Friday Recipe Exchange: Holiday Gifts, Salty-Sweet Edition

Caramel Corn 12-17-11

I love popcorn. So much so, I actually have an electric stirring popcorn popper. It must be a family thing, because my brother, Paul, has all the ingredients to make movie popcorn – and he did serious research on how to get that flavor. I’m good with butter and salt, myself. But my true weakness is caramel corn, so one year when I was trying to think of something fun to give for those neighbor Christmas treat boxes, I decided to try my hand at caramel corn.

And to take it up a notch I decided to make Bacon Caramel Corn. The featured recipe tonight.

But let’s begin with some other salty-sweet ideas for the holiday gift box.

Tex-Mex Popcorn Mix, recipe here.

White Cheddar Popcorn and Chili-Cheese Popcorn, recipes here.

And if popcorn is not your thing, how about some Cajun Spiced Nuts or Indian Spiced Nuts, recipes here.

Finally, the dinner menu this week is all about improving Oven Fried Chicken and amazing Baked Garlic Potatoes, complete menu, recipes, shopping list are here.

What favorite recipes are in your gift box this year? If you give food gifts for the holidays, do you include copies of the recipes? I’m always torn. Either way, go ahead and share some of your favorite recipes in the comments. Next week we’ll tackle sweet treats for gift giving.

Tonight’s featured recipe actually came about because I read this comment at Balloon-Juice, I was intrigued enough to search out a recipe. If bacon isn’t your thing, just omit it from the recipe below to make regular caramel corn, or caramel corn with nuts.

Cashew Bacon Caramel Corn

  • 8 oz maple smoked bacon, cut into eight pieces per strip
  • 12 cups (3 quarts) of popped corn
  • 10 tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups salted cashews (or peanuts, or peanut/cashew mix)
Skillet, saucepan, baking sheets*

In skillet, cook bacon until mostly crisp, drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Reduce to 200 degrees after 15 minutes of baking.

Place popcorn onto a well-greased baking sheets.

In saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until thickened, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla and baking soda (yes, it will foam up so be prepared). Gently stir nuts and bacon into sugar mixture and pour over popcorn, toss, coating popcorn evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until popcorn is a deep golden brown, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours  – mine was done at the 1 hour mark. Cool and break apart.

*most recipes call for a roasting pan, I had better luck on my second batch using baking sheets – the popcorn cooked more evenly and was very crisp.

That’s if for this week. Bixby is 6 months old today which doesn’t seem possible and I may have an update on him later, depending on how work goes today  – TaMara

cropped-christmaslights.jpg

 

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

Christmas Eve Preparation and Gift Ideas Update

Had a nice dinner out tonight.  We have a lot of good Mexican restaurants around here, often difficult to choose between them.  Since we were at a movie beforehand, we chose the one across from the theatre.  I had a really good black bean soup, excellent coffee and sopapillas in a nice fresh strawberry puree.  I love them because they are nice and sweet, but not heavy.  Great after a nice meal.  Homesick Texan has a nice recipe for them here if you’re inclined to make your own.

I have all the ingredients for the Bacon-Cashew-Caramel Corn and will make it this weekend. Just in time to share with friends.  Being that it is holiday time, I’ll have to squeeze cooking in between events. There is always lots to do and see.  Though I am bummed I missed the fireworks this year – totally spaced them – and this year Santa skydived into town (at night, with flaming feet).  This all happened within blocks of my house, so I had no excuse.   Anyway, this weekend will be shopping and going to the Holiday Lights at the Botanic Gardens.  Good time to test out the new camera.

I’ve settled on the menu for Christmas Eve and have made my list which I’ll start picking up over the next week.  Christmas is sneaking up on us.  So in case you’re still looking for holiday gift ideas, there will be cookie recipes over the weekend to finish out your goodies tray.

Now here’s something to remember, if you run into questions, you can email me, I can usually get back to you the same day.  So if there is a recipe question or you suddenly look at your turkey and have a panic attack I can probably give you some suggestions pretty quick.  Or get you to a resource.

I’ll update you on the caramel corn and menu shopping.  Until then…

Holiday Gift Ideas: Bacon-Cashew Caramel Corn

UPDATE:  I made two batches of caramel corn last night.  I had some success with the bacon version and better success with the second, nuts and popcorn batch.

First, I was only so-so on the bacon.  The sugar really overpowers it and it loses a lot of what I like bacon for, its salty bacon flavor.  It was worth a try, but not something I would do again. It is a great conversation starter, though.

Second, cooking times.  I lowered the stove top time for the caramel sauce down to 1 minute after it comes to a boil.  More than that it scorches too easily.  I also lowered the oven to 200 degrees after the first 15 minutes.  Ovens vary, so it may just be mine, but the lower temp created a more even caramel effect, less toasty, which the first batch had.

Third, I started with a large roasting pan, then after about 20 minutes moved it to a baking sheet and I cooked the second batch on baking sheets.  It was much easier than remembering to stir it every 5 or 10 minutes.

I’ve made the changes below.

==============================================

Yes, you heard me right.

I was searching around for a good caramel corn recipe, I wanted it to have cashews for sure. Then I stumbled across one that included bacon and I knew that was what I wanted to do.  I looked over a half a dozen or so caramel recipes and put together one I thought was both simple and tasty.  Then I added the bacon and cashews.  I’m planning on making this over the weekend – I’ll update you if there are any changes.

You can use the basic caramel recipe and substitute nuts of your choice and eliminate bacon if desired. The recipe lends itself to just plain caramel corn if you like, or use dried fruits or other imaginative ingredients to make it your own. I think the possibilities are endless.  But I think a salty addition is necessary to complement the sweetness of the caramel.

Cashew Bacon Caramel Corn

Note: You can use the basic recipe and substitute nuts of your choice and eliminate bacon if desired.

  • 8 oz maple smoked bacon, cut into eight pieces per strip
  • 12 cups (3 quarts) of popped corn
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups cashews (or peanuts, or peanut/cashew mix)

Skillet, saucepan, roasting pan  baking sheets

In skillet, cook bacon until mostly crisp, drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Reduce to 200 degrees after 15 minutes of baking.

Place popcorn into a well-greased roasting pan.

In saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer until thickened, about 3 minutes 1 minute worked better. Remove from heat, add vanilla and baking soda (yes, it will foam up). Gently stir nuts and bacon into sugar mixture and pour over popcorn, toss, coating popcorn evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until popcorn is a deep golden brown, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours  – mine was done at the 1 hour mark. Cool and break apart.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Tex-Mex Popcorn Snack

Photo by Mark Thomas

One more savory popcorn mix to add to your gift tin.  Then I’ll start on the sweet popcorn recipe.

Tex-Mex Popcorn Snack

  • 4 cups popped corn
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 16 oz mini pretzels
  • 16 oz cheese crackers (cheez-it style)*
  • 12 oz honey roasted peanuts

Mix together butter and seasonings, toss with popcorn, add remaining ingredients and toss until well mixed. Spread out on a baking sheet for 30 to 60 minutes and then package.

*to really spice this up, use jalapeno or spicy cheddar crackers.

Bacon Popcorn and Italian Coffee

I discovered Italian coffee this week. It was in a little Italian Gelato shop – where I had my first real gelato and the best coffee. It was imported from Italy and so good I bought some beans to give myself a treat at home. Mmmm, mmmm. The bacon popcorn I haven’t tried, but I am tempted. It was discovered here and there’s a recipe here. If you try it, let me know how it is.