"If we hope to create a non-violent world where respect and kindness replace fear and hatred, we must begin with how we treat each other at the begining of life. For that is where our deepest patterns are set. From these roots grow fear and alienation or love and trust."
Suzanne Arms

Friday, December 23, 2011

DIY Gourmet Candy Apples!!

Candy apple w/ caramel, white chocolate, Reese's Cups and chocolate drizzle
A couple of years ago Charlie came home from work with what looked like a candy covered soccer ball on a stick, LOL!!  When I asked what it was he informed me that it was, supposedly, an apple (someone was giving them out as a promo thing).  Neither of us was convinced because, I mean, it was HUGE!!!  What I didn't realize was that 1/2 of that 'bulk' was candy, white chocolate and caramel.  So, not convinced, we cut into it and sure enough, there was an apple in there!!  With that first bite came a revelation . . . it . . . was . . . AMAZING!!  and . . . . I could totally make one of these! (you can find them online and in but they are fairly expensive).

I have been making them for several years, with trial and error of course.  I'll share with you how I do it.  It may seem complex but it is totally easy and not even very time consuming (unless you are making like 6 at a time, which I HAVE done before, LOL).
I wish I would have taken pictures of all the apples I have made (some were rather impressive) but alas, I did not.  But I did find a few pictures taken over the years (I included them all here).

S more's apple on the left, coconut and chocolate on the right, they are in plastic bags for transport

 OK here is what you need

  • 1 large Granny Smith apple (I have tried others, and granny smith is best, but if you can't find a big one then anything that is sour or tart and crisp will work better than a more mild flavored or sweet apple).
  • A sprinkle of baking soda
  • 1/2 pack of caramels (25 cubes of caramel)
  • 1 tablespoon of water (no more, no less . . .trust me, I have learned this from experience)
  • 1 pack of white chocolate chips (I have also used chocolate or a combo of both, but white is a good standby and easy to work with, quick and less messy.  White Almond Bark may work, but though I have used it for dipped pretzels and coated cookies, I have never used it on an apple) 
  • Cream (optional)
  • 1 stick (A regular Popsicle stick won't work, it is too small. In the past I have used large popsicle sticks, those square craft sticks, chop sticks, a couple bamboo skewers etc.  You just need something that is strong enough to hold the apple when it is coated and heavy).
  • Candy.  In the past I have used reeces cups, heath bar (those 2 are the best IMO) snickers, M&M's, coconut, peanuts, raisins, sprinkles, candy canes, candy corn, pretty much anything and everything.  Or you can do a 'themed' apple.  I have used chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows for a Smores apple (seen above).  I have done Trail Mix, Or you can do crushed Oreos (for dirt) and gummy worms.  The options are endless!!  Google "gourmet candy apple" and you are sure to find plenty of sites online that sell them and there are tons of ideas! 
  • A handful of chocolate chips - optional (to melt and drizzle on top to make it look a bit more 'fancy') 
  • Cellophane and a ribbon - optional (for presentation if you want to impress).
Keeping it simple . . . The apple on the left is caramel and chocolate with white chocolate drizzle, on the right is caramel with white chocolate covered with chocolate and chips

Start by washing your apple.  This is where the baking soda comes in.  Most apples have this waxy film on them that makes it harder for stuff like the caramel to stick, so I wet the apple and rub it around in my hands with some baking soda in an effort to get as much of the film off as possible. 

Then rinse, dry the apple and put your stick in the top.
Put your caramels and water in a microwave safe bowl - 1/2 pack or 25 cubes of caramel, and 1 T of water OR 7oz of caramel with 1 T. of water.  If you can't find the caramel cubes and/or don't know the weight, then just check the package of whatever you buy and see if they have recommendations for making candy apples and how much water to add. (Too little or no water makes it very hard to chew, too much water and the caramel runs off . . . ask me how I know ;-)  Microwave for 30 sec, then for another 30, then stir, then keep zapping for 15 seconds till it is melted (sometimes it doesn't look melted but they will melt as you stir them up more).  You may find that if you stir it enough then you only need to do it 3 or 4x.  You want the caramel to be very thick, if it runs easily and quickly off the spoon it is too thin, so wait for it to cool for a minute.  You want it thick because if it is too thin it will run down the apple as it is cooling and you will end up with a thin layer of caramel on top and a thick pool at the bottom.

Spooning thick caramel over the top (this was one of those cases where I couldn't find a big Granny Smith . . . it isn't quite the same without the Granny Smith)
Hold the apple by the stick over the bowl of caramel and spoon it around the top of the apple, letting it run down the sides.  If it is so thick that it doesn't run all the way down no problem, you can then just use the spoon to spread it around till the whole thing is covered (using all the caramel).  Then I place it on a greased plate and into the fridge (or outside on the porch if it is cold).  I check it after a min or so and if too much caramel has run down to the bottom I pick the apple up with my hands and mold the caramel back onto the body (making sure to get it as even on top and bottom as possible).

Pasting on the white chocolate by hand
 While the apple sits in the fridge I melt the white chips (1 whole pack) on low on the stove, adding a splash of cream to them (maybe like 1T or so) which makes a ganache (this is optional). **while it is melting you can chop your candy if needed** Watch them closely, stirring occasionally (don't over stir).  I like to chips to be melted but only warm to the touch.  Sometimes I can catch them as they are just melted, sometimes they get too hot and I have to remove them from the heat and let them cool a bit till I can handle it.  Either way, once they are cool enough that you can reach in the pot and scoop it out with your hand that should work.  Then, I pick up the apple (you may have to use a spatula to pop it off the plate) and paste the white chocolate on with my hands till it is all on there and evenly spread.   

Next, while the white chocolate is still soft (but not so warm as to melt the chocolate in my candy) I take the candy and place it into the white chocolate.  If you are using something like graham cracker crumbs, coconut, sprinkles, or something small, you can roll the apple around it it to coat it completely, then you want to hand place larger chunks.  With cut up candy, usually I just sprinkle on the smaller pieces then I take larger chunks and piece them on.  When I have all the candy on there I stick it back in the fridge.

While it hardens in the fridge again, I melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave, pop them in a sandwich bag, snip off the end to drizzle over the top to finish it off.

Then I keep it in the fridge till I am ready to serve (or take it wherever we are going).  It will keep for a while, so you can make them days early if needed.

To serve, cut it in triangular slices from the top center (where the stick is) kind of like you are cutting a cake.

Apple slices
If you want it to look nice you can cut a big piece of cellophane, set the apple in the middle, gather it all at the top and tie it off (on the stick) with a ribbon.  Just makes for a nice presentation, especially if you are giving it as a gift (and they make a really nice gift for Christmas, or any other special occasion).  They are nice for parties, showers, or any type of get-together. 

Apple in cellophane, with ribbon and tag ready to be given as a gift at Christmas


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas gift idea . . . wonderful children's books from Dreamland Books Inc.

Books, I LOVE books.  It is kind of weird considering I was never much of a book reader (love research reading) not to mention the fact that I so don't have time to read much at all right now.  But I do love books all the same.  And I try my hardest to avoid used book sales because I tend to buy more books than I should.  But I digress . . .

I have these 4 Children's books here from Dreamland Books Inc.  Melissa (the owner, author, and a friend of my dad) sent them to me because, well, I have quite a few kids and I am in the kid business (Kozy and all).  Of course I was THRILLED to get them . . . ya know, seeing as how I love books and all.  And after I saw and read them, I was even more thrilled because I LOVED them!!  She didn't ask me to blog about them or anything, but I wanted to because we have just enjoyed them so much over the past couple months that I wanted to share the love!!

 I don't know if y'all know but I have read my share of children's books.  I have a degree in English and have worked with children regularly since I was 12 (a kid myself).  Before having my 6 kids I was a nanny for 2 yrs, then for 5 years before that I worked at an Early Learning Center. I also taught children's church for 12 yrs.  Needless to say, I have been reading books to children for a LONG time.  I dare say I have read 100's maybe even 1000's of books (or, well, I have read books to them 1000's of times, LOL, you know kids, they often like to hear the same book over and over and over . . . . ).  Anyway, my point in all this blabbering is that despite having read so many children's books, I was really impressed by the quality and artwork of these books from Dreamland Books
Lets just say that unlike many books we own, these are going on the high shelf and will only be looked at or read under supervision because I don't want them to be torn by little hands that don't yet know how to be careful!  More work for me?  Yes, but that is cool as long as these books don't get torn up, because I do really like them a lot.

The first book I read was A Granny's Heart.  It is all about grannies and all the wonderful things about them!  As I was reading this book I just kept thinking . . . this is a feast for the eyes!  The artwork is so unique and the colors are subtle and beautiful.  I love how you can see texture in the background and how the words are almost a part of the artwork.  The story is precious and the kids really enjoyed talking about what similarities the grannies in the book had with their own grannies.  I think any child with a grandma would be able to relate to and enjoy this book.  I imagine it would be pretty special to their grandmas too!

Baby Animals was a favorite of my 2 yr old.  He was enthralled with it and refused to let anyone else hold it!  It is not only a counting book but teaches the months of the year as well.  My 2 yr old would find the baby animals and then my 4 yr old would count them (don't you love how they worked together on this) and I had to keep reminding the older kids that this was a book geared towards little ones, so let them do the counting, LOL!!  It is a simple book, perfect for little ones.  With beautiful artwork and all those baby animals, I can see why my 2 yr old loves it so much!

I dare say Faces may be my favorite of the bunch, though that is hard to say because I really did love them all.  I love books that get kids talking and discussing and this book definitely does! At each turn of the page we had something to talk about.  It goes through 16 different kids and talks, in very simple language, a little about each one . . . and they are all unique. Using rhyming words even my 2 yr old can understand, we learn about where these kids grow up, who they live with, how they look, their likes and dislikes etc.  Even some of their names are unique (which I can appreciate).  And then the question at the end of each page shows how, despite many differences, we may actually have something in common. They were also able to find similarities between the kids in the book and some of their friends.  A little precious and unique face innocently peeks at you on each page, and I found it a pleasure to read about each one of them!

Night may have been the favorite all around. It is a counting backwards book.  My older kids loved it!  There is something to be said for a book that can keep the attention of a 2 year old AND an 11 yr old (and all ages in-between).  There is just something magical about this book.  The artwork is very unique and my kids were drawn to it.  We loved the lone tree on each page, the giant greatly detailed moon in the corner, the subtle splashes of red amongst all the black, and of course all the stars!  It is beautiful, serene and almost quiet, like you can just hear the animals and bugs scurrying about on the pages.  The kids were fighting over who was going to do all the counting (I told the older ones they had to defer to the little kids). I think my favorite part of the book though is the very back page, where they have listed 14 quotes by famous people (Longfellow, Thoreau, Tennyson, Lincoln, Confucius etc.) as they pertain to each of the characters in the book . . . the stars, bunnies, tree, moon etc.  Beautiful!!

If you are looking for some last minute Christmas gifts check these out!!  You can find them HERE  It looks like they have a special, buy 3 get 1 free.

Lastly, here is Xian reading Animals to Thrace (2) and Dagyn (9mo)

 After a few minutes, Dagyn got a little excited and decided to tackle the book!!
(ack, don't let him rip the book!!)

 That is how it goes around here, well, when trying to read books with babies around LOL!!


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