Candied Pecan Popcorn

20170128_162714This is a recipe that could earn you a lot of friends. I brought a container of this to work, and it was soon gobbled up by colleagues who asked me not to bring it in again because they didn’t need the temptation.

The original recipe came from the Food Network magazine, which always seems to have recipes that just simply work. It was the creation of Marcela Valladolid, who called for the addition of chipotle seasoning, but I leave that out in my version. Here is the recipe, with a few more changes from the original.

11 cups popped plain popcorn (very important: inspect carefully and remove all unpopped kernels)
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Heat oven to 250F degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and butter the foil.

When oven is hot, put popcorn on the pan and scatter the pecans on top. Place in the oven while you do the next step.

Place the sugar, butter, and honey in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally. When the sugar and butter have melted, increase the heat and boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and quickly stir in salt and baking soda.

Remove popcorn from oven and pour the syrup on top, then mix gently with a rubber spatula to coat as much of the popcorn as possible. Bake for 1 hour, stirring with the spatula halfway through to coat more popcorn.

Remove from oven, stir once more, and let cool. To remove cooled popcorn from foil, lift it up at each end, gently moving the foil around to ease the popcorn off.

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Malted Pretzel Brittle

It’s the salty-sweet combination that is the best part of this quick-to-make dessert snack: crisp, sugary pieces loaded with salty pretzel bits. The malted milk powder adds a touch of creamy sweetness. (And the kitchen smelled like Whoppers malt balls as this baked in the oven.)20160816_003115

As for ease — it’s made in one bowl, baked on parchment (for easy pan clean-up), and it takes less than an hour to make, start to finish. You have to let it cool after baking, of course, but I dare you to wait very long before you start ripping off pieces and gobbling them down.

14 Tbsp. (about 200g) unsalted butter
8 oz. (about 230g) salted mini pretzels, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp. malted milk powder
2 Tbsp. nonfat dry milk powder

Preheat oven to 300F/150C degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in the microwave. Place the pretzels in a large bowl and crush (as a rough guide, most of my pieces were between 1/2 and 1 inch). Add both sugars and milk powders and toss to combine. Stir melted butter into mixture until blended.

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Spread mixture in an even layer on the baking sheet and bake 15-18 minutes or until browned. Let stand 10 minutes to cool before breaking brittle apart.

Store between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container.

— This recipe comes from my friend Mel at our local Publix, where we always find her at the demonstration table with great food ideas!

Strawberries & Cream Ice Cream

Strawberries Cream Ice CreamStrawberry ice cream was my favorite kind for a long time growing up, and it was the first kind I ever made in our ice cream maker. The recipe I used came from the user’s manual and tasted fantastic. I have made it several times since then. But this is not that recipe.

This one came from The Sunday Times in London back in 2004. It was actually a recipe from the restaurant Inn the Park and was featured alongside others from their menu. I clipped them all because they all looked delicious, but I never got around to making them.

When I saw the recipe in my cookbook the other day, I decided I would finally test it to see which one I liked best. The verdict: They are definitely similar, both creamy and full of the flavor of fresh fruit, but this one has the edge. The ice cream turns out pink all over (rather than white with pink here and there) and strawberry bits are in every bite. And this one is even creamier.

Served in a white bowl, it looked delectable — and was very quickly gobbled down.

Some notes:
– The amounts may seem small, but don’t be tempted to double them. The mixture will fill the ice cream maker as is.
– The strange weight amounts reflect the conversion from metric.
Check out this recipe for a way to use up the leftover egg whites.
– Remember to freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker ahead of time!

5 1/2 oz. fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
6 1/4 oz. sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
5 egg yolks
13 fl. oz. heavy cream

In a small pot, place the strawberries and about a third of the sugar. Cook over medium low heat until strawberries are soft. Remove from heat and puree, then set aside.

In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and half the remaining sugar. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar in a bowl until pale yellow. Pour the egg mixture into the milk on the stove and cook over a gentle heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside. You will use this to quickly cool the custard mixture.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Pour into a medium bowl and then set the bowl in the ice water until cool. Churn in the ice cream maker until very thick, then transfer into a plastic container and place in the freezer.

Butter Caramel Cereal Clusters

cereal clustersI had lots of sweetened condensed milk in the pantry ever since I stocked up before the holidays. I wanted to use it up to clear some space, but I was surprised that the only recipes I had for sweetened condensed milk were for key lime pie and some custard tarts.

So I poked around online and mainly found recipes for frostings and little else. I found one recipe for a lemon meringue pie, but I have a recipe for that already that I’m quite happy with, and it doesn’t call for sweetened condensed milk. I also tried a butter cookie recipe but it turned out dry and not so tasty (my colleagues, who finished the batch, disagreed — but I know I can do better!).

Finally I found this recipe for cereal clusters, apparently popular in Latin America, and it was delicious. Easy to make, too — all you need is a pot on the stove, and there’s no baking involved. And it’s a good way to use leftover sweetened condensed milk because you can easily scale the recipe according to how much you have.

1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
7 cups corn flakes

Line 2 baking sheets with well buttered foil or parchment paper. Place corn flakes in a large bowl and set aside. Have a bowl of water ready for your fingers later.

In a pot over medium heat, melt the sugar until it becomes deep amber and just begins to smoke. Add butter and salt and stir with wooden spoon until completely incorporated. Remove from heat. While constantly stirring, add sweetened condensed milk and stir until completely incorporated.

Quickly pour it over the cereal and mix gently until all flakes look covered. Using a soup spoon, scoop mixture out into approximately 2 Tbsp.-sized balls. Wet or butter your fingers and lightly press the clusters together, then place them on the foil or parchment to let cool.

Allow the clusters to set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

(I adapted this recipe from seriouseats.com.)

Holiday Cornflake Wreaths

20141211_220232[1]These are like Rice Krispie Treats, only with cornflakes. They are a fun dessert to make at Christmastime, and very easy, too. Plus, they have only five ingredients.

Makes about 18

6 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine
10 oz. marshmallows
1 tsp. or more green food coloring
Small red cinnamon candies (Red Hots)*

To prepare, butter two or three baking sheets — you will form the wreaths on them later. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl.

In a medium pot over low heat, melt the margarine. Add the marshmallows and stir constantly until completely melted. Add the food coloring, starting with 1 tsp. but adding more as necessary until the mixture is dark green. (The ones in the picture above aren’t as dark as I intended.) Pour the marshmallow mixture over the cornflakes and mix carefully with a spoon until completely coated.

With buttered fingers, take out a small handful of the coated cornflakes (just enough to fill your palm). Put it on the buttered baking sheet and form into a wreath. Put four or five cinnamon candies on the wreath to look like berries.

Refrigerate the wreaths for several hours before serving. Use a spatula carefully to lift them off the baking sheets.

*I found the Red Hots in the baking aisle, next to the bottles of sprinkles — not in the candy aisle.

Coconut Macaroons

IMAG1990Easy and quick to make, these macaroons are just right for Easter or Passover, or as a special, light treat any time of year.

You mix the ingredients in one bowl and the macaroons bake for just 20 minutes. They stay chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside for days.

These are also nice to make if you find yourself with leftover egg whites from another recipe. I had one egg white left over from cooking last night, so on a whim I decided to make these to use it up — I just divided the recipe by four. I think I’ll do that again in the future. (It’s a good excuse for a treat!)

Makes about 62

14 oz. (1.16 kg) sweetened shredded coconut
6 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F/160C degrees. Lightly grease and flour a couple of baking sheets.

In a large bowl, mix coconut, flour, and salt. Stir in egg whites and almond extract until well blended. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet (use a round tablespoon measure, if you have one, for the best shape).

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Immediately remove them from the baking sheets and let cool on wire rack.

*For Passover macaroons, substitute matzoh meal for the flour.

Ice Cream-Brownie Dessert

When I first tried these brownies, I decided I didn’t like them on their own — the instant coffee in the recipe made them just a touch too bitter for my taste. But that flavor is a perfect complement to something sweeter and smoother, like vanilla ice cream. And the thick brownie also holds up well to the ice cream on top. I don’t think a regular brownie — or a slice of chocolate cake, for that matter — would work as well.

6 squares unsweetened baking chocolate (like Baker’s)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsweetened butter
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1/2 cup crushed almonds
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees.

Microwave chocolate, butter, water, and instant coffee in a large microwavable bowl for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Remove from microwave and stir until chocolate is completely melted.

Beat sugars with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla and beat 2 minutes. Add flour, almonds, cinnamon and salt; beat until well blended. Add chocolate-butter mixture and blend well.

Spread in a greased, foil-lined 9-inch square baking pan.

Bake 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Let cool in pan, then cut into squares. Top with vanilla ice cream before serving.