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.

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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

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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.

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

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Seasonings: garlic, basil, oregano

Topping

2 T slice pumpkin pulp

1 T tomato sauce

1 T pumpkin puree

3 T fresh, shredded Mozzarella

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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.

Garden Shrimp Rotini

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Way, way back, I got on a cabbage kick. And since then I really haven’t put the kibosh on cabbage.IMG_1193

Friends, especially Derek Smith, have noticed that I’m a sucker for veggie+protein+pasta combinations. Usually, there’s red sauce in the mix. But sometimes I shake things up, literally. Shake a little lemon, a little EVOO, red wine vinegar, and herbs for a fresh alternative.

Some more veggies and sauteed shrimp make this delightful. Plus, cabbage is a fab mix-in because it gives a bulk to the pasta that’s very, very good for you.

Veggie and seafood lovers, you will definitely want to give this one a go.

IngredientsIMG_1195

2 oz. dry whole-wheat rotini noodles

1 cup cabbage, sliced into “noodles”

1 Roma tomato

2 T sliced onion

2 oz small shrimp

dash of rosemary, sage, basil

1 T olive oil + 1 t red wine vinegar + a big squeeze of lemon (optional: grated parmesan) IMG_1185

Directions

Bring 5 cups water to boil in a pot and add in wheat and cabbage noodles. Boil until cabbage is tender and wheat noodles almost cooked all the way through–a little al dente is good for controlling the blood sugar levels, in case you’re wondering.

Meanwhile, slice tomato up and sauté with onion and herbs in a medium to large skillet. Then add in shrimp.

In a small container you can seal, add in liquids: olive oil, vinegar, and lemon. Add in grated parmesan if you like that, too. Shake well. Set aside.

In skillet, add in the noodles once they’ve boiled and have been strained fully. Turn up the heat for a minute or so (medium to medium-high) to extract out any remaining water. Let sauté for a few minutes, tossing occasionally.IMG_1188

Transfer to one large bowl. Serve warm as is; but I of course had to have a little red sauce under my pasta. I still can’t resist a good marinara.

And honestly, this recipe is probably big enough to serve two people, but it’s so good and healthful there’s no shame in eating it all yourself, I think.

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.

Southern Style Pinto Beans

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I’m a little closer to the equator now and although I would’ve never expected it, I’ve been eating beans of every Tex-Mex variety like they’re going out of style.IMG_1224

So while peeking in my pantry for ideas the other day, I spied a bag of dried pinto beans I bought last fall in Iowa in an effort to reduce my sodium intake (sans canning preservatives). I tried the “slow-soak” method of softening the beans and it took too long and didn’t turn out that great. But I’m somewhere new now, so I figured why not give it another shot.

Slow soak did not work, again. I even soaked three times the recommended time. No softening to be had. I strained them, popped them in the fridge for a few days, and returned feeling challenged but determined.

Not another slow soak for me. This time I boiled them for just 8 minutes and the results were much better, allowing me to try my hand at Southern Style Pinto Beans, which are a lot like refried beans, but of course I’m not going to add any hydrogenated oils.IMG_1198

And really, all the recipes I drew preparation ideas from were pretty easy and healthy already. So here’s my version, done in a slow cooker. It’s not single-serving style, but cut anything by 1/4 and you’ll have it anyway or email me and I’ll help.

Ingredients

1 pound pinto beans, softened

1/5 cup diced onion

1/2 T cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and a dash of cayenneIMG_1196

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or more water)

Directions

-Place onions and beans in a slow cooker on low. Stir in spices and liquids.

-Cook for about 4 hours, stirring every half hour or so. And pay attention to liquid levels, so if the bean mix appears to be drying out add another 1/4 cup of water or more if necessary.

-Place in food processor. Blend until smoother but still lumpy. Return to slow cooker if your meal isn’t prepared yet and keep on warm or serve. (But serve warm because this is the one time when cool beans aren’t so cool…)IMG_1223

Appetizer Idea: Unfried Mac-and-Cheese Bites

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Taste the unfried side…photo (18)

That rings in my head. It’s got to be a slogan for some company, although I’m not sure what at the moment. It’s possible that it’s just a rhyme I’ve made up to.

But it’s sticky. No, not like fried sticky. It’s an idea–and a health habit–that sticks, i.e. has staying power. Nothing truly good comes from anything fried, not in the long-term (health wise) or in how you feel right after eating something fried.

A quick vignette to illuminate my point:

Shortly before the 4th of July this year, a friend of mine indulged in a fried mac-and-cheese burger from Zombie Burger in Des Moines. The thing was a spectacle with it’s layering of mac and cheese and “buns” made as large mac-and-cheese bites, similar to the ones made popular by Sonic and other fast food chains. Was it comical? Absolutely. Did it make everyone cringe a little? Yes. There’s something appealing to us Americans about indulgence and extremes. I get that. But we also know better.photo (16)

Epilogue: Dear friend did not finish that burger. He took the rest for lunch the next day, his girlfriend squealing uncomfortably at the thought of it being reheated.

My purpose in telling you this story is to lead you to another option. You know I’ve been experimenting with egg roll wrappers lately, and so with some cheesy cauliflower left over from my Healthier Mac-and-Cheese You Can Microwave, I set out to make an appetizer comparable to the cheesy, carby bites so many crave, sans the grease.

How’d they turn out? In my humble, disapproving-of-all-things-fried opinion, REALLY GOOD! Perfect crunch. Perfect amount of cheesiness, and anything but hard to make.

Ingredients

2 egg roll wrappersphoto (19)

1 single-serving container of Green Giant Cheesy Cauliflower

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a mini-muffin tin, or a regular cookie sheet if you don’t have a mini-muffin one. Set aside.

Using a pizza cutter, slice the egg roll wrappers in half to get two triangles for each square sheet.

Gently press the middle of each triangular wrapper into the tin or lay flat. In the center, spoon in warmed cheesy cauliflower mix. Be conservative in how much you spoon in. A little dollop goes a long way.

The next part is tricky. Fold the edges of the wrapper over and tuck them under the bottoms to form the ball. You’ll have to finagle them a little to get them just right, but keep calm and fold gently. When you’ve achieved folding that makes them look like small balls or popovers, pop them in the oven for about 7-9 minutes, or until the outer edges are brown and crispy. photo (15)

Serve warm in a favorite dipping sauce or with a sprinkle of pepper as I did. Enjoy!

A Healthier Mac-And-Cheese in Your Microwave

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Disclaimer: This recipe is not perfect. The cheesy cauliflower packages bought in stores were a quick fix and per the suggestion of Hungry Girl, but gosh are they good, and they make for a reasonably healthy splurge.image

I give that disclaimer because the cauliflower-and-cheese steamers do have more preservatives in them than I typically like, but this recipe is such a good comfort food option, especially for those wanting something comparable to regular macaroni and cheese.

My slightly altered version uses whole-grain noodles, a dash of mustard, and some Parmesan. You can omit, but I promise you if you try it, you won’t want to.

So if you’re jonesing for mac-and-cheese or if you’re interested in increasing the veggies in your diet, you’ll like this. I promise.

AND you can make it in your microwave, and fast! check it out.image

Ingredients

1 single-serving package of Green Giant‘s cheesy cauliflower steamers

1/4 cup whole-wheat elbow macaroni

2/3 cup water

1/4 t Dijon mustard

1 t Parmesan

sprinkle of pepper

Directionsimage

-Just like in my Mug’O’Mac recipe, use a large mug or other microwave-safe bowl, and add in pasta and water. Microwave the pasta on high for about 2 minutes; then stir and microwave for 2 more minutes. Note: The water may overflow in the microwave, so to prevent this, add a little less. Or if you lose too much, add a T or so more. At the same time, you can microwave the cheesy cauliflower serving as directed.

-If the shells still aren’t soft, repeat microwaving and stirring until they are. Mine were ready after only 4 minutes. Drain any excess water very well.

-Mix the dry noodles and the cheesy cauliflower together along with the mustard. You can omit mustard if you like, but I think it gives a really nice flavor. Blend well. Sprinkle Parmesan and pepper on top.image

-Place back in microwave and cook for 1 more minute. Alternatively, I gave mine a nice crispy coating on top by broiling for about 2 minutes. Either way will be delicious if served warm and when in need of carby comfort.