Monday, November 29, 2010

The Toaster Oven and Yummy Caramel Popcorn

What on earth does the toaster oven have to do with a post about Caramel Popcorn? You are probably asking yourself that exact question right now. Well Ill tell you...

This is my toaster oven. It looks a bit warn out but relatively harmless.
Only minutes before this picture was taken, this toaster oven was fully of flames.
You see, I wanted to take a picture of all the things needed to make this recipe, but I wanted to hide my toaster oven from view. The answer to this problem was not to take the picture somewhere else, but to cover the toaster oven with a pretty tea towel. I didn't even get one picture taken to show you.

So what happened was, I put a tea towel over the toaster oven and I was getting together my brown sugar, and butter and peanuts etc. and then I began arranging them in front of the tea towel. Soon I began to notice smoke in the air and I had no idea where it was coming from. Then I saw a slight flicker of something behind my tea towel. "Oh shoot! I thought, something is burning". Burning was definitely an understatement. The entire inside of the toaster oven was full of flames. For about 10 seconds I stood there wondering what to do. I knew either salt of baking soda would put it out...but which one? I decided I had to try one or the other really quick or my kitchen would be on fire. I already had the baking soda out because you need it for this recipe, and I threw a couple of spoonfuls on and poof, out went the fire! Then I called my husband and left him a happy voicemail telling him that I almost burnt down our house and I went back to making my caramel popcorn.
Lesson learned : do not cover the toaster oven with a tea towel.

The End.

So to actually make the popcorn without burning your house down:

Pop about 3/4 cup popcorn kernels. You need 12-15 heaping cups of popped popcorn.

Put 1/2 cup of butter chopped into pieces (I didn't chop it because my butter was soft so it melted easy enough), 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 1/4 cup corn syrup in a microwave safe bowl. ( Word from the experienced...a two cup glass measuring cup is not big enough)

Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir to combine and then Microwave for 2 minutes.

Then it should almost look like this. Give it a good stir and microwave for 2 more minutes.

When it comes out of the microwave, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and if you are feeling adventurous 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir it all together and it should get foamy. I forgot to take a picture.

Pour your popcorn into a biigg bowl. You want to have lots of room to stir. I used my 32 cup Tupperware bowl. Also pour in 1cup of peanuts and toss lightly with your popcorn. ( Sometimes I don't use peanuts)

Pour the caramely mixture over the popcorn and peanuts and stir until well coated.

Spread onto a parchment of greased foil lined baking sheet (with sides) and bake in a 250 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes or so. You can adjust the baking time according to how you like your caramel corn. If you like it chewy and sticky you do not have to bake it at all. But if you are like me and prefer it to not pull out your teeth, 20 minutes is adequate.

It should look like this, slightly less grey and a little more brown.

Here is the recipe in a normal and more easily readable way:

12-15 heaping cups of popcorn ( about 3/4 cup)
1 cup peanuts (if you like)
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (if you like)

1) Mix popped popcorn and peanuts in a big bowl (its good to do it first even though I didn't show it that way)
2) Measure corn syrup, butter and brown sugar in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir
3) Microwave again for 2 minutes then stir and repeat once more.
4) Remove from microwave and add, vanilla, baking soda, salt and possibly cinnamon and stir well.
5) Pour over popcorn and stir well to combine ( I recommend a wooden spoon)
6) Dump popcorn out onto a large rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or greased tin foil.
7) Bake at 250 degrees F for about 20 minutes stirring ever 5 minutes or so. Baking time can be adjusted according to your liking. The corn will harden as it cools.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My First Post Ever! and The Best Date Bars Ever

Welcome to My Culinary Calling!
I am (very) recently married and my husband says I need to do something a bit more productive with my baking. So this is where the blog comes in! I also hope to soon be able to sell my baking on a small scale from my home. This is an adventure I am excited to begin! If you have any helpful advice, or suggestions please let me know!

MMMMMM date bars...some people call them matrimonial square. I always forget this. Before this recipe, I would be searching the internet for "date bars" or "date squares" or "date bar squares" and I could never find a good recipe that tasted like my mommas. So then I called my momma and she gave me her recipe and I realized I could have saved a couple of hours of my valuable time by just calling her in the first place.

So this recipe...I dont know what exactly it is that I love about it, or that makes it taste so much more yummy then the rest. But it really just does! My whole life growing up, my mom always baked with hard margarine. It is much cheaper and comes in perfect 1/2 cup blocks. And until I moved out and began buying my own ingredients for baking, I always did the same. Now I buy butter...Ohhh do I buy butter and the difference it makes can be so subtle but so yummy.

SO the whole point of that paragraph was to tell you to please please please try making these with butter. ALL butter. You wont regret it. At least your taste buds wont. Your wallet and hips might, but your husband wont notice because he will be chowing down on soft, slightly salty and sweet date bars.

Here is the recipe. And next time I will take pictures of the whole process because that looks like a fun thing to do.


Crumb Layer:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine (I have always used margarine until this time..any let me tell you, butter really did make them that much more delish)

1/2 pound dates chopped up(If you buy them in a square block, those are usually 1/2 a pound)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup water (or a little more to make it the right consistency)

Crumb layer:
1)Measure flour, oats, baking soda, salt and butter in a large bowl.
2)Cut butter in with a pastry blender or your hands until butter is the size of small peas. 3)Press about 2/3rds of the mixture into the bottom of a parchment or tin foil lined 9x9inch pan.Set aside

Filling: (maybe start this before you do the crumb, then they will be done at about the same time!)
1) Combine dates, sugar and water in a saucepan.
2) Bring to a boil and allow to simmer till mushy. If mixture becomes too dry, add a bit more water. If it is too wet, allow to simmer until excess has boiled away. You want the mixture to be easy to spread and relatively soft.
3) Spread over crumb layer as evenly as possible.
4) Sprinkle remaining 1/3 of crumbs over the top and press down lightly.
5) Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.