Homemade Salted Caramel with Vanilla for Holiday Gift Giving

homemade salted caramel bite

I have just moved to Asheville to begin the newest phase of my life as a student of the culinary arts. With the madness of moving back to the country and then moving again shortly after, I’ve been too busy to prepare for the Holidays. This recipe is perfect if you need to produce a special DIY gift on the fly for a bunch of special people.

 winter canopy homemade salted caramel in jars

The exact origins of caramel are unknown, but can generally be traced back to the 17th century. The word itself is from French, meaning ‘burnt sugar’. This came to us via Old Spanish, ultimately from Medieval Latin, traditionally from Latin, possibly from an Arabic origin. Either way, this gorgeous goo has been around for a while. If it has never lived in your fridge, perhaps now is the time.

 winter berries homemade salted caramel in jars 2

I first tried making caramel for molten lava cakes. I had a bit left over which was used to top pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. These pies were the best pumpkin pies any of us had ever eaten. And since I’d made a lot of pie filling, we were happily having repeat pie every night. This caramel is very versatile and makes everything really, incredibly decedent and delicious.

salted caramel pumpkin pie

Drizzle it on top of your ice cream, stir a dollop in your coffee, spread a little on toast, or eat it with a spoon. Soon, you too, will be as infatuated as I am.

winter berries 2

 

Homemade Salted Caramel with Vanilla

(yields about six cups!)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups/500 ounces unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 2 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

salted caramel ingredients

Directions

-Heat sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously with a rubber spatula to avoid burning. The granules will clumps and eventually melt.

-Once the sugar is liquefied, add all of the butter and stir rapidly until the pieces have melted completely. The sugar will not combine with the butter, but stirring will ensure a smooth end product.

-Using a whisk to stir, slowly pour the cream into the mixture. Due to the coldness of the cream, the hot mixture will splatter as the cream is poured in. Continue pouring and rapidly whisking the mixture until the cream is fully incorporated and the caramel is smooth.

-Stir in salt and vanilla and let the caramel boil for one minute. Remove from heat.

-Let the caramel cool before distributing into gift containers. Small mason jars worked very well for me. Discard any chunks of sugar that may have hardened.

-Keep refrigerated for 3-4 weeks.

Share with friends and loved ones. Happy Holidays!

homemade salted caramel

The Path Home + Moving Forward

 watermelon radish salad in spiky bowl

After a decade of adventure, wondering at the world and learning how to be comfortable with the unfamiliar: I’ve come home.

abode flower 2 

What does home mean, exactly? Is home where the heart is?

My heart is all over the world: in every country I’ve been to, in every country I desire to explore, in every new adventure, in every meal.

abode flower 3

Is home the place you’re most familiar with? The place you relate to most?

I’ve become more comfortable with exploring new lands than plunging my roots into the ground to stay in one place. The foreign feeling I experience in the country of my birth is more pronounced than that of being a stranger in a foreign land.

abode flower 4

Is home a place? A person? An idea? Is it limited by what I know and where I’ve been? Can it transcend those limitations?

All of the above?

 abode flower

Here I am… Adjusting. Battling. Identifying. Trying to avoid having the same conversation everyday but also to avoid complacency. I’m also trying to avoid being too annoying to myself. First World Problems.

  colourful fall corn Autumn in the Berkshires 2 horse through spiderweb

For the moment, because I cannot claim to know what it will mean tomorrow, home can be identified in a decision; a path to refine my skills and to deepen my relationship to cuisine and food. I’m going to culinary school.

 fancy mac n' cheese with watermelon radish salad autumn in the Berkshires

Going to Korea to teach English to children was not exactly following my career trajectory. Adventure was a necessity and I found myself learning more about the world than I thought possible. In short, I put my career on hold to find out what I’m made of. Finally, when I made the decision to return, it was with clear intensions and strong passion. I’m ready to follow my path and keep moving forward. Take me home!

winter trees snowy branches snow and pantherkimchi jjigae

Candied Ginger Week: Candied Ginger Cocoa Nib Cookies with Nuts

candied ginger cocoa nibs coconut cookies 1.jpg

Cocoa nibs can be found in more and more places: chocolate covered cocoa nibs, smoothies, protein shakes and various baked goods. They are broken pieces of cocoa beans that have been prepped all but to the point of being processed into cocoa for chocolate.

cocoa nibs.jpg

They are rich in vitamins and nutrients and are considered a raw superfood. Cocoa nibs are pleasantly nutty, delicately earthy and they have a wonderful, crunchy texture.

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They also perfectly compliment ginger. Especially candied ginger. In cookies. THESE cookies.

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Ginger and cocoa strike again.

 

 

Candied Ginger Cocoa Nib Cookies with Nuts

 candied ginger cocoa nibs coconut cookie ingredients.jpg

Ingredients

  • 2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • ½ cup candied ginger pieces (recipe here)
  • ¼ cup cocoa nibs
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Directions

 

Preheat oven to 375ºF/190ºC/Gas mark 5.

Sift flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside

Combine candied ginger, cocoa nibs, coconut and chopped nuts. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a bowl with mixer or whisk. Add eggs and vanilla and continue to whisk until the eggs are well mixed.

Slowly combine flour mixture a bit at a time. Add some and mix well. Then add a bit more. Repeat until the flour is fully incorporated and there is no trace of dry powder.

Now stir in the candied ginger mixture.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a tablespoon-sized dollop of dough evenly spaced along the pan. Leave about two inches between the dollops so they have enough room to expand without being crowded.

candied ginger cocoa nibs coconut cookie batter.jpg

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they bake quite fast. They are done when the edges are brown and the middle is still a little raw looking.

Remove from heat and let cool. Devour immediately or freeze. Share with friends. Bring to a potluck. Or a brunch. Replace cookie for spoon with you ice cream. Dip in milk. Or milkshake. Anyway you do it, enjoy.

Makes about 24 cookies

 

Bite: Sorbet

Sorbet can be traced back as far as 3000 B.C.E. Somewhere in Asia, some crazy geniuses were mixing crushed fruit with ice. A bit later in Egypt, pharaohs offered their guests fruit juices mixed with ice to beat the heat. Later still, fine cuisine loving Italians used sorbet as a palate cleanser in between courses. Eventually, it morphed into the gorgeous, healthier-cousin-of-ice-cream it is today. I would like to thank everyone involved. You personally helped get this spoonful of grapefruit sorbet into my mouth.


the hand that feeds.jpg

Sands of flavour

When we admire our food, it admires us right back.

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These photos make me happy.

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Food is, quite simply, mesmerizing.

Experimenting with Dumplings + Musings On Time

 vegetarian dumplings 1.jpg

I’ve come to a place in my life where I realize how precious time is. I wish I had more of it. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time in my youth on… being young. Wandering aimlessly. Thinking about various paths to take with my life and not committing to anything in particular besides living. It is, at times, difficult to avoid overwhelming myself with big questions and demands. “Why didn’t you just go for it?” my brave self says. “Why did you go for it?” my careful self says.  Honestly, how do we not tear ourselves to shreds everyday? Damn you, self-reflection.

 handmade mushroom dumplings detail

Though, I know time is never really wasted. Not really. One of the self-preservation guidelines I have acquired over my 34 years is to live life without regret. No regret for my actions or inactions. Think carefully, but not too carefully. Pick your battles, but don’t let yourself be pushed around. Cut your losses when you need to, but stand firm at other times. Focus your energy on what makes you feel good and productive. As a youth, people generally terrified me. The amount of times I wish I’d said/did something but didn’t is uncountable and I lived with the regret of it. I lived with it… until I didn’t. There was a moment in my life where I understood that regret is the most wasteful emotion in existence. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but it was actually after watching Brokeback Mountain that I decided to kick regret out of my life. I literally cried for two weeks- everyday, all day -after watching that film. It is a story of a character’s lifelong regret and it gave a very brutal, very lonely idea of what it took from him. It destroyed me. I felt like I was mourning the loss of time. All the time that I had dwelled on things that didn’t help me or hadn’t made the best of a situation. Why had I let my insecurities ever get the best of me? Why have I let my fears take control? I have a body and a mind. Use them! Go! Do! Be! I cried and cried and when I finished crying, I was done and have been ever since. Luckily, regret is just a state of mind. I still do dumb things, but just don’t regret them. Instead, I learn from them and take notes on how do it better next time. I suppose time has had a hand in that.

mostly vegetarian mushroom dumplings filling

I greatly enjoy wrapped things as well as the act of wrapping things. Wrapped things contain presents, surprises to discover. I take any opportunity to wrap things, especially food. Mandu, or dumplings, are so fun. I bought some mandu wraps recently and gave my first attempt at making those mini pockets of delight. I often see Mandu Masters working their magic on each specimen, making them perfectly uniform every time and with incredible speed and efficiency. I bow down to these masters.

Some discoveries from my first few attempts:

  • It is challenging to prevent the mandu from looking like deformed ears.
  • It is fun to eat the ones you mess up.
  • You can fill your mandu with pretty much whatever you want, as long as it is viscous enough.

  

Mandu wraps can be found in the refrigerator section of just about any market or supermarket in Korea. If you do not reside in Korea/Asia nor have a market that provides these wraps, they can be made easily with a little flour and water. I may try a more traditional filling recipe someday, but for now, experimenting is too much fun.

Here is the recipe I made most recently.

vegetarian dumplings.jpg

Vegetarian Mandu and Dipping Sauce

 

Ingredients

  • 1 package of mandu wraps (containing 20-30 wraps)
  • 2 cups of cooked rice, rice noodles or your starch of choice
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • celery tops and leaves from one bunch, chopped
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 chili peppers, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Heat a stovetop fry pan and pour in a dash of cooking oil over medium high heat. Cook the chopped garlic, chilies and onions for a few minutes until translucent and slightly brown. Then, add the chopped celery. Cook until the celery is tender. Once cooled, blend this mixture until viscous. Set aside in a bowl.

If using rice noodles or any longer noodles, be sure to break or cut them before adding to the filling mixture. This is to prevent difficulty in closing up the mandu properly. If using rice, simply add to the mixture.

Heat your stovetop pan once again with oil on medium high heat. Crumble the tofu by hand directly into the pan and cook for 5-10 minutes or until slightly brown. Add the tofu to the rest of the filling mixture along with the salt. Mix.

Prepare a steamer with water and heat until boiling.

Now for the fun part: filling the wraps. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each wrap. Fold one side over and roll the wrap into a log shape. Pinch the ends closed and wrap them around until they touch on one side. Wet your fingers and pinch together until closed. Place them in the steamer and steam for 7-10 minutes.

Your mandu can be eaten at this stage, but I highly recommend a further step of a light pan-frying. This makes your mandu extra delicious. Simply, heat a little oil in a pan and fry the mandu on each side for about 2-3 minutes.

For the sauce, my method is fool proof and delicious: one part soy sauce, one part white or apple cider vinegar and a pinch of chili powder.

Dip your lopsided, ear-shaped mandu lovingly into the sauce. Laugh about how each one will help you hear better and devour ruthlessly.

The Cruel Realities of Kopi Luwak (a.k.a. Poo Coffee) + Adventures in Coffee Reduction

You may have noticed my most recent obsession with Bali and the images I took there. It’s true. The plant life, ocean, natural landscape, food and general gorgeousness of Bali have really helped to inspire me this winter. Though the photos have thus far not included a recipe, they have all been leading up to this post.

 Balinese coffee

I have been pretty fascinated with Kopi Luwak for some years now. Ever since I’d heard it was considered the most expensive beverage on the planet and was basically cleaned up cat poo, there was no turning this experience junkie around. 

 coffee plant

I enjoy thinking about the beginnings of foods. For example, who decided to eat blue cheese for the first time? Why did they think it would be a good idea? Who did all the fieldwork needed to figure out which mushrooms are edible and which would melt their insides? Why was it worth it to them? Who decided that soured milk, or yogurt, was ok to eat? And of course, who decided to pick up the droppings of a civet cat because they thought it would make an extra delicious espresso? I know many food traditions have been discovered out of need, but come on.

 kopi luwak beans

Kopi luwak got its beginnings in just that way. The civet, a cat like creature native to Indonesia, eats the choicest, ripest coffee beans as part of its diet. The beans then ferment in their digestive tract and come out whole because the civets are unable to digest them. Then, some people decided it would be a great idea to collect the wild civet poo, clean and roast the beans and call it a delicacy. A rare and expensive beverage. While in Bali, I made it a priority to seek kopi luwak out. My guide in Ubud brought me to an agro tourism farm called Bali Pulina. I was warmly greeted as soon as I walked onto the property and was given a small tour to show what they grew and produced. The place was beautiful. Several photos from my previous posts were taken there, including flowers, spices and one of the many amazing rice terraces that Ubud is known for.

 Coffee samples

In their little café, I was offered a free tasting of the beverages they produce and a fantastic overlooking view of the rice terrace. I sipped the teas, coffees and cocoas, tasting and enjoying them individually and comparing the results. They were all lovely, but I was far too focused on getting to the shop to buy luwak coffee. I finally got some. I brought it back to Korea and drank the shit out of that shit coffee. It produced a nutty, farmy coffee that was quite pleasant. It was exciting to compare it to the normal coffee I keep around the house and try it with different sugars and milks.

 cocoa beans in BaliBali mystery plantspices in bali

Unfortunately, with the slightest bit of research, I discovered information that made me regret having made my purchase. I found out that farmed civet coffee can never produce the desired results so sought after by coffee connoisseurs. This is because wild civets eat the ripe coffee beans as a part of a balanced diet including all the other things civets eat, while the animals on these plantations (often taken from the wild) are fed a diet made entirely of coffee beans. This is very unhealthy for the civets. And since there is nothing else in their guts, the beans don’t produce the desired flavours they once did. More importantly, farmed civets are often kept in horrendous conditions. They are shy and territorial by nature. Being kept in cramped cages so close to other civets is very stressful and often results in a loss of sanity and decrease in their health. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for food and wildlife that kept me naïve, but learning this was heart-wrenching and I no longer wish to support the production of this culinary rarity. Though I certainly did savour the small amount I acquired there.

 

I was perhaps a little ambitious with this recipe. I cannot actually say it was a success. In fact, it was mostly a failure. I tried very hard to pair coffee with various flavours with nauseating results. I poured some on quail eggs and potatoes, dipped in some toast and even a tiny bite of pan-fried fish. I tried tasting it with random ingredients around my kitchen. The only success with this experiment, thus far, is in making me feel ill. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, the reduction itself is quite nice (albeit bitter) in small doses. When I’ve worked out what to pair it with, I’ll post something magical. Suggestions are welcome!

spiced coffee and red wine reduction.jpg

Spiced Coffee and Red Wine Reduction

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup strong coffee
  • 1/3 cup red cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a piece of fresh ginger (about the size of a quarter), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon whole lavender flowers
  • ¼ teaspoon chopped dried lemongrass

Directions

While the coffee is still hot, pour it in a cup with the ginger, lavender, lemongrass, cardamom and cinnamon. Let the spices infuse for a 2-3 hours then strain.

Using a non-reactive skillet, pour in the wine, coffee and sugar. Simmer over medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove from heat.

Taste your coffee reduction with various things around your kitchen. Have blind taste tests with your friends. Laugh at the faces they make.