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

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Chicken Lo Mein

This past weekend was our first free weekend since before our wedding! No DockDogs events, no traveling, no commitments… just time to ourselves! We celebrated by sleeping in both days, going out to lunch together (because we slept through breakfast) and watching hours of the British Open and Tour de France. I also did a lot of running on our brand new treadmill and Matt started a construction project that involved cutting open our bedroom wall in multiple spots… more on those events in a future post!

For dinner on Saturday we made a new recipe from our trusty cookbook, Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge. I know I’ve said this before but this cookbook is AWESOME! In addition to savory recipes like Kung Pao Chicken and Hot Pepper Beef, this book is also full of helpful cooking techniques, information about ingredients and a whole tutorial on how to select and care for your wok. We have always been amazed by how great the recipes from this book turn out and Saturday’s dinner of Chicken Lo Mein was no exception. Without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Chicken Lo Mein

Chicken Lo Mein with Ginger Mushrooms (from Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young)

You will need…
12 oz. fresh thick Egg Noodles*
2 teaspoons Sesame Oil
12 oz. boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs, cut into 1/4″ thick bite-sized slices
1 tablespoon Ginger, finely shredded (cut into tiny matchstick-like pieces)
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Rice Wine or Dry Sherry, divided
1 teaspoon Cornstarch
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce, divided
1 teaspoon Salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon Ground White Pepper
2 tablespoons Peanut Oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
3 cups Napa Cabbage, thinly sliced
4 oz. Shiitake Mushrooms, stems removed and caps thinly sliced
1/2 cup Scallions, finely shredded (try using a Negi cutter to shred the scallion into even threads)
*We couldn’t find egg noodles so we used a package of Kame Stir-Fry Hokkien Noodles that we simply microwaved to heat up.

Directions:
Cook or heat up your noodles until al dente according to the package instructions. If using fresh noodles that you have to cook in boiling water, drain the cooked noodles and rinse several times with cold water. Place the cooked noodles in a bowl and stir in the sesame oil. Set aside.

Combine the chicken, ginger, 1 teaspoon rice wine, cornstarch, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the white pepper in a small bowl. In another small bowl combine the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.

Heat a wok over high heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and add the red pepper flakes. Stir fry for 10 seconds then push the flakes to the sides of the wok and add the chicken mixture. Spread the chicken evenly on the bottom of the wok and allow to cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute, then stir fry the chicken for another 30 seconds or until it starts to brown. Add in the cabbage and mushrooms and stir fry for 1 minute or until the cabbage wilts. Transfer the wok contents to a plate.

Pour the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil into the wok then add in the noodles and stir fry for 15 seconds. Stir in the rice wine/soy sauce mixture and add the scallions, chicken mixture, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve and enjoy!

Chicken Lo Mein Close Up

Chicken Lo Mein Dinner

Cumin-Scented Beef Stir Fry with Vegetables

I love my 14 inch carbon steel wok. Yup, I said it – LOVE!! Matt gave me a wok last year for my birthday and our old 12 inch frying pan has barely touched the stove since. We are constantly using the wok for a variety of culinary tasks such as sautéing peppers and onions, frying bacon, concocting the ideal combination of sausage and pasta, browning taco meat, and, of course, making delicious Asian stir fries.

If you want to learn more about woks and the yummy creations that can be made in them, I recommend that you invest $23 to buy Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young. In addition to featuring dozens of delicious recipes with full color photos, this book includes several pages of clear, concise instructions that cover techniques like seasoning a wok, slicing fresh ginger, shredding scallions, and properly cutting a variety of meats and poultry.

We’ve spent the last year honing our stir frying skills on several of the recipes in the book including Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Lamb, and Hot Pepper Beef. Here’s the recipe for our latest dinner from the cookbook: Cumin-Scented Beef with Cauliflower, Carrots, Tomatoes and Green Onions… yum!!

Cumin-Scented Beef Stir Fry with Vegetables (from Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge)

You will need…
12 oz. Flank Steak, cut against the grain into ¼ in wide strips
1 tablespoon Corn Starch
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons Dry Sherry (or Rice Wine if you have it)
1 tablespoon Peanut Oil
1 ½ cups Canola Oil
1 tablespoon Garlic, Minced
½ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Cauliflower Florets, cut into bit-sized pieces
½ cup Carrots, thinly sliced
½ cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
¾ teaspoon Salt, divided
1 teaspoon Cumin
½ cup Green Onions, thinly sliced
10 oz. Cooked White Rice

Directions:
Combine the beef, corn starch, soy sauce, sherry, and peanut oil in a bowl and mix well. Heat the canola oil in a flat-bottomed wok over high heat until the oil is 280°F. (We used our normal meat thermometer to check the oil heat.) Add the beef to the oil and spread it evenly in a single layer on the bottom of the wok. Cook until the outside surface of the beef is just starting to change color, about 15 seconds, and then remove the wok from the heat. Carefully extract the beef from the oil with a kitchen skimmer and place on a paper-towel-lined plate.

Pour the oil into a large cup or bowl and set aside. Clean and thoroughly dry the wok and the return to the stove over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved oil along with the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir fry for 20 seconds or until aromatic. Add the cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt and stir fry 2-3 minutes. Add in the cumin and stir fry for 5 seconds. Return the beef to the wok and stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and green onions. Stir fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute until beef is cooked through and ingredients are well combined. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Bucatini with Sausage, Asparagus and Tomato in a White Wine Sauce

Last week we paid a visit to our local farmer’s market and we were pleasantly surprised to discover a man selling fresh sausage!  He seemed unfazed by the 95° temps and was happily browning up pieces of sausage on a tiny griddle and offering samples to potential customers.  We are not ones to pass up free sausage so we eagerly tasted some and it was amazing!  We promptly purchased a package of chicken provolone sausage and started brainstorming for potential summer meal ideas to highlight the local fare.

The recipe that Matt came up with definitely did the sausage justice.  The white wine sauce was flavorful without being overpowering (it actually smelled like “real” Italian cooking!) and the firm asparagus and super-tasty tomatoes (from our garden, of course!) complemented the sausage nicely.  This recipe made enough food for the two of us to eat dinner and then enjoy hearty portions for lunch the next day.

Oh, and before I get to the recipe, please remember to comment on my Tomato Salad post to win a free kitchen scale!

Bucatini with Sausage, Asparagus and Tomato in a White Wine Sauce

You will need…
1 bunch Asparagus, chopped into 2 inch pieces
Olive Oil
12 oz. Sausage (we used Maiale’s Chicken Sausage with Spinach and Sharp Provolone*)
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Shallot, minced
1 cup Dry White Wine
1/2 cup Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
2 tablespoons minced Chives
2 tablespoons Butter or Olive Oil Spread
Bucatini Pasta
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes

Directions:
Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the chopped asparagus.  Blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes (or more if using thicker spears) and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to an ice bath.  Allow asparagus to cool completely before straining and setting aside in a bowl.

The sauteing garlic and shallots smell wonderful!

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Remove the sausage from its casing and brown it in the oil, breaking it up as it cooks.  Remove the browned sausage from the wok and set aside.  Lower the heat to medium, add another tablespoon of olive oil and the minced garlic and shallots.  Saute until shallots are translucent.  Add the white wine and chicken broth, stir, and allow to simmer over low heat until mixture is reduced to approximately 1/3 the original volume.  As the sauce reduces cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Toss all of the ingredients together in the wok.

Add the sausage to the reduced white wine mixture, stir to combine, and bring the heat back up to medium.  Stir in the blanched asparagus, chives, and butter and add salt and pepper to taste.  Finally, add in the cooked and drained pasta and the cherry tomatoes and toss well.  Serve with a garnish of finely chopped chives.

*If you’re local to the southeastern PA / DE region, the delicious sausage was made by Maiale (“may.all.ay”) in Wilmington, Delaware.  We’ll definitely be going back to the farmer’s market next week to get more sausage!!  🙂

Easy Chicken Fajitas

This is a quick and easy weeknight recipe that we enjoyed last week.  Besides the basic pantry items, all you really need is a chicken breast, red pepper, onion, and tortillas… simple!

Easy Chicken Fajitas (from Food and Wine)

You will need…
1 teaspoon Chile Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Chicken Breast (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into strips
1 White Onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 cup Water
2 tablespoons Lime Juice
6-8 corn Tortillas, warmed
Sour Cream
Hot Sauce, such as Cholula

Directions:
Combine the first six ingredients (chile powder through cornstarch) in a small bowl and stir well to combine.  Place the chicken, pepper, onion, olive oil and water in a large ziplock bag and sprinkle in the dry ingredient mixture.  Close the bag and mix/flip well so that the chicken is covered.  Allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add in the chicken mixture and stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked through.  Stir in the lime juice and serve in the warmed corn tortillas with sour cream and a few drops of hot sauce.

Hot Pepper Beef

Who knew flank steak could be so delicious?!   I had heard of flank steak before but I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t actually ever cooked with it until a few months ago when we first tried this recipe.  Now we’re hooked!  In this stir fry, the flank steak takes center stage amidst a variety of green veggies in a sweet and spicy hoisin sauce.  The steak is juicy, tender, and flavorful and is light years beyond the rubbery, tasteless “steak strips” that you see pre-packaged in the supermarket.

This recipe comes from our awesome Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge cookbook by Grace Young.  We tweaked the original recipe to add the fresh green beans and garlic scapes that I picked in our garden earlier this week.  Enjoy!

Hot Pepper Beef Stir Fry with Green Beans and Scapes (serves 2)

You will need…
12 ounces Flank Steak, cut with the grain into 1/4″ thick x 2″ long slices
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
3/4 teaspoons Salt, divided
1/8 teaspoons Ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Dry Sherry
1 tablespoon Ketchup
2 tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1/2 cup Red Onion, thinly sliced
3 quarter-sized slices of Ginger, smashed
1/4 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
1 Handful Green Beans, trimmed
3 Garlic Scapes, cut into 3-4 inch pieces
Peanut Oil
1 Green Bell Pepper, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 10 ounce package Jasmine Rice from Trader Joe’s, cooked

Directions:
Combine the steak, garlic, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, black pepper, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the sherry, and 2 teaspoons cold water.  Stir well to coat the meat.  In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the ketchup, hoisin sauce, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sherry.  In yet another bowl, combine the red onion, ginger, and crushed red pepper.  Place the green beans and garlic scapes in (yes, another) bowl.

Green beans and garlic scapes from my garden made a nice addition to this recipe.

Heat a wok over high heat until a drop of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds.  Add a tablespoon of the peanut oil, swirl around the wok, and add the steak to the wok.  Spread the steak evenly over the bottom of the wok and let it sear undisturbed for 1 minute.  Then stir fry the steak for 1 minute and transfer it to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, swirl, and add the onion mixture.  Stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the green bean/scape mixture and continue to stir fry for 1 minute.  Add the green pepper, stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the steak and any accumulated juices back to the wok.  Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the ketchup mixture and stir fry for 30 seconds until the steak is just cooked through.  Remove from heat and serve over rice.

Chicken Fried Rice

Fried Rice is one of the many dishes that Matt and I have wanted to master (or at least become proficient at making) since we got our wok back in November.  We tried a fried rice recipe a few months ago but it was over-seasoned with white pepper (the smell of white pepper still makes me cringe!) and definitely not what we were hoping for.  We were just talking about how we should try making fried rice again when, coincidentally, Danny from Danny’s Kitchen posted a tasty-looking recipe for chicken fried rice.  I immediately decided that we’d try Danny’s recipe and I’m happy to report that it was delicious!

Making fried rice takes some forethought because the rice should be made a few days in advance and then refrigerated.  I don’t have a rice cooker (though it’s sounding more and more like a gadget that I should get… maybe for our wedding?) so I cheated by microwaving some Trader Joe’s frozen jasmine rice on Tuesday and storing it until today.  For the veggies, I used raw carrots instead of frozen ones since that’s all I had.  I cooked the raw carrot with the frozen vegetables which left the carrots fairly crunchy and hard.  If I were to use raw carrots again I would steam them slightly before adding them to the wok to ensure that they ended up with a softer texture.

Chicken Fried Rice (also check out the original recipe on Danny’s Kitchen!)

You will need…
2 – 10 oz. packages frozen Trader Joe’s Jasmine Rice (cooked 2 days prior and stored in a sealed container in the fridge)
Peanut Oil
2 cloves Garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1/2 medium Yellow Onion, finely diced
1 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into 3/4″ cubes
2 Eggs, whisked together in a small bowl
Approx. 3/4 cup frozen vegetables (I used about 1/4 cup frozen peas, 1/4 cup frozen corn, and 3 chopped carrots since I didn’t have frozen carrots)
1 teaspoon Soy Sauce

Directions:
Heat up your wok over medium-high heat and add about a tablespoon of peanut oil.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Push the garlic and onions to the perimeter of the wok and add the chicken in one layer in the bottom of the wok.  Allow the chicken to cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute, then stir fry the chicken until it is cooked through.  Remove the chicken, garlic and onions from the wok and set aside.

Add more oil to the wok if needed, then add the whisked eggs and cook until they are scrambled.  Remove and set aside.  Add more oil again if needed, then add the rice and stir constantly for 5 minutes.  Add the frozen vegetables and the soy sauce, then stir fry for 8 minutes.  Add the egg and chicken back into the wok and stir fry for an additional 3-5 minutes until heated through.  Season with extra soy sauce to taste and enjoy!