Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Apple Cider Caramels

These are another item I made for the Philly Swappers food swap last night.  I brought some into work today and they were a major hit.  I've already been asked to bring in more, which I should be able to manage as I still have some apple cider and heavy cream.

I was inspired to do something with apple cider because I had some left in my fridge after the last Books & Snacks event.  I stumbled across one recipe for apple cider caramels and gave it a shot.  Unfortunately, they just did not turn out the way I wanted.  The texture was a bit off and the allspice was extremely overpowering to the point of hiding the apple cider flavor almost entirely.  Instead of apple cider caramels, they tasted like allspice caramels.  I don't know if I did something wrong or what exactly happened, but that batch wasn't going anywhere but the trash.

But I was stuck on the idea of wanting to make apple cider caramels.  I thought about trying the first recipe again, but then I saw someone mention a recipe for them over at Smitten Kitchen.  I took a look and figured I'd give this one a shot.  As is almost always my way, I tinkered just a little.  I liked the idea of a blend of spices from the first recipe so I adjusted as I went.  Feel free to change the ratios to taste.  I think I probably did a bit more cinnamon and a bit less allspice and nutmeg than I have listed here, but for the sake of the recipe, I've done more exact measurements.

The recipe calls for the caramel to come up to 252 degrees, which worked okay for me, but the caramels ended up just a touch firmer than I expected.  I don't know if that was the weather or some other factor, but the next time I try these, I might go to 251 or 250 and see how they turn out.

I'm not always the greatest at getting my mise en place all set before starting a recipe.  If you're like me, you'll want to break that habit for this.  Fortunately, you have the time while the apple cider is simmering down, but seriously, get everything out, measured, and ready before it is even close to done.  If you have other things you plan to make while the caramel is cooling, cut your waxed paper squares ahead of time.  You don't want the caramels to sit unwrapped once they've been cut.

Apple Cider Caramels

4 cups apple cider
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream

Waxed paper cut into 4" squares (about 49, depending on how many caramels you eat before you get them wrapped)

1- Boil the apple cider in a large saucepan (original recipe calls for 3 or 4 quart, I used 2 1/2) over high heat until it is reduced to a dark, thick syrup, between 1/3 and 1/2 cup in volume. This took about 45 minutes on my (sigh) electric stove. Stir occasionally.
2- Line the bottom and sides of an 8" straight-sided square metal baking pan with a long sheet of parchment paper.  Make sure there is enough area sticking up over the sides that you can grab it.  You'll be using this paper to lift the caramels out of the pan later.  Stir the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt together in a small dish.  Set these both aside.
3- When the apple cider is reduced, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, sugars, and heavy cream. Return the pot to medium-high heat and let it boil until a candy thermometer reads 252 degrees (this took about 7 minutes on my stove).  You can use very cold water to test the caramel, but I think if you're going to try to do this, you're better off getting a thermometer to start.
4- Immediately remove caramel from heat, add the spice-salt mixture, and give the caramel several stirs to distribute it evenly. Pour into the prepared pan. Let it sit until cool and firm.  It took mine about three hours to cool.  You can use the fridge to make it go faster, but that didn't turn out so well for me with the first batch.
5- When the caramel is firm, use the parchment paper to lift out the caramel and transfer it to a cutting board. Use a well-oiled knife, oiling it after each cut, to cut the caramel into 1-by-1-inch squares. Wrap each one in a 4-inch square of waxed paper, twisting the sides to close.

These will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.  Or take them to work and they'll disappear in a couple of hours.

 Caramels waiting to be wrapped

Sour Cream Cherry and Almond Scones

Yes, my dears, I am still here and making magical goodness in my kitchen.  I know it's been a while, and I'm trying to be better about posting.  I had a request for this recipe, so here we go.

I made these for the Philly Swappers food swap at Reading Terminal Market last night.  (Side note: It was a great time and I'll be posting about it in a while.)  The decision to make these came fairly last minute and was inspired by the fact that I had sour cream in my fridge that I needed to use and dried cherries in my pantry.  I think if I were to make them again, I would do something to make the almonds adhere to the top more- maybe pressing them down a bit before baking or doing a milk or egg wash before sprinkling them on top.  The dried cherries I had were a bit big and though I cut them in half before adding them to the dough, I think it would have been better for them to be chopped just a little bit more.

This started out as a recipe from Land O Lakes, and I didn't tinker with it too much.  I'm not familiar enough with making scones to feel safe making major changes.

Sour Cream Cherry and Almond Scones

For the topping

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 Tbsp sugar

For the scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sour cream
1 egg
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup dried cherries

1- Heat oven to 375°F. Combine all topping ingredients in small bowl and set aside.
2- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl.  Cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until crumbly.
3- Combine sour cream, egg, almond extract, and vanilla extract in small bowl until smooth. Stir into flour mixture just until moistened. Add cherries.
4- Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead 8-10 times until smooth and cherries are well-distributed.
5- Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a 7-inch circle. Place 2 inches apart onto large ungreased baking sheet. Score each circle into 8 wedges; do not separate. Sprinkle topping evenly over dough.
6- Bake 25-30 minutes or until scones are lightly browned. Cool 15 minutes; separate scones. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chicken Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato

The original recipe for this dish was designed to be a bruschetta, but because the baguette I bought was a bit too small to hold the mixture enough to be easily plated, mine ended up more as a salad with toasts served on the side.  Honestly, I think it turned out better in the end this way.  Also, the original calls for you to marinate and grill/cook boneless skinless chicken breasts as your first few steps.  As I was making other food for Books & Snacks, I was looking for a way to save some time, so I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken (one of the plain roasted ones, not a seasoned one like lemon-pepper).  Ultimately, not only did this save time, but I think it added flavor as I was able to have some dark meat in the mix and when cooked with skin and bone, the meat tastes better anyway.

Chicken Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato

1 rotisserie chicken
1/3 c. Italian salad dressing (You can use whatever brand you like for this, but I went with a classic Italian that was on sale at the store.  I'm not sure I'd do a zesty Italian for the first go-around, but it might be worth a try next time.)
4 c. fresh spinach, torn (I tried to tear these into fairly small pieces, like around the size of a nickel.)
1/3 c. crumbled feta (I may have tossed a little bit extra in to finish out the container I had, so maybe add 1/2 Tablespoon if you like feta.)
8-10 sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), chopped (The range is because of the varying size of each tomato and how much you like sun-drieds.)
3/4 oz. pine nuts, finely chopped (I used my small food processor.  It doesn't need to be an exactly even chop; varied piece size is okay.)
1/2 tsp. dried basil (You could use fresh for this, but I used up the fresh I had making something else.  Double the amount if you use fresh and chop it finely.)
1 baguette or similar bread, cut into 1/2" thick slices (You could also get premade toasts from the bakery at the store.  In which case, skip step 3.)
1/4 c. olive oil

1- Break down the rotisserie chicken and cut up the meat into pieces. (I went with a fairly small dice and used both breasts and both legs.  You could also add the thigh and wing meat as well or save it for later.)
2- In a large bowl, mix the chicken, spinach, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and basil.  Add the salad dressing and turn to coat.  (If the mixture seems too dry, you can add more salad dressing a Tablespoon at a time.  The mixture should have a gloss but should not be swimming in liquid.  Remember that the spinach will wilt some when combined with the salad dressing, so it may be best to wait a few minutes before adding more.)  Set the mixture aside.  If you plan to serve it later in the day, it should go into the refrigerator.
3- Preheat oven to 450.  Brush bread slices with thin coating of olive oil.  (Depending on the size and amount of bread you have, you could use more or less olive oil.)  Toast the bread for about 5 minutes, watching so it doesn't burn.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool before plating.
4- Serve the chicken salad in a bowl surrounded by the toasts or however else you fancy doing it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Potato Chip Cookies

I love potato chips. I also love cookies. So it would make sense that I really enjoy these potato chip cookies. I know they sound weird and they kind of are. The texture is interesting and a bit different than most other cookies. The potato chips give them a bit of crunch almost as if they are aerated (similar to Aero, a British chocolate bar). I imagine the type of chips you use would change the texture even more. I went with plain Lays as opposed to Ruffles or thicker chips. First of all, thicker ones are harder to crush and I think they would be too noticeable in the finished product. These cookies don't taste like potato chips, but they might be just as addictive. They also get even better after a few days. So, if you have the chance, make them ahead of time.

Potato Chip Cookies

1 lb. butter
1 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 1/2 c. crushed potato chips (Crush them with your hands for more consistently sized pieces)
powdered sugar, for dusting

1- Preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheet(s).
2- Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat well. Mix in vanilla, then add flour gradually. Add crushed potato chips to the mixture.
3- Drop from teaspoon onto greased sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until brown around the edges. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cool completely.

Peppermint Meltways

These are quite similar to my previously posted Candy Cane Shortbread. They have a much stronger peppermint flavor and the texture is a bit different since there are no candy cane pieces in the dough. I think I prefer the Candy Cane Shortbread, but these are a decent option as well for a wintertime treat. And yes, I am aware that I'm posting about a wintry cookie in early June, but I'm trying to get caught up on recipes that should have been posted months ago.

Peppermint Meltaways

For the cookies:
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. corn starch

For the glaze:
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
1-2 Tbsp. milk
1-3 drops red food coloring, if desired
candy canes or hard peppermint candy, crushed

1- Preheat oven to 350.
2- For the cookies, combine butter, powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping the bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add flour and cornstarch. Beat until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate until firm (30-60 minutes).
3- Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into 1" balls. Place 2" apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute then remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely.
4- For the glaze, combine powdered sugar, butter, peppermint extract and enough milk for desired glazing consistency in small bowl. Stir in food coloring, if desired.
5- Drizzle glaze over cooled cookies. Immediately sprinkle with crushed candy.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

These cookies seemed like a good idea and they came out tasting decently. I will say that they were more labor-intensive than I expected based on the recipe. The dough doesn't quite hold the cherries as easily as it should and the frosting is a little thick. The recipe indicates that the frosting will spread over the cookies as they bake, which they do... sorta. Because the dough doesn't hold the cherries quite right, you are depending on the frosting to help hold the cookie together. This means that you have to put the frosting on prior to baking in a way that it covers the cherry completely. If I were to make these again, I think I would either add some kirsch or other liquid to soften the dough a little bit.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

For the dough:
1/2 c. butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. baking cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
48 maraschino cherries, patted dry (I don't think I ended up using all 48, but they didn't go to waste as my dad decided to have an ice cream sundae.)

For the frosting:
1 c. (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
1-3 tsp. maraschino cherry juice

1- Preheat oven to 350.
2- In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and gradually add to mixture. The batter will be firm.
3- Shape into 48(ish) balls about 1" round and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Push one cherry halfway into each ball.
4- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate chips in the condensed milk, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add cherry juice. Stir until smooth.
5- Spoon 1 tsp. of the frosting over cherries on each cookie. The frosting will spread over the cookie during baking.
6- Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Fresh Apple Cake

I made this cake when I had apples that I needed to use. It came out decently, but it is rather difficult to get a clean slice. This isn't much of an issue when you're having it with breakfast, but if you are slicing it up to put on trays like I was, then it's a problem. I imagine making this as muffins, mini loaves or even in a large loaf pan would be lovely. Doing so would also be a good option for those of you who are somewhat wary when it comes to tube pans. This recipe came from an issue of Good Housekeeping. I must've torn it out of a magazine at the doctor's office or some such location since I don't get Good Housekeeping but I have no idea where exactly.

Fresh Apple Cake

1 c. chopped walnuts
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 1/2 c. chopped Granny Smith apples
2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs
confectioners sugar for dusting (if desired)

1- Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour 10" tube pan.
2- Place walnuts in a jelly roll pan and toast in the oven 7 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt. In another large bowl, combine walnuts, vanilla, cinnamon and 3 cups of apples. Reserve remaining 1/2 cup of apples.
3- In a large bowl, with mixer on medium-high speed, beat granulated sugar, oil and eggs until well blended. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture. Beat 1 minute longer or until well combined. With spatula, fold in apple mixture (the batter will be thick). Spoon batter into prepared pan. Scatter remaining apple over top of batter and gently press into top of batter.
4- Bake 1 1/2 hours or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack until completely cooled. Remove from pan and dust with confectioners sugar if desired.