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.

Ice Cream Cake

Before having kids, I envisioned what motherhood would be like and to be honest, I thought it would be a constant party. Children scurrying through the kitchen while a pie cools on the counter. It was going to be so easy and FUN. I’m not exactly sure where I got this idea (our lying elders perhaps?) but needless to say, it has not quite lived up to the fantasy. Of course, I wasn’t all wrong, there is plenty of laughter, scurrying children and home baking going on – but not 100 percent of the time to be sure. So when it’s time to for a party, I like to go all out.

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Each year when February turns to March, I deem Birthday Season to have begun. It’s a whirlwind of seemingly constant parties. Three out of the four of us have birthdays in the span of one month. Cupcakes for the kid parties and cookies for each child’s class  and then the main event: the family party. Presents, birthday dinner, extended family, hopefully some decorations then, of course, CAKE!

As with all major life decisions, choosing ones birthday cake takes careful thought and consideration. Just Kidding!! Yet, birthdays do come around only once a year so its best to wish for the moon and back. This year we had light and fluffy strawberry cake with chocolate frosting for the 8 year old, creamy cheesecake for the husband and a homemade ice cream cake to celebrate the oldest turning 11.

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JP has a thing for ice cream so ice cream cake was a no brainer for this year’s birthday. All his dreams come true in one ginormous dessert. Ice cream, Oreos and whipped cream. Perfection. It takes a decent amount of rest time (especially if you make your own ice cream) but the pay off is totally worth it.

This is true for parenting as well. It takes patience and some work but, fingers crossed, it will pay off in the end. I know people say this all the time, but honestly I wouldn’t change a thing. I would marry the same man, have the same kids and make the same career choices. Yet, I would suggest to my younger self to take off the rose colored glasses and get ready to roll up her sleeves. There is lots of work involved but still plenty of reasons to throw a party.

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Ice Cream Cake

Without having actual cake in ice cream cake recipes, I find it a confusing term. Ice cream cake is actually a cookie crust with ice cream layered over it and covered in whipped cream. I don’t make the rules.

Feel free to use any two ice cream flavors you desire. I chose homemade vanilla ice cream and bought Haagan Daz chocolate to keep myself sane. I adapted Food Network’s recipe for Ice Cream Crunch Cake, with some help from Smitten Kitchen and Stella Parks to take it over the top. I will give you the breakdown of how I made mine, but just remember that you could make this all in one day if both flavors of ice cream were store bought. All the recipes and directions are below but here is a quick overview for ease.

  • 2 quarts vanilla ice cream (recipe below)
  • 1 quart chocolate ice cream (1 – 28 fl oz of Häagen-Dazs container)
  • 14 ounce package of original Oreos, divided (crust recipe and filling below)
  • 3 cups whipped cream (recipe below) for outside of the cake

4 days before serving, make the custard for the vanilla ice cream and make sure the bowl of your ice cream maker is frozen.

3 Days before serving, churn the chilled ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions. Churn in two batches so as not to over fill the ice cream maker. Freeze in a freezer safe container over night.

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These are more pulverized than I would do next time. I think chunkier would be better.

2 days before serving, assemble the cake.

  1. First, make the Oreo crust, as well as crushing the Oreos for the cookie layer (see below).
  2. While crust is firming, remove vanilla ice cream from freezer to soften if needed to spread easily. Once the crust is firm, spread vanilla ice cream over Oreo crust and up sides of pan and freeze, about 30 minutes until firm.
  3. Take the store bought chocolate ice cream out of the freezer to soften. Once the vanilla layer is firm, spread chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream layer, forgoing the sides of the pan. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  4. Spread crushed Oreos evenly over chocolate layer to form the cookie layer. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  5. Once firm, top cookie layer with more vanilla ice cream. Work gently so as not to disrupt the cookie layer. Soft ice cream helps this step. Freeze again for 30 minutes, until firm.
  6. Make whipped cream while cake is in freezer. (recipe below)
  7. Run an offset spatula around the edges of the pan and unlatch the springform pan. Remove sides and set on a baking sheet or cutting board.
  8. Using an offset spatula, frost the outside of the cake with the whipped cream (recipe below). Refreeze until firm. I found it a bit trickier to get the cake in and out of the freezer without the sides of the pan so be careful!
  9. Scoop some whipped cream into a pastry bag with a star attachment and pipe decorations along top and bottom if desired. Place back in the freezer.
  10. Serve cake by cutting with a hot knife. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and foil or move to an airtight container. Mine was not pretty when I moved it and hardly resembled the original – but we ate it without complaint a week later.

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Vanilla Ice Cream

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe but used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean out of pure laziness. The recipe below is for a double batch. There will be a little left over after making this cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I use Madagascar)
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 10 egg yolks

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl pour the heavy cream and set a strainer on top of it.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks.
  3. In medium saucepan stir milk, salt, sugar and vanilla extract and heat on medium-low. Stir occasionally and remove from heat when the mixture starts to steam and before simmering.
  4. While whisking egg yolks, slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks. Once all the milk mixture has been whisked into the egg yolks, pour it all back into the saucepan.
  5. Cook the egg and milk mixture over low heat, stirring and scraping with a heatproof spatula continually, about 5 minutes. The custard will thicken slightly and coat the back of the spatula when done with the color of buttermilk and the thickness of cream.
  6. Pour custard into the strainer to remove any lumps and combine with the heavy cream. Taste and add more vanilla extract if needed.
  7. Cover and refrigerate over night.
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    Sides of pan removed and now can breathe easy

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    Covered in Whipped Cream – Pipe some decorations and call it DONE!

Crust

This recipe is slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Process whole Oreos in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a small bowl and mix in salt and butter, starting with the smaller amount listed and adjusting if needed to get the right consistency and seasoning. The mixture should hold together but not be so wet that its slick with butter. Press firmly and evenly into a 10 inch springform pan. Place in freezer until firm, about 20 minutes.

Cookie Layer

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)

Directions:

Place whole Oreos in the bowl of a food processor or a gallon size freezer bag. Pulse a couple of times in the food processor or crush in the freezer bag until the cookies are small chunks.

Whipped Cream Topping

I now only use Stella Parks Make-Ahead Whipped Cream recipe. It tastes great and allows for making ahead, which I love. The recipe is doubled below to frost the cake and have some left over. Can refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week (though will want to re-whip a little before using).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-low to dissolve the sugar, about 1 minute. Then increase to medium-high and whip until thick and holds firm peaks, about 3 minutes.