Thursday, August 29, 2013

Recipe: Homemade Snickers Bars

Photo Credit
Several years ago, Brian asked if I could find some way to make Snickers bars from scratch. Why not? After searching around, I stumbled across two recipes, one here and the other here. They just were not homemade enough for me, so I made my own caramel too using a caramel recipe like the caramel recipe this one (which I cut in half, for one layer of caramel instead of two).  Here's the recipe for what I ended up making.....

Homemade Snickers Bars

1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup peanut butter (we use the stuff straight out of the peanut grinding machine at the grocery store - yum!)
1 dash salt
3 cups powdered sugar
1 batch of caramel (see below)
1 cup dry roasted or unroasted, unsalted peanuts
12-ounces chocolate chips or bar (I use an organic milk chocolate bar)

First, let's make the nougat:
Using a hand mixer, combine the corn syrup, butter, vanilla, peanut butter and salt until creamy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, about one cup at a time seems to work well. When the mixture has the consistency of a dough (it will be crumbly), remove it from the bowl with your hands and press it into a lightly greased 9x9-inch pan (I use butter flavored spray to coat the pan). Once you have pressed the nougat into a flat layer across the bottom of the pan, put the pan in the fridge.

Next, let's make the caramel:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons butter (3/4 of a stick)
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I tend to just dump a little in without measuring... the more the better!

In a large pot, mix the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts, about 5 minutes. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture registers 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (cooler temp than the Martha recipe means more chewy and less hard), about 20 minutes. Remove the pot from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Then stir in the peanuts. Quickly pull the pan with nougat out of fridge and pour the caramel mixture on top of nougat layer (don't scrape the bottom of the caramel pot clean - you don't want that junk in your snickers bars!), spread evenly. Put the pan back in the fridge and let it set about 30 minutes. If you want to scrape the caramel pot clean and eat it, now would be the time!

Now for the chocolate top:

At this point, you have two options. You can either cut the pan into 2x1-inch pieces to dip in the chocolate we are about to melt or you can go the easier route and just put the melted chocolate across the top of the pan (this is what we do!). So using a double broiler, melt the chocolate chips or bar over low heat. Once melted, pour over the top of the bars (or dip to coat each piece you cut). Put the bars back in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set the chocolate. 

And there you have it! Tasty, homemade Snickers bars. You'll never want to go back to the ones at the store! Using the same process, you could make Milky Way bars or 3 Muskateers bars too.... just omit the nuts for the Milky Way bars or the caramel + nuts for the 3 Muskateers bars! Enjoy!

These are definitely a favorite around here and a million times tastier than a store bought Snickers Bar!

Have you ever made candy?  Any good recipes I should try?!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Recipe: Healthy Baked Chimichangas

Photo Credit
Recipe : Smoked Turkey Baked Chimichangas

Cookbook/Source : Rachel Ray 30 Minute Meals on Food Network

Notes :  When I made these, I made more than a few revisions!  I substituted cooked ground turkey for the deli counter turkey and replaced the cabbage, chipotles and tomato sauce with 4 chopped sweet peppers, homemade taco seasoning blend and salsa.  Rather than brushing the tortillas with oil, I sprayed them with cooking spray, then served them with light sour cream (instead of the fully leaded stuff!) and topped with more salsa. 

Review : Super delicious and I've also made these with shredded chicken and beans.  Basically, you can sub any meat or beans for the turkey and swap out veggies to your preferences or what you have on hand.  Great recipe for a healthy replacement to fried burritos!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Starbucks Hidden Menu Item: Raspberry Orange Refresher

So I love the Valencia Orange Refresher... it's my new favorite.  Light drink, not as low on calories as unsweetened tea, but not terribly bad.  I recently discovered that you can add flavor... my favorite to add is Raspberry!

Order a tall, grande or venti Valencia Orange Refresher, add raspberry syrup.  You can also ask to add Strawberry or Peach instead of Raspberry.  All are really good! :)

Have you tried the Valencia Orange Refresher or added another fruit flavor to it? :)

See other Starbucks Hidden menu items here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Update on My Summer Reads

Okay, so it's August already and I have actually made fantastic progress on my wish list of summer reading... and managed to read more than a few others!

Here's a roundup of my thoughts.

1, 2 & 3.  Inferno by Dan BrownLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg and The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks - Already reviewed here.

4.  Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E L James - I wanted to read this to see what all the fuss is about.  WOW.  What a great series.  It's definitely Harlequin on steroids... but the underlying story?  I really enjoyed it.  I loved the perspective of the book and I can relate to the intense feelings of connection, falling in love and that forever love the characters felt for each other.  It was great to see a love story... ALL of it... not just the PG-rated parts of it.  I can't wait to see who they cast in the movie!! :)

5.  A Dog's Purpose & A Dog's Journey by W. Bruce Cameron  - I was planning on reading this after the Fifty Shades Trilogy but then my parents lost their 8-year old English Bulldog Daisy and I just couldn't bring myself to start it right away.  I hope to pick it up this month... but definitely waiting for the mood to strike me.

6.  Young House Love by John & Sherry Petersik - It was good.  Lots of projects which gets you thinking about your own house and what you can do to bump it up a notch.  I read their blog almost everyday and this didn't disappoint.  One of those rare ones where it would actually be better in hardback than on my e-reader.  I would like to mark pages of things I want to go back and try! Lots to read, lots of info.  Definitely worth taking a look at if you are the home improving type.

So I put off reading A Dog's Purpose & A Dog's Journey by W. Bruce Cameron, but finished the rest of my list.  Once I started reading again, it's been my new nightly habit which I'm really happy about.  I have also read these other books, all of which I would classify as summer beach reads:

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella - I'm a big fan of all her books... I hadn't read this one yet, so I snuck it in.  It was interesting.... I truly hated the self-absorbed, non-stop inner dialogue of the main character/narrator the first 30 or so pages.  But once I got into the story and that was the point of the beginning, it was soooo GOOD.  I loved the banter back and forth between her and the guy she met/fell in love with.  Another Kinsella book I loved and definitely recommend!

Southern Road Series by Stephanie BondBaby I'm Yours, Baby Drive South, Baby Come Home, Baby Don't Go and Baby Hold On - I really enjoyed these.  Funny, witty and quick reads, set in a small mountain town of Georgia that is being rebuilt after a tornado leveled the place.  Great for the beach, the airplane or just a quick break.  ;)  I think I might be missing the newest novella, Baby I'm Back, so I'm checking my Nook for that one next weekend!

Kowalski Family Series by Shannon Stacey: Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours, Yours to Keep, All He Ever Needed, All He Ever Desired, and All He Ever Dreamed - Loved these.  Smart, hilarious and fast reads.... perfect for the summertime while on vacation (I wish.... no such luck for me this year!).  The best part of these series books is the common threads of characters set in the backdrop of New England in a large extended family.  It's nice to see what happens next after you finish the book.  I'm so looking forward to the next in the series, Love a Little Sideways, when it comes out in November!  Maybe I'll read a related book, Slow Summer Kisses, in the meantime to tide me over... :)

Stark Trilogy by J. Kenner: Release Me, Claim Me, and Complete Me - Totally loved these.  Read them cause I was looking for another series and it was in the Nook bestsellers category.  The description related them to a genre of similarity to the Fifty Shades Trilogy so I thought I'd give them a try.  Similar but at the same time very different.  I really enjoyed reading this trilogy and would highly recommend if you liked Fifty Shades. :)

Not sure what is up after A Dog's Purpose, A Dog's Journey, Baby I'm Back and Love a Little Sideways, but I have also been wanting to read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen (first book in the Rizzoli & Isles series - love the tv show)... guess we will see what makes the next round.

So I definitely have been giving my Nook a workout.... 22 books so far since June 1st! Any good must reads out there that I'm missing?!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Today I Am...

Reading: In between books.... more on that tomorrow.

Listening to: still obsessed with #Beautiful by Mariah Carey feat. Miguel and also loving Get Lucky by Daft Punk feat. Pharell.  Great summer tunes :)

Obsessed with:
**Food = still loving shrimp, veggies from the garden, strawberries from the garden too
**Crafts = been on a break for a few weeks, but itching to get back to the card making and quilting.
**TV Time wasters = Bachelorette, Big Brother, Rizzoli & Isles, Major Crimes, King & Maxwell, Psych, Renovation Raiders, Love It or List It Too (the new one with Jillian)
**House = minor work in the garden, finishing up the pics on the walls, and otherwise taking a break until the end of the year in order to save up money for our next projects

Thinking about: Work.  Laundry.  Crafting.  The Bachelorette finale tonight.... what a disaster... wonder what Des ends up doing??

Planning: To enjoy the rest of summer.

Dreaming of: Where we want to take our next vacation... hopefully around the end of the year... still up in the air.

Enjoying: Time spent with Brian catching up on our DVR shows, playing with Scarlet in the backyard and reading.

Vowing to: Finish undone projects... quilts mostly.  But also that dang hallway photo project.

Working on: Backing up/cleaning up all our computer files.... still crossing fingers that we will get back the ones on the newest laptop.... sigh.

Excited about: Nothing at the moment... quiet summer in progress here! :)

Favorite food I made in the last month: Not much... some chicken sloppy joes (used ground boneless, skinless chicken breast instead of beef - yummy!), fish & chips..... nothing exciting.

Getting out and about: We went to the Watsonville Strawberry Festival last weekend - so much fun!

Favorite photo from the last few weeks:

Flowers sent to my Mom/family for the death of my Grandpa by my brother's in-laws.  Absolutely beautiful arrangement of roses, sunflowers and dahlias from Flowers on Main in Placerville, California.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In August I Will....

More of the simple format :)

What do you plan on doing the rest of the summer?

Friday, August 2, 2013

In July I Will... and I Did.

So this month?  July?  Life got all crazy.  And about July's goals...  

A new, simple format for the list and there is a check mark next to what I did:

A few notes about July in general...  Some major life changes.... My grandpa fell sustaining a traumatic brain injury and went undiscovered for several days.... this was followed by two surgeries, time in the trauma ICU, finished off with saying goodbye and losing him forever.  Then there was coping with the grief and the aftermath. Luckily (and gratefully) with lots of family.  In fact, a whole unplanned week off of work spent with family which helped tremendously in dealing with the grief.  I feel fortunate and lucky for that.   In addition to that loss, my parents lost their 8-year old English Bulldog Daisy suddenly and my hard drive failed on my laptop, which may result in the loss of almost a year of data/photos.  Bottom line?  Lots to be grateful for but a very difficult month emotionally.  Lots of loss.  Much more to say, but for here and for now?  I'm really just glad that July is over with as a whole.

And with that.... onward to August.... 


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