Sunday, February 19, 2012

Caramel Corn

My mouth starts to drool a little bit every time I look at this stuff.
I've developed a bit of a caramel corn obsession.  I've really never not liked it, but lately my sweet tooth has gone absolutely crazy for the stuff!  Unfortunately, it's so not healthy.  When I do allow myself to make it it's usually gone within a day or two -- and I wish I could say that that was because I shared most of it.  Still, it's delicious and I've found a fabulous (and easy) recipe over at Our Best Bites.  However, I haven't had much luck using the microwave method Sara describes without the caramel ending up all over the place.  And for those of you who want a one-stop shop, I'll post the recipe as I have followed it.  It mostly follows what has been laid out at Our Best Bites, but with my notes and tweaks.

Easy Homemade Caramel Corn


  • 12 cups air-popped popcorn -- about 1/2 cup unpopped kernels
  • 1/2 cup white Karo syrup
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup salted butter -- 1 stick 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

First, pop the popcorn and set it aside.  I sort the unpopped kernels out as I transfer to a humongous bowl while the caramel is cooking, but you can also do this beforehand.  Definitely remove and hard or unpopped pieces before adding the caramel, though!

Next, mix the Karo syrup, brown sugar, salt, and butter in a sauce pan and set on low to medium -- enough to melt the butter and get it bubbling a bit.  Keep an eye on this, though.  I used a non-stick pan so it wouldn't burn to the bottom, but if you choose not to use non-stick you'll probably want to keep stirring it fairly often.  I leave it bubbling on the stove, stirring every few minutes or so, for about five minutes on a medium heat so if you opt for the lower setting leave it on a bit longer.  Then, mix in the baking soda and vanilla.  It'll bubble a bit from the vanilla and it'll smell amazing!

With the popcorn in a very large bowl -- you don't want to lose any as you mix it all together because (1) it's delicious and (2) it's hot -- pour the caramel over and mix with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula.  Spread onto a cookie sheet or onto aluminum foil for it to cool before eating -- I promise it's worth the wait!

Now this last step is optional, but I like my caramel corn just a tiny bit crunchy so I baked it for 20 minutes at 300 degrees (convection), turning the caramel corn over and mixing a bit halfway through.

Perfection!  I may have to start making smaller batches so I can't pig out on it so much...but where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Holy crap, is it February 14th already?!  Dang.

To be perfectly honest, Valentine's Day has never been my favorite holiday.  I've just had too many without a sweetheart to truly appreciate it.  In fact, I have been known to call it "Singles' Awareness Day."  But, since the rest of the world is overtaken with hearts, cupids, doves, ribbons, red, pink, and sweets I thought I might as well join in on that last one.

I had a terrible craving for something sweet last week and decided to try making Caramel Corn.  It was amazing and, aside from the caramel overflowing in the microwave (even after upgrading it to a larger measuring cup), a complete success.  So when I realized I didn't have what I needed to make the valentines I originally had in mind, I decided to do a popcorn treat.  So I searched Pinterest, I Googled, and eventually I decided on two treats.

For the first, I decided to take a cue from Sara at and cheat a little bit with the caramel corn recipe, using white sugar instead of brown and adding red gel food coloring.  Worked rather well, until I baked it, when it turned more orangey-brown.  Still, it tastes delicious and it's not too off color because I shortened the baking time when I noticed the change.

For the second, I followed the recipe as instructed for Fruity Candy Popcorn, using Strawberry Jell-O.  Loved it -- it made my whole kitchen smell good!  However, I'd popped a full 1/2 cup of kernels, too much popcorn for one batch to coat it to my satisfaction so I had to hurry and make a second batch.  I recommend either making sure you measure your popped popcorn or making a double batch to begin with.

After letting them cool, I broke the popcorn up into pieces and placed them in sandwich baggies.  Then, I made tags for them.  Nothing fancy, just used Microsoft Word and I "borrowed" some past xkcd comics to decorate them.  Since it is Valentine's Day, I must declare my love for xkcd.  It's snarky and smart and silly and just plain awesome.  Okay, I'm done gushing now.

The right half is the red-ish-colored caramel, the left half is the Strawberry.  There were 19 baggies-worth (very unscientifically eyeballed instead of measured or weighed) after I'd finished taste testing.

The comic on the strawberry bags (left) is here.  The comic on the caramel bags (right) is here.  And the bottom one is in reference to this year's Valentine's comic, here.  One particular friend and I were giggling over it yesterday so I wanted to include that, since she didn't think she'd get any valentines today.

So there you have it, my Valentine's Day plans.  Tonight I'll be watching Glee, The New Girl, and Raising Hope and probably munching on any leftover popcorn (or maybe I'll make yet another batch if there are no leftovers) and going to bed earlier than I did last night.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Daddy's Birthday

Happy birthday, Daddy!

In the past year or two I've been discovering baking and cooking.  And since I became a Pinterest addict last summer, seeing all of those incredible ideas and recipes has inspired me to expand my repertoire.  However, since I've also been trying to lose weight, as has my entire household, I needed actual reasons to make some of the more decadent and delicious desserts.

Well yesterday was my dad's birthday.  I asked him last week what kind of cake he wanted for the occasion -- fully expecting him to reply with his favorite "Sunshine Cake."As cakes go, Sunshine Cake isn't bad -- really, is there such a thing as a bad cake? -- but it's fairly basic:  some sort of yellow butter or buttermilk cake and chocolate frosting.  However, Daddy is full of surprises and wanted to ponder it for a while.  No problem!

Now, my dad loves peanut butter.  Not really to the obsessive, everything-must-be-peanut-butter-flavored level, but he does love the stuff.  I had recently stumbled across a random pin on Pinterest for a peanut butter cake.  I'd never though of such a thing so the idea stuck with me although it didn't particularly interest me, aside from the immediate thought, "I'll bet Daddy would love that!"

So, being the patient woman that I am, I asked him every day for the next few days if he'd decided on a cake yet.  After a couple days he was still pondering and I made the suggestion.  He thought about it for about a second before deciding that was exactly what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday.  I asked him what kind of frosting he wanted and he said peanut butter.  Of course!

So I spend the next couple days searching online for good recipes for peanut butter cake and frosting.  I finally decided on this one from but I couldn't just leave well enough alone; I had to tweak it as I went.  Partly because, living in Colorado, I have to adjust nearly every recipe for high altitude.  And partly because,'s fun!  So here's my recipe as it developed:

Cream 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup softened butter, and 3/4 cup sugar in a mixer.  Add 2 eggs, one at a time, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and mix well.  Sift or whisk 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder together.  Add to creamed mixture in 3 parts, alternating with 1 cup milk in 2 parts.

Here, I discovered that this recipe was not intended for multi-layer cakes.  But I persevered and divided the batter between two 9" round pans I had coated with Wilton's Cake Release.  If you follow this recipe, be sure to level the cakes as well as you can before baking them.  This batter doesn't level itself out much, and I could still see some of the spreading pattern from my spatula.  They will dome a bit, though.  In an attempt to prevent doming, since I didn't have much cake to begin with I lowered the temperature and extended the time.  They baked at 300 (convection) for 30 minutes at first, then I added more time.  I think I ended up baking them for around 40-50 minutes, but since they were thin layers that helped speed things up.  Still, in the end I think I may have slightly over-baked them because it came out a bit dry.  Not horrible, just not moist.  Oh well.

For the frosting, cream 1/3 cup peanut butter1/4 cup softened butter, and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract in a mixer.  Sift together 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and 3 cups confectioners' sugar.  Add to creamed mixture in 3 parts, alternating with 1/3 cup milk in 2 parts.  Mix until smooth.

This was when I discovered that I'd have to double the frosting recipe because I was doing the layers.  I did end up having a bit left over at the end, but I figure it's almost like Nutella so it'll get eaten up.

Completely frosted.  Yum...!
I used some peanut butter chips that were in the cupboard to pretty it up a bit.