Weeknight Salted Caramel Sandwich Cookies

via polyvore

I was dashing through my local Whole Paycheck Market the other day to pick up a dozen eggs and some spinach (I hate that they’re the closest market, because I’m always tempted to swing by when I come up short on ingredients, thinking that this time I’ll be able to get out the door for under $10. Which never happens. But I digress). In the checkout lines, they had set out salted caramel samples. I’m a sucker for caramel, have been ever since I worked at a candy store in high school and got hooked on real, honest-to-goodness-cream-and-sugar-and-butter-and-nothing-else caramels. Knowing that if I loved it, I’d buy the whole pound bag next to the sample dish (and knowing that my wallet would scream bloody murder if I did that), I pocketed my sample, checked out and headed home, gold-plated spinach and eggs in hand.

I sort of forgot about the caramel in my coat pocket for a couple days, and then squealed with delight when I found it on my way in to work Monday morning. I had meetings all morning, and I can’t lie: the mere thought of that caramel kept me going through them (OK, that and my usual cup o’ coffee, if we’re giving credit where credit is due). So when I got back from my last meeting for the day, I pulled the (now somewhat careworn and well traveled) caramel out and took a little bite. It was awful, folks. It was totally the wrong texture, rather gritty and waxy, and the only thing you could taste was salt. No cream, no smoky caramelized sugar notes. Just salt and bitter disappointment. The thing practically crackled with salty electricity. I spit it out. Yup, I, who love caramels more than fluffy bunnies and unicorns and rainbows combined, I spit out that caramel. I was so mad! I’d had my taste buds set for caramel, not a salt lick! (And coming as it had from Whole Paycheck, I sort of had pretty high expectations, you know?)

I stewed about it over lunch. All I could think about as I ate my curried carrot soup was: how could they DO this? How DARE they do this?! Just who did that caramel company think they were, anyhow?!?!?!!??!?!?!?!?! HULK SMASH. Oh, I digress again.

As the afternoon wore on, I decided I could do better myself. I know how to make caramel (yes, it’s a bit of a pain, and mildly dangerous, but not too bad if you’re not pressed for time and pay attention to what you’re doing the whole time). So I hunted down my caramel recipe and then I started thinking about how I still had to go to the grocery store to get all this stuff to make it (yes, I’m somehow out of cream and sugar all at once…this happens) and how I was probably going to be pretty low energy by the time I got off work, and I decided I’d make cookies, too! And stuff them with caramel! And that would show the caramel company that shall not be named (and who, I am sure, are blissfully unaware of this whole drama-scape)! Well, actually, I decided that making individual caramels sounded like an awful lot of work, but that cookies were pretty easy, and I could make buttery sandwich cookies and stuff them with a stiff caramel sauce and still be deliriously happy with the caramely results.

So I swung by my co-op on my way home to snag caramel fixings and set to work. Because the cookie dough needs to rest in the fridge for a while, I started on those first.

Butter Cookies

  • 140 g butter
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 280 g all-purpose flour

Put the butter in the bowl of your food processor and process (scraping down the bowl as needed) until butter is smooth and fluffy.  Fluffy is key, folks.

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Add the sugar and continue to process till thoroughly creamed together.

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Add the egg and continue to process till mixture is satiny smooth (scraping down as needed all the while).

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Add flour all at once and pulse 10-12 times, till dough forms streusel-like clumps.

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Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and gather into a ball.  Divide dough in half and flatten each half into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill till firm (usually 3-4 hours, but if you’re rushed, you can use it sooner…the firmer the dough is, the less sticky it is to work with, though).

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Line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 350F.

Working with only one disc at a time (leave the other in the fridge to contemplate its fate), roll dough out on lightly floured board till it is about 1/4″ thick. Cut cookies out using a round cutter that is 1-1/2″ in diameter. Place cookies on lined baking sheets, leaving about 1″ between each.

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, until they are set but pale, and just golden on the bottom. (Thinner or unevenly thick cookies will take on more color, that’s fine!).

Cool cookies on wire racks. Cookies will keep about a week.

Gather scraps into a new disc and chill before reusing.  Repeat till all dough has been used.  Unused dough can be refrigerated for about a week, or frozen for up to a month.

Once I had my cookie dough chilling, I made dinner. But that’s neither here nor there, really. I had some leftover turkey that needed using, and I was getting hungry, that’s all. But once I’d had my tasty dinner, I was fortified with enough energy to make the caramel sauce!!

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 120 g sugar
  • 60 g unsalted butter
  • 100 mL cream
  • few drops vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (only add if using unsalted butter)

Melt sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly.  At first, it will look like nothing is happening, then it will start to get crumbly, and then you will see molten sugar pooling at the edges, like this:

Cook sugar until it turns amber and sugar is completely dissolved, like this:

Meanwhile, heat cream in a small saucepan (or microwave if you’ve got one laying around). Once sugar turns amber, add cream to sugar mixture (watch for sputtering and splattering…this is the dangerous bit). Stir to mix well.

Add butter (and vanilla and salt, if using) to sugar mixture. Stir to mix well, then remove from heat and let cool.  Isn’t caramel pretty!?

Once sauce has set up a bit, use to fill cookies (or over ice cream or whatever you’d like). Keeps well in the fridge for up to a month.

Caramel is pretty easy to make, and these proportions make more of a sauce than a candy that will set up (just adjust the milk to sugar ratio for different consistencies). You just want to be really careful when dealing with hot molten sugar, as it creates very very very bad burns should it touch your poor skin. If disaster is averted, though, you should end up with something that looks a lot like this:

Once I had the caramel sauce cooling, it was time to bake cookies! Yay! I rolled my dough out and cut out my rounds.

If the dough is too hard to work with, put it in the fridge for another 30 minutes and try again. Once they took a pass through the oven, the cookies were set to cool on wire racks. If you top them with caramel when they’re hot, the caramel will just run all over and off the cookie, so you have to wait a bit (I find an open window in cooler seasons does marvelous things for my impatience!)

Once the cookies have cooled, flip one cookie over, dollop a bit of caramel sauce on the center, and top with another cookie. Bottom sides should be facing the caramel for both cookies (it’s prettier), but if you are too lazy to flip cookies before dolloping, very few people will hold it against you once you ply them with a salted caramel sandwich cookie!

If your caramel sauce has set up too much to easily dollop, gently reheat it a little, stirring constantly, till it reaches a more compliant consistency.  You’ll  be able to tell if it’s set up too much because it will look like brains when you stir it:

Once you have the cookies cooled a bit and the sauce the proper consistency, filling the cookies is a snap!

And, if you’re lucky, you’ll have leftover caramel sauce!

OK, to be honest, most people will not consider these a weeknight endeavor (I have a good bit of ambition when it comes to cooking, especially if I tell myself it’s OK to leave the kitchen looking like a bomb went off overnight, which, I have to admit, happens a lot).  But!  You could very easily make the dough one night, the caramel another, and then bake and assemble the cookies on a third night (or perhaps on a rainy/snowy Saturday afternoon).  Please Please Please don’t let the fact that this recipe takes a bit of time dissuade you from making your very own caramel-stuffed blobs of awesome!

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Lazy Lasagna

Or, what I did with my CSA this week!  I love lasagna, but I hate making it…boiling giant noodles, draining them and managing to not get them stuck together?  Blech.  Making sauce?  Grating tons o’ cheese?  Not so much fun.  Plus it takes forevers to bake!

But, I have a solution! Downsize the noodles, blanch veggies instead of slaving over a sauce, and grate a little bit of cheese, and supplement with a little goat cheese and you’ve got an ooey gooey pan of awesome in under 40 minutes!  I give you:

Lazy Lasagna!!

To make this culinary marvel, start with setting a big pot of water to boil…keep in mind you’ll need room for pasta AND veggies in there!

While the water comes to a boil, chop up one medium pattypan squash (don’t peel, do de-seed), 4 tomatoes, a bunch of chard, a small yellow onion, and a bit of oregano or basil.  Also, while you have spare time, shred 4 ounces of mozzarella, crumble 3 ounce goat cheese, and shred 2 ounces of parmesan.  Set everything aside.

Once the water is boiling, dump in a pound of small-shaped pasta (I like farfalle, but penne or similar would work well, too!).  Let it cook for 8 minutes or so, then dump in your chard and squash cubes to blanch:

Drain everything at the 10 minute mark (your pasta should be al-dente at this point).  Return to pot, and dump in remaining vegetables.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then crack one egg into the pot and stir everything like crazy to evenly mix the veggies and coat everything with the egg.

Pour about half the pasta into a 9×13 baking dish.  Sprinkle with half the mozzarella and parmesan.  Pour half the remaining pasta over cheese and top with remaining mozz and parm.  Pour the last of the pasta over the second cheese layer and dot with crumbled goat cheese (I like mine to be larger dollops so you have pockets of creamy goodness!).  Love the colors in this dish!!

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, just long enough to let the edges of pasta turn golden and all the cheese to melt.  Let cool a couple minutes before serving and enjoy!

Mmmmmm…pretty and delicious!  And excellent leftovers for lunch the next day!

Paper Hats!

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming (remember that Sorbetto top? Yeah, that’s tabled) to bring you a pair of kidpants.  We’re heading to MO for Labor day weekend to hang out with an old college roommate and her kiddo (and hubby), so I decided to make a pair of pants for the kidlet.  I found some adorable fabric that has directions for making paper hats, and an orange remnant to use for trim:

I used the flat-front kidpants tutorial over at Made, which was wicked easy!  I did shorten them a bit (since the tutorial is for a 3-year old’s pants, and the kidlet in question is just over a year).  I also cheated a bit and use d the Gymboree size chart to adjust the waist (yay for actual measurements in inches and not poundage…who measures kiddos in pounds for clothing?!  EVERYONE apparently…which is absolutely unhelpful for those of us trying to sew kid clothes long-distance…admittedly though, we may be in the minority there…)

They went together really fast.  First I sewed the crotch together on the front and then the back, and then I sewed the front and back together at the inseams.  Next up I sewed the legs up the outside seams and turned my waistband down far enough to accommodate the elastic (just in the back).  That took some ironing magic, since all the front wanted to do was pucker!  I threaded the elastic through, sewed the sides down, and then sewed the waistband down in the front (it puckers a tiny bit, but no tucks, thankfully!).  The only thing that gave me much trouble was remembering which side was up since the unhemmed top and the legs were pretty much the same length!

Putting the orange cuffs on was definitely the hardest part, since it wasn’t in the tutorial.  I folded my long orange strips in half and then turned the edges under and sewed them down on the inside of the leg, then folded them over the bottom of the leg and sewed (a nice straight seam!) around on the right side.  Sounds easy, but figuring out which side to sew first and how to keep from sewing the legs shut at the same time was tough!

All in all, I think they turned out really well!  And so cute!  Now let’s just hope they fit!

Pickle-o-rama

Also known as “Biting off more than you can chew”…

I had grand, grand plans for Saturday. I had a box of cucumbers and zucchini to despatch, and I was armed to the teeth (to the teeth!) with awesome canning recipes thanks to my friendly local librarians, who had suggested The Complete Book of Year Round Small Batch Preserving. I was planning to can some beer mustard, zucchini lemon marmalade, lemon cuke pickles, cuke & ginger pickles, and a “winter salad pickle” (which is basically a combo of summer veggies in a sweet-ish brine). Big, big plans!

So I dropped the hubster off at work and ran to the farmers market to pick up peppers, cauliflower, long beans, red onions, and a few herbs. Epic fail. Apparently no one has successfully planted cauliflower this year, because there was not a head to be had that didn’t look like it had recently survived a nuclear blast. So no cauliflower. The long beans looked really dried out, so I subbed wax beans instead, and the only peppers I could find were “gypsy” peppers, light yellow bell-shaped peppers billed as mildly spicy. This might have been a sign. (On a side note, I ended up being really happy with the mysterious peppers, they were super crisp and fresh and had very good flavor!). So instead of getting everything at the farmer’s market, I detoured to the co-op for the rest of the stuff I still needed.

Then I headed home, where I realized that my plan to make the marmalade while the beer mustard was processing would not work. Because marmalade apparently takes 90 minutes of cooking before it sees the inside of a jar! Ooops! Reading comprehension was not up to par when I read that recipe! So I started the marmalade and put my giant pot of water on to heat (takes forever to boil that huge pot for processing…I’m sure my gas bill is going to be atrocious this summer!).

Then, as I set my 4oz. jars into the jar lifter to put into the hot water to sterilize, I made a horrifying discovery…they were too small for my jar lifter and slipped right out!! Eeeeek! That would not do! So I called around looking for an 11″ round rack to put in the bottom of my kettle (since everywhere I read said jars absolutely cannot sit on the bottom of your canning kettle or they’d break!). Finally I found a kitchen store that had a 9″ or a 12.5″ rack (apparently 11″ is not a standard size). So I ran out to pick those up (marmalade simmering happily away…so not cool, I know!) and was able to squeeze the 12.5″ one into the bottom of my kettle. I don’t think it’s coming out ever, but that’s OK.

Finally, the marmalade went into the jars and the jars went into the kettle and I started on the mustard. Basic beer mustard, a recipe I found via here. Tasted awesome and was super super simple to whip up and process.

I started to hope that things were turning around, and started gathering stuff for the lemon pickles, only to discover that in the two days since I’d inventoried my veggie box and decided what to make, most of the veggies in the box had grown fur coats…eeew. So out went the moldy icky stuff and I was left with one sad slicing cuke and 2 large-ish zucchini. So much for the lemon cuke pickles and the ginger pickles…sad. I still had lots of veggies for the winter salad pickle, so I threw the remaining zucchini on that pile and started on those next. They went pretty well…lots of veggies to clean, and I ended up getting 5 jars instead of the 4 I was expecting (I think there’s a knack to packing jars that I just don’t have down yet), so I had to make more brine–no biggie though, as I’d anticipated messing something up and had stocked up on vinegar last time I did pickles!

So for a solid 8 hours of effort, I had 17 jars of stuff! And aching feet. Canning is work! And after all the mess was cleared away and the jars were resting, I realized if I’d made two more batches I’d probably have fallen over out of exhaustion…so lesson learned. Max 3 canning projects in one day!

My hard-won results:

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In a pickle!

I had a project in mind tonight when I got home after work! Any guesses?

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I made my second ever foray into the art of pickling! I used a recipe for garlic dill pickles I found at Food in Jars (which appears to be a stellar blog re all things canning! I can’t wait to peruse it more thoroughly!)

First, I washed the ton of cucumbers that had accrued in my CSA box this week: 3 long curly ones, two ghosty white ones, and one Indian golden.

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Next, I sliced them. Pretty thickly, as I don’t like super thin pickles, and from leisurely research (yay Google!), I’d gleaned that thicker pickles are crisper pickles…we shall see! I had a solid 8 cups (2 quarts) by the time I got down to the last cuke, so I left one of the ghosty white ones in the pic out.

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Then I set my brine up and brought it to a simmer.

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While to brine took its own sweet time coming to a simmer, I quickly washed out my jars and then started adding spices…first the garlic, then some dill see, peppercorns, and red pepper flakes.

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And then the sliced cukes!!! It’s harder than it looks to pack them all in tightly in the jars. Kind of like playing tetris with round things…

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Then they were all ready to pour the brine in! Which I managed without spilling all over! FTW!

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Then into the water bath they went. Well, that’s not entirely true. First I had to wait  45 minutes for the GIANT kettle o’ water to come to a boil. Took. For. Ever. Seriously, we grilled chicken legs, made tzatziki, and were well underway with dessert by the time the water finally got around to boiling. THEN into the water bath they went! 7 pretty little jars (because my jar-holder racky thing only holds seven at a time…weird).

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It was like a scene out of MacBeth! Except with more pickles and less dire prophecy!

Now, here’s where I had to wing it a bit…the recipe said to process for 10 minutes, but I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to start the timer when you put the jars in, or when the water came back to a boil after you put the jars in. To be on the safe side (I think!), I went with the latter and waited to start the timer till the water was back to a healthy boil. Since all my jars sealed once I took them out of the water bath, I think I’ll be OK.

I think I’ll give them a few days (maybe a week) to let the flavors blend, but I seriously cannot wait to crack one of these jars and try them out!

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You are getting sleeeeeeeepy!

So the skirt I mentioned last post is complete! I used quilt-weight cotton (or so they told me it was at JoAnn’s Fabrics). This is the fabric for the outer bit:

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And this fabric for the lining:

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Seriously, my eyes swim if I stare at that print too long, but it’s super fun and I can’t wait to hypnotize other people wear it around! It doesn’t look too crazy from a distance, but watch out up close!

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I used a free pattern from Anna Maria Horner’s blog (find it here) for the skirt, which is basically two long rectangles sewn together, then sewn to lining, then hemmed. Then you sew 4 channels for skinny elastic (hello waistband!) and thread elastic thru the channels with safety pins. Worst 2 hours of my life. I kid you not, it took FOREVER to thread all that elastic thru! And my thumbs are sore today thanks to it!

I can’t decide if I love this skirt to bits or just mildly like it–right now I oscillate between the two extremes. (Maybe when the traumatic elastic threading memories die away I’ll settle on a sentiment?) It was very easy to make (assuming you can sew straight lines over and over and over again). Even the lining attachment process was less onerous than I was afraid it would be (though ironing the seams flat was key, I think!). I do think there’s waaaaay too much fabric here though–it’s a VERY full skirt, and if I don’t smooth down the sides, it has a tendency to puff out and make me very wide!  (See what I mean!)

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Also, the pattern called for more elastic in the waistband than I ended up using…when I first tried it on (before sewing the elastic down–so glad I thought to try it on first!) it barely stayed up at my hips and was impossible to wear at the waist. So I lopped a good 6 inches of elastic off and it sits quite nicely at either my hips or my waist now.

OK, so overall, I think I do love it, but it might be relegated to being a weekend skirt thanks to all the uber puffiness (OK, that, and it ended up being about 3 inches shorter than I meant it to be thanks to some guesswork when I was buying fabric…turns out I should measure, THEN buy yardage–who’d have guesed!).

I also bought fabric enough to make a second of these skirts, but I think I’ll hunt around for a different pattern (maybe try my hand at an A-line?) instead, so stay tuned!