Things that are too delicious to be allowed in my house…

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

I have pretty decent willpower when it comes to food — with a few notable exceptions. At the top of that list resides the Jalapeño Cheeto (not to be confused with Flaming Hot Cheetos whose only redeeming quality is this excellent video). I don’t know what magic took place to make Jalapeno Cheetos even more delicious than the original flavor, but it worked. These things are the straight-up definition of addictive and I am absolutely powerless against them.

My initial encounter was a few years ago when my husband left a small bag open on the kitchen counter before he left for work. I came home early and poured out a few nibbles before folding up the bag and putting it away. Those few bites was all it took. I kept creeping back into the kitchen and sneaking handfuls until the bag was (shamefully) empty.

When my husband came home, I told him he was forbidden from bringing them into our house ever again. While he hasn’t completely complied with that request, they are thankfully a rare indulgence.

I mention this story because I have recently discovered  — thanks yet again to my husband, bearer of evil temptations — something just as hauntingly addictive as those spicy, cheesy morsels.

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Bittersweet Salted Beer Caramels: The beer-day finale

Salted Beer Caramels

Beer Birthday invitation!

Birthday invitation!

This is the third and final post in my “How to throw an epic beer-themed birthday” series. Having covered the basics, and how to make awesome candied beer nuts, this post will show you the second party favor I handed out — salted caramels made with beer.

After a lot of online digging, I finally settled on this recipe from the Food Network. It had some good reviews and seemed simple enough to fit into my timeline. If I make these again I might do something more adventurous like these, but this time around I went for a straightforward recipe.

It called for only a few ingredients: a bit of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream and, of course, beer. I chose another Oregon brew for this project: Gilgamesh’s Vadar, a black IPA aged with coffee beans. I wasn’t sure of the coffee flavor would come through (it didn’t), but it still sounded like a great beer to use in a dessert.

Salted Beer Caramels

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Beer-Candied Pralines & Planning my Brew-Day!

Beer-Candied Pecans

Planning my birthday is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I pick a theme months in advance and then slowly dedicate myself to making invitations, buying decorations, practicing cake recipes, etc. (This kind of “birthday black hole” is why I haven’t been around much the last two weeks — too much to do!)

But there’s one thing I definitely love more than my birthday — and that is beer. Sweet, sweet beer. I often say that if given the choice between my kegerator or my wedding ring, the keg would win out. I’m (mostly) joking.

So to help celebrate my love for the hoppy, malty nectar of the gods, this year I decided my birthday party theme should be beer. And oh, trust me, this theme proved to be a contender for the best idea I’ve ever had.

But we’ll get to that in time…For now, welcome to the first in my “brew-day” series. To kick-off this series we will be making beer-candied pecans. And, yes, they are amazing.

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Homemade Quince Paste: Making cheese plates happy

Homemade quince pasta

While I often tell my husband that the last thing we need is another cookbook, I’ll admit I didn’t put up too much resistance when he offered to buy me a copy of America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I had flipped through it briefly at the Book Larder in Seattle and was immediately smitten.

It’s got recipes for just about everything you can imagine: bacon jam, corn chips, yogurt, beer, fresh chorizo and so much more. Really, it’s almost overwhelming.

But I knew at once what recipe I would try first, seeing as I had five quince staring at me from the kitchen counter. My husband had bought them at the season’s last farmer’s market and we had yet to do anything with them (I could practically sense them judging me). It was time for them to meet their maker become delicious quince paste.

Since I had a weekend plan to cook with my friend DB — we were making candied orange peels and Parisian gnocchi — I figured one more culinary project couldn’t hurt. And the good thing about the recipe, besides the fact that it’s pretty fool proof, is that it’s easy to do while doing other things.

Quince paste is also great for holiday gift giving so if you’re a total procrastinator or have a cheese lover in your life, consider giving them a wedge of this. It’s a great accompaniment to a cheese plate and also will last for up to 3 months in the fridge. Hard to beat that!

Start by cooking the fruit down until tender, puree, strain and cook a second time with sugar. Pour into a pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool. To get the exact recipe, order a copy of the cookbook! To see a fairly similar one online, click here! The main difference is that ours doesn’t have any vanilla and we passed the puree through a fine chinois to get rid of any lumps before cooking it with the sugar.

Cooked quince -- cored but unpeeled

Cooked quince — cored but unpeeled

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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It’s like a meringue mountain range!

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The Obsession Continues: Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

Apple Cider Caramels

I have been on cider bender the past few months. Since early October my fridge has contained no less than one half-gallon of fresh apple cider, purchased anywhere from Farmer’s Markets to the grocery store. I’ve drank it straight, mulled with Applejack and used it for various cooking endeavors, like this brined pork roast.

However, the best creation I made are these apple cider caramels from an old issue of Food & Wine magazine. They tasted (depending on which friend of mine you asked) like caramel apple pops, apple fritters or candied apples. To me they were just as I imagined,  a perfect combination of the spiced cider flavor — cloves, cinnamon and tart apple — and creamy decadent caramel.

They were also luxuriously soft. While they’d hold their shape in the refrigerator, once popped in your mouth, they would melt almost instantly. They were so good I had to fight my natural instinct to hoard them and instead manged to share them with co-workers, friends and even some of my favorite customers in Seattle.

My friend Ariel loved them so much I think I have to make a batch just for her and her husband to enjoy. I gave her a few to take home and got this hilarious text message later that night: “Holy sheep shit, Batman” is what Eric said after trying a bite of one of your caramels. Now that’s a compliment, people!

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