The World’s Best Caramel Corn

I always laugh when I see something called “The World’s Best…”. I mean really, who decides that? What was the research, criteria, who got to cast votes, etc.

This morning I made two batches of caramel corn. It’s the time of year when we start making it for parties, family get togethers, tailgates, office break rooms, etc. Last weekend, one of my daughters said, “Mom, my office is asking for our caramel corn. If I come home on Saturday, can we make it? The recipe has been a family favorite for over 30 years and has received rave reviews time and time again. More than once I’ve been asked, “Why don’t you sell it.” Once I was told that it was “better than Topsy’s” which is a popcorn company in Kansas City, so it must be the “World’s Best”, right?

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and my recipe actually came from my best friend from high school. I’m a native of mid-Missouri where my dad and my daughter are both graduates of the University of Missouri. While I was growing up, dad and mom had season tickets to the Mizzou Football games and after I was married, my husband and I also had season tickets with my high school bestie. At the games, my parents had a great parking connection that made for an awesome tailgate set-up that we got to be a part of. It was at one of these tailgates that my best friend showed up with her caramel corn.

A few years later, I learned that the exact same recipe was on the back of the Jolly Time Popcorn bag, which there’s a little family story about this popcorn. My dad and mom owned a motion picture exhibition company. They joined my grandfather in the family business, and like him, my dad had a dry sense of humor. Dad often came home with movie swag that had been sent from a film company and he really racked up when he and mom attended movie conventions. When we would ask him how he got these awesome items, he would always reply, “I entered a contest about “Why I Like Jolly Time Popcorn.” At one of these conventions, he entered a raffle and won a small sailboat, but the story was the same about winning a Jolly Time Popcorn contest. I should probably contact the company with that story and maybe they would send me popcorn for life or something.

I’m happy to share our family caramel corn recipe and perhaps it will become a family favorite for you too. Enjoy.

Caramel Corn

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1 t. salt

½ t. baking soda

1 t. vanilla

6 quarts popped corn

Pop corn and put in a large roasting pan.  Melt butter in a 2 quart saucepan.  Stir in brown sugar, syrup and salt.  Bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Turn the heat down slightly and boil without stirring for 4 ½ to 5 minutes.  Watch very closely, it will easily burn.  Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla.  Gradually pour over popped corn.  Mix well and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes.  Remove from oven.  If you keep stirring it for a few minutes, it will break up on it’s own to keep you from having to break it up by hand.  Store in an airtight container.

A few notes: Don’t substitute margarine for the butter. Don’t try to use a cookie sheet, it will burn. I use a disposable foil roasting pan and it works great. Because of the butter, cleanup is a breeze.

 

A New Twist on an Old Recipe

When I started this blog, I said it wasn’t going to be about anything in particular, and now here I am sharing another recipe. Lol. Let’s just say I think it’s too good not to share.

When my girls were growing up, the room moms at their school put on a luncheon for the teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. One year, one of the moms provided a recipe for Chicken Enchiladas. It was yummy, the teachers loved it, and it became a family favorite of ours. My mom started making it as well, and I think I made it for mom and dad every time I went home in the past few years before they passed.

One of the things I love about Pinterest, well aside from the fact that you can pretty much find anything, I swear it’s my new google, is that often I find a better way of doing or making things than my old way.

There are a lot of Chicken Enchilada recipes on Pinterest, but recently, I found a recipe called Green Chili Chicken. The ingredients are nearly identical to my Chicken Enchilada recipe, except you don’t use flour tortillas, and since we try not to eat a lot of bread type foods, I was intrigued. Based on other things I’ve tried, and to add another protein,  I decided to add black beans and some crushed red pepper to kick it up. We thought it was “muy bueno.”

Green Chili Chicken

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 can drained black beans (use as much as you like)

1  8 oz pkg cream cheese (slightly softened)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1  4 oz can chopped green chilis

Crushed red pepper (to your liking)

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Place chicken breasts flat in an 8×11 baking dish. Pour the black beans over the chicken. In a medium bowl, stir the cream cheese, garlic powder, cumin, and salt and pepper until blended. Add the green chilis and mix well.  Spread the cream cheese mixture over the chicken and black beans, sprinkle with crushed red pepper,  and top with shredded cheese. Bake on middle rack for 30 minutes or until chicken is done (this will depend on how thick your breasts are.) Watch to make sure your cheese doesn’t brown (you can always cover the dish with foil.)

We scooped the extra sauce on top and  served it with homemade guacamole on top of that.

Enjoy!

Oh, by the way, dinner tonight is the New Orleans Style Shrimp from the Don’t Throw Out the Sauce post from a few months back. The one where you sop up the sauce with French bread 🤦‍♀️

 

 

 

Not My Mama’s Potato Salad

I grew up in a family that quite often had potato salad for family meals. I don’t know if that was because of our German heritage, or it was just a popular side dish at the time. My mom and grandmother made the traditional recipe with mustard and pickle relish, and it was enjoyed by all.

I don’t remember making potato salad much after I was married, but I have always been interested in finding new recipes. At some point while living in Kansas City, I acquired a Junior League cookbook, which contains all kinds of fancy recipes from fancy people. One of those recipes is Sour Cream and Dill Potato Salad, and it has become my go to recipe when I do make it.

This past weekend was the Fourth of July, and there were plenty of family celebrations with my mother-in-law and our girls. My husband and I decided to keep the food very traditional with hot dogs and hamburgers, cherry pie, homemade ice cream, etc.

For one of our meals, I decided to make potato salad, because I consider it to be a “picnic” dish. Apparently, I missed the memo that my family has issues with potato salad. You would have thought I was trying to serve them dog food. When I pulled it out of the refrigerator, my daughter said, “Um, I’m going to have to taste this because I’m picky about my potato salad,” but she did approve. After we sat down and passed the food, I noticed my mother-in-law had taken barely a spoonful, obviously to be polite. She normally raves about my cooking, but not one word about the potato salad. Later, I mentioned to my husband how not much was eaten and he said, “Yeah, I didn’t have any either, you know I don’t like mayonnaise.” And then I remembered that his mother doesn’t either. The sad fact is the recipe has very little mayonnaise in it, you can’t taste it, and they both eat a lot more than they realize in other dishes I make. Whatever, I still love my fancy potato salad, and I will make it again! Here’s the recipe if you like to switch things up.

Sour Cream and Dill Potato Salad

3 lbs. unpeeled new potatoes

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 T. chopped fresh dill or 1 t. dried dill

2 t. chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes until tender.  Cut into bite size pieces, leaving skins on.  Combine remaining ingredients and mix with potatoes while they are still hot.  Refrigerate overnight.

Horses, Paint Cans and The Boonville Gang

If you recognize this, yes it’s a repeat from two years ago when I tried to start writing, but there was just too much happening with my parents. I still love the story, so I wanted to rerun it for those who missed it. As always, thanks for the support.

This Saturday, May 4, is the 145th  running of The Kentucky Derby, or I like the nickname “The Run for The Roses” which is also a great Dan Fogleberg song. While I am not necessarily a Derby enthusiast, I do try to watch the actual race every year. The one thing I do know, is that the Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Kentucky Derby for nearly 100 years. While other types of alcohol have been used, the Southern cocktail is most often made with bourbon, obviously due to the race being held in Kentucky. If you’re doing it right, mint juleps are served in a silver cup that forms a thin layer of frost on the outside to keep the drink chilled.
I’ve lived in Atlanta, GA for 12 years now, and I don’t know if that classifies me as a Southerner or not, but I knew about mint juleps long before moving to the South.
When I was growing up, my mom had a rock garden on one side of our driveway that was shared with our neighbor since it fell on the property line. Mom and our neighbor collected rocks from vacations and other places, planted different types of plants, and solved all kinds of world problems while playing out there. One of the many interesting things planted in the garden was the herb, mint. It was easily identifiable by its pungent odor and it was impossible to walk past it without catching a whiff. I don’t remember mom using that mint for anything except, you guessed it, making mint juleps. Her and my dad’s recipe originated from their friends, “the Booneville gang” as they refered to them, when they attended the University of Missouri. That Booneville gang swore that this was the best mint julep recipe known to man, and the best part about the Missouri recipe is, you make them in, and drink them out of paint cans.
Now don’t get me wrong, we obviously didn’t grow up drinking mint juleps. It wasn’t until we were of age when the fun began. In fact, probably the best mint julep story took place when my younger brother Brad brought his then girlfriend, and now wife, Meredith, home from college for the first time. It was summertime, and yes, we broke out the paint cans and made Missouri Mint Juleps. What a first impression she must have had of our family who drank out of paint cans.

I’m not sure what the Kentucky Derby folks would think about drinking out of paint cans, but if you’re looking for a little Missouri twist on the Derby this weekend, here is my mom and dad’s Missouri Mint Julep recipe. Enjoy!

Missouri Mint Juleps
In a 1 gallon “paint can” with a bail:
Fill the pail with alternating layers of crushed ice and fresh mint leaves. Add ½ cup sugar. Pour the juice of 8 oranges and six lemons over the ice. Add 1 pint of bourbon to fill to the brim. Put the lid on tight and shake until ice forms on the outside. Grab some straws and pass the can!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I was once a school librarian. It was one of the odd jobs that found me while my girls were in grade school. I’ve mentioned before that my first born was/is an avid reader and the Catholic school the girls attended didn’t have a library. Together, with a few teachers and volunteers, we changed that, and all of the sudden, I had the title of School Librarian.

I fell in love with children’s books on the day our first daughter was born, and the library job gave me an opportunity to be exposed to many more titles and to learn so much about children’s literature. When I began thinking about writing this week’s blog, I couldn’t help but borrow the title of Judi Barrett’s beloved children’s book.

I LOVE Italian food. Like many people these days, we have cut way back on our consumption of bread, pasta, and rice. In fact, our dinners basically consist of a protein and a salad or vegetable or two. For most of my life, I thought it was pasta that I loved, but what I have learned is, a good sauce is where the flavor is, so my Italian craving can be satisfied with a rich tomato sauce. Now I’m not crazy, I still splurge when we go out, especially on bread.

There is a Fresh Market grocery store really close to us and I love to shop there. The displays are glorious, there is an amazing meat and seafood counter, bakery, and lots of delicious fresh made food. Also, they play classical music, which kinda makes me want to sip on a nice glass of wine while I stroll through the aisles.

A while back, I was drooling over the artisan meat and cheese counter and discovered a package of meatballs. They were made from veal, beef, and pork and were sitting in a pool of tomato sauce and the best part was, they were made from all natural ingredients. Heat them up, pair them with a Caesar salad and dinner is served.

After trying them, I thought the meatballs were pretty darn good and you can’t beat the convenience, especially if you’re short on time. I ended up buying them a second time to serve as an appetizer when our family was coming over.

This week, the weather has been cloudy with a chance of rain everyday but one. Yesterday morning as my husband was leaving, I asked if he had any dinner requests to which he replied, “Let’s grill something.” “Well, I said, there’s a pretty good chance of rain. To be safe, I think I’ll pickup some meatballs from the Fresh Market.” “You know, he answered, I’m not that crazy about those, the sauce is too thin and they taste just okay.” Ouch. At least I had bought them and hadn’t made them. So with my mouth still craving Italian, I decided I would look for a meatball recipe and make them from scratch. I decided on one that the ingredients alone made my mouth water.

While I hate to admit that he was right, the meatballs I made were in fact much better than the ones from the Fresh Market. Best of all, they were quick and easy and I’m happy to share the recipe.

One last note, I’m picky about my sauce, but Buitoni Marinara works for me. Again, it’s fresh and all natural and can be found in the dairy case of most grocery stores. Maybe next time, I’ll try making a sauce from scratch as well.

Buon appetito!

Italian Meatballs 

1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs 

1/4 cup milk

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons table salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

1 pound ground beef chuck

1 pound ground mild Italian sausage

1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley or basil (or a mixture of both)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the breadcrumbs in a large bowl and the milk over the top. Mix well. Add the egg yolks, Romano cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic and mix with the breadcrumb mixture. Add beef, sausage, and parsley and mix well with your hands. When fully blended, roll into balls the size of your choice. (I used around 1/3 cup because I wanted them large). Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until done throughout. Size will determine how long this is, mine took approximately 15-20 minutes and made 14 large meatballs.

Serve with a warm marinara sauce. 

I’m Not Crafty, But…

cropped-cropped-img_7621My mom and I had a very similar decorating style. What I mean by that is we liked the same style. Mom had an incredible talent for making her home look like Traditional Home magazine was  coming to photograph for an upcoming issue. I, on the other hand, am pretty good at duplicating a picture that I’ve ripped out of a magazine. However it was accomplished, we both loved traditional, French Country style, with some Victorian antiques added for accents. Mom did lean more formal, where my style is a little more rustic. Our similarities were what made leaving things behind so difficult when we divided up her and dad’s estate.  My sister and I continue to remind each other that “we each filled a 21ft truck and we did the best we could.”

Everything I brought from mom and dad’s has worked perfectly in my home. While difficult to have constant reminders that they are no longer with us, it gives me great comfort to have part of them here with me. One of the things I brought from their home was a pair of wine pictures. They are completely decorative, but I love them and knew I had a place for them.

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The pictures had light gold frames which looked great on mom’s dark walls. I, on the other hand, have light walls, so I knew I was going to either have to reframe the pictures (definitely not worth what it would cost) or attempt to paint them.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen me post pictures of things I’ve made and normally it will come with a disclaimer that “I’m not crafty…but I made this.” Again, my mom was so talented at making anything she touched look like a work of art. Maybe that’s where my lack of confidence comes from? But how hard can it be to paint a couple of frames?

So off to Hobby Lobby I went to find  paint. I knew I wanted a dark brown, and I wanted some of the gold to show through because that’s what most of the frames in my house look like. I found a metallic paint called “rich espresso.” It looked perfect. I brought it home, jumped in…annnnnd it wasn’t espresso AT ALL. It was a rich gold. Ugh. So this morning I headed back.  It’s a good thing craft paint is cheap, as in 82 cents, but that means I drove to Hobby Lobby for an 82 cent bottle of craft paint. Insert eye roll. Thankfully there was a woman working in the area that helped me choose another type and color.

I returned home to make another attempt at my project. I need to insert here that things like this bring out my worst personality traits. One, I’m a perfectionist, so if it doesn’t look exactly how I want it to, I’m not going to be happy with it. And two, I’m impatient. So I began again, and immediately wasn’t optimistic as it didn’t seem like it was going to cover. I took a deep breath and thought, well maybe if I let it dry and add another coat, it will get there…and it worked! After I gave it a second coat it was exactly what I wanted…a flat finish that looked like natural wood with gold accents showing through. Again, patience is not my best quality and there were areas that I kept trying to touch up before they were dry, so I kept messing them up over and over. Lord, give me patience. Right now!

All in all, I’m really happy with the results. The pictures are hanging in the exact same place in my kitchen that they were in my mom and dad’s. I think they would love their new look in their new home.

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Don’t Throw Out the Sauce!

Happy Mardi Gras y’all, and as they say in New Orleans,“Laissez les bon temps rouler!” I’d love to share one of my favorite recipes for Mardi Gras or any day.

I mentioned in an earlier post how much we love New Orleans and one year we spent a very non-traditional Thanksgiving there. One of the dishes we had for our Thanksgiving dinner was Spicy New Orleans Style Shrimp, or sometimes this bowl of goodness is called New Orleans BBQ Shrimp. Whatever you want to call it, it is amazing!

After discovering the shrimp dish in The Big Easy, we began to notice it on other menus in the South and would always order it and were never disappointed. I finally decided I was going to attempt to make it at home and keep trying recipes until I found one that would rival the restaurants where we had enjoyed it.

With a stroke of luck, I hit the jackpot with the first one I tried and it was so easy! The thing I love about this particular recipe is that it goes together in one pan and most of the ingredients I keep on hand. Honestly, the dish is really all about the sauce. You’ll want to sop up every single drop, which is why you serve it with hot crusty French bread. Once when I made it, my husband and I had just a little left and he said, “Don’t throw out the sauce, I’ll put it on my eggs in the morning.” Lol.

I have made this several times to serve as an appetizer, but have also added a Caesar salad or steamed broccoli and served it as an entree. It always gets rave reviews.

One side note, if I’m serving it for company, I do transfer it to a baking dish, so I’m not serving it in a skillet. Enjoy!

Spicy New Orleans Style Shrimp

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb white tiger shrimp
  • 2 tbsp butter unsalted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sriracha hot sauce or tabasco
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp parsley chopped

Instructions

  • Peel and devein the shrimp.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to oven safe skillet, stir and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Remove skillet from the heat and let cool for a couple minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and toss it around so that it’s fully immersed in the sauce.
  • Cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to 4 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Bake shrimp for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with crusty French bread and drizzle with additional lemon juice as needed.