Caramel Apples

KIPP Academy of Opportunity fifth graders celebrated halloween with an $80 average paycheck party. Our bundles of energy contained their excitement through five classes, working hard even though it was obvious their mind was on the festivities planned for the day. Along with watching halloween themed movies, dancing to thrilling and enjoying coveted social time, our KIPPsters made their own caramel apples. This was a fun fall group activity because kids were able to choose their toppings and decorate their own apples to take home. After the kids had their messy fun, the teachers dunked away. As a lover of pecans, I found the apple, caramel, pecan combination heavenly on halloween. 

8 small apples, washed, well dried
1 bag (11 oz.)  Caramel Candy
2 Tbsp. water

Toppings (mini-chocolate chips, pecan pieces, walnuts, coconut, sprinkles)
Popsicle sticks

1. Cover large plate with parchment paper. Insert one wooden pop stick into stem end of an apple. 

2. Place caramel in medium saucepan. Add water; cook on medium-low heat 3 min. or until caramel bits are completely melted, stirring constantly. You can also microwave the caramel candies for 2 minutes in a microwave safe bowl. Warning, caramel will be VERY hot. Stir gently, I learned the hard way.
3. Dip apples into melted caramel until evenly coated, spooning caramel over apples if necessary. Allow excess caramel to drip off. Dip in desired topping. Do not roll in the mini-chocolate chips. This will create a melted mess. Place on parchment paper. Ideally, refrigerate at least 1 hour, but you probably won’t be able to wait. If you manage to wait, remove from refrigerator 15 min. before serving.

Classic Beef Chili

I love making chili on a Sunday night, sticking it in the fridge, and having it ready for a weeknight meal. Chili is one of those meals that tastes better the longer it sits, so a day or two in the fridge will only make it better. I’ve tried dozens of chili recipes in search of the perfect basic recipe. I’ve experimented with different regional styles, a variety of meats, bean combinations and more. After several years of searching, this recipe finally satisfied my need for a good pot of beef kidney bean chili with a delicious balance of spice and sweetness. I still love my Moroccan chili, but for a simple classic chili, this has become my go-to recipe. 

6 ounces hot turkey Italian sausage (2-3 links)
1 chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground sirloin
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
2 generous tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 generous tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 cups Merlot
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained
Cheddar cheese for topping


Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage, onion, pepper, garlic, beef and jalapeno to pan; cook 8 minutes or until sausage and beef are browned, stirring to crumble.

Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients (chili powder through bay leaves), and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, tomatoes, and kidney beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Uncover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves. Sprinkle each serving with cheddar cheese.

Makes 8 servings.

Pumpkin Pie Bites

Is October too early to be baking mini-pumpkin pies? I found these on bakerella, and I couldn’t resist. These baby pumpkin bites make me so excited for Thanksgiving. 78 degree days at the end of October is glorious, but I am looking forward to bundling up in Michigan, cooking delicious comfort food, and spending time with family.  I guess I’ll patiently pop pumpkin pie bites while I wait. 

2 refrigerated ready-to roll pie crusts
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Candied Pecan Halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Use a circle cookie cutter to cut 24 circles from the pie crust. You will need to roll the dough thinner than it comes out of the box.
Press dough shapes into a 24 cup mini muffin tray.
Apply egg whites from one egg to the top edges of each pie.
Mix cream cheese, sugar, canned pumpkin, remaining 2 eggs, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice together until thoroughly combined.
Spoon mixture into each pie crust and top with a candied pecan.
Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Makes 24 pies. Keep refrigerated.