It’s difficult to be at work this time of year when there are so many things to be done on the holiday to-do list. I just want to be home cooking.
I’ve always wanted to take the entire month of December off to fully enjoy my seasonal roles as Mrs. Santa, shopping and wrapping perfect gifts; Martha Stewart, decorating the entire house, and baker, making delicious Christmas goodies for everyone in my life.
When I see all the holiday recipes on-line and in magazines, I want to make everything that catches my eye. I want to bake bread, fancy pastries and hand dipped special chocolates. I want to be able to have the time to make a crazy number of goodies like I did every year for so many years, somewhere around 13 different varieties.
Secret: I don’t like to make cookies at all, but I know the people in my life sure do like to eat them. I want to invite all my friends over for fabulous holiday get-togethers and prepare them memorable feasts. Someday I will retire from my office job and will be able to.
I am always on the look-out for visually dazzling and delicious treats to make. The New York Times food writer Melissa Clark is one of my favorites, and this recipe for maple caramel corn is just plain addictive.
I have been a fan of caramel corn ever since I was a girl and Mom would take my sister and me to Caramel Crisp downtown on Main Street. You could walk down the street and follow your nose to their shop.
Made from a combination of maple syrup and brown sugar, the rich, buttery caramel on this popcorn has a brittle, candy-like crunch that’s heightened by plenty of toasted pecans added alongside. (Cracker Jack fans can substitute roasted, salted peanuts.) A small amount of baking soda keeps the caramel from becoming sticky. You’ll need an instant-read thermometer to yield the best result. If you’d rather use an air popper to prepare your popcorn, you can — just skip step two. The caramel corn will keep in an airtight container for at least a week — if it lasts that long.
Maple Pecan Caramel Corn
By Melissa Clark for the New York Times
• 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower
• ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
• 1 cup toasted pecans (see Tip)
• ½ cup maple syrup
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• ⅓ cup light brown sugar
• ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
• ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
• ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.
2. In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil and three popcorn kernels over medium-high with lid on top. When kernels pop, add remaining kernels to pot, lower heat to medium-low, and crack the lid open a sliver, facing away from you, to release steam. (Alternatively, you could cover the pot with a mesh deep-frying screen, or an upside-down colander or strainer.) Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the popping stops.
3. Transfer popcorn to a heatproof bowl, discarding any unpopped kernels. Add nuts to bowl.
4. In a medium pot, bring maple syrup, butter and brown sugar to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter and sugar have melted (the mixture should be foamy). Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat, and stir in salt, vanilla and baking soda. (Mixture may bubble up.)
5. Immediately pour hot syrup over popcorn mixture, and use a spatula to mix it well. Scrape popcorn onto prepared baking sheet in one layer. Bake, rotating the pan after 15 minutes, for 25-35 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when you can remove a piece of the popcorn, and after letting it cool for about a minute, it’s crisp when you bite into it. Taste and sprinkle lightly with more salt if you like. Let cool before serving.
• To toast pecans, spread them in one layer on a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until they darken slightly at the edges and look golden inside if you break one in half, 8 to 13 minutes. Stir once while nuts are roasting.
The Other Fisherman loves peanut butter, and anything made with it. This is his all-time favorite. Our next-door neighbor used to make it for him every year before she moved away. Now we try to make it, but we remember hers as the best ever.
Deb’s Peanut Butter Fudge
Line an 8 x 11 pan with aluminum foil with the foil draping over the ends of the pan. This makes it easier to lift the fudge out of the pan after it has cooled, and you don’t have to grease the dish. I use a glass Pyrex dish and it works great.
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk (one of those small cans)
1 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (if you don’t like crunchy, use creamy peanut butter, but I love the crunchy).
7 oz. jar marshmallow cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Bring sugar, butter and evaporated milk to a rolling boil over medium- medium-low heat, stirring constantly. This takes a while and you don’t want the mixture to burn, so keep stirring. Once it comes to a rolling boil, stir for 4 minutes and until the candy thermometer reaches 236 degrees.
Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter for a minute or so, then add the marshmallow cream and vanilla until it’s all stirred in and smooth. This takes a lot of stirring, so don’t give up.
Pour into foil lined prepared pan. Cool to room temperature. Lift fudge out of foil lined dish and cut into pieces. Enjoy.