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Holiday Gift Ideas: Flavored Popcorn

I’m repeating the holiday gift series this week. We’ll start with flavored popcorn:

One of my favorite things is the mixed can of flavored popcorn.   Unfortunately they can vary in quality and price.  And if you’re paying a premium, well let’s face it, it all hype, because popcorn is cheap, as are most of the ingredients that go in flavored popcorn.  So  I thought I’d pull a few recipes together this week so you could make your own variety tin of flavored popcorn.  I actually have a tower of gift boxes that I’m thinking of filling with different flavors.  You can use decorative plastic and ribbon, or holiday tins, or zip-lock bags placed in pretty gift bags.

For the first recipes, I thought something cheesy.

White Cheddar Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  • dash of cayenne
  • salt to taste

It might be easiest to do this in two batches.  In a large bag, toss popcorn thoroughly with butter to coat completely.  Mix together cheese and spices, toss with popcorn in the bag until everything is well coated.   Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging (this keeps it from becoming soggy).

Chili-Cheese Popcorn

  • 8 cups popped corn
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • dash of garlic
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan (I’d use the Kraft style for ease)
  • salt to taste (the Parmesan may make it salty enough)

Again, you may want to make this in batches.  Mix together butter and spices and toss with popcorn in a large bag.  Add cheese and toss again until well coated.  Spread out on to baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging.

Additional flavor ideas:

White cheddar cheese powder and taco seasoning.   Parmesan and dry packaged  buttermilk ranch dressing seasoning.

 

Originally posted Dec 2011

Mmm… Mini Pot Pies

DSC_9487 (1600x1060)Mrs J makes a killer pie crust using the smittenkitchen.com butter recipe.  We like these with crusts on the bottom, too.  I bought some 6″ anodized aluminum pie pans a while ago and these pies came right out of them without greasing the pan,  Lots of butter in the crust.DSC_9481 (1600x1060)Sometimes I mix the fillings with the white sauce, these were assembled in layers – veggies then meat then sauce, then the same again.DSC_9482 (1600x1060)I cooked a white sauce with a little nutmeg and a teaspoon of dry mustard.  It seemed lacking so I turned it into a mornay sauce by grating in a few ounces of Parmesan.  It would have been a little better with more half and half, these came out a bit drier than I like.DSC_9483 (1600x1060)Top them with another crust and seal the rims with a fork, trim the excess dough, then give them an egg wash.  This wash was a whole egg beaten with a dollop of dairy.DSC_9484 (1600x1060)Pop them into a 350 oven until they get some nice color, about 30 minutes.

Parmesan Potato Soup with Bacon

DSC_9465 (1600x1060)This turned out pretty well.  The bacon made that a foregone conclusion but the Parmesan was an experiment gone good.  I simmered potato pieces in chicken broth until they were soft and then pureed everything in the pot with an immersion blender.  The bacon crisped up in a separate pan and was added after the blender did its job – save a little for garnishing at the table.  There’s some milk in there to thin it, lots of grated Parmesan and some cheddar I had leftover from burritos.  Seasonings include dried thyme, oregano, fresh ground black pepper and salt.  I used the same microplane grater I grated the Parm with on a little bit of carrot that you can see in the photo if you look hard.DSC_9462 (1600x1060)Since I am  lunatic I took the chance to add a little color to the plate with a healthy slug of my hot sauce.  It was good but I wouldn’t let the lack of it dissuade me from demolishing a future bowl of this soup.

Mmm… Pizza!

DSC_9425 (1600x1060)

This is another one of those doughs that stayed out on the counter all night – two cups of bread flour, a quarter teaspoon of yeast, one cup of water, a wee pinch of salt and a sprinkle of sugar.  I massaged it into place in my pizza pan and let it rise there for another hour then par baked it at 425 for five minutes.  There isn’t a real sauce, per se, just some roasted grape tomatoes that I made last summer and then froze just for something like this.  It also has bacon, thin sliced coppa, some ham, a caramelized onion, mozzarella, and some nice Parmesan grated over it at the table.

DSC_9427 (1600x1060)I’ll just pop these leftover slices into the freezer just like this and then seal the individual slices in vacuum bags, they make great grab-‘em-and-go lunches for Mrs J when she heads out to the shelter.

Dinner Menu: Mambo Italiano Edition

Spaghetti and Meatballs2

Going old school tonight.  I thought you may still have some zucchini and tomatoes that needed to be used up and this menu does both.  Growing up, spaghetti was a weekly occurrence.  I’m not sure where my mom learned to make it, because it is my dad’s half of the family that is Italian, but it was always a hit at our house.  Over the years we’ve all played with different variations, but this is pretty close to the original. Whether it was at a weekly family meal or the Christmas dinner at my Gram’s, this basic sauce ruled.  And the good thing is, it is simple to modify depending on your tastes.  If you want to spice things up, add 1/4 to 1/2 lb of spicy Italian sausage and reduce the ground beef by as much.

Quick, easy and freezes well, I usually make double so I have some on hand for quick dinners.  Trust me, you will never find any jar sauce in my house.  Ever.  If you’d like to have meatballs instead, recipe is here.

On the board tonight:

  1. Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce
  2. Zucchini Italiano
  3. Crusty Italian Bread
  4. Sherbet or even better, Gelato

Spaghetti w/Meat Sauce

  • 9 – 12 oz pasta of choice (I like angel hair for this recipe)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes, diced (or 14 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 tsp dried basil, crushed*
  • 3 tsp dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 tsp rosemary, crushed
  • 1 carrot, finely grated or 1/2 tsp sugar (these reduce the acidity of the sauce and bring out the spices – trust me on this one)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

2 saucepans and large skillet

In skillet, heat oil, sauté pepper, onion, garlic.  Add hamburger and cook thoroughly.  Add tomato paste and 1 tsp ea of crushed basil, oregano and rosemary, mix well.   In saucepan, add remaining ingredients and bring to a low boil, reduce heat, add meat mixture and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Cook pasta according to directions, drain well and serve with sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Zucchini Italiano

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ½  tsp oregano, crushed
  • ½  tsp basil, crushed
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

medium skillet

Clean and slice zucchini, heat oil in skillet, add zucchini, garlic and spices. Stir-fry over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon water and let steam until zucchini is tender.  Toss with parmesan and serve.

*CRUSHING Spices – when using dry spices, to get the best flavor, you should crush them, either by rubbing them in your hand or using a mortar and pestle before adding them to a recipe.

Shopping List:

  • 9 – 12 oz pasta
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 3 tomatoes, diced (or 14 oz can diced tomatoes)
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 carrot
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • Crusty Italian Bread
  • Sherbet or  Gelato

Also: olive oil, crushed garlic, dried basil, dried oregano, rosemary, salt & pepper

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Originally published Oct 2010 copyright What’s 4 Dinner Solutions Cookbook Spring Edition

Roasted Grape Tomatoes

We have a couple of grape tomato bushes out back and they have been churning out tomatoes by the score.  I went out this morning and picked a half bucketful and there were that many on the ground.  I went looking for a roasting recipe and Martha Stewart came through for me.DSC_9082 (1600x1060)I used more olive oil than required, probably, and had a lot of fresh thyme.  These took longer than a hour and I bumped the temp up to 400 or so before I got much in the way of  a color change.  I stirred them once and returned them to the oven.DSC_9088 (1600x1060)We ate some of them with angel hair pasta for lunch.  My basil has gone to seed but I did find a few bright green new leaves that looked tender.  The portion of the tomatoes I used for the dish had a tablespoon or two of butter stirred in.  Pretty good stuff, not sure what to do with the rest of the tomatoes, I picked enough to fill that pan three times, the last batch is in the oven as I write this.

Dinner Menu: Herbed Fettuccine and Apple Salad

Apple Salad1

I’m still hoping for spring. It is suppose to get up to 80 degrees this weekend, I’ll believe it when I see it. Been busy with work, so not much cooking this week. This menu is quick and easy for those kinds of weeks.

On the board tonight:

  1. Herbed Fettuccini
  2. Apple Salad
  3. Sliced Strawberries w/whipped topping

Herbed Fettuccini

  • 9 oz fresh fettuccine
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 5 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz fresh spinach, torn
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz fresh parmesan, grated or goat cheese (chevre)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 6 oz artichokes hearts (opt)

2 large saucepans, large serving bowl

Cook pasta according to pkg. directions. Next bring broth to boiling in second saucepan. Add green onion and spinach. Reduce heat, cook and stir for 2 to 4 minutes or until spinach is slightly wilted. Add parsley, herbs, salt & pepper; mix well. Remove from heat; cover and set aside. Drain cooked pasta and remove to serving dish, cover and keep warm

In saucepan combine cheese, milk, and butter. Cook and stir until cheese is melted. Add pasta; toss to coat. Remove from heat. Add vegetable mixture, hazelnuts, opt artichokes, half of the tomato to the pasta mixture; toss gently to mix, heat until warm through. Transfer back to a serving bowl, garnish with remaining tomato.

Apple Salad

  • 16 oz spring greens, washed
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 2 Fuji (or other sweet red) apples
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 oz toasted  slivered almonds
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

serving bowl

Layer greens in bowl.  Core and cut apples into large chunks.  Layer over greens, add raisins and nuts.  Mix together vinegar, oil, salt & pepper.  Drizzle over salad, toss, then crumble feta over the top.

Note: If you can’t find toasted almonds, heat a skillet, add almonds and stir constantly until they are lightly toasted.

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Copyright What’s 4 Dinner Solutions Cookbook: Spring Edition

Dinner Menu: Bacon Squash Campanelle and Panna Cotta Parfait

I’m always looking for something different to do with pasta that is flavorful and moves away from the traditional tomato based sauces of my childhood. Tonight’s main course is just that. Butternut squash with a bit of heat and a bit of sweet, all brought together by smoky bacon and creamy chèvre. Finish off  the meal with a light, sweet Panna Cotta Parfait. Panna Cottas are traditionally molded desserts, but I think we been doing this together long enough that you know I’m all about keeping it simple. And Panna Cotta is as simple as it gets, unless of course you choose to mold it, then a thousand things can go wrong between placing it in the ramekin and serving it to your guests. Thanks but no thanks, it looks quite elegant in a wine glass, topped with a pretty berry topping. And I don’t have to worry that the last 5 minutes of prep are going to leave me with a blob of great tasting shapelessness on a plate. But that’s just me.

On the board tonight:

  1. Bacon and Squash Campanelle
  2. Tossed Salad (try these)
  3. Panna Cotta Parfait

Bacon and Squash Campanelle

  • 10-12 oz campanelle or penne pasta
  • 4 slices thick pepper bacon (usually find at the deli counter), cut into 1/4” piecesCampanelle
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small tart apple, cored and diced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz chèvre cheese (or similar), crumbled.
  • Fresh grated parmesan

Large saucepan, large, deep skillet

In saucepan cook pasta according to package directions, well. While pasta is cooking, brown bacon in skillet, remove to paper towel. Drain all but 2 tbsp of bacon drippings (or use all of it if you desire and reduce olive oil – you’ll want a 1/4 cup total). Add olive oil and sauté onion, rosemary and garlic until onions are translucent. Add squash, apple, pepper flakes and chicken broth. Simmer over medium heat until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove rosemary, add bacon, chèvre and salt and pepper to taste, stir until cheese is melted. Toss squash mixture and pasta together and serve with parmesan.

Panna Cotta Parfait

  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod (or one tsp vanilla extract)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 lb blueberries (or other berries)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch

2 saucepans, 6 wine glasses or other stemware

Change it up, use a variety of stemware

Change it up, use a variety of stemware

Panna Cotta:

Place 1/2 cup milk in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over. Add lemon juice to remaining milk. Let both mixtures stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour gelatin milk mixture into a heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat just until the gelatin dissolves but the milk does not boil. Add the lemon milk mixture, cream, sugar, and salt. Split vanilla pod lengthwise and add to mixture. Stir until the sugar dissolves, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove bean pod. Pour mixture into 6 wine glasses so that they are 1/2 full. Cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours, overnight is better.

Berry Topping:

In saucepan add berries, sugar and water. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly, add cornstarch and stir in completely. Reduce heat and let simmer until berries are soft and sauce coats the back of the spoon. Cool completely.

Spoon the berries mixture over the top the panna cotta and serve.

 

 

Shopping List:

  • 10-12 oz campanelle or penne pasta
  • 4 slices thick pepper bacon (usually find at the deli counter)
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 small tart apple
  • 12 oz chicken broth
  • 4 oz chèvre cheese (or similar)
  • Fresh grated parmesan
  • Salad fixin’s
  • Salad dressing (Italian or oil & vinegar goes well with this recipe)
  • 12 oz whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 16 oz heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod (or one tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 lb blueberries (or other berries)

Also: crushed garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, cornstarch

 

Pasta Pr0n – Spaghetti Carbonara

DSC_8135 (1600x1060)We are really liking this dish.  This is my second attempt, the first time I thought I may have needed more egg so I went with six eggs this time.  I’m afraid I added them too quickly, or into too hot a pan, or was too slow tossing the pasta, or some other thing, because I have a fair amount of scrambled egg where there should be a nice creamy sauce.  Or so they say!  Really nice tasting dish as it was, the thought of it being any better has my toes curling.

Dinner Menu: Linguine w/Peppers and Italian Asparagus

It’s the time of year that I begin to crave fresh, light dinners. I’ve tired of stews, hearty soups and the other staples of the mid-winter gloom. As I start to believe spring will arrive again, I want meals that reflect that belief. Lots of fresh veggies, fresh fruits, light sauces and simple, full flavors.

This menu includes items that are plentiful at my local grocery this week. All the peppers are on sale right now, so I use red, yellow. orange and green. Lots of fresh berries, too. And asparagus is everywhere.

On the board tonight:

  1. Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers
  2. Italian Asparagus
  3. Mixed berries & whipped cream

Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-Parmesan cheese
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine

saucepan and skillet

In skillet heat oil, add garlic, red pepper flakes, green & red peppers and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add fresh basil, tomatoes, salt & pepper let simmer while pasta cooks. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well. Toss with pepper mixture & cheese.

* you can use fresh tomatoes, probably 2 large, but I couldn’t find any decent ones this time of year.

Italian Asparagus

  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan

saucepan & steamer

Gently scrub asparagus, cut in half and place in steamer. Add enough water to saucepan to come in the bottom of the steamer. Steam for 5 to 8 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Remove and toss with oil, oregano, salt, pepper & cheese.

Shopping List:

  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-parmesan cheese**
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine
  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan
  • 16 oz mixed berries
  • Whipped Cream

Also: oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, crushed red pepper flakes

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