Caprese Pasta

I love basil.  And mozzarella.  And tomatoes are pretty great, too.  Caprese anything makes me pretty happy.  In fact, I make this Caprese Grilled Cheese sometimes for lunch that is to die for.  I’ll have to save that for another day.  Today, we’re talking about Caprese Pasta.

Caprese Pasta

I’ve been making variations of this pasta for a while.  The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart.  I adapt depending on what we have around.  This time I used:

  • Medium pasta shells
  • Grape tomatoes from our garden
  • Fresh basil, also from our garden
  • Fresh mozzarella, cut into small chunks
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Leftover turkey, chopped into bite size pieces
  • Vegetable oil
  • Butter
  • Salt & pepper

Caprese Pasta

It’s a super fast, super easy dish.  Cook pasta.  Cook meat (grilled chicken is good, too).  Then, combine everything, including some reserved pasta water.  Toss it all together until the cheese and pasta water make a sauce.  Top with extra Parmesan and enjoy!

As I said, the great thing about this dish is not only its feasibility but its flexibility.  You really don’t need to worry much about quantities of ingredients.  I typically use 8oz of the shells (or other pasta) and then ends up being just slightly more than we’ll eat in one sitting.  I’ve used a variety of herbs in place of the basil; the original recipe calls for parsley.  You could add more veggies and leave out the protein entirely.  You could switch out the protein as well, although I think the lightest of the dish works best with poultry.

It tastes delicious and is a great summer dish – especially when you are using ingredients straight from your back yard.  Enjoy!

What other variations would you make to this simple recipe?

Honey Oat Bread

Finished Bread

Way back in the winter months when I did not post much, I got very domestic.  It got a little out of control.  I even went so far as to make Kevin a pair of pajama pants with the sewing machine he got me for Christmas.  Let’s just say that you won’t be seeing those on the blog.  He never has to worry about whether or not they are inside out – one leg always is.  He loves them, though…or he wears them just to pity me.  Not totally sure on that one.

Other, more successful domestic adventures took place in the kitchen.  I am a lot better at reading a recipe than I am a pattern, it turns out.  Kevin’s parents gave us the amazing gift of a stand mixer for our wedding (best gift ever).  I use it all the time; I feel like I am just beginning to grasp its true potential.  Case in point: I had not even used the dough hook before making this bread.

Stand MixerI got the recipe for Honey Oat Bread over at bakingdom.com.  The full recipe is there, as well as pictures that will make your mouth water far more than mine will.

Yeast Mix

You can see in the picture above that I used standard grocery store honey.  I admit feeling some shame over that.  We had wonderful, delicious local honey that I had purchased through our local coffee shop, but ran out right before I made this bread.  Local honey supposedly helps with allergies and since mine are so brutal in the spring and fall, I try to keep some on hand.  Totally failing at that goal right now.

Ready to riseNow, before this adventure, I had never made bread by myself in my life.  Sure, we buy those baguettes that you bake yourself all the time, but those definitely do not count.  I had never had to let anything rise in my kitchen before.  Turns out that the natural temperature of an Ohio kitchen in January is not conducive to bread rising.  After nearly an hour with no action, I ended up putting my covered dough on the warming zone of our stovetop.

It is risen!That trick worked like a charm.  Although, I have learned in subsequent bread-making endeavors that you have to be careful with this trick.  Sometimes a few bits near the bottom of the bowl get semi-baked and this makes getting the dough rolled out and into loaf form a lot more difficult.

Ready to rise againThis particular bread recipe has the dough finish the rising process in the pan.  You can see that I am still a beginner at making pretty loaves.  Mine still tend to have a crack in them, which only gets pronounced after the bread finishing rising.

Ready to bakeOne of the (many) things which makes this bread so delicious is that, once ready to bake, you brush the top with warm honey and sprinkle with oats.  Here’s mine ready to go:

About to enter the oven

It only needs to bake for 40-50 minutes, all of which you will spend waiting impatiently to enjoy the source of the lovely, sweet aroma in your kitchen.  And when it’s done, you are, of course, supposed to let it cool completely before slicing.  Good luck with that.

Finished bread

(Forgive the lighting in these last few pictures.  By the time I finished my first bread baking adventure, it was already dark out.  After all, it gets dark before dinner in January here.  Stupid winter.)

SlicedThe bread is moist and dense.  You can definitely taste the honey in the dough, but it is not overpowering.  Kevin liked to eat it plain, but I put additional honey and a little butter on mine because, well, because I could.

Honeyed breadWe highly recommend this bread.  Kevin keeps asking me to make it again and I definitely want to.  I have made a few other homemade breads since this one; they have been good, but none as good as the Honey Oat Bread.

Have you tried making homemade bread?  Do you have any tips for a beginner?  I am still learning how to manage the whole yeast thing.  I have had successes and failures with that.  Any suggestions on how to help bread rise in a cold, dry kitchen?

Caramel Apples

We realize this post comes a little late to the game.  Anything involving fall activities should probably have gotten posted before Thanksgiving.  Oh well.  We will catch up soon enough.  We will have a Christmas post later this week – promise!  In the mean time, one final fall-flavored post should keep finish up any lingering cravings you had for falling leaves or corn mazes.

Few foods represent autumn as quintessentially as apples.   Their color mirrors the dying foliage and their crisp crunch matches the chill in the air.  Last year, we picked apples with Kevin’s family at an orchard in Michigan and they were absolutely delicious.  We had an awesome time doing it, at as well.  While we did not get a chance to pick them ourselves this year due to the wedding, that did not stop us from indulging in a few classic apple treats.  I made my first legit apple pie this year.  I adapted a favorite recipe for mini apple crisps into a full pan size.  And we did this:

Caramel Apples

I don’t know if I had ever eaten a caramel apple before this.  Now, I know my mom is going to read this and say “Of course you have!”  Let me quickly preempt that and rephrase: “I have no memory of ever eating a caramel apple until we made them a few weeks ago.”  I am not really sure what prompted our desire to make these.  Then again, I am not sure what prompts any of our ideas.

I know our sticks are a little long here.  However, we were not about to about to buy 100 popsicle sticks just to make a few caramel apples. We made do with some kebab skewers we had around the house (another product you can’t buy in a quantity less than 100).  Resourcefulness, folks.

While in retrospect, I realize it may have been easier to buy caramel pre-made, the thought honestly never crossed my mind.  As with most things we do, especially in the kitchen, we tend to go big or go home.  In this case, that meant making our own caramel.  I believe Kevin’s words when he realized my plan were, “You can make caramel at home?”  You absolutely can and should!  It tasted far better than any store bought caramel I’ve had.  It turned out to be surprisingly easy, too.  With a little help from Betty Crocker, we had no problems.

Caramel ingredients (clockwise from top): 1 cup sugar, splash of vanilla, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 can condensed milk

We combined everything and stuck it in a saucepan, medium-low heat.  It had to be closely monitored to make sure it didn’t burn.  As you can see below, Kevin and I took turns stirring.  He’s a great sous chef.  Good ol’ Betty said the caramel would take about 45 minutes.  Ours took over an hour; I attribute that to the fact that I kept the heat pretty low for the first half hour.  I’ll be honest…stirring that caramel got very boring.

After what seemed like an entire evening of stirring, we finally ended up with a beautifully colored caramel.  Now, since we don’t have a candy thermometer  Betty suggested putting a drop into a cup of cold water and expecting it to form a little squishy caramel ball as a test of readiness.  We tried that and it didn’t really seem like a good method.  The water just got cloudy and I could never fish the little caramel drop back out to test its squishy-ness.  So, we pretty much just went by sight, smell, and viscosity.  Once we were sure it was ready (read: once we couldn’t stir that stuff for one more minute), we took the caramel off the heat and started dipping.

Dipping the apples was a little tricky in the saucepan, but I didn’t want to risk the caramel cooling by the time we got it into a different container.  You have to move fast to keep it from hardening.

We crushed some nuts to dip our apples in as well.  We went with a mix of pecans and walnuts, because that’s what we had in the cupboard.

As you can see in the picture at the top of the post, our caramel apples did not necessarily turn out to be the most beautiful, but they sure tasted good.  Because it was a little difficult to dip the apples in the saucepan (ok, and also because we wanted every last drop of that sugary goodness), we used a spoon to top off the apples with the remaining caramel.  They were crazy messy, crazy filling, and crazy delicious.  As you can see, Kevin was pretty pleased.

It counts as salad, right?

Anyone with Pinterest understand the wonderful, evil addiction of that site.  It offers so many brilliant ideas and, yet, it is all too easy to keep the ideas pinned to your board and never executed in your life.  In a marriage of my obsessions with organization and cooking, I broke my Pinterest boards down into recipe categories.  It’s like having a little online cookbook of only things I am interested in making.  However, there are far more good ideas on Pinterest than I have time to actually make.  I have been working my way through them slowly, but I’m always looking for an excuse to try something new.  Example: a potluck lunch in my office.

I try not to make too many “full-size” desserts at home.  Kevin and I just can’t eat them fast enough before they are no longer good.  There’s an endless debate between us about how long things like cookies should stay within our walls before I bring them to work for the guys there.  My philosophy is that the sooner I take stuff into work, the better it will be for  them and the less we will eat – which is a good thing, right?  Kevin disagrees.

I call this “philosophy”- “Kevin’s two hour window” in which I only get two hours to eat as much desert as possible or else it goes away forever. The only exception to this rule is in the rare instance Alise makes something that she feels is unsuited for her co-workers (like burning cookies) When this rare cooking eclipse happens than I get to enjoy desserts past the “two hour window.” My new plan is to covertly distract her when she makes desserts so that she may make a mistake, and the two hour window can be shattered!  Let the games begin!

We are completely off topic.  This post is supposed to be about what I made for that potluck.  Back to that.  After careful perusing of my Pinterest dessert board, I selected Snickers Salad.  Yes, you read that right.  Snickers…in a salad…well, sort of.  I found the recipe on Erica’s Bloggity Blog courtesy of some friendly pinner.   To my surprise, this recipe is not just one creative blogger’s idea; one of my co-workers talked about eating Snickers salad years ago while in college.  Wherever it came from originally, here’s how I made it:

Snickers Salad

  • 8-10 green apples
  • 2 bags of mini Snickers
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 8 oz. of Cool Whip
  • 1 small box of instant vanilla pudding

First off, I mixed the instant pudding and the milk.

Note, you only use one cup of milk vs. the two you make when you make regular pudding.  While you prep the remainder of the ingredients, set the pudding aside to chill.  From there, chop the apples and Snickers into bite-size pieces.

Once you’ve chopped everything, take the pudding out of the fridge and fold in the Cool Whip.  Then, toss in the apples and Snickers.  Mix well and you’re done.  Super simple.

When everything came together, I’ll admit that I was skeptical.  It kind of looked like a weird potato salad.  Tasting it, though, assuaged any fears I had.  It really tasted great.  When I make it again, I will definitely cut the recipe in half.  This made so much salad and, even though I took it to our potluck at work, we couldn’t work through the whole thing before it got mushy.  Also, I made this the night before the potluck and by the next day, an odd pudding/apple juice liquid had seeped to the bottom of my trifle bowl.  It wasn’t bad, just not as appetizing.  I would definitely serve this immediately after mixing.  That’s when it’s going to look and taste the best.  Still, it was pretty good taking a bite or two from the fridge over the next few days.