Friday, October 28, 2011

Frankenapples and the Absence of Fall

"You know, I've never had a caramel apple" were the words that came out of the mouth of the other half of me when I was in the kitchen working on the caramel. I was floored. I mean, he's American. I'm the foreign one! Two of his four favorite things are candy and fruit! How could he possibly have gone twenty nine years and never had a caramel apple?

It's lucky that I was already making them, else I would have probably dropped everything and headed straight to the kitchen.

Caramel apples are very... Fall.... to me. In this town, where it's still often in the high eighties, Fall continues to elude me. So I'm wearing lots of brown, I'm perusing through fall time recipes, I'm knitting again and yesterday I made caramel apples as a treat.
I have a vague memory of being a child and eating a red caramel apple in the dark at a fair or a bonfire night, or something like that. It's one of those vague memories where you aren't sure if it really happened to you, or if you just read about it or saw it on TV and it became lodged in your brain until you made it yours. I have a lot of little memories like that.

I've seen so many Caramel Apple recipes flooding blogs that it feels odd to post another one, but I wanted to post one that was very very simple, with ingredients that I had on hand. Nothing fancy, just good old caramel apples. I think the fact that these are challenging to eat is another reason that I like them so much. You have to work through the caramel to get to the apple. The way I explained it yesterday, you're burning off some of the calories that you are eating. Of course, thats probably not the best way to look at it, but whatever I need to justify eating caramel at 10:30pm.

One of the things that I love about Caramel Apples is that they don't have to be just caramel. You can coat them with whatever other toppings you like. You can roll them in nuts, candy, chocolate, coconut and anything else that you can think of. For me, I made myself four big sturdy caramel apples. Two were just caramel, one was then rolled in crushed pecans and another in chocolate chips. For me, I love it when they don't come out perfectly. I love when they are what I mismatched.... when they are Frankenapples.

Caramel Apples

I love using Granny Smiths for these. They are nice and big and they have a great tart flavor to counter the sweetness of the caramel. I use chopsticks to skewer the apples. I have several nice reusable ones, but you can always use leftover chinese take out chopsticks. When you get to the part where you are rolling the apples in caramel, work really really quickly because it will set hard quickly. You can keep the bowl of caramel over a double boiler to keep it warm, but I find it kind of fun to race it.

4 Granny Smith Apples, skewered through
1 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup
1/4 Cup Water
1 Cup Half and Half (I used a mixture of milk and heavy cream)
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Put a baking sheet in the fridge. Over medium heat, mix the sugar, corn syrup and water in a pan. Stir until it has dissolved, and then let it boil in the pan without stirring for ten minutes. The secret to caramel is to not stir it. Mix the half and half, salt and vanilla together. After the caramel has boiled for ten minutes, take it off the heat and pour the half and half mixture slowly into it, stirring well. Once it is all combined, put it back on the heat and let it simmer for forty five minutes, stirring often. Once the time is up, the caramel will be a rich brown color and it will be much thicker than it started.

Get your apples ready. Whatever extra toppings you have, set them in shallow bowls so that you can roll the apples in them quickly. Cover the chilled baking sheet with wax or parchment paper so that you can set the apples down.

Dip the apples in the caramel, roll them in your extra topping if you like, then set on the baking sheet. Once you've rolled all your apples, let them chill in the fridge for an hour to make sure the caramel is completely set.

Additional toppings that I recommend are pecans, walnuts, almonds, coconut, sea salt, M&M's, chocolate chips and melted dark chocolate.

Makes Four big apples.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Povitica

Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Bread and it was the challenge for this months Daring Bakers. The recipe is lengthy, so I've chosen not to repost it here, but you can find it on our host, Jenni's blog The Gingered Whisk.

This bread has a walnut filling and it's quite yummy. Mine came out a little dry, but I liked it and it did get wolfed down promptly. I think if I make it again I'll add a sweet cream cheese filling as well as or instead of the walnuts. It was certainly a new challenge! You basically make a sweet bread dough, let it rise, then roll it super super thin, covered it with a topping, then roll it up into a big log and bake it.

Definitely an interesting thing if you have a rainy afternoon and a bunch of walnuts! I'm still enjoying the Daring Kitchen challenges. It's neat to make something I wouldn't have thought of before!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


There is a term that exists in my house that probably exists nowhere else in the world. The term is "Salsified". It's like satisfied, but with salsa. You see, my other half loves salsa. I'm sorry, I probably didn't express that adequately enough. He LOVES!!!! salsa. If he could live off it, he would. And I think he's tried. I remember days when we lived in Atlanta that he would come home with 12lb of salsa because he wanted to try every brand in the store. It would be gone in two or three days. When we get salsa at a restaurant, we ask for more the second it is set down because we know he will have vacuumed it up in about nine seconds.

Last year, I started a salsa garden for him. I was growing tomatoes, cilantro and peppers. Sadly, my former duplex mate didn't mow the lawn and then I went out of town and before you knew it, kudzu had claimed the whole thing. I had no chance of weeding it out since mosquitos consider me an all you can eat buffet. So, I've taken to occasionally grabbing some ingredients and whipping up the odd batch here and there for my guy. There is one teeny tiny problem when it comes to me making him salsa. I am a spicy food pansy. I can't tolerate heat at all. I once accidentally bit into a piece of jalapeno and actually had the thought "I wonder if childbirth is this painful because if it is, maybe I should reconsider my future familial inclinations". And John, well, you know how some people like spicy food? Well, he takes it to a whole new level. He puts hot sauce on ev...ry....thing. It's ridiculous. He puts it on poached eggs! And he considers all hot sauces wussy and inferior. You know how sometimes at restaurants you ask for your food to be made as spicy as possible and they tell you that you would have to sign a waiver for that? Well, he's the kind of guy that would sign the waiver and then not even break out into a sweat while eating the terrifyingly spicy face melting food. So, you might have figured out what the problem is here with me making him salsa.

I can't actually taste it.

If I do, I'll probably die. Or explode. Or die from exploding. So, what follows below is a recipe for a very spicy green salsa that John particularly likes. He tends to use it more of a sauce than as something to dip chips into. I created this recipe when I found Tomatillos on sale and decided that since I had never made anything with them, they presented an interesting challenge. If you wanted a less spicy version, you could absolutely play with using a less spicy pepper, or use less of the pepper. Another trick would be to deseed the peppers first as that would take out a chunk of the heat.

John's Tomatillo Salsa

1lb Tomatillos
8 Serrano Peppers
1/4 Small White Onion, diced
Juice of 1 Lime
Handful Cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Set your oven on a high broil and put in the tomatillos and serranos whole. Broil until they are turning a darker brown in spots, turning over once so that they are cooking evenly, about 7 minutes total. Microwave the lime for thirty seconds before juicing. It sounds odd, but it will yield you more juice, and you want a good amount for this recipe. In a blender or a food processor, add all the ingredients and pulse until combined and the texture you are looking for is reached. I tend to go for a less chunky salsa with this particular recipe. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It's likely you might want a little more lime and cilantro.

Makes between two and three cups.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Daring Kitchen: Moo Shu Turkey

This month I participated in my first ever Daring Cook's Challenge. The concept is pretty simple. One blogger suggests a more challenging dish, everyone makes it with a similar recipe, and posts the results on a predetermined date. It's a great way to learn a new dish and expand your repertoire, as well as to maybe try a technique that you are unfamiliar with.

This month, the challenge was Moo Shu, and it's is being hosted by Shelley from C Mom Cook.

I really enjoyed making this recipe. I made Moo Shu Turkey, Hoisin sauce, and I made the pancakes that go with it all. The picture is actually with chicken because my pictures were so bad the first go around that I whipped up another batch the next day, but was out of turkey.

I really love the flavor of this dish. The Hoisin sauce is what makes it special. It has this really delicious tangy, well, Asian flavor. I don't really know how else to describe it! Making the pancakes was quite time consuming, but I think all in all it was worth it. My other half declared it an instant hit, so I'll probably be making it again in the future.

The pancake recipe is direct from the challenge, as is the Hoisin sauce, but I confess I screwed around a fair bit with the Moo Shu and I like the result.

Moo Shu Turkey with Hoisin Sauce

For the Pancakes

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Boiling Water
1/2 Teaspoon light oil
Dry flour for dusting

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Gently pour in the water, stirring as you pour, then stir in the oil. Knead the mixture into a soft but firm dough. If your dough is dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, to reach the right consistency. Cover with a damp towel and let stand for about 30 minutes.
Lightly dust the surface of a worktop with dry flour. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until smooth, then divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a long sausage and cut each sausage into 8-10 pieces. Keep the dough that you are not actively working with covered with a lightly damp dish cloth to keep it from drying out.
Roll each piece into a ball, then, using the palm of your hand, press each piece into a flat pancake. Dust the worktop with more dry flour. Flatten each pancake into a 6 to 8 inch (15 cm to 20 cm) circle with a rolling pin, rolling gently on both sides.
Place an un-greased frying pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot, lower the heat to low and place the pancakes, one at a time, in the pan. Remove when little light-brown spots appear on the underside. Cover with a damp cloth until ready to serve.

For the Moo Shu

1/4lb Ground Turkey
1 1/2 Cups Bok Choy, Diced
1/3rd Cup Baby Bella Mushrooms
1/3rd Cup Bamboo Shoots, sliced into matchsticks
1 Green Onion, sliced
2 Eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1/2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Sherry Wine or Rice Wine
A few drops of Sesame Oil

In a wok or large pan, heat one tablespoon of oil. Use this to scramble the eggs with a pinch of salt until they are just barely set. Pull off the heat and set aside. Add the other tablespoon of oil and then add the turkey. Cook for about three minutes, then add the veggies. Cook for another three minutes, then add the eggs, salt, soy sauce and sherry wine. Cook for a couple more minutes until you are happy with the doneness. Sprinkle on a few drops of sesame oil, give it one more good stir, then serve.

Hoisin Sauce

4 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoon Honey
2 Teaspoons White Vinegar
1/8 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Teaspoons Sesame Seed Oil
1/8 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Mix all the ingredients together. It takes a minute, but it will come to be quite smooth. If you don't have garlic powder, press a garlic clove and then strain the sauce to get out any unwanted garlic chunks.

To serve this all: Take a pancake, put a couple of tablespoons of the Mu Shoo in the middle, spoon over some sauce, and eat. It is very, very yummy.

Serves four. Makes about twenty pancakes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Snow Hippos and Shrimp

Living in Las Vegas is like living inside a pinball machine. It's all noise and bustle and lights, and everything is stark and bright and new. There is a distinct absence of trees here, an absence of beauty and life. Everything feels fake. All of the trees are imported because, honestly, nothing is supposed to live here.

But, when you are driving around town you are surrounded on all sides by mountains. They are a strange barricade that keeps what is Vegas confined in this small area, and they make for one heck of a beautiful sunset from the suburbs.

Now that it is October, those mountains are starting to get a little snow on their peaks. It's still in the 90's in the valley, but out there it's cool and breezy. You can see that fall is coming and the leaves are turning. In the shady trails of Mount Charleston, if you are so inclined, you can go on a hike with the other half of you, and build a snow hippo on the way up. Then you can eat tomato and mozzarella paninis and strawberries on top of a mountain, accompanied by a slightly warm but really satisfying bottle of beer. You can find yourself a walking stick, name it Sticky, and let it help you slip and slide back down to the bottom again.

I'm an explorer at heart. I love to travel and I love that there is so much of the world that I haven't seen yet. This week, it was climbing a little mountain and forgetting for a few minutes that you are actually in Las Vegas. Some time in the future, that mountain will be a really really big one, and instead of it being in Nevada, it'll be in New Zealand.

And maybe that day when I get back down from that mountain I'll eat Shrimp Burgers too. And maybe not, who knows. But isn't that a lovely thought?

Shrimp Burgers

Adapted from The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish
by Fred Thompson

3/4lb Shrimp, no heads (About 15 big ones)
2 Tablespoons Green Onion, sliced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Italian Parsley, minced
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Cup Breadcrumbs
3 Tablespoons Plain Yogurt or Sour Cream
2 Large Eggs
Lots of Fresh Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Put a large pot of water on to boil. When it is boiling, throw in the shrimp, turn off the heat, and let them sit for 4 minutes. Then drain them and put them into a bowl of ice water to cool them down. Peel and chop them up. Put them in a medium mixing bowl and add all the other ingredients. Mix everything up really well... I like to use my hands for this.

Heat two tablespoons of canola oil or another light oil in a large non stick frying pan. Form the mixture into six patties and lightly fry them, three at a time, for about 3 minutes each side until golden brown. These will burn easily so I recommend not walking away from them.

Serve on a hamburger bun, with tomato, lettuce and a squeeze of lemon juice. And if you have a couple of extra ones the next day, top them with a poached egg, serve them with a salad, and call them lunch.

Makes Six Burgers

Friday, October 7, 2011

This Would Be More Interesting

This blog would be much more interesting if I were actually posting right now, but I've not really been doing that. I also haven't really been cooking. My other half was out of town for two and a half weeks and honestly, when he is gone I find myself just hunkering down and not really eating much of anything. I've also been trying to lose a little weight, so the whole baking thing has been much less common. I am developing some nice recipes though.

I've got some yummy muffins coming, a miso soup recipe, and a few other things in the works. I'm also about to venture into the world of candy making. Soon, I promise.

I made a rocking Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apricot Glaze, which is pictured above. Alas, the recipe is not mine. It is by the brilliant Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman and you can find it here.

But the good news is that my guy is back. I have someone to cook for again, and I'm hoping that we can go pick some apples next week so I can have some fantastic fall recipes for you. Maybe some apple butter, some cider and definitely some pie. It's actually a little colder here in the desert. Even though there are no trees to change color and be all pretty, there is a certain air of fall and the stores have pumpkins in front of them. Soon the mountains around Las Vegas will have snow on the tops, and the weather will be cool enough to spend some time outside.

And then comes winter and satsumas. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I shouldn't talk about satsumas yet. We'll have lots of time for that later. It's nice to know though that they are on their way!