Caramel Coated Popcorn

Growing up in Iowa, corn was everywhere. Though sweet corn is beloved by all, it is only available in the summertime. For my family, to get a year round corn fix, we ate popcorn.

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Beautiful creamy colors from multi-colored popcorn kernels

Laying in my bed, I’d hear the shuffle of feet overhead with the whirl of the air popper spitting out hot popped corn. The microwave beeped and the mixing bowl clanked against the counter as the butter knife folded the butter into the hot popcorn. It was my parents’ reward for a job well done. How I loved the smell of the nightly popcorn!  As the years went by, mom and dad’s evening ritual became a family affair. The kernels squeaked when pressed against my teeth as I watched Barbara Walters on 20/20.

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For my wedding, I received my very own air popper. Seventeen years later and it’s still good as new. The popcorn maker and the bag of yellow kernels are brought out after the children have been tucked into bed. We attentively pop the corn, melt the butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before settling the bowl in between our laps on the couch. It’s earthy aroma grounds me and I feel at home.The perfect reward for a job well done.

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Though I’ve eaten popcorn most of my life, I didn’t know much about it until recently. Did you know that popcorn is a special corn plant that is grown for just this purpose? Mostly grown in the Midwest, it is harvested and dried until the kernels reach the perfect level of hydration. Different varieties abound and each offers a slightly different texture and appearance. The multi colored variety, bought in the grocery store’s bulk bin, produced smaller, creamy colored and slightly sweeter popped corn.

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As the summer turns to fall, I find myself craving a popcorn treat to harold in the new season. As opposed to caramel corn or popcorn balls, This caramel coated popcorn is incredibly quick and easy. Unlike most caramel corn recipes, this one doesn’t require an hour of stirring in the oven. Unlike, popcorn balls, these have a richer flavor and no burnt fingers! The caramel coats the popcorn and creates a crisp shell.

Caramel Coated Popcorn

Though corn syrup seems the perfect accompaniment to caramel corn, I found that Lyle’s Golden Syrup imparted a fuller flavor to this recipe, plus I love the tin it came in. When using a candy thermometer, be sure to read the temperature when the tip is not touching the bottom of the pan. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Pop corn with whatever method you like best. Pick out and discard all unpopped kernels and pour into large bowl. In a small saucepan, add butter, syrup, water and sugar. Stir and bring to a boil on medium high. Turn down to medium low and clip a candy thermometer to the side. The mixture should stay at a boil. Turn the oven up slightly if not. Cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 300℉, about 15 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in baking soda and salt. The mixture will foam and bubble. Quickly pour over popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon. The caramel hardens quickly so no daudiling. Pour into greased sheet pan. Let cool slightly and then separate into smaller chunks as desired. Let cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days.

Rocky Road Candy

For kids and parents alike, summer break is like Christmas in July. As parents we spend months planning vacations and scheduling camps to somehow make this summer just as good (or better!) than last years. The kids are giddy with excitement with each passing day, until finally school is out and summer break is here.

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A Christmas Puzzle in July anyone?

Right as summer break started this year, one child and then the other came down with pneumonia, added on top of oral surgery for the youngest sandwiched in between. Spending the first precious weeks of summer running to the doctor, taking medicine and staying inside day after precious day, and you can imagine that I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and my kids, too. I needed to salvage this summer somehow.

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With little thought or planning, I decided to break out the crafts and celebrate Christmas in July. I dug out the Christmas puzzle that we hadn’t quite had enough time to put together. Then, I bought soft wool and began needle felting delicate balls for a new garland for the mantel. Now all I needed was some special treats to munch on to top off our celebration.

In our family, making candy is as much a holiday tradition as baking cookies. Though summer is typically a time for fruit pies and homemade ice cream, making homemade candy is the perfect treat for a sweltering kitchen.

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Marshmallows snipped into perfect sized chunks

Candy is simpler than you may think. No oven required and done more quickly than the first complaints of summer boredom. Candy is the perfect summer concoction.

With dreams of marshmallows, instead of chestnuts, roasting over the open fire and cold lemonade, instead of hot cocoa, in my cup; I decide to make the dream a reality and make a batch of  rocky road candy. Gooey marshmallows combined with chocolate, nuts and a heavy sprinkling of smoked salt brings us right to the crackling campfire that summer nights are made of.

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Smoked salt for the win

Most rocky road recipes include sweetened condensed milk so when I found this recipe from Alice Medrich that contains only chocolate, marshmallows and nuts, I knew I had to try it. The simpleness of this recipe allows for the ingredients to really shine. Buy chocolate tasty enough to eat and you won’t be disappointed.

Happy summer and may all your summer dreams come true.

Rocky Road Candy

You will want a candy thermometer to make this recipe (and most candies for that matter).  I have a simple one that does the job but am putting an instant-read digital on my wish list. Successful candy making requires accurate temperatures and reading a foggy thermometer is stress I don’t need.

Use any chocolate that you want, but I used semi-sweet Callebrut, found sold in bulk for a good price, that I would highly recommend. Chocolate chips worked fine though and is definitely the most economical choice.

Also, buying regular sized marshmallows and snipping them into quarters, instead of mini marshmallows, is totally worth the extra effort. The quartered marshmallows are slightly bigger and are softer in texture than the minis.

Smoked salt is a finishing salt that I found in the bulk section. Maldon salt would be a great choice and it’s sold on Amazon for a few dollars.

Makes 1.5 pounds

Adapted from Alice Medrich

Ingredients:

  • 16 regular sized marshmallows, quartered (4 ounces)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, chopped and roasted and cooled
  • 1 pound chocolate, chopped (see headnote)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon smoked salt

Directions:

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, melt chocolate slowly in a saucepan and stir regularly to keep it from scorching. Once melted, take off heat and scrape into a medium bowl. Clip on a candy thermometer and cool to 90°F. This is important and will help the candy set correctly.

Once cooled to 90°F, dump in the pecans and marshmallows. Stir to coat marshmallows and nuts evenly. Scrape into a log shape, roughly 3×10 and sprinkle with smoked salt. Place pan in refrigerator until the candy is dry and firm to the touch. This will take about 20 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and cut into thick strips with a serrated knife. I found that pieces 1×3 were a nice size. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bites

fullsizeoutput_612Toddlers have truly stolen my heart. Being that my boys are past the age, I can now observe with an impartial eye. I teach baking classes with parents and their children and am absolutely smitten with these passionate creatures. Watching the pure joy that a child gets from whisking flour and then biting into the final baked product is so rewarding. Being around toddlers reminds me to look for the wonder in the small joys of life, be present in my environment and explore with all my senses.

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Toddlers liked making and eating these oatmeal chocolate chip bites. They are slightly sweet and resemble a cookie more than a bowl of breakfast mush. We had so much fun mashing bananas and stirring in the chocolate chips. By the time the class was over, there wasn’t a crumb left on their plates. Want to try it for yourself? I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bites

When I say a recipe is toddler approved, please know that I am giving it the highest form of flattery. This recipe is adapted from the cookbook “Home Baked”. They come together in a snap and are the perfect accompaniment to any meal or snack time. I love that these are nut free, which make them an easy choice to bring to the classroom.

Makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 2/3 cup old fashioned oats
  • ½ cup nuts or choc chips
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 ℉. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix oatmeal, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg white until bubbly and frothy. Add egg white to the mashed banana and honey. Mix for a couple strokes to combine. Add banana mixture to the bowl of oats and spices. Use a rubber spatula to mix. It will look dry at first but keep mixing. Once the banana mixture has been fully incorporated, pour in chocolate chips and mix again. Let rest for 5 minutes. This rest time will soften the oats and make it easier for the balls to hold their shape. Using your hands, firmly press the mixture together to form two inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly brown and firm to the touch. Cool and enjoy. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.