Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Caramel Championships!

I promised some of you that I would be doing a Caramel Cook Off between brown sugar and white sugar caramel.  I did.  Thats the winner right there above.  Enjoy!

JUST KIDDING!  Ok so I have this super easy brown sugar caramel recipe I have making and storing in half pint Ball canning jars.  I got the recipe from....hmmmm where DID I get the recipe...Oh yes of course! Mels Kitchen Cafe.  I had made her Caramel Apple Cheesecake Streusel Bars.  The caramel in this recipe takes less than 10 minutes and no thermometer is required.  Here is a picture (on my cell phone...I know I know):

On the cheesecake bars:

As you can see, it has a pretty dark color to it.  Nothing like I had imagined.  I pictured more of a chewy, creamy caramel candy type of color.  It tasted very robust also.  In other words, it was VERY caramely tasting.  I absolutely LOVED it.  Made a bunch of this stuff so that I could have some in the fridge at all times.  I used it in coffee, over desserts, my mind kept running over the different things I could use it over....mmmmmm.  Then.  Then I saw this:

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Uh huh...are you drooling yet?  I had already began thinking of different Homemade Gifts I could give for the holidays.  I had to go out on disability for awhile and didn't want to turn off all the lights and hide in the back of the house at Christmas like I do at Halloween.  So, naturally when I received this in my email AND saw how light and creamy it looked, I had to try it.  I did so last night and here is mine:

Look at the spoon and NOT in the pan.  Its a little darker than I would have liked BUT it was my first time.  A little stressful I might add too.  You have to wait for the color to change to amber.  The recipe called for deep amber.  Plus I had read somewhere that a non-stick coated pan is no bueno for caramel making. 
Ok so I maybe shoulda put the cream in a moment sooner and the caramel would have been a little lighter.  This stuff is SO good.  It has butter in it as well that I think lends a creaminess to it that the brown sugar one does not.  This recipe is definitely harder to make.  More for an intermediate cook where the brown sugar recipe is better for a beginner cook.  The finished product:
Ok so I thought I was being all fancy with my camera trying to take this shot at an awesome angle to show off my shallot and garlic there in the background.  Then I see all those dang crumbs on my counter.  Geez! Pretend you don't see them please.

THUD! I just died.  White sugar caramel wins!

Brown Sugar Caramel Sauce (Courtesy of Mel's Kitchen Cafe)
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cups half-and-half or cream
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Mix butter, brown sugar, half-and-half or cream, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until thickened slightly. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat and pour the sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold. 
White Sugar Caramel Sauce (Courtesy of Oxmoor House)


  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3  cup  water
  • 3/4  cup  whipping cream
  • 1/3  cup  butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2  teaspoon  vanilla extract


Combine sugar and water in a large heavy saucepan; cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high, and boil gently, without stirring, until syrup turns a deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling pan (about 8 minutes). (Swirling the pan, instead of stirring, promotes more even cooking.) Gradually add cream (sauce will bubble vigorously). Add butter; stir gently until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.  Yields 1 3/4 cups.
I would like to note that when I added the cream, the sauce got hard and I had to whisk ALOT to get it to smooth out again.  I would be very careful to add the cream gradually as I think I dumped it all in.  Miraculously, it turned out lol.
Christmas With Southern Living 2006, Oxmoor House, JUNE 2006

Sunday, November 14, 2010

10 Commandments Of The Chronically Ill

I read this on one of my forums for Common Variable Immunodeficiency.  BOY oh BOY!  If you are chronically ill, you will be able to relate to each and every one of these commandments I assure you.  If someone in your life is chronically ill or THINKS they are ill, please I beg you, read this. 

10 Commandments for interacting with the chronically ill
1. Thou Shalt Not Imply That We Are Not Truly Ill.You will not convince us otherwise with remarks such as, “You LOOK good,” or “But you don’t LOOK sick.” Even if you meant them as compliments, we perceive those kind of statements as insults because they imply that you do not believe us.
2. Thou Shalt Not Imply That The Illness Can Be Easily Fixed.People with chronic illnesses are persistent, if nothing else. We hang on, day after day. We see countless doctors, take numerous medications, do endless research, and continue hoping that the answer is just around the next corner. So please do not insult us by delivering diagnoses, remedies, or comments such as, “Why don’t you just...” or “Have you tried...” or “You should....” If it truly were that simple, I assure you that we would have done it already. We are sick, not stupid.
3. Thou Shalt Not Imply That We Brought This On Ourselves.We did not choose to become ill, just as we do not choose to stay ill. Simply having a positive attitude is not going to solve our problem. One would never imply that a quadriplegic chose such a trial for themselves, or could get better “if they really wanted to”. Please afford chronically ill patients the same respect.
4. Thou Shalt Not Insult or Argue With Our Limitations or Behaviors.If people with chronic illnesses push ourselves too hard, we can suffer serious consequences. Most of us have developed coping mechanisms to help us survive, and it is cruel to expect us to do more than we are able. One chronically-ill woman I know was actually told, “I wish I could have the luxury of sleeping all day.” Believe me, we would much rather be out working, playing, spending time with loved ones, participating in normal activities.
“Sleeping all day” is not a luxury for us – it is a critical necessity, one that we must take in order to protect whatever remaining health we have. Perhaps it may help to think of it in terms of being one of the medications we need to take. If you wouldn’t think of denying a diabetic their insulin, then don’t think of denying the sufferer of a chronic illness their critical need, whether it is a mid-day nap, avoidance of certain foods or environmental factors, or something else.
5. Thou Shalt Not Imply That You Can Relate To What We Are Going Through.Unless you have a chronic illness of your own, you cannot possibly understand just how much suffering is happening. Of course you want to be compassionate and want to relate to people. But when you try to do this by telling a chronically-ill person that you are always tired too, it tends to make the person feel that you are minimizing their suffering. Try saying something more along the lines of, “This must be so hard for you,” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” It really does make a difference to us.
6. Thou Shalt Be Mindful Of Other Family Members.
Chronic illness doesn’t just affect the person who has it, but the whole family as well. The trauma of the illness can evoke feelings of fear, depression, anger, and helplessness in all family members. The balance of family dynamics will most likely change, especially if it is a parent who is ill. The healthy spouse may end up taking on an overwhelming amount of responsibility, and even children will likely be involved in helping care for the ailing family member. Please keep these others in your thoughts as well, and make an effort to direct some special attention to them, without any mention of illness or disability.
Individual family members adjust in different ways and at different paces. All members might benefit from counseling to help handle the stress involved, and each family member also needs to have time to pursue their own individual interests. External support from friends, neighbors, extended family, religious institutions, and support groups may help ease some of the burden.
7. Thou Shalt Acknowledge Our Efforts and Celebrate Even Our Small Successes With Us.For the chronically ill, any day that we can accomplish a task, no matter how small, is a “good” day! Our lives are often measured in terms of doctor’s visits and lab work, and our “success” measured by a rise in Natural Killer cell counts in our blood, or actually completing an entire load of laundry in just one day. Please do not look at us as if we are joking when we share these celebratory moments with you. Celebrate with us, be happy with us, and do not kill the moment by announcing that you just completed the Ironman Triathlon in record time.
8. Thou Shalt Offer Thy Specific Help.There are so many ways to help -- the most difficult part is usually getting a chronically-ill person to accept that help. They do not want to feel like a “burden”. If you offer a vague, “Call me if I can help,” the call will probably never come. But if you are sincere, consider extending offers of specific help, such as a ride to a doctor’s appointment, or picking up a few groceries or the dry cleaning. These activities can be done in a way that does not add any extra burden to your own schedule. If you have to go to the grocery store for your own family, it really isn’t much extra work to grab an additional loaf of bread and jug of milk. If you have to swing by the post office, getting an extra roll of stamps or mailing an additional package isn’t much extra effort for you – but it can save a chronically-ill individual a lot of time, energy, and exacerbation of symptoms.
9. Thou Shalt Remember Important Events.I’m not just talking about birthdays and Christmas. A major doctor’s appointment, lab test, or new medication are all important events to the chronically-ill person. Try to sincerely ask, “How was your appointment? How did the lab test go? How’s your new medication?” The chronically-ill person will appreciate that you remembered, and that you cared enough to ask about it.
10. Thou Shalt Get To Know The Person Behind The Illness.The illness may be a part of us, but it’s not a part of who we ARE. We want to be known as more than “that sick person”. You may discover that we have a wickedly funny sense of humor, a creative imagination, musical talents, or any number of things that better describe who we are, and what we would rather be remembered for. (It makes for better gift ideas too -- rather than presenting us with yet another self-help book on the power of positive thinking, now you can give us a CD from our favorite singer or movie of our favorite actor instead.)
Most of all, please remember that the chronically-ill person is more than worthy of love, friendship, and support. Most chronically-ill people I know are the toughest nuts I have ever met. Indeed, I have come to believe that a chronic illness is not for wimps – rather, only the toughest of the tough can continually face the struggles of life while battling a debilitating disease. That kind of grit deserves nothing less than pure respect and admiration, even from our toughest critic -- ourselves.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

Ok...I was very torn as to whether or not to even post this picture.  1.  It REALLY shows how dirty my stove is LOL!  I can't remember what I cooked before this cake, but it was obviously very good from the amount of grease on my stove.  2.  It wasn't the same cake I made last night but SO very close.  I just forgot to take a picture.  It was still made in the same pan, in the same oven.  Whew, honesty makes me feel better!

This cake is SO good.  My child, who does not like chocolate hardly at all, at this cake 3 nights in a row! Yes siree!  It is impossible.  You add hot water to the dry ingredients that sit on top of this brownie like mix and TA DA a pudding is conceived somehow in all that gooey heavenly goodness.  The top has a slight crispness to it, like a crackle to it.  It is divine and so stinking easy.  If you can measure, you can make this recipe.  I must say, I have used both Hershey Cocoa and last night I used Nestle.  Hershey won hands down.  Trust me on this one people.  Now GO make this now and enjoy :)

Makes an 8X8-inch pan
1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Whisk ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup cocoa powder and set aside.
Whisk the flour, remaining ½ cup sugar, remaining ¼ cup cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk milk, butter, egg yolk, and vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips (the batter will be stiff).
Using a rubber spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan and spread into corners. Sprinkle reserved cocoa and sugar mixture evenly over the top. Gently pour boiling water over cocoa. Do not stir.
Bake until the top of the cake is cracked, sauce is bubbling and a toothpick inserted into cakey area comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 22-24 minutes. Cool on rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
From Mel's Kitchen Cafe who got it from Cooks Country

Chile Verde and Rice

First, let me apologize for the massive amount of sour cream that APPEARS to be on top of this burrito.  It was the angle of my cell phone (honestly).  Now, I realize that you cannot fully appreciate the filling inside this delectable, crunchy burrito, but let me tell you it is fabulous.  I won't actually be sharing the recipe for the chile verde though LOL I know I am so stinking mean huh?? But it's the rice.  I have messed with this recipe for YEARS let me tell you.  Now, even my sister likes it.  That is saying a LOT because she doesn't like anything, except for salad and overcooked chicken hehe.  

This recipe comes from my ex mother-in-law Rose.  Gawd I loved that woman.  She could cook her booty off.  She also taught me the chile verde.  I should have gotten her pickled tongue recipe now that I think about it hmmm....anyways.  She was half Hispanic so I consider this to be authentic.  If it isn't, please do not tell me about it haha.  

Mexican Rice

1 cup long grain rice (I use only Mahatma)
1 14 oz can chicken broth
1 7 oz can hot tomato sauce (El Pato)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small onion, minced (you can cheat like I do and use dried onion)
1 tablespoon oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Put the oil in a frying pan over high heat.  Add rice, salt and pepper, onion and garlic and stir. DO NOT let the garlic burn, stir constantly.  The rice color will start to change, some of the grains will turn opaque.  At this point, add remaining ingredients, stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer.  DO NOT remove the lid for 20 minutes.  Remove lid, stir and fluff rice.  Taste to check for tenderness.  If need be, cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes.  
*Note:  Once rice is cooked, you can let this stand (no heat) with the lid on until rest of meal is done.  Usually adds great texture and additional flavor (or, I could be crazy on this part).  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

I was forced to go out on short term disability a couple of weeks ago.  I use the term "forced" very loosely.  I say forced because I didn't want to go out.  I had just gotten back in August.  I was out for 6 weeks for "Valley Fever".  I say " " because it wasn't VF.  Misdiagnosed.  Again.  Fricken Kaiser man...anyways.  I love my job, love the company I work for and love the people I work with.

There is another little piece to my story.  I am a single mom who NEVER asks for help.  Unless it involves ceiling fans then I call people.  Ok I RARELY ask people for help and I have an exceptionally hard time accepting help.  I have no idea why.  Pride? It is probable.

I get a phone call from my boss and was repeating a story of a friend who called and offered to help with my gardener.  I thought it was strange he offered out of the blue.  She says "oh speaking of help"...Apparently, our boss and his wife had the idea to start a sign up sheet for volunteers to bring my daughter and I a meal a week.  They had enough volunteers to get us one week past my journey to Colorado.  That is like 10 weeks away!  I was absolutely floored.  First of all, it was done, boom, bam, nothing I could do or say about it.  I tried to tell her that I can cook, I am ok, there are so many more needy people than us!  STOP THE MADNESS!  She told me to SHOOSH IT! Let people help and do not steal their blessings.  ACK FINE lol.

This "not stealing someones blessing" thing has been a huge lesson for me to learn.  You see, people like giving out blessings in many shapes and forms.  Whether it  be a random hug, craming a $20 bill in your hand as they flee for their life, buying you lunch, calling you and letting you do all the talking, and signing up to bring you meals when you are ill with a small child.  People give these things away, expecting nothing in return.  Can you believe that? I mean, I've seen people do it.  I try to bless my friends with a home cooked meal or a cooking lesson.  I just cannot believe something of this magnitude is being done for me.  I feel...guilty.  Undeserving.  I don't know why.  I think its because I feel all my needs are being met.  I need for nothing.  Would a meal be appreciated? HOLY COW UM YA lol.  There are lots of times we are doing cereal or frozen pretzels and cheese (which by the way my child loves because she can say the word "smorgasboard").

I have this idea to have a caramel cook off this weekend between brown sugar and white sugar caramel.  To see which one tastes better.  So far I have only done brown and we LOVE IT.  Then, I will package the caramel sauce in half pint canning jars with some fabric, a ribbon and note stating what is in it, and give it away as a thank you.  What do you think? Lame? I just don't think "thank you" is quite enough.

On an end note.......I am so abundantly blessed :)

Bye for now,

Special K

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Now that I have your attention.  There is this site, ok, well technically it is not new but I still felt an urge to share. I am not a girly girl.  Typically.  Unless it has to do with shoes.  I do not know why.  Maybe from all my years of not wearing high heels? Maybe now I am making up for it? Who knows.  I LOVE THIS SITE!

Ok so here's the premise: you take a little quiz and this site picks out a selection of shoes and bags for you once a month.  Everything is a flat price of $39.95, nice huh? Sometime between the first & fifth of the month you either pick a shoe or bag to purchase, or you decline.  No obligation.  If you do not make a selection by the 6th your card is charged and you would essentially have a credit to purchase something with.  I won't name names, but I was with another company for a couple of months and not ONCE could they get me a shoe I liked.  Shoe Dazzle nailed it on the first try.  To top it off, I got 50% off my first order, nice huh?  I felt the need to share the wealth with my fellow shoe whores.  Now go, click the link and be a girl (rawr).


Special K

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Mini's

First, I would like to say, when I grow up, I want a REAL camera to take REAL pictures of the food I cook so I can stop using my daggum cell phone! There, thank you for joining us haha.

Ok this picture does not do the recipe justice, really.  This was fairly easy but had multiple steps: Base layer, cream cheese layer, apple layer, crumble layer.  So I would say an average-mid level cook/baker can do this.  This isn't your beginners recipe.  

So I saw this recipe on  Mels Kitchen Cafe and OMG I had to have it.  The only difference is, and this was my first stab at it, the cheesecake layer was a little on the slim side.  But wow! What a dessert.  I concocted this from a layer bar dessert and think it turned out very successful.  I shared one with my mom on Halloween and she sat and ate the whole thing with me.  This rarely happens with my mom honestly.  "Oh I just want a bite" she will say.  This time she wanted her half and all of it!  The caramel sauce that was on top was simply delightful and extremely easy to make.  You must keep an eye on it though or I fear it could turn out to dark and taste bitter.  The base and topping were quite rich tasting, very.....nutty, brownish tasting lol  Sorry it's the best description I can give right this moment.  I used Honey Crisp apples and oh my were they yummy! I had never had them as I don't eat apples often.  

I must post this picture because of the cute little ramakins in it.  I got these babies at the Dollar Store.  HAHA yes I did.  Aren't they cute?  

This caramel is awesome!  I have used it in my coffee several mornings in a row now.  I highly recommend it and am now so unafraid of it, I may want to try the real thing with a thermometer and everything.  I would love a great, sticky recipe to use in a salted caramel brownie mmmmmmm lawdy!

I divided the recipe in half and used in 4 ramakins (large).

Caramel Apple Cheesecake
Original Recipe from Mels Kitchen Cafe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
Cream Cheese Layer:
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped (I used Honey Crisp)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Streusel Topping:
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small bowl, stir together chopped apples, two tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine all the streusel topping ingredients and mix until crumbly. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two forks until mixture is crumbly but combined. Press evenly into a 9X13-inch baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
While the crust is baking, in a large bowl, beat cream cheese with 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Then add eggs, one at a time and then the vanilla. Mix well. Pour over the warm crust.
Spoon the apple mixture evenly over the cheesecake layer. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the apples. Bake for 30 minutes until the filling is set.
Cool the bars to room temperature. Drizzle with the caramel topping (or plate individual slices and drizzle with topping one by one).
Caramel Sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cups half-and-half or cream
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
Mix butter, brown sugar, half-and-half or cream, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until thickened slightly. Add the vanilla and cook another minute to thicken further. Turn off the heat and pour the sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until cold. If the caramel sauce has cooled in the fridge long enough to harden, warm slightly before drizzling on bars.

Your Tummy Is So Soft!

I was laying in bed this past Saturday rubbing my tummy when my daughter, who is 7, walked in.  I was whining a little as I had done my SCIG infusion the night before and it was itching rather badly.  I do believe I have an allergy to the Emla numbing cream they give me.  Also, those teeny needles leave some nasty knots.  So, being the wonderfully observant, helpful, completely obsessed with everything naked child that she is, she offers to rub my tummy for me.  She is rubbing away when she says "mama your tummy is soooooooooo soft, why isn't it hard like mine? See, feel it" hahaha YES she did.  Then, giggling, because, well she said it so innocently and she was right, I felt her tummy.  Indeed it was hard as a rock, 6 pack-ish, abs galore.  I said oh wow you are right Jalen.  She proceeds to rub my tummy as quickly as she can and she says.......wait for it......."and its sooooooo floppy".  I died.  I will check in later.

How I Treat CVID

Dr. Charlotte Cunningham-Rundles is a leading researcher on Common Variable Immunodeficiency.  The article that was sent to me, was amazing.  Confusing as the woman is obviously slightly genius-y.  Of particular interest, for me anyways, is the section on Chronic Lung Disease and Granulomatous/lymphoid infiltrative disease.

I hope this helps someone to understand.  It is so hard to find information out there that isn't, well, repetitive.

The Art of Pain

There is a certain aspect of chronic illness that "normals" can not possibly understand because, they are, well...normal.  It seems so long ago that I too was normal.  This was when I used to get my once a year bout with bronchitis.  Wow.  I thought that would kill me lol Boy if I only knew what was in store.

People are typically very pleasant upon seeing someone they know.  The first thing out of their mouth is usually "how are you".  How ARE you.  How are YOU.  Any way you emphasize it, this is a tricky response for a lot of us.  My best friend asked me this seemingly simple question not two days ago.  My reply? I am fabulous!  She said "really" haha.  YES really!

Here is my whack-a-doodle theory.  People ask the above question but only mean it half heartedly.  They really do not want the full spiel of how we are physically and mentally.  I feel chronic illness confuses people and leaves them without truly knowing what to say to us.  Depending on your particular illness, it can be VERY confusing.  I have CVID and now have developed a lung disease known as GLILD and am waiting to go to National Jewish Hospital in Colorado for a diagnosis and treatment plan.  My doctors here have NO idea what to do, have all told me such and so here I sit and wait and wait, not knowing if I am going to die, end up on oxygen or if irreparable damage is being done.  My friends do not know what to say except I am sorry.  If you truly love your friends and family, tell them you are fabulous and save the medical lessons for the very very important things.  If you love them, do not put them in an uncomfortable situation by giving them all of this stuff they cannot do a thing with.  They cannot help.  We do not have a right to make them feel helpless.  We know, they are there for us if we need them.  Join a support group, make some friends with chronic illness.  They will love to hear all the details as they are in this war with us.