September 25, 2011

Boiling Caramel is Hot

I’ll tell you what I didn’t do today when making these Caramel Apples. I didn’t touch the caramel while it was boiling away over the stove.

This may sound obvious to you: don’t touch the caramel while it’s boiling. But I did it once.

I actually dipped my left index finger into a pot of boiling caramel. I knew it would be hot, but I wasn’t prepared for how hot. And I didn’t think about how boiling caramel would stick to my finger and prolong the burning.

I’m not being dramatic, here. It hurt beyond words. It throbbed a piercing pain, and I seriously asked Zach, “Do you think I have a third degree burn?”

I didn’t (I don’t think). But I told myself I’d never do it again, that I’d never dip my finger in boiling caramel ever again.

But if I’m being really honest, part of me really wanted to today. Boiling hot caramel looks and smells amazing, and it’s really tempting. I’m sure many have made the same mistake I did. Making homemade caramel is a dangerous undertaking.

But this caramel today was special. It was way better than the store-bought little squares that can sometimes be stale and hard, all individually wrapped. And who actually likes to unwrap 100 little caramels?

This homemade caramel had a base of lots of sugar, heavy cream, and butter, and was enhanced with vanilla, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, and salt.

All ingredients were stirred and brought to a boil. And then I carefully watched from a distance as the mixture boiled away.

I clearly didn’t completely learn my lesson, I realized, since I put my head pretty far down into the pot to smell the sweet sticky goodness while it roared away.

Caramel apples are an easy and super rewarding Fall Sunday afternoon project.

Recipes tell you to use tart apples to offset the sweet caramel, but personally I prefer sweet on sweet. I used Honeycrisps fresh from the Kingsfield Market.

And because I love salted caramel everything and anything, I sprinkled these beauties with a little bit of coarse fleur de sel.

Mmm. So good.

Caramel Apples, Adapted slightly from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

8 medium sized Honeycrisp apples
1 c sugar
½ c unsalted butter
2/3 c heavy cream
¼ c light corn syrup
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp dark molasses
¼ tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt for caramel
Coarse fleur de sel for garnish (optional)

Line baking sheet with waxed paper. Insert lollipop sticks about halfway into apples. Set aside.

Mix all ingredients together (except apples and fleur de sel) in fairly deep heavy saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil and boil until candy thermometer reaches 236 degrees F, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool to 180 degrees F. Coat apples by tilting pan and swirling apples into hot caramel. Let excess caramel drip off and then place apples on baking sheet.

If using the fleur de sel, lightly sprinkle the apples with the salt.

September 18, 2011

The Switch-Over

I’m afraid to report that I think I’ve made the seasonal switch in our kitchen.

Buh-bye panzanellas with fresh veggies, corn on the cob, yogurt marinated chicken on the grill, and fresh tomato everything.

Today I welcomed back homemade applesauce and chili.

I was actually happy to have a gloomy day today. Don’t get me wrong—I love beautiful summer weather—but there is something relieving about the weather being crappy because it quickly narrows down the potential list of things to do. Because it was damp and cold all day, I could hole up inside with not one ounce of guilt. And make applesauce and chili.

Homemade applesauce is easy to make once you get past the peeling (and I’ve been known to not peel and whirl all of the cooked goodness through the blender before). But this Roasted Pear & Apple Sauce recipe is even easier because you put it in the oven and can forget about it for an hour. You can set a timer or not. The smell actually started wafting throughout the house at 1 hour which was my reminder. It seriously worked like magic.

There is something to be said for dropping everything into a pot, not even stirring it all, and having it transform into something delicious and wonderful while under the lid. And that is what this applesauce does.

The butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon sit on top of the whole mess of apples and pears and seep down and somehow incorporate themselves into perfection.

After it comes out of the oven, you get to whisk it to break up the remaining chunks and then just stand over the pot and smell it. And that’s it.

It somehow makes fall seem not so bad…

Roasted Pear & Apple Sauce, Adapted very slightly from How Easy is That? by Ina Garten

Zest and juice of 2 navel oranges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 lbs apples (I used Haralsons), peeled and quartered
3 lbs Bosc pears, peeled and quartered
½ c light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.

Place zests and juices of the oranges and lemon in Le Creuset dutch oven. Add the apples and pears; stir. Place brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon on top. Cover and bake for just over an hour, until the apples and pears are tender. Whisk sauce until chunky. Serve warm or at room temp.

Makes 8 servings.

September 14, 2011

Slogging & Breakfast

I haven’t had a whole lot to report in the world of food as of late. I’ve been caught up in the grind of going to work, rushing to make something decent for dinner, going to the gym, taking a shower, and heading to bed. Thrown in the middle of this was a trip out East where I had a surprisingly delicious dinner in Lancaster with my parents (but no camera to capture it) and surprisingly nothing interesting to eat while in NYC.

I feel like I’ve been slogging along.

But, as I walk to my car, do the dishes, wash my hair, and climb on the elliptical, this is what I have been thinking about: a plan to test drive a ton of different stuffing recipes in order to find the perfect few for Thanksgiving which we’re hosting this year, when I’m going to get to go pick apples at Sweetland Orchard, baking a Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cake, making plans to go to La Belle Vie for the tasting menu in the lounge, the pie-for-dinner recipes in the newest Martha Stewart Living, and breakfast at Victory 44 Coffee Bar & Provisions.

I have been dreaming about breakfast at Victory 44 since we went a few Saturdays ago.

Breakfast is new there via the coffee bar, but dare I say I like breakfast there better than dinner?

Dinner is good, don’t get me wrong, but breakfast was special. There are very, very few places in town where you can get a breakfast that good.

Here is what I liked:

1.       The place wasn’t crowded and was easy to get into
2.       The charming single rose in a mason jar on the table, holding the drink menu down
3.       The communal tables in the middle of the place
4.       The single tables they also have for the anti-social peeps (me, Zach)
5.       The menu—I wanted almost every single thing

The Eggwich was by far the best egg sandwich to have ever crossed my lips. And this is saying a lot coming from someone who for the better part of her life refused to eat eggs. A fried egg, sausage, garlic aioli, compressed apple, cheese, all atop a buttery biscuit. And served with three perfect Breakfast Tots (fancy tater tots).

Zach’s Biscuits and Gravy was equally delicious and uber decadent.

But there were so many other things that I wanted--things that have been calling my name ever since.

Like the Waffle du Jour, which came with so many ridiculous things on that particular Saturday that I can’t even keep track of them all. I know there were peaches (I think they were also compressed), and I know there was mint. And I know there was stuff that made it decadent. Crap, the downside of not writing it down.

Like the doughnuts in the case at the counter that you can get if you’re grabbing your coffee to go.

Like the Benedict Du Jour.

I need to go back. Soon.

Until then, back to slogging.

September 4, 2011

Food Truck Love

I love food trucks.

I love the food trucks we have in this fine city of Minneapolis.

They are the only food trucks I know.

And I love them dearly.

They’re an odd concept, food trucks, no? Who would have thought that people would actually like eating food from a truck. While standing. On a busy sidewalk. With people hustling by them.

It’s a rather odd concept if you really think hard about it.

But, what you don't realize before you become a food truck eater, is that once you bite into whatever just got handed to you through the order window, you don’t give a shit about whatever sidewalk you’re standing on or whoever is trying to move past you on the sidewalk.

You’re too smitten to really care about anything. You quickly enter into food bliss. Not just because the food is great, but because it’s also different. A breath of fresh air—in fresh air. What could be better?

Food truck food is right up there on the food things that make me insanely happy list (and there are many things on that list). Food truck jealousy is also right up there on the list of things that make me insanely jealous, during the work week when I look out the windows at work in Golden Valley and think about all of the downtowners who are lining up for Smack Shack or Hola Arepa while I make my way down to the cafeteria.

But luckily there is a god, and there is access to food trucks for those of us who don’t get to indulge on our lunch break every day. I’ve intercepted Smack Shack downtown before a Twins game before (score!). Hola Arepa can be found at the Uptown Market on Sundays (phew!). And Chef Shack also parks its truck at weekend farmers markets (smart!).

Thank you, god.

I would love to try all of the trucks in town. There seems to be a pretty stellar line up in St. Paul during the week as well. (Did you see Andrew Zimmern’s food truck crawl this week with Alex Roberts and Tim McKee through St Paul? Do you know what I’d pay to go on that food truck crawl with them?)

Maybe someday.

But for now, here is where I’ve been sans those three food geniuses, and here is what I have loved from each.

Smack Shack

Hands down, my favorite truck in town. There are people who think we can’t get good lobster rolls here in Minnesota. I get why they’d think that. But they’re wrong. So very wrong. If they would take a gamble and try a lobster roll from Smack Shack, the argument would be over. Big buttery grilled slices of brioche bread, filled with huge chunks of lobster, lightly tossed with mayo, and seasoned with tarragon and I think cucumber? So freaking amazing that it actually makes my mouth water thinking about it. This was the meal I picked for my actual birthday day. That is saying something.

Hola Arepa

I have been eyeing and Twitter stalking this truck all summer and finally got to hit it up today at the Uptown Market. It solidly gets my #2 favorite truck in the Cities status. It was really delicious. It’s also perhaps the most beautiful truck in Mpls, all aqua-y and bright. They do...arepas...which are corn griddled cakes stuffed with various things. I chose the Slow Roasted Pork Arepa today, which also had black beans, cotija cheese, and Hola sauce on it. This thing was the perfect combination of flavors. There was a slightly spicy kick to the pork, the cotija cheese was nice and salty, and the sauce was sweet. I made Zach get me a fork so that I could scoop up every single last black bean that had fallen out into the paper tray. And I happily washed it all down with a pretty great Cucumber Lemonade.

Dandelion Kitchen

Zach claims he is somehow related to the owners / cooks of this truck. But I have yet to prove that out. J Whether your relatives are cooking there or not, Dandelion Kitchen is the kind of truck you feel good about eating at. The menu is comprised mostly of sandwiches made of local and organic stuff. I recently had the Roast Chicken Sandwich with homemade fig spread, blue cheese, and greens. There was an herb on that sandwich that I actually had to ask about—it was so interesting and tasted just like apples. Turns out it was sorrel leaf. Who knew sorrel leaf even existed (besides the folks at DK?) DK is also responsible for my foray into homemade sodas this summer. Every day they have a different one on the menu. I had the lemon ginger soda when I was there, and it was divine.

Chef Shack

Chef Shack was the truck that introduced me to the world of food trucks. It will forever have a place in my heart because of that. Over the past few summers, I’ve eaten many a bag of Indian Spiced Mini Doughnuts from their truck at the Mill City Farmer’s Market. They are the most delicious, interesting, comforting, doughy little mini doughnuts that my taste buds have ever met. I love them beyond words. My only complaint about them is that they don’t ever seem to make it to the Fulton Market. Sad. They also have a pretty rockstar Hangover Hash that is great when you’re hung-over or not hung-over. And lunch stuff. They have yummy lunch stuff (think sweet potato tacos).

How many more weeks of warm weather? Maybe 3? My goal for those 3 weeks is to eat as much food truck food as I possibly can. Ready? Set? Go.

(To find these truck locations, follow them on Twitter or Facebook!)

September 2, 2011

Enough is Enough

Here’s the problem. I desperately want to bake something right now. I mean, this is what I do when I have free time. And it’s a long weekend, and I have free time. Normally on a long weekend like this, I would drag out all of the most recent ear-marked cookbooks and magazines I’d been piling up, I would re-evaluate and prioritize the best recipes, and then I’d get to work and make them.

And then I’d eat them, of course.

However, it has become very obvious to me lately (and not just b/c my pants are always tight) that I eat a lot. A lot of sweets. A lot of wonderful sweets.

I am just not a salt-lover. When given the option, I’d choose a big piece of cake or a bag of gummy worms over chips and Mexican layer dip every single time.

Let’s do a quick inventory of what the last few weeks have looked like in the sweets department.

A couple of weekends ago, I went nuts and made Rhubarb Frozen Yogurt Macaron Sandwiches (and the frozen yogurt was NOT healthy). That same weekend I made about 10 dozen delicious chocolate chip cookies with sea salt. Sunday night I ate a whole Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ by myself. On Monday, I had a few bites of the Chocolate Oblivion dessert at Al Vento. On Tuesday, I gladly sampled my friend Lizzie’s gooey caramel blondies at work. Last night, I split the Butterscotch Pots de Crème at Tilia. And I am 100% sure there was more—this is what is top of mind as I type.

It’s bad. I’m bad.

So, I’m not letting myself bake tonight.

And this pains me because I have a bazillion recipes ear-marked and ready:

Rose cream puffs
Homemade pop-tarts
Almond Joy cupcakes
Lavender brownies
Sticky buns
Banana cream pie with a  chocolate crust

I already came close to caving a few times today. I spent a good 30 minutes trying to convince myself that maybe if I baked something for tomorrow’s breakfast, that would be okay. Because there is a chance we’ll go out for breakfast tomorrow and I’ll have something equally unhealthy. But, I stopped myself.

And then I pondered whether or not rice pudding would really count as something all that bad.

I think the worst is past. I think I’m gonna stay strong.

But I don’t like it.