Everything Caramel Corn

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Every summer my husband packs up his sleeping bag, a few pairs of shorts, and Lego (our big dog) to go canoeing down a river for 4 days with a bunch of other guys. They jump off rocks, drink whiskey, smoke cigars, and sleep outside. I worry every year about his safety sure, but I worry even more that on one of these trips he is going to buy some land on the river and move us down there. And as much as I love fresh food, I love target and indoor plumbing even more. So this year I decided to send him off on his trip with a little reminder of home. I briefly considered a framed picture of me and the dogs but didn’t think that would have the intended effect. Searching through my “Joy the Baker” cookbook, I found my answer. Popcorn, pretzels, peanut butter ritz bitz, and other treats coated in caramel corn and baked. Salty, sweet, and it can’t be recreated in the wilderness. Perfect!

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{these little guys are ready for a caramel party}

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{action shot}

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{only the thought of a burnt tongue stopped me from stuffing my face at this point}

From the Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson

Everything Caramel Corn

Makes about 12 Cups

For the Popcorn Mixture:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup yellow popcorn
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry roasted almonds
  • 1 ½ cups pretzel sticks (2 big handfuls)
  • 1 ½ cups peanut butter sandwich crackers
  • 1 ½ cups teddy grahams*

For the caramel:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

*Not part of the original recipe.

To make the popcorn mixture: in a large pan over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add the corn kernels and place a lid, slightly ajar, over the pot. Pop the popcorn until the popping sound subsides. Turn off the heat, carefully pour the hot popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.

In a 9×13- inch pan, measure 7 heaping cups of popcorn, being sure to avoid any unpopped kernels. Top popcorn with almonds, pretzel sticks, crackers, and grahams. Set aside.

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200 degrees F.

To make the caramel: combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully whisk the mixture as it heats and the sugar melts. Boil the sugar and butter mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Whisk well. Carefully pour the sugar mixture into the 9×13-inch pan over the popcorn mixture. Use a large wooden spoon to toss the two together making sure that every bit of the popcorn mixture is coated in caramel. Be careful- you don’t want the hot sugar to touch your hands. It burns!

Place pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, removing the pan to toss every 15 minutes. Once baked, remove from oven. Carefully spoon onto sheets of waxed paper to dry. Once dry, store in an airtight container. Popcorn will last, stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 1 week.

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Southwestern Steak Tacos

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Sorry my posts have been so sporadic (does anyone else think of “Clueless” when they use that word?). Sometimes real life gets in the way. So I’m back, where were we? Right, summer.

It is summer in the Midwest, which means heat indexes above 100 and humidity that makes you feel like you are underwater every time you step outside. Growing up here Nick and I are used to the weather, but it is still nice to get away. Somehow we managed to miss the most brutal week of the summer so far by going on a little road trip to North Carolina. We spent a blissful week visiting family, eating, drinking, and seeing as much of this beautiful state as we could.

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{“High Falls” in Asheville, NC}

We had such a great time! We went to Trader Joe’s for the first time (sad isn’t is?), hiked to waterfalls, went to our first (and last) “juke joint”, swam in the ocean, and made new friends. But I think the best part was getting to spend time with my husband. With 2 full time jobs between us, and Nick also in nursing school we don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like. It was a great change of pace to see each other everyday with only beer runs and platters of fried chicken keeping us apart.

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{Scott (Lex’s Brother), Nick, Alexis, and I at the “Juke Joint”}

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{Still waiting for the recipe for these blueberry dumplings-the best dessert I’ve ever had}

Naturally we brought home a few souvenirs to remind us our trip. Shells from the beach, honey from a local apiary, and remnants of the fruit basket my dad sent us on our last day. Oh and one more thing, a Le Creuset grill pan. On our way home we stopped at a pretty cool outlet mall outside of Raleigh that had a Le Creuset store and it just so happened that my color (Dijon) was on sale. I scooped it up and used it our second night home.

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One of the books I read on our road trip was Sara Foster’s Casual Cooking. I’ll talk more about it on Monday but these steak tacos were good! This flank steak gets a quick marinade before getting thrown on the grill (or in your new grill pan). Toss in some veggies and jazzed up sour cream and dinner is ready. The leftover steak is also really good with eggs for breakfast. (Oh you will also notice the lack of tortillas in the pictures. I didn’t forget, but have to lay off the carbs and sugar (temporarily) for medical reasons. And oh how I miss them both)

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Recipe from Casual Cooking by Sara Foster

Southwestern Steak Tacos with Chopped Charred Summer Vegetables

Serves 2-4

  • 1 1 pound New York Strip steak 1 ½ inches thick
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 ears of corns, husks and silks removed
  • 1 red pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 bunch scallions, cleaned and trimmed
  • 2 tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • Sea salt
  • 4 corn tortillas, warmed
  • ½ cup cilantro-lime sour cream (recipe follows)

Place the steak on a plate and squeeze the lime juice over both sides; sprinkle both sides with the cumin, chili powder, and pepper, and rub the seasonings into the steak. Set the steak aside to rest at room temperature while you grill the vegetables.

Heat a grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. (Or prepare a hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.) Put the corn, bell pepper, and scallions in the skillet to grill for about 5 minutes, turning often, until the vegetables are charred in places and the scallions are wilted. Transfer the vegetables to a plate to cool slightly Add the tomatoes to the skillet to char for about 5 minutes, turning often. Remove the tomatoes to the plate with the other vegetables. Roughly chop the pepper, scallions, and tomatoes and return them to the plate. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and mix with the other vegetables. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, cover loosely with foil to keep warm, and set aside.

Season both sides of the steak with salt and grill for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Move the steak away from the direct fire, close to the grill or cover the steak with foil and cook for another 7 to 8 minutes, until an instant read thermometer reads 120 F for medium-rare (for medium cook the steaks a few more minutes, until the thermometer reads 130 F). Transfer the steak to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest again for about 5 minutes. Thinly slice the steak on the diagonal against the grain.

To assemble the tacos, lay the warmed tortillas on a work surface or platter. Lay the steak slices down the center of the tortillas and spoon the vegetables over the steak, dividing them evenly. Top with mixed greens and a dollop of the cilantro-lime sour cream, fold in half, and serve.

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Cilantro-Lime Sour Cream

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Texas Pete or Tabasco
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

Combine the sour cream, cilantro, cumin, hot sauce, and lime zest and juice in a small bowl and stir to mix. Serve or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve or up to 1 week.

RTK note: While in Wilmington NC, I tried Texas Pete hot sauce for the first time and I love it! 

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{See the hot sauce in the corner? Nick and I also tried oysters for the first time-delicious!}

Monday Reviews- Jamie’s Italy

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Monday Wednesday Reviews:

To help me blog on a more regular basis I thought I would turn to my other favorite love, cookbooks. This isn’t a story from my childhood of days spent flipping through cookbooks with my mom. In fact, my mother rarely used cookbooks, instead she relied on a handful of staple dinners and Italian recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. Italian woman rarely write anything down, and my mother was no exception. My sister Amelia and I have had myriad conversations regarding our frustration that she never wrote down the recipe for her lasagna with homemade sauce and have spent the past three years attempting to recreate it from memory. (Amelia has recreated a similar version and now gets requests to make lasagna for the family on an almost monthly basis.)

Ironically my mother has shelves packed with old cookbooks from Martha Stewart and The Joy Of Cooking. But the only time I ever saw her use these cookbooks was to make two things. Birthday punch (which she made for rare special occasions) and a multi-step egg soufflé (which she made on even rarer occasions). For this reason I grew up believing cooking was just something that happened naturally. I imagined I would move out on my own and years of cooking wisdom would magically appear fully formed in my brain.

For this reason, a large part of my college diet consisted of microwave oatmeal, apples with crunchy peanut butter, ramen noodles, cheese quesadillas dipped in barbeque sauce, and frozen vegetables. Occasionally I would stumble across a recipe in a magazine or feel the need to cook my boyfriend a “fancy dinner” (usually the same baked salmon and rice) and break out of my rut for a while. However I still never thought to pick up a cookbook or learn to make myself anything worthwhile.

A few things helped to change this pattern. One, I got married, being a wife, I now wanted to learn to make dinners so my husband Nick and I could sit and eat together (also if I had let Nick make dinner, we would have eaten frozen pot pies every night). Two, for my bridal shower my mother in law gave me a cookbook and had all the guests bring me their favorite recipe to add to it. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received and really helped teach me to make some great dinners. My third breakthrough happened while wandering through Lowe’s of all places. You know those racks of magazines that cover every topic from landscaping to grilling? I picked up one called “Ultimate Italian”, it had so many delicious looking recipes I quickly added it to our cart of painting supplies and light bulbs. When I got home I read through it and saw a recipe for homemade pizzas from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie’s Italy”. My mom had loved him back when he was known as “The Naked Chef” so I decided to try the recipe. I went to the store and bought semolina flour and golden caster sugar, came home and made my very first homemade crust. It was easy and more importantly it was better than any crust I could have gotten from the delivery guy. I was hooked. I knew I had to have whatever else Jamie Oliver was cooking in his book. I went out that night and bought my very first cookbook.

And what a book. Jamie Oliver is the kind of person I want to be friends with. He makes you feel confident and also says fun British words like “meat with two veg”. The book has beautiful pictures of Italian countryside’s, grandmothers making pasta, and (my favorite) a truck bed stuffed with pans of lasagna. This book totally immerses you in the culture. The recipes are made with simple, non-processed ingredients and they really challenge you to use fresh food and know where it comes from. It seemed so obvious when I read it but it had somehow never really occurred to me before. Inspired, Nick and I starting going to the local farmers market down the street and even planted a couple of vegetables in our tiny yard. I loved this book, I loved it so much I spent a whole month making recipes out of it. Until one night after a dinner of chicken tetrazzini (made with 2 cups of heavy cream and twice as much cheese) Nick and I realized eating pasta 5 nights a week was making our pants a little… tight. That night I vowed to cut back on the pasta dishes and dust off my running shoes. But I was a new woman. This book made me realize just how delicious food could be when I put a little effort into it and, that with a little guidance I could make delicious food whenever I wanted. I was liberated and knew this was the beginning of a whole new way of cooking.

This recipe is the first thing I made from “Jamie’s Italy”. The crusts are simple to make and bake up beautifully. I just put all the toppings in small bowls and let everyone make their favorite (Nick and I like Margarita pizza the best). It is also easy to double the recipe and freeze some for later too.

Recipe from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver

Pasta Per Pizza-Basic Pizza Dough

(Makes 6-8 medium-sized thin pizza bases)

  • 1 3/4 lb strong white bread flour (about 3 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
  • 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon golden castor sugar
  • just over 2 cups lukewarm water

Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 7-inch well in the center. Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge (How British is that??!) – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.

Flour the top of your dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas, i.e. lost of small ones or a few larger ones, but I suggest that 6 is a good quantity for this amount of dough.

Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge rather than having rolled-out pizzas hanging around for a few hours. Take a piece of the dough, dust your surface and dough with a little flour or semolina, and roll it out into a rough circle about ¼ inch thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of aluminum foil, rub it with a little olive oil, dust it well with flour or semolina, and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with the other pieces and then, if you dust them with a little flour, you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 500F. At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember: less is more. If you can, cook the pizzas on a piece of granite or marble in your conventional oven- if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf toward the bottom of the oven. (If you’re going to cook your pizzas on the bars of the oven, make sure they’re not too big- otherwise they’ll be difficult to maneuver.) Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pizzas are golden and crispy.