Melt in Your Mouth Caramels.

I've always been a little intimidated to put sugar and cream into a pot and let it steep up to a whopping 245 degrees. But recently I decided to be a little daring. And this was the wonderful product...
These caramels were actually a breeze. The hardest part is waiting patiently for your boiling mixture to actually reach the desired temperature. It took awhile, but is well worth it in the end. I also decided that I would add a little salt on my almost-hardened caramels for a nice sweet and salty taste. It was tasty and I suggest you try it as well!
Also a time consuming task, is wrapping the caramels. You might not think it is, but cutting them each into little rectangles, cutting out shapes of parchment, and individually wrapping them up takes quite awhile. I would say it took me about an hour to wrap the entire pan of caramels. But again, so worth it.
And since they're individually wrapped, these puppies would make a great gift for a friend with a sweet tooth. I like to wrap them up even if I'm just keeping them for myself. Something about a pile full of empty wrappers in front of me makes me decide that I don't need to eat that 20th caramel. It's all about mind-trickery.
So go ahead and let your inner caramel maker out. You'll be glad you did.

Chewy Caramels-recipe from The New York Times

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
Pinch salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Lightly grease a 9-inch-square baking pan. Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a broad saucepan or deep skillet and turn heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.

Attach a candy thermometer and keep cooking and stirring until mixture is dark, nearly brown, and measures 245 degrees F.

Stir in the vanilla and pour into prepared pan. Cool, then remove from the pan in a block and refrigerate, but not for too long. What you want is a mixture cool enough so that it's not too sticky, but not so cold that it's solid: this is the easiest state in which to cut and wrap.

Use a sharp knife to cut caramel into pieces, then wrap each square in parchment. These keeps for weeks (psshh...like they'll last that long) but are best eaten fresh at room temperature.

Makes at least 50 caramels.


How To Stay Warm 101

To start off, how was everyone's New Year? I hope it was amazing and you have some fantastic resolutions. What are mine? Well, I'd like to eat less cake and hit the gym more often. Or maybe I should just think of a more realistic resolution...like eat a rational amount of cake, but also hit the gym more often. There. That's reasonable, right? Right.

Whatever your resolutions are, you should add eating this comforting soup to the list. It will make your year that much better.

I live in Ohio. It is cold here. I believe it is around 20 or so degrees below normal temperatures. I am not delighted with this. At all.
So how do I remedy my unhappiness? Well for starters I like to set my alarm for about 20 minutes before I actually need to get up so I can snuggle in my warm bed. Lately, this has put me in a great mindset for the day. Next, I try as hard as I can to get my dog, Dudley, to lay with me on the couch, preferably on my feet, to keep them cozy. He's like a little portable heater!!

Another thing I like to do to keep warm in these chilly days of winter is to eat hot soup. Lots of it.

I got this recipe out of one of my favorite cookbooks, The Pastry Queen, and I thought it would be great to heat up and eat out of an oversized mug on a cold afternoon. Boy oh boy was I right.

This tortilla soup is awesome!
I left out a bit of the spiciness, cause my taste-buds aren't really into that, and I thought it was still perfect. You must must must add the shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado, and tortilla chips to this soup. Sure, I bet it's good without it, but should you have to settle for good? No, you deserve fantastic. The additions really take the soup to the next level. Trust me, this is a sure fire way to keep warm in the winter and experience a wonderful warm meal.

Texas Tortilla Soup-recipe by The Pastry Queen

for the soup:
8 plum tomatoes
4 Tablespoons
1 medium-size yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cups chicken stock
1 dried ancho chili pepper
1 (15 oz) can peeled tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cooked, shredded chicken breasts
3 ears fresh corn or 1 (8 oz) package frozen corn (optional-I left this out of mine)

the garnishes:
2 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
Tortilla chips or strips
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream

To make the soup: Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the tomatoes in half. Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a baking sheet and arrange the tomatoes on top, skin side up. Drizzle the tomatoes with another 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 25-35 minutes, until the skins wrinkle and the tomatoes are slightly brown around the edges.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed, 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and saute about 5 minutes, until the vegetables become soft. Stir in the chili powder and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and ancho chile. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover, decrease the heat, and simmer about 15 minutes, until the ancho chile softens. Remove the chile from the soup and pull off and discard the stem. Cut the chile in half and discard the seeds, if desired. (Leaving the seeds in makes for a spicier soup.) Place the softened chile, the canned tomatoes with their juices, and the roasted tomatoes (including as much of the juices and browned tomato bits as possible) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree the chili-tomato mixture about 1 minute. Transfer the chili-tomato mixture to the soup and continue simmering, covered, about 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with the cooked chicken. If using corn, cut the kernels from the cobs, add the corn to the soup, and simmer another 5 minutes.

To garnish the soup: Ladle the soup in the medium bowls. Lean 3-4 slices of avocado against the edge of each bowl, partially sticking out the soup. Arrange the tortilla chips in a similar way. Sprinkle each bowl with a handful of diced tomatoes, some cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Top with a spoonful of sour cream. Serve immediately once garnished.