The Baker Upstairs: October 2014

10.30.2014

the best caramel apples

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I shared my new favorite caramel recipe with you on Wednesday, and now it's time to share what I made with it! These caramel apples are pretty much just perfection. I've only ever attempted caramel apples twice before, and both times they were a disaster. This time, though, I really wanted to do them right, so I did some internet research and learned some tricks to make them awesome!


I'm also trying really hard to be less "control freak mom" and more "fun mom" so I thought it would be fun to let the kids decorate their own caramel apples. I set out a bunch of possible toppings and let the girls pretty much just go nuts. They had a blast! It was a really fun activity for the whole family, and the girls kept looking at me like, "Am I really allowed to do this, Mom?"


Abby chose white chocolate for her apple, then topped it with M&M's, butterfingers, and Oreo cookies. Lizzy pretty much just went nuts with the sprinkles and then decided she was done. :)


If you'd like to make your own, here are some of the tricks I learned:

- Make sure your apples are cold. Chilling the apples beforehand will help the caramel stick to the apples instead of sliding off.

- Let the caramel cool on the apples before adding chocolate and decorating. It makes them a lot easier to work with!

- Make your own caramel! It tastes so much better… yum!

- Spread the chocolate on the outside of the apple using a knife or an offset spatula instead of dipping. It makes it a lot easier to get even coverage and prevent a big puddle at the bottom at the bottom of the apple.

This is definitely the way we'll make them from now on!

The Best Caramel Apples

12 small to medium size green apples
12 popsicle sticks or caramel apple sticks
1 recipe homemade caramel (or 2 bags of store bought caramels, prepared according to the package directions)
Wax paper or parchment paper, for cooling

For topping:
Chocolate for melting (I used white chocolate and semi-sweet chips)
Chopped/crushed candy bars and cookies and/or cinnamon sugar

Prepare the apples by scrubbing them clean and drying well. Insert a stick into each apple and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Refrigerate at least one hour. Make the caramel according to the directions and let cool 5-10 minutes. Dip each apple into the caramel, turing the apple around to coat all side. Let the excess caramel drip off the apple, and scrape a knife across the bottom of each apple to remove the excess. Place the apples back on the baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.

To melt the chocolate, add the chocolate chips to a microwave safe bowl with 1/2 teaspoon shortening or coconut oil. Microwave at 50% power for 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. To decorate, use a knife or offset spatula to spread chocolate around the outside of the apple, leaving a small amount of caramel showing at the top. Sprinkle with desired toppings. (My very favorite is the cinnamon sugar + white chocolate combination!) Let cool completely.

My favorite way to serve them is to remove the stick and slice the apple into quarters, then cut out the core. I then cut each quarter in half to form eight apple pieces that are covered with the perfect amount of chocolate and caramel. Yum!

10.28.2014

perfect homemade pizza + tips for family pizza night!

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I was given pizza making tools and compensated for my time by Fleischmann's. All opinions are my own. 

If there's one thing my family loves, it's pizza night! My husband Geoff, especially, loves pizza, and my girls think it's a party whenever I make or serve pizza. I love that pizza is so fun and versatile, and you can make pretty much any combination you can dream up! I've been making my own pizza at home for a few years now, but I've gotten kind of tired of the same old recipe. I have especially struggled with the crust and getting that perfect crispy, chewy texture that I love so much. When Fleischmann's offered to send me some pizza-making tools and included their new pizza crust yeast, I was excited to give it a try!



I have to say, I am honestly really impressed by how well it works for pizza. It's really easy to use, basically foolproof, and doesn't require a rise time (how awesome is that?). It gives the pizza crust the perfect chewy, crispy texture! I had the crust ready in no time, and then we were ready for family pizza night. I mentioned earlier this week that I'm trying really hard to let the "fun mom" in me triumph over the "control freak mom," and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to let the girls make their own pizzas. I set out a bunch of possible toppings for them, and let them go to work!


Lizzy mostly wanted cheese and sausage on her pizza, and piled it all in the middle of the pizza. Abby enjoyed layering some cheese, then pepperoni, then more cheese, then more pepperoni, etc.


They both had a really fun time, and were super proud of their pizza creations. They both tend to be picky at times, and I think they were both a lot more excited about eating the finished product because they had made it themselves. For Geoff and I, I made a pizza loaded with pepperoni, turkey sausage, green peppers, olives, and mushrooms. Yum!



Since I'm always trying to plan ahead for busy days, I made a few extra mini pizzas for the girls to have for lunch later in the week. I was inspired by the adorable creepy mini pizzas on the Fleischmann website. How perfect are these for Halloween? My girls loved them and my daughter Abby even tried the green peppers on the spider pizza, since she thought it was so cute and fun. That's definitely a first for her!


Perfect Homemade Pizza

(makes one 12 inch pizza)

1 3/4 - 2 1/4 cup flour
1 envelope Fleischmann's Pizza Crust Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very warm water
3 tablespoons oil

for topping:
olive oil
pizza sauce
shredded cheese (I used a store bought pizza blend this time, but I usually use a mix of mozzarella and provolone)
other toppings of your choice: pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, olives, onions, green peppers, etc.

Preheat the oven to 425. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together one cup of flour, and the yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the warm water and oil, and mix to combine. Add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl to form a ball. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. Let rest 10 minutes.

Lightly grease a baking sheet or pizza pan. Press the pizza into the desired shape and brush the crust lightly with olive oil. Spread with pizza sauce and top with shredded cheese and toppings of your choice. Bake 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly. Enjoy!

recipe via Fleischmann's


Fleischmann's has a wide variety of recipes and resources to make pizza night easier and more fun for your family! My kids can't wait for our next pizza night, and since it's so fun and easy to make, I'm excited too!

10.22.2014

perfect homemade caramels

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Yay! I have another super fun Halloween treat to share with you today! These caramels are seriously the best. Ever. They have a wonderful soft and chewy texture without being sticky or gooey, and they taste fantastic! They are so creamy and rich and flavorful. Best of all, they are pretty much foolproof! I'll confess… this was actually my second attempt at making caramel this month. And, well, the less said about the first attempt, the better. Turns out I really just needed the right recipe, and this one is it!


You could dress up these caramels pretty much any way you can imagine… sprinkle them with sea salt, dip them in chocolate, etc. The recipe itself is pretty versatile and can also be used for caramel popcorn or even caramel apples (coming later this week!). No matter how you use it, it's super delicious! 

Perfect Homemade Caramels

1 cup salted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish by buttering or lining with parchment paper, then set aside. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt, and stir using a rubber spatula.  Add the sweetened condensed milk slowly, stirring well to incorporate. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Let cool completely before cutting into pieces. I've found that small squares of parchment paper are my favorite for wrapping up the caramels, but wax paper or cellophane works too. Enjoy!

slightly adapted from Ella Claire

P.S. I knew it was too dangerous to keep all of the caramels in the house for myself, so I dressed them up cute and gave them out to some friends. I downloaded the adorable "Trick or Treat" tags from Design Eat Repeat and bought the striped bags at my local party store (I think they were 8 for $1). Pretty snazzy, right? 


10.20.2014

chicken parmesan sliders + free printables!

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I was asked to participate in the #scarytastyeasy campaign, sponsored by Tyson at Sam’s Club. Although I have been compensated, all opinions are my own.

Happy Monday! Who else is super excited for Halloween? I absolutely love this time of year and look forward to it all year long. The past few years we've always had things come up during the month of October and haven't been able to do all of our fall traditions, but this year (through sheer force of will on my part, I think) we've actually managed to cross a lot of things off our fall bucket list. We've made caramel apples and Halloween sugar cookies, we've seen the pretty fall leaves and visited the pumpkin patch, and we've got plans for some fun Halloween parties. And speaking of Halloween parties, these chicken parmesan sliders make the perfect party food! They are super quick and easy to make, and so tasty too!

Click to read more.

10.17.2014

creamy pumpkin shells and cheese

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Wow, it's about time for a post, right? This week (like most weeks) has been really busy, and I haven't been feeling like blogging. It's funny, because I have a ton of fun posts saved up that I have photographed and edited, but I have the worst writer's block when it comes time to sit down and write the darn post. I'm hoping to take some time this weekend to knock out a few posts so I can share all my fun Halloween recipes before this season (my favorite time of year, by the way) is over!

In any case, this creamy pumpkin pasta is perfect for an easy fall dinner and tastes unbelievably good! I'm always a little skeptical about using pumpkin in savory dishes, but the pumpkin makes this pasta incredibly flavorful and savory. It's definitely subtle and not overpowering at all, but it adds a lot of richness and depth of flavor. I also love that this is so easy and quick to make! It's definitely going to be on the menu all fall long!

Creamy Pumpkin Shells and Cheese

8 ounces shell pasta (I used large shells)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned)
3/4 cup grated cheese (I used muenster)
bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350. Cook pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a paste, and cook 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, until incorporated. Slowly add the chicken broth, continuing to whisk, until the sauce has thickened. Whisk in the salt, pepper, and ground pumpkin, and let cook 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the grated cheese until melted. Toss the cooked, drained pasta with the sauce. Pour into a 9 x 9 baking dish and top with bread crumbs. Bake 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbling around the sides. Enjoy!


10.08.2014

peach crumb bars

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Yes, I know it's a little past peach season, but here in Utah the peaches often aren't ripe until September, which means I'm posting a fresh peach recipe in October (lucky you!). My mother in law has peach trees that produce more fruit than she can use, and she is super nice to share the bounty with us. This year we bottled about 14 quarts of peaches and a triple batch of peach jam, and had just enough peaches left over to make these peach crumb bars. Yum! If you don't have fresh peaches on hand, these also work great with canned or bottled peaches (I've made them with both fresh and canned and I like them equally well). The crumb topping is so delicious and buttery, and the sweet juicy peaches make these bars extra special. Geoff and I are always debating about whether the peach version or the blueberry version of these bars is better, but I think I'll just have to keep making both versions over and over so we can debate their relative merits. :)

Peach Crumb Bars

for the bars:
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
1 egg, lightly beaten

for the filling:
5 cups peaches, peeled and diced (about 7 peaches)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil or spray with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two forks, then mix in the egg to form a crumbly dough. Press half of the dough into the prepared pan.

To make the filling, toss the peaches with the lemon juice. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then toss with the peach mixture. Spread the peaches over the dough in the pan,  the crumble the remaining dough over the top, covering the peaches evenly. Bake 45 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool before cutting into squares. Enjoy!

adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker

10.02.2014

buffalo chicken tacos

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I'm pretty sure these buffalo chicken tacos are my favorite tacos ever. I've been making them for a few years now, and they never disappoint! They have so many things going for them: they are ready in under 30 minutes, they are super easy, and they are incredibly flavorful. I recently discovered that while I hate most bleu cheese, I actually love (like, crazy love) gorgonzola cheese. It goes perfectly with these tacos and makes them even more delicious!

Buffalo Chicken Tacos

2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup buffalo sauce
6 fajita size tortillas
1 cup shredded lettuce
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
bleu cheese dressing

Whisk the flour, corn starch, and salt together. Toss the chicken in the flour mixture to coat. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the floured chicken pieces and cook 3-4 minutes on each side, or until brown and cooked through. Toss the buffalo sauce with the cooked chicken. To assemble, add some chicken to each tortilla, then sprinkle with lettuce and gorgonzola, and drizzle with bleu cheese dressing. Enjoy!

adapted from How Sweet It Is


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