I'm so happy to have you here with me sharing the delicious journey I have chosen! I am Carrie, a mom on a mission to find bliss in the kitchen. At least, as long as my kids allow me to. More of a baker than a cook, you'll find I love experimenting--baking is sort of like a mad scientist experiment, anyway, isn't it? It doesn't always turn out the way I plan, but that's part of the fun. ;)
We’re down to the wire here. Christmas is hours away now and the stores are mobbed with last-minute shoppers. And there’s nothing I dislike more than crowds. I have a strong fear of being buried alive–and shopping on the day or two before Christmas feels a little too much like being buried alive.
You’re in luck, though! You probably already have all you need right in your kitchen to make the perfect gift for those who remain on your list: Salted Whiskey Caramel Corn. Homemade is better than anything store-bought anyway, right? Who needs those brightly-colored tins of stale popcorn when you can make your own scrumptious caramel corn at home. And by making it yourself, YOU control the ingredients–which means better flavor (especially with the addition of a bit of Irish whiskey!).
I highly recommend paying the little bit extra and using Kerrygold butter for this recipe. The butter you use will make a huge impact on the overall flavor of this caramel corn, and Kerrygold’s grass-fed Irish butter can’t be beat! You’re worth it–and so are your gift recipients!
Merry Christmas! May your holiday be full of joy and love!
Pop your corn however you prefer to get about 10 cups of popped corn. I have one of those Whirly Pop things that has a hand crank to help toss the kernels around inside so the heat is more evenly distributed, so I added the coconut oil and popcorn kernels to that and popped my corn. Dump popped corn into a large, heat-resistant bowl, add the pecans, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray and set aside.
In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter over medium to medium-high heat.
Add to it the brown sugar, corn syrup, and sea salt and stir until it starts to boil.
Boil for 4-5 minutes without stirring. If the caramel isn’t dark enough after the time has elapsed, you can cook it longer, but watch it carefully; it will go from perfect to burned in no time if you’re not paying attention.
Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract, whiskey, and baking soda. It will bubble up, so be careful not to get burned.
Stir until smooth, then quickly pour over the popcorn and pecans.
Toss the popcorn and pecans to coat evenly, then spread half in an even layer in one prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other.
Bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until it has reached desired dryness. Every 15 minutes, rotate pans and toss the popcorn a bit, breaking up any big pieces.
Disclosure: Kerrygold Cheese & Butter provided me with butter to develop a recipe for a contest they were running (which this recipe ultimately won!). No other compensation was received for this post. All photos and opinions remain my own.
With Christmas only a few weeks away, we decided to try our hands at making candy canes this month for First on the First–a terrifying challenge, at least to me. Any time you’re handling burning hot lava and trying to fashion it into something edible, I get nervous. And let’s not forget, I wasn’t exactly lucky the last time we tried candy-making.
Searching the internet, you’ll find a lot of articles on how big companies make their candy canes, but not many from the home cook’s perspective. It could be that this is an exercise in insanity–the yield isn’t particularly high compared to the perceived work involved. Or it could just be that, with candy canes being so inexpensive, few people feel it’s worth attempting them. It’s not like you’re saving a whole lot of money here–in fact, you’re probably spending more by making them yourself. Regardless, there’s a certain satisfaction from presenting a project from your own kitchen that can’t be beat. So we marched on, timid but hopeful.
It’s important to note that this is not really a project to be shared with younger children. Candy-making, in general, involves precise (scalding hot) temperatures and quick movements. Let the kids help you with the sugar cookies and leave the candy canes to the adults. The kids will be more than happy to assist in eating them once they’re completed.
I’m not a fan of corn syrup, given the likelihood that it is genetically modified and I’m still not sure how I feel about ingesting such things. But many candies are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make with substitutes. They’ll crystallize, the texture will be all wrong, and you’ll just end up angry and frustrated. This is a once a year thing; I can accept it. (You’d be eating it in commercial candy canes, anyway.)
Hand protection is important. Because you have to act when the candy is pliable, it will be quite hot. Get some of those $1 bin tight-fitting gloves, cover them with non-latex food-safe gloves, and oil up. You’ll have to suck it up to play this game; as candy cools, it turns brittle and you won’t be able to work it anymore. If it cools off too much, you can set it in a low-temperature oven to warm it up again. The recipe I used suggested 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’ve seen as low as 170 degrees Fahrenheit recommended. I’ve also heard that you need to be careful about letting the dyed portion of the batter sit too long in the oven, so keep that in mind when you’re planning it all out.
After reading through several recipes, I selected the one from Bay Area Bites for my experiment. It had the best explanation I could find and better estimates of how long each step would take. Plan on an hour to an hour and a half of uninterrupted time to devote to the candy canes. That’s not always easy to do, but I luckily found a kid-free morning to tackle it.
Before we get to my version, why don’t you check out how the other ladies’ candy canes turned out here:
Alright. Are you ready? This will go fast. Read through it a couple times before you start, because there won’t be time for second-guessing once you’ve begun this journey. Hold on tight! Let’s hope it’s not a bumpy ride!
vegetable oil for greasing pans, tools, and gloves (and gloves!)
3 cups granulated sugar (the white stuff; there are less impurities to mess up your project)
1 cup light corn syrup
⅓ cup water
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons peppermint oil (not extract; you can find this at Michael’s stores, if you’re having a hard time sourcing it; it comes in convenient 2 1-dram bottle packages, which is exactly how much you need)
green food coloring (some suggest gel colors, but this recipe actually said about ⅓ bottle of the regular little food colorings, so that’s what I used)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Heavily grease two rimmed baking sheets, a bench scraper, kitchen shears, and (in the absence of kitchen shears) a very sharp knife. Line your work area with parchment paper or a Silpat (that’s what I used) for the candy canes to cool on. Put one of the prepared baking sheets in the oven to warm.
Grab a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add to it the sugar, corn syrup, water, cream of tartar, and salt. Stir, then clip on your candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Do not stir again. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan, as needed. Cook the syrup until it reaches 310 degrees Fahrenheit (hard crack stage).
Get your gloves on!
Pour the syrup on the room temperature baking sheet and drizzle the peppermint oil over it. Use the bench scraper to work the oil into the syrup by scraping the bottom of the candy and folding it over the top. Do this several times, trying to distribute the peppermint oil throughout the syrup, before adding the vanilla and repeating. Keep cutting and folding until it becomes pliable, then cut in half. Put half on the heated baking sheet in the oven to keep it warm. This is the half that will be dyed later.
To make the white portion of the candy canes, you don’t need any dye; the color will develop as you pull the candy (in fact, that will be an indication that you’ve pulled it enough).
Generously oil up your hands–it’s time to get your work-out. Scrape up the candy into a ball and stretch it out into rope with your hands. Fold it over on itself, twist it, pull again, repeat. Go as quickly as possible–again, you can’t let it cool off too much or you won’t be able to work the candy (it will be hot, so you’ll want to work quickly anyway). As you continue on, the candy will change color and gain a sheen. Once it has turned white, return it to its baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.
Remove the other half of the batch and pour the green dye over it. You’ll need a lot, but you can adjust it to how pure you want the color to be. I used ⅓ of a tiny bottle of regular ole food dye. Use the bench scraper to work the color into the candy. You don’t need to pull this half of the candy. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to warm it up.
Once the candy is warm enough to work with, remove both halves from the oven. Roll each half into logs and cut them into 4 pieces. Take a white and a green piece, then return the rest to the oven to keep them warm. (They may melt back into a blob again; just cut off pieces as needed.)
Line up the green and white pieces next to each other, press together, then begin twisting them, working as thin as you’d like. Use the oiled kitchen shears or sharp knife to cut every 4 inches. Work a hook into each section, pinch the ends, and place on the parchment paper/Silpat to cool completely. Continue working with the rest of the twisted candy.
Repeat with the remaining sections in the oven, working with a pair of pieces at a time. If they start to get too cool to work with, return them to the oven for a few minutes to soften up.
Cool completely before consuming (about 15 minutes). Wrap each candy cane with cellophane or plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Candy will last for a few months.
*When you add the peppermint oil, prepare for a good cry fest. It was worse than any time I’ve ever chopped onions. At least my sinuses were good and clear after. And my house will smell great for eternity. Or at least through Christmas. **Everything will require a good soaking after. Including any burns (not that **I** burned myself or anything…).
So how’d that go? I’d love to see the candy canes you make! (I’d also love to play around with the flavorings–they don’t have to be peppermint or red and white!)
Next month we’ll be making Sticky Toffee Pudding. I have never even tasted this before, so I can’t wait to make it and see what it’s like! If you’d like to join us, check out the First on the First tab above for details. We’d love to have you at the table!
Not being a morning person, breakfast can be a whirlwind in our home. Luckily, my kids have been making their own breakfasts for ages. Unluckily, it often consisted of boxed cereal, which is a compromise I make in that I buy organic or non-GMO boxed cereals for them, but I still am not entirely thrilled about it. There is a better way to get nutrition in them! And Coconut Pecan Overnight Oats are it!
I’m sure you’re thinking that you don’t have enough time for steel cut oats. They take so long to cook, after all! I promise you, you can have your oats and eat them, too! This actually was a weekly ritual for me for a while. Sunday night, make the oats. Flavor and fill Mason jars with them, then line them up in the fridge for my daughter. In the morning, all she had to do was grab a jar, dump the contents into a bowl, then reheat at will. Easy!
But then we started the “microwave experiment” and the daily dose of oats fell to the wayside. With limited counter space and only one electrical outlet to share, we removed our microwave from the kitchen for 4 months. It was supposed to be a permanent change; a giving up of convenience and gaining an appreciation for the traditional ways things have been done. It didn’t last. I brought my Keurig in to work in order to get the microwave back–and I don’t regret it!
The jars last long enough for you to line up a week’s worth of school- and work-day breakfasts as you get ready for bed Sunday night. After that, it only takes a little while in the microwave to rejuvenate them. You could probably reheat the oats on the stove top, too, but that seems counter-intuitive. If you’re going to dirty a saucepan, you may as well make them fresh every day instead of working on overnight oats. Maybe it’s just me…?
Here’s to a wonderful day started with a hearty breakfast!
We’re getting cheesy this month for First on the First! With homemade cheese, that is. Taking something into our own kitchens that we’ve only trusted professionals with before.
After reading The Whole Fromage for my virtual book club, From Left to Write, I became quite enamored with the idea of cheesemaking. France has this wonderful history of regional cheeses–hundreds, in fact–varying from village to village. I wish I could say I have intimate knowledge of a rich tradition like this, but alas, I do not. The oldest recipe in my arsenal comes from my mom–a method for making mac and cheese that we both learned from the high school Foods department. We just don’t have recipes passed down from generation to generation like that, and certainly nothing having to do with manipulating milk.
There was a short period in my life when I entertained the thought of raising goats. (And llamas. And chickens. For some reason, I seem to think I’m a farmer.) I went on a bender viewing The Fabulous Beekman Boys last year, fueling the fire. Reading The Lost Husband contributed further to my fantasy life. Romanticized ideas about goat farming danced in my head, squashed immediately by a husband dead set against any agricultural lifestyle I could imagine. It’s not meant to be.
What I didn’t realize is that I didn’t need the farm to make the cheese. Or massive caves in special terroir, either. Simple tastes could be satisfied with simple cheeses, right from my own kitchen.
Cheese is much more of a scientific journey than an interpretive dance. Exactness is key, often right down to the temperature reached and for how long sustained. This can pose some bigger challenges for neophytes. Kate‘s cheese, sadly, did not survive the process. She’ll share her experience with us in her Weekend Whisk wrap-up on Saturday. Anna expressed some concerns about hers, as well. More forays into the First on the First-ers’ cheesemaking can be found here:
Next month we’ll be twisting and turning away… making candy canes! Just in time for the holiday season! If you’d like to join us, click on the #FirstOnTheFirst tab above for more information. The more, the merrier!
And now, my homemade cheese. I discovered the method on The Italian Dish. While this isn’t a “true” ricotta in that it wasn’t started with whey from already-made cheese (ricotta meaning, literally, recooked), the end result is a close-enough substitute for the real deal, and certainly superior to supermarket alternatives. The procedure is quite easy and other than some babysitting of the pot to ensure you don’t scorch the milk, there isn’t a whole lot to it–including no need for thermometers and precise timing of a multitude of steps. This is the perfect cheese for the first-timer. Bolstered by this success, I’m looking forward to delving deeper in the future.
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon should be sufficient)
Place a wire mesh strainer over a 2-quart bowl and line with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Set aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan (I used my 6-quart enameled cast iron pot), whisk together the milk, cream, and salt.
Cook over medium to medium high heat, stirring often, until it comes to a rolling boil. This will take a while. Be patient and don’t rush it, or you will ruin the milk.
Once the milk has achieved a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the lemon juice.
Stir constantly, continuing to cook for 2 more minutes.
Ladle the curds into the cheesecloth-lined strainer, allowing the whey to drain through into the bowl.
Let sit for about 20 minutes before transferring to a covered container and refrigerating. (You can let it drain longer, but it will be dryer; conversely, less time draining will make a moister cheese.)
Use within 48 hours.
*I highly recommend going with the highest quality ingredients possible here. If you’re going to go through the effort to make your own cheese, you may as well make the best cheese possible. Organic milk, therefore, is a must here. Next time, I will be trying to make this with raw milk. *The whey that remains can be used in breadmaking as a liquid replacement. Since there is no rennent in this cheese, however, it cannot be used to make other cheese.