Caramel Chocolate Popcorn

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What happens why you make popcorn on the stove, but do not measure the amount of popcorn kernels involved? You get too much popcorn and get sick of eating it.

This happened to me. As a cure, I took the left over popcorn (already salted, mind you) and turned it into dessert. This will be happening regularly from now on.

Caramel Chocolate Popcorn

1/2 stick of butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cups popcorn (I did mine on the stove and added salt to it)

1/4 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. In the meantime, put tin foil on a cookie sheet and spread already popped popcorn on the sheet. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. As soon as it is melted, add the brown sugar. Stir until that is melted and the mixture is bubbly. Remove from heat. Spoon evenly over the popcorn, tossing with the spoon to coat evenly. Bake for about 15 minutes. When you remove it from the oven, sprinkle chocolate chips over top. The popcorn must still be bubbly and hot, otherwise the chocolate will not melt. Stir with a spoon to coat with chocolate and to help the chocolate to melt evenly. That is all.

Mint Coffee Truffles

A festive gift truffles on plate close up

It’s a little late for these. Maybe this would have helped in time for the holiday season, when I first made them. Or, I could have used the excuse of Valentine’s Day to give you a chocolate recipe.

Luckily, these involve mint. Stock up on the green mints and add a green bow, and they will be a perfect St. Patrick’s Day gift. Yes.

Mint Coffee Truffles

Ingredients:
1 lb. dark chocolate, broken into pieces the best quality you can afford
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon shortening
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup very strong, fresh espresso
Starbrites Peppermints, about 1/4 cup crushed

Directions:

In a double boiler, melt broken pieces of the dark chocolate. If you don’t have a double boiler – I don’t – you can use a saucepan and put a mixing bowl in it, like so. In a separate sauce pan, heat the cream until it is very hot but not boiling. Pour the cream over top of the melting dark chocolate and stir with a spoon as you add it. Stir with spoon until the mixture is smooth. Now, if you want to make a batch of coffee flavored truffles and a batch of plain chocolate ones with a hint of vanilla, you can pour half of the melted chocolate mixture into another bowl at this point. Add vanilla to BOTH mixtures. To ONE mixture add the espresso. Put both bowls in the fridge to cool. Usually this takes about an hour to an hour and a half, but basically you want the chocolate to be hard enough to form small truffle balls.

Once the dough is hard, form the balls and arrange them on a plate or baking sheet. Chill each filled plate/tray as you prepare the semi-sweet chocolate for dipping. Melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips in the double boiler. Be sure that the water is hot, possibly simmering but definitely not boiling. Stir the chocolate until it is smooth and add the shortening. The shortening makes a shinier finished product that looks prettier, but it is not a required ingredient.

Roll the cooled truffles in the melted chocolate over the stove. This is the trickiest part. I use a spoon and kind of flip the truffle in the chocolate, then I carefully remove the truffle with clean hands and place it, dripping with chocolate, on the cookie sheet. They won’t look perfect, but you can try different methods to get them to look as nice as possible. Do this quickly; the longer you take the more difficult the chocolate chips become to work with.

Once you have your truffles, you can sprinkle the chopped mint over some or all of them.

“Apples and Oats” Breakfast On The Go

I’m so excited about this I hardly know where to begin!  So, so happy to have found an answer, finally, to the blank Starbucks stare. You know – the stare that people on restricted diets get when they go just about any where – but particularly at Starbucks because they present the most beautiful pastries in the world?

HEALTHY – DELICIOUS – PORTABLE – GF- BREAKFAST ON THE GO

Some of you might relate to this, or you might think I’m just a little bit crazy after you read what I’m about to disclose. Here goes…

We’ve always had horses, and foxhunting (riding horses to hounds chasing foxes) is an amazing sport we’ve enjoyed over the years. And before you get all perturbed about the foxes, think cat. Foxes have catlike personalities and enjoy outwitting the hounds, often reappearing to observe the hounds chase their scent.  Early frosty mornings. Heat rising from the backs of excited horses. Then galloping, jumping, standing quietly waiting while hounds search brush for scent, and several hours later we’re all spent. A quiet walk back to the trailers, cool down the horses, trailer them home, brush them, and put them in their stalls with some sweet hay,fresh water and, sometimes, a mash.  Mash consisted of oats, apples, bran, molasses, and a little oil. Mixed with hot water and left to soak for a few minutes made a sweet smelling,rejuvenating elixir our horses were grateful for.
Good for their coats, their blood and their attitudes.

“What’s that got to do with anything?” you might ask this queen of bunny trails. Well, this: Apple Oat Bars contain similar ingredients that are good for the hair, the skin, the blood and the attitude. The fact that it’s portable means we can rise early, go work out, shower and head to the office with a big square of this healthy bar to munch on.That’s pretty cool! 

I’ll share the recipe I based this on with you.  I modified it. You’re welcome to try the original recipe. It’s just that I actually don’t know how to follow a recipe without modifying it in some way. Guess I was just born bad. Oh well. A good thing I did was to leave on the apple peel. And another good thing I did was to add some chopped hazelnuts. And here’s why those are good things. Apple peel is the main reason apples are so good for you. Check this out. If you don’t want to bother clicking on that link, do it anyway. You’ll learn a lot!  Hazelnuts (filberts) also have special benefits.  Hmm, and then of course I added more apples than they call for in the recipe and I used gluten free flour and I didn’t add quite as much sugar because I used sweeter apples.

Oh, and one more thing about the recipe. there was no accounting for the 1/2 cup sugar as the directions unfolded.  After the fact, with the sugar still sitting on the counter looking all forlorn, I realized it must belong in the dough, so I added it last. Make sure you add it in with the oatmeal and cinnamon. That would be where it belongs. 🙂

Here’s the recipe from another happy blogger at The Fat Fig. Apple Oat Breakfast Bars. Enjoy, and don’t forget that steamy cup of coffee or tea. I sprinkled my latte with a touch of cinnamon. That, and an Apple Oat Breakfast Bar will make you a happy camper no matter how your day started.

Apple Raspberry Pie is a Gluten Free Wonder

Who’d have thought? Apples make an almost creamy suspension for little jewels of raspberry; a combo never before in my kitchen or on any menu I’ve ever seen before. The flavors melt into comforting warming goodness with no need for sprucing up using spices -of course a dollop of cream or ice cream makes it…Mmmmm – but isn’t that kind of simplicity what makes comfort food comforting?  Making it gluten free is easy if you use the Pate Brisee recipe I posted back in February. That recipe makes enough for two lattice pies. It’s no big deal to replace the flour in the fruit with gf flour.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this, but I’ll tell you a little story and then refer you to the Martha Stewart recipe I (sort of) followed.

A few weeks ago my sister, daughter and I loaded up the car to go visit my youngest daughter (KJ to you). That’s right, my blogging partner. She’s in grad school at a beautiful university in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Late October was gorgeous with the leaves beginning to turn, the orchards full of ripe apples and vineyards offering those emerging wines. We spent a few hours lulling in the sun at this cool orchard where the price of a bushel of apples was shamefully cheap. So I bought Golden Delicious and Red Rome apples, brought them home and have been enjoying them ever since. Here we are. 🙂Yep! It was a picture perfect day, designed for play.

The raspberries were winding seriously down to about 1/2 cup a day. This pie was a way to blend the summer flavors of fresh berries with the fall apples. And it was a great marriage of flavors. Keep in mind that there were no spices needed.  I made this pie twice and the 2nd time I chose to try a deep dish pie. It was equally wonderful and of course used more apples. I always go heavy on fruit and light on sugar if possible. So I barely added as much sugar as the following recipe calls for and added 2 more apples to the pie recipe than she called for. For the deep dish version I added another 4 apples. Used golden delicious and red rome combination. For the pie, like the pastry, I used a gluten free flour mix. My choice is always either Jules or Domata Living Flour.

And (here is a good option to feed more people) this makes a great slab pie, similar to my Strawberry Rhubarb Slab Pie from earlier this summer.

Click here for the recipe: Martha Stewart Apple Raspberry Pie

Autumn Raspberry Custard Tart

Autumn may be here, but she hasn’t whispered that to our raspberry bushes. I love this time of year when the brilliant red berries glow under a still hot sun which – thankfully – arrives mid morning after the mist rises.  The cooling earth and the mist and turning leaves makes me want to savor those precious last raspberries more than I do in June when they seem like they’ll last forever.

At the end of April we had an enormous snowstorm that crushed some of the tender shoots that had begun to green. We had a good raspberry season but I do think we lost about 30% of what we could have had. That’s why there’s no cordial being made from the late crop.  So what should I do with those lovely gems?  I came across some really awesome looking recipes and advice from friends. Everything from “Eat them like popcorn” (which we did) to making jam (the Berry Patch near our home does that the best) to serving under chocolate (excuse me, that’s an every night before we go to bed snack around here).

I wanted nothing but pure raspberry flavor to come through and I could just imagine the raspberries drowned in nothing but cream – but that’s way too decadent don’t you think? said no one ever!

I found this recipe http://foodforpoems.blogspot.com/2010/03/raspberry-custard-tart.html She doesn’t blog anymore, but I like the idea she had about food for poems so I just knew this would be a great recipe.  It turned out perfect but I did change two little things: I filled those raspberries so that you could not see the bottom of the pan at all, and I used the gluten free Pate’ Brisee’ recipe you’ll find in our archives. I should have chilled the dough before I made it but I was impatient.

Here’s to the beautiful raspberry – mine’s Joan J. I think each ripening fruit and vegetable in the garden deserves to be singled out and enjoyed. Pure. Simple. Unadulterated fullness of flavor. That’s what you get in this custard tart. 

Peaches and Cream Angel Food Tunnel Cake is Gluten Free. Yeah Baby!

This is the Peaches and Cream Angel Food Tunnel Cake I just made!

This is the Strawberry Angel Food Tunnel Cake my sister made for Dan and Kelly’s wedding celebration.  It was made from a boxed angel food cake mix.  It looks delicious. I heard it was amazing..except some of us…ahem, ahem…Scott, Missy, Marcia….couldn’t eat it because it contained gluten.

My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow and angel food cake is her favorite. She has committed herself to being gluten free.  For the first time ever in this house ( ‘this house‘ because I did try one years ago and said ‘ehhh, a lot of work and not as good as boxed’) we will have a gluten free angel food cake celebration.  The birthday girl just happens to be coming off a week of liquids because of intense mouth pain  and so the light silkiness of an angel food cake is just what the doctor mother ordered. Maybe I’ll make the same Strawberry Angel Tunnel Cake pictured above, maybe not. We’ll see what the girl can eat.

Let’s go over what makes this cake successful before we get into the fray. Egg whites, sugar and flour are the most important ingredients.

It doesn’t matter if the egg whites are cold or at room temperature. It is the speed used to inflate them that counts, and you don’t have to own a power machine because some people use a wire whisk – imagine that!  Always start the eggs at a low speed and mix until the big bubbles disappear around the edges and the whites barely begin to form what might look like meringue before adding anything else.  In this recipe ingredients are added a little at a time and, using an electric mixer, you never have to go above medium speed.  You’re not looking to spackle the walls with it!

Sugar can be granulated or superfine. I chose superfine because it incorporates more quickly.  Superfine is hard to find so I make mine by whirring it in the blender for a few seconds, just long enough to make the granules less visible.  Adding it slowly assures thorough blending.

Flour is a big deal too.  There are plenty of gluten free options out there and most everyone has their own preference.  I’ve tried most of them and, let’s be honest, I can’t adjust to having flour taste like hummus or cardboard.  With an angel food cake the goal is to have a light silky end product. I turn to Jules All Purpose Gluten Free Flour when I want a superior product.  Her flour is as close to what I grew up with as I’ve been able to find. It’s a big deal to make something where no one has to ask if it’s gluten free.  One flour I used to use tasted like I’d mixed sand into it. It was awful!  Sifting is important with angel food cakes.  Light and no lumps is required. If you don’t have a sifter – I don’t – just whisk it with a wire whisk several times and even whisk it as you add it into the mix.

Slow baking, bottom shelf, turning it upside down once it’s finished and allowing it to fully cool that way for a few hours are all important.

Here goes:

You’ll need about 1 dozen eggs to make almost 2 cups of egg whites only. I found you can freeze the yolks. I did it in baggies of 4 yolks so that I can make things like Hollandaise Sauce and Pasta Carbonara. Pound Cake takes more yolks than whites too.

Place oven rack in the bottom 1/3 of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

1 dozen large egg whites (what ever it takes to equal a little more than 1 3/4 cups)

1 cup Jules All Purpose Gluten Free Flour (my preferred choice)

1 1/2 cups superfine sugar, divided into two equal *3/4 cup parts

Sift the other 3/4 cup sugar with the flour.

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

The ticket for success with angel food cake is the way you mix it. More power doesn’t equal a taller or lighter cake. I learned that there are many methods to increasing volume and sturdiness of meringue. So follow this and trust me, I’ve done a lot of research…..of course we don’t know how it will taste yet, do we?

Place egg whites in large clean bowl.

Beat on the lowest setting of your mixer until  large bubbles around the edge disappear and soft tight bubbles begin to form a bit of mounded shape. Add in the cream of tartar.

Then add 3/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing at medium speed.

Mix this until the meringue is shiny and soft peaks are forming. Don’t mix till peaks are stiff.

At this point go ahead and add the lemon juice, vanilla and almond extracts.  Mix just until blended. You can put the mixer away at this point and use a firm spatula for the next phase of folding in the flour/sugar mixture.

Fold the flour/sugar mixture and salt into the batter, 3 Tablespoons at a time, until all is folded in and no lumpy flour pockets remain.

This process should take about 5 minutes.

Once this is done you’re ready to pour the mixture into the angel food cake pan that has a removable bottom.  Run a spatula through the batter once it’s in the pan, then tap the pan a few times on the counter to make sure there are no bubbles left in the batter.

Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until it is golden on the top and springs back when pressed firmly.

Oh baby, this looks like the real deal!  We shall see!

Invert the cake over a glass bottle or turn upside down if the pan has prongs on it like mine does.  The goal is to leave it that way for several hours until it is completely cooled to prevent it from falling back into the pan and becoming dense….I mean it IS Angel Food.

Since this cake will probably be covered in whipped cream and currently has little crumbs all over it, take a food brush and dust it off. That way it will be prettier and ready for icing.We’re ready to decorate.  My mother always used fresh flowers rather than making decorations out of icing.  Make sure if you do this you choose flowers and herbs that are not sprayed with chemicals and are edible choices. Mint, lilies, pansies, lilacs, violets, carnations and lemon verbena are some obvious choices and so pretty.

To prepare this tunnel cake take about an inch off the top of the cake and set it aside.Next create a tunnel inside the cake, making sure the bottom stays intact, and remove the pieces. Set pieces aside to be folded back in later.To prepare the filling you will need 15 1/2oz. sweetened condensed milk, 1 cup heavy whipped cream, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1/3 cup lemon juice and 10 oz. chopped peaches (or 10 oz. frozen sliced strawberries) and the cake pieces that were removed.  The birthday girl chose fresh chopped peaches instead of strawberries.  2 more cups of whipped cream are needed to frost the cake.

Mix condensed milk, extract and lemon juice. Fold in the 1 cup of whipped cream. Chill 10 minutes. Take 1 1/2 cups of this mixture and fold in the little cake pieces and the peaches or strawberries. Spoon this mixture into the tunnel.Replace top of cake and prepare for frosting by brushing the crumbs away.

Now is the time to frost the cake. Because I used peaches I decided to add some peachy food coloring to the remaining frosting.  I used a combination of red and yellow to achieve a pretty pastel color.  It’s easier to frost a cake that has had the crumbs dusted off.  The frosting (in this case cream) sticks to the surface better.On to the transformation.  I washed and dried mint leaves and day lilies, then decorated the base of the cake with them.  Gold sugar sparkles made it festive!It was amazing with a touch of fresh raspberry sauce!

Meringue Swirls of Lavender and Lime

All spring we’ve been making these puffy clouds.  Cinco de Mayo brought orange and lemon flavors in red and green stripes; Kelly’s bridal shower produced orange and lime in a pretty apricot shade; today a walk through my garden gave me an idea.  

Lavender is amazing.  Beautiful, fragrant and delightful to cook with.  As a member of the mint family it has a refreshingly astringent taste.  Each year I gather stems just as the buds are opening and hang them to dry.  Then I keep them in airtight containers for cooking.  Pretty soft lavender blossoms are pretty sprinkled over cakes; steeped in milk and then strained out for lavender scones and lavender panna cotta.  When my children were small we’d make a drink called Lavender and Lime.  It was delicious and refreshing  for a summer afternoon by the pond.  Why not swirl lavender and lime zest into meringue cookies?

This morning as I considered how to describe what makes meringue cookies so special (I confess I had never once chosen them from a cookie tray).  Until you sink your teeth…not so, no teeth required… until you press one to your lips you haven’t encountered the beauty of pillows of flavor bursting in your mouth.  If we could dine on clouds!Elle snapped this photo at a  picnic in the Laurel Highlands.

Don’t be frightened by past meringue failures. Meringue always flopped for me until I finally researched.  If you think meringue is difficult this recipe should help.

SOME TIPS

1. Egg whites room temperature and not fresh from the hen

2. Oven temperatures very low and it takes a long time

3. Best to use metal or glass bowls

4. Even a tiny amount of egg yolk or fat/oil will prevent eggs from whipping properly

5. Don’t do this when it is humid in the house.

If this information discourages you maybe you should not try these – but come now – are you kidding?  Think of it as an art experiment.

8. There are three methods of making meringue: Swiss, French and Italian. I encourage you to look this site over http://www.epicureanpiranha.com/2010/meringue-types-techniques/. She has done her homework.  I’ve tried them all and they all work as long as you apply the aforementioned 5 rules.

While this recipe uses lavender and lime, you can just as easily make them vanilla bean, orange, lemon, almond; use your imagination and have fun.

*The tiny holes you see in the meringues I made are because I did this last night and I think we were at 80% humidity. Should have seen that one coming – we’ve had torrential rainfall since midnight.

YOU WILL NEED:

4 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or vinegar

pinch salt

2 tablespoons dried lavender buds

1 teaspoon lime zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 vanilla bean, scraped

parchment paper or Silpat

food color gel

small paint brush

pastry bag and large tip (I’ll show you)

Great tool!

METHOD:

Divide eggs. Save yolks for something like Pasta Carbonara or pound cake

Take the lavender buds and sugar and whirl them in a food processor until they are blended and the sugar isn’t completely powdered but fine. Then stir in the lime zest.To the bowl of room temperature egg whites add the cream of tartar/vinegar, vanilla and pinch of salt.  With electric mixer beat whites at high speed for about 30-45 seconds until white and foamyContinuing to beat on high speed add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. Beat just until all is incorporated.  Following are some photos that will show the stages the meringue goes through until it is ready. It has to be very firm to hold it’s shape through the baking process.

Starting to hold shape

NOT YET

PERFECTION!

At this stage the meringue can take on any shape at all and hold it beautifully.

Now how to make those swirls:

Take the assembled pastry bag with the large tip on the end, lay it on the counter and make sure it’s open.  If you use a jar, take a tiny paint brush and draw three very thin lines, spaced evenly, up the sides of the bag -starting from down at the base and draw lines to about two inches from the top.  If you use a tube of gel it will make a perfect line, no brush needed. Then place the bag carefully inside a sturdy glass or something similar so that you can fill it with meringueCarefully fill the bag with meringue, pushing it gently down to the bottom.  Don’t worry if a little of the gel smears, it will still work.Twisting from the top to add pressure and force the meringue out, start making small circles on the silpat or parchment on a cookie sheet.  As you make the circle use less pressure as you reach the top and allow it to form a peak.Space them just so the edges don’t touch.

Place them on the middle rack of a preheated to 250 degree oven (for meringues that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter).  If you choose to make larger meringues you may want to use a 300 degree oven.  Bake them for somewhere between one and two hours, checking to see that they don’t brown.  The goal is to cook them very slowly, which allows them to dry thoroughly.  It is advisable to then turn the oven to off and let them remain in the oven with the door closed for several more hours or over night.  A test when you are checking them is that they don’t feel at all sticky when touched lightly.  And beyond that test is that they don’t adhere at all to the parchment or silpat when lifted.  When all that is good, turn off the oven and leave them to finish drying.  Not doing this will result in gummy or deflated meringues-pillows-clouds

Orange and Vanilla Bean Meringues – why won’t this photo turn upright?

Giant Lemon and Orange Meringues make pretty Bridal Shower favors