  Simply package up all the dry ingredients in a mason jar, write up instructions on how to make the tea and finish by dressing it up with a little fabric or ribbon (head to Chickenville for Aimee's packaging tips).  Such a great idea!  Thanks Aimee.


Chai Tea
Adapted from Chapel Hill to Chickenville

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (or two teaspoons of green cardamom pods)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon pumpkin powder (optional--not in the original recipe)
1 vanilla bean (not in the original recipe)
6 cups water
10 black tea bags
1 cup sugar
2 additional cups water
Milk (I used skim)

Split vanilla bean down the middle with a sharp knife and scrape out seeds.  Combine all ingredients (including vanilla bean pod and seeds) up through 6 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil,, stirring occasionally.  Turn heat to low and add the tea bags.  Steep tea bags for 10-15 minutes.  Remove the tea bags and add sugar, stirring until dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.  Add remaining two cups of water and stir.  Pour chai concentrate through a fine mesh sieve and discard spice residue and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Note you can save the vanilla bean for use in vanilla sugar.

To make tea, add the concentrate to your cup or mug, filling until halfway full.  Fill remainder of the cup with milk and microwave until hot.  Or place a 50/50 mixture of milk and chai concentrate in a small saucepan and heat on stove. 

Note: To make chai mix as a gift head over to Aimee's blog and get her tips to package this up for giving.  Note, if you want to use a vanilla bean in a chai mix gift, just split the bean down the middle and nestle it into the sugar, fully covered.  The vanilla flavor will permeate the sugar.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Caramel Apple Jam

Do you follow Sugar Crafter's blog?  If you don't, you should.  Tracy has all kinds of great recipes, including a number of homemade jams and preserves.  In fact, she has turned her love of canning into a business and sells her unique jams and preserves at local farmer's markets.  That's pretty cool! 

I was browsing Tracy's blog recently and came across these stunning Brandied Apple Preserves.  Apple pie filling anyone?  Yes, please.  When I read through her post, I found her delicious looking preserves were inspired by a new monthly canning project that kicks off this month called Can It Up, founded by Hima at All Four Burners.  I'm totally in! 

I became enamored of canning after my first go at it.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again...It's so completely satisfying to not only make your own homemade jam, but to preserve it to give as gifts or just always have on hand.  I LOVE it. 

The first time I canned preserves I was nervous as heck.  I downloaded the Ball guide to canning from the web and read it through about 10 times.  It seemed like a lot of steps and a bit overwhelming.  The hardest part that first time around was timing everything and juggling multiple pots on my stove top.  But after one go round, it wasn't so intimidating anymore. 

Here's the gist...

1. Clean jars and lids (don't re-use lids...jars and outer bands can be re-used, but buy new lids).
2. Heat jars and lids so the jars don't crack when you ladle in hot jam.
3. Make jam.
4. Fill jars leaving about 1/4 inch space at the top, wipe the tops clean with clean towel or paper towel, put on the lid and screw on the outer band.
5. Repeat step 4 until all jars are filled.
6. Place hot jars in a boiling water bath, fully submerged, and boil for the amount time indicated for the type of product you are canning.  Most fruit jams/preserves take 10 minutes. 
7.  Remove processed jars from water bath and allow to cool on a kitchen towel on your counter for 24 hours, undisturbed.
8. Voila, jam!

I don't own special canning equipment (no canning pot or rack, no wide mouthed funnel, no canning tongs, no magnetic lid lifter).  I use my multi-pot to both heat the jars (step 2) and process the filled jars (step 6).  In my early canning endeavors I used a separate pot for heating the jars and processing the jars, but then figured out it I could do it all in one pot.  I use non stick kitchen tongs to lift the jars out of the hot water and then a doubled up kitchen towel to hold the hot jar while I use a small ladle to fill up the jar with hot jam.  I use my tongs to grab a lid out of the hot water and gently place it on top of the jar and then screw on the outer band.  Once all the jars are filled, I remove the strainer portion of my multi-pot and place the jars in the strainer (using a kitchen towel...since they are hot).  I lower the strainer into the boiling water and process. It really is easy.

October's Can It Up ingredient?  Apples of course! 

Now the big question, what to make?  I made apple butter in my slow cooker last year so I wanted to do something different.  I ran across a few recipes for caramel apple jam and I knew that's the direction I wanted to go.  I saw several recipes that called for a mix of brown sugar and white sugar, reporting that the brown sugar added a caramel taste to the jam.  These recipes also included spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg.  I read some comments that said the caramel flavor was hard to detect and that technically caramel apples don't traditionally have spices in them.  So I continued my search and found this recipe over at Hitchhiking to Heaven (another blogger with a love of canning!).  What drew me in was the recipe called for actually making caramel and then adding in the apple.  It had no spices, unless you count vanilla, and the recipe was pure caramel and apple.

I'm pretty darn happy with the end product.  The one comment/note I will change for next time is to let my caramel become a deeper golden caramel color before removing it from the heat.  I was nervous the caramel would get too dark or burn so I removed it from the heat a touch early.  I feel like the caramel flavor isn't quite as prevalent as I would like, though it's definitely there in the background.  I don't miss the spices and even without them, this jam is reminiscent of apple pie goodness. A wonderful fall dress up your toast, use in a crumble bar or cookie filling or to give as a gift!  I have 5 jars left to share with friends or family.  So if you'd like to drop by and pick one up, it's all yours!

If you want to get in on the apple canning action, you have until October 31st to link up over at Hima's site.  I'm looking forward to seeing what November's ingredient will be.


Caramel Apple Jam
from Hitchhiking to Heaven

5 cups unsweetned applesauce (make your own starting with 3 1/2 pounds of apples and about 1/2 cup water) - I used a mix of granny smith, fuji, pink lady and honeycrisp
3 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I didn't have a vanilla bean so I stirred in 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract at the end)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons dark rum (I omitted)

If you are making your own applesauce, start by peeling and coring apples and cut in to slices (about 1/4 - 1/2 inch).  Place apples in a large sauce pan with water (about 1/2 cup) and bring to a simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes, until apples are tender.  Use an immersion blender (or a food mill) and puree the apples into applesauce.

Prepare your jars and lids.  Start by placing clean jars submerged in a pot of water, and bring to a near boil or until very hot.  Heat clean lids in a small saucepan of water.

Make the caramel.  Take a large clean pot (at least 7 quarts) and evenly scatter 1 1/2 cups of sugar over the bottom of the pan (you want to add it evenly because you will not be stirring the mixture).  Add 1/2 cup of water and lemon juice and bring to a slow boil, adjusting the heat as necessary.  Do not stir.  Keep a close eye on this as it turns from a clear syrup to caramel when you turn your back (the whole process took about 15-20 min for me).   When the syrup turns a golden caramel color, remove the pan from the heat. 

While the sugar is caramelizing, combine remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar and sea salt in a medium bowl, stirring to combine.  If using a vanilla bean, split the bean lengthwise with a paring knife and scrape out the seeds.  Place the seeds and the pod into the sugar mixture and set the sugar mixture aside.

When the caramel is the color you want it, add in the applesauce, the sugar/salt/vanilla bean mixture (pod and all) and stir to combine over medium/low heat.  Once the sugar is dissolved, bring the jam to a boil and stir continuously for 8-10 minutes, or until jam thickens. This jam sputters and splatters quite a bit, but the continuous stirring prevents it from getting too violent.  Hot jam hurts!  You can test jam by placing a small dollop on a plate and placing it in the freezer for a couple of minutes.  If the jam easily slides off the plate when you tip on it's side, it's not quite ready. 

Once jam is done, turn off the heat and remove vanilla bean.  Stir in rum.  Remove a hot jar from your water bath (I use non stick tongs) and ladle jam into the jar, leaving 1/4 inch of head space at the top.   Using a clean damp paper towel, wipe away any excess from the edge of the jar.  Place a hot lid on top and screw on outer band. 

Process finished jars (completely submerged) in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove from bath and allow jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours. 

Makes 6 half pint jars.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Benihana Ginger Dressing

It's been a while. 

Let's catch up.

*Disclaimer* This post is lengthy and chalk full of photos.  Proceed with caution.

The weather finally cooled down enough to open the windows and discontinue the non stop AC.  For a week.  The cool spell was short lived and we are anticipating at least 10 days of 90 degree heat.  That's October in Southern California for ya.  So speaking of being able to open our windows...I have a Dear Abby question for you all.

Dear Abby,

We live in a townhouse and have shared walls with neighbors on both sides.  Our living room opens up to a small patio area and allows a nice cross breeze of fresh, cool air.  Except when our neighbor smokes on her patio.  Her smoke immediately comes in all open windows on the back side of our townhouse, which also includes 2 upstairs bedroom windows.  The breeze is not so fresh.  She smokes a lot.  I'm enjoying her secondhand smoke right this minute, at 7:57 pm on Sunday.  We usually just shut our door and then get hot because the fresh cool cross breeze is no longer.  Thus far, both Hubby and I have not had the courage to say anything to her.  Like, hey, why don't you smoke in your own house instead of on your patio?  Oh, you don't want your house to smell like smoke?  Interesting. Maybe that's not the best approach.  Is it even reasonable to say something?  It's her place afterall.  How would you handle it?

Sick of second hand smoke

Please feel free to put on your Dear Abby hats and leave any suggestions you might have in the comments. 

Okay, sorry for the advice detour.  Let's get back to catching up.

My two Aunt's on my Dad's side of the family came to visit from Connecticut for a few days in September.  In honor of their visit I made a giant 3 layer apple cake with caramel buttercream frosting and caramel sauce on top (recipe from Baked Explorations). 

It was delicious.

While my aunts were here, my step mom, aunts and I walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K on September 23rd. 

The walk was awesome, with 18,000 plus registered walkers participating.  That's a lot of walkers!  And I raised $1150 for the cause which is near and dear to me.  So THANK YOU to my awesome family and friends for your support!  You guys rock!

At the end of September Hubby and I spent a long weekend in central California to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. 

We were married in 2002 in Sedona Arizona, next to Oak Creek.  I love this picture.  It's like an enchanted forest.

Hard to believe 10 years has already passed. 

We stayed at a little hotel in Cambria on Moonstone Beach.  It was gorgeous. 

We drove north up the coast and hiked in Big Sur.  Also gorgeous. 

If you have never driven on Highway 1 through the central coast, immediately add it to your bucket list. 

We ate at our favorite restaurant in Cambria, Indigo Moon for our actual anniversary.  We spent a day at a food and wine festival called Savor the Central Coast and ate and drank some fantastic foods and wines.  So fun.  This was our first food and wine festival, and it will certainly not be our last.  We already talking about going back next year.

I started a diet on October 1st.  I have my sights on losing 11 pounds to be exact.  Because that's what I've gained over the last couple of years.  As of week one, I'm down 1 pound.  We'll see how I do tomorrow for my week 2 weigh in.  My strategy is simple.  Count calories.  I log them on a free website called Fit Day.  This worked well for me 3 1/2 years ago when I lost 30 pounds (I did excercise during this time as well).  I'm thinking about exercising now too, but not fully committed to that just yet. 

Speaking of excercise, remember when I told you all I started running?  And knowing myself like I do, I couldn't say if it was going to be a regular routine.  Well it didn't last long...not because I gave up...because I injured my feet.  Like to the point where I was wondering if I would ever walk normally again.  For real.  Thankfully after 2 full weeks of hobbling, my feet returned to normal.  Then I made a serious investment in new shoes...meaning no more excuses.  I'll report back.
I sent my October box off to the military over seas last week. 

Included in the box was ginger snaps, two types of shortbreads and I did my first fall baking with pumpkin bread.  What I love about Baking GALS is I can bake, ship it off and not have to worry about too many temptations in the house.  Which is key when you are counting calories.

I continued fall baking with an attempt at baked pumpkin oatmeal. 

Unfortunately the result was a bit of a flop, lacking in pumpkin flavor, sweetness and a touch of salt.  But I like the idea, so I'm going to do a little tweaking to the recipe since I still have some pumpkin to use up.  If I can make it work, I'll post the recipe.

I found an online group dedicated to canning called Can It Up!  The group is founded by Hima of All Four Burners.  Hima loves canning and decided to ask others to join her with a monthly canning project centered around one ingredient.  You choose your own recipe and can it anytime during the month.  October's ingredient is apples.  I made Caramel Apple Jam this weekend and can't wait to share it with you later in the week.  It's pretty yummy.

Wow, this really is a long post.  Congrats for sticking it out.  The finish line is in sight.

Now, a little on ginger dressing. 

Do you ever eat at Benihana?  You know the teppan style restaurant where chefs cook the food in front of you and do antics like catching shrimp tails in their hat and making a steaming volcano out of onions?  I've spent a lot of birthdays over the years at Benihana.  They serve salad with fresh ginger dressing alongside all their meals.  I LOVE that dressing.  LOVE. I ask for an extra bowl of just dressing so I can thoroughly douse my salad in it.  Really I do.  It's a bit obscene.

So years ago, I called my local Benihana and asked if they have the recipe for their famous ginger dressing.  I think I gave them a story about food allergies or something.  My memory is fuzzy, it was a while ago.  Anyway, they actually faxed me the recipe. 

The recipe is very faded as it's on that old style fax paper where the print disappears over time.  You can see at the top of the page it's from Benihana in Encino, CA.  So it seems legit.  But I still I find it hard to believe they would just hand out their recipe (already portioned down for a home cook's kitchen).  Who knows?  Well as much as I love the dressing, I have never gotten around to making it at home...until now.

It's not exactly like the restaurant's version.  I used baby ginger root instead of mature ginger, so perhaps that had an impact.

I can't quite say what is off in the recipe, but I'll be playing around with this one.  The most surprising ingredient?  Tomato paste.  That's what gives it that bright orange color.  Would have never guessed that one. 

Even though it's not an exact replica, it's tasty and it's diet friendly.


Ginger Dressing
from Benihana

1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root (peeled and minced)
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dash of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Makes 6 ounces