Caramel Puff Corn – Now With a Hint of Maple!

Tis the season for all things savory and sweet, and I would be remiss if I did not, once again, share this most favorite of gathering sweets – caramel coated puffed corn – now, as the title suggests – with a hint of real Maine maple syrup!

In the years I’ve been making this treat, I’ve also learned a thing or two, which has greatly helped in preparation and clean up.

Number 1: Low and Slow. You can make the caramel just as easily over low heat and

without the chance for burning and bubbling over.

Nice deal , in my book.

Number 2: Good, heavy non-stick sauce and baking pans make clean up a snap, and no nasty burnt sugar bits to deal with.

Also a nice deal.

So, that said, let us make some “Corn Crack” as it is known among my friends, because this stuff is wicked hard to resist.

INGREDIENTS
•1 (8 oz) bag corn puffs (look with the chips)
•1 cup butter (no substitute)
•1 cup brown sugar
•1/2 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup – or corn syrup
•1 tbsp real maple syrup
•1 tsp baking soda

OPTION:
•1 or 2 cups almonds, pecans, or peanuts

Heat your oven to 250º and add the corn puffs and nuts, if adding them to a large, heavy anodized aluminum roasting pan (best results – if you don’t have one, consider making the investment; I got mine almost 20 years ago at Costco and have never looked back.

In a large, heavy, also non-stick sauce pan, melt the butter with the brown sugar, maple syrup, and Lyle’s Golden Syrup over low heat, stirring every now and again, until everything has nicely melted together.

Next – and here is where that low heat treatment really saves the day – stir in the teaspoon of baking soda.

The caramel will lighten and foam up, as you can see here; but the low heat allows you to control the foaming and helps keep it all from boiling up and out of the pot.

Always a good deal, if you ask me.

Allow the caramel to come to a simmer and let bubble for two minutes, stirring often.

Pour the caramel over the corn puffs and nuts (if using) and stir to mix.

Don’t worry if, at first, it all looks kinda splotchy like this. Three sets of baking and stirring will fix you right up!

Pop into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan, give it all a stir – see? The caramel is already more uniformly spread, then pop the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes.

Remove the pan, stir again, and pop back into the oven for one, last, 15 minute bake.

You caramel corn is evenly coated and ready to eat – or – set aside to cool completely and store in two, one gallon, zipper storage bags until needed.

I think that you will find it is needed a heckuva lot! Happy holidaze!

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No Bake, Gluten-Free Cheesecake

Every gathering needs to have a little sumpin’ sumpin’ sweet at the end, most particularly at this time of year; so when we set the date for our holidaze Book Club lunch, I set to thinking about a dessert.

Our friends with gluten issues give me a lot of leeway with the menus, but I still try to keep their digestions in mind so…

Iberian Meatballs worked a treat (and that sauce!). Horseradish and Citrus Salad was also a pretty bit hit.

Then, there was dessert.

I adapted the Cheesecake Cups I first made a couple of years ago, choosing to use some tasty already flavored whipped cream cheeses, and, in place of cookies, Book Club memebers seemed quite pleased with the Swozzled Cherries.

In all, a fun, festive dessert – full of flavor, and rich enough that a small scoop is plenty for most folk.

INGREDIENTS
•8 oz cream cheese, softened
•8 oz salted caramel cream cheese spread*
•7-1/2 oz honey pecan cream cheese spread
•1/4 cup sugar
•2 tbsp Bailey’s Espresso Crème
•1 tbsp spiced rum

*Available at ALDI.

Place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and, and mix until well blended.

Transfer to small serving dishes, cover, and stash in the fridge. Or, do as I did and transfer to a covered container, stash in the fridge until needed, then use an ice cream scoop to serve on a dessert plate.

Top with a swozzled cherry or three.

Option: swap out Cointreau or any other favorite liqueur for the Bailey’s.

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Marinated Chuck Steak

I was poking around the meat case at my grocer – as one does – and came across a special on boneless chuck steak.

Hmmm.

Two pounds of boneless – sure, kinda fatty (but still tasty – if done right) beef for under five dollars total?

Why yes, I believe I shall try one out.

But… how to prepare it?

I did some research, and found a recipe for a soy sauce marinade, then cooking on the grill for eight to ten minutes per side.

Only two wee, tiny problems with that:

One: most soy sauce marinades end up tasting, to me, like only soy sauce.

Two: it is December in northeastern Illinois, and even if I could convince my husband to fire up the grill, the door to the deck is blocked by the Christmas tree.

So… I did some thinking, and came up with a solution that turned out really, really well for us.

Note: I used smoked brown sugar, available at specialty shops and Amazon, but regular brown sugar will work a treat as well.

INGREDIENTS
Marinade:
•12 oz beer
•1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
•2 tbsp lower sodium Tamari
•2 tbsp lemon juice
•1 tbsp brown sugar
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•2 garlic cloves, minced
•1/2 cup diced sweet onion

Steak:
•2 lb boneless beef chuck steak
•Sliced green olives (optional)

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

First things first; if you have a meat tenderizer, do use it on both sides of the steak – rotating 90º from one side to the other. If you don’t have a meat tenderizer; you can get a decent one for under $20, so why don’t you? Seriously, you’ll be fine without, but I think it a wicked handy tool for cheap… ermmm inexpensive (value-priced?) cuts of meat.

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the marinade ingredients and blend well.

Add the beef; seal bag and turn to coat. Place on a rimmed plate or platter (for to catch any possible drippage, then refrigerate for 8 hours or (always more better) overnight – giving the bag a flip whenever you think to.

About an hour before you plan on cooking the steak, remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

When ready to cook, heat a pan (or your grill) to medium heat, remove the steak from the marinade – discard the marinade, but any onion and garlic bits stuck to the steak? They’re all good!

Place the steak in the hot pan (heated grill) and, if you’re using them, sprinkle the sliced green olives on top.

Cook for eight to ten minutes per side, then remove from the heat, loosely cover with foil, and allow to rest for ten minutes.

Slice your steak across the grain.

Will you look at that?

Perfectly done (for us – if you like your meat more well done, increase cooking time per side) and perfectly tasty and tender marinated chuck steak.

This would be terrific in fajitas or tacos, but it also worked well with potatoes and slaw.

 

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Holidaze Bonus! Marinated Stuffed Cherry Peppers

These need to rest for a week, so if you’re wanting some cherry pepper goodness for Christmas, you’ll need to make ’em this weekend or early next week.

It’s a good thing they are so easy to make; and as a bonus, after you’ve finished off the cherry peppers, the oil makes a pretty incredible bread dipper and salad oil.

The hardest part of this appetizer might just be finding the whole pickled cherry peppers, but if you have a good Italian deli, they

should be able to set you up.

Of course, there is also always Amazon.

INGREDIENTS
•2 jars cherry peppers
•1/2 lb Provolone cheese, cubed
•1 quart extra virgin olive oil
•1 quart canola oil – NOTE: this is important – don’t try to use all olive oil as it will just turn into a solid block in the fridge
•1 small onion, thinly sliced
•Chopped garlic
•Rosemary
•Bay leaf
•Shaved Parmesan cheese
•1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Note: if you’d like, wrap the cheese prosciutto or pepperoni before stuffing the peppers.

Drain the peppers, discarding the liquid.

Add half of the onion and garlic to a large jar and set aside.

Slice open the cherry peppers and discard the seeds (don’t worry if you don’t get all of the seeds).

Stuff each pepper with cheese trimmed to fit the individual pepper, then close the pepper and close with a toothpick inserted through the center.

Note: if you were wanting to add meat(s), wrap each piece of cheese with a thin slice before stuffing the pepper.

Add the stuffed peppers to the onion and garlic in the jar, then add the rosemary and bay leaves.

Add rosemary sprigs, bay leaves, the remaining onion and garlic, then sprinkle with the crushed red pepper.

Blend the oils together, then pour over the peppers to cover.

Note: the reason for blending canola oil into the olive oil, is that if you use all olive oil, it will turn solid in the fridge, making (I think) it more difficult for the marinade to work.

Arrange the top with the shaved Parmesan to cover, pressing the Parmesan down a bit to cover with the oil.

Cover and stash in the fridge for at least one week.

Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before serving with crusty bread and any other sides you are feeling you need.

Though, truly, a small bowl of these babies and sliced crusty bread is pretty much all you will need.

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Parfait! Dirty Martini Cheese

Do you like Vodka? Olives? Cheese?

Well, then settle down and read on, have I got a cheese appetizer to see you through the holidaze and beyond!

Cream cheese whipped with sliced Spanish olives, seasonings, and…

vodka!?!

Yeah, youbetcha! This is the cheese spread that keeps on giving.

INGREDIENTS
Basic Spread:
•8 oz cream cheese (softened)
•1 tbsp mayonnaise
•1/4 chopped green olives
•2 tbsp olive juice
•1/4 tsp black pepper
•1/4 tsp garlic powder
•1/8 tsp celery salt

Vodka Version:
•2 tbsp vodka
•1/4 tsp olive juice
•1/2 tsp olives

Church Version (no vodka):
•Scallions
•1 tbsp olive juice

Place the cream cheese in a mixing bowl to soften, then add the ingredients of your preferred version.

Note: I always prefer the vodka version, but some folk do not partake, and I like to serve most everyone who comes to my door.

Whip with an electric mixer until well blended, then stash in a covered jar(s) in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or, always more better, overnight to allow the flavors to come together.

Serve straight from the jar, or, for fun, spoon into martini glasses and garnish with more sliced olives. Spread on crackers, breads, endive leaves, you name it.

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Horseradish and Citrus Salad

So…

don’t run screaming from your electronic device, but this IS a recipe for a Jell O molded salad.

The thing is, this salad is actually pretty darned good!

My Aunt Buzz used to make a version of this to serve with her Fractured Taco Casserole; I opted to serve it with fresh veggies and crackers as part of a munchies gathering.

Most folk, to be totally honest, looked at it a little bit askance, but then, they tried it, and all bets were off. My husband even suggested I bring it for Christmas, but I do not think that his family is ready for jello and horseradish just yet.

Too bad for them.

INGREDIENTS
•1 small box lemon jello
•1 small box lime jello
•2 cups boiling water
•1 cup mayonnaise
•1 cup cottage cheese
•20 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
•1 cup chopped pecans
•1/4 cup horseradish
•1/8 tsp salt

Note: I upped the horseradish called for in the original recipe a lot, and my guests thought I could’ve added more, so these amounts reflect the extra tablespoon I should have added to this batch.

Stir the jello into the boiling water until completely dissolve, mebbe a minute or two,  then set aside to rest and thicken on the countertop for an hour.

Note: this would be a great time to drain your pineapple.

When ready to prepare, combine the mayonnaise, cottage cheese, horseradish, drained pineapple, and the salt in a mixing bowl until well blended.

Note: for a smoother textured salad, try running the cottage cheese though a food processor fitted with the metal blade.

Fold in the cooled and slightly thickened jello until well blended, then stir in the chopped pecans.

Transfer the mixture to a mold, cover, and stash in the fridge until completely set, at least two hours.

To release the salad from the mold, dip into hot water for 30 to 60 seconds to loosen, then invert on to a serving plate.

I will admit to loosening the edges of the mold with a butter knife to help things on.

Serve as part of a munchies spread, or, go ahead and try it with my aunt’s casserole or even plain tacos. You may just find yourself pleasantly surprised.

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This Sauce, Though…

First, I made a tasty batch of Iberian Meatballs – a blend of ground pork and Portuguese garlic sausage and other tasty things, sweety darlings.

Then, I made the sauce.

It is hard to describe how such a simple blending of basic ingredients can come together to make such a NICE tomato sauce.

Good as the sauce is, though, it is better with the meatballs.

So, let’s make some sauce, add meatballs, and then let the whole thing rest overnight in the fridge before gently reheating and serving.

INGREDIENTS
•1 tbsp avocado or olive oil
•1 cup diced sweet onion
•1-1/2 cup dry white wine
•2 cans (14-1/2 oz) diced tomatoes
•1 cup tomato sauce
•1 cup sliced Spanish olives
•1 tsp black pepper
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1/2 tsp Cayenne
•1/2 tsp paprika

Warm the oil in a large pan over medium high heat, then add the diced onion anc cook for eight or nine minutes, until the onion is translucent and tender and (mebbe) just a bit browned in places.

Add the wine, turning the heat to high and scraping up any bits of onion stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Cook for a minute or two, then lower the heat, add the remaining ingredients, and simmer for ten minutes.

Add the cooked meatballs, cook for another ten minutes, then serve, or, always more better, set aside to cool, then stash in the fridge overnight to allow the flavors of the meatballs and sauce to really blend.

One of my new faves.

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Iberian Meatballs

Book Club was coming up, and I was hunting for a little sumpin’ sumpin’ different to serve, when I came across a nice recipe for Spanish meatballs.

Thing was, it called for some seasonings that are not my favorites, as well as ground pork and veal.

See, ground pork is simple to find out here, but ground veal is a stretch.

Then, I got to thinking…

I had some of my favorite Portuguese style garlic sausages (Linguiça) from a local market, the aforementioned ground pork, and enough other spices and seasonings that I thought would taste like the region, and set to work.

Note: all linguiça is not the same! Some Wisconsin sausage makers have stuff they call linguiça, but it is way too smoky. These sausages, from my local Jewel, taste the most like the linguiça I could get in southeastern Massachusetts, which has a huge Portuguese community.

INGREDIENTS
•1-1/4 lb ground pork
•20 oz Portuguese sausage
•3 cloves garlic, minced
•1/2 cup gluten-free panko crumbs
•2 eggs
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•1 tsp Seasoned Salt
•1/2 tsp paprika
•1/2 tsp allspice
•1/2 tsp curry powder
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1/2 tsp black pepper

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

Heat your oven to 350º and line two rimmed baking pans with heavy duty foil.

Place the eggs, garlic, panko crumbs, Sherry Peppers Sauce, and seasonings in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until nicely blended. Set aside to rest for five or ten minutes.

Note: just before making the meatballs, I had used the processor to chop dates, raisins, prunes, and pecans to make a Date Roll for the get together. Instead of thoroughly cleaning out; I decided that any little bits of dried fruits and nuts would only add to the overall flavor I was building.

Slice into the sausages and remove the casings. Add to the food processor along with the ground pork and pulse until well and truly blended.

Using a scoop, portion out your meatballs and arrange in a single layer on the baking pans. I used a two tablespoon scoop and ended up with 31 meatballs total. If you’d like to use these as a most excellent cocktail appetizer, go ahead and use a smaller scoop. Just remember to mebbe adjust your over all baking time.

My two baking pans will not fit in the oven side by side; so I placed one on the bottom rack and one on the upper rack, and set the timer for 23 minutes.

Once the timer beeped, I flipped the pans and gave the meatballs another 23 to 28 minutes, until the kitchen was smelling really good, and they were nicely done.

Remove from the oven and set aside to rest while you make the sauce.

Oh, yeh, about that sauce?

It is wicked simple and really far too tasty to share a post with the meatballs that are perfect with it, so…

Check that out, tomorrow!

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Nicely Spiced Eggplant

First things first.

This recipe can be vegetarian, so Ima classifying it that way, but…

even though it is quite good as a vegetarian main course or side dish, it is also, without a doubt, so much better when you add cooked ground pork.

Sorry.

Some things just needed to be said.

Anywho, go vegetarian or go for pork, I think you will find this a very nice new way to enjoy eggplant that dies not involve breading and tomato sauce and cheese.

INGREDIENTS
•Kosher salt
•Olive or avocado oil
•1 eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
•2 tbsp vegetable oil
•2 cups diced onion
•1 tbsp minced garlic
•1 lb ground pork (optional)

Sauce:
•2 tbsp lower sodium Tamari
•2 tbsp water
•1 tbsp Sherry Peppers Sauce*
•1 tbsp sweet chili sauce
•1-1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
•1-1/2 tsp Sambal Oelek
•1 tsp white sugar
•1/2 tsp black pepper
•1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
•1/2 tsp Asian (toasted) sesame oil

*No Sherry Peppers Sauce? No Problem! Simply add a bit of decent sherry (none of that “cooking” stuff) and a dash or three of your fave hot sauce, to taste.

Slice the eggplant, arrange in a single layer on a tray, and salt both sides.

Set aside to rest for 30 to 90 minutes. You note the water beading to the surface of the slices? That is gonna mean you get less soggy, less bitter cooked eggplant. Good deal, right?

After the eggplant has rested, rinse each slice well under cool water to remove excess salt, then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel.

Cut the slated, sliced, then rinsed and dried eggplant into 1/4 inch chunks and heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium high heat.

Add the eggplant chunks and cook, stirring often, for five minutes, until the eggplant begins to brown.

Remove the eggplant using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan and add in the onion, cooking for eight or nine minutes, until tender.

Add the garlic and the ground pork – if you are using it – to the pan and continue to cook, breaking up the pork, until the meat has been thoroughly cooked.

Whisk the remaining ingredients together and add to the pan.

Stir in the eggplant cubes and cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened and most of any liquid in the pan has been absorbed, five to ten minutes longer.

Serve over rice with chopped fresh parsley or sliced green onion.

Our niece likes hers with additional sriracha as well, but you do what you like.

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Spiced Rum Peaches

Adding to my holidaze gift canning, I came across a recipe for “Drunken Peaches” – basically, peaches and simple syrup and brandy.

What’s not to love, right?

Except…

I wanted to add a bit of spice to my peaches, so I picked up a bottle of spiced rum and some whole cloves; figuring that both would do the deed nicely.

INGREDIENTS
•2 bags frozen peach slices, thawed
•1/4 cup spiced rum (per jar)
•2 cloves (per jar)

Simple Syrup:
•1-1/2 cup sugar
•3 cups water

Note: if you want to use fresh peaches, go for it, but I have a lot of holidaze canning to get done and a kindofa tight schedule, so fozen, peeled and sliced peaches worked a treat for me. Two bags made three pint jars.

First, make the simple syrup by stirring the sugar into the water in a small pan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

Bring to a low simmer, then reduce the heat and keep warm while you prep the peaches.

Divide your peach slices evenly among canning jars – as I noted above, two bags filled three, pint-sized jars.

Pour 1/4 cup of spiced rum over each jar of peaches, then add two cloves.

Top each jar off with the simple syrup – leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.

Add lids and bands to each jars, screwing the bands “fingertip tight” – using just you fingertips to tighten the bands – and process in boiling water for 25 minutes.

For best flavor, you should allow the sealed jars to rest for one week.

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