Sunday, January 29, 2012

Salted Caramel Sauce

I have a serious relationship with salted caramel.  I love it.  And true love lasts a lifetime.
When I go to my favorite gelato place in Paris, I always pick salted caramel as one of my flavors.  Always.  The summer of 2010 I probably went to that shop at least 7 or 8 times within the span of a couple weeks, and I stayed loyal to my salted caramel.
During the first few months of medical school when I studying for exams, my stress food was Bequet sea salt caramels.  I could go through 3 to 5 in a day.  When B. came to visit in September, he recognized the importance of salted caramel in my life and he bought me a ridiculous amount, to get me through my sleepless study nights.
At Co Co Sala, a restaurant/lounge in DC, even when I go to get drinks with my friends or my sister, I order the [virgin] salted caramel hot chocolate along with whatever cocktail I'm having for the night.

So as you see, salted caramel is very dear to me.  And yet, for all this, I never made my own salted caramel.  I never thought to experiment.  Honestly, it was because I think making caramel can be a hassle.  I've made caramels that cracked before, and I take it personally when that happens.  Honestly, it's a little heart-breaking.  You put all this love into coaxing a little pot of sugar and water to cook into something lovely and then it seizes into huge sugar clumps that are impossible to dissolve and that make you want to cry.  Heart breaking.

Clearly, I get too emotionally involved when it comes to food.

But no!  I shall be brave.  I shall put my heart on the line for true love.  It is worth the risk.  Salted caramel, you shall be mine.

It was a combination of things that led to this.  First, I found a very good deal on some beautiful grey sea salt (coarse sel gris de Guérande if you're curious).  Then I had some extra heavy cream on hand, leftover from making cheesecake.  And, of course, I had a craving.  I had no more salted caramel on hand and I wasn't going to go out and buy some.  So I decided to try.  And now I can't believe I waited all this time to discover this.

If you only make one caramel recipe all your life, let the recipe below be it.  Really.  I know caramels can be intimidating, I know salted caramel can sometimes seem like it's not worth the hype, I know I have a habit of telling you readers you have to try the recipes I post here.  But honestly, this is so worth it.  It will only take a few minutes and four simple ingredients, and when I say "ingredients," one of them is water.  That's it.  And then bliss, love, and happiness will be all yours.

You can eat this caramel sauce with everything.  Apples.  Crackers.  Pears.  Vanilla ice cream.  This may sound crazy, but I even used it to glaze some ribs the other day.  Tasted fantastic.  You can also use this to make amazing hot chocolate.  Just stir a spoonful or two into a glass of hot milk and cocoa.

And.  And.  If you feel so inclined, you can use this sauce to make an incredible salted caramel frosting.  Yes.  I'm going to hold off on sharing that recipe for you just yet (because it's also going to be accompanied by a recipe for salted caramel cupcakes), but let me tell you this: oh. my. god.

C'mon, how can you resist?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới - Celebrating the Lunar New Year

I very rarely write about my Vietnamese heritage, but that is not to say it isn't important to me.  I was raised with Vietnamese lullabies, Vietnamese food, and constant reminders at home to nói tiếng việt nam! ("speak Vietnamese!").  Thrice my parents took me to visit their homeland; I loved it every time.  And every year, at the end of January or beginning of February, I celebrate the Lunar New Year.

For the fourth year in a row now, I am celebrating Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, without my family.  But this year, for the first time ever, I set out to follow the tradition to rước ông bà về ăn Tết (bring the ancestors home to celebrate the new year).  It is hard to explain how meaningful it really is to someone who was not raised with this, the action of setting out flowers, fruit, food, tea, and incense to cúng Tết, but I have missed it every single year that I have not been home.  It is hard when you are on your own to carry on the traditions that you are used to having your parents carry out for you, but I think it's a necessity.

I don't have everything that I needed, and this was hardly the traditional layout, but nevertheless it was something that I wanted to do the best that I could.  I even talked with my mom on the phone to make sure that the fruit I used was appropriate, as some fruits are not supposed to be set out to cúng (for example, oranges).  And it was in doing this -- making the tea, arranging the fruit, getting out the bánh chưng -- that I realized how important these traditions are in my life.  I do not want my children to grow up not knowing what it means to cúng Tết and to rước Ông Bà về.  I want my children to know the steamed rolls of sticky green rice, mung bean, and pork that so represent this time of year in my mind.  I want them to know the reason why we set out food.  I want them to know to eat vegetarian on the first day of the year.  Most of all, I want them to know their mother's culture.  I want to raise my children knowing their heritage as I was raised to know mine.  And so I will try my best to carry out all that my parents have done for me.

Happy Lunar New Year.
May the Year of the Dragon bring you good health, good luck, and happiness.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Salted Caramel & Chocolate Mousse

It's been a while since I really posted here.  Life has been very crazy lately and it hasn't involved much sleep.  The other weekend, for example, I slept a total of maybe 4 hours.  Thank goodness sleep debt isn't financial debt, otherwise I'd have serious problems.

Anyhow, because of how things have been, I've had a recipe on file that I have wanted to share with you for weeks.  So we have to backtrack a little bit.  A month ago, I went to a potluck dinner party to, um, celebrate Christmas.  [Whoops!  Sorry this took so long to share!]  It was among a big group of friends, and as usual I wanted to go with a dessert.  I thought about baking something, but everyone always does cookies or cupcakes and, having recently made my first ever salted caramel frosting (more on that later), I was interested in trying a recipe with salted caramel and chocolate.  Who doesn't like that combination?

Because I love chocolate mousse, I decided to do a recipe with chocolate and salted caramel layers.  The salted caramel mousse was my own recipe, completely written from scratch.  I had looked up salted caramel mousse recipes online, but they all involved gelatin or they were chocolate and salted caramel (i.e. the two flavors were mixed and not kept separate).  I don't have powdered gelatin and I wasn't interested in going to store to buy some, and also I had vegetarian friends who would be coming to the party and so using gelatin didn't seem too nice.  Yes, agar agar could have been an option, but again, I didn't want to go to the store.  So what is it that they say?  Need breeds ingenuity?  I decided to get creative.

I based the salted caramel mousse recipe off of other recipes I read for fruit mousses and for Italian meringue, so it used egg whites, whipping cream, and hot caramel.  It turned out fairly well considering the fact that this was my first time completely making up a recipe.  Granted, it wasn't quite as "mousse-y" as it should have been -- and by that I mean it could have been thicker -- but no one complained.  In fact, many people at the party have been asking for the recipe since then, and so my apologies to them (if anyone's reading) for taking so long to post this.

This combination of salted caramel and chocolate is a real winner, and while it does take some time to make both of these mousses and layer them into little shot glasses, the delight you get from people who see these and try them makes it absolutely worth the effort.  I forgot to count exactly how many little shot glasses I was able to make, but suffice to say it was enough for a party with more than 20 people.  For anyone about to entertain, I would absolutely recommend this as a dessert.  It's easy to make ahead of time and it's perfect for any and all occasions.  The recipe can be fairly easily scaled up or down as well, based upon how many you plan to serve, and any leftovers still taste delicious the day after.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

A new year brings with it change, but there is one thing I know will stay constant in my life: my love for food and cooking.  No matter what happens, I can always come to the kitchen and find peace.  Though life may get crazy and stressful, I keep coming back to this blog to share my recipes and my stories because food is love.  And without nurture, love, and seriously good food I know I would quickly go insane.

Medical school is a little crazy right now, so I have no recipe to share with you yet, but there is a salted caramel and chocolate mousse recipe that I will be posting by next week, if not sooner.

My best wishes to you and yours for 2012.