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  1. Tuesday, February 28

    Twice-Baked Potato Casserole

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    My CSA has had Yukon Gold potatoes recently. Before we get to today’s recipe, let us first ponder on just how delicious Yukon Gold potatoes are. Mmmmmmm…

    In an effort to mix things up with all the soft foods I’ve had to eat lately, I wanted to do something a little different with this week’s batch of potatoes.

    I don’t know about you, but I love twice-baked potatoes. But, honestly, scooping the hot baked potato out of its skin is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. The potatoes are always super hot and I invariably break some of the skins. As I was eating mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with the skins mixed in the other day, I had a revelation…as cute as twice-baked potatoes are, if you just mash the skins in with the potato and make a casserole out of it, it would be easier to prepare and probably taste just as good.

    And so the twice-baked potato casserole was born! A bit easier to prepare than its classic counterpart and easier to serve to a crowd. And, the casserole version did taste just as good. Hypothesis proven correct! Enjoy!

    Twice-Baked Potato Casserole
    – 1.5 pounds yukon gold potatoes (other bake-able potatoes will work, too, but yukon golds sure are yummy!)
    – 1/2 cup warmed cream
    – 2 tablespoons melted butter
    – 1/3 cup sour cream
    – 1 teaspoon salt
    – 1/2 teaspoon pepper
    – ~1 cup shredded cheddar or cheddar-jack cheese
    – sliced green onions (optional)

    Poke a few holes in your potatoes, wrap in foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for about an hour, until easily pierced by a knife. Leave the oven on.

    Mash potatoes with the skins ON in a bowl by hand. Add cream, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mix and mash some more! Spread in a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish. Top with cheese. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, until cheese is all melted. Top with sliced green onions if desired.

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  2. Sunday, February 26

    Week 266 Menu

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    Remember rice candy?

    I do. I received a box when I was in first or second grade that I cherished. There’s something about an edible wrapper that seems magical. I don’t even remember if I liked the candy itself, but I loved the idea of it. I haven’t had this candy since then, but last night Cate got her own box for the first time at a birthday party. When I looked at that packaging, it swiftly brought back memories that made me smile. Cate just tried her first piece and said, “It’s good” very matter-of-factly. Then, after a few minutes and the wrapper had dissolved in her mouth, she changed her review to “It’s awesome!” The magic continues.

    I don’t even know how to plan this week’s menu, since I can only eat soft foods. Honestly we might end up eating out a lot, but I’m planning a menu anyway to see if I can get my act together!

    MONDAY:
    Cream of mushroom soup

    TUESDAY:
    – Eat out to celebrate my sister’s arrival in the Bay Area! (She’s moving here and we are beside ourselves with excitement!)

    WEDNESDAY:
    Chicken Piccata with mashed potatoes

    THURSDAY:
    Chicken Soup with Rice

    FRIDAY:
    – Leftovers

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out

    SUNDAY:
    – Omelettes (I really need to do a post about Nate’s technique, maybe this week I’ll finally take some photos and pull that together for you all!)

    It’s time…time for you to share your menu for the week! Remember, we don’t care what’s on the menu, fancy or not just share!

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  3. Friday, February 24

    The greatest liquid and soft foods list in the world!

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    I need your help today. As you know, I had oral surgery yesterday. Not only did it take ALL DAY (which we were not anticipating) but YOWZAH my mouth hurts. Also, I sound like a crazy person when I talk. Just ask Helen Jane. I called her last night to get some help on work and she literally laughed when she first heard me. Rightly so, my friends, rightly so. Don’t feel bad for me. If you were Helen Jane, you would have laughed, too.

    Anyway, back to the help-from-you part. I have to “eat” a liquid diet for two days and then soft foods for one week. I’ve got chicken broth, green smoothies (thanks, Cherisse!) and ice cream all ready to go, but certainly there must be other options, right? So, I’m coming to you for advice. Share your best ideas for liquid and soft meals…especially if you’ve been in this boat in the past and have experience. And if you have strong opinions on things I should not eat at this time, share those, too!

    Our goal is to create the greatest liquid and soft foods list in the world! Pretty awesome goal, eh? When some poor soul like me searches “liquid and soft foods to eat after oral surgery,” I want them to find your beautiful and comprehensive list. It’s a public service we’re performing here, folks. Now, share those ideas!

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  4. Wednesday, February 22

    Ancient Kitchen Treasures, i.e. Kitchen Stuff You’ve Had Forever and Couldn’t Live Without!

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    Nate and I have been married for almost 13 years (time flies when you’re having fun!). When we got married, we were literally babies and had no money whatsoever. Everything we had to furnish our dark, basement apartment in Arlington, MA was a wedding gift. Which means we didn’t really choose much of anything for our home…some of it we registered for, a lot of it we didn’t. And, the thing is, we couldn’t have cared less. We were so grateful for each and every gift and used it all! (Come to think of it, even our car was a gift from my Aunt Barb and Uncle Mark…a little white pick-up truck fondly known as White Trash, may she rest in peace.)

    I still use many of those wedding gifts on a daily basis. It’s kind of amazing how they are standing the test of time! The other day as I was digging around for one of these items, I had the inspiration for this post. I want to hear about YOUR favorite items that have been around forever that you simply can’t live without!

    I’ll kick us off with a few of my ancient treasures that I never would have guessed would be treasures when I received them nearly 13 years ago…

    • Steak knives. One of the sets of pots and pans we received (which have since bit the dust) came with a set of steak knives. As you can imagine, they’re pretty darn cheap. But I can’t tell you how much I LOVE these steak knives! They cut GREAT and I can use and abuse them without feeling guilty. I really can’t believe how awesome they are. I couldn’t live without them!

    • Our everyday dishes from Crate & Barrel. We picked out some random white, basic dishes at Crate & Barrel for our registry, along with a set of blue glass bowls. NOT ONE DISH has broken since we got married. And we use them every single day. The white dishes don’t even have those grey scuff marks that often happens with this type of dishware. They are magical. For two clueless undergrads who had no idea what they were registering for, we totally scored.

    • Plastic mixing spoons, ladle, spatula and measuring cups. Again, just random stuff people gave us. I love them all. That spatula has been through a lot with me and has the battle wounds to prove it. And that white spoon? It’s perfect, I tell ya, perfect.

    There are definitely a few more items that have stuck around all this time that we still use, but the ones above, well, they are special. ;)

    Can’t wait to hear about your ancient treasures!

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  5. Sunday, February 19

    Week 265 Menu

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    I love it when I can get a bunny sous-chef to help me in the kitchen on a busy Sunday morning.

    Another week, another menu. I honestly don’t know where the time goes. And I know I say that pretty much every week, but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it!

    MONDAY:
    Homemade pizzas, flavors TBD

    TUESDAY:
    Pulled pork sandwiches topped with cole slaw

    WEDNESDAY:
    Chicken Soup with Rice

    THURSDAY:
    – I’m having oral surgery on Thursday…so leftover soup from Wednesday

    FRIDAY:
    – Eat out (I’m anticipating not feeling like cooking much after Thursday)

    SATURDAY:
    Tuscan Tomato Soup (again, thinking post-surgery…easy recipe, and easy to eat, hopefully!)

    SUNDAY:
    – Breakfast for Dinner

    Wish me luck Thursday! I’m a little scared of the recovery…hope I can still eat! Since my menu is kinda, sorta lame this week, can’t wait to see what you all have planned! Bring on the menus!

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  6. Wednesday, February 15

    Pots de Crème au Chocolat

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    Despite my busy day yesterday (p.s. Owen does not have an ear infection, which is good…but he is still grumpy!), did you really think I would let Valentine’s Day pass without whipping up some sort of chocolate decadence?

    Last night, after the kids were in bed, dinner was done and Nate and I had another Breaking Bad episode under our belts (romantic, eh?), I ventured to the kitchen to make pots de crème au chocolat. Our friends Ana and Tom made these a few weeks ago when they had us over for dinner. (p.s. Ana and Tom are not only fabulous cooks, they are both hilarious. I wish I could eat dinner at their house every night. Hint, hint, Ana.) The dessert was pretty much divine and, after Ana assured me it was easy to make, I decided to give the recipe a go.

    Ana was right. They were in fact easy to throw together and required only a few ingredients. My kind of cooking.

    If you’ve had pots de crème au chocolat before, you know what they’re like. {Delicious.} If you haven’t, it’s sort of like the custard in crème brûlée, only chocolate flavored. This chocolate dessert is rich yet still kind of light. And, if you’re not feeling up to the task of using and washing 20 bowls to make Julia Child’s mousse au chocolat, this is a great alternative – not quite so thick and rich as the mousse, but still delicious. I mean really – can you go wrong with cream, chocolate and eggs? Nope, you can’t.

    Pots de Crème au Chocolat
     
    A mish mosh of two Williams Sonoma recipes and comments from Ana Haymore
    Author:
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 3 ounces semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
    • 3 egg yolks
    • ¼ cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 4 pinches of salt (I’m sure I could give you an actual measurement, but I did four pinches, so there you go)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
    2. Heat cream in a saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from the stove and stir in the chocolate until melted. Let cool while you do this other stuff…
    3. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a bowl for about 5 minutes. You want the eggs to be pale yellow. Just keep whisking. The more the merrier. (I had Nate do this last night…what a whiner, by the way. Oh wait, I mean, he was such a sweetie to do this for me and didn’t complain once! I suppose you could get out a hand blender…but a little wrist exercise never hurt anyone, right?)
    4. Slowly stir the chocolate cream into the egg mixture. Stir in the vanilla and the salt.
    5. Pour the chocolate mixture through a fine sieve into 6 ramekins, dividing evenly. Place ramekins in a 9×13 baking dish or pan. Pour boiling water around the ramekins in the 9×13 pan, 1 inch deep. Cover the ramekins and dish with foil.
    6. Bake for around 20 minutes, until the edges are set but the chocolate still trembles a bit (I cooked mine a minute or two too long and they still came out fine).
    7. Let cool on a wire rack. The Williams Sonoma recipes say to refrigerate for at least four hours and up to 2 days before serving…but we also have eaten them right after they’ve cooled but still sort of warm and they were delicious.

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  7. Tuesday, February 14

    Any Excuse to Eat Chocolate…Happy Valentine’s Day!

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    You know I’m always looking for a good reason to eat chocolate. One might say I have a problem. Whatever. Chocolate is good for the soul.

    I was hoping to whip up something chocolatey for a post today, but Owen isn’t feeling very well and we’re heading to the doctor in a bit. (I’m sure he’s fine, no worries…probably an ear infection, poor little guy!) Even though the day is not going as planned, I can’t leave you completely chocolate-less on Valentine’s Day! So, I’m reposting a recipe from a few years ago.

    Oh how I wish I had time to make these truffles today. THEY ARE SO GOOD. I think that’s really all I have to say. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!!

    Scotch Truffle Hearts
    Recipe contributed to the Scharffen Berger book Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate by Alice Medrich. From the book: Since we began Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Cocolat founder Alice Medrich has been a constant help, ready to lend a hand with everything from bean tasting to recipe tasting. We’re especially honored to have Alice’s chocolate recipes in our book because both of us are fans of her chocolate confections, which she first began selling in Berkeley in the 1970s. These chocolates have a thin dark shell around a decadently soft center, underscored with the warmth and fragrance of a single-malt Scotch. Alice recommends that you mix this ganache gently with a spatula rather than vigorously with a whisk. Because the chocolate coating is not tempered, the hearts must be stored in the refrigerator to keep them from discoloring or blooming. Enjoy them cold, right from the refrigerator, or let them sit at room temperature for a half an hour or so, to bring up the flavors of the chocolate and the Scotch.

    – 7 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
    – 1 cup heavy cream
    – 2 tbsp. single-malt Scotch
    – 12 ounces 82% extra dark chocolate, finely chopped
    – 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

    Line an 8X8 inch 2-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, overlapping the top slightly, and set out a fine-mesh strainer.

    Place the 62% chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.

    In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and stir gently with a heatproof spatula until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Do not whisk or splash the mixture by stirring too briskly, or the texture of the chocolates will be cakey and granular. Add the Scotch and stir just to incorporate. (Jane note: I left out the Scotch b/c I didn’t have it on hand and they came out very delicious just the same!)

    Strain the ganache into the prepared pan. Tilt the pan to level the ganache. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

    Transfer the pan of the ganache to the refrigerator to soften for 20 minutes. Choose a baking sheet of dish that will fit in your freezer and line it with parchment paper.

    Place a sheet of foil about 12 inches long on your work surface. Remove the ganach, using the foil that you used to line the pan to help lift it. Invert it onto the clean sheet of foil. Peel the foil from the bottom.

    Using a 1 1/2-inch heart-shaped cutter, cut out hearts as close together as possible to avoid excessive amounts of scraps, and transfer to the prepared pan. (Jane note: I found a set of heart cutters for fondant made by Wilton at Michaels – the hearts were 3 sizes, which was helpful in making a lot of hearts with little scraps. The leftover chocolate I rolled into round balls to make a more traditionally-shaped truffle.) If the ganache becomes too soft to work with, cover with plastic wrap and return to the freezer to harden.

    Once all of the hearts are cut, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until very hard, at least 4 hours or overnight. (At this point the hearts can be placed in a an airtight container and frozen for up to 2 months.)

    TO COAT THE HEARTS: Choose a baking sheet or pan that will fit in your refrigerator and line with parchment paper.

    Melt the 82% chocolate and stir until smooth. Cool to 100-105 degrees F. (Jane note – I melted the chocolate over a double boiler. The chocolate was quite warm and took some time to come down in temperature. At 109 degrees it started to harden, so I would recommend working with it around 115 degrees – I had no problems with it melting the truffles.)

    Put the bowl of melted chocolate next to the prepared baking pan.

    Remove the hearts from the freezer one small batch at a time. Place a heart in the center of the bowl of chocolate and, using a dipping fork or table fork, flip it over and push it under the surface of the chocolate to coat completely. Slip the fork under the center and lift the heart out of the chocolate, tap the fork on the side of the bowl so any excess chocolate drips back into the bowl, and then wipe the bottom of the fork on the edge of the bowl and set the heart on the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining hearts. (Jane note: These directions were spot on and it was actually pretty easy to do if you follow them.  I did need to zap the dipping chocolate twice in the process to remelt it a bit.)

    Use a small fine-mesh strainer or shaker to dust the hearts with the cocoa. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until the chocolate has hardened. (Jane note: the chocolate hardened FAST…so if you’re going to put toppings on (cocoa, powdered sugar, decorative sugar crystals, sea salt) you gotta get them on there quickly!)

    The hearts can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Makes 30-36 hearts.

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  8. Sunday, February 12

    Week 264 Menu

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    I had the chance to spend a night and a day in Carmel this weekend. We basically ate our way through the weekend, of course! This chocolate covered pretzel is actually a pastry twist and it was yummy…BUT it got me thinking…ARE there chocolate-covered soft pretzels in the world? Because if there are, I want one!

    On Friday night we ate at Clint Eastwood’s restaurant Mission Ranch. The food was delicious. When we first arrived at the restaurant, we parked in a spot next to another spot with a “No Parking” sign in front of it. As we walked away from the car, a security guard appeared and told us that we couldn’t park there, that the sign was for both spots. “That is ‘the owner’s’ spot,” he told us. So of course we started pestering him, “Is Clint coming tonight?!?!” The security guard smiled and said he never knows ahead of time if Clint will make an appearance. Later that night I went to change Owen’s diaper…lo and behold the parking spot was occupied! While we never caught a glimpse of the man himself, we loved that the menu was chock full of meat and that ‘the owner’s’ car was a Ford Excursion. It was all so very Clint Eastwood.

    Menu time already? Goodness. I didn’t do either soup recipe last week, so I’m putting them both back on the menu!

    MONDAY:
    Spaghetti and Meatballs
    Roasted Cauliflower

    TUESDAY:
    – Happy Valentine’s Day! I need to figure out what we’re doing that night, I think I’ll just make something simple for the girls and Nate and I will just have take-out at home…something simple with a good chocolate dessert!

    WEDNESDAY:
    Turkey Sandwich with Cranberry & Cream Cheese

    THURSDAY:
    Chili

    FRIDAY:
    Chicken Soup with Rice

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out

    SUNDAY:
    Waffles & fruit

    Your turn! Let’s see those beautiful menus!

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  9. Thursday, February 9

    Random Little Techy Tips

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    Okay, I know this is a food blog. You’re expecting food. But today I need to share two little techy tips. The first is an iPhone thing that’s still kinda blowing my mind…not because it’s all that life changing, but because I can’t believe I didn’t know it. And another little trick for your computer (Mac or PC) that’s been around forever and a bunch of you probably already know but some of you don’t and need to! Figured if we’re getting techy, may as well throw it in.

    Random iPhone Tip: (The following applies to the iPad as well!)
    Did you know that when you open an app on your iPhone and then click the home button you are not closing the app? It stays open and runs in the background. I know, crazy, right?

    Wanna know how to close an app? You double click the home button and a bar appears at the bottom and shows every app that is open and running in the background.

    Press and hold one of the apps (like when you want to move apps around your phone), and a little minus sign will appear in the top left corner of each app icon.

    Just tap the minus sign and then the app closes down.

    Hit the home button, the minus signs disappear and everything stops wiggling, then hit the home button again to go to your regular screen.

    Every single app I have on my phone was running when a person I was sitting next to on the plane showed me this little trick.

    Theoretically the apps open faster when they’re running in the background, but I honestly don’t see a difference in speed if I open them from closed or from a running-in-the-background state. I was thinking last night, though, that if you want to flip between apps without first having to go to the home screen and potentially needing to flip through multiple screens, then this actually could come in handy. Of course, I’ll have to retrain my brain to use the phone that way, but it does in fact save you a couple of clicks moving between apps. For example:

    I’m in Facebook looking at how cute the pictures I took of my kids are. Suddenly I need to go play a little Words with Friends.

    Just double-click. Select Words. Kick a few people’s butts. Double click again. Select Facebook and get back to admiring my own photos.

    Is your mind blown? Mine is.

    {Update 4/13/12: When I originally wrote this post, I included mis-information about the apps taking up battery power and  processing speed while running in the background…I have since been happily corrected, updated this post and wrote a new post with the new information…click here to see it!}

    Random Computer Tip:
    Alt+Tab (PC) or Command+Tab (Mac) is my MOST FAVORITE KEYBOARD SHORTCUT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. Just do it and see what happens. Right now. You’re on a computer, right? Okay, see how it brings up all your programs that are open? And how you can continue holding down Alt/Command and then click tab to move through the programs? I’m sure some of you know this. But I’m also sure some of you don’t. And for those of you who don’t, now you do and your life has changed forever. You’re welcome.

    One more random iPhone tip that I just thought of and feel it is my duty to share:
    The front glass on an iPhone 4s is NOT FIXABLE. I learned the hard way and it cost me $250. You could replace the front glass on the 3G models, but not these new fandangled iPhones. You may want to go out and buy a more protective case now, especially if you didn’t buy Apple Care. Just sayin’.

    That’s all my friends. Go and be techy.

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  10. Wednesday, February 8

    Salted Caramel Thumbprints

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    These salted caramel thumbprint cookies were my favorite cookie find this past holiday season. My friend Elisa made them for her holiday cookie plates (among many other amazing treats) and I immediately fell in love. I don’t know if it was the salt or the fact that the cookies themselves are shortbread, but I got sucked in and stole them right out from under my family when they weren’t looking.

    Elisa originally found the recipe on the lovely food blog A Cozy Kitchen. I decided to give the recipe a go. I even made the caramel from scratch, which I highly recommend. I promise it was easy and it didn’t take much time at all. I just followed Adrianna’s instructions, to great success. Elisa had used store-bought caramel to save some time. Her cookies were still wonderful, but I must admit I preferred the homemade caramel – the texture was softer and easier to chew.

    I am retyping the recipe here so I can throw in a few notes from what I learned. Enjoy!

    Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies
    From A Cozy Kitchen. Shortbread Cookie recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa. Caramel recipe taken from Salted Caramel Mousse by Trish Desseine.

    Cookies:
    – 1 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
    – 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
    – 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
    – 1 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
    – 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

    Caramel:
    – 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
    – 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
    – 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

    Cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla (if you have a stand mixer, use paddle attachment). In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat square. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take out the fridge and cut into 1 1/4-inch squares.

    Jane notes: the dough was super duper crumbly. I really had to work it on the floured board to get it to come together. Also, it was difficult to roll it out into a square, so I pressed and rolled it out into a circle. After removing the dough from the refrigerator, I evenly cut the circle into 16 pie slices, if that makes sense, and form those triangles I rolled the dough into 1 1/4-inch  balls. By doing it this way, I knew that the cookie balls were all the same size and it was just all around easier for me.

    Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Hold the cookie steady with one hand and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Jane note: again, the dough was pretty crumbly, even when I had them shaped into balls. I had to sort of press each cookie down and shape it into a circle, then press the indentations in. A note on the indentations – I thought the cracked edges would be pretty, but the caramel oozed out of the cracks, so try not to have too many of cracks. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’re just a little golden brown on the sides. Jane note: I had to bake them longer than 15 minutes, my oven runs cool. Let cookies cool. While they’re cooling, make the caramel.

    Combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Do not stir. Cook over medium-high heat to a dark caramel, swirling as it begins to brown to distribute the sugar. While the sugar and water are going at it, heat up the cream in a saucepan or microwave just until warm.

    Take off the heat and add your room temperature butter. Whisk the butter in, being sure it’s totally combined. Add your warmed cream and whisk vigorously. Jane note: HOLY STEAM! Be careful when you add the cream…a pretty decent amount of HOT steam shot out of the pot when I poured it in and sort of surprised my face. No damage done, but can’t hurt to warn you!

    Spoon a teaspoon of warm caramel into the indentations of your cookies and top with sea salt. You can eat right away or let sit for 2 hours so the caramel sets. Jane note: I sprinkled my coarse sea salt about 5-10 minutes after I filled the cookies with caramel, so that I knew it would stick. The salt sort of disappeared into the caramel, so you couldn’t see it, which was sad because the salt is pretty, but it still tasted divine.

    Makes 16 cookies

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