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.

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.

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.