Gingerbread Caramel Crunch

Gingerbread Caramel Crunch3

It’s Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas series and before I get into today’s recipe, I’d just like to take a brief moment to thank all of you so much for your kind words regarding my Springerle and Speculaas cookies, I really do appreciate them. I put a lot of work into pulling those ones off (wasn’t sure if I could in the days leading up to baking them to be honest) and I think that they’re going to probably be my favorite of the whole series this year.

Having said that, here’s to hoping that the rest of the series measures up and doesn’t disappoint.

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One thing about cranking out twelve posts of Christmas goodies is that you do learn to get creative with choosing recipes to make- especially when you’re trying to avoid having to JUST share cookie recipes for a Christmas-themed series.

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with cookies. There’s definitely more cookies coming in the series, I can promise you that.

But still, I still like to shake things up for you guys, and in order to do that, I’ve had to try out several new things in the kitchen I’d never attempted before. Most of have worked out very nicely for me so far.

(…most. There’s always the exception, but who wants to hear about that?)

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For last year’s 12 Days of Christmas, I put out two recipes of hand-rolled popcorn balls, but this post marked my first forage into the process of making caramel corn, which is somewhat different- and as it’s less labor intensive than popcorn balls, I also found it easier to do in general.

I got my first taste of caramel corn (and was subsequently a life long fan) through the classic Cracker Jack boxes. You know, the kind where a prize still came in the box. (Side note: do they still even MAKE those anymore?) However, I do have to say that nowadays in the sporadic times that I do eat it, it usually comes in a holiday gift basket set of some kind. The commercial brands that sell caramel corn are..meh. Average.

With the notable exception of Crunch n’ Munch. Their Butterscotch Toffee caramel corn is OMGAWD delicious and I dare anyone to fight me on that.

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I guess now the question would be raised: well Jess, seeing as how there are SO many options to get caramel corn out there, especially during the holiday season, why would anyone want to make their own caramel corn?

The answer is quite simple, grasshopper.

Sure, you can buy regular old caramel corn practically ANYWHERE nowadays. Some of it may even be good.

BUT, can you buy Gingerbread flavored caramel corn?

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I thought not. And now that I’ve got your attention, let’s get into the schematics of the recipes itself:

I did make stove top popcorn rather than the bagged microwave type. It tastes better, and also, this recipe calls for 14 cups (which would require quite a few bags depending on the brand you use).

Making caramel from scratch over the stove scares a lot of people. I get that. I used to be scared of it too. And to be honest, to this day it still makes me a little nervous every time that I do it for a recipe.

However, this one’s pretty much as easy as “from scratch caramel” can possibly get. It won’t require you to monitor the temperature or do the “water”test. It won’t really require you to much at all besides stirring it for those first few minutes. After it comes to a boil, you leave it alone for just 5 minutes, then take it off the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. After that, you just pour the stuff over the popcorn and pop it in the oven for an hour.

And that’s it. No drama. No tears.

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You see what you get for your efforts?

The first taste you’re going to be able to sense is the deep, rich flavor of the molasses in the caramel- especially if you did like I did and used dark brown sugar rather than light. The ginger flavor comes in towards the end, but it’s definitely there. If I had any suggestions for improving this recipe, it might be to add a tad more ginger, about 1/4 tsp of cloves and maybe even some pecans for added texture- but that’s nitpicking, honestly. All in all I, was still VERY satisfied with how this turned out.

Guys, this stuff is GOOD. You know what’s going to happen when you make this? I’ll tell you.

You’re gonna take that first bite…nod….say “Mmm…..then promptly reach down and take another bite. And another. And another.

(And if you’re anything like me, you’l tell yourself that those extra bites were strictly for quality control to make sure you made it right. Which you did. Of course.)

I’m taking me and my big ol’ bowl of Gingerbread Caramel Corn to this week’s Fiesta Friday #98, co-hosted by Sadhna @ Herbs, Spices, and Traditions and Natalie @ Kitchen, uncorked.

12 Days of Christmas Banner Second

Day 1: Springerle Cookies

Day 2: Speculaas Cookies

Day 3: Gingerbread Caramel Crunch

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Gingerbread Caramel Crunch

Recipe Courtesy of Taste of Home Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 14 cups hot, air popped popcorn
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Place popcorn in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; set aside. Butter the sides of a small heavy saucepan; add the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, molasses, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will foam). Stir in vanilla. Quickly pour over popcorn and mix well.

Transfer to two greased 15x10x1-in. baking pans. Bake at 250° for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from pans and place on waxed paper to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

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It’s Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas on the blog; I’m sitting listening to my Christmas playlist as I write this post and it’s making me think of a question I’ve wondered about for a while now:

Why is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” considered a Christmas song/carol?

It’s not that I don’t like it. The Sound of Music is a pretty good musical and I’m a fan of the song in general..but I really doubt the writers were thinking of the Holiday as inspiration when they were putting it together.

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My more sentimental, sappy side assumes that because Christmastime is the best time of year, My Favorite Things is generally associated with it because at the very best time of year you start thinking about all of the things that you love the most.

Although I can’t think why the thoughts of “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” would suddenly make anyone feel better. Personally geese, ducks and the like freak me out. That could be because the geese and ducks on my university campus always chase people because over the years they’ve become too accustomed to parents taking their kids to the riverside to feed them bread. Therefore, they now think that all humans have a loaf of bread hidden somewhere on their person; they’ll chase you until you ‘give it up’. So yeah, geese are not one of my favorite things.

I’m thinking that Rodgers and Hammerstein just needed a word that rhymed with “things”, and that line is the best they could come up with.

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But whether they meant the song for Christmas or not, it DOES make you think of your favorite things. Heck, I’m starting to do it now. Maria von Trapp had nine, so I guess I can give nine of mine too:

Pancakes with slightly crisp edges doused in maple syrup.

Quiet mornings when the sky is bluish gray, but it’s not raining.

The A & E Pride and Prejudice movie.

Michigan State University football.

Binge watching  Netflix.

Chris Hemsworth’s arms. And abs. And pecs. Basically his ‘everything’ (so that still should count as one, right?).

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Cuddling with my baby niece.

The smell of freshly made bread in my kitchen.

My cookbook collection (it’s extensive and still growing, trust me.)

That’s nine, right? I notice that none of it rhymed with the word ‘things’. Gosh, now I’m starting to understand the inclusion of the whole “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” line. Song writing’s not all that easy.

Oh well. Moving on.

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I made two popcorn balls for the series, the first of which was these Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls. The second was this recipe; I saw it in a Christmas issue of Food Network magazine a year or so ago and had it pegged for such an occasion as this. After I made my Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate) a few weeks ago, I remembered that I had this clipping in my recipe box and immediately decided to try it out for the 12 Days of Christmas.

Guys… Chocolate. Marshmallows. Cinnamon sugar. The popcorn balls are doused and dipped in all of these, resulting in one of the yummiest, addictive treats I’ve ever made for Christmas. It’s sweet. It’s gooey. It’s chewy. It’s everything.

C’mon, just look at that sugary crust on the top: isn’t it just making you salivate?

Just a reminder: if you’ve missed the other recipes we’ve done so far in the series, I’m including a list of links to them below. Seeya guys tomorrow 🙂

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Day 3: Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

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Mexican Chocolate Popcorn Balls

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 12 cups fresh popcorn (preferably made over the stove)
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp. butter, plus 2-3 tbsp. extra for buttering your hands
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

 Directions

1. Bring corn syrup, butter, confectioners’ sugar. mini marshmallows, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and water to a boil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring.

2. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.

3. Remove from the heat; using a rubber spatula, stir in 12 cups popcorn and 1 more cup mini marshmallows.

4. Butter your hands, then shape into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar, working quickly before balls cool off. Place finished balls on parchment paper lined baking racks to set.

Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls2

Welcome to Day 2 of the 12 Days of Christmas Series on Cooking is My Sport! Just in case you missed the first post yesterday, I’ll include a complete list of the recipes at the end of each post as we go through all of the days.

Let’s talk about Christmas popcorn tins. You all know which ones I’m talking about; the metal tins with the fancy, or sometimes wonky designs on the outside and three flavors of popcorn on the inside. Yeah, those. I’ve got mixed feelings about the Christmas popcorn tins. When I was young I really dug them, but in retrospect I kinda chalk that up to being a young, growing girl with a rabbit fast metabolism that could eat just about any Christmas treat without complaining. Now, eh…I’m not much of a fan. But for the sake of conversation, I’ll give my own rating of each of the flavors:

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The caramel corn is the obvious star of the three for me; there’s very little that caramelized sugar cannot make taste good, and the combination of the sweet with the saltiness of the popcorn is a pretty solid combination. Caramel corn for the win- 8/10

The regular butter popcorn is…well, regular butter popcorn. If the popcorn you’re buying is still relatively fresh (meaning it didn’t come from a dollar or low-budget store), then it’ll taste pretty decent. I gotta say though, I rarely get a strong butter flavor from it. It’s something for you to eat when you get the munchies, but not much else- 5/10

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The loser of the Christmas popcorn tins is the cheese flavored popcorn- no question. Whenever someone gave us a tin for a gift when we were growing up, none of us would touch the stuff. It just stayed there, untouched while the caramel corn and butter popcorn would get eaten. I don’t even know where to start with what’s wrong with the cheese popcorn: for one, the cheese coating just tastes so artificial and processed. Number two, it sticks and coats on your hands and turns them orange (blegh, yucky fingers). Three, there’s just something about the cheese coating that makes the popcorn taste stale to me. I’ll pass on the cheese popcorn every time, thank you- 2/10

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Before I even started baking for the Christmas series on the blog, I knew I wanted to make popcorn balls. They’re easy, they make GREAT gifts for friends and co-workers at Christmas parties, you can poke holes through them and hang them on a tree for decoration, and there are so many different flavor combinations that you can use when putting them together. I did two flavors this year, and this was one of them.

Think about a sweetened honey roasted peanut; now think about the saltiness of that peanut meeting and melting with a sticky caramel coating. That’s what these are. Salty, sweet balls of goodness. Think it can’t get better than that? Think again- the stickiness of the coating is tempered by the crunchy outer layer of sesame seeds that the balls get rolled in after they’re molded. So friggin good. I literally had to stop myself after taking an undisclosed amount of bites. They’re kryptonite powerful. So you should get in your kitchen and make some, stat.

Thanks for following our series, and once again: if you’re late to party then feel free to check out the complete list of recipe links for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas below!

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Cranberry-Clementine Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls

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Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn Balls


Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 12 cups freshly popped popcorn (preferably made over the stove)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp. butter, plus 2-3 extra tbsp. for buttering your hands
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1 cup honey roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Toasted sesame seeds, for rolling (about 3/4 cup)

 Directions

1. Bring honey, butter, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar and water to a boil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring.

2. Remove from the heat; using a rubber spatula, stir in popcorn and 1 cup chopped salted mixed nuts until coated.

3. Butter your hands, then shape into balls and roll in toasted sesame seeds, working quickly before balls cool off. Place finished balls on parchment paper lined baking racks to set.

S’mores Popcorn

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Scandalous Day 2

It’s Day 2 of our countdown to the return of Scandal and I’ve got another popcorn recipe for you guys. On a general note, I loveloveLOVE the flavor combination of the s’more. It’s composed of three simple ingredients, that when smashed together and placed over the fire, give you something that is plain out of this world and turn into pure nirvana in your mouth.

The more that I thought about this when I was planning the next recipe for the Scandal series, the more that I thought I’d try to use a s’mores recipe in honor of our favorite Gladiators in Suits: Harrison Wright, Abby Whelan and Huck.

Side Note: I do know that Quinn is not included from this list. No, I didn’t make a mistake. Rest assured,  it’s completely intentional. We don’t have to get into a big discussion about it. Suffice to say, after witnessing her many fumbles & fails throughout the show, as well as her consistent habit of being just plain annoying, I’ve come to the conclusion that Quinn’s not a real Gladiator. At all. So, moving right along…

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Let’s break down the elements of this popcorn while also breaking down the elements of Olivia’s Gladiators in Suits. First, we’ve got the marshmallows, and I’ve decided to associate the marshmallows with Abby. What’s the bad news about that? Well, Marshmallows are all fluff and air.  On their own in a dry state, I really don’t think that they taste like much of anything, except that artificial, processed flavor which I don’t really care for. In the same way, in season 2 I had my suspicions about Abby’s ability to be a true Gladiator when it came to showing her loyalty to Olivia and putting that first, even above her relationship with David Rosen. To me, she spent way to much time on the fence deciding who she was going to stand behind, especially in light of how Olivia really helped her turn her life around after the life she had with her ex-husband. However, when placed under fire, marshmallows lose that artificial after taste and turn into gooey pillows of deliciousness. In the same way, when all the chips are down and Abby is under the fire that threatens her or Olivia, she loses her air of artificiality, and shows herself to be a true Gladiator that’s willing to do what it takes to succeed.

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Melted marshmallow is perfectly good all on its own, but in a s’more, it just won’t cut it. You gotta have the melted chocolate. Mmhmm. We need our Harrison. Everybody loves chocolate. Not only is he extremely attractive, but I don’t know any true Scandal fan that doesn’t love Harrison, from his finely tailored clothes, to his no-nonsense get up and go that refuses to settle for anything but the highest standard when doing his job. I notice that in most of the cases that Pope and Associates handles, Abby and Harrison are usually seen working together as a team to ‘handle it’. Harrison feels like a sort of brother to Abby and frequently does what he feels is necessary to support and help her in the ways that she can’t even help herself. Marshmallows and chocolate are the perfect combination in a s’more, and I think we can agree that Abby and Harrison are a tried and true team when they’re working together.

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I saved the best for last. Melted chocolate and marshmallows are all well and good, but by themselves they just make a big (albeit gooey) mess. They need the sturdiness of the graham cracker to hold it all together. In the same way, Abby and Harrison may be good at what they do, but I think that we all know that the true foundation of Pope and Associates isn’t even Olivia Pope. It’s Huck. We all remember the stunning episode ‘752’ where Huck’s post traumatic stress from being tortured and held captive by the CIA finally caught up with him. Each one of the members of Pope and Associates admitted during this episode that without Huck’s presence, the team just wasn’t the same. They literally needed him- just like marshmallows and chocolate need graham crackers.

Guys, this popcorn is SOOOO good. I literally have to limit myself to a handful ration each time I eat it, to keep me from polishing off the whole bag in one sitting. Like our Gladiators, each element brings something great to the table, but when they’re put together, they’re truly out of this world.

Gladiators Collage

Who’s your favorite Gladiator?

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S’mores {Gladiators} Popcorn

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup white popcorn kernels, plus 4 separate kernels.
  • 1/4 peanut or vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups graham crackers, lightly crushed

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Pour vegetable oil into a large wok or pot over medium heat.*

3. Heat the 4 separate kernels in the oil until one pops. Add the other 3/4 cup  of kernels and cover the pot. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until the popping stops. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Whisk melted butter with vanilla extract and kosher salt; drizzle over hot popcorn.

5. Toss popcorn with marshmallows, chocolate chips and graham crackers.

6. Spread on baking sheets and bake until marshmallows and chocolate are slightly melted, about 2 minutes.

7. Allow popcorn to sit on baking sheets, until cooled, about 30-40 minutes. Keep popcorn refrigerated once cooled off to keep chocolate from melting.

 *You can also use 2 bags of microwave popcorn to substitute for the freshly popped version.

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Cookies and Cream Popcorn

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Scandalous Day 1

I am SOOOO excited to be kicking off yet another themed series on Cooking Is My Sport. This one I’ve decided to dedicate to a special little television show that (hopefully) you all may have heard of, called Scandal.

Created by the brilliant Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy anyone?), Scandal centers around the life and career of the incomparable Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington), boss of a crisis management firm that primarily represent political figures in the public sphere, and handle their embarrassing crises and problems (and subsequently make them disappear).  Olivia is supported by a team of employees- the ‘Gladiators’- that help her smooth out and ‘fix’ the lives of her clients. However, Olivia’s own personal life is more often than not filled with more than its own share of drama and crises and the conflict of the show centers around how she handles (or doesn’t) all of that for herself.

I sincerely hope that I’ll be preaching to the choir for what I’m about to say here. It hardly needs further explication, but I’m gonna say it anyway. Just in case.

Scandal is the show, guys. And I do mean THE show.

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This series on the blog I’ve decided to do is a result of my extreme impatience/excitement/celebration/anticipation of February 27th…the day we’ve all been waiting for: the premiere of the 2nd half of season 3 of Scandal. The food that you guys’ll be seeing over the next few days was in some way, inspired by the show and its characters- some of those ways will seem obvious, while others may not seem so obvious. But don’t worry- as is the case with Scandal, nothing is ever ‘random’ or by ‘coincidence’, and I’ll be giving my explanation for the inspiration behind all the food- and hopefully we can get some lovely Scandal-ous discussion going here as well. (Because the only thing more fun than watching Scandal is talking about Scandal. Right? Of course right.)

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I don’t know about you guys, but in my house every time Scandal comes on, a bowl of popcorn is made. Apparently I’m not the only one who considers this a must. The combination of Scandal, popcorn and red wine is one that many a Gladiator swears by: the shows delivers the thrills and suspense, the popcorn delivers the cure for the munchies, and the wine has the job of mellowing out the viewer from the hour of intense drama that they’re about to see. This is all well and good for most people, but I happen to be one of those freaks of nature that just doesn’t enjoy alcohol that much- even wine. I don’t know why really, but all of it just ends up giving me a stomach ache. And stomach aches during Scandal is a no-go. So yeah, I just don’t ‘indulge’ when it comes to booze. My great secret revealed: I’m a light weight.

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However, I have absolutely no problem with putting away some popcorn. Especially this popcorn. My inspiration for including this recipe in the series should be pretty obvious. Cookies and Cream is a combination of something white/vanilla with added black/chocolate cookies to it. I’m sure that this sounds pretty familiar to Gladiators, right?

Let’s just imagine that the cream and white popcorn in this recipe represents President Fitzgerald Grant III before his election to office. He wasn’t too bad by himself, but Fitz still needed something more to get him to that next level. We all know what that ‘something’ was for Fitz. Olivia Pope. Once he had Olivia, Fitz just went to a whole new level (literally). In the same way, once this popcorn gets the Oreos added to it, it’s just out of bounds. You’ll be lucky if you can actually put it down or want to share with anyone.

And now that I’ve beat this metaphor to a pulp, let’s just let this recipe be called the ‘Olivia and Fitz Popcorn’ and leave it at that.

Any ‘Olitz’ fans? Where do you think their relationship will be going in the second half of the season?

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Cookies and Cream {Olivia & Fitz} Popcorn

Recipe Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup white popcorn kernels, plus 4 seperate kernels.
  • 1/4 peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 cups lightly crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (such as Oreos)

Directions

1. Pour vegetable oil into a large wok or pot over medium heat.*

2. Heat the 4 separate kernels in the oil until one pops. Add the other 3/4 cup  of kernels and cover the pot. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until the popping stops. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Warm sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Drizzle over the hot popcorn.

4. Toss popcorn with the crushed sandwich cookies. Spread onto a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Allow to sit until fully dry, about 30-40 minutes.

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