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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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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Homemade Nocino: Green walnuts & boozy infusions

Nocchino

Usually when I think about infusing booze with something, it’s fruit. Take last year’s rumtopf experiment for example. But this year my husband convinced me to try something different – a green walnut infusion, known by Italians as nocino.

I’ve had nocino before (from a batch my husband made) and wasn’t too impressed. The flavor was interesting, full of spices and citrus notes, but it was served straight up it and burned like firewater. I like things boozy but I can’t handle things that are that strong. I found out later it was made from Everclear — no wonder!

This time around my husband wanted to make it with vodka instead which was much more appealing to me. He also said he wanted to play around with the finished liqueur, so instead of serving it up we could mix it into ice cream bases or cocktails. Mentioning boozy ice cream is pretty much the way to my heart so it was an easy sell.

A hundred and one green walnuts later, we got to work:

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Why use a bunny when you can just mail your Easter eggs?

Thanks to Pinterest, I stumbled upon a blog post not too long ago that blew my mind. It was about all of the stuff you can just drop in a post office box and (with the correct postage, of course) have delivered. Now I’m not talking about large envelopes or small boxes, I’m talking about stuff like 2-liter bottles, soccer balls, flip-flops and…Easter eggs! As long as it weighs less than 13 ounces and isn’t breakable, it’s okay to mail.

I was stunned. And counting down the weeks until I got an opportunity to send some candy-filled Easter eggs to my nieces and nephews. I could just imagine my brother’s befuddlement at finding a stash of Easter eggs mixed in with the bills.

I decided to do a test-run just in case, so a few weeks ago I sent a surprise gift to my friend DB. It was actually a late party favor from my birthday — a little goodie bag with some honey candies and cookies that I had forgotten to give him before he left that night. However, I knew the cookies wouldn’t make it safely without a protective shell. Luckily a co-worker offered up a plastic quart container she had.

I printed out an address label and using our postage scale at work was even able to determine the exact amount of postage necessary. Then I taped that sucker to hell and back and threw it in the mail box outside of my office. Two days later I got a text that just said, “You are one crazy lady.” That’s the sound of success!

Since then I have been impatiently waiting for Easter to get close enough so I could mail out my eggs. I decided that two weeks prior was an acceptable time frame so I bought all my supplies last weekend and got to work…

Ready to roll…And yes that is a Bloody Mary. I drink while I craft.

I have five nieces and nephews (all in the same house) so I figured I had better send an emergency egg just in case one didn’t make it. Better safe than sorry. Once the eggs were stuffed with candy (a combination of Robin’s Eggs, Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs and Spring Skittles), I shoved in as much Easter grass as I could before sealing them up.

As a disclaimer — these eggs were far from sturdy. In fact, just closing them, I could tell they were in dire need of some serious reenforcement. So I used packing tape a few times over the seal and then covered that with some cute patterned adhesive tape I found at Joann’s. They turned out pretty adorable — and hopefully pretty durable.

The next day at work I printed off some address labels. I figured since the post office employees would already hate me enough for throwing Easter eggs in the mail box, I could at least make the addresses legible. I also added some adorable stickers just because. Then I used our handy dandy electronic postage scale and weighed them. Each egg was $.84 to mail, which is reasonable. Once the eggs were labeled with postage, I wished them luck and safe journeys and plopped them in the big blue mail box on the corner.

I spent much of my day reassuring my colleagues that you can indeed mail eggs, no box required, but a hint of uncertainly began to nag at me. What if the eggs didn’t even make it outside of the Portland post office? What if they break in transit?

* Click to read the update!

Easy Breezy Valentines (AKA a simple way to kiss ass at work)

I come from a family that loves to give gifts. I realized this, with excitement, at a young age and have reveled in it ever since. My grandparents used to buy me a gift on my brother’s birthday (seriously!) and vice versa. We also got presents — not just candy — for Halloween, Valentines Day, Easter and, honestly, just for arriving at their house at the start of summer vacation.

I vividly remember getting out of car, suitcase in hand, and running into “my” bedroom to see what book was on my pillow, wrapped in my grandma’s trademark tissue paper. I guess the best word to describe me at this age would be spoiled. But hey, it was a book. It’s not like I got my own car or anything.

I also come from a family with plenty of affection for sweets so it’s no surprise that I love a well-stocked candy dish. One magically wonderful thing about my grandparents’ house is that every time I show up, there is a candy dish on my nightstand. As a kid, it used to contain M&Ms or Starbursts, with the occasional Swedish Fish thrown in for good measure. Since college, knowing my taste for tart candies, my dish has been filled with Sour Patch Kids and the like. There is really no better treat than candy at arms reach.

The reason I bring this up is because I also like to give random gifts and candy is generally a crowd-pleaser.

Since Valentines Day is a ridiculous holiday anyways, it’s a fun one to surprise people on. Last year I decided to try out this cute thing I had pulled out of a Martha Stewart Living magazine just a few weeks prior. It was not only an adorable idea but also affordable. And since I wanted to make one for each girl in my office, cheap was kind of a necessity.

I bought the cookie cutters, paper dish and goodie bags at JoAnns and put the gifts together the night before. They were so cute I felt the need to share the idea just in case you’re looking for a simple but tasty way to let someone in your office know you are thinking of them — especially when it’s in a positive way for once.

Candy Hearts

Finished and ready to gift!

The best part is you can tailor this for any holiday using different cookie cutters and candy colors. The possibilities are endless. Just remember — you get to eat all the leftovers, so don’t pick out any crappy candy flavors!

Adventures in Fruit

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So I have a friend who I like to cook with. I know him well enough to know he’d never want his name attached to this blog (well, any blog, really) so I was nice enough to ask him to … Continue reading