Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chocolate-Caramel Thumbprints

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, Amanda & I made those wonderful Salted Caramel Thumbprints that Pillsbury posted (and which I heard about thanks to Callye at  They were really delicious, but I wasn't entirely happy with how much they spread out in the oven.  As I was eating them, I came up with the idea to make a dark chocolate version.  This morning, I set out to make them.  As a base recipe, I used Joanne Fluke's Cocoa Snap recipe from her Hannah Swensen mystery series.  I cut the recipe in half and omitted the baking soda (which completely took care of the spreading problem) as well as the granulated sugar for coating.  Her Cocoa Snaps have a wonderful, dark chocolate flavor that I thought would go well with the salted caramel.

One of the things I love about Joanne's cookie recipes is that most of them start with melting the butter.  In this one, you then add the cocoa powder - I used Hershey's Special Dark - and mix it well before adding the sugar.  Starting with melted butter is especially nice for our house since we generally use just wood heat in the cold months so I don't have to wait for hours for my butter to soften.  The melting of the butter does not seem to adversely affect the resulting cookies either, in fact, I tend to prefer chewy cookies and I've found they turn out beautifully using Joanne's method.

We happen to have some family members who really dislike nuts in their cookies so I baked half without nuts and half with.  I used pecans since they are the nut I most associate with thumbprints but also because they are a classic combination with caramel and chocolate (think Turtles). 

The cookies came out with a very nice texture.  Slightly crispy on the outside, dense and fudgy in the middle.  My only dissappointment is that the dark chocolate almost overpowers the caramel.  I think I may also try to come up with a milk-chocolate version and see if I like that better.  However, this base would be ideal with raspberry jelly or maybe some type of cherry topping (like a chocolate-covered cherry). 

Unfortunately, Joanne Fluke does not post her recipes online, but if you hop over to her website you will find a list that tells you which book the recipe appears in.  Here is the adapted version I used today:

Chocolate-Caramel Thumbprints:

1 1/2 sticks melted butter
1 Cup cocoa powder
1 Cup brown sugar
2 eggs (one will be separated)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 Cups flour
approx. 1 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
13.4 oz. can Dulce de Leche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in microwave safe bowl and mix in cocoa until well blended.  Add brown sugar and blend well.  Mix in 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, salt & vanilla.  Stir to combine.  Add flour and mix thoroughly.  Set aside.

In a shallow bowl, beat remaining egg white until slightly foamy.  Set aside.   

Place finely chopped pecans in another shallow bowl.

Using a 1 tsp. cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into small balls.  Roll in egg white, then nuts and place on a prepared cookie sheet 12 to a sheet.  Using your thumb, gently make a depression in the center of each dough ball. 

Bake for 6 minutes at 350 degrees.  Spoon 1/2 tsp. Dulce de Leche into the depression of each cookie.  Bake 4 minutes more.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and transfer to wire racks to cool.  Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Salted Caramel Thumbprints

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving Celebration.  We took several photos to share, but they are spread out amongst various cameras and the whole family is spread out right now too (I actually have the house entirely to myself right now - a truly rare occurance!), which means I'll have to save that post for another day.  So in the meantime...

Recently, Callye of posted a link to a Pillsbury recipe for these Salted Caramel Thumbprints Thumbprints are one of my absolute favorite Christmas cookie and the idea of salted caramel instead of mint or current jelly (that I wouldn't feel I had to save to make for Christmas only) was a combination I knew I just had to try so I printed it out immediately!  This past Wednesday afternoon, my niece-daughter, Amanda and I made them party because I knew I wasn't going to have time to make 2 kinds of pie and...well, mostly I just wanted to try them...  Here's the results:

I promised to share my failures on this blog as well as my successes and while these were by no means and "epic" fail, they aren't entirely a success either.  For the goodthey are delicious!  The recipe calls for using almond extract and I think that's one of the highlights.  Also, I did swap out dulce de leche (thanks Callye) for the caramel topping (which I discovered is just about the best, creamiest, richest caramel ever).  The flavor and texture of these cookies is really great.  Just crunchy enough on the outside, just chewy enough in the middle, and not too sweet thanks to not only the pecans but the salt too. 

For the not-so-good - the recipe is supposed to make 6 dozen cookies we clearly made ours too big because we only made 2 dozen.  I did use my absolute smallest cookie scoop, for the sake of consistency and though it was small enough, but they were way too big and they spread out a lot - so they didn't come out as pretty as I'd like.  

You'll notice the recipe calls for a package of Pillsbury Sugar Cookie Mix (readily available in my local grocery store right now - probably through Christmas, then no more until next Thanksgiving).  I noticed that my favorite Betty Crocker thumbprint cookie recipe (the one I make every Christmas-time) does not call for any baking powder or baking soda & I suspect this has something to do with the spreading of the cookies too - since they spread just like a typical drop cookie would, and those usually call for baking soda, at a minimum. 

My wheels are already turnin' on base recipes I can tweak to make these from scratch in the future.  The sugar cookie flavor (with the almond extract instead of vanilla) does work really well for these and so I'll stick with those flavors, but I'd like to be able to make them without having to rely on the availability of the mix.  I'm already thinking about a different variation too, but I'll keep that under my hat for now, while I go have another cookie! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sausage-n-Cheddar Potato Soup

I work at a resort in the mountains...  This means winter driving conditions and winter working conditions are part and parcel of my position.  Our guests are the outdoorsy types, hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders - if it can be done outdoors, they're into it, so even if I'm not partial to driving in the snow, it's job security.  Unfortunately, like offices the world over, it's drafty in the cold months, hot in the warm months and the doors are constantly being opened as guests, housekeepers and sightseers come in and out.  What does this have to do with potato soup you say?  Well, I find my enthusiasm and appreciation for soup increases directly in proportion to the weather conditions at the resort!

Today, for instance, I pulled in to the resort parking lot and it was raining.  Within minutes, however, it began to snow and proceeded to do so all day long.  By the time I left, my truck had accumulated 3 inches of the fluffy, wet, white stuff.  As I drove home, the lower the elevation got, the wetter it got.  Yep, it was pouring everywhere else!  On nights like this, soup is a moral imperative.  Don't you agree? 

So, tonight I made the potato soup I had been thinking about since last week when I made a tasty pork roast and ended up with cooking liquid that looked good enough to use as stock...and it was so tasty, I just had to share! 

I used red potatoes and sweet, yellow onion.  I chopped up the onion and threw it in the soup pot with some olive oil.  Then I added some mild, bulk Italian sausage.

I chopped up the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and threw them in too.  I let it all cook together a bit, then added some flour...

I stirred the flour in and let it cook for a couple of minutes.

Next, I added the stock and some cream.  Yep, I added cream - and can I just say - YUM!  At this point, I added some salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder and dried cilantro.  Then I grated some cheddar cheese...

...and threw that into the pot too!  I stirred it in and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.  We had it with some refrigerator crescent rolls - which didn't do it justice, but I was going for quick, easy, hot & hearty - once in awhile, it's ok to cut corners. 

Surprisingly, potato soup is one soup I make that the kids beg me to make.  They absolutely love it.  In fact, we only had one serving left tonight after dinner (and I'm lookin' forward to having that for my lunch tomorrow)!  It always surprises me that they like it so much - but I'm so glad they do since it's one of the heartiest soups I make. It's still stormy & rainy outside and I'm still warm and toasty, hours after dinner.. 

I didn't measure anything when I made this soup tonight (and I usually don't), and sometimes I bake the potatoes first and include bacon (and chives or shallots), and sometimes I don't include meat at all but here's a rough recipe for you.

Potato Soup

1 small or 1/2 large onion
1 lb. mild Italian Sausage, or sausage of your choice
5 or 6 medium to large potatoes
2 - 4 cups stock
1 pint whipping cream, half-n-half or milk to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp garlic powder
dash of paprika
1 tsp dried cilantro


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homemade Granola

I've never been a big breakfast eater - at least, not in the sense of getting out of bed and being ready to eat right away.  My day job is about an hours drive away and several days a week, I leave extra early in order to deliver my kids to their bus stop for school (which is 1.3 miles from our house since we live in the toolies...), so I end up spending about 90 minutes in the car before arriving at the office and I'm usually ready to eat by then, so I like to "brown bag" my breakfast as well as my lunch (a necessity since there is absolutely nowhere to go out for lunch).  I really enjoy breakfast foods: eggs & bacon (or ham or sausage), pancakes, waffles, bagels with cream cheese & smoked salmon, cream of wheat or oatmeal and I'm a big fan of granola.   I love granola that has lots of nuts - I'm especially fond of pecans and almonds but I also enjoy pumpkin seeds, walnuts and sunflower seeds in it - the chunkier the better.  Until recently, I hadn't had any luck getting nuggety, chunky granola.  My granola would have great flavor and be loaded with my favorite nuts and seeds, but it would be like individual pieces of lots of ingredients.  I often pack cereal to eat dry while I work and chunky granola is a great choice. 

I also like glazed or candied nuts and that is how I came up with the method I now use to make granola.  I was searching the internet for glazed nut recipes and I kept finding recipes that called for toasting the nuts in the oven, then making a syrup on the stovetop, pouring the toasted nuts into the syrup and, finally, baking the whole thing one more time - and they always came out great!  So I though, why not do the same with granola?  It worked!  So here is the "recipe" I've come up with, of course you can add other ingredients, different nuts, etc.  If you'd like to include dried fruit too, I'd recommend adding it either just before baking - so it sticks to the rest of the mixture or I've simply added it after baking.  If you add it after baking, it won't over bake, but it will also never really stick to to the granola nuggets - exercise your own preferences:


1 cup coconut, unsweetened works best
3 cups oats
1 cup almonds
1 cup pecans
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup canola oil or butter
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon, optional
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, optional
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom, optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Toast nuts on a baking sheet or roasting pan until centers of the nuts are golden brown 10-15 minutes.  Toast coconut on baking sheet until light golden brown - watch it closely as it burns easily 5-10 minutes.  Toast oats on baking sheet about 10 minutes.  Combine toasted nuts, coconut & oats, set aside.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat oil (or melt butter), syrup (or honey) and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved and it comes to a boil and reduces slightly.  Add spices and stir to incorporate.  Pour in toasted dry ingredients and stir until coated and all liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat and pour into a roasting pan or baking sheet.  Bake 10-15 minutes - until browned just a bit more.  Set aside to cool.  Break into pieces once cool and store in an airtight container.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Puree

I've been finding, visiting and reading lots of new blogs in the past  week or so.

Recently, posted a lovely recipe for Butternut Squash Soup and as I was reading the comments, took particular note of a reader tip on how to best prepare the squash for pureeing, it sounded so slick I decided to try it myself with pumpkins and it worked out so well I wanted to share it with you.

To start off, I sliced the tops of the pumkins off, just like you would for Halloween carving.  Then I scooped out the seeds and pulp.  Our chickens happily eat the pulp, skin and any other pumpkin bits we give them, so the pulp went into the chicken bowl...

The seeds went right into a sieve all set to be rinsed and toasted. 

Then I split the pumpkins in half...

 ...put them in a roasting pan with just a bit of water in it and baked them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until they were fork tender.  They were soft enough to scoop out with a soup spoon.  From there I just put them in my blender and pureed them, then measured 1 cup increments into zip-close bags and froze them for later use!