Archive | December, 2013

Homemade Caramel Corn for Christmas

23 Dec

I don't know what the deal is, but I am really, really, inexplicably into the holidays this year.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working on holiday stuff at work for months.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in love.

Perhaps it’s because this is the first time in my life that I live in a place large enough to host my entire family for Christmas dinner, 17 large, including Grandma.

It’s probably a combination of all of these things, but at this point, I’m so damn Christmas-y that I’m beginning to annoy the people around me. I’m even annoying myself. Since when do I think it’s a good idea to listen to the Glee Holiday Station on Pandora, anyway? I’ve never even seen an episode of Glee! And I made a wreath for my front door out of twigs that I gathered from the park across the street, and then SPRAY PAINTED WHITE. I freaking crafted!?

Since this is my first time hosting Christmas for my family, I want to make it special. I’ve borrowed the appropriate amount of folding tables and chairs. I’ve purchased 21 pounds of short ribs and all of the trimmings for the big meal.  I’ve wrapped the gifts.  And this afternoon, I did what I can only hope will be my final cutesy activity of the season. I cooked up a delicious batch of homemade caramel corn with peanuts.

Homemade Caramel Corn with Peanuts

Nothing cutesy about that, right? Just delicious, buttery, sweet, crunchy goodness.

And then I maybe I blacked out, because somehow the caramel corn ended up packaged in theselittle bags that look like Santa’s fat stomach. 

What is happening to me???

Seriously, somebody take my temperature. Maybe I have a fever that’s making me hallucinate or something. I’ve been surrounded by this kind of thing for the past 4+ years at my job in the Wilton Test Kitchen, but somehow managed to remain uncrafty, until this holiday season. And now, I just can’t seem to help myself. I just want to make stuff!

So now, please excuse me. I have to go build some teeny-tiny gingerbread houses for my nieces. Probably gonna jam to the smooth vocal stylings of Michael Buble while I’m at it. Ugh.

Caramel Corn with Peanuts

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 cup salted peanuts
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Drop one popcorn kernel into the oil. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot and ready. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give it a gentle shake to coat the kernels in oil. You’ll hear kernels beginning to pop shortly. When the popping sounds slow down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to the popcorn to a large bowl. Dump in the peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugars, honey, and salt together, stirring occassionally until the sugars are dissolved. Cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. The color will deepen slightly, and the mixture will bubble up. If you like your caramel flavor lighter, take the pan off of the heat at 3 minutes. If you prefer a stronger, more burnt flavor, continue cooking the caramel to a darker color, but removing it from the heat before it begins to smoke. Off the heat, carefully add the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel will bubble up angrily when these ingredients hit. Let the mixture settle a few seconds, and stir to combine well.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss it together to coat. Divide the popcorn evenly between the two baking sheets, and spread it into a single layer. Bake the popcorn to dry out the caramel for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring the popcorn to break up the pieces every 5 to 6 minutes.

Cool the popcorn completely before storing.

Makes about 4 quarts.


Coconut Macaroons

18 Dec

Coconut, particularly of the sweetened and flaked variety, is an all-or-nothing flavor. Either you love it, or you loathe it. Me? I fall hard into the “love it” camp. Next time you open up a fresh bag of shredded coconut, take a walloping teaspoon’s worth (see what I did there?) and place it between your gums and lower lip, Skoal style. Let it hang out there until you’ve sucked all of the sugar and taste out of it. Just a pinch gives you long lasting flavor, without the repulsive spitting or chance of mouth cancer!

Several years back, I worked at a bakery that made tiny coconut macaroons at the holidays. Still warm out of the oven, they were like crack to me, somehow chewy and dissolving at the same time. If that bakery had a dollar for every mini coconut mac that ended up in my mouth…they’d have a lot more dollars. And that is what is known in the industry as “shrinkage.” See how I’ve left the name of this bakery out of this post? That’s because I probably owe them some cash.

Coconut Macacoons with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Coconut Macacoons with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Once in a while, when I have a spare egg white kicking it in the fridge, I make up a batch of coconut macaroons. They’re deceptively simple little confections, requiring only a few ingredients, all of which are pantry staples, minus the coconut. You don’t even need to bust out your stand mixer for these. And hey – if you make them for a party like I did, and most of your guests end up in the “loathe it” camp, you get to snack on the the macs for days. Win!

Coconut Macaroons

3 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bag (14 oz.) sweetened shredded coconut
1 oz. dark chocolate, melted

Preheat your oven to 325° F. Line 3  baking sheets with parchment paper.

Vigorously whisk together the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl until foamy and well combined, and the sugar is nearly dissolved. Fold in the coconut, making sure that it is evenly moistened.

Drop rounded tablespoons about 1 inch apart  onto  the parchment-lined sheets. A small cookie or ice cream scoop works great for this, and makes perfectly rounded mounds.. Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the batter in mounds.. Bake the macaroons 1 or 2 pans a time for 15 to 20 minutes, or until macaroons are slightly golden. If you bake more than 1 pan at a time, rotate them halfway through for more even baking. For a toastier coconut flavor and a more golden appearance overall (like mine), add an additional 1-2 minutes to the bake time. Cool the macaroons completely and drizzle with melted dark chocolate.

Makes about 3-½ dozen mini macroons.

Kitchen Control Freak

5 Dec

I’m dating someone new. We’re still in that lovely honeymoon phase, which means we’ve yet to  fight, or to don sweatpants with elasticized ankles in front of the other. It’s going really well, and I’d like to stretch out this part of the relationship, where everything is shiny and new, for as long as possible. Which is why, when my boyfriend came to my house to cook me dinner the other night, I had to check myself.

That’s right. You read that correctly. I have the kind of boyfriend who is considerate enough to make me dinner when I’ve had a really long day. Not only that, but he made the 30 minute drive from his place to mine to cook this meal. Men who don’t cook – make a note. Women who don’t cook, you should make a note, too. This is an all-around wonderful thing to do for another person, and it’s really pretty fun if you stop thinking of it as a chore.

So what, exactly, is my problem?

It wasn’t the meal. The food turned out fine. We had a nice, healthy weeknight dinner. Boneless skinless chicken breasts with veggies and brown rice. All good stuff.

My problem was that someone was ferreting around through my kitchen and my kitchen stuff. Someone other than me, going through my pots and pans and utensils and drawers. It was nerve-wracking. My kitchen is my domain. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, or even organized. This is the mess that is my utensil drawer. I can’t even bring myself to show you my disaster of a pantry. It’s imperfect, but it’s mine, and I know my way around it.


During every step of his cooking process, I wanted to suggest a different, better way of doing it. He chose a small cast-iron skillet for sauteeing the chicken, prompting my suggestion for a larger, stainless steel saute pan. When he settled on a smaller stainless pan, I couldn’t stop thinking about how there was too much chicken for it’s size, and that the pan would be overcrowded and cause the chicken to steam rather than saute.

When he defrosted both of the enormous chicken breasts on a tiny salad plate in the microwave, the edges of the raw chicken hanging dangerously over the sides, I proposed that he transfer them to a full-sized plate. He didn’t. I think I had nightmares about salmonella-induced food poisoning that night.

I nearly flipped when he tossed the rough, inedible ends of a bunch of asparagus into the garbage disposal instead of into the trash bin. He lives for stuff like that, but for me, those should go straight into the garbage can. Why put the stress on the disposal?

He stirred a pot of vegetables using just the wooden handle of one of my spatulas, without the rubber head. I take them apart for washing. The rubber piece goes in the dishwasher for sanitizing (that hot pink thing in the center of the pic above is one of them), but the wooden handles get hand washed so that they don’t warp. I don’t bother to put them back together for storage. Both pieces go into the utensil drawer on their own until I’m ready to use the it the next time. So, there he is, standing over a saucepan of mixed veg, just stirring away with my Le Creuset wooden stick, which he found in the utensil drawer, probably right next to an actual wooden spoon and 3 or 4 metal spoons, and my mind is just racing.

What is he doing? And why is he doing that? I’ve been to culinary school, I’ve watched far too much Food Network, and that is NOT how I would be doing this! My way is clearly better! Not only better, but my way is CORRECT.

It took a lot of mental effort to not jump out of my chair and take over. Finally, about three-quarters of the way through the cooking process, I realized that I should just shut up and let the man cook. He’s 37 years old, and he hasn’t starved yet. Clearly he is capable of getting dinner onto the table. And even more important, he was doing something to take care of me, which is amazing. If he is ever nice enough to offer again, I’ll leave the room while he works, and only offer cooking tips if he actually asks for them.

But I will bring the $300 Shun chef knife into the other room with me. No one else comes near that delicate blade!

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