Caramel Apple Dipping Bar

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Perfect for parties or a fun dessert idea to try with kids, building a caramel apple dipping bar is a light dessert that lets guests create the dessert they want.

I did this as the dessert option on Halloween, when it was my turn to host my a small dinner party for friends as part of our weekly “Lovely Ladies Supper Club” meals. They said it was refreshing change from the over-sugary fare they’d been eating all week. (Check out the Curried Pumpkin Soup I made for that if you’re interested in how it works and why we get together.)

The hardest part of this dessert idea is picking the best caramel. I searched high and low for one that didn’t have hydrogenated oils, but of course it was still pretty sugary. I found my caramel melting bits at Target, and I believe they were called just Caramel Bits, but ask me about that if you want to know, and I’ll check. My friends later told me that a can of sweetened condensed milk can be made into caramel very easily, so that’s another recipe to try for another day…20131106-142911.jpg

Ingredients

1 bag of caramel bits for melting

2 bags of pre-sliced apples (or slice your own and splash with sprite or lemon-lime juice to prevent browning)

small serving dishes for toppings

skewers for dipping

Topping Ideas

mini chocolate chips, or chopped dark chocolate

chopped nuts

sprinkles

shaved coconut

small candies

the list can go on…

Directions

-Prep all the toppings and apples first. The caramel needs to be made directly before serving, so focus first on dividing the toppings into bowls, laying out the skewers and finding a cute matching dish for the apples.

-When it’s time to serve, melt your caramel bits according to package directions (they’ll all be different).

-Bring the caramel over to guests on a serving tray with small serving plates and the topping bowls, and let them have fun creating their own desserts.

Pecan Pie Tarts

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The thing about pecan pie…20131028-214954.jpg

Everybody likes that sweetness, but you can only take so many bites of it before you overwhelm your palette. That’s why when I saw Hungry Girl‘s recipe for mini Pecan Pies, I thought “Of course!” Bite-sized is better for this dessert.

I’ve done quite a few mini pies though, and for this one I wanted to try more of a tart/ pinafore bite. So I chose a different phyllo dough, and I’m glad that I did.

Ingredients20131028-214906.jpg

1 package phyllo dough pies (or crust if you want to shape your own)

1/3 cup pecans, chopped

2 T brown sugar

1.5 T coconut oil

1/2 packet stevia

1/2 t vanilla extract

dash of salt20131028-214918.jpg

dash of cinnamon

Directions

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep your dough as you like, i.e. if you bought the mini pie crusts, assemble those. Place in preheated oven until slightly golden brown (about 5 minutes).

-In a pan, drop in nuts and oil, making sure the nuts are coated well. Then add the remaining ingredients. Turn over until nice, sweet and crunchy sugar layer forms.20131028-214942.jpg

-Assemble the tarts by spooning your nut mixture into the centers of the tarts, filling to the top. Return to oven and bake another 5-8 minutes or until toasted and golden brown. Serve warm if you can, with whipped cream or mint garnish, if you like.

Other Fall Food Recipes from CC:
Yam’O’Lanterns

Pumpkin Chili

Mini Pumpkin Pies for One

 

Curried Pumpkin Soup

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Fall is all about pumpkin. Last year I was trying every pumpkin dessert recipe I came across. This year, being busier with my doctoral work, I’ve slowed down a bit and tried my hand at savory pumpkin recipes this season.

On Halloween, I had a small dinner party with close friends as part of our weekly supper club. We call it “Lovely Ladies Supper Club,” and it’s a blast. Every Thursday we visit a different friends apartment or home, get to see how they live, who they live with, what fuzzy family members they live with, and how they like to cook.20131106-142939.jpg

I love soup–and you already know I love pumpkin–so my Harvest Pumpkin Chili seemed perfect. The problem is I have this not so awful habit of always wanting something new. I hate trying the same restaurant twice, and the same goes for recipes.

So I came across this Curried Pumpkin Soup from Better Homes and Gardens online. They said it would only take 30 minutes, and they were right. Very fast, very tasty. No complaints from me (and I might even try this one again!).

Make it. Save the leftovers for your lunches. That’s what I did, of course, because life moves fast. Packing lunch is my least favorite thing to do in the morning. So fresh, homemade soup that’s ready to heat and serve is perfect for my busy lifestyle.

Ingredients

1 – 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree20131106-142952.jpg

2 qt. chicken stock

2 t ginger

2 t cumin

2 t curry powder

dash of onion powder and hot sauce, if you want to give it a kick

3/4 cup roasted corn or softened lentils

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1 red pepper, sliced into small strips

1 T olive oil

Directions

-In a large sauce pan, heat your oil and add in the veggies to sauté them. Add in seasonings and continue to cook for another 2 minutes until softened up.

-In the same pan, add in half of the chicken stock. Set the soup to boil, and then add in all of pumpkin, mixing well. Add in remaining stock + 1/2 cup water if you want a thinner soup. Mix well.

-Let boil just a few minutes and then return to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes if you have the time for fullest flavor. If you don’t, grab a slice of cornbread and dig in.

Burlap Wreath Saves Ugly Front Door!

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A front door says a lot. Mine is the ugliest. Really, really, U-G-L-Y because it has no alibi ugly. Worn dingy green paint job finds door with no structural character, topped with a silver number plate that makes it look more like a motel front than a home.

So I wanted something to jazz it up. A wreath I could make, and the pinecones I found while hiking the Lincoln National Forest Trails in New Mexico in October inspired me to move on this endeavor. 20131028-215028.jpg

I went to pinning. I found plenty of ideas, most of which featured wire bases with burlap wrapped around the outside. But it takes a lot of burlap to build a big, full wreath as well as a lot of patience–once you find out that burlap falls apart quickly and leaves little strings everywhere. When I went to Hobby Lobby, I found an alternative I liked much better.

Here’s the easiest little wreath you can make and one you can accessorize every season. Come Thanksgiving I’ll be adding some red, orange, and yellow ribbons. Christmas might be more green and red by removing the ribbons and pinning on ornaments, but who knows. Go where the wreath takes you, right?

Materials

1 wreath base (bunched twigs)

1 yard white burlap20131028-215020.jpg

2-3 pipecleaners

string from burlap or clear fishing line

Baubles and ornaments you want to decorate with

Note: I chose pine cones, a wooden J, and a faux white branch, but you can play around with this as much as you like, as noted above.

Directions

Start with your burlap. Cut the burlap into 2.5 inch-wide strips that all link together by alternating the sides you cut down. So you don’t want your burlap to look like one large tasseled end. Instead, cut down the first strip, stopping about 2 inches from the end of the first row. Flip sides and cut from the other end; continue to alternate until you have a longer, connected fabric that almost snakes or zigzags. 20131028-215039.jpg

Wrap the burlap onto the base. To secure the first part, use one of the pipe cleaners, sliding it through the twigs on the backside of the wreath to secure the fabric. Continue wrapping upwards to cover the entire wreath, but you might leave out a few twigs or gaps to show the twigs, if you like. Secure the final end with another pipe cleaner.

Next, I attached by white sprig branch by wrapping the wire stem around one lower part of the base. That wrap around stem I used to attach my other baubles. So I used the extra burlap strings to tie the pinecones onto the sprig branch’s wire, and did the same with the J.

Depending on what you use, yours could be very different, but as it stands, this might be the easiest wreath you could put together, and I think it’s lovely. I’m glad to have a chic, country touch on my ugly motel-esque front door. My only piece of parting advice might be this: In picking your baubles or even burlap color, consider the color of your front door and the colors around it. White works well to distract from mine without clashing, but if you’ve got a white door, you might want something different.

Administrative Professionals’ Day Craft

Baby Flower Headbands

DIY Fabric-Covered Canvases

Pumpkin-Parsley Pizza Pie

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When my friend Amelia mentioned her pumpkin pizza in a Facebook post, I was perplexed. 20131029-203319.jpg

Pumpkin puree for sauce? Pumpkin pulp as a topping? Can that really taste good?

Yes. I’m always surprised when sweet-savory combinations work so well. I’m not sure why I always forget this little culinary truism, but I’m always pleasantly reminded.

Pumpkin as a topping, and a sauce that’s part pumpkin, part marina is oh so sweet, and it gets an herb-y fresh kick from our good friend parsley. I mean, really good. If you live pumpkin, you really should try this pairing.

And where’d I get the “pumpkin pulp”? The jack’o’lantern I carved all by myself (first time!) this year.20131029-203437.jpg

Ingredients

Dough

1 t honey or agave nectar

1/4 of a yeast packet

1/4 + 3 T whole wheat flour

1 T rolled oats

1 t cornmeal

pinch of salt20131029-203409.jpg

Seasonings: garlic, basil, oregano

Topping

2 T slice pumpkin pulp

1 T tomato sauce

1 T pumpkin puree

3 T fresh, shredded Mozzarella

small handful of chopped parsley20131029-203349.jpg

Crushed red pepper

Directions

Dough:

-In a bowl, dissolve sweetener and yeast in 2.5 T hot water. Let stand for about five minutes.

-Add flour and salt to the yeast mixture and stir ’til a soft dough forms. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

-Place in bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat the top. Let rise ’til double in size, about 30 minutes.

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.20131029-203335.jpg

-Punch down and work in seasonings. Roll into a circle or square shape. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and begin topping process.

Topping:

-In a small dish, mix the 1 T marinara and 1 T pumpkin puree to make the suance. Rub sauce evenly over the dough in a thin layer, and then sprinkle cheese on, too. Arrange pumpkin pulp evenly on top. Sprinkle parsley on top.

-Place back in oven for about 5 more minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Slice and serve warm.

Pizza Muffins

Thai Flatbread Pizzas

Zucchini ‘zas

Yam’O’Lanterns!

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The one time I tried to carve a pumpkin by myself, I found out it was hard. Scraping and scratching out the stringy insides took forever; carefully carving the thick pumpkin walls took longer.20131019-115459.jpg

Patience: a virtue I’ve never known well and can’t summon for the art of pumpkin carving.

But I can make meals FAST! Thats what I’m good at. I’ve been eating a lot of fast meals recently, to my regret, because this first semester in my PhD program at TCU has been full of studying, events, making new friends, studying, writing everyday, all the time, and studying some more. I’ve gotten good at having some standby ingredients on hand all the time so when I am home I get a wholesome, nutritional meal with “real” ingredients, but I’ll admit that my creative cookery has fallen way by the wayside.20131019-115446.jpg

One of the ingredients I always have on hand are sweet potatoes–been eating them like a fiend! I’ve found that if you microwave the sweet potato fries for a bit, then crisp them up in the oven, things go much, much faster.

Imagine my delight when I saw Apronstring’s Yam’O’Lanterns recipe. A few more minutes added to my sweet potato prep gave me a fun food-craft to try on the fly. Here’s my make-it-fast variation of this festive fall food.

Ingredients

1-8 oz. sweet potato

cooking spray

optional: sea salt

Directions20131019-115512.jpg

-Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Set aside.

-Using a sharp knife, slice your sweet potato into rounds as you usually might (mine were about 1/5″ thick). Then, use a sharp paring knife to carve in the faces you like. When ready, transfer to a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 5 minutes.

-After that, transfer to prepared sheet. Spritz on some cooking spray and sprinkle with sea salt or other seasonings you like (rosemary would be a delicious one to use for these). Toss them up a bit for good coverage and pop in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, longer if you made thicker slices. Remove when cooked all the way through and crispy around all the edges.

Chili-Lime Jicama Fries

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I will never be able to say jicama correctly on a first attempt.

English: Jicama at a market in Taxco, Mexico

English: Jicama at a market in Taxco, Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The J always gets me.

But I will always be grateful for this oddly sweet fruit and how well it pairs with spicy seasonings.

And for a foodie blogger I’ve never met, Annalisa from Annalisa’s Organic Kitchen, for sharing this recipe idea. I’ve tweaked things a bit, per usual, but it’s very similar and very easy to make.

So my Southwestern recipe kick continues, and I find another delicious recipe I probably wouldn’t have tried in the Midwest. The times are changing, but I’m not complaining…

Ingredients

1/2 medium jicama
1/4 small lime
1 t coconut oil
a few dashes of chili powder
dash of dried cilantro, cayenne pepper, and onion salt

Directions

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Set aside.

-Peel jicama and cut into sticks that are similar in shape to a French fry.
-Mix the jicama sticks up on the greased cookie sheet. Squeeze the lime over the top, and toss, and squeeze again.
-Sprinkle the  coconut oil over the fries, and then the remaining seasonings until fries are well coated.

-Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes or so. For an extra crisp fry at the end, turn on the broilers for about a minute–but don’t do this if your cookie sheet is not “broiler safe” or won’t be able to stand the heat.

-Remove from the oven and ready yourself to enjoy one heaping serving of jicama, crispy, spicy, and sweet.

Dessert Nachos & Sweet Yogurt Dip

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My first-world problem/ plight of having too many whole-wheat tortillas persists (read about my participation in a high-fiber nutrition study). All but two 10-ct. bags have been used up and all for savory dishes, tofu scrambles, bean and veggie burritos, burrito bowls, and much more.SAM_5262

So I wanted to try something sweet.

I’ve seen different dessert nacho recipes pinned on Pinterest for quite a while. I thought I’d dip into that.

What I threw together was pretty good and super simple. This recipe makes enough for one, but you could easily double it.

It works well for dessert, but I’d also love to try it out on kids. I think they’d get a kick out of dessert nachos, and maybe even for breakfast…

Ingredients

1/2 or 1 whole-wheat tortillaSAM_5259

1 t cinnamon

1 t stevia or 2 t organic honey

1/4 cup plain yogurt (plain works, but non-dairy coconut is a little sweeter)

1 more t stevia

1/2 t pure almond or vanilla extract

1/4 cup fruit of choice

DirectionsSAM_5265

-If you haven’t already, slice your fruit and refrigerate to keep cool.

-To make the dip, mix the stevia and almond or vanilla extract into yogurt and blend thoroughly. You can use regular yogurt if you like, but I recommend plain since sugared varieties are, well, well-sugared. Return to refrigerator or freeze for about 40-50 minutes, churning occasionally, if you prefer more of a fro-yo consistency.

-To prep nachos, use a pizza cutter to cut your round tortilla into two halves. Cut each of those into three triangles. With each of your six triangles, cut a small triangle off the pointed end. With what’s remaining, you should be able to cut three more small triangles using a zigzag pattern.SAM_5270

-Next you’ll want to lightly spritz a broil-safe pan with cooking spray. If you’re using a cinnamon-stevia blend, go ahead and mix those together now, lightly coat the chips with cooking spray, press into blend and set on pan. If you’re opting for honey, which works a little better in my opinion, lay on pan, drizzle honey over chips, then sprinkle cinnamon atop.

-Broil for only a minute or so on that side. You’ll want to watch them carefully, and flip them quickly. If you’d like more sweetness, you can add more of either blend once you’ve flipped. Return to broiler and remove only once toasted. Let cool.

Then you’re ready to dip. Place your fruit on top of your dip and scoop up something sweet and good.

Cabbage Noodles

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I’m still on the cabbage kick. No, not the silly soup diet. I’m fascinated with the plant and how goooooood it tastes boiled. I’m thinking my surprise with the veggie’s tastiness is part of what’s making me love it right now.SAM_5446

I’ve often sauteed it and worked it into my pastas, and that tastes pretty great. But feeling curious one night, I wanted to see how my Paleo friends eat this as a noodle.

Yes, a noodle.

Does it actually taste like a noodle? Is it good?

I tried it, and I will say that if you’re looking for a noodle substitute that has the same taste and texture as a noodle, look elsewhere.

Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. No, I actually really liked it. A lot.

I will say, however, that I don’t think I could eat cabbage noodles alone, as a meal staple. I think I’d need to mix it with noodles or meats for a more filling meal.SAM_5444

But curious reader, try it! It’s a fun little culinary experiment and a big heaping serving of veggies. Can’t beat that.

Ingredients

1/3 head of cabbage or 1.5 cups

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, chop your cabbage into “noodles” by slicing lengthwise. I think the thinner the better.

When you achieve a rolling boil, add in cabbage and let it go until you know it’s become tender, but too long will make it mushy. Strain as you normally would with noodles, but be sure to drain well.SAM_5440

Now add in your sauce, veggie, and meat favorites! I did a red sauce with onions, tomatoes, and ground turkey.

Decorative Pots Made at Paint+Pour Ladies’ Night

My friend Sareena hangs her hat among the craftiest of sorts. I’ve posted about her parties before; they’re brilliant and fun, perfect for 20- or 30-somethings needing to unwind, have a little wine, girl talk, and craft catharsis.

This time the theme was “Paint+Pour.” You guessed it, pouring paint and wine–and let’s be honest, a little gossip, too.

You can figure out the wine part on your own, but let me tell you how we painted the pots…

We poured!

Or dripped, I guess. The concept is simple but creates a really neat effect.

Simply flip a pot, any size or material seems to work just fine (just make sure you’ve got water-proof paint), and flip it upside down. Using a small plate to catch paint drips. For larger pots, you might use a drop cloth or newspaper, but know that the paper may be hard to peel off the bottom later.image (3)

Take your paint. Drip one color on the bottom edge of the pot. Let it slide down. Repeat.

I used a pattern of sorts. I did a round of evenly spaced white drips, and then a round of blue, and then a round of yellow, overlapping slightly.

For the most part, one round will cover most of the pot, but a few spots may be left uncovered. If you want to cover all, do another round of one color or all. If you like the color of terra cotta peeking through, then leave it.

You can try so many color combinations. My friends got a little more wild than I did with the color combinations, but I like simple and playing it safe. Three-color schemes and straight lines work for my taste.

What did I end up doing with my pots?image (2)

I wish I could say I grew them, but my failed attempts at gardening with no direct sunlight or porch makes growing a little frustrating.

My mother, however, loves gardening. She’s got the green thumb, AND it was Mother’s day. AND Target has a ton of cute gardening accessories on sale, so guess who got yet another themed-gift-basket creation by me? My lovely, amazing mother. I’ll pour to her any day. She loved the gardening gift basket I made for her, but her favorite part of it, hands-down, were these pots. She always appreciates a cool craft. It’s adorable to see how she still gets so excited to receive something I made.

You’re never too old for crafts. And mom’s are never too old to receive them.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, the sisters, aunts, church friends, co-workers, Mr. Moms, and all the other people in your life who nurture and care for others. That’s the message I heard in church this morning, the one I think Mother’s Day should be about, celebrating the great people in your life who care for you. And what better way to show you care than to give something you made yourself. Something that took thought, time, and care. And that’s important; it returns exactly what they’ve given to you.