holiday leftovers part 3

Remember when I said my family always makes WAYYYY too much food?! Well, it's so true. One year I found myself making dinner for 18 when I was only serving 6 people. I had a mountain of leftover mashed potatoes and after 4 nights in a row of reheating the leftovers, I had enough leftover mashed for a lifetime. Ok, lets be real, more like a few weeks but you get my point... I found myself with a ton of mashed potatoes and I couldn't even think about eating anymore. That's when it hit me. GNOCCHI made from the leftover mashed potatoes. Something that felt completely different from the original dish but used up the remaining leftovers. If you, like me, find yourself with an excess of mashed potatoes and don't fee like reheating them, you have to try this. Leftover mashed potatoes are always so dry and gross anyway. 

This is the type of recipe that will vary depending on how you make your mashed potatoes. Use it as a guide but know that you might have to adjust the amount of flower depending on how wet or dry your leftover potatoes are. There's nothing worse than a super gummy or heavy gnocchi. 

gnocchi from leftover mashed potatoes
makes about 180 gnocchi (enough for 4 generous servings)

2 c. leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ c. flour (more or less depending on consistency)
¼ c. grated parmesan
salt to taste

Start by sprinkling a large work space with a dusting of flour. If there are any beads of water surrounding your leftover mashed potatoes, pat them dry with a paper towel. Put your leftover mashed potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill, letting the pieces fall in a thin, rectangular shape in the middle of your work space. This will remove any lumps and skin that might have been in the mashed potatoes and will fluff them up resulting in a lighter gnocchi. If you don't have one of these, just do your best to fluff it with a fork. You'll sacrifice texture a little bit but it will still turn out. Pour your beaten egg over the mashed potatoes & sprinkle with 1 c. of the flour to start & the parmesan cheese + salt. Depending on how wet or dry your potatoes are, the amount of flour you'll need will vary.

Start to mix the dough together with your hands like you would any bread or pasta. Be gentle but make sure it's well incorporated. Sprinkle with more flour, as needed until the dough comes together and isn't too sticky to the touch. It shouldn't feel too fragile (like it won't stick together) but it definitely shouldn't be tough. It will be slightly elastic as you're kneading it. When the dough is the right consistency, divide it into 4 equal parts. Roll each section into a long, thin snake. Cut about 1 cm thick pieces. This will become your little gnocchi. On the back of a fork, gently roll the dough, creating little ridges in the gnocchi. This is an important step because this is what makes the pasta stick to the dumpling! Toss onto a lightly floured baking sheet and repeat. Turn up the Beyonce and get in your zone... if you're into that sort of thing.

In a large pot of boiling water, toss about 20 gnocchi in at a time. You'll know they're done when the rise to the surface. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or into a pan with your favorite sauce. Keep cooking them a few at a time until you've made your way through the batch. If you're not ready to make the gnocchi, you can freeze them uncooked on a baking sheet for a few hours. You can then transfer them into a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer for up to 3 months. Or you can cook them and lightly toss them in olive oil to keep them from sticking. This will make the sauce not stick to them as well but it will work just fine if you're feeling a strong urge to cook them immediately. 

improv style:
you can make these with leftover roasted potatoes or even roasted sweet potatoes. you could even add in some roasted garlic for a twist on flavor. 

i like to serve them with all sorts of different sauces. i did a vodka sauce with mascarpone but brown butter and sage, fresh pesto, or even baked with alfredo sauce are all great ways to do it. 


holiday leftovers part 2

Stop everything you're doing and make this recipe, like NOW. It's that good.

One can never have enough bread, right?! Until you have too much bread and it goes stale. This happens to me all the time. In my family we live by one motto… NEVER, and I mean never leave people wanting more. I get this from my mamma who doesn't know how to cook for anything less than what she calls an army. This usually means that we have tons of leftovers and yes, tons of leftover bread which gets stale quickly. I just so happen to know the best way to put that stale bread to good use and I'm not talking about being wasteful and throwing it in the trash…

Bread pudding has a special place in my heart. My sister and I usually go on a date to a local brewery to catch up every now and then. It started when I was in college and she missed me and has continued through the years now that I live in another state. When she met my now husband for the first time, my family took him to that restaurant. She raved to him about how great the bread pudding was (which it is). She ordered one for herself and when he asked to share it with her, she said no way, get your own! Hahaha, love my family and our healthy appetites. Long story short, the bread pudding easily leaves 4 adults happy and satisfied. She'll never live it down! 

In my family, we LOVE bread pudding. So much so that when I got married in September, we served bread pudding instead of cake at our wedding. When I bought 1 too many loaves of bread for a holiday get together I knew exactly what I was going to do with that leftover loaf - re-create the bread pudding we served at our wedding. You know the saying that food tastes better when it's cooked with love?! This is by far THE BEST bread pudding I've ever had or made. I'll stop talking now and let you get into it...

The Apple State Meets the Big Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Bourbon Caramel Sauce
adapted from the gilded fork
yields 10 - 12 healthy servings

ingredients for the bread pudding:
4 honey crisp apples, peeled cored & diced
¼ c. butter
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp salt
c. brown sugar

1 loaf bread (brioche, challah or country white), in 1" cubes ~8 c. 
1½ c. whole milk
1½ c. heavy cream
1 tsp almond extract
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 c. sugar
½ c. brown sugar
4 eggs + 3 egg yolks
1 c. almond slices

caramel can be made up to a week in advance. Otherwise, make it while the bread pudding bakes!

To make the bread pudding: 
Preheat oven to 350º F. Cut bread into 1" cubes and lay out on a baking sheet. Slightly toast the bread in the oven if it's not stale already. This will help it absorb the custard better. Pull out and let them cool while you do the rest…

In a medium sized skillet, cook apples, butter, vanilla bean split length wise with the seeds scraped into the pot, salt and the brown sugar. You want the sugar to dissolve and the apple juices to get nice and thick. This will take about 15 - 20 min.

While the apples cook, heat the milk & heavy cream in a medium sized sauce pan. You want to bring it to a soft boil and then shut the heat off. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, salt & extract together. Slowly ladle a small amount of the cream into the egg mixture to temper it. You want to incorporate the hot cream into the egg mixture so that the eggs thicken but don't cook. Slowly while whisking, drizzle in the remaining cream. Add in ½ c. of the almond slicess and your slightly toasted bread cubes to the bowl. Give it a good, aggressive stir for about 2 - 3 minutes. You want all of the cubes coated in the custard mixture and you want to break up some of the cubes. I've found this is what gives you the good bread pudding texture. Let mixture sit for 30 - 60 minutes until it fully absorbs the custard into the bread.

Butter or non-stick spray a 9x9 baking dish. Dump bread pudding mixture into dish, smushing (totally an official word) the mixture into the pan so it all fits. If you don't have a 9x9, you can use a smaller pan and put the extra mixture into individual ramekins or bake it in two smaller dishes. Sprinkle the top with the remaining ½ c. almond slices. Bake for about 45 minutes until it's slightly puffed and golden brown on top.

Serve warm with caramel sauce on top OR, chill in the refrigerator 4 hours and serve cold with caramel sauce. It's good both ways. So, so good. 

improv style:
bread pudding is essentially a blank canvas. the only things you need are the custard & bread. all the extras (i.e. spices, apples, nuts…) are just the flavor components. i did almond apple but you could do apple + pecan with a bit of rum. OR you could do dried fruits rehydrated in liquor or juice. pick your favorites… pear with some orange zest and walnuts or maybe dried cherries and chocolate chunks is more your fancy. any way you role, just make sure you keep the ratios for the liquid and dry fairly similar to this base. egg nog instead of the whole milk would be a really fun and festive interpretation. ooh, ooh... do that with rum! hello holiday leftovers being put to REALLY good use!

if you want to keep the same flavors but don't have almond extract, you could do amaretto in it's place. any kind of baking apple will work, granny smith, braeburn, gala fuji or empire. play with spices and zests... there's so many ways to completely change the flavor! lemon, orange or grapefruit zest is a great place to start. cinnamon is standard but what about star anise or cardamom for an indian inspired flavor?! steeping your cream with tea would be another way to infuse a different flavor into the bread pudding. the options are endless!!

have a bunch of leftover dinner rolls? as long as they're not savory in the sense of garlic or have weird toppings baked into it, you can use the bread! If it's a crustier bread you might need more of the custard base to soften it up. 

you can serve it with a caramel sauce, maybe add rum instead of bourbon? or maybe a creme anglaise is more your fancy? either way, there's so many things you can top it with... like ice cream or whipped cream!


holiday leftovers part 1

The holidays are in FULL swing and I couldn't be more excited about it. It's a great excuse to get together with friends, family and everyone who's special in your life. Holidays come with a lot of excess and leftovers. Which in my book is an exciting thing because it means I get experimental in my kitchen on new ways to improvise dishes. This week I'm going to share a few ideas of things you can do with all those random leftovers in the house. 

First up, a winter sangria. Nothing is more festive than a holiday cocktail, amiright?! I'm a huge fan of sangria so this drink is inspired by the Spanish classic. 

Is it just my family or do you guys buy a bag of fresh cranberries every year and forget about it in the back of the refrigerator?! This happens without fail EVERY year. I decided to put those bad boys to good use since once again, they were forgotten about. I always like to have a bottle of Martinelli's Sparkling cider for the kiddos but that usually leaves me with an almost full bottle of cider at the end of the night - they just don't drink that much… or maybe they're too little to drink that much. Either way, I made it work in my favor! That plus leftover wine from the evening come together to make this super simple sangria. Leftover rosemary from that roasted turkey?! Yep, we're using everything here! Who's thirsty?

Winter Sangria
Yields 4 servings**

1 c. fresh cranberries
2 - 3 TBSP rosemary simple syrup
1 c. sparkling cider
2 c. white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc are my favs)
1 honey crisp apple, sliced or diced

rosemary simple syrup:
¼ c. water
¼ c. sugar 
3" piece of rosemary

To make the simple syrup:
Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and cook over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool. This can be made a week in advance. Just put in a mason jar or tupperware container and into the fridge it goes! I like to leave the rosemary in it to continue flavoring the syrup but also so I know what the heck it is in my refrigerator!

Cocktail assembly:
Place your cranberries on a baking sheet in a flat layer in the freezer. We'll use those instead of ice cubes so we don't water down our cocktail. Nothing worse than a watery cocktail!

Mix all ingredients (minus the cranberries) together in a pitcher and let it sit for 30 min in the fridge for the mixture to get happy. When you're ready to serve, add in the cranberries and fill your glass. Cheers to the holidays!

**Sounds yummy but you want to make a full batch?! Here's the quantities:
2 c. fresh cranberries
¼ c. TBSP rosemary simple syrup
2 c. sparkling cider
1 bottle. white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc are my favs)
2 honey crisp apples, sliced or diced
rosemary for garnish

improv style:
this drink pairs really well with any roasted meat. especially turkey and chicken. the subtle rosemary flavor is really refreshing. if it scares you, go ahead and leave it out. Like the idea of herbs but don't have any rosemary? thyme would be the next best herb to use. basil works too but i prefer to save that for my blueberry basil fizzes

don't have sparkling cider? you could totally use regular apple cider. in fact, i think i'd probably prefer it that way! not a fan of cider? try using cranberry or white cranberry juice instead. that would be super tasty!

can't find fresh or frozen cranberries? no worries. you can do pomegranate seeds instead. you'll still get that beautiful pop of red color and they're fun to crunch on too. actually, adding them in with the cranberries would be good too! get crazy, it's the holidays! 

no honey crisp apples at the store?! DAMN! they're the best, but that's ok. you can use ANY apple you have on hand. seriously, they're going to get boozy and really are mostly there for the crunchy freshness. 

not a fan of pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc? use what you like to drink! moscato or reisling would be just fine. it would also be super sweet… so if you're into that, do it! chardonnay is ok but not my favorite pairing for this drink. again, if you only like chardonnay, do it. life is too short!

happy holidays!


breaking the silence

Life has been BUSY. Busy but so so so so so so good. I'm breaking the long silence with one of my favorite recipes lately. A good friend of mine in Chicago made this salad for me in May and I've been doing a version of it ever since. She's an amazing person. The kind of person that you meet and instantly feel like you've known forever. She's got such a warm and inviting energy and she's weird. Weird in the best possible way. This salad is such a great expression of how I see her because it mixes some usual suspects with some things I wouldn't think to put into a salad. She's the kind of person that just makes you happy to be around and is always surprising you with her endearing quirks. 

When she first made it for me I was nervous. She combined some of my favorite ingredients with some things I thought I didn't like/wouldn't like together. The salad didn't really make sense in my brain but I went with it. Because I was her guest and because I'm always open to new food combos. I'm so glad I was too because it made me a believer that raw kale can be tasty. This is a kale salad but before I lose some of you, I want to warn you that this is a great intro to kale salad recipe. It's health food light thanks to some awesome ingredients. 

I'm not going to lie, unless kale is blended into my morning smoothie it's usually too aggressive a veggie for my pallet. It's so earthy and fibrous. BUT, this salad does such a great job of distracting you from all of that AND I have three tricks up my sleeve that really makes all the difference for any kale salad. 

Trick 1, chop that kale into thin, small shreds! It makes eating the salad a lot more enjoyable and it's so much easier to chew. 

Trick 2, dress your salad a few hours before you're going to eat it and up to 3 days before! Kale is an incredibly fibrous veggie and unlike lettuce, it won't wilt and get soggy once you put the dressing on it. In fact, the dressing helps break down the kale a bit. 

Trick 3, remove that thick vein that goes down the middle of the leaf. it's super fibrous and not very palatable. 

Now that I've set you up with the basics, lets get into it.

kale salad for beginners
yields 4 servings

6 c. chopped dinosaur or curly leaf kale
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 c. green beans, chopped
2 carrots, choped
½ c. cooked tortellini 
1 TBSP red pepper flakes (to taste)
¼ c. lime cilantro vinaigrette (to taste)
2 TBSP tahini (sesame seed paste)
c. parmesan shavings
salt + pepper

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and give it a few good stirs. Don't be afraid of the red pepper flakes. I thought for sure that one would get stuck in the back of my throat and have me coughing up a storm. Turns out they somehow melt and just add a nice depth of flavor, not crazy spiciness. Let sit in the refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight. This will keep 3-4 days in the fridge.

improv style:
use seasonal veggies and veggies that you like. i love green beans cooked but the raw green beans in this salad really works. i'm telling you, my friend is magical - every ingredient just works.

if you don't want to make your own dressing, you can use store bought. trader joes makes an awesome lime cilantro vinaigrette. green goddess dressing would be a good option too. whatever your favorite store bought dressing is should work. 

if you don't have tahini, don't go out buying it (unless you want to of course). i like the subtle creaminess it adds to the dish. it's easily left out. 

you can keep this dairy or gluten free by leaving out the pasta and cheese. the tortellini adds a nice texture - little bit creamy, little bit of that awesome pasta chew. the cheese adds a bit of a salty bite and helps tone down the earthy kale. if you're into kale salads, you can definitely leave these two out and go on with your bad self!

get creative!


pork out

It's been a long time - do you ever have those moments in life where everything becomes chaotic all at once? I have been knee deep in chaos since mid-february and have been seriously neglecting you. I'm sorry. I promise my hardest not to do that to you again. 

You see, lots of things have been happening in my life. Matt and I bought a condo - yep, first time home buyers! My new kitchen is amazing and I can't wait to share it with you soon. That is, when i'm done digging my way out from all of the boxes. On top of all the moving/buying a condo chaos, work has been crazy busy AND I'm planning a wedding. Life is great. Life is amazing. But mostly, life is BUSY! 

Lets slow things down for a minute and talk about bacon. Specifically hot pepper + bacon vodka. Yep, that's a thing. It takes 1 - 2 weeks to make (the closer to the latter the better) but it's totally worth the wait. It's so easy to make and definitely makes brunch a lot more exciting.

hot pepper + bacon vodka

1 pint (375 ml) vodka 
6 strips of bacon (cooked & crispy)
1 jalapeno, cut in half length wise
1 serrano pepper, cut in half length wise

put ingredients into a mason jar or any sealable container and let sit for 2 weeks. if you're in a big rush, 5-7 days will work. the longer you let it sit, the stronger the flavors build. after 1 week, remove the peppers (unless you like it really hot). this way the hot pepper won't overpower the smokey bacon goodness.

now the little bit of work happens… totally worth it work. work that gets rewarded with bacon vodka in the end. strain your cloudy mixture through a fine mesh sieve and put it in a clean container and into the freezer. the freezer portion is key here. nobody likes greasy vodka, nobody. fat + drinks don't equal awesomeness. although it sounds like it could work, trust me, it doesn't. freeze your vodka for a minimum of 5 hours, 1 day is ideal. take a coffee filter or cheesecloth and place it into a fine mesh sieve on top of a medium sized bowl. pour your frozen vodka into the strainer and place in the refrigerator. after about 2 hours, the mixture should fully strain through, separating the fat from the liquor. 

bacon + hot pepper vodka is ready! store in the refrigerator or freezer. use to make the best bloody mary's or fancy, kicking cocktails. 

improv style:
you can leave out the hot peppers if you're not into spicy. if you're into heat but not HOT, use a milder pepper or peppercorns. candied bacon would be interesting… all types of bacon will affect the mixture - smokey bacon would be really great here but use what you can find! vodka is a neutral flavor but what about gin? bourbon... that could be REALLY interesting. 


a match made in heaven

When I dreamed up the perfect Valentine's day dessert for Matt and I a few years back, it of course had to have something creamy in it. I took one of my favorites, pumpkin and combined it with one of Matt's favorites, bourbon. Then I took one of his favorite desserts, bread pudding and made it brioche (lord knows I love me some buttery, rich egg bread). Throw on some bourbon salted caramel sauce and bourbon vanilla creme anglaise and you've got one crazy good dessert. It might sound like a bit of overkill to have two different bourbon sauces but I'm telling you, it works. One is subtle and the other is a bit more punchy - the two combined makes layers of bourbon goodness without feeling like you just took a shot. If making two sauces AND bread pudding scares you, don't worry. There's improv suggestions below on how to simplify the recipe. Seriously, just trust me, you need some of this in your life and it's a lot easier to make than it sounds. 

80% of the time I will pick chocolate over non-chocolate but this dish makes that 20% decision even harder. This dessert is comforting, creamy and filled with warm spices. Pumpkin and bourbon are the perfect valentines for each other. If you're not into super literal lovey-dovey heart shaped, red food for valentines day, I highly recommend you try this recipe for your boo. If chocolate pulls your heart strings, you can't go wrong with quick molten chocolate cakes or flourless chocolate cake. If you're without a valentine this year, that's cool too… who says you can't celebrate your love for yourself with a tasty dessert?! It just means more for you! Sharing is totally overrated. 
pumpkin brioche bread pudding
w/bourbon salted caramel sauce + bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise 
yields 6 generous servings

for the bread pudding:
1 - 11oz brioche loaf (about 8 c. cubed)
2 c. half and half
2 c. whole milk
3 eggs
1 - 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1 tsp nutmeg
1 TBSP cinnamon
¾ c. packed brown sugar
pinch of salt
3 TBSP butter (to grease the pan)

recipes for the sauces:

Preheat your oven to 350º F. Cut your brioche into about 1 inch cubes and set aside. You can do this a day in advance so that your bread stales up. If you don't have that kind of time, just place them in the oven for about 5 minutes until they dry out but don't start to brown.

Combine the spices, eggs, cream, milk, salt, vanilla, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine. Add the brioche cubes and stir to combine. Lightly grease a 7x11 or 3 quart pan and pour your mixture into the dish. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, 60 minutes if you have the time - until the mixture is absorbed by the bread. Bake at 350º F for about 60 minutes. The bread pudding will have puffed slightly and have a light, golden brown top. 

To serve, cut a large square and top with caramel and creme anglaise. 

improv style:
what goes better with pumpkin and bourbon than pecans?! don't know why i didn't think to add some nuts in before i started writing this out. definitely trying that next time! if you don't have whole milk, you can use whatever milk you have on hand. no half and half? use heavy cream instead. big into warm spices? add more cinnamon, all spice, star anise or even ground cloves. don't have brown sugar? you can use white sugar instead. you can also use your favorite type of bread… challah would be an equivalent substitute but you can use french, italian or even country loaf. i've never tried it with regular sandwich bread but i would be interested to know if you try that how it turns out! 

do you HAVE to make the two sauces? no, but i HIGHLY recommend. if two is asking too much, make the one that sounds the best to you. not down with either? maybe consider a little drizzle of maple syrup or a dollop of maple whipped cream? ice cream is always good in a pinch.


bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise

It's a saucy week here on IMPROV kitchen. The other day I shared my absolute favorite bourbon vanilla bean salted caramel. It's a mouthful to say but man is it a killer sauce! This sauce is it's milder counterpart. It's a bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise (vanilla sauce). On the creamy vs. non creamy team, I'm a die hard fan of creamy. 100% of the time I will pick a cream sauce, creamy dessert, creamy ANYTHING over another option. Since Matt loves bourbon, I try to incorporate it in places where it's not overpowering. I'm not the biggest fan of any type of whiskey but this sauce is a perfect balance of creamy, rich vanilla with a subtle kick of sharp bourbon. 

It's great used on lots of desserts which is why I decided to give it it's own post. I've put it on pecan pie, bread pudding, chocolate soufflés and in moments of weakness I've eaten it by the spoonful. This is a judge free zone!

bourbon vanilla bean crème anglaise
adapted from godiva

1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
½ c. sugar
5 egg yolks
4 TBSP bourbon 
pinch of sea salt

In a medium saucepan, bring cream, milk and vanilla bean to a gentle simmer, stirring frequently. Cook for 5 - 6 minutes and then pull off the heat and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until they turn slightly pale yellow and the sugar starts to dissolve. Discard the vanilla pod and slowly add in a splash of the cream mixture into the yolks, stirring constantly. Slowly add more and more of the cream mixture into the egg mixture. You want to gradually increase the temperature of the eggs so that they cook without scrambling. 

Return the cream/egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. You'll know it's done when you slide your finger down the back of the spoon and the line holds. Pour in the bourbon and remove the mixture from the heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve. This will make sure if you didn't properly temper the eggs that you keep any scrambled bits out. Pour into a container and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. The sauce can be made 2 - 3 days in advance. 

When you're ready to serve it, you can heat it up on the stove or in a microwave. It's good cold too. Depending on the type of dessert you're making. 

improv style:
you can use whatever type of milk you have on hand. if the sauce is too thick for your taste, you can thin it out with a bit more cream. not a fan of bourbon? substitute for your favorite liquor. You can leave the booze out too. If you don't have vanilla beans, you can substitute for vanilla extract. you can easily switch up the flavor profile by adding in almond, raspberry, or even lemon extract.


bourbon caramel sauce

I LOVE this sauce. Over the years I've tried a few different versions and I keep coming back to this recipe, Martha really nailed it. The only thing I've done is add some salt - come on, who doesn't love salted caramel sauce?! Since I frequently make desserts & sometimes even brunch with caramel sauce, I thought doing a post of just the sauce would be much easier than typing the recipe over and over again. 

It's the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, boozy and deliciously caramelized sugar. When the caramel is warm, it flows like thick lava. Refrigerated, it's thick and chewy. Speckled with black vanilla beans it really catches your eye and feels like something special. This is heart warming food here. It's filled with tons of love. 

bourbon caramel sauce
slightly adapted from martha stewart

2 c. sugar
½ c. water
1 c. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 TSP sea salt (more to taste)

You can make this a day in advance or a week in advance. I wish I could somehow tweak this recipe to make it better but martha NAILED it. This sauce is good by itself and great on everything, mmmmmmm...

Start by combining the sugar and ½ cup water in a saucepan on medium heat. Without stirring (don't even think about giving it a little help, let it do it's thing). Let the sugar and water bubble until it turns a dark amber color. This will take about 20 minutes, no joke - just have patience.

When the mixture is a deep amber color, reduce the heat to low. Slowly add cream, stirring with a wooden spoon. Don't get scared if it turns into a hard ball. Give it a minute and keep stirring. It will slowly melt into a rich caramel. Next, scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the bean too. Add lemon juice, salt, butter, and bourbon. Stir to combine. Your heavenly sauce is now ready to be devoured. You can let it cool and put it in a jar or tupperware container and into the fridge. To reheat, place in the microwave for about 2 minutes stirring every 30 seconds.

improv style:
this caramel is legit, but if you don't have vanilla beans on hand, you can substitute for vanilla extract (1 TBSP). vanilla beans are incredible and i highly recommend getting some to stock your kitchen with. you can buy them in bulk for way cheaper than the grocery store. i get mine here or here depending on how many i need.

not down with the hootch? that's ok… you can leave it out. booze fan but not a bourbon fan? rum would be a fantastic alt. you could even play around with some liquors like kaluah or frangelicos - but really, bourbon or rum will be your best bet. don't even mess with tequila or vodka - bleb!

only have salted butter? no problem, just use that - i do. no sea salt?! you gotta get on that! but it's cool… you can use whatever kind of salt you have on hand. also, if you're not down with salt, you can just leave it out. no big deal. 

the lemon is key to balancing out the flavor. your caramel won't be ruined if you leave it out, but it will be 100x's better if you put it in. the only MUSTS are cream, sugar, and butter. 

want a little thinner sauce? add a bit more heavy cream… same goes for thicker, less cream is needed. if your sugar starts to turn into a weird crystal powder, turn the heat up a little bit. it should melt down in a few minutes if you crank the heat up. i don't know why it does this sometimes. it's always a little scary but the good news is if you totally mess it up, you can start over and you've only wasted a little bit of sugar. 


salty + sweet

I work in advertising and as much as I'd like to say I'm the coolest girl ever who totally knows what's going on during the big game, I have to confess that I'm really just not that into it. Don't get me wrong, if my hometown is throwin it down in the Super Bowl, I get pretty into it. More out of a sense of pride for Seattle than a love of the game. So for me, this year, Super Bowl is all about the commercials and food. 

Looking for a quick, last minute snack for your Super Bowl Sunday spread? I've got the perfect idea for you. Full disclosure, this stuff is like CRACK! The combo of salty + sweet sings to all people. Dark chocolate coated potato chips - yes it may sound strange but it is 100% awesome. The salty, crunchy potato chip with the creamy, sweet dark chocolate make for an incredible bite. But it doesn't stop there. I've added in chocolate covered pretzels AND caramel corn. Yep, salty meets sweet meets salty meets crunchy sweet. It's totally craveable and has a little something for everyone. And hey, if you're not having a party, there no judging if you make a whole bowl for yourself. 

salty + sweet snack mix
yields 14 c. a.k.a 1 big ass bowl

2 c. chocolate chips
2 c. pretzels (sticks, rods, braids, twists, classic - whatever you feel like)
4 c. ridged potato chips
6 c. caramel corn

In a double boiler, place your chocolate chips and stir until it's almost all the way melted. Take off the heat and continue stirring until the lumps are fully melted. Line a few baking sheets with wax or parchment paper. Dip your chips half way into the chocolate and give them a good shimmy to drip off any excess chocolate. You want a thin coating. Continue until all of your chips are dipped. Continue with your pretzels. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to fully set the chocolate.

In a large bowl, gently combine the pretzels, chips and caramel corn. Done - easy peasy!

improv style:
you don't have to make your own chocolate dipped pretzels, you can buy them from the store. if your'e feeling even lazier, you can leave the potato chips plain and just do chocolate pretzels, ruffled chips and caramel corn. 

i totally recommend making your own caramel corn. i experimented with a few recipes and haven't found my favorite yet. use your own or take the easy way out and buy some of your favorite. 

adding in some other fixins would be delish. some cashews or really any of your favorite nuts would be tasty. granola clusters would be an interesting thought if you're into that sort of thing. 

if your chocolate starts to get chalky, it probably means you singed your chocolate. you'll want to start over. if it's just a little on the thick side, you can try thinning it down with a touch of butter. 


chorizo poppers

I love small bites. There's something so satisfying with a flavorful appetizer that packs a punch and can be enjoyed in 1 - 2 bites. With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, I thought this would be the perfect appetizer to serve your guests. It can be made a few days in advance too  - TOUCHDOWN! …too much? 

I love how the cool, creamy mixture plays with the spicy chorizo. The crispness of the bell pepper and chip crumbs give the necessary crunch factor to the filling. These things are addictive and so easy to make. Plus they're incredibly fun finger food - perfect for game-time snacking.

I'm not much of a football fan but I love any excuse to throw a party. Last year I made buffalo chicken wontons, balsamic bean chili, cornbread and to end the night, fresh out of the oven fully loaded cookies and guiness floats. Oh yeah, I had some veggie trays, grapes and chips too. You can never have enough food, right?!

 What are some of your favorite appetizers for Super Bowl Sunday?

chorizo poppers
yeilds about 40 servings

40 mini sweet peppers
2 raw chorizo sausages (casing removed)
8 oz cream cheese
½ c. frozen corn kernels
1 TBSP diced green chiles
2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro
½ TBSP hot sauce
TSP cumin
½ c. sour cream
salt + pepper
½ c. tortilla chips or doritos crumbled (optional for topping)

In a large skillet, brown your chorizo over medium high heat. You want very small pieces so break it up while it's cooking. While the chorizo is caramelizing and doing it's thing, in a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, corn, green chiles, cilantro, hot sauce and cumin. Give it a good stir until it's well mixed. When your chorizo is done getting brown and flavorful, strain it and place the crumbles on a paper towel. If some of the crumbles are on the large side, break them up. Once the grease is absorbed and the meat has cooled slightly, drop your crumbles into the mixture and give it another good stir. Add in your sour cream, salt + pepper. 

Place mixture into a piping bag or ziplock bag and set aside. Cut the tops off of your peppers and scrape out any seeds if present. Cut the tip of your piping bag or ziplock bag off and squeeze mixture into your mini peppers. Place in the refrigerator and chill until ready to serve. If adding the chip crumbs, just before serving dip the tops into the crumbled chips and place on your platter.

improv style:

these are mexican inspired bite sized appetizers. think of a jalapeno popper but fresh and less spicy. you can improv any of the ingredients. can't find those mini peppers? use jalapenos OR make the cream cheese mixture as a dip and serve it with sliced bell peppers. you can even make a bowl out of a bell pepper for cute presentation. 

not down with meat? leave it out and add in some black beans! shredded chicken, chopped bacon, or ground beef would be great substitutions as well. don't have sour cream? you can use a little bit of plain greek yogurt, mexican creme or even a splash of milk. the idea is to thin out the cheese mixture so it's easily piped into the peppers. 

want to lighten things up? use fat free or low fat dairy products and add in some extra veggies, omit the chip crumbs. Want to go dairy free? Try using mashed avocado to get the creamy consistency with a healthier benefit. really your options are limitless with this recipe!


i made them extra schloppy for ye!

Are you sick of being healthy yet? If so, I've got the perfect recipe to get you fired up again. Since I stumbled upon this recipe in Food Network Magazine a few weeks ago, I can not stop making it. It's one of my new favorite go-to's and I'm not even a sloppy joe fan. I think they had me convinced to try it when I saw the pickles on top. 

This recipe is health food masked by comfort. Lentils, carrots, and red bell peppers are mixed with a little ground beef (or turkey if you want to be EXTRA good). It's got a meaty texture and it's packed with veggies and lots of protein thanks to the lentils and meat combo. I've altered the recipe a bit to make it less processed but this recipe is easily adapted to your needs. 

What's better than comfort food that's good for you?! It's secret health!

 Hope you guys are having an amazing 2013 so far. I've had a lot of fun playing with my new lens courtesy of santa! Can't wait to take more amazing shots to share my recipes with you guys this year! What do you think of the new lens?

lentil sloppy joes
adapted from food network
yields 6 servings

2 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ TSP dried oregano
½ c. dried brown lentils
4 c. water
4 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
8 oz ground beef
salt + pepper
6 whole wheat buns
6 slices sharp cheddar cheese
handful of spinach leaves
pickle slices

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and let soften 2-3 minutes before adding the carrots and bell pepper. Cook until softened then add in your garlic and oregano and cook 1 minute more. Pour in the lentils and give em a good stir before adding your water. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low. Add in your tomato paste and worcestershire sauce and let simmer for 40 minutes until the lentils are tender and the water is absorbed. If the lentils are still hard, add in a little more water and keep cooking. 

In another pan, brown your ground beef. Add it into your softened lentil mixture and cook another 5 - 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Toast your buns or leave em soft… whatever you prefer and add some leaves of spinach, a slice of cheddar, a schlop of the joe mixture and put some pickles on top - voila!

Serve them with your favorite side. I think baked sweet potato fries make the perfect companion!

improv style:
this may seem like a time consuming recipe but most of the cooking is inactive. you can make this a few days in advance so it's a quick meal for the weekday. the mixture gets better with time too, just like spaghetti sauce. 

not a fan of one of the veggies listed? leave it out or substitute it for one of your fav's. if you want to be extra healthy, you could add more lentils and completely replace the meat OR use ground turkey or chicken breast. 

if you don't have tomato paste, you can use ½ c. ketchup or diced tomatoes instead. using beer instead of water would probably be a fun (albeit un-healthy) way to mix it up. 

not a fan of pickles? weird. but i hear you… try pickled jalapenos or fresh ones! you could even chop it up and put it inside the cooking mixture for an extra kick. speaking of heat, put some of your favorite hot sauce in with the mixture. 

you can keep it dairy free without the cheese or use a different cheese like pepper jack, mmmmm! white buns, wheat buns - pick your favorite. lower carb option? make it open faced! SO. MANY. DIFFERENT. WAYS.