Sunday, October 18, 2009

Caramel Apples Dipped in Chocolate

My friend and her husband are anticipating the birth of their second baby (a boy) in less than two months. To celebrate this sweet occasion I decided to make a sweet treat for their baby shower. I thought this would be a great opportunity to experiment making something new.

My mind's totally blank on ideas until last Friday when I was drooling over pictures of caramel apples. Suddenly, the light bulb in my head flashed...that's it! So I got busy browsing for a recipe with easy instruction. I found some that tell you to buy pre-made caramel candy and melt them, some show you how to make them from scratch using a candy thermometer (I need to buy one soon) and some gave tips but refused to share their secret, passed-down from generations caramel recipe

For sure, I didn't want to buy the pre-made caramels but I also wanted something easy to follow.
Finally, a caramel apple recipe from bloom.acious intrigued me. The recipe calls for cream cheese and toffee bits, something I didn't see in any other recipes and never even thought they're ingredients in caramel apples. So I got totally excited to tackle my first attempt at making homemade caramel apples.

Since I was making these for a baby shower, I wanted to fancy them up a little by dipping the caramel apples in dark chocolate and drizzle with toppings. I chose chopped peanuts, chopped pistachios, and toffee bits as the toppings. I also got some cute striped blue ribbons at Michael's Craft store to tie on the sticks.

I'm happy to say the caramel recipe was so easy. The cream cheese definitely added some richness to the caramel. The combination of the caramel, bittersweet chocolate, salty toppings, and tartness of the apples in one bite is unbelievable - over the top delicious! And once all dressed up with the ribbons, they looked so adorable. My personal favorite is the one with pistachios topping but the toffee bits were the most popular and were gone first. Hmmm...I see many more homemade caramel apples in my future...

Source: Bloomacious

10 small Granny Smith apples
10 sticks (wooden or lollipop sticks)


1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 (8-oz.) package toffee bits (I used Heath toffee bits/chunks)
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate and Toppings
4 C. Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
1 C. chopped pistachio nuts
1 C. chopped peanuts
1 C. Heath toffee bits

Cooking instruction:

1. Wash apples in lukewarm water to remove some of the wax then dry. Place them in the refrigerator.

2. Stir caramel ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat until blended and allow to cool a bit.

3. Dip apples that have been fitted with a stick and set aside until the dip sets up.

4. Place each topping in a separate plate.

5. Pour chocolate chips in a glass bowl and melt in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir and heat in 15 seconds increments, if needed, until chocolate is all melted and smooth. Dip caramel coated apples in the melted chocolate. Sprinkle with toppings.

Note: Line a jelly roll pan with wax paper and grease lightly with cooking spray. This will allow you to easily peel off the wax paper from the bottom of the caramel apples.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ahi Poke

Aloha! Ahi poke is a popular Hawaiian dish that can be found almost anywhere on the Hawaiian islands--from the home to the finest restaurants. Poke (pronounced poh-kay) means "to slice or cut" in Hawaiian. It can be served as an appetizer, salad, or main course.

I love Ahi poke but never realized they were so easy to make at home until last year, when hubby and I were invited to a friend's house for dinner. He made Ahi poke and served them with Wasabi seaweed tempura (from Trader Joe's) and they were amazing! While I was browsing for recipes online, I noticed that while most recipes contain common ingredients, there are so many variations. Then I learned that this dish dates back to fishermen bringing in their catch and seasoning it with whatever ingredients they had on hand -- that explains it! No matter what version, they're `Ono - delicious! Here is my version. Mahalo!

Makes 8 servings


1-1/4 lb. ahi tuna steaks, sashimi-grade (cubed into bite-size pieces)
1/2 C. soy sauce
2 T. sesame oil
2 kukui nuts/candlenuts (coarsely ground)
1 T. toasted sesame seeds
1 T. Furikake (original blend)
2 t. crushed red pepper
1/4 C. sliced green onions
1/4 C. minced Maui or yellow onions
1 pkg. Wasabi seaweed tempura (optional)

Cooking instruction:

1. Mix all ingredients and chill at least 1 hour. Serve with Wasabi seaweed tempura (optional).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bacon Leek Asparagus Quiche (crust-less)

For over a month now I've been having the urge to make quiche. I even went out to buy a couple of tart pans. It could've been an inspiration after watching the movie "Julie and Julia" -- which I totally loved and highly recommend it. Though you'll probably have to wait for the DVD now.

Finally last weekend I had a chance to make it. But I had a little dilemma -- hubby doesn't like crust! So, I had to divert to making a crust-less quiche which technically wouldn't make this a quiche anymore since quiche is an egg mixture baked in a pastry crust. But, I was determined to satisfy my quiche urge so I'm calling this a quiche anyways. One day I'll make the real thing with the crust...this time, hubby wins. So there, I feel much better now.

Makes (2) 9" tart pans

4 leeks
2 bunches asparagus
1 lb. bacon
10 eggs
1 C. half-and-half
8 oz. Gruyere cheese (shredded)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking instruction:

1. Cut the leaf branches from the leeks so you end up with the stalk. Cut the stalk in half lengthwise, then slice.

2. Cut 2" from the bottom of the asparagus and discard them. Then cut about 3 inches from the top portion and set them aside. Slice the remaining stalks about 1/4" thick.

3. Cut bacon into about 1/2" pieces. I find it easier to cut bacon when they're semi-frozen.

4. In a large skillet, cook bacon on high heat until crispy. Drain and set aside. Leave about 1 T. of the bacon fat inside the skillet.

5. Add leeks and asparagus into the skillet and cook for about 2-3 minutes until soft but not brown. Turn off heat.

6. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease tart pans with vegetable oil spray.

7. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and half-and-half. Add salt and pepper to taste but remember, you'll have some added saltiness from the bacon and cheese.

8. Divide the leek/asparagus mixture, bacon, and Gruyere cheese between the tart pans.

9. Pour the egg mixture over the fillings until about 3/4 full. Place the asparagus tops around the top of the tarts.

10. Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes until top is slightly brown. Serve hot. Bon appetit!

Note: Since I didn't have a crust, I placed a sheet pan under the tart pans to catch any egg mixtures that may seep through the bottom (unless you're using a baking dish without the removable bottom). It'll save you from lots of mess to clean up later!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hot Sausage Couscous Croquettes

During my freezer raid, I discovered a package of Jimmy Dean Premium Hot Sausage. I went to Jimmy Dean's website to see if they have any recipes online and I was surprised to find they have tons of them! So I browsed through the sausage recipes and Jimmy Dean Sausage Couscous Croquettes caught my eye. I've made croquettes in the past and I'm familiar with making them with potatoes. This recipe gives a Mediterranean twist by using couscous instead of potatoes and cumin as the main spice. They make great appetizers and actually take less time to make since you don't have to boil and mash potatoes. If you don't feel like frying, just stop at cooking instruction #3 (minus the eggs) and you'll have yourself a delicious couscous side dish.

Makes about 20 croquettes

1 pkg. Jimmy Dean sausage (regular flavor or hot)
2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 C. chicken broth or water
1 C. couscous (uncooked)
1/2 C. onion (finely chopped)
1/4 C. parsley (finely chopped)
2 eggs (lightly beaten) - I used 3 eggs because the mixture was too try
1/8 - 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
3/4 C. dry breadcrumbs - I used panko
Vegetable oil for frying

Cooking instruction:

1. In large saucepan, cook sausage over medium high heat, stirring frequently until thoroughly cooked and no longer pink.

2. Stir in broth, cumin, cayenne and couscous; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.

3. Stir in parsley and onion; adjust seasonings to taste. Add beaten egg; stir well.

4. Moisten hands with water and mold cooled sausage mixture into 20 small logs. Roll in breadcrumbs.

5. To cook: in a wok, Dutch oven or fryer, add oil to a depth of 3 inches; heat to 375 F. Fry 3 or 4 at a time for about 2 minutes; drain on paper towels.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sweet and Sour EoMuk (Korean Fried Fish Cake)

The other day I was on a quest to use up things I had in the freezer before going to the market to buy more stuff. I found a package of EoMuk which is Korean fried fish cake. They're thin, flat, and square-shaped. I'm not too familiar with authentic Korean cooking and really needed to prepare something quick and easy so I decided to turn them into a sweet and sour stir fry dish. I added chili sauce to make it a little spicy.

Makes 6-8 servings

5 sheets fried fish cake (cut into triangles)
1 large carrot (peeled and cut diagonally)
1 red bell pepper (sliced)
1 shallot (finely diced)
2 T. sugar
2 T. ketchup
1 T. chili sauce
1 t. soy sauce
2 T. water
1 T. oil

Cooking instruction:

1. Heat oil in a wok or large pan. Add shallots and cook until opaque.

2. Add bell peppers and carrots and cook for a few minutes until the carrots get a bit tender, but not overcooked. Add fried fish cake.

3. In a small bowl, mix sugar, ketchup, chili sauce, soy sauce, and water. Add mixture to pan and stir fry for a few minutes.

4. Serve with steamed rice.

Palate Excursion: LA County Fair

Recently, hubby and I went to the LA County Fair with some friends. I love the fair...especially eating some classic favorites like funnel cake and kettle corn! The fair is also notorious for showcasing some interesting (though not necessarily good) food creations.

Was I glad there were 5 of us to share because by the end of the night, we gobbled down 1 funnel cake, 2 hot dogs, 2 corn on the cobs, 16 pcs. chicken wings, 1 large bowl of potato chips, 2 orders of pork ribs, 1 deep fried avocado, and 1 deep fried Twinkies.

Our first stop was the Funnel Cake stand. We got the works -- powdered sugar, raspberry sauce, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and strawberry toppings. The funnel cake was soft and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Perfect and Yummmyyyy!!

Before (above) and After (below) :D

Not even 10 minutes after we devoured the funnel cake, we came across the famous Pink's Hot Dog stand. It has been around since 1939 and is frequented by celebrities, politicians, and other prominent people. I've always wanted to try their hot dog but just never had the motivation to drive over 60 miles to their actual location in Hollywood and wait in their consistently long line. So now here's my chance.

We ordered the Spicy Polish Dog with mustard, chili, and onion (below Left) and Martha Stewart Dog - 10" Stretch Dog, relish, onions, bacon, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, and sour cream (below Right). The spicy polish dog was good but 'spicy!' and I'm a light-weight when it comes to spicy food. The 10" hot dog tasted ok but I think what sets them apart is the unique and often heart-clogging toppings you can add to it.

We also saw some mouth-watering grilled corn seasoned with garlic and herbs that we couldn't pass up.

As we walked around the grounds we stopped for fried chicken wings that were made to order and we can choose 2 out of the 8 flavors available. We chose lemon pepper and garlic Parmesan. Being fans of The Wing Stop, we were expecting something similar but were disappointed. The wings were huge and tasted bland. Wing Stop's chicken wings are smaller so they're crispier when fried and absorb all the wonderful flavors. While both are greasy, these were literally swimming in oil. Our fingers were too greasy to handle the camera so no picture of this one.

Continuing on, I was so excited to find the potato chips stand. My first encounter with these scrumptious potato chips was at the OC Fair. They cut the potatoes to order (with skin on) and deep fry them to the perfect crispiness and piled them onto a large oval red plastic bowl. They provide different Seasonings and spray bottles filled with vinegar that you can add to your liking. I have to say this was my favorite snack of the night! I was so excited that I realized after we almost finished the chips I had forgotten to take a picture of it yet. Bummer!

After about an hour walking around, we finally decided it was time to have a "real" dinner. So we went to one of the BBQ stands and got 2 orders of BBQ pork ribs. The marinade and BBQ sauce were delicious but the ribs were cooked inconsistently. One order was cooked perfectly, with the meat tender and falling off the bone. The other order, the ribs were tough and chewy. But overall they were decent. Ughhh...I forgot to take a picture again! :(

We thought we were done...but on the way to the exit gate, we passed by this "Totally Fried" food stand that sells deep fried White Castle (mini burgers), Smores, zucchini weeni, frog legs, avocado, and Twinkies. We were too stuffed to try every single one but still curious to taste some. Frog legs sounded the most odd but I figured nothing can beat House Special Deep Fried Frog Legs from Capital Seafood. :) So we went with the avocado and Twinkies.

Once again, we got too excited when the avocado came and forgot to take a picture of it. But it didn't live up to the hype. I think they used the same batter for all the items. The avocado was cut into wedges, dipped into the batter, then deep fried. The skin was thick and greasy and didn't have much flavor and didn't really add anything special to the avocado. We ended up peeling most of the skin off and just ate the avocado. The Twinkies tasted much better and had a better texture with the soft Twinkies on the inside and crispy skin. You can taste the richness of the combination of sweet and salty from the cream filling and batter.

Deep fried Twinkies with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.That concluded our short LA County Fair palate excursion. Unfortunately, my heartburn began approximately 2 hours later...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Angel Hair Pasta with Gorgonzola, Tomatoes, and Cubed Ham

I have to admit that I haven't experimented with pasta dishes too often. I gotta give credit to my friend from Portland for this simple yet delicious pasta dish. Hubby and I were staying at his house for a few days. One day he made us spaghetti for lunch. It was so good I had a second serving! I was so tempted to have a third one...but hubby was giving me this "we're guests so don't eat all their food" kind-of look so I had to regretfully decline. But of course I couldn't leave without getting the recipe from him.

He cooked the spaghetti 'al dente', tossed it in olive oil, garlic, basil, and Gorgonzola cheese then topped it with chopped tomatoes and cubed ham. If you like balsamic vinegar (I love it), you can drizzle some over the dish. Although he used spaghetti, I think it can work with any pasta. I happened to have angel hair pasta so that's what I used here.

Makes 4-6 servings

1 pkg. spaghetti or any pasta
8 oz. Gorgonzola cheese (crumbled)
3 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 C. fresh basil (chopped)
2 tomatoes (seeded and chopped)
2 C. cubed ham
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking instruction:

1. Cook pasta as directed on the box. Run the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process and drain. Set aside.

2. In a large pan, heat olive oil. Add garlic, basil, salt, and pepper.

3. Transfer pasta into the pan and add Gorgonzola cheese. Mix well until the pasta is evenly coated with the cheese mixture.

4. Divide the pasta into 4-6 plates. Top with chopped tomatoes, cubed ham, and some cheese crumbles. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, as desired.

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