Tag Archives: spiced caramel corn

A Cornucopia of Comfort Food

3 Oct

dinner party menu items

Dinner party menu items

Voting is now open for Challenge #3.  If you’d like to attend my party, please RSVP here.

Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who voted for my Challenge #2 post in Project Food Blog!  I so appreciate the support, and I now invite you to come to a dinner party held in your honor–it’s all about comfort-with-a-twist.  Voting for Challenge #3 in Project Food Blog–Luxury Dinner Party–begins Monday, October 4.  I’ll have a link here as well as over on my Project Food Blog page.  Enjoy!

When you ask a great chef what he or she would like to eat at his/her last meal, you might expect some pretty rarefied responses.  Maybe one of those dishes that you find at very pretentious restaurants whose title takes up five lines of the menu?  Perhaps they’d go for the daring:  live octopus? Fugu?  Mayhap the disturbing:  balutCasu Marzu?  Heck, they’re dying anyway, right?

homemade caramel corn

Here it is!

Many of the actual responses might surprise you:  A perfectly roasted chicken.  A hamburger topped with a fried egg.  A hot dog.  A slice of lemon tart.  In the end, we all crave comfort.

Baked rigatoni

Hello, lovely baked rigatoni.

So, for this dinner party, I knew I wanted to go the comfort route.  Not because this was going to be anybody’s last meal, but because I love the people for whom I was cooking, and I wanted them to be familiar with all the dishes while adding just a bit of a twist to many of them.  I also knew that three of my guests would be under thirteen, and one hasn’t yet reached the “Must Be This Tall to Ride” mark at the fair.  I wanted my young guests to try everything, and I knew they’d be more  likely to try foods with names they’d at least heard.

Bread Pretzels

Thank God for pretzels.

My theme–comfort–was nailed down, but which comfort foods?  Being less-than-uptight when it comes to parties, I decided to throw a few darts into the Hinternet and see what I’d hit.  I hit the mother lode, Reasons-for-Celebrating Central:  an encyclopedic listing of every food observance known to man, from Soup Day to Nuts Week.

Caramel Apples


Of course, I checked out October-as-a-whole, the first week in October and the day of the party, October 1.  There was an exhaustive listing, and these were the ones I chose for the menu:

Month-long Observances

  • National Apple Month
  • National Caramel Month
  • National Chili Month
  • National Cookie Month
  • National Dessert Month
  • National Pasta Month
  • National Pickled Peppers Month
  • National Popcorn Poppin’ Month
  • National Pork Month
  • National Pretzel Month
  • Vegetarian Awareness Month

Week-long Observances

  • National Chili Week

October 1st Observances

  • World Vegetarian Day
  • Pudding Season Begins
  • Homemade Cookies

    Glazed citrus shortbread cookies

    Howdy, citrus shortbread

Here’s the final menu:Dinner Party Menu

And since nothing goes better with dinner than a movie, we also celebrated Richard Harris’s October-1st birthday by watching him portray Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But not inside.  Oh, no, we watched it on Thomas and Roberta’s big old outdoor movie screen!  Plus, we ate over at their place, too; we just carted all the dishes over when I was finished with my marathon cooking session.

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore

We miss you, Richard Harris.

And there you have it.  A dinner party perfect for adults and kids alike, one without fancy-schmancy table settings or a high price tag.  One that was all about comfort: for ourselves and especially for our guests.

You, too, can throw the same type of party.  Know your guests and their food comfort levels.  Cook for everyone’s tastes.  Get creative with your celebration–after all, just because it’s none of your guests’ birthdays doesn’t mean you can’t throw a birthday party.   Every day is somebody’s birthday.

PS Dinner Party Recipes/Methods

  • caramel corn
  • bread pretzels
  • I didn’t use a recipe for the pasta–I just made a Béchamel sauce and folded al dente pasta, browned Italian sausage and wee cubes of fontina cheese into it.  Bake and done.
  • For the chili, I threw all of my vegetables, including some dried black beans, into a pot with water seasoned with chili-type spices, salt and pepper.  I simmered it all together until the beans were cooked through.  Added a little cocoa powder for a bass note and some corn flour for thickening.  Very easy, very tasty.
  • Trifle–layer together cubed pound cake liberally doused with sherry and raspberry jam.  Pour over homemade vanilla pudding (I made 3 cups worth), making sure it oogies all down in between the cubes of pound cake.  Let that set up in the fridge, and then dollop on as much whipped cream as you want.
  • Dip the apples in boiling water for a few seconds, then shock in ice water.  Rub off the wax with a paper towel.  Make actual caramel for your caramel apples.  I doubled the recipe, doubled the salt and  flavored mine with maple and vanilla extracts.  Then, I either rolled my enrobed apples in mini chocolate chips or sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.

PPS  One of Albus Dumbledore’s favorite foods is raspberry jam.  Hence the raspberry jam in the trifle.

PPPS If you would love to attend a Dinner-and-a-Movie-Comfort-Food-Fest, please consider sending me your RSVP by voting for my entry.  Voting opens Monday, October 4.  Thank you!

Submitted for your Approval: An Analogy. I am to Halloween as Clark Griswold is to Christmas.

6 Nov

Just about the time The Beloved starts rubbing his hands together in anticipation of making his fruitcake, I begin dreaming of ghouls and goblins.  Not in a Wake Up Screaming sort of way, but in a How Can I Scare the Children kind of way.  I started talking to The Hansens, our Most Excellent Neighbors, and found out that they were all into The Scare as well.  We decided to do a Haunted Path leading from our house to theirs.  And then, we contacted our other Most Excellent Neighbors, The Walls, to see if they wanted In on the path idea.  Much to our delight, they were All Over It.  Thomas was all, “I’ll hide in the blackberry bushes with a fog machine and jump out and scare kids.”  Very, Very Cool.

As you know, I am a Rotten Photojournalist, so I didn’t get pictures of the Walls and Hansens stops on the Haunted Path, but let me paint a picture for you.  The Hansens had tombstones, black lights, a scary light-up tree and a crazy mister skull (not Mr. Skull, but a skull that spews out mist) with blood and a spider crawling out of one eye.  Hooray.  The Walls had Real Animal Skulls hanging from their weeping willow tree, a graveyard with plastic skeletal arms coming up out of the ground, a strobe light that made thunder sounds and an Enormous Spider on their porch.

The Beloved and I decided to decorate the Entire Wrap-Around Porch and send kids all around the porch and down the side steps.  If they were Brave Enough.  Here is Photo documentation of said decorated porch.  All the gray tattery stuff is dyed cheese cloth, cut/shredded so as to add to the Eeriness.

Haunted steps

Thomas let us borrow some rope lighting so no kids would trip and fall. We just didn't want to deal with a lawsuit.

Halloween front door

The only thing that prompted kids to come on up was the Lure of Candy.

Halloween ravens

I had two of these guys--one on each top post. Very Hitchcockian, no?

Skull plant

Okay, so I don't water my hanging baskets. In a burst of inspiration, I hot glued some wee skulls into the poor, dead plant. Very effective skull plant, I think.

Hanged ghost

This corner was a little bare, so at the last minute, I shoved a bunch of plastic grocery bags under some old white curtains, creating instant ghost dude. His sign says "Hanged for Trespassing." I never got around to making a sign that said "No Trespassing," but there's always next year!

Gypsy head fortune teller.

My friend Jennifer gave this to us a few weeks ago. How cool is she? She tells five different fortunes, plus she lights up all blue and green, and her head sways AND her eyes roll around. The least we could do was name her after Jennifer.

halloween shrunken dead

So, we had a little niche to fill up with...something. I got these wee dead guys from the $ store, and hung them Strategically About with a sign: 'Ware the Shrunken Dead. Awesome.

shrunken dead

Eeek! Another shrunken dead dude!

one eyed jack o lantern

The pumpkin had a natural scar across its face. I used it To My Advantage, don't you think? The blood is red food coloring and glue. I free-handed his look of anguish.

halloween side door

If we had kids come up the side step (which we did), they were met with a sign that said "Do not ring bell. Look what happened to him (the jack o'lantern with the dagger in its eye). Around the corner await treats for the brave."

Stay on Path sign

Kids exiting by the side steps were reminded to Stay on The Path. Or PERISH. Mwah ha ha.

haunted path made with caution tape

The caution tape (thank you, $ store) led the kids down and around to Thomas' house.

Okay, so that’s all the decorations in the calm light of day.  Now, here’s what the front looked like at night, with the strobe light and the fog machine going.

Halloween decorations at night

Cool, huh? Plus, the dude on the door moans and rattles. Double cool.

And where, you ask, is the Madam of Ceremonies?  Here:

Scary, scary me

Originally, I was going to go for serene, icy vampire. I ended up as Drunken Dead Italian Grandmother. Whatever. The children were Still Afraid.

Okay, so if you’ve suffered down to the end of my Obsessive Halloween Decoration Extravaganza, you deserve something for all your trouble.  I posted this Ages Ago, but here it is again.  A perfect adult snack for Halloween.  Or whenever.

Spiced Caramel Corn

First, you need Some Sort of Spiced Nuts.  Pumpkin seeds are Festive and Seasonal.  Or get some of those pepitas, Mexican pumpkin seeds.  Mix up some egg white, salt, cumin, chili powder, orange zest and brown sugar.  Lightly coat the nuts/pumpkin seeds with the mixture, spread out on Silpat and bake at 250F until dry and golden.  Let cool, and break apart any big chunks.  Or not.

Sorry, but you’re on your own as far as measurements.  The recipe for the caramel corn makes a Ton, so you might want to shoot for 4 cups of nuts and 2 egg whites as the base for the spice mix.

Now, for the Corn

  • 3 1/2 cups popcorn, popped.  This makes a ton.  Seriously.  Like 3-4 GALLONS.  That’s about 12-16 LITRES for you Metric Folk.  Half the recipe if you aren’t that hungry, or if you don’t want to share.  If you can find “mushroom popcorn,” use that.  If not, don’t worry about it.
  • 4-ish cups spiced nuts
  • 1 1/4 c. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. butter (5 sticks)
  • 30.5 oz. brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt.  Yes, tablespoons.  You can cut back a bit, if you want, but salty is Good for this
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

Put the popcorn in two Very Large roasting pans that you have coated Liberally with pan spray.  Add half of the nuts to each pan.

Melt everything but the baking soda together in a Very Large Pot.  Once the butter is melted, turn up the heat and bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes, kill the heat and stir in the baking soda.  It will seriously bubble up and look just like caramel shaving cream.

Pour half of the shaving cream over each vat of popcorn.  Stir it in as well as you can.  Bake at 225F for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Every fifteen minutes or so, open the oven and stir.  Each time, the popcorn will get more evenly coated, so don’t stress if there is some Naked Corn in the pans when you first put them in the oven.

After the Requisite Time, take the pan out of the oven and stir again.  Stir it every few minutes to keep it from clumping up into a large Brick O’ Popcorn.

And now you’re done.  What are you waiting for?  Eat some.  Mangia, mangia!  Oh, sorry, that’s the Dead Italian Grandmother coming out.

So, how was your Halloween?  If you didn’t make anyone cry, you’ll just have to try harder next year.

PS Whether or not you know who Clark Griswold is, you deserve to see his Handiwork:

Beer Nuts?! We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Beer Nuts!

6 Apr
Most caramel corn is Way Too Sweet.  Not this stuff, though.

Most caramel corn is Way Too Sweet. Not this stuff, though.

Why do most people open a bar?  To make money.  I’m sure that lots of people will say that it’s because they like to be around people or they really like beer or they didn’t want to follow daddy into banking, but the bottom line is folks open bars to make money.  And they make money by selling beer and other Adult Beverages.  The more they sell, the more they make.  It pays to make sure that folks stay thirsty, so the bar snack is something that is really important.  If it’s too sweet, the beer will taste off.  If it’s not salty, people won’t drink as much beer.  If it’s just a sad old dish of Chex Mix (sorry, Chex, but seriously), folks will think you just don’t care.

So what was the bar snack that we came up with to open the restaurant?  Spiced caramel corn.  Sure, it was somewhat sweet, but we upped the salt to balance it and added some spices to give it some heat.  This stuff is like crack.  I’m telling you this because, if you make it and get addicted and then have to go on some rice cake step down program, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This Awesome Snack gets made in parts.  First, we’d make a large batch of spiced pepitas.  There really aren’t any measurements for this–I’d just make enough “goo” to lightly coat however many pepitas I was preparing.  Like a lot of things that I make, this is just a procedure:  use some egg whites to make some flavorings stick to some nuts.  Bake them in a low oven until the egg whites are crisp and the nuts are a light golden brown.  Apply this to any sort of seeds or nuts you want to use, and use whatever seasonings sound good.  Here’s how we did them.

Spiced Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

  • brown sugar
  • salt
  • cumin
  • chili powder
  • orange zest
  • egg whites

Whisk everything together and fold in pepitas.  You don’t want them to be dripping in the goo, just lightly coated.  If you’re unsure how much you’ll need, start with a smaller batch and then make some extra if you need it.  Spread pepitas out in a thin layer (no thicker than about 1/2″) on a Silpat-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 325 for ten minutes.  Stir the pepitas and bake a few more minutes.  Watch them carefully–you want them to be golden.  The nuts can still be a tiny bit sticky, but they certainly shouldn’t still be wet.  Cool.  As the nuts cool, they should crisp up.  If you still have some spots that are a bit gooey, put them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

Spiced Caramel Corn
I made this stuff in 3 shallow hotel pans or 2 deep ones.  If you only have 2 racks in your oven, I’d halve the recipe and use huge roasting pans–the disposible kind are fine, but please clean them and recycle them when you’re done.

  • 3 1/2 cups popcorn, popped–this makes about 16 quarts, so make this to give away, or halve the recipe
  • 4 cups spiced pepitas
  • 1 1/4 c. corn syrup
  • 20 oz. butter
  • 30.5 oz. brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 TBSP kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda

Spray your roasting pans or hotel pans liberally with pan spray.  Put the popped corn into two large roasting pans or hotel pans.  Sprinkle 2 cups pepitas on top of each pan of popcorn.

In a pan that is much larger than you think you’ll need, melt together and bring to a boil the corn syrup, butter, brown sugar, salt, and spices.  Boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the baking soda and stir until the mixture foams up and looks like caramel shaving cream.

Quickly and carefully pour half of the mixture over each pan of popcorn and pepitas.  Scrape the pan to get all of the goodness out.

Fold the popcorn, pepitas and caramel together with a large silicone spatula.  Try and keep the popcorn in the pan, but just know that this is a Messy Process.  Once you get the caramel pretty well evenly distributed throughout the popcorn, put the pans in the oven at 225 degrees for 1 hour, 15 minutes.  Open the oven and stir the popcorn every 15 minutes.  Each time you stir, the corn and pepitas will get more and more evenly coated with the caramel, so don’t worry if you have some naked kernels when you first put the pans in the oven.

Once you take the popcorn out of the oven, stir it again to break it up.  Stir every few minutes to keep it from solidifying into one large brick of caramel corn.  Unless that’s what you’re going for.  In that case, carry on.  This is also a good time to pack the caramel corn into balls if you feel like making popcorn balls.

Notes:  Don’t make this on a humid day.  When I used to make this, I was in Florida, so it was pretty much humid most of the time.  We bought metal food-safe dessicant packs to keep the popcorn dry.  We’d store this in large 20 -24 quart Cambros with a dessicant pack or two.  The bar would go through it in two days, and then we’d make it again.  If you don’t have dessicant packs, know that it will soften after several hours in very humid areas.

Please remember, if you choose to make this, there is no Going Back.  You will be hooked.

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