Holiday Giving: Oven Toasted Caramel Corn

jar of caramel corn

Back in the days when we were still allowed to bring homemade treats to school for holiday parties, my mom would make honey butter popcorn. She would pop enough corn to fill a clean brown paper grocery bag, and boil brown sugar, honey, butter, and vanilla extract together.

When it was thick, she’d pour the hot syrup over the popcorn, tossing vigorously with a long handled wooden spoon. The popcorn would also get a generous sprinkling of salt as she stirred the syrup in. As soon as the coated corn wasn’t molten hot, we’d be allowed a few tastes.

popping corn

When it was cooled enough to handle, but not entirely firm, she’d portion it out into plastic sandwich bags and tie them off with the colored ribbon that you could curl with a scissors blade. I was always excited to share that popcorn with my friends at school, thinking it the very best offering possible.

These days, I still think that crisp, sweet popcorn is one of the very best treats around. It’s one of those things that I love to make but only cook up a batch when I know I can move most of it out of the house immediately. My self control wanes when there is caramel corn within reach.

caramel popcorn sheet tray

Last Saturday, some dear friends had their annual holiday party. It’s an event that features a wide array of delicious, sugary, holiday-themed confections and I needed something worthy to add to the spread. After a quick appraisal of my pantry stores and the amount of time left before we needed to leave for the party, caramel popcorn was the winner.

These days, I use an approach that marries how my mom would make hers, with the low heat toasting that Molly Wizenberg wrote about some six years ago. It results in a crisp, deeply caramel-y corn that keeps its texture best if you stash it in jars or zip-top bags the moment it is cool.

top of caramel corn

This popcorn also makes a terrific addition to holiday cookie plates and gift bags. If you’re mailing out treat boxes, a quart bag of this corn bulks out your offering without increasing your shipping costs much. It can also serve as an edible cushion for more fragile baked goods and jars. Pair it with a bag of Eleanor’s roasted Chex Mix, for the pinnacle of sweet and salty.

Before we get to the recipe, a note. There is a suggestion in the very back of Food in Jars that you infuse flaky sea salt with vanilla beans. If you’ve made it and have a jar kicking around, make sure to use it on this popcorn. The subtle hint of vanilla you get from the salt makes a darned fine addition to the popcorn.

Oh, and just one last thing. If you are looking for a good way to make stove top popcorn, may I suggest the Whirley-Pop? It is definitely a unitasker (forgive me, Alton Brown), but I love mine with an unreasonable amount of passion. If you are a popcorn lover looking to break your dependence on the microwave stuff and have a sliver of spare storage space, you should get one.

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Giveaway: ToGoJar Lid and Connector

to go jar single

This week, I’m giving away three ToGoJar lids. These nifty jar lids/connectors allow you to screw together two jars. This is one of those products that I wish has been around when I was packing my lunch up into jars each morning (a jar of soup with an accompanying stash of crackers leaps to mind as a good use for these).

to go jar with lid

The lids don’t themselves provide a liquid tight seal, but they’re designed so that you can settle a regular jar lid into the top, which when well-tightened, will protect from most leakage.

to go jar stack

Right now, these lids are available only through a Kickstarter campaign (it wraps up in nine days), so if this is something you’d find useful, make sure to hop over there and support them (getting some lids in the process).

I have a three of the ToGoJars to share with you guys. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share your favorite holiday treat. Linzer cookie? Gingerbread? Homemade caramels? I have handmade treats on the brain and I want to hear about yours.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm east coast time on Saturday, December 13, 2014. The winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog by Sunday, December 14, 2014.
  3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left on the blog, I cannot accept submissions via email.

Disclosure: JarToGo sent me a bunch of these lids for review and giveaway. I am keeping two and giving the other three away. They did not provide any compensation.

Links: Thumbprint Cookies, Hard Cider, and Winners

Leftover waffles with peanut butter and pear vanilla jam. Black tea with milk. Clementines.

On Saturday, I realized with a start that I’ve been focusing on the work of the holiday season instead of the joy. So, to remedy that, Scott and I spent an hour time wandering Philly’s Christmas village (even in the constant drizzle, it was nice) and in the evening, we attended a holiday party that friends have been throwing for nearly a decade now. Last night, I took advantage of Scott’s absence (he’s off helping his mom get ready to move) and wrapped some gifts to tuck under our (undecorated) tree. Now, links!

pot and trivet

The winners in last week’s Spice Ratchet Blossom Trivet giveaway are…

For those of you who were wondering who won that bundle of books I was giving away a couple weeks ago, it was#380/Tina. I posted the winner at the bottom of the post because I didn’t manage to do a link round-up last weekend.

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Guest Post: Honey-Vanilla Bean Quince Preserves from Camille Storch

filling jars with quince preserves by Camille Storch

I have a big treat today! A guest post from Camille Storch! Camille is a writer, runner, and canner living with her family in rural Western Oregon. Her blog, Wayward Spark, focuses on small agriculture and sustainable living. Camille’s husband Henry is a commercial beekeeper who manages nearly 300 hives in the Willamette Valley and remote areas of the Oregon Coast Range. Through their business, Old Blue Raw Honey, Camille and Henry sell their unique varietal honeys at local events and online (I’ve tasted this honey and it is spectacular).

bag of quince by Camille Storch

I got turned on to quince a couple years ago when I overheard my friend Ana, a pastry chef, ranting and raving about the fruit’s flavor, texture, and rosy metamorphosis in the cooking process. After getting my hands on some, they quickly became one of my fall favorites, and I’ve since tried out a number recipes including quince jelly and spiced quince leather.

peeled and halved quince by Camille Storch

Quince may seem exotic, and the fruits take a little more work to prepare than an apple or a pear, but the flavor of sweetened (perhaps spiced) quince is unrivaled and almost universally appealing.

simmering quince and lemon by Camille Storch

Starting in late September, quince aren’t too hard to come by at farmers’ markets or even grocery stores ‘round these parts. For the last three years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting and harvesting from the quince orchard at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, OR where more than 200 different quince cultivars from all over the world are planted.

reducing quince by Camille Storch

This year, I put off my orchard trip until almost too late in the season, so only a few stragglers were left on the trees for me to pluck down. Luckily, I made off with just enough fruit for two batches of honey-vanilla bean quince preserves and one quince-boysenberry pie.

jars of quince preserves by Camille Storch

The following recipe was inspired by my friend Lisa who sometimes brings me fresh butter from her dairy cows but on one occasion brought me a jar of homemade quince preserves instead. I popped open the jar immediately, and then we sat around the kitchen table chatting and eating through a stack of pancakes smothered in chunky, rosy, quince-y goodness. Later when I asked for her recipe, I got only a few vague instructions, so I had to recreate her genius more or less on my own. Thankfully, the task wasn’t difficult at all.

half pint of quince preserves by Camille Storch

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Gift Guide: Gear for the Small Batch Canner

small batch canning gift guide

In the last week or so, I’ve gotten half a dozen individual requests from people, asking me to tell them what they should buy for someone who wants to start canning in small batches.

Working under the assumption that a list of essentials might be useful to lots of people, I spent a little time this morning rummaging through my kitchen, pulling out my favorite pieces of equipment. These are the things I use regularly, and replace immediately when they break or are lost (things get left behind when you do as many traveling demos as I do).

Starting from the left and then moving clockwise…

  • A basic microplane zester. I prefer this model to the one with a handle, because it has a slightly larger grating area and can be set across the top of a bowl or pan. I use this at least once during every canning project for citrus zest, fresh ginger, nutmeg, or garlic.
  • A stainless steel wide mouth funnel. It’s sturdy, dishwasher safe, and will never melt if left too close to a hot burner.
  • An instant read digital thermometer. I like this ThermoPop, because it’s works quickly and is reliable, but is a more affordable option when compared to other ThermoWorks products.
  • A canning rack, like this Blossom Trivet. My love of this trivet is well documented.
  • Paring knife! On the high end, I like this one from Wusthof. A more affordable but excellent option is this OXO one.
  • A good jar lifter is vital. I find that for this tool, basic is best.
  • Vegetable peeler. These generally make good stocking stuffers, because most people don’t think to replace them, but are always happy to have a new, sharp peeler.
  • I use my potato masher all the time when making jams, fruit butters, and pizza sauce. I’ve used a number over the years, and think that this one from OXO is among the very best.
  • Silicone spatula. Flexible and fully encased in silicone is the way to go. This one from Mastrad is the best and most affordable I’ve found and I like it so much that I own half a dozen (so that I never have to fish a dirty one out of the dishwasher).

small batch canning pots

My canning pot list is a bit simpler. For really small batches, I use a 12 cup 4th Burner Pot. You can stack two wide mouth half pints or three wide mouth half pint Collection Elite jars in it. It’s also great for heating pickle brine, warming stock for risotto, hard boiling eggs (stack ‘em right in the basket), or making a few servings of mulled wine.

To process larger batches, I use a 12 quart stock pot. Most of the time, I reach for this one from Cuisinart. It’s light weight, durable, and can hold up to seven pint jars. However, it’s not the best for processing quart jars. If you think your gift recipient will be doing a lot of quarts, this Le Creuset 12 quart stock pot is a good choice. It’s a bit pricier than the Cuisinart, but is a little taller and skinnier, which means it holds four quart jars with ease.

preserving pots and pans

When it comes to giving a pan for jam making, I suggest you do a little gentle investigation before plunking down money on a spendy piece of cookware (this goes for the canning pots I mentioned above, as well. Many people already have a stock pot that can serve as a canning pot in their kitchen). However, if you know the state of your intended recipient’s kitchen, you want to get them a piece of cookware made from either stainless steel or enameled cast iron.

Any time you’re working with foods that contain high amounts of acid (and all preserves destined for preservation in a boiling water bath will be high in acid), you want to a pan made from non-reactive materials. That’s because the acid present in the food can leach a metallic flavor from reactive metals and spoil your preserves. Non-reactive cookware won’t do that.

Additionally, I don’t suggest non-stick cookware for preserving. If you read the instructions that come with non-stick pans, you’ll find that they recommend that you never use that style of cookware with high heat. When you make jams, jellies, and chutneys, you will be cooking at high heat in order to reach the desired consistency.

Here are the small batch pans I reach for most…

  • A Le Creuset 11 3/4 inch skillet. This is a heavy, expensive pan. I got mine at the Le Creuset outlet in Lancaster County, which made it far more affordable than the ones online. You can also often find these at Marshall’s, HomeGoods, and other discount home stores.
  • A stainless steel, 12 inch skillet. The one I have and use all the time is this tri-ply Tramontina model. However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, they have changed the styling of that skillet and it’s not as functional as it once was. All-Clad makes a nearly identical pan that works beautifully, but it is expensive. A more affordable option (recommended by Cook’s Illustrated) is this Emeril by All-Clad pan.
  • A large, straight-sided saute pan. I have this All-Clad one, but again, it’s not a cheap pan. I got it at Cookware & More, which made it a little less expensive. Of course, because they’re an outlet store, their stock will vary.

Here are my favorites for bigger batches…

  • A 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven. I have an orange Le Creuset one that I adore, but once again, it’s not cheap. If it’s out of your budget, get yourself to a West Elm. They have a 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven and the black one is on sale for $49.99. I bought one recently and have used it a lot. It’s a solid piece of cookware (and I mean solid, that sucker is heavy!).
  • A low, wide 8 quart pan. Of all the pieces of cookware in my kitchen, this may be the one I reach for the most. I have an All-Clad model that I got at the outlet and it’s a workhorse (though I got the Masterchef model, which I would not recommend. It’s got a brushed aluminum exterior that discolors in the dishwasher). A more affordable option is this one from Sur La Table. I have that one in my class kit and it’s been a really durable piece of cookware.

Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint

Finally, what small batch canning kit is completely without a cookbook or two to guide the way? If you’re interested in getting a personalized copy of either book, drop me a note and we can make arrangements!

Oh, and please do know that this post is studded with affiliate links. I make a few cents when you make a purchase using one of those links. Just wanted to make sure you knew!

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Spiced Cranberry Shrub + Tangy Cranberry Applesauce

cranberries

Yikes. It’s been a whole lot of sale, sponsorship, and giveaway posts around here lately, hasn’t it. Let’s get back to the pickles and preserves, shall we?

I know most people see Thanksgiving as the high point of the cranberry season, but I keep buying and using them until the last bag disappears from store shelves. I also always stash a few bags in the freezer for those moments in February when I must have some cranberry bread.

adding sugar to cranberries

Last week, inspired the last drops of liquid left over from a batch of pickled cranberries, I devised a quick cranberry shrub. It is just a combination of cranberries, apple cider vinegar, a little water (since cranberries are so dry, they don’t add any moisture to the party), sugar, and spices. You simmer it all together until the cranberries pop.

spices into cranberries

Once the contents of your saucepan have had a chance to cool (and steep just a bit more), you position a strainer over a large bowl or measuring cup and run the contents of the pot through it. You end up with a very tasty, tart syrup and a sticky mound of berries and whole spices.

spiced cranberry shrub

I like to dip a few spoonfuls of the shrub into a wide mouth quart jar and then fill it all the way up with fizzy water. The sharpness of the vinegar carries the flavor of the berries better than a syrup made without any additional acid and so it takes very little to brighten up a water or your favorite cocktail (I have it on very good authority that 3/4oz cranberry shrub + 1oz whiskey + 3oz champagne makes for a deliciously celebratory adult beverage).

open cranberry shrub

If you choose to make this, I highly suggest that you take those sticky solids and push them through a food mill or fine mesh sieve. You’ll end up with a highly spiced cranberry paste. You could serve it just as it is with some cheddar cheese (packed into a little ramekin) or you could do like I did and stir it into a batch of freshly made applesauce. It adds gorgeous color to the sauce and would be awfully good with a batch of freshly fried latkes (which starts on December 16).

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