Salted Caramel Drink Mix

I spent the day out shopping with my husband yesterday.  We visited a mall, Costco and, my favorite, Crafty Wonderland.  Between the three, we were able to wrap up the last of our Christmas shopping, which I’m pretty happy about.  Once that’s done, I usually move on to the next holiday task – making delicious treats.  This year I decided to try a new take on a favorite from last year and make Salted Caramel Drink Mix.  Notice the word “cocoa” does not appear there.  Nothing here but milky, caramel goodness.

Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 1
Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 1

Salted Caramel Drink Mix

2 cups dry milk powder

1/2 cup dry plain creamer

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/4 cup caramel-flavored dry creamer

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 2
Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 2

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Process until the salt is a fine texture.  To serve, add 1/4 cup mix to a mug full of hot water or milk.

Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 3
Salted Caramel Drink Mix - Crafty Staci 3

If you want a chocolate version (or spiced chai) you can find those here.  Put any of these in a decorated jar and it would make a tasty gift for someone you really like a lot.  I mean, a lot.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup

I live about 7 miles from the nearest store.  Not that far, I know, but when I only need one thing it’s impossible to motivate myself to make the half-hour round trip drive.  I’d rather spend that thirty minutes in the kitchen trying to make an acceptable substitute for whatever it was I thought I needed.  This time, it was coffee syrup.

I try to confine myself to two cups of coffee in the morning.  Most days I stick to it, but sometimes I cheat my own system.  Rather than having a third cup of hot coffee, I switch to iced instant espresso.  I know, it’s really no different, but I feel a little less like I’ve fallen off the wagon because it’s in a different cup. 

Last week, on a particularly tiring day, I was headed for that third cup of denial when I realized we were out of both caramel and vanilla coffee syrup.  How does that happen and I don’t notice?  Anyway, I did a quick search for a caramel syrup recipe, but every one I found listed caramel sauce as an ingredient.  Huh?

I decided to aim for a caramel flavor on my own, so I whipped up this syrup.  And I wouldn’t really say it tastes like caramel, but it is oh-so delicious.

To make this, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine the water, brown sugar and salt in a saucepan.

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently but gently, until the mixture just starts to come to a boil and all of the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Cool, then pour into a bottle.  Add a tag or label and this would make a great gift.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 5
Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 5

This would also be tasty with some other spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  I think I would try brewing them in the water  (the way the Chai Tea Concentrate is made), then using that water to make the syrup.

In case you’re wondering, the way I make my iced espresso is I fill the 20 ounce glass half full of water, add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered espresso, fill to about 3/4 with coconut almond milk, sweeten to taste with the syrup, then finish filling the glass with ice.  Zero drive time.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 6
Vanilla Brown Sugar Coffee Syrup - Crafty Staci 6

Speaking of my glass, these are in my Zibbet shop now, along with that stainless steel straw, which I completely love and is available straight or with that little bend at the top.  Also, that coaster?  It’s made from leather and a mason jar ring and you’ll find those in my shop as well.  I haven’t listed the wraps yet, but if you’re interested just let me know.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here!

Espresso Brownies

When I was a kid I loved chocolate, and pretty much any chocolate would do.  I even loved the cheapo stuff that was mostly brown wax and left that awful coating on the inside of my mouth.  These days I’m a little more picky.  Ok, maybe a lot.  I’m willing to hold out for good, dark chocolate and it often comes in the form of a brownie.

Espresso Brownies single - Crafty Staci
Espresso Brownies single - Crafty Staci

This recipe was a result of my effort to make a brownie that was a little lower in calories.  I like the No Pudge Cappuccino mix, but I didn’t have any on hand and when you need a brownie, you need a brownie.  This is the nutrition info if these are made exactly according to this recipe:

Nutrition info for Espresso Brownies
Nutrition info for Espresso Brownies

Espresso Brownies

· 1 cup all-purpose flour

· 1/2 cup cocoa powder

· 1 (1.4 oz) package chocolate fudge sugar-free pudding mix

· 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

· 1 teaspoon baking powder

· 1/2 cup granulated sugar

· 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

· 2 egg whites (or 1/3 cup egg whites from carton)

· 1 egg

· 3 tablespoons butter - melted

· 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

· 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Espresso Brownies Ingredients - Crafty Staci
Espresso Brownies Ingredients - Crafty Staci

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking pan.

Stir together flour, cocoa powder, pudding mix, espresso powder and baking powder in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine sugars, egg whites, egg, butter, yogurt and vanilla. Mix well.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Don't over stir.

Espresso Brownies batter - Crafty Staci
Espresso Brownies batter - Crafty Staci

The batter is very thick, and will need to be spread, rather than poured, into the prepared baking pan. Bake 20 - 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. These are at their best as soon as they're cool enough to eat.  Makes 16 brownies.

Espresso Brownies full pan - Crafty Staci
Espresso Brownies full pan - Crafty Staci

There are lots of ways you can play around with this recipe:

  • use pureed prunes or applesauce in place of half or all of the butter
  • replace the egg with chia seeds or egg substitute
  • if you avoid artificial sugar, use regular pudding mix, or leave it out entirely
  • use some wheat flour instead of all white
  • sour cream works as well as Greek yogurt
  • add chocolate or other flavor chips
  • for regular brownies, just leave out the espresso powder
  • you can even make blondies – just leave out the cocoa and espresso powders and use vanilla pudding mix
  • make your own mix by combining all the dry ingredients and store until you’re ready to add the wet ingredients

I think it’s time for another batch!

Gluten-Free Rhubarb Crisp

My daughter’s fiancé has Celiac disease, which means absolutely no gluten for him. In support, and so she doesn’t accidentally make him sick, my daughter has gone gluten-free as well. That’s how I know it’s love, because this is a girl who would live on sourdough bread if she could. The rest of us haven’t sworn off gluten completely, but we are making an effort when either of them are around. Clearly my husband likes this guy, because our daughter’s sourdough gene came from him.

I’ve never cooked with rhubarb before, but it caught my eye in the grocery store last week. I only remember having it a couple of times as a kid, and couldn’t really remember whether I liked it. I decided to give it a shot anyway.  It disappeared quickly, so this one is a keeper.

Gluten Free Rhubarb Crisp - Crafty Staci 1
Gluten Free Rhubarb Crisp - Crafty Staci 1

Gluten-Free Rhubarb Crisp

  • 6 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package strawberry gelatin mix
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup gluten-free oats
  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Mix granulated sugar, gelatin and cornstarch in a large bowl.  Add rhubarb and stir until combined.  Spread in baking dish.

Mix the brown sugar, oats and flour.  Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly but still somewhat powdery. Spread evenly over the rhubarb.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until fruit is bubbly and top is lightly browned.

Gluten Free Rhubarb Crisp - Crafty Staci 2
Gluten Free Rhubarb Crisp - Crafty Staci 2

We tried this hot, right out of the oven, and cold the next day.  It was good both ways, but I thought it was the best after it sat overnight.  A little whipped cream on top and it’s even better.  See? Who needs gluten?

Zucchini Bread

My kids weren’t very picky eaters when they were little. They’d try just about anything, and had a preference for produce. My husband is also a laid-back kind of guy and if he doesn’t like it (which he’ll almost never say out loud), he just peppers the heck out of it. Yes, I do realize just how lucky I am. Because they aren’t overly picky, no one in my family asks for specific foods very often. They just eat whatever I make. Since they’re so flexible, I take it seriously when one of them makes a special request. When my daughter was home a week ago, she asked if we could make zucchini bread. Life got in the way so it didn’t happen, but it’s been bugging me all week. She was here again this last weekend, so while she was at work, I whipped up four loaves. The fact that I just got two new Fiesta loaf pans may have played into my decision a little too.

Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 1
Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 1

I made the first two using my tried-and-true Betty Crocker recipe, but winged it a little more on the second two. I actually like mine better. Sorry Betty.

Zucchini Bread

  • 4 cups shredded zucchini
  • 2/3 cup melted coconut oil or vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla turbinado sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottoms of two loaf pans.

Combine the zucchini, coconut oil, white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and eggs.  Stir well.  Mix in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Divide evenly between the two loaf pans. Sprinkle the top of each loaf with one tablespoon of the vanilla turbinado sugar. Bake 45 – 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Makes two loaves.

Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 2
Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 2

This is the first time I’ve actually baked with coconut oil, and I’d definitely do it again.  There was no change in texture and no coconut flavor. If it’s between oil just for the sake of oil, or oil with some health benefits, I’ll make the easy choice.

I grated the zucchini with a large hole grater, rather than the small.  I like to be able to tell it’s there.  Also, I meant to use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour, but there was a good song on my iPod so I got distracted an used all white.  Next time.

If you haven’t tried making vanilla turbinado sugar, I highly recommend it. All I do is split a couple of vanilla beans, throw them into a container with turbinado sugar and let it sit for a couple of weeks. I shake it around once in a while when I open the cupboard. It provides a nice crunch on the top of this bread.

Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 3
Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 3

A loaf was sent off with the girl back to school.  I can’t imagine what I will possibly do with the other three.

Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 4
Zucchini Bread - Crafty Staci 4

Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad

I’m pretty sure talking about salad is a first for me here.  Don’t get me wrong, I love salad.  The closer the warm weather gets, the more often I’m in the mood for one.  But I don’t usually have a recipe.  Like my soup, whatever sounds good gets dumped together and called a meal.  Trust me, it’s more appetizing than it sounds.

This salad came after a trip to Costco.  I had a bunch of ingredients that suddenly sounded delicious together and, for once, I actually kept track of everything I put in just in case I wanted to repeat it.  At this point, I’ve made it many times, so it’s time to pass it on as a tried-and-true recipe.

Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 1
Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 1

For me, the star of this salad is the sugared pecans.  They need to be made ahead of time, because they reach their crispy peak when they’ve cooled completely.

Sugared Pecans

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon water

2 cups pecan halves

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved and the mixture bubbles.  Stir in the pecans.  Pour onto a greased baking sheet, spreading the nuts out as much as possible.  Cook at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking time.  Keep an eye on them as they near the end of the cooking time so they don’t burn.  Pour onto waxed paper and cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Sugared Pecans - Crafty Staci
Sugared Pecans - Crafty Staci

The next component that gives this salad its character is the dressing.  It’s fairly strong, so a little goes a long way.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

2 strawberries, mashed

1 tablespoon honey

pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a shaker or jar and shake until combined.  Shake again before each use.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette - Crafty Staci
Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette - Crafty Staci

The remaining ingredients for the salad, in whatever amounts you prefer, are:

fresh spinach

fresh strawberries

feta, blue or goat cheese

cooked shrimp or chicken

Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 2
Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 2

I’ve tried both blue and goat cheese and they were both delicious.  I love shrimp in this, but if you’re not a fan it would also be tasty with chicken, or no protein at all.

This is a perfect bite, with a bit of each ingredient.

Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 3
Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 3

My new favorite lunch.  And while we have some amazing strawberries in Oregon, thank you to California for sending some long before I can pick them here.  You’re my hero.

Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 4
Sugared Pecans and Strawberry Spinach Salad - Crafty Staci 4

S’mores Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any sugary goodness with you.  We’ve actually been trying to eat healthier around here.  That doesn’t mean we succeed every time, but when we cave it’s to tried-and-true things like chocolate chip cookies and caramel corn, not making up new stuff.  Except the truffle fries we tried this week at a local burger joint, but I didn’t make those, I just happily ate them.

Back to the sugar.  We attended a potluck event for my husband’s work last week, and he signed me up to bring a dessert.  I decided on cookies, but I didn’t want to make something too ordinary.  I also didn’t want to make a trip to the grocery store, so I started a search for interesting ingredients in my kitchen.  I had nearly given up when I found a jar full of graham cracker crumbs.  That started the ball rolling toward these delicious little treats.

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 1
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 1

S’mores Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup marshmallow bits

Preheat oven to 375.  Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add the eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Throw in the flour, graham cracker crumbs and baking soda and mix until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and marshmallow bits.  Drop by spoonsful onto a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake for 7 – 8 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 2
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 2

For the graham cracker crumbs, don’t grind them into oblivion with a food processor.  These are actually better with some some chunks remaining.  I used the flat side of a meat tenderizer and a plastic bag.

If you’re not familiar with marshmallow bits, I found them in the baking section in Target and they look like this:

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 3
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 3

Now for the mini-fail.  I decided to bake these in bar form for the event, since I was short on time and I thought they’d be easier to grab.  They tasted good, but because of the extended cooking time required the marshmallows melted into the cookie and disappeared. 

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 4
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 4

Sad.

However, like I said, they were still tasty, so if you’re not concerned about the marshmallows you can press the dough into a greased jelly roll pan and bake for 17 – 20 minutes.

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 5
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 5

These were a big hit with my son, so I’m sure they’ll be turning up around here again.

S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 6
S'mores Cookies - Crafty Staci 6