Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower

Matt first made Ina Garten’s Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower in February and we knew immediately that this would become one of our go-to dinners. Now, during Quarantine, we’ve made this at least six times and, guess what? It’s what’s for dinner TONIGHT!! Yum.

This dish is SO different from the average “baked pasta.” The panko-encrusted shells are flavored with lemon, garlic and Fontina cheese. The insides of the shells harbor pockets of creamy ricotta and the occasional salty zing of a caper. Tender cauliflower florets melt into the space between shells and make this meal feel lighter and healthier (or at least less unhealthy!). The entire dish is completed with a topping of panko, parsley and pecorino and baked in the oven until golden brown.

For the past 12 weeks Matt and I have been dependent on online grocery availability and we’ve had to get creative with some ingredient substitutions. Can’t find Fontina? Try Gruyère, Emmental or Gouda.  No shells available in the pasta aisle? Cavatappi and Pipe Rigate work well, too. And that time our online shopper delivered PURPLE cauliflower instead of the normal white stuff? No problem… the dish was just a little more colorful that time around!

We typically get one dinner plus three servings of lunch out of each recipe. This is great as a leftover and, according to Ina’s note in the original recipe, can also be made ahead by assembling the dish, refrigerating, and baking just before serving.

Ina Garten’s Crusty Baked Shells and Cauliflower

From Cooking for Jeffrey, adapted slightly

You will need…
Salt and Pepper
1 lb. Pasta Shells
Olive Oil
1 head Cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
3 tablespoons Sage, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons Capers, drained
3 cloves Garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
¼ teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
10 oz. Fontina Val d’Aosta Cheese, grated
1 cup Ricotta
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
6 tablespoons Pecorino Cheese, grated
2 tablespoons minced Parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.  Drain the pasta and transfer it to a very large mixing bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan, then add half the cauliflower in a single layer. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and starting to brown. Place the cooked cauliflower in the bowl with the pasta before sautéing the remaining cauliflower and adding to the pasta.

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper to the bowl with the pasta and cauliflower. Stir gently, then add the grated Fontina cheese and stir again.

Transfer half the pasta mixture to a large casserole dish. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta over top of the pasta, then cover with the remaining pasta mixture.

Combine the panko, parsley, grated Pecorino and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle topping evenly over the pasta. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the topping is browned and the edges of the pasta are beginning to get crusty. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto

1504-parsley-pesto-pasta

I love basil pesto, but last week when I needed to make a side dish to bring to a party I decided to try something different. I paged through my America’s Test Kitchen Pasta Revolution cookbook and found a recipe for a tasty-sounding pesto with parsley, arugula, and ricotta cheese. I’ve now made this recipe two times in a week and can officially declare it a winner!

Like it’s basil-based cousin, this parsley pesto comes together quickly. Just toast the pine nuts and garlic in a hot skillet, then blend with fresh arugula, parsley, grated Parm, salt and olive oil. Then the best part… stir several spoonfuls of ricotta cheese into the pesto until the sauce is creamy and smooth. Combine with a pound of cooked pasta and you’ll have a bright, fresh, flavorful side that you’ll be proud to share with friends and family.

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

This pesto tastes extra delicious if you eat it while watching the Eagles crush the Steelers. Go Birds!

Parsley, Arugula and Ricotta Pesto
(Serves 4-6; from Pasta Revolution)

You will need…
1/4 cup Pine Nuts, toasted
3 cloves Garlic, toasted
1 cup packed Parsley
1 cup packed Arugula
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese, plus more for garnish
Salt and Pepper
7 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup Whole Milk Ricotta
1 pound Pasta

Directions:
Combine pine nuts, garlic, parsley, arugula, Parmesan, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl and stir in the ricotta until well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Before draining the pasta reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Mix several tablespoons of the reserved water into the pesto. Add the pasta and stir well until the pasta is evenly coated with pesto, adding more pasta water if desired. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy hot or cold.

1479-pesto-pasta

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew

September has flown by!! This month was marked by several “blog-worthy” events, including a race, two vacations and a major room makeover. If only I could find the time to actually write these posts!! For tonight, however, I have an easy entry to share because I made it last fall and have been saving the photos since then. 😆

1203 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

This fantastic one-pot stew dish features curry-roasted morsels of butternut squash, flavorful red lentils, a hearty helping of kale and crumbled Italian sausage.  Sounds like a perfect fall dish, right?!? The curry-coated butternut squash smells amazing when it’s in the oven and the lentils, kale and squash cook down to form a thick, tasty mixture that completely makes you forget that you’re eating healthy food. Well, except for the sausage… but you can also use ground turkey (shown in my photos here from last year) or opt to leave the meat out altogether if you prefer a vegetarian dish.

1216 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew with Kale and Sausage

Serves 4-6; Slightly adapted from HealthyFoodForLiving.com.

Ingredients
For the curried squash…
4 cups cubed Butternut Squash
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
2 teaspoons Garam Masala

For the stew…
1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OPTIONAL: 1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage or Ground Turkey
1 Yellow Onion, finely chopped
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
3 cups Chicken Broth (or Vegetable Broth, if going the vegetarian route)
3/4-1 cup Red Lentils
Curried Squash from above
1 bunch Kale, washed, stems, removed, and roughly chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Naan flatbread

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cubed squash in olive oil and then add several grinds of salt and pepper plus the curry powder and garam masala. Stir well to coat the squash evenly. Spread the squash out in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The squash cubes are ready when they are just starting to brown on the edges. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add in the (optional) crumbled sausage or turkey and saute until cooked through. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate. Add the chopped onion to the leftover oil in the pot (drain off a bit if the meat was very fatty) and saute the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, curry powder and garam masala and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the chicken broth and stir in the lentils. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted butternut squash, sausage and chopped kale to the stew and stir to combine. Cook the stew for another 10-15 minutes or until the kale has wilted down. If you have a lot of kale covering the pot will speed up this process! Season with salt and pepper to taste.

1209 Curried Butternut Squash Stew

Serve a hearty portion of curried butternut squash stew with a few slices of naan. Enjoy!

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Basil is my favorite thing to grow in the garden. This year I have no fewer than 9 basil plants and every one is 2+ feet tall and thick with large, green, fragrant leaves. What do I do with all of this basil, you ask? Pesto pesto pesto!!! This time of year I make big batches of pesto at least once a week. I use a few tablespoons of the fresh pesto on whatever dish we’re eating that night, then I portion out the rest into a silicone ice cube tray, freeze it, and store the cubes in the freezer in a ziplock bag. These pesto cubes keep for months and definitely are a welcome treat in the dead of winter when dinner needs a kick of flavor.

2727 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Fresh pesto is one of the key ingredients in this Zucchini-Pesto Pizza that I made for dinner tonight. I spread a liberal amount of pesto directly on the dough, then added layers of mozzarella cheese and thin zucchini slices that had been tossed in garlic and olive oil. Yum!!

2713 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

As a side note, I had a major revelation while making tonight’s dinner. I constantly struggle with getting the uncooked pizza off of the peel and onto the stone in the oven, so much so that lately I had resorted to cracking open the oven and placing the raw dough directly on the preheated stone. Then I would arrange the toppings on the dough while it was already cooking in the oven. (That’s the hot, energy-wasteful way to do it, but at least the pizza turned out out nice and round!!)

Tonight, however, I wondered… what if I just temporarily took the hot stone out of the oven and assembled the pizza directly on the stone while OUT of the oven?? It worked perfectly!! This is probably the way that everyone else makes pizza, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me until tonight. Oh well! 😄

2726 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

Zucchini Pesto Pizza

You will need…
Pizza Stone and Pizza Peel
1 medium Zucchini, sliced into very thin (1/8″) discs
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
Cornmeal or Semolina Flour
1 – 16 oz. ball Raw Pizza Dough
1/2 cup Fresh Basil Pesto
8 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Freshly Ground Pepper

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Position the rack 6-8 inches from the top of the oven and place the pizza stone on the rack to warm up. Place the zucchini discs in a shallow bowl with the olive oil and garlic, then toss thoroughly to coat.

Sprinkle 4-5 tablespoons of cornmeal on the pizza peel then drop the dough ball onto the cornmeal. Knead and spread the dough ball into a 15-17 inch pizza. Carefully remove the hot pizza stone from the oven and place it on a heat resistant surface. Transfer the dough to the stone and shape it into a nice circle the size of the stone.

Working quickly, spoon and spread the pesto onto the dough. Next, sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the pesto. Layer the marinated zucchini slices evenly over the pie, leaving a 3/4 inch “margin” for the crust. Finally, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the zucchini and slide the stone back into the hot oven.

Bake the pizza for 8-9 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on the pizza as it cooks… if your oven heats unevenly (like ours does!) rotate the pie with a few minutes left on the cook time.

Remove the pizza from the oven, top with a few grinds of black pepper, then slice and enjoy!

2730 Zucchini Pesto Pizza

 

Panzanella: A Blog-Worthy Salad

I made the same recipe two times this weekend and still found myself excited to serve up seconds on Sunday evening. That definitely makes this recipe for a Panzanella “bread salad” qualify as blog-worthy, don’t you think?? 😀

632 Panzanella Salad

According to Wikipedia, “Panzanella is a Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes that’s popular in the summer. It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar.” According to my extended family, Panzanella is a tasty excuse to call toasted Italian bread soaked in dijon vinaigrette a “salad” and feel good about eating it. Just kidding… sort of. This bread salad is delicious, colorful, and easy to make and I have a feeling that we’re going to get many more requests for it at future family dinners!

When I bring Panzanella to a dinner party I do almost all of the work in advance. The vinaigrette can be made 1-2 days ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container, the veggies can be chopped and tossed together a few hours in advance, and the bread can be toasted 1-2 hours before dinner and stored in a ziploc bag. Making the salad then becomes a simple matter of tossing together the vinaigrette, veggies and bread about 20 minutes before dinner.

637 Panzanella Salad

Panzanella (from Ina Garten; serves 8-10)

Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Champagne Vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad Ingredients
1 Red Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 Hothouse Cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeds removed and cut into 1/2″ slices
1/2 Red Onion, halved and cut into thin slices
3-4 Plum or Campari-sized Tomatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
3 tablespoons Capers, drained
20 Basil Leaves, sliced into 1/2″ strips
1 large Loaf of French or Italian Bread, cut into 1″ pieces
Olive Oil
Salt

Directions:
To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a ball jar and shake vigorously. The vinaigrette can now be easily refrigerated or transported until it’s time to combine the salad.

Combine the peppers, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, capers and basil together in a large bowl.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add half the bread and approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook the bread cubes, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the bread begins to toast and turn golden brown. Transfer the toasted bread to a plate to cool and repeat the cooking process with the remaining bread cubes.

To assemble the salad, combine the vinaigrette, vegetables, and toasted bread in a large serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For best flavor, allow the finished salad to sit for approximately 20 minutes before serving… that will give the vinaigrette time to soak into the bread. 😀 Enjoy!

630 Panzanella Salad

Italian White Bean Hummus

If you’ve ever eaten at an Italian restaurant I’m sure that you’ve enjoyed a nice piece of crusty bread dipped in olive oil.  But have you ever had the pleasure of tasting white bean hummus served with that olive oil?  I was recently at a restaurant where they stirred herby, creamy white bean hummus into the oil and I absolutely loved it.  I liked it so much, in fact, that as soon as the meal was over I decided that I was going to make my own white bean hummus at home so I could eat it by the spoonful!

To be honest, I didn’t actually intend to eat this hummus by the spoonful, but as soon as I blended together the rosemary, beans, garlic and lemon juice I couldn’t help but lick the spoon 2 or 3 or …7? times!  It was just SO delicious!  The rosemary is fragrant, the lemon is bright, the garlic is strong (as it should be!) and the white beans are blended into a smooth, creamy consistency perfect for dipping.

Italian White Bean Hummus with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon.  Delicious and so easy to make!!

 

Italian White Bean Hummus
(Recipe from Racheal Ray)

You will need…
1 – 15oz. can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
3 sprigs Rosemary, leaves removed from the stem and roughly chopped
Juice of 1 Lemon
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil (approximately)
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons Tahini

Directions:
Add all ingredients to the bowl of a blender or food processor.  Blend together until smooth, adding more olive oil as you go if needed.  I used a Vitamix and found that blending on low between speed settings 2-4 while using the tamper to push the ingredients into the blades worked well.  Once the hummus has reached a creamy consistency use a spatula to scrape the dip into a bowl.  (Don’t leave any hummus behind… you’re going to want to eat every last drop!)  Serve with crackers, crusty Italian bread, or just a spoon.  🙂

Italian White Bean Hummus 2-

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

I’ve posted more than a few pizza recipes on my blog, but I’m of the opinion that there can never be too much pizza (especially homemade pizza!!) so I am adding to my pizza repertoire with this delicious white pie that Matt and I made last week.  Look at this feast… ricotta, spinach and roasted red peppers covered in mozzarella cheese.  I wish I was eating this right now!!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

As you’ll see in the instructions below, I find it really challenging to transfer an uncooked pizza with full toppings from the peel to the stone, so my new tactic is to transfer the dough onto the stone in the oven while it’s still “naked” and then add all of the toppings while it’s in the oven.  Maybe not the most efficient use of electricity, but this method ensures that my pizzas end up (mostly) symmetrical without half of the cheese and toppings sliding onto the stone or, worse, the bottom of my oven during the raw dough transfer process.  Works for me!  🙂

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 2

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers

You will need…
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 cloves Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 Yellow Onion, halved and sliced into very thin rounds
1/2 cup Frozen Chopped Spinach (or 2 cups fresh spinach steamed and chopped with excess water squeezed out)
approx. 2 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese
approx. 3/4 cup Ricotta Cheese
Semolina Flour
1 package raw Pizza Dough
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:
Start by roasting the red bell pepper.  There are several ways to roast a pepper, but for this particular pizza Matt sliced the pepper into thirds, removed the seeds and ribs, and placed the pepper pieces on a baking sheet in a preheated 400° oven until the skin was wrinkled and starting to blacken.  Then he peeled off the skin, sliced the peppers into 1/2″ strips, and set the roasted peppers aside until it was time to put them on the pizza.

Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 425°F.  Since I’m incapable of transferring a fully topped, raw pizza from the peel to the stone I put the naked dough on the stone and quickly add all of the toppings once it’s already in the oven.  To avoid wasting too much heat and energy during this process, I prep all of the toppings in advance and set them next to the oven.  With this in mind, arrange the roasted red peppers, minced garlic, chopped spinach and sliced onions on a plate and make sure that the mozzarella and ricotta are open and ready to go.

Next, prep the pizza dough.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but for this pizza I sprinkled a few tablespoons of semolina flour on a pizza peel and stretched the fresh ball of dough into a 15″ diameter circle.  Carefully transfer the dough onto the preheated pizza stone and use your fingers to quickly spread the minced garlic over the top of the dough, leaving a 1-2″ margin on the edges for the crust.  Close the oven.

Working in quick intervals, open the oven, slide the pizza stone rack out slightly, and start adding your toppings and cheese.  Start with the onions along with a thin layer of mozzarella and close the oven.  After few minutes, add the spinach and 8-9 generous spoonfuls of ricotta.  After another 1-2 minutes spread on the roasted red peppers and top with the remaining mozzarella.  Once all of the toppings have been added allow the pizza to cook for another few minutes until the crust is fully cooked and the cheese is just starting to turn golden brown.

Use a pizza peel to remove the cooked pizza from the oven (working with a cooked pizza is so much easier than raw dough!!) and season with salt and pepper.  Cut the pizza into 6-8 slices and enjoy!

Ricotta Pizza with Spinach and Roasted Red Peppers 3

Roasted Corn Salsa

Last night I made my third batch of Roasted Corn Salsa in less than a month which can only mean two things…  One, this salsa is awesome and two, it’s high time it makes an appearance on the blog!!

Roasted Corn Relish 1

This bright, flavorful salsa features grilled corn, roasted peppers, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.  It pairs perfectly with grilled fish and grilled avocado (<– my new favorite way to eat avocados).  We’ve also tried the salsa on shrimp tacos and, although Matt thinks it’s a bit too lime-y for eating straight, I personally really enjoy eating it with tortilla chips.

Last night’s batch of salsa is being refrigerated until we have Matt’s parents over for dinner tomorrow night.  Making it ahead of time will save me prep time on Saturday and the extra hours in the fridge will allow the salsa flavors to fully combine.  I’ll post pictures of the final meal (grilled salmon!) next week.

Roasted Corn Relish 2

Roasted Corn Salsa  (adapted from MyRecipes.com; makes 6-8 servings) 

You will need…
Cooking Spray
4 ears Corn, husked
4 Anaheim Peppers or 4 Cubanelle Peppers (for less heat), or a combination of the 2 types
1 cup diced Tomatoes (from approx. 2-3 Roma Tomatoes)
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed Lime Juice (from approx. 3-4 limes)
1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Pepper

Directions:

Lightly coat the grates of a grill* set to medium heat with cooking spray.   Place the corn and peppers directly on the grill.  Allow the corn and peppers to cook, turning occasionally, until the corn kernels start to brown slightly and the peppers become soft and dark splotches start to form on the green skins.  Transfer the roasted corn to a plate to cool.  Place the roasted peppers in a large bowl and cover for 10-15 minutes.

Cut each corn ear in half, then place the flat end down on a cutting board and slice the kernels off of the cobs.  When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins and remove the stems, seeds, and membranes.  Slice the peppers into 1/4″ pieces.

Combine the corn, peppers, tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Serve immediately or cover tightly and refrigerate up to 3 days to allow the flavors to intensify before serving.

Serving suggestions:

  • Serve over grilled salmon or another grilled fish (salmon recipe coming soon!)
  • Spoon over grilled avocado (slice avocado lengthwise & remove pit; brush grill with oil and place avocado halves directly on grates for 2-3 minutes until grill marks appear)
  • Serve as a fresh, citrus-y salsa with tortilla chips

Roasted Corn Relish 3

*If you don’t have a grill, use boiled corn on the cob or thawed frozen corn kernels.  The peppers can be roasted in an oven… here are some basic instructions on how to do this from Ina Garten.

Quick and Easy Hummus

Did you know that it’s incredibly easy to make your own hummus?  I never realized this until we received a Vitamix blender as a wedding present.  Now smooth and creamy home made hummus is just a few basic ingredients and a minute of blending away!

Quick and Easy Hummus Recipe

I like to think of this as a basic “building block” hummus recipe.  After you familiarize yourself with the standard ingredients you can play around with the flavors to come up with your own variation.  We haven’t tried tweaking the recipe yet but I have a feeling that next time we make a batch we’ll attempt to duplicate our favorite Trader Joe’s hummus flavors.  My favorite is Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus and Matt’s go-to is TJ’s smooth and creamy Mediterranean Hummus with pine nuts.  Of course, you could also try adding roasted red peppers, chipotle en adobo, pesto, sun dried tomatoes… the possibilities are endless!

Quick and Easy Hummus (from the Vitamix ‘Create’ Recipe Book)

You will need…
2 – 15 oz. cans Chickpeas – one can drained, the other with liquid
1/4 cup Sesame Seeds
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
1 clove Garlic
1 teaspoon Cumin (plus more for garnish)
Salt, to taste

Directions:
Place the first six ingredients in the jar of a Vitamix* blender in the order shown above.  Set the Vitamix to variable 1 then increase speed to variable 10 and switch to high.  Use the tamper to push the mixture down into the blades and blend for 1 minute.  Stir in salt to taste and transfer to a bowl.  Garnish the hummus with cumin and serve with pita chips or your choice of veggie.  Enjoy!

Hummus and Pita Chips

* This recipe came from our Vitamix ‘Create’ Recipe Book, meaning that it’s designed to be made in a Vitamix.  When I used our Vitamix to blend the ingredients together the hummus turned out creamy, smooth, and perfectly blended in just one minute.  If you have a different type of blender the consistency might turn out a little less smooth (those sesame seeds could be hard to blend) so you may want to opt for a recipe that uses tahini (sesame seed paste) instead.

Caramel Corn with Honey-Roasted Peanuts

Last weekend our neighborhood had its annual Fall bonfire party.  The food was potluck-style so we initially decided to celebrate the season by making Thai Pumpkin Soup.  Then the weather took a crazy turn and it ended up being 85 degrees and humid (very unusual for October in Pennsylvania!) and we quickly realized that no one was going to be in the mood to eat soup.  So, at the last minute we changed course and made a nice summery Mediterranean Quinoa Salad instead.  We didn’t want to be too healthy though, so we supplemented our potluck offering with some delicious homemade caramel corn!

721 Caramel Corn

This was our first time making caramel corn and I was amazed by how simple it was.  Granted, it was a bit labor intensive (we had to stir the popcorn every 15 minutes for an hour and a half) but there were no fancy candy thermometers or gadgets required.  Just a wok, some popcorn kernels, butter, sugar, corn syrup and honey roasted peanuts… easy!

We referred to our go-to Asian cookbook, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, for instructions on how to pop the popcorn in our wok (it’s a great way to season a wok!) and I used this recipe  Leite’s Culnaria for the caramel recipe and baking instructions.  We threw in some store-bought honey-roasted peanuts to kick the recipe up a notch and I would say that our homemade caramel corn turned out pretty perfect.  I think Matt would agree… he couldn’t stop eating it even as I was trying to take this photo!  🙂

738 Matt steals some caramel corn

Caramel Corn with Honey-Roasted Peanuts (adapted slightly from Leite’s Culinaria)

You will need…
1 cup uncooked Popcorn Kernels, divided
Peanut Oil
1 1/2 sticks Butter
1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
1/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 cup Honey Roasted Peanuts

Directions:
Pop the popcorn kernels.  To do this in a wok, heat approx. 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in your wok over medium heat.  Put 3-4 kernels in the wok and cover.  (For easier clean up, wrap the inside of your wok lid with aluminum foil!)  When the test kernels in the wok pop, add in approx. 1/3-1/2 cup of kernels and re-cover.  (If test kernels don’t pop, slowly increase the heat until they do, then add in the other kernels.)  Shake the wok over the burner to keep it moving as the kernels heat up.  In a few minutes the kernels will start to pop.  Keep shaking until popping slows down, then carefully tilt the cover open and transfer the popped corn to a large baking dish.

Repeat this process with the remaining kernels until all of your popcorn is popped.  You may need to use multiple baking dishes to hold your popcorn… you’ll be stirring it later so it’s better to leave some extra space!  Add the honey-roasted peanuts to the popcorn and place in a 200°F oven to keep warm.

How to pop popcorn in a wok

Prepare your caramel by heating the butter and sugar over medium heat.  Add in the corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 5 minutes, remove the mixture from heat and carefully stir in the baking soda.  Remove the popcorn from the oven and pour the caramel mixture evenly over the popcorn.  Mix well with tongs (don’t worry if every kernel isn’t coated at this point, though) and return the popcorn to the 200° oven.

Bake the popcorn for 1 1/2 hours at 200°F, stirring and tossing thoroughly every 15 minutes.  Allow the popcorn to cool before eating (if you have the willpower to wait!).  Enjoy it immediately or store it in an airtight container for as long as it lasts (which won’t be long… it’s delicious!).

Stirring the caramel corn

Above: Caramel Corn during a stirring break.  Below: The finished product!

Caramel Corn