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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17: A Trio of October-y Beverages

Today I've got a three-fer. Drinks galore!

Whenever I try to feature holiday-inspired beverages for my family, the results always seem to fall flat. Like, when I made this and even this, I was usually the only one drinking it. It took me a couple years, but I finally got wise to the fact that sometimes simple is the best course of action. And by "simple" I mean pouring a bottled beverage into a glass and plunking candy in there with it. Like so.

So I stuck with that winning formula and created this non-alcoholic treat for my kiddos. I'm calling it "spider brew."

I found these cute glass bottles (including the cap and straw!) at Target for only $1 each. I popped a couple ice cubes and some gummy body parts (I used eyeballs and fingers) in the bottle and then topped it off with orange Gatorade (because that's what I had on hand. Green or white would have looked pretty cool in there, too.) 
The supplies: cool bottles, gummy body parts, Gatorade

A cloudy close-up of the eyeball (left) and finger (that reddish situation at bottom right)
I wasn't in the mood for Gatorade, but I did have a hankering for something warm and apple-y (shocker, I know.) That's when I remembered I had something on hand that fit the bill.

At the beginning of August, my supermarket featured apple-flavored products (before apple there was coconut; presently it's--you guessed it!--pumpkin. After pumpkin, if memory serves, they'll roll out the peppermint in anticipation of the holidays.) I got to sample some of the salted caramel apple juice one day whilst shopping and, though it sounded questionable to me, it was surprisingly delightful. So I bought a bottle to save for the colder weather, for some chilly night when I'd want a sweet, warm cider-y drink. Unfortunately, the weather has been somewhat confused lately, so I've had to wait and wait and wait for a chilly night, but it finally arrived last night. Hurrah!

All I did was heat 6 ounces of the juice in the microwave. While it heated, I rolled the rim of my glass into some liquid caramel (the kind you put on a sundae) and then in some cinnamon-sugar. (Sorry for using a plate that, while pretty, is awful for showing anything on it. If you squint, you can probably just about make it out.) 

Once I finished the rim, I poured the apple juice into the mug and topped it with Cabot whipped cream (the best whipped cream in a can! it's SO CREAMY and delicious!!!), then drizzled on a bit more caramel and a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar. Voila! My favorite sips were the ones with the whipped cream stirred in. 

This would also taste really nice with a splash of Buttershots in there, if you're in the mood for a boozier option.
The supplies: Salted Caramel Apple Juice, caramel sundae syrup, whipped cream
Dipping the mug into the "rim" - winner of the "Worst How-To Photo Ever!" award
Fancy beverage in the mug that I use for nearly every drink I share on this blog
Finally, if you're in the mood for straight-up booze, I have an adult beverage option called a Bailey's Vampire Kiss. I found it on Pinterest and decided to try it. I did mine as a single-serve shot, so I made one lazy-person modification. Instead of taking the time to get out my blender to puree 1 cup of raspberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar (which I knew I wouldn't use), I added a glob (1 tsp) of preserves in there - I figured it was similar enough, at least in appearance. If you're making these for a crowd, though, I'd encourage you to take that extra step with the real puree. *Be aware that if you sub in gelatinous preserves, they will hang out at the bottom of the shot glass rather than mix in with the shot as you drink.* So decide before starting if you want them in there for appearance or taste and appearance. 

Here's how to make this one: 
The supplies: Baileys, Vodka (I used vanilla), preserves (or homemade puree), chocolate syrup
1. Prepare your rim (or rims, depending on how many you're making). Simply dip your shot glass rim into liquid chocolate sauce. (I used a better plate on this one so you can actually see how I dipped the rim.)
Just a dab'll do ya
Dip the rim
So pretty- and what a difference proper contrast makes!
2. Prepare your "blood" puree. Use a blender to puree a cup of raspberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar. 

3. Prepare your booze. In a shaker with ice, shake up 1ounce of Baileys with 1/2 ounce of vodka for each shot you're making.

4. Build your shot. 1 teaspoon of raspberry puree on the bottom, followed by 1.5 ounces of the booze mix. 
Raspberry "blood"
Booze on top with chocolatey rim starting to drip
5. Suck it down!
There you have it! Three easy peasy beverage options the whole family can enjoy.
 
Happy drinking, all!

Monday, October 16, 2017

October 16: Hearty Autumn Salad



I was craving a hearty lunch today--something wholesome and good for me, but packed with flavors and textures. I thought of a salad I've gotten a couple times at a tea house and used that as my inspiration.

Mine starts with a base of arugula -- I love that peppery bite it has -- and is topped with a little bit of everything. Feta cheese for salt, pecans for crunch (not to mention their health benefits), dried cranberries for sweetness and chew, quinoa for protein and fiber, and sweet potatoes because sweet potatoes! Then I drizzled it with just a touch of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of orange, and a dash of salt and pepper. 

(The one from the tea house is served with a lemon vinaigrette, but since I bought a bag of those clementines last night at the market (which I spooked up for my kids' lunches today) I thought that would offer a lovely citrus option instead. I was right.)
It was everything I was hoping it would be! 

Mine came together in under five minutes because I had everything pretty much ready to go. (And I was lazy with the pecans. Generally, toasting nuts enhances both the flavor and crunch of them, so they would have been even tastier toasted. I enjoyed them raw, but admittedly might have enjoyed them even more had I taken another 7-10 minutes to toast them.) This would also have been lovely with walnuts, pistachios, cashews, or almonds. Use your favorite nut or leave it off entirely if you're not a fan.

I prepped the quinoa and sweet potatoes a couple days ago when I was cooking dinner, and I stored them in a container in my fridge so I could use them as needed throughout the week. 

If you've never had quinoa on a salad, I highly suggest it. It adds an interesting textural component plus added protein, vitamins, and fiber. It's a nutritional powerhouse (and, apparently, naturally gluten free!) Truthfully, it's my favorite way to enjoy quinoa. Plus, it takes less than 15 minutes to cook. Use a 2 to 1 ratio of water to quinoa. Bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for 10-12 minutes until the water is absorbed and the quinoa sprouts its little tails. Done and done.
Up close and personal with quinoa tails
As for the sweet potato-- I peeled and diced it into small 1/4" cubes about the size of, well, dice (which is probably where the term comes from, now that I think of it.) and then steamed them for 10 minutes. I put my steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and covered it with the lid and bam! Tender in no time. 

I'm so glad I planned ahead because YAY to hearty, delicious, healthy, beautiful salads! To make it even *more* fall-inspired, I could have added some sliced apple or pear to the top, but I didn't think about that until I was sitting at my kitchen table in front of the basket of apples. Ha! Next time.
 
Anyway, give this one a try. It hits all the right notes and will keep you satisfied for hours.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15: Food Decoration & Caramel Apple Slices



Today was another one of those hectic, must-complete-the-to-do-list days. 

I didn't have a lot of time to spend on any one activity, but I managed to add a bit of whimsy to a few different things.

My husband, who was under the weather today, requested toast while I was unpacking groceries. So I served him this to reflect how he felt.
 
Later, as I prepped school lunches for my kids, I grabbed a Sharpie and added some extra Halloween-ish touches to give them a chuckle.
As our dinner did its thing in the oven, I tried turning my attention to dessert.

I settled on caramel apples, and opened the whole bag of individually wrapped caramels and readied my pan to melt them after dinner. By the time I'd eaten, though, I didn't actually feel like undertaking the process. For one thing, with my husband being sick, he won't want a caramel apple for at least a few days. And my older daughter doesn't even like caramel (I know; I can't believe it either) so she won't want one ever. So I moved the caramels out of the pan and into a jar to use them another day.
Even though I no longer planned to make caramel apples, however, I still felt like eating one. Thus, I modified the process and made myself one in under five minutes.
All you need is an apple, some toppings (I used peanuts & coconut), and caramels
Instead of heating the caramel on the stove like I usually do, I microwaved it. I put it in for only one minute (the heating instructions for the whole bag said 2.5-3 minutes so I thought 1 would be about right). Turns out that was too long. The caramel got little scorched pieces in it. Luckily, it tasted perfectly fine and since I was the only one using it, it didn't matter that it looked weird. (Well, except for the photo I took to show you.) 

I sliced up one apple and dipped it into the melted caramel. Then I laid them on a sheet of waxed paper and sprinkled coconut and peanuts on the slices. 
The dark flecks are where the caramel scorched. Still tasty, though. Especially the coconut ones...mmm!
I didn't bother refrigerating them to let the caramel harden, so, admittedly, the part that was resting on the waxed paper remained there when I lifted my slices. I used a knife to scrape it up and spread it back onto the apple again. (The negative of cutting your apple and trying to dip it is that the dip doesn't want to remain on the moist apple flesh for the long haul. So next time I might just dip the slices as I'm about to eat them, so as to avoid the caramel sticking to the waxed paper, or I'll be less impatient and give it 10 minutes to set up in the fridge before digging in.)

Nevertheless, even though it was a messy undertaking, it sure did hit the spot!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

October 14: Maple Almond Cranberry Granola



 
Here we are on another rainy Saturday. 

But mine started off unexpectedly well. I woke to the fluttery kiss of my younger daughter. I sleepily asked, "What time is it?" thinking she'd beat the alarm. Turns out it was 9:19 which meant I'd not only missed the 7am alarm, but also the entirety of my older daughter's soccer game. I felt a swelling of love for my husband who let me sleep in and took care of things today. Hurrah!

Now I'm up and about and well-rested and well fed (did I mention my husband came home from soccer and made us scrambled eggs with fresh herbs!?) so it's time to do something fall-ish. 

But what?

I scanned my (ridiculously messy) kitchen counter, wondering what to make. 

That's when my eyes fell on my nearing-empty granola canister. BINGO.

I love homemade granola. I enjoy eating it atop yogurt or even warmed in a small amount of Unsweetened Vanilla Coconut-Almond Breeze. Mmm. I like that I can control what I put into it and that it's kind of forgiving as long as you have a basic understanding of the best method of cooking it (low and slow-- 300 degrees for 45 minutes, with stirs every 15 minutes). After that, you can play around with whatever mix-ins you enjoy most. 

I've tried several different recipes over the past few years, but a lot of them fail to wow me. That's why I pretty much always make the same kind--Banana Pecan--using mashed bananas as moisture in place of any kind of oil or other fat. (I'll share the recipe on here sometime.) 

Still, I pinned this maple almond cranberry one last year and every time I scroll through my saved pins, I see it and think, "I should try that. It looks so good." Well guess what? Today's the day. 

It's another Sally's Baking Addiction recipe. (I've previously explained my love of Sally's recipes. I have all three of her cookbooks. She has a new one out--all cookies!--and my favorite fudge recipe is straight out of her candy book, but my heart still belongs to the first one which has a little bit of everything. With holiday time approaching, you should treat yourself or the baker in your life.) 

Not only did the photos capture me, but the flavor profile--almonds! maple! cinnamon! dried cranberries!--make it an ideal choice for my fall fest. And since I recently restocked my nut supply, I was ready to do this thing. 

Here's what I did:

Maple Almond Cranberry Granola

Yield: about 4 cups

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking)
1 cup almonds (I did mine as half slivered almonds and half whole almonds, just to mix up the texture)
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup real maple syrup (not to be confused with the maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup varieties)
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300. (This is the perfect temperature for granola because it's just hot enough to toast things but not so hot that it burns. Trust me on that-- I learned from experience!) Line a baking sheet with parchment or Silpat. (I prefer Silpat with my granola because it adds an extra layer of insulation against over-browning.)

2. Combine oats, almonds, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Combine melted coconut oil, vanilla, and syrup in a measuring cup and pour over the dry mix.

4. Stir so that all the oat mixture is moistened by the wet ingredients.

5. Pour onto pan and bake for 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes so that the granola toasts evenly.
Before baking
After baking, nice and toasty
6. After baking, pour onto waxed paper or parchment laid out on the counter. Cool completely. (It'll get crunchier as it cools.) Store in an airtight container once it's completely cool. (If it has any heat left in it, it'll be kind of chewy. So be careful.) 

Speaking of after baking, I just took it out of the oven. 

The verdict? Thoroughly delightful. On par with my favorite banana variety. Which is great news, because the only thing better than having one favorite granola recipe is having two favorite granola recipes!

As I was snapping a pic of it in my festive maple leaf bowl (above), all I could think was, "This would be ideal for a brunch! Set up the granola in the bowl with a serving spoon, set an assortment of yogurt and berries nearby, and BOOM!" Seriously. Now I want to host a brunch. 

Hahaha. Oh geez. I must've gotten too much sleep!