Two Easy Caramel Sauces

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Simple 10-Minute Caramel Sauce

I am indebted to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe for this recipe.  I have made small changes, but she deserves the credit on this one.

1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

Combine butter, sugar, salt and cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat.  Stir gently, then increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil.

Boil for 10 minutes without stirring. Watch closely for signs of scorching and lower heat if necessary.

Remove from heat and carefully stir in the vanilla bean paste.  Avoid mixing too vigorously or scraping the sides as this may cause the sauce to crystallize.

Use immediately or let the sauce cool a bit before pouring into a container to refrigerate. Keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.

 

Easiest-Ever “Cheater” Caramel Sauce

Caramel (premade)
Heavy whipping cream.

The caramel I use for this is here.  You know when you’ve bought a huge bag full of those tiny squares in the bulk food section and then unwrapped them for what seemed like hours so you could melt them down?  This is the same idea, BUT it’s infinitely better tasting and comes in a block, so you can easily slice off as much as you need without the hours of small-motor skill practice.  It LOOKS like this may be the same product (based on the description and reviews) for less, but the title says it’s a “chocolate caramel sauce,” which is confusing and may be something different.  I haven’t used that second link personally before, but I can vouch for Amazon’s return service if it is, by chance, the wrong thing.

Anyhow…This caramel makes the most delicious sauce for apples and pretty much anything else.  It’s truly worth the price tag for special events and splurges.

To make the sauce, simply melt the caramel in your crock pot for about an hour or so.  Alternately, you can do this in a double boiler or in your microwave on LOW for VERY SHORT increments.  If you microwave it for too long or at too high a temp, it may crystallize or harden, so take care with this method.

Stir in enough cream to thin the sauce to the desired consistency.  I use around two cups if I’m melting the whole five-pound block.  Continue stirring until the sauce is well blended.  Enjoy!

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Salted Maple Pecans

Did you know that a once ounce serving of pecans contains ten percent of the fiber you need in a single day? They are also a great source of low-carb protein and low in saturated fat. A little research will yield a myriad of health benefits gained from regularly enjoying pecans. I do love them for their health benefits, but mostly I eat them because they’re delicious!

While I don’t grow my own pecans in the backyard (yet), we do cook with them regularly at home. We grind them into pecan butter, toss them in salads and enjoy them over hot cereal in the morning. They are a great addition any time of the year, and while they are delicious cloaked in the caramel of a pie, they have a natural sweetness that needs little adornment. These five-minute salted maple pecans are perfect in a spinach salad, chopped and sprinkled over grilled fish or on their own as a snack.

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Five-Minute Salted Maple Pecans

2 cups pecan halves
1/3 cup real maple syrup (no substitutions!)
¼-1/2 tsp salt

Heat the pecans on medium-high heat in a large skillet until fragrant and beginning to brown. Pour syrup over nuts and stir or toss continuously for 30-45 seconds until the syrup begins to thicken and stick to the nuts. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool and enjoy!

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Bonus Simple Spinach Salad Recipe

4 cups baby spinach, washed
½ cup blue cheese crumbles
½ cup salted maple pecans (above)
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Cranberry Orange Muffins

These muffins are easy, but also perfect for any fancy occasion with their streusel topping. When we have leftover cranberry relish from Thanksgiving it always turns into these treats on Sunday morning following the holiday.

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Cranberry Orange Muffins
Yield: 1 dozen muffins

1 large egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1/8 tsp orange oil or zest of one orange
1 ½ cups flour (I use wheat pastry flour)
1/4 cup sugar or maple syrup
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup cranberries fresh or frozen (or substitute fresh cranberry relish NOT jellied sauce)
1 Tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 400° degrees. Generously grease one muffin tin, or line with paper liners. Beat egg slightly with a fork. Stir in milk, butter, vanilla, orange oil, and zest.

In a food processor, pulse cranberries and 1 Tbsp sugar until finely chopped (alternately, chop by hand and toss with sugar).
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add chopped cranberries and stir till coated. Make a well in dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, and fold very gently. Scoop into prepared tin and top with streusel topping. Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until just turning golden.

Streusel Muffin Topping

¾ cup flour
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together in food processor (or with a pastry blender or your fingers) until like crumbs. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon on top of muffins before baking.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

This is our “Halloween Soup.”  We make it every year on October 31st before our ghouls head out for the night. It’s a delicious combination of fall flavors, and there’s no reason to sequester it to just one night of the year. If you have a food processor, this soup whips up in a flash. Alternately, you can use an immersion blender, or transfer the soup, once cooked, to a blender and puree in batches (if you’re using a traditional blender, just add the beans and tomatoes whole at the instructed time). I like to leave some texture to it, rather than having it come out completely smooth.

It’s a great crock pot recipe as well, and I’ve included some tips at the conclusion of the directions for those of you who will be utilizing your slow cookers.  Toast some pepitas with salt and a little olive oil before serving and pass the cheese and sour cream at the table.

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Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

3 Tbsp butter
1 ¼ cups onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/s tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 15.5 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (one 16 oz can)
3 to 4 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 cup chopped ham, optional (I almost always leave this out)

In food processor, finely chop onion and garlic.

Cook onion and garlic, in butter in a 6 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat till softened and beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, puree beans and tomatoes in food processor.  Leave a little texture to the beans, rather then letting them become totally creamy.

When onion mixture is ready, add cumin, salt, pepper and smoked paprika ad stir for about 30 seconds to toast the spices. Add bean puree, broth and pumpkin.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally about 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat back of spoon. Just before serving, add ham, if desired (I never do).

Serve with salt, pepper, grated cheese, sour cream and toasted pepitas.

Changes For Slow-Cooker:
Brown onions and garlic, toast spices as instructed and add to slow-cooker. Decrease broth to 3 cups and cook on low 4 hours.