Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Caramel Popcorn and Pepitas

The nights are getting cooler and the store aisles are filling up with holiday merchandise. While some head straight for the ornaments and decorations, I cannot resist the shelves of holiday treats: chocolate-covered almonds, gingerbread, peppermint bark and caramel popcorn. Nowadays, caramel popcorn comes in a wide variety of flavors unlike the Cracker Jack of my youth. Also, unlike Cracker Jack, gourmet caramel popcorn is a pricey treat when bought at department stores!

Well worth the price to avoid the messy, finger-scorching caramel and the sticky, cemented aftermath? Not anymore apparently. A little internet searching turned up several recipes that recommended making the caramel in the microwave and using the same to finish the popcorn in a paper bag. Seriously? The microwave?

Yes, I was skeptical, but the urge to try some was too strong to repel. So, instead of tediously hovering over the saucepan to make sure the caramel reaches the perfect candy consistency, so it doesn't crystallize after coating the popcorn, I made some popcorn, loaded my caramel ingredients into a large mixing bowl and found a big paper bag. The entire time I muttered to myself, “There’s no way this is going to work,” “I’m gonna end up with a bag of popped goo,” and “What was I thinking?” Trying to convince myself with, “If you think about it, shaking the caramel corn in a bag should provide astounding uniformity, rather than pouring the caramel over the popcorn in a roasting pan, and then trying to mix the gloppy mass with a wooden spoon.”

After removing the paper bag filled with caramel corn from the microwave and dumping it out on parchment paper, it was torture to wait for the corn to cool enough to taste. The result? “Ah -{crunch, crunch, crunch}-mazing!!” I couldn't believe it! And I couldn't stop eating it… It is a good thing it is so easy to make because now I needed to make more for the guys!

  • 1 cup popping corn, popped
  • ¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup, light or dark
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Place the popped popcorn in a large brown paper grocery bag and set aside.

Combine the corn syrup, butter, spice, vanilla and sugar in a large microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir the caramel-to-be and microwave for another 2 minutes. You may see that the butter is not fully incorporated – don’t worry. Add in the baking soda to the caramel mixture and stir vigorously. The syrup will foam up quite a bit, so be careful!

Working quickly, pour the syrup over the popcorn in the paper bag and shake the bag enthusiastically. Roll down the top of the paper bag and place the popcorn - bag and all - in the microwave and microwave on high for 45 seconds. Remove the bag from the microwave and add the pepitas and again shake the bag enthusiastically.

Microwave the bag of popcorn for another 45 seconds and shake. Repeat this one more times (making three total 45-second bursts), and then pour the popcorn out onto cookie sheets to cool. Let the popcorn cool a bit before separating the clumps into smaller morsels. Please use caution; the molten caramel can cause serious burns.

The popcorn is best on the day it's made. Seal any leftovers (Ha ha ha! As if!!) in an air tight bag or container. Over time, the sugar will begin to soften, making the popcorn more chewy than crispy (which makes it a perfect topping for ice cream, yogurt, cupcakes or cookies.)


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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"It's A Southern Thing" Boiled Peanuts

Growing up in the north Georgia, the appearance of signs along rural highways advertising “Boiled Peanuts” (pronounced bowled peynuts) signaled the end of summer and the beginning of football season. As the temperature began to drop, we would put away our flip flops, don our flannel shirts and head for the Appalachian Mountains to “see the leaves.” With Larry Munson calling the play-by-play in the background, we would stop at a roadside stall to buy a bushel of Rome Beauties or Arkansas Blacks, and a steaming paper sack of boiled peanuts with a jug of apple cider. The peanuts never made it home, instead they were consumed in a soggy frenzy that resulted in pruney fingers and damp sleeves.

For the record, our friends in the Northeast and Mid-West have never heard of boiling peanuts. In fact, boiled peanuts has even appeared in an episode of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods." Readily available in Southern states, peanuts became a crucial nutritional commodity during the American Civil War. Using the ancient preservation technique, peanuts were boiled in salt water to eliminate impurities and kill bacteria. When troops of the Confederacy were without food, peanuts provided a high-protein ration that could be carried by soldiers and lasted for up to a week.

Peanuts were first brought to the southeastern United States during the late 17th century. Many historians assumed that peanuts were brought to this continent by slaves from Africa, but peanuts actually originated in Brazil and Peru; and, despite their name and appearance, peanuts are not really nuts, but rather members of the bean family.

While it may be difficult to replicate the country ambiance of a local produce stand, boiling up some “goobers” is actually pretty easy. You can use dried unroasted peanuts, but green (freshly harvested) work best and require far less cooking time.

  • 2 to 3 pounds fresh green peanuts
  • 1 cup salt
  • Water
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun spice mix or Old Bay seasoning (optional)

Rinse the peanuts thoroughly to remove dirt and debris and place them in a large stock pot. Cover completely with water and stir to "settle" the peanuts adding more water to cover the peanuts by at least 2 inches. Add salt (and seasoning if desired) and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let the peanuts simmer, covered, for approximately up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional water as needed to keep the peanuts covered.

To check whether they are done, pull 1 or 2 peanuts out of the pot and break them open. If they are still slightly crunchy, they are not done yet. When they are soft, then they are done.

Taste the peanuts, if you would like them to be softer, return them to the water and continue to simmer until they reach the consistency you desire. If they are not salty enough for your taste, add more salt. When they are done, drain and serve immediately.

9/13/12

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hot Summer Night Panzanella

There are some summer nights that it is just too hot to eat a hot meal; the idea of meat and potatoes is a little repulsive. With the tomatoes, cucumbers and papers rolling in, a simple fresh panzanella seems like just the ticket. This classic Italian bread salad is a cross between gazpacho and bruschetta with juicy ripe tomatoes and cubed stale bread as the key components forming a cool meatless yet filling dish.

The bread should a formerly crusty artisanal type. As we frequently have leftover ciabatta, that’s our go-to. While most of the type, we are trying to keep bread from going stale, in this case you might actually want to speed up the process by cutting the bread into cubes ahead of time and leaving them in an unheated oven to dry out.

When you are feeling your stomach just starting to rumble, start roughly chopping your fresh veggies, assemble your salad and toss with the vinaigrette. The key to this dish is time.

Allowing the panzanella to rest for at least a half hour gives the vegetable juices time to mingle with the vinaigrette, and the bread time to absorb all the flavors. The bread should still be nicely chewy, but not soggy. You can up your game by adding some cubed mozzarella or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano for a little added protein if desired. Oh, and an insider tip: leave the salad out to rest. Placing it in the refrigerator tends to slow macerating process, and while I’ve been known to save leftovers for my lunch the next day, it is NEVER the same as it is fresh!

6 slices of rustic bread (about 2 cups)
2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 small cucumber, chopped
1 small bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
Generous pinch of salt
Pepper, to taste
6-8 large basil leaves, thinly sliced

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and set aside. If possible do this in advance to allow the cubes to get thoroughly stale. Then roughly chop the tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper into bite-sized pieces. This is a rustic salad, so preciseness in chopping in not necessary.

Combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Toss the bread cubes and chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over top and mix to thoroughly combine. I use my hands here so as not to break up the bread too much.

Let the salad sit for 1/2 hour to an hour. Add the basil chiffonade and toss before serving with a nice glass of chilled Pinot Grigio or a Chianti Classico. Buon appetito!


June 28, 2015

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Croque Monsieur Waffles for Dad (and Mom)

For all those early morning soccer games, swimming practices or track meets that Dad rose early to get you there on time, Father’s Day should be a day of rest and relaxation. We suggest you let dear old Dad sleep late and have a delicious surprise waiting for him when he gets up. Since everyone loves waffles, and what would be a better treat than waffles taken to the next level. The simple addition of meat and cheese elevate waffles to a new breakfast Shangri-La.

Dutch settlers are often credited with bringing the waffle custom to this country. Ever since, they have periodically been in and out of style, yet they remain one of the most versatile and delicious of battercakes. Another traditional breakfast pleasure is the croque-monsieur; a grilled ham and cheese sandwich topped with béchamel sauce. This classic French snack which is commonly served in French cafés, gets its name from the French words “croquer” (to crunch) and “monsieur” (mister). We have affectionately named the combination croque waffles. To really kick-up Dad’s feast, try adding a poached or fried egg to the top of his savory waffle. Although adding an egg technically makes it a croquet madame waffle, we somehow don’t think Dad will mind! The genius of this recipe is that the batter and béchamel sauce can be made ahead so that Dad does not have to wait very long to indulge on his big day.

1 batch waffle batter
Béchamel sauce
6 large slices of ham (or deli meat of choice)
6 slices of Swiss cheese (or your favorite)
6 eggs (optional)

Make the waffle batter first. Truthfully the batter works better after it has had time to rest. Preheat your waffle iron while you make the béchamel.

Béchamel Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoons salt
¼ cup grated Parmesan (optional)
Freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the milk until just about to boil and keep warm. In a separate saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Turn you flame up to medium and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes until the mixture starts to turn a light, golden color.

Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until very smooth. Allow the sauce to come to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium. If you are using cheese, add it to the pan and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat before the sauce reaches the desired consistently as it will thicken some as it cools. Grate a bit of nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the sauce aside until you are ready to serve. If the sauce gets to thick as it sits. Place back over medium heat and add a bit more milk to thin it.




When Dad wakes up place half a scoop of batter on the center of the waffle iron and lay a slice of ham (we used capicciola) and a slice of cheese (we used provolone) and add another half scoop of batter, and then close the waffle iron. When the waffle is golden brown, remove it from the iron using care so as not to get burned by the release of steam.

Place the croquet waffle on a plate and ladle béchamel sauce over the top. For an added bit of flare, you can run the sauce topped waffle under a broiler to brown the top. If you are adding an egg, it should be placed on top of the sauced waffle.

Any uneaten croquet waffles (un –sauced of course)can be placed in the freezer for later and make handy snacks for hungry Dad’s on the go!

June 15, 2014


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Friday, June 9, 2017

Refreshing Zucchini Soup

The zucchini surplus has begun! This mild and refreshing soup is a cool way to rejuvenate at lunch. It also makes a nice opener for a light summer supper. Garnished with a dollop of sour cream and an herb sprig and it could definitely pass for haute cuisine.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over low heat until softened, about 7 to 8 minutes.



Add the garlic and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn't brown; you want everything to sweat. Add the stock and ginger, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, another 10 minutes or so.

Working in 2 batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until the soup is silky-smooth. Taste and season salt and pepper to your desired flavor. Like most soups, this is significantly better after a night in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld. Serve it hot or chilled for an uplifting dish.

June 9, 2015


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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Treat Mom to the Perfect Brunch

Each year, we all do our best to spoil our Moms on the day named just for her. We lay plans to let her sleep late and make her breakfast in bed. This year, why not go a step further and plan a brunch for the whole family replete with breakfast and lunchtime favorites accompanied by cocktails to complement the offerings. If you’re new to planning a brunch and would like to make your own this weekend, here are a few ideas that will make your brunch a treat worthy of Mom.

Eggs:
Eggs are the staple to brunch menus. Whatever you decide to cook, always include an egg recipe as either the main dish or a side dish. However, making eggs doesn't necessarily mean you have to be satisfied with the common scramble. Be creative! There are several ways you can dress up your eggs.

Herbs are a marvelous addition to accentuate their flavor. Parsley, cilantro, dill and tarragon are all good choices. One of the most common mistakes one can make when making eggs is to overcook them. Depending on how you’re making them, the perfect eggs will be creamy and buttery to the touch. A technique you can use for the perfect eggs are to turn off the burner as soon as they appear slightly under cooked  They’ll finish cooking as they rest on the pan. Another trick for better eggs is to add about a tablespoon of water into your egg mixture. This will make them airy and fluffy. Other egg dishes that lend themselves to a brunch buffet are frittatas, eggs benedict, omelets or even a south of the border classic like huevos rancheros!

Meats and Veggies:
Meat always makes an appearance at brunch. Europeans commonly serve platters of cold cuts and cheeses as part of their typical breakfast buffets.Whether it’s bacon, sausage, chorizo, pancetta or ham, meat is always a binding element that brings veggies (like red and green pepper, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, or onions) and eggs together. Meat and veggie skillets are popular side dishes for brunch, providing a savory and salty contrast.

Crepes, Waffles and Pancakes:
Another component for a successful brunch is to have breads and pastries that will contrast the hearty taste and texture of eggs. Most common brunch ideas for batter-made foods are crepes, waffles or pancakes.

Waffles and pancakes are probably the easiest to make, nevertheless the bad execution of said dishes could make them chewy or tough. A tip to keep batter from becoming dense in the pan or oven is to hold back from over mixing. The more you beat the batter the denser they’ll be, leaving you with thicker but tough pan-fried dough.

Fruit:
There is nothing more spectacular than fresh seasonal fruit to complement any brunch table! Strawberries, blueberries, a selection of melon and even pineapple are delicious on their own or served atop your pancakes, crepes and waffles.

Beverages:
There are a variety of drinks that will both quench your thirst and enhance your brunch menu. Freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice are popular favorites. These also make delicious mixers for brunch cocktails such as mimosas or grapefruit sparklers. Bloody Marys are another common brunch beverage and our personal favorite is a Creole version:

  • 4 oz. tomato juice
  • 1 ½ oz. vodka
  • 1 tablespoon Creole mustard (we use Zatarain’s)
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
  • 1 dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Hot sauce to taste (we prefer Louisiana brand)
  • Lime wedge for garnish
  • Pickled okra (or any of your favorite vegetable condiments)

Combine all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into your favorite glass and add lime wedge and pickled okra.

By planning ahead and getting a little creative, you can start Mom’s day with a treat she will never forget!

Originally posted 5/7/2013

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Smoke & Glory for 2 Good Causes

A cloud of delicious smoke wafted toward me as I rounded the corner of Oakview Road on my way to Steinbeck’s to enjoy an all-star lineup of Atlanta's finest pork ribs at the 4th Annual Smoke & Glory Showdown.

Each year, Smoke & Glory puts Atlanta chefs to the test to see who reigns supreme in a Battle of the Beasts cook-off. This year, the chefs were challenged with raw pork spare ribs with one stipulation: the pork must be smoked in some way. Ticket holders devoured entries which included Korean BBQ ribs from Illegal Food, Twain’s Coca-Cola -glazed ribs, Szechuan ribs from Wrecking Bar, Ancho-blackberry BBQ ribs from Seed Kitchen and Bar, and Hampton and Hudson’s Sweet Tea Gojuchang ribs.

Guests jammed to old school R&B and Hip-Hop spun by DJ Keiran Neely as they enjoyed an impressive list of craft brews from all over the Southeast:


• Allagash: Hibernal Fluxus & Hoppy Table Beer
• Ballast Point: Bonita Blonde
• Creature Comforts: Cosmik Debris & Koko Buni
• Founders: Kentucky Breakfast Stout
• Good People: Hitchhiker
• Green Flash/Alpine: GF Sepia Frumento & Alpine Nelson
• Orpheus: Ferryman & Death.Life.Truth
• Scofflaw: Basement
• Second Self: ATaLe & Farmers Fund Saison Service Berry
• Shmaltz: Messiah Nut Brown & Pastrami Pils
• Southbound: Desert Dawn
• Southern Barrel: Damn Yankee & Helles Lager
• Stone: Enjoy By 4.20 & Pataskala Red
• Sweetwater: Grass Monkey & Wookie Down
• Terrapin: T-Time & Sound Check
• The Bruery: Tart of Darkness & Humulus Terreux Mosaic
• Three Taverns: Asylum 7 & Departed Spirit
• Westbrook: Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break
• Wicked Weed: Tropicmost & Hop Cocoa
• Wild Heaven: Watermelon EDB & White Blackbird

Attendees were each given a token to cast their vote for the best ribs in the competition with the winner chosen by a combined tally from the People’s Choice & from our local BBQ professional judges. The winning ribs were the Pastrami Smoked Spare ribs with pickled pineapple from Venkman’s who walked away with the coveted Thunderdome cleaver. Everyone left with full bellies and full hearts knowing that proceeds from the event benefitted the Giving Kitchen and Camp Horizon.

Many thanks to Steinbeck's and CulinaryLocal for a fabulous afternoon of beer and ribs!


Disclosure: I attended this event as a brand Ambassador for CulinaryLocal. While the dishes and drinks I sampled were complimentary, the content and photographs are original and all opinions are unsolicited. #ad

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Beautiful Handcrafted Gifts for Mother's Day & Giveaway

Every year we all struggle to find just the right gift for Mom for her big day - Mother’s Day. Because Moms are the heart of the home, we often look to find a special gift that she can use at home; something as unique and timeless as she is. When the folks at Fennel & Fork reached out to me to review their hand-crafted artisanal serving pieces, I was thrilled to oblige!

When Fennel & Fork founder, Abhinav Sawhney, went in search of high quality, beautifully designed, and affordable home décor reminiscent of products found in his home country of India, what he discovered was a multitude of basic mass-produced kitchen wares that look dull after minimal use, or pricey designer-labeled items that are too precious to use. After a year of searching for a solution, he partnered with select craftsmen from India to create beautifully-designed and affordably-priced serveware. He feels that the pieces used to serve food should be as natural and unique as the food served in it.

We received a salad serving set from the Willow collection. With its narrow leaves and dense stems, these silver-finished, stainless steel servers have a classy design that are nicely weighted, and comfortable to hold and use. They add a note of elegance to any salad and will look beautiful on the table for your Mother’s Day brunch!

To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, Fennel and Fork has released a special collection of products. When you order from the collection, Fennel & Fork will gift wrap it, attach a custom handwritten Mother’s Day card, and then ship it to your mom, grandmother, aunt, wife… in time to arrive for Mother’s Day.

And to help celebrate Mother’s Day, Fennel & Fork is hosting a giveaway! Each week between April 8th and May 6th, they will give away products from our website and on the final day, one lucky winner will receive a $100 VISA gift card. Enter below for your chance to win!




Fennel and Fork Mother's Day Giveaway

Disclosure: While we received complimentary products for review purposes, the opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

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