Sea Salted Caramel Sauce

Salted Caramel seems to be all the rage these days. I was a caramel fan since the very beginning so don’t you dare you think I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I’m also collecting recipes for a fancy sundae party and this sauce is one of my most favorite things to have on hand for my desserts.  It’s so delicious and uses only fresh ingredients (aka no corn syrup). It’s lovely and so easy.

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Sea Salted Caramel Sauce
yields a little over 1/2 c. sauce

needs:
3/4 c. sugar
3 T. water

1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. sea salt

Start by combining water & sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat. Stir to combine to help the sugar dissolved. You won’t be stirring the sauce after this first stir. In a liquid measuring cup, combine vanilla and cream and keep nearby. Measure out the salt as well.

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Now it’s just a waiting game. Get comfortable with your sugar water because you are going to be hanging out with it for a couple minutes. The sugar & water will undergo some transformations as shown below. Once the color starts to change from clear/white to yellow/amber, the process move quickly and it’s important to be watchful or you will have burnt sugar & it has a pretty wretched flavor if you continue on with the sauce.

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Once you get to a nice amber color, remove from heat immediately and pour in the cream/vanilla mixture. It will bubble pretty furiously but that’s okay! Start stirring immediately until the cream is incorporated into the hardening caramel. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth.

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Add your sea salt and allow the sauce to cool. It will look a little thin, but it thickens considerably as it cools! I store mine in a mason jar in the fridge.

When ready to use, place the jar in a warm bowl of water to soften it up again.

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Potato Pancakes

Latkes. Boxty. Croquettes. Potato pancakes. These little treats should be super easy, right? Shredded potatoes, an egg, a bit of flour, little s&p, no problem? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Raw potatoes can take an eternity to cook, especially if you fry them. I’ve attempted to make potato pancakes on numerous occasions with varied success. I’ve tried them with shredded, uncooked potatoes. I’ve made them with soaked shredded potatoes. I’ve made with with leftover mashed potatoes. I’ve made them with cheese & cream. I’ve made them after a failed attempt at hashbrowns. I’ve made them with apples. I’ve served them with kielbasa and basil eggs. This is a stupidly easy dish that is stupidly difficult to get right.

This recipe is the one that I will go with from now on. It used a mixture of cooked and shredded potatoes and it’s the only one that really works all the time with a texture that isn’t too mushy like mashed potatoes and isn’t too much like a sort-of-circle of half-cooked hasbrowns.

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Potato Pancakes
yields 6 – 3 inch diameter pancakes

needs:
2 potatoes, peeled, one chopped & one shredded
1 T. butter
1/4 c. minced onions
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T. sour cream (optional)
1 egg
1/3 c. flour
oil for frying
scallions & sour cream for optional garnish

To begin, heat a small saucepan of water to boiling. Place ONLY the chopped potato in the water, cooking for about 8 minutes or until fork tender. Once ready, place the shredded potato in the pot and cook for no more than 2 minutes. Remove from heat & strain the liquid.

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While the potatoes are cooking, you may saute onions & garlic in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until slightly browned.

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Next, combine saute mixture, potatoes, egg, flour, and sour cream in a mixing bowl.

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Mash with a fork, masher, or pastry blender until smooth.

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In a cast iron skillet or heavy frying pan, heat 1/4 inch oil over medium heat. Take a spoonful of the rather sticky potato dough and quickly flip in flour on both sides (the dough shouldn’t be really stiff).

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Place in hot oil and fry and flatten with your hands if you are a daredevil (like me)  or if you are a sensible person who doesn’t like to get burned, a spatula is a handy tool. Fry on both sides until golden.

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Remove from oil and place on a paper toweled plate to cool slightly. Garnish with sour cream, applesauce, or scallions.

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Easy Sponge Cake with Pineapple Rum Compote

I’m trying to think of a way to cleverly introduce this post with some reference to pineapples, coconuts, and beaches. But really, I just wanted to make something of the pineapple that I wasn’t going to finish in the fridge (who is going to eat an entire pineapple to themselves within a week? Not me, not this week. I guess I was a little ambitious with that purchase). I had a friend over who said his favorite dessert is angel food cake. Angel food cake?! Of all the desserts in the world, angel food cake?! I feel like there are probably a million desserts that I would eat before I would ever reach for a slice of angel food cake. It takes all kinds, I know. I know.

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I’m making a small batch of this because I can’t imagine what I would do with two cake rounds of this sponge cake without available mouths to feed. If you do have mouths to feed, the good news is that it is easily doubled!

Easy Sponge Cake:
yields one 9×9 inch cake
3 eggs, separated yolks & whites
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the egg whites & egg yolks in separate bowls. Add 1/4 c. sugar to each of the bowls. With an electric mixer, begin with the whites and beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside. Beat the yolks until they turn pale in color & are slightly thickened.

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Gradually add the flour by folding it in with a spatula or spoon. In a oiled or buttered cake pan, pour in your mixture. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean 🙂

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Pineapple Compote
yields about 2-3 cup
1 pineapple, chopped into small pieces
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. rum
1 T. lemon juice
dash of cinnamon

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In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients over medium heat. Allow mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened with a liquidity sauce (this is going to seep into your sponge cake and make everything delicious)
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Now we have so many options!

You can serve this compote…
1. warm over your warm sponge cake like the first picture with some powdered sugar
2. cold over cold sponge cake
3. in a mini dessert form like the one below (shot glasses are cute for this, too)
4. parfait style with the addition of whipped cream.
5. however else you see fit.

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Basic Tomato Pasta Sauce

When I first started to make tomato sauce, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know that additional vegetables were added to add complexity of flavor. I didn’t know how to season it properly and I certainly had no idea how long to let it simmer. Last summer, I started hanging out with my friend’s brother upon her suggestion. David was always boasting about his Italian heritage and we decided to have Monday night dinners. He taught me about tomato sauces and freshly baked bread and I taught him about pasta doughs and opened his eyes to the ease and deliciousness of rolling it yourself. It was truly a wonderful friendship that really challenged me to expand my baking & cooking repertoire.

This is not his recipe, but one I’ve developed over the years of trial and error. Though, I will say he provided a vital step in the process of developing it.  I like it because it uses a lot of veggies and only as much salt as you want, making it healthy and versatile. If you want more veggies (or texture) in your sauce, you can always saute eggplant, peppers, or mushrooms in a separate pan and add them in or just wilt some spinach in it as it keeps warm over med. low heat.
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Basic Tomato Sauce
yields approx 4 cups

needs:

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped (optional)
2- 14 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
small dash of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
6-8 basil leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced (approx.1 T.)

In a sauce pan over medium heat, start with a drizzle of olive oil and the onion and garlic. Saute until slightly browned and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and zucchini. Continue to cook until soft and slightly browned.

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Add the tomatoes & their juice, making sure to crus the tomatoes a little with your hands. Add the spices and heat until simmering. Simmer uncovered for 30-40 minutes. This allows the sauce to thicken and the seasonings to marinate.

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Remove the bay leaf and transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the basil leaves and blend on high speed for 2 minutes.

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Transfer back to the pan, stirring in the lemon juice. Either keep warm over low-medium low heat until ready to use or allow your sauce to cool in a glass container for another day!

Eggplant Parmesan Stack with Spinach Saute

I used to be obsessed with the PBS program Art:21. I used to watch it, take notes, and make personal powerpoint slides out of the information. I was completely absorbed in how the artists talked about their work and loved being able to see a variety of styles and mediums. (I was so crazy about it that it led me to achieve a second major in art history). On one program, the artist William Kentridge shares his belief that the world is process, not fact. I wrote the quote down then and it stuck with me over the years.

So what does this have to do with anything? I’ve been making eggplant parmesan for years. It is a dish that seems to signify my growth & progress with cooking. It started with way too much garlic, mushrooms, a jar of prego, and barilla whole wheat linguine noodles in my early college days. It evolved to include my first attempts at homemade tomato sauce thickened with corn starch and even featured hand rolled egg noodles. This version is much more visually appealing with a much more complex tomato sauce. It doesn’t even feature noodles! I guess I should add, for fun, this recipe certainly doesn’t represent the fact of eggplant parmesan, but it represents one stage in the process of developing it. hehe.

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Eggplant Parmesan Stack
yields 2-3 servings

sauce:
2 c. tomato sauce, homemade or canned

eggplant + breading:
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 egg, scrambled
2-4 tablespoons milk to thin egg

3/4 c. plain bread crumbs
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. parsely
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
salt & pepper, to taste

spinach saute:
1 – 6 oz container spinach leaves
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

garnish:
1/2 c. parmesan
chopped basil for garnish

To begin, ready your eggplant. Heat a saute pan or cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch canola or vegetable oil over medium heat. In a small saucepan, heat your tomato sauce over medium low heat so it’s ready when your spinach is finished.

In a shallow dish, combine egg & milk (make sure it’s big enough to dip your eggplant in). In another shallow dish or on a plate, combine the bread crumbs, seasoning, and parm cheese.

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Take your prepared eggplant slices and dip in the eggwash, one at a time is easiest. Dredge the pieces, both sides, in the breading and immediately place them in the hot oil. Fry on both sides, until golden brown. Repeat until all the pieces are fried.
**Be sure not to have the oil too hot, or the breading will crisp without cooking the eggplant inside.

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In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, sautéing for just a minute. Add your container of spinach, stir until wilted & dark green in color – 3-4 minutes.

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Time for assembly!

Start with the spinach on the bottom of the plate. Make sure the spinach is patted down so it has a flat surface to build from. Add a piece of eggplant. Top it with a  few spoonfuls of sauce. Add a full pinch of parm and repeat!

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Don’t overstack! Try to use the larger pieces towards the bottom and the smaller pieces to the top. Garnish with a little chopped basil.

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Almond Cashew Tofu

I worked in an asian restaurant for a grand total of four years. I’ve been covered, seemingly head to foot, with a variety of dark, white, and sichuan sauces. I’ve eaten endless bowls of rice and stir-fried vegetables and I’ve recommended countless Mongolian Beefs, Ginger Chickens, and Ma Po Tofus.

However, it’s been a few months since rice has been a staple of my diet. I feel my sodium levels are no doubt back to normal and thus I am finally able to happily make stir fries and pad thais at home.

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Almond Cashew Tofu
yields 4 servings

needs:
sauce
2 c. veggie broth
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 T. sesame oil
1 T. minced ginger root
1 minced clove of garlic
1-2 T. sugar
a few dashes of red pepper flakes
1 T. corn starch dissolved in 2 T. water

stir-fry
1/2 sweet or white onion, cut 1×1 inch
1 green pepper, cut 1×1 inch
1 c. green beams, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 c. cashew halves, unsalted
1/4 c. whole almonds, roughly chopped
1 package organic extra firm tofu
flour for dusting tofu
canola or vegetable oil for frying

To make the sauce, start with a little oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and ginger just sautéing a little until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the veggie broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Heat until simmering. Add the corn starch, allowing the sauce to thicken. Remove from heat & set aside.

In a large saute pan or cast iron skillet, heat about 1/4 inch canola or veggie oil over med-high heat. While the oil warms up, open and drain liquid from the tofu package. Cut the tofu block into cubes, about 1×1 inch. Pour a little flour in a dish or pie plate. Gently roll the tofu in the flour and transfer to hot oil. Fry on all sides until slightly golden brown. Transfer to paper toweled plate and set aside. (or skip the frying if you prefer just plain silken tofu)

In a wok or large saute pan, start with a little oil. Add the cashew & almonds and toast gently for 1-2 minutes. Remove with the nuts with a slated spoon and set aside. Add the onions, allowing them to turn slightly translucent and fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Add the green beans & green pepper and the prepared sauce. Saute together for about 8-10 minutes. Before removing from heat, add in the fried tofu and nuts and toss together or another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat & serve immediately with rice or noodles.

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Homemade Ginger Ale

The unfortunate circumstance of being a twenty-something (and trying to avoid becoming a budding alcoholic) is that almost every social occasion is supplemented with alcohol.  If you also happen to be a foodie, it’s hard to resist partnering a killer cocktail with a delicious dinner or relaxing into a long-prepped dinner with the perfectly partnered bottle of wine.

In an attempt to reduce my alcohol consumption significantly, I’ve started to think about making non-alcoholic drinks that are equally delicious and satisfying to partner with my meals. Happily, it has worked splendidly and has eliminated that wine-buzz, food coma, I-don’t-have-any-energy-left-to-do-the-dishes feeling.

Though in the case that I am ready for a yummy cocktail, I will certainly consider putting a little whiskey, vodka or rum in one of these to ‘wow’ a guest, or myself. 🙂

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Homemade Ginger Ale
yields: 1 drink
needs:
6 oz. club soda or seltzer water
1 oz. ginger simple syrup
1/2 lime, cut into 3 wedges
6-8 sprigs of mint
ice

In a glass, start to build the drink with the ginger syrup. Squeeze limes and drop into glass. Add mint leaves and muddle. Add enough ice to fill the glass. Top with soda. Either stir with a long spoon or pour into another glass & back to the original glass to mix. Garnish with a lime wedge or wheel.

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Ginger Simple Syrup

We are a mere two days away from the summer solstice! This means that, unfortunately, the days will be getting shorter but we are now into the season that (especially in the midwest) has incredible sunsets & awe-worthy rainstorms and thunderstorms. Yesterday was one such occasion where thunder was roaring and lighting crackling in the sky. Rain came down like sheets, blowing like fabric in the wind. It was a much needed break from the stifling humidity, providing a slight chill to the ever-increasing warmth of the summertime air.

I always thought it would be fun to make dark & stormys when a storm like that blew in and to just sit & sip with someone you love. However, I don’t have anyone like that so in the spirit of the idea, I made ginger simple syrup instead for when the time comes, perhaps I’ll be ready.

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Ginger Simple Syrup

needs:
1.5 c. water
1 c. sugar
about two inches of ginger root

With a knife or peeler, peel the skin from the ginger and roughly chop. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the peels, chopped ginger root, water, and sugar. Heat to a boil and let boil for 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure no crystals form. Transfer to a glass jar or container to cool, leaving the gingers pieces in the syrup for 2-4 hours. Strain the ginger out before using and refrigerate.

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Naturally Sweet Maple Iced Coffee

I’m back! It’s almost summer time and I haven’t written in many moons. My deepest apologies. I have excuses but you are not here for my excuses! You are here for inspiring recipes and pretty photography, so I shall give you those instead.

One thing that I especially loathe about American food culture is how frequently fake/cheap ingredients are used. I strive to make everything I can from scratch 1) because it’s easy 2) because it’s fun and 3) because it’s infinitely more delicious than it’s faux-substitute. It’s iced & frozen coffee season which means the high fructose corn syrup is abound in those $4 plastic cups. I shall give you a cheap & delicious alternative.


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Iced Coffee

needs:
8 oz. cold brewed, or cooled coffee
1-2 T. real maple syrup
1 t. vanilla extract
2 t. half & half
ice

Fill a mason jar with ice. Pour in the half & half, vanilla, and maple syrup (1-2 T. depending on how sweet you like your drinks!). Add the coffee and stir with a spoon. Enjoy your natural, delicious, and cheap alternative naked or indulge with a little bit of whipped cream.

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Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

We all have our kitchen staples, you know, things that, when you run out, you finally pick yourself up off the floor to go buy at the grocery store. I must always have eggs, milk or cream, butter, sugar, cheese, and flour. Even when there is embarrassingly little to behold, my staples & I can conjure fresh baked bread or biscuits, homemade pasta, or some elaborate cupcakes for a guest.

This recipe for homemade mac & cheese is one of the recipes that I can throw together quickly with whatever-is-left. Sometimes I don’t have bacon. So what! I’ll use Italian sausage. I don’t have a jalapeno? Whatever. I’ll add a little extra sriracha and some potatoes. I’m sure you could make shredded chicken work deliciously (unleash that creativity!) or you don’t really have to include a meat at all! It’s delicious &  easy & everyone really loves it because it’s no doubt horrible for you 🙂

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Spicy White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Pasta:
1 1/2 c. dry noodles, cooked al dente (use penne, rotini, mini shells, elbows, or whatever else)

Cheese Sauce:
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. white cheddar, shredded (+ 2 T. for top)
1 T. sriracha sauce
salt & pepper, to taste

Filling:
1/2 onion, minced
1/3 c. corn
1 jalapeno, seeded & minced

Topping:
1/4 c. panko
1 T. butter
2 slices bacon, cooked & chopped
reserved 2 T. white cheddar

To begin, boil salted hot water & cook your noodle of choice to al dente following directions on package. Strain in a colander and set aside until further assembly.

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Meanwhile, we’ll begin the cheese sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour, mixing in with the melted butter to make a smooth paste, cooking for just a minute or two.

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Pour in the milk. Add a dash of salt & pepper. Continue to heat until the milk simmers & starts to thicken, about 3-5 minutes depending on your stove. Once it begins to thicken, remove from heat and add the cup of white cheddar & the sriracha sauce. Stir to combine until all the cheese is melted to form a thick sauce. Add more salt, pepper, or sriracha to taste.

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Moving on to the filling…
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In a small saute pan, heat a little butter or oil. Saute onions until slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the jalapeno & the corn. Continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. I like the veggies to have a little bit of crunch left to add a bit more texture to mac & cheese.

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Separate the noodles into two oven safe bowls or ramekins. Split the veggie mixture and cheese sauce evenly between the two bowls. Fold to combine. Add one piece of chopped bacon to each bowl.

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In one more pan (I know, right? I’m sorry you have so many dishes to do!) Melt one tablespoon of butter. Toast the panko until slightly browned.

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Evenly distribute on top of the bowls & add the reserve cheese. Place in oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese melts on top and forms a toasty crust.

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Yum! Mix together with a fork and enjoy all the sweet and spicy flavors + all the different textures of this awesome mac & cheese.

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