Making Caramels

Some of you have been asking me for the recipe to my caramels that are featured on my cover page.  So here it is.

My friend and I have a tradition of making caramels every year.  Normally we just made the traditional caramels, but this year we also added the chocolate pecan version as well.  For this season, we are thinking of making a new version too,  but we are not sure yet.  Although it is safe to say that both the traditional and the chocolate pecan versions will be made on an annual basis, however, by popular demand, we might actually start making them more frequently.

Making the caramels is very easy.  But they do require a lot of patience and time.  And once you start the process, you have to remain there, stirring them constantly, until you pour them into the greased baking pan, or they will stick and burn.

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Traditional Caramels

Prepare a 9×13 baking pan by really spreading butter all over the sides and the bottom.  Set aside.  You will also need a candy thermometer and a large pot.

1 lb butter

4 cups heavy whipping cream

4 cups sugar

4 cups Karo dark syrup (2 bottles)

Put everything together in the pot, except only use 1/2 the cream.  On a medium heat, you need to stir constantly, in a slow, steady figure 8 motion.  This is going to take awhile, so be patient.  You want the temperature to reach between 230-250*F or a soft ball stage on your candy thermometer.  It will be a light caramel color and will be very bubbly.  Once it reaches temperature, add the rest of the cream, and bring to a second boil, once again, between 230-250*F or 110-125*C.  The reason for the temperature variation is altitude.  I live in Colorado, and we are at a higher elevation than people at sea level, so it affects the boiling time and temperature.   But if you live at sea level, and you want it more like a toffee, then cook it until it reaches the higher temperature.   It will be more like a toffee, and will be a little harder and crunchier, rather than the soft, melt in your mouth caramels.   Once it reaches the desired temperature, immediately pour into the prepared baking dish. and set aside to cool.  It needs to set for at least 6 hours, but I usually leave mine over night.  I leave it uncovered while it sets.  Have no fear though, if it still does not set, just put it all back in the pot and re-boil it until it reaches temperature.  You can also use the softer version for a cake or ice cream topping or a filling.   Once the caramels are set, cut them to your desired size and wrap individually in parchment paper.  The cutting and the wrapping takes a lot of time and patience.  Hang in there.  They are well worth it.  They also make great gifts.

 

Chocolate Pecan Caramels

It is the same recipe and procedure, except when preparing the baking pan, chop pecans to a small chop, or whatever nuts you like, and place them on the bottom of the baking pan.  When your caramels get to the second boiling stage, also add 1 1/2 bars of baking chocolate and incorporate well with your caramel mixture.

 

 

Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

Lemons and herbs are so much a part of  Spring cooking.  I love this combination of freshness, and I use lemons and herbs a lot when I cook spring meals, but I would have never thought of combining them together in a cookie.   It is a winning cookie combination though.   They are like a little bit of Heaven.  When you first bite into the light crispiness of the cookie, and get a slight, delicate crunch and then they instantly melt in your mouth – WOW!!!  They look so innocent, but they are really decadent because you can’t stop at just one.

Before baking, when they are shaped into logs.  Refrigerate the logs for at least one hour before cutting and baking.  They can last in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap for about 3 days.

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The finished cookie

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Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon extract

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 1/4  tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary – You cannot use dried rosemary for this one  unless you want to be eating pine needles.

 

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.  Mix the butter and sugar together until creamy.  Blend in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Add about half the flour mixture and blend well, then add the rest of the flour mixture.  Cut the dough in half and roll into logs about 11″  long, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Make the glaze and set aside.

Slice the cookies and roll into little balls, then flatten out and bake at 350* for about 11 minutes or until just slight golden brown around the edges of the cookies.  Ice immediately after removing from the oven.

 

Lemon Glaze

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 TBSP softened butter

3 TBSP heavy whipping cream

1 tsp lemon extract

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

pinch of salt

 

Combine everything together in a mixer and mix thoroughly.  It will be a thick glaze.  Immediately spread over the hot cookies.   Enjoy, but I dare you to eat only one.

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Chicken and Shrimp

Sometimes some of the best things I make are made by the food items I just happen to have handy at the time.   And when time gets tight,  the things that are handy make cooking much easier.  We always have chicken and bacon, and I did not use all the shrimp from when I made the Pasta di Mare.  So …… Bacon wrapped chicken and shrimp.  I made a lemon vinaigrette to marinate the chicken and shrimp (marinate separately to avoid cross contamination).  I served it with red lentils, cooked with rice and peas, and asparagus.  To complete the meal, a nice crisp chardonnay from one of our local vintners, Bookcliff Winery, in Boulder, CO.

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Lemon Vinaigrette

lemon juice

olive oil

garlic

honey

basil

oregano

red pepper flakes

black pepper

chopped parsley

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy.  I heated up and cooked the left over sauce to top my chicken and shrimp for a little extra flavor and pizzazz.

 

 

 

The Flavors of the Mediterranean

I love all kinds of foods, and all different types of ethnic foods, but my favorites are the foods from the Mediterranean.   They are very comforting foods to me.  I can just close my eyes and within seconds I am whisked away to the turquoise blue waters and the warm sunshine of the Mediterranean region.  With tonight’s meal of lamb kebabs marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, vegetable kebabs in a pesto sauce, cous cous, and pita bread with hummus, I felt like I was dining at a little outside bistro in either Santorini or Mykonos.   I make my own sauces, however, you can use whatever store bought brands  you like just as well.  Our wine choice for the evening was a bold Crimson Ternion, to really bring out the bold flavors of the lamb.

After dinner, reality hit, and I was home once again, where it was snowing in Colorado.  C’est la vie.  At least my imagination allowed me a little mini vacation and a Mediterranean escape for time enough to enjoy my meal.

My kebabs before cooking.

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The end result.

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Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dijon mustard

black pepper

basil

oregano

garlic

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

 

I cubed the lamb and marinated for several hours before skewering.  A lot of people don’t like lamb because it has a very strong taste, almost a gamey taste, like elk or venison.  But if you marinate in something acidic for a few hours, most of those heavy flavors dissipate and the meat is also gets tenderized.  Your end results will be a very tender, mildly flavored meat.  YUM!  Enjoy!

 

A Dog’s Life

Lucie, Vinnie and their little buddy Fritzie eat just as well as their mommy and daddy do.  Mommy makes their food about once a week, and they get a wide variety of yummies for their tummies.  After they have eaten as much as we allow (because they will certainly eat, and eat, and eat until they pop if we don’t control it), they follow it up with a good nap on the couch.

This week, the “kids” are dining on pork loin mixed with sweet potato, spinach, peas, a little yogurt and a dash of cinnamon.  YUMMY!!

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Pasta di Mare con Focaccia with Basil and Olives

Tonight’s dinner took us to the coastal regions of Italy with pasta di mare, or pasta from the sea.  I made it with sea scallops, prawns and mussels.   I served it with a caesar salad and focaccia with basil and olives and a nice crisp fume blanc.  For a brief time, we felt like we were dining off the coast of Capri, Italy.    We had a friend over for dinner and he could not stop raving about how delicious the dinner was.  This is a meal meant to be shared with friends and loved ones.

Pasta di Mare

1 lb sea scallops

1 lb large prawns

1 lb mussels

1 large shallot, minced fine

2 TBSP garlic

5 whole tomatoes, large dice

7 or so mushrooms, sliced

1-1 1/2 cups dry white wine

olive oil

2 TBSP butter

fresh basil, oregano, thyme, parsley to taste

salt & pepper to taste

cooked fettuccini

Parmigiano cheese (optional)

 

Sautee the scallops and prawns in butter and oil in a hot skillet, for about 5-6  minutes or until the prawns turned a bright red and scallops were lightly browned on all sides.  Remove from pan and set aside.   Add the garlic, mushrooms and shallots and slightly brown, then add wine and tomatoes, salt & pepper and cook down for about 2 minutes.  Add the mussels and cook for about 5 minutes or until they have opened up.  Remove and set aside.  Add all the herbs and bring to a boil, the turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Dish up the cooked pasta, add some of the sauce, then place the seafood around the pasta and sauce.  Add more sauce as needed.  Top with chopped basil and parsely, and if you like Parmigiano cheese, add that as well.

 

Focaccia with Basil and Olives

I used olives I had marinated with fennel, orange juice and orange rind and red pepper flakes, but any olives will do.

4 cups flour + extra for dusting

1 TBSP salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 oz yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 cup olives

fresh basil, chiffonade or shredded very thin

salt water made from 1 1/2 tsp salt and warm water

 

Mix the first 5 ingredients together and form the dough into a ball.  Then roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes.   Coat the dough with a little bit of olive oil, cover and let rise for about 2 hours at room temperature.   Add the olives and some of the basil and mix well into the dough.  Again, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a rectangular shape and place on a piece of parchment paper on your baking pan.  Brush with the salt water mixture, and dimple the dough with your fingers.  Add the rest of the olives.  Cover and let rise again for about 1 hour.

Set your oven to 450* and let it get to temperatures before placing your dough in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.   I used a dipping sauce made of olive oil, garlic, black pepper, dried onions, red pepper flakes and balsamic vinegar.  Delicioso!!

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Not my Kitchen – Yet

We don’t go out to eat very often but every now and then we do.  Tonight we went out with some dear friends, so I was not in the kitchen today.  I used to run kitchens like this all the time, but not any more.  I would love to do it again; someday.  But for now, I am usually quite happy in my own kitchen, although, every now and then it is fun to go and and try something new and different.  We went to the Thirsty Lion in Downtown Denver after the Avalanche Hockey Game (Av’s won by the way, which made the meal even better).  We had a delicious meal of tapas, which included a ceasar salad, fried calimari, sliders, and bacon wrapped shrimp.   When we do go out, I use it as a learning experience – new ideas, new flavor combinations, new ways of presenting things.  So, in a way, it is like a field trip and I use the information as a learning opportunity to create something new on my own.

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Mocha Swirl Cake

I am visiting with a friend today and I was always taught you never show up empty handed.  So with that in mind, I made us a wonderful mocha swirl cake.  It has two of the best things one could ask for, especially in the morning – coffee and chocolate.   This will brighten everyone’s day.

Mocha Swirl Cake

1 heaping tsp instant coffee

1 TBSP boiling hot water

3/4 cup mascarpone cheese

1 stick softened butter

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 2/3 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

2 TBSP cocoa powder

Mix the coffee with the water and set aside.  Mix all the other ingredients together except the cocoa powder and vanilla.  Separate the mixture into half.  Add cocoa powder and coffee mixture to half and add the vanilla to the other half.   Alternate spoonfuls of mixtures into a prepared baking loaf pan.  Once all the batter is in the pan, lightly drag around a butter knife through the batters to swirl the batters together.  Bake at 350*F for 1 hour.  Cool  completely before adding the icing.

 

Mocha Icing

1 heaping tsp instant coffee

1-2 heaping TBSP mascarpone cheese

I added some shaved chocolate and a few mini chocolate chips on top.  Enjoy with friends and a good cup of Joe and you will be all set for the day.

 

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Spring Salad with Cherries and a Cherry Vinaigrette

With Spring now here, it is fast becoming salad weather.  We eat a lot of salads when the weather gets warmer, and tonight’s dinner was our first salad of the season.

Yesterday, when I posted the Drunken Cherry & Chocolate Biscotti recipe, I also gave a little teaser about what to do with my leftover cherry and almendra or almond tequila mixture.   It was too good to just throw away, so with just a few simple additions, I made a cherry vinaigrette with it.  I served it over a spinach salad.  My husband likes cheese so his salad had bleu cheese crumbles, but no additional cherries.  I HATE cheese, particularly the bleu veined cheeses, and I LOVE cherries, so I had the opposite.

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So as you see, I have 2 different versions of basically the same salad.   Making something completely different from the original version AND making things your own way, and how you like them is really why I started this blog.   Think of me as an inspiration, but put your own personality into cooking and make it personal, unique and fun.

 

Spring Salad with Cherries and a Cherry Vinaigrette

For the dressing, I used my left over cherry mixture I used to soak my cherries in for my  Drunken Cherry Chocolate Biscotti, or to make it fresh, the cherry juice from the cherries, 1/2 cup almendra or almond tequila (Amaretto or another almond liqueur will also work just fine), and 1/2 cup sugar

White wine vinegar

olive oil

black pepper

(When making a vinaigrette, you want a  good balance of oil and vinegar, usually it is about a 1:2 ratio, with 1 portion of vinegar and 2 portions of oil, but don’t be afraid to play with it.  You want the oil and vinegar to mix well.  If they are out of proportion, they will not blend well).

Fresh baby spinach leaves (remove the stems, since they make the spinach bitter)

toasted almonds (or any other nuts)

red onion sliced very thin

green onions, sliced very thin

cherries

bleu cheese crumbles (optional)

 

Mix the dressing well and put on the salad right before serving.

Fit for a Leprechaun

Happy St. Patty’s Day to you all.  I hope you enjoyed all the celebrations and festivities that come with this date.  With my last name being Jones, there is no doubt that there is more than just a wee bit of Irish and Celtic blood running through my veins.   Today is the day for me to show off some of my Irish and Celtic roots, and I decided to do so in the kitchen, of course, which is always my favorite place to be, unless I am in the water and scuba diving, but that is a whole different topic.

I know most people celebrate St. Patty’s day with Corned Beef and Cabbage.  That’s OK; there’s nothing wrong with that.  But for those of you who know me, you all know I make my own rules and never do what is expected.  I thrive on doing my own unique thing.  There are so many other great Irish dishes that get over shadowed by Corned Beef on St. Patrick’s Day, so I decided to showcase some of those dishes instead today.  We celebrated the Emerald Isle with Scallops and Mushrooms in a cream sauce, served over mashed potatoes, and sauteed Brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips and potato scones.  YUM.  It completely skipped my mind until I was cutting the vegetables that they were the colors of the Irish flag, orange, white and green, making them even more fun to make for today.  My recipes were inspired by one of my many Irish cookbooks, The Complete Book of Irish Cooking.   Again, I say inspired by because I always add my own unique twist to things, n matter what recipe I follow.

 

Scallops in a Creamed Mushroom Sauce

1 1/2 lbs Sea Scallops

dry white wine

butter

mushrooms

shallots, minced

flour

heavy whipping cream

bacon, cooked and chopped

salt & pepper to taste

cheddar cheese

chopped parsely

 

Poach the scallops in a combination of 1/2 dry white wine and water for about 5 minutes.  Remove the scallops and set aside.  Reduce the liquid down to about 2 1/2 cups.  Cook the bacon to your desired crispness and remove, sauteing the shallots and mushrooms in the bacon grease until soft and tender.  Add the liquid from the scallops along with 3-4 TBSP flour and heavy whipping cream to make a thick creamy sauce.  Add the scallops and bacon and mix thoroughly.  Pour into a greased cooking pan, top with cheddar cheese and chopped parsley.  Bake at 350* for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and crusted over and bubbly.

 

Sautee Brussel sprouts, carrots and parsnips in honey butter (yes, my left over honey butter from my festival), adding salt & pepper to taste.  Sautee until the veggies are to your desired outcome.  I like mine with just a slight crunch to them.

 

Make enough mashed potatoes to serve with the meal and to also use for the potato scones.

 

Potato Scones

1 cup cooked mashed potatoes

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3 oz soft butter

chopped green onions,

thyme

marjoram

milk to dough if to thick; it depends on how thick your mashed potatoes are

egg wash

 

Prepare an 8 1/2 in cake pan and line with parchment paper.  Combine  all the ingredients together except the egg wash and form a thick dough.   Make sure not to over mix your dough or it will come out tough.  Add milk as needed.  Form the dough into a ball and then flatten into the cake pan.  Brush with egg wash (I use egg and a little dash of heavy whipping cream, but water or milk is fine too).  Bake at 400* for about 25  minutes or until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.