I can’t explain it, but as soon as the weather starts to turn cooler, Ray and I start craving Chinese take-out. Perhaps it is a part of our subconscious that is telling us to fatten up for the cold winter ahead — as if any of us need any further encouragement to do that. Whatever it is, the result is that we have Chinese on the brain ALL OF THE TIME. I recognize that real Chinese food is fresh and healthy, but that’s not the kind I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the Chinese food that is a deep fried, MSG-laden, calorie bomb….that also happens to be absolutely delicious. I wish I could say that I don’t like it, but that would be a complete grow-your-nose-a-foot lie. Egg rolls? Chicken fried and covered in some kind of sauce? Lo mein? Yes, please, all of it.
Sentencing myself to a life without any Chinese takeout is an utterly bleak and completely undesirable prospect. Solution? I try to mitigate the damage. I can accomplish that by mixing up my own teriyaki sauce and drizzling it on a plate filled with steamed vegetables and chicken (Did you know you can get steamed vegetables and chicken from your Chinese take out place? Surprise, you can! Look for it!). That way, about 75% of my plate is pretty clean and I feel okay about indulging in an egg roll and some General Tso’s chicken.
This applesauce is special. Did you know that some applesauce is considered special, whereas other applesauce is not? It’s okay if you were not aware of this fact; after all, it’s my job to think about these things and report back to you. So this is me letting you know that your applesauce needs to be special. I feel that I can speak pretty confidently on this topic because we are applesauce people. This is primarily because my kids are picky eaters and I don’t cook them something separate for dinner, so I always like to have one or two things at the meal that I know they will eat. Enter trusty old applesauce. If you make your own, you can control the amount of sugar in it, which is good for all of us. An added bonus is that it is a good source of fiber, a nutrient that is always lacking in my kids’ diets. At this point in my life as a parent, I have made gallons upon gallons of applesauce. I freeze it, I can it, I add blueberries, I make it on the stove, in the oven, I’ve tried it all.
Of all the different variations and ways I make applesauce, this is by far my favorite. In fact, even if I didn’t want to keep applesauce around for the benefit of my kids, I’d still make big batches of this particular kind because Ray and I like it so much. There is a little bit of pear in there, a few handfuls of cranberries, some lemon, orange, and cinnamon. There are just enough cranberries to make the sauce a little bit tart, but the added pears are sweet enough to mellow out the tartness. The orange and lemon are not pronounced flavors, they just help enhance the others. There’s not enough of anything that it dominates the flavor of the apples, but just enough so that when they all come together you get something a little unexpected and a little special. I find that it is sweet enough that I don’t need any added sugar, but you can always add some if you like.
Recently, one of my sisters came up to visit for the weekend. Not just any weekend, mind you, it was our first ever Harry Potter Movie Marathon Weekend. I know, it’s a fantastic idea. You kind of wish that you could have joined us, don’t you? Don’t feel weird, it was awesome. If we were really committed to the movie marathon, we could have made it through all of them. Shockingly, for the first time ever, my kids wanted to do something other than watch tv. In the end, we got through half of the movies, and that was still plenty of Harry Potter for one weekend. Unlike the kids, Meg and I are well-seasoned when it comes to these things. It is a skill we have cultivated over the past several years while catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. Meg is such a great sport and she has spent several visits here allowing me to fill all of our spare time with the fantastically witty banter of the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley. I could listen to them all day (or night) long, and indeed at times I have. How often have we said “just one more episode” only end up watching several more? You know how it goes…..unless you don’t know because you don’t watch Downton Abbey, in which case you need to fix that ASAP! The 6th and final season begins the first Sunday in January, so you have time to catch up!
But back to our bark! In anticipation of Meg’s visit, I found a recipe for this Salted Caramel Candy Corn Bark on Pinterest and it looked like something that was absolutely necessary for a movie marathon weekend. The bark turned out to be a definite winner! As we were enjoying butterbeer, jelly beans, oreos (no Harry Potter reference there, they’re just really good), and these tasty little pretzel bites, we started talking about how great they would be with pecans on top instead of the candy corn M&M’s, especially because I used pumpkin spice candy melts in mine instead of white chocolate. The combination of pumpkin and pecans is like peas and carrots, they just go together! That is absolutely the case here. You have a layer of crunchy pretzels, then the caramel, topped with pumpkin spice candies, and covered with toasted salty pecans. How can that be bad? Well, it’s not, it’s delicious! And, consider this your warning — addictive. Meg, these are for you!
These would look nice if you cut them up and served them on a platter with each piece of bark in a mini cupcake liner. Doing so will also alleviate the issue of the bark pieces sticking to the platter or each other. At the very least, place a piece of parchment on top of your platter and stack them on there. I like to cut them in individual pretzel sized pieces, but you could make them bigger. One bag of caramels and one bag of candy melts is just enough for 60 pretzels, but you could easily double the recipe or halve it, as pictured.
Note: The pumpkin spice candy melts I used are made by Wilton and I found them in the cake decorating section at Walmart.
- 60 square/waffle-shaped pretzels
- 2 cups pecans
- 1 T. light olive oil
- 1 t. sea salt
- 11 oz. bag of caramels
- 2 T. half & half or cream
- 10 oz. bag of pumpkin spice candy melts
- 1. Pour pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and stir gently until all pecans are lightly coated. Toast pecans in a large skillet, stirring often over medium-low heat. When I can begin to smell the pecans, I leave them in the pan for another 2-3 minutes and then remove from the heat. Once toasted, set aside.
- 2. Arrange pretzels on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, in 6 rows of 10 pretzels.
- 3. Combine caramels and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until caramel is completely melted. Working quickly, pour the caramel over top of the pretzels. It helps to try to pour a little caramel on each individual pretzel to help distribute it evenly. Be careful - melted caramel is VERY HOT!!! Gently spread the melted caramel over the layer of pretzels and smooth it out in one even layer. An offset spatula works really well for this. Allow the caramel to sit for about 5 minutes to cool and harden.
- 4. Once the caramel is dry to the touch, begin melting the candy coating. Again, pour the candies in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave them in 20-30 second intervals. Be careful of heating it for longer than that because the candies will burn easily. Stir the candies after each interval and repeat until the candies are completely melted and smooth. Pour melted candies over top of the caramel layer and even it out with a spatula. Immediately top the melted candy layer with all of the salted pecans, spreading them out in one layer across the top.
- 5. Set the entire tray aside and allow the pumpkin candies to cool and harden. Once the candy has cooled completely, cut it into squares, following the approximate edges of the pretzels.
- Store in an airtight container with parchment paper between layers of bark so they don't stick together.
There are times that I seriously feel like I live with a pack of vultures. Technically, thanks to Wikipedia, I can tell you that a group of vultures while feeding is actually called a wake, not a pack. Kind of creepy, but thanks Wikipedia for that random fun fact. Back to
vultures my kids…on the weekends, we are out of our routine and all I hear all day long is “Mom, I’m hungry!” “Mom, what can I have to eat?” “Mom, when are we eating lunch/dinner?” Even if I have literally just cleaned up breakfast, they turn around and five minutes later, they are starving to the point that you would think they haven’t eaten in the past week. Even if breakfast was a good stick-to-your bones meal like oatmeal, they burn through it in what seems like a matter of minutes. Does anyone else have this problem?