Friday, January 26, 2024

Tamarind caramel cookies

This is a sponsored post by Challenge Butter, but the text and opinions are all mine. Thank you for supporting brands that make Kylee's Kitchen possible! 

Today I'm talking about the 2024 flavor of the year: tamarind! This is according to McCormick & Company, the top-selling maker of seasonings and spices. McCormick deploys a team of chefs and food technologists around the world to seek out the top trending flavor. 

Now tamarind certainly isn’t a new flavor—it’s been around for thousands of years in Southeast Asia, Indian, and Mexico. But it was named the flavor of the year because it’s popping up more and more on menus across the world. It’s used in savory and sweet recipes, and it’s even used in drink recipes.

Tamarind is a type of tree that grows well in coastal areas. It commonly grows throughout Africa, Mexico, Asia and India, but it could also grow in South Florida. The tree produces pods with edible fruit. Once you remove the outer shell, the fruit is sweet, tart, and chewy with a texture similar to dates.

You can buy tamarind in four different form: pods, pulp, paste, and concentrate. I don't recommend buying pods. I couldn't even find them. The pods have a tough brown shell that you peel away to reveal the fruit, which is brown, looks similar to dates, and contains seeds. Tamarind pulp is the flesh from inside the pod without the seeds. In order to use the pulp, you must first soak it in hot water, squeeze it, and then discard the fibers. Tamarind paste is a pre-mixed solution of the pulp with a liquid. It's ready for cooking. It looks like a thick paste. Tamarind concentrate is a runny, dark liquid, and it is about 2 to 3 times stronger in taste than the paste.                                                                                                                   

I love tamarind in pad thai and in sweet chutneys for dipping samosas in, but I wanted to show off its versatility by using it in a dessert. I thought it's sweet-sour profile would offset the richness of caramel and pair really well with brown sugar cookies. I like to make my caramel using the dry method. What that means is I cook the sugar without water in a saucepan. The sugar slowly melts and turns into caramel. Then I finish it with heavy cream, butter, sea salt, and in this case, tamarind paste. I use Challenge Unsalted Butter in my caramel and cookie recipe. Using high-quality butter, like Challenge, has a big impact on the richness and flavor of the caramel and cookies.

I finished off the cookies with crushed, roasted peanuts and sea salt. I really like the texture it adds!

Tamarind Caramel Cookies

Yield: Makes about 20 cookies

Time: About 90 minutes


For the cookies

  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) Challenge Unsalted Butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (160 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (240 grams) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Optional garnishes: Additional sea salt, 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

For the tamarind caramel

  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons Challenge Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 grams) tamarind paste (or 1 Tablespoon tamarind concentrate)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt


For the cookies

  1. Cream butter and both sugars on medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add egg and vanilla and mix on low until combined.
  3. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to mixer and mix on low speed until flour is just combined.
  4. Cover dough and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

For the tamarind caramel

  1. While dough is chilling, make caramel. Add sugar to light-colored, large saucepan. Spread sugar in even layer, place over low-medium heat and allow sugar to melt.
  2. Meanwhile, place heavy cream, butter, tamarind, and salt in small pot on stove over low heat. The mixture should never boil.
  3. Bottom layer of sugar will start to melt first (may take upwards of 10 minutes to see anything happening). Use heatproof spatula to move sugar around until all the sugar has melted and caramelized. 
  4. Cook caramel until it turns a medium amber color.
  5. Remove skillet from heat and slowly pour in heavy cream mixture while whisking. Continue to whisk while caramel bubbles.
  6. Pour caramel into bowl to cook and set aside.

Back to cookies

  1. When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Scoop dough into 1 1/2 Tablespoon-sized portions. Roll into balls and place on baking sheets. 
  3. Grab small piece of parchment paper, place it on bottom of flat-bottomed drinking glass, and press cookies flat.
  4. Place cookie sheets in oven and bake for 9-10 minutes, or until edges are gold brown, rotating halfway through baking time. Let cookies cool.
  5. Spoon teaspoon of caramel onto center of each cookie and smooth top. If caramel is too hard, heat in microwave for 15-second intervals until caramel is pourable.
  6. Sprinkle sea salt and peanuts on top of caramel.
  7. Allow caramel to set for about 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Strawberry Marshmallow Popcorn Treats

This is a sponsored post by Challenge Butter, but the text and opinions are all mine. Thank you for supporting brands that make Kylee's Kitchen possible! 

I love popcorn so much. I'm not a movie person, but my husband is. And honestly, popcorn is the only reason I go to the movie theater. Usually we think about popcorn as a savory snack (my favorite is truffle powder and sea salt). But I love a sweet and salty treat, so I decided to make rice krispie treats but with popcorn.

This treat comes together quickly with just a handful of ingredients. I want to point out that I use popcorn kernels that I pop on the stove, not microwave popcorn. There is definitely a difference in taste between stovetop popcorn and microwave popcorn. I use a Whirley Pop (silly name, great device), but a pot with a lid works, too. Also, I use Challenge Salted Butter. I normally only bake with unsalted butter, but I like the salt here to contrast the sweetness.

I also added dehydrated strawberries for a fruity twist. And it makes them pink, which is perfect for Valentine's Day.

There is one important note I want to make before you jump ahead to the recipe. The marshmallow coating will soften the popcorn and make it slightly chewy. If you prefer the texture to be crispy and crunchy (like me), you can bake the popcorn bars at a low temperature to "dry" them out.

Strawberry marshmallow popcorn treats

Yield: 16 servings 

Time: About 45 minutes 


  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels (or about 12 cups popped popcorn)
  • 1 ounce dehydrated strawberries
  • 4 Tablespoons Challenge salted butter 
  • 10 ounces mini marshmallows 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate, melted 


  1. Coat 9x13-inch baking dish in nonstick spray. Set aside. 
  2. Pop kernels on stovetop (or desired method). Sort through popcorn and make sure there are no unpopped kernels. Set popcorn aside.
  3. Pulverize dehydrated strawberries in food processor until it resembles a powder. Set aside.
  4. In large pot over medium-low heat, melt butter. 
  5. Add marshmallows to pot and stir until melted. 
  6. Pour in dehydrated strawberry powder, vanilla extract, and salt. Stir until combined. 
  7. Add popcorn to pot and mix with spatula or wooden spoon until combined. 
  8. Dump popcorn mixture into prepared baking dish and lightly press down. 
  9. Drizzle white chocolate on top. 
  10. Allow mixture to harden for 30 minutes before cutting into bars and serving. 
  11. Optional: If you prefer crunchier popcorn texture, after drizzling with white chocolate, place baking pan into oven preheated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Then allow to cool before cutting and serving. 
  12. Popcorn bars are best eaten same day they’re made. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Garlic Parmesan French Onion Soup


 This is a sponsored post by Challenge Butter, but the text and opinions are all mine. Thank you for supporting brands that make Kylee's Kitchen possible! 

French onion soup is such a classic dish, but sometimes it can feel really heavy due to the rich beef stock and high in sodium. 

The idea for this reinvented French onion soup recipe came because of my newest obsession, parmesan garlic stock. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again—parmesan rinds are equivalent to gold in the culinary world. A parmesan rind is the hard outer edge of a wheel of parmesan. It develops as the parmesan wheel ages. It's definitely edible, but I wouldn't recommend nibbling on it because it's pretty tough. However, they are one of the most incredible ingredients in soups and sauces—imparting a rich, umami flavor. So when you finish a wedge of parmesan, ALWAYS freeze the rind to save for later. Also, you can buy parmesan rinds at Whole Foods and probably other stores with specialty cheeses.

Okay, circling back to parmesan garlic stock—I did not create this, but I wish I had. I'm a huge proponent of making my own stocks because if you want a high-quality dish, you need to start with a good foundation. A parmesan garlic stock is similar to a vegetable stock (no bones), but it's just parmesan rinds, garlic, and some seasonings. I keep some in my freezer at all times. It is so incredibly delicious with many soups, especially French onion soup!

The key to French onion soup is properly caramelized onions. I start by melting Challenge unsalted butter in a Dutch oven. I use Challenge because there are no preservatives or hormones, so it's a product I really trust feeding my family. The caramelization process takes a really long time, upwards of 1 hour. But the good news is it's almost an entirely hands-off process. Then I add the parmesan garlic stock and let it simmer with the onions for another hour. Good soup can't be rushed! We need time for the flavors to meld. And that's pretty much it! I like to top with toasted French bread and gruyere. If you don't have oven-proof ramekins or bowls, you can use a kitchen torch!

Parmesan garlic stock

Yield: 1 gallon

Time: About 4 - 6 hours


  • 8 ounces yellow onion, small dice
  • 12 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 pound parmesan rinds
  • 1.5 gallons cold water
  • 1 sachet d’epices (1 bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, 4 parsley stems)

Equipment needed

  • Large stockpot
  • Ladle
  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • Cheesecloth


  1. Place the onion and garlic in a stockpot and sweat until onion is soft and translucent.
  2. Add parmesan rinds to stockpot and cover with cold water. 
  3. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add sachet to simmering stock.
  4. Continue simmering stock for 4 to 6 hours.
  5. Strain stock through fine-mesh sieve into large bowl. Cool stock and refrigerate or freeze it.

Garlic Parmesan French Onion Soup

Yield: 6 cups soup

Time: About 2 1/2 hours


  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted Challenge butter
  • 3 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 quarts parmesan garlic stock
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Additional salt, ground black pepper to taste
  • 12 (1/2-inch) slices baguette (from about half a standard-sized baguette)
  • 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated


  1. Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and salt, stir and caramelize onions until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Turn down heat if onions brown too quickly. Expect caramelization process to take around 1 hour.
  2. Add balsamic vinegar to Dutch oven and deglaze pan.
  3. Pour in parmesan garlic stock. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Add thyme and bay leaves to simmering soup.
  4. Let soup simmer for 30-60 minutes to allow flavors to meld together. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs from soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. In last 10 minutes of cooking soup, preheat oven to broil. Place baguette slices on baking sheet and toast until crispy, about 2 minutes on each side.
  6. Divide soup into ramekins or oven-proof bowls. Top soup with toasted baguette slices and cover surface with Gruyère. 
  7. Place onto baking sheet and slide into oven. Broil about 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden.
  8. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Important slow cooker tips


Benefits of using a slow cooker
I think slow cookers have gotten a bad rep in recent years. As more technology comes out, I feel like some people turn their noses up at the use of slow cookers. But there's a reason they became so popular in the mid-1900s.

They free up stovetop space, they use less energy than an oven, they can be used unattended, and they don't heat your house in the summer.

Slow cooker temps
Probably the biggest disadvantage of the slow cooker is there is no temperature setting. Your options are warm, low, and high. The warm setting should hold the food above the "temperature danger zone" (140 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature range for low and high will depend on your slow cooker.

Some slow cookers run hot, and others run on the cooler side. The best way to find out what kind of slow cooker you have is to fill your device halfway with room temperature water, stick a probe thermometer in the slow cooker, and monitor it for several hours.

Slow cooker tips:
1. Remember the tagline "set it and forget it"? That isn't a good strategy.

You can't put raw ingredients in the slow cooker and return 8 hours later to a delicious meal without having done anything else. Your food will be underwhelming and bland. A dish needs varied flavors and textures.

In most cases, you need to do some work outside of the slow cooker before cooking it and before serving it.

For example, you need to saute the aromatics (onions, carrots, celery), toast your spices, brown the meat, and deglaze (with wine if using) before cooking in the slow cooker. 

2. Also, cooking ingredients for a long time mellows flavors. I recommend adding additional bloomed spices, pouring in an acid (like lemon juice or apple cider vinegar), and stirring in fresh herbs before serving.

3. Don't lift the lid! It will cause the slow cooker to release heat and steam and it can affect the cooking time.

Saucy Slow Cooker Meatballs

Yield: Makes about 28 meatballs

Time: About 4 1/2 hours


For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 1 Tablespoon dried mint (or 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup red wine, lemon juice, or wine vinegar
  • 56 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons harissa
  • Optional: Fresh mint or parsley, chopped


For the meatballs

  1. In large bowl, break up ground beef and pork. Set aside.
  2. Mix together panko, eggs, shallot, garlic, mint, cumin, oregano, and salt.
  3. Use hands to carefully combine ingredients with meat.
  4. Roll meat mixture into golf-ball sized meatballs.
  5. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Place meatballs in skillet, making sure not to crowd pan, and brown meatballs. Set meatballs aside.

For the sauce

  1. Add onion and salt to skillet and cook until soft and translucent. 
  2. Add cumin and cinnamon to skillet and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Deglaze skillet with wine. Add contents of skillet to slow cooker.
  4. Pour crushed tomatoes into slow cooker and mix.
  5. Add meatballs to slow cooker and cover in sauce.
  6. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours, or until meatball internal temperature registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Mix harissa into sauce, top with fresh herbs, and serve with orzo or bread.

Slow Cooker Harissa Eggplant

Yield: Makes about 4 (1/2 cup) servings

Time: About 4 hours


  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup harissa, divided
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon), divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Optional: Yogurt, crumbled feta, fresh mint or parsley


  1. Combine eggplant, 1/4 cup harissa, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, and kosher salt in slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or until eggplant is very tender.
  3. Add remaining harissa and lemon juice to slow cooker and stir.
  4. Serve with optional toppings.

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