Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Wendy

Today would have been my sister Wendy's 29th birthday. She passed away on January 30th due to organ failure brought on by pneumonia. She was such a smart girl who made some poor choices in life which eventually brought her short life to an abrupt end. I can't believe it's been 9 months since she's left this world. She is missed and loved.

This video was made by my brother Alan for her funeral. I was able to upload it to YouTube and am able to share it with you now. It took FOREVER. It's long. Almost 11 minutes long. Just a little glimpse into the life of my sister. We love you Wendy. Your memory lives on in our hearts and will forever.

.caramel apples.

My daughter, Paige has been bugging me for awhile now to make caramel apples and I thought today would be a great day to do this as a family. This caramel recipe is one I've made for years. It's from a cookbook I bought back before I even met my husband (we're talking 1992 folks. lol) and I have posted quite a few recipes from it here on the blog. The cookbook is by Land O Lakes called Treasury of Country Recipes. Love it.

We're big fans of apple and caramel here but I wanted to up the wow factor by making these like those mammoth numbers you find in candy/chocolate stores by adding chopped peanuts, toasted coconut, mini chocolate chips, and crushed oreo cookies. Seriously.. say it with me. "WOW!"

First we need to make the caramel.

In a large saucepan put 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 2 cups sugar.

Add 1 cup cream and 1 cup milk.

Add 1 cup light corn syrup. [NOTE: A tip when you measure this. Spray the inside of your measuring cup with pam spray and it will slide right on out. This tip works just as well with molasses and honey too.]

Put the pot on low heat on the stove.

This is what the caramel will look like after an hour. A little frothy on top and it will be bubbling slightly.

Candy is not something that can be rushed. This caramel takes almost 2 hours to make. You want to bring this to 248* F (120* C). Don't go past that temp otherwise your caramel will be too far into the hard ball stage.

When it finally reaches temp, remove from the burner and put in bowl of ice water. We need to cool this down a little (to 175*) before we dip the apples. Add 1 tsp vanilla.

While the caramel is cooking, prep your toppings. I crushed oreo cookies, chopped up some unsalted peanuts, opened a bag of mini chocolate chips, and toasted some coconut. Put each topping in their own bowl and set aside.

You're also going to need to melt some chocolate. I used a bag of 60% cocoa Ghiradelli chocolate chips. Put in a double boiler and melt on very low heat. Stir until completely smooth. Remove from heat.

Now if you've ever made caramel apples in the past, did the caramel slide right off the apple? The reason for this is because commercial growers put a wax coat on the apples to give them a nice shine, and also to keep them fresh longer and keep bugs off. So, what we need to do is remove the wax.

Bring some water to boil and dunk the apples in for just a minute. Put them in an ice bath and dry well. I also take a mesh scrubber that I clean my fruit and veggies with to scuff the skin. This will give the caramel something to grab onto.

Once you have cleaned the apples, remove the stems and shove craft sticks into the midde.

Something else I like to do but didn't have time to do today was put these in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This gets them nice and cold so the caramel sets almost immediately and keeps a lot from sliding off.

Dip the apples in the caramel, tilting the pot if necessary to get full coverage.

We had some pretty big apples and so I needed to help Paige out to get the tops coated.

Place the coated apples on a silpat or waxed paper. Put in the fridge or freezer to set.

We need to add another coat of caramel. So after the first coat has set, dip again. Now it's time for the fun stuff!!!

Sprinkle whatever toppings you like on your apple. Tilt here and there so you get the sides.

Return the apples to the fridge to set again. After a few minutes, pull from the fridge and drizzle with some melted chocolate. and sprinkle even MORE toppings on! Oh yahhhh!

Here is the monster caramel apple after it's all done. Pop the baby in the fridge or freezer again to set the chocolate.

Once it's firm, carefully pull from the waxed paper and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

.roast chicken pot pie.

Roast chicken pot pie. Or as I like to call it - poor man's pie, because really... it doesn't cost a lot to throw something like this together. I had some roast chicken leftover from the other night and some corn from when I made corn muffins on Sunday. All I needed were some other veggies thrown into the mix, pie crust, and a cream sauce! A wonderful meal on a very chilly Georgia night.

Let's start with the sauce.

Mine is more of a herb-ish/garlicky sauce which adds a nice contrast to the root vegetables and the chicken. Start by melting 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan and add 1 clove minced garlic to saute.

While whisking, add 1/4 cup flour, a little at a time. Make sure you whisk while you add otherwise you will get lumps. Lumps are not our friends. Let this cook over medium heat for a few minutes.

Now we need 2 cups milk. Again, while whisking, add the milk gradually.

Add 1/2 tsp dill weed. You really don't need to measure. If you're confident enough, just shake the jar a few times and that'll be good.

Then add about the same amount of thyme. Thyme is a good herb for anything chicken. I also added some salt and pepper to properly season the sauce.

Kick up the heat to medium high and let this thicken up. Make sure you whisk it constantly so it doesn't burn on the bottom of your pan. When the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, it's done. Set aside.

Chop up some potatoes, carrots, and celery. I used 2 of each. You don't need more than you see here because it adds up quickly and your pie will be bursting at the seams! Yep.. been there. lol

Chop up some roast chicken. If you don't have roast chicken, cook some chicken breasts and use those. I don't play by rules. :D

At this stage, you could throw it all in a pie crust, seal up and throw in the oven. I have found my pot pies take way too long to bake through when I do this. So I do some cooking before putting it in the pie plate.

Start by melting 2 Tbsp butter. Add a little olive oil.

Add your chopped vegetables. Stir to coat them with the oil/butter. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. The potatoes will be glassy looking.

Here I added a variety of frozen vegetables. I added about 1/2 cup peas, 1/2 cup green beans, and 1/2 cup corn. Mushrooms would be a really nice addition but I didn't have any. Season well with salt and pepper then stir everything together.

Remove the skillet from the heat and pour in your cream sauce. We're almost there!

Add your chicken. I used 2 cups worth of meat. If you want yours more "chicken-y", then add more. I like a good balance of chicken vs. vegetable.

Make a double pie crust. Roll out the bottom shell and line the pie plate. Trim off any excess. Add your filling.

Roll out the top crust and put on top. Again, trim excess, then pinch closed. Mark the top with a knife to create vents.

You wouldn't think I was a pie baker by this pie crust. I totally mangled it. Oh well. Brush with a little milk and pop in a 350* oven for about 1 1/2 hours. The sauce will probably be oozing out the top and your crust will be golden brown. A sure sign it's time to feast!

Printable version:

Friday, October 24, 2008

We have FOUR winners!

Congratulations to the four winners!!! If you could please email me at with your name and mailing address, I will get your bread mixes out Monday!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

.beef and butternut squash couscous.

My car has been in the shop all week so we've been relying on using Jim's car for any running around. He retires from the U.S. Navy in 8 days and has been on job hunting leave the past 3 weeks, but he had to go in this week to assist "the new guy" to get him ready for a big training that's coming up. Did I mention we're moving to New York in a month?

So anyway.. back to where I really mean for this story to go. I have basically been stranded at home with no vehicle and the only available vehicle has been taking my husband to and from work. Meaning I have to figure out meals using ingredients I have in the kitchen. It wouldn't be so bad, but I really do need to go grocery shopping. We had Jim's retirement party this past weekend and most of my good stuff went toward making food for that.

Yesterday I stood in front of my extremely messy fridge, staring into the abyss of nothingness. Can't really make much with condiments, hm? I remembered I had a little beef made for stirfry in the freezer. I didn't use all of it when I made minestrone soup for my friend last week. So I pulled that out and started thawing it.

I also had a butternut squash that I had been debating making soup with, but everybody has been making that recently and I wanted to give you all something NEW to make with it. So. Beef. Butternut Squash. I peeked in my thinning pantry (trying to use things up before the move) and found a box of Pine Nut CousCous. Yum. I'm starting to get an idea!

I noticed a jar of roasted red peppers in my fridge so I grabbed those too. Oh and I had green onion! I began my meal.

I started by making the couscous according to the directions on the package. It doesn't take that long to make, but that's okay. This was a VERY quick meal to make. We're talking under 30 minutes!

While the couscous steams on the stovetop, I sliced up one bunch (about 1/3 cup) of green onion. Slicing on the diagonal so it looks pretty.

I only needed to use the flesh of the neck on the squash. Cut it off just above the bulb part and cut the top off. Use your knife to cut off the rind.

Then dice into bite-sized cubes. Pretty easy. Man this squash smelt soooo good.

What you want to do next is cook the squash a little. Put in a small pan of water and boil for about 5 minutes.

Strain after those five minutes and let sit.

While the squash cooked and drained, I made the dressing. In a bowl put: 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp lemon juice, 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed (see next picture), 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, and a dash of salt. Mix everything well using a whisk.

To toast the coriander seeds, heat up a skillet. Dump in the seeds and shake to toast. You might hear tiny popping sounds as the oils start releasing. I used the side of a mug to crush them. Once crushed, dump into the dressing.

Using the same skillet you toasted the coriander in (I hate messing up more pans than necessary), put a little olive oil. Start cooking the beef and butternut squash.

Add the green onion. If you don't like onion, I really suggest you try it this time. You'll cook out a lot of the onion flavor that you probably don't like. Cook those with the meat and squash for a couple minutes.

Add a couple spoonfuls of roasted red bell pepper. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Add a small shake of red pepper flakes. You could use red chilies but I didn't have any on hand. I wanted just a little heat so I used one quick shake. Cook another minute. The heat will release the oil from those seeds.

Now add the cooked couscous to the pan and mix everything together.

If you want to get fancy, you can spoon some of this into a round shaped bowl. Press firm, and then release it onto a plate to give you a formed shape. Drizzle with dressing. Otherwise just spoon into bowls and drizzle with dressing.

The box of couscous doesn't make much. We had just enough for Jim, me, and our 7 year old. It was really good. My almost 11 month old loved it so much she ate almost half of mine!

Printable version:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

J.B. Dough -- GIVEAWAY!

Yes! It's time for another giveaway! In my previous entry, I used a bread mix from the company J. B. Dough. I had the opportunity to speak with John and Beverlee, the owners and dreammakers of this company. What a great couple they are. The business is family owned and operated. Everything used from ingredients, to packaging, to supplies, are 100% made in the USA, which at this time is a comfort.

I am a breadmaker. But I know many people are intimidated with the idea of making anything requiring yeast. Well, now you have something to help you out that tastes wonderful and like you made it from scratch!

I have tried a few of these mixes for myself and was happy with the product and feel good sharing it with you. At this time, JB Dough can only be purchased online, unless you live in Michigan where they do sell in retail outlets locally. It was also really neat to learn they offer their bread for fundraising! I'm definitely going to remember that next time I am in charge of fundraising efforts for Girls Camp at church.

John and Beverlee were very generous when they shipped me product to sample. I have extra and while I would be more than happy to use it for myself, I thought I would give what I have away to some of my readers. No worries.. I think I will be getting more from them and will have another giveaway in the future! Woot!

I'm going to make this giveaway a little more fair. If you would please leave a comment, making sure you leave your NAME, tell me what your favorite kind of bread is! I have FOUR mixes to give away so I will be picking FOUR winners! I will put the names in a hat and have my daughter draw for me. Winners will be announced FRIDAY!