How To Make Your Guests Love You In Five Short Steps

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1. Buy Medjool dates, remove the pits.

2. Stuff each date with a square–or stick–of real Parmesan (1- by 1/4 inch)

3. Wrap each date with 1/3 a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick.

4. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 5 minutes, then turn with tongs and bake 5 to 6 minutes more (until the bacon is crispy).

5. Serve to your very happy guests.

[Based on this recipe.]

“Pass Me Some More of that Devil Corn” (Craft Caramel Corn, That Is)

When I met Derrick and Melissa at Craft in October, our meal ended with a tiny gift from the kitchen. Caramel Corn:

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Longtime readers of this site will tell you that caramel corn has been the bane of my cooking existence for almost two years now. Disaster after disaster leaves me with burnt, globby messes of shrivelled kernals and inedible bricks of sugar. A few months ago, I had my first caramel corn success with a recipe from site reader Christine. But I even messed up that recipe the second time around, cooking the caramel too long (some might say “burning it”) which led to a funny experience in class where trusting classmates scooped up handfuls, stuffed them in their faces, smiled happy smiles until the smoky burn hit their throats and they stared at me like Bambi might stare at a deer hunter.

I’d given up all dreams of caramel corn glory until that tiny treat you see above was delivered to us at Craft. This was exceptional caramel corn. Perfection: silky, buttery, salty and sweet. All the good things life has to offer. I must have this recipe, I told myself. I will call and ask someone for it when I get home.

But call I did not. Instead, the same must-remain-nameless benefactor who sent me the Balthazar Cookbook sent me the Craft Cookbook. And lo and behold, the caramel corn recipe is on page 240. I attempted this recipe last night to bring to class today. How did it come out? Click ahead and learn the answer.

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The Smoky Aftertaste of My Semi-Burnt Caramel Corn

Two days ago, on a generous late night whim, I had the idea of making caramel corn for my thesis class because (a) who doesn’t like caramel corn? and (b) our thesis instructor is allergic to gluten and, as far as I know, caramel corn is gluten-free.

And so I set upon the recipe that proved such a success last time and somehow, in the process, felt like the caramel was getting a little too dark. So instead of 5 minutes of stir-free boiling I stopped it at 3 and, after adding baking soda and vanilla, poured it on the corn. Into the oven it went and when the whole process was done the caramel corn tasted sweet but slightly burnt.

The shyster in me decided to pass this off as a more sophisticated caramel corn: a bitter undertaste for those with more refined palates.

As it turned out, yesterday’s class was cancelled and I felt like all my efforts were wasted until I set upon the idea of bringing it to my 9 – 12 Cabaret class this morning. It was there, in fact, that I told Patty and Alex (who were sitting to my right at our class’s large table) about the sophisticated popcorn with the burnt undertaste. “It’s sophisticated,” I assured them with manipulative charm. And so they chewed their first bites like a philosopher chews an idea: “yes, I see the merits here, perhaps there are flaws, but I accept the challenge this caramel corn provides: I shall savor the journey.”

They snacked for several minutes and then Molly at the other end of the table waved for us to pass the tub. Molly hadn’t heard my warning about the corn and our professor was talking so there was no way for me to package the smoky bitterness with sweet manipulative words. Alex, Patty and I watched her grab a large cluster and bite into it. She smiled, at first, the look of “good job, Adam! You’re a great chef!” And then, like watching a tire deflate, her face began to change. Alex elbowed me: “Look at Molly’s face.” She stared at me puzzled. “Is it supposed to taste like this?” And then she placed the remaining cluster of caramel corn back on the tub.

And then somewhat slyly Dan, sitting across from her, grabbed a cluster of his own. We watched the same process occur with him: there was nothing we could do. It was like that scene in Rear Window where Grace Kelly’s across the way and you see Raymond Burr coming back to his apartment and you want to scream: “Run, Grace Kelly, run!”

But afterwards Dan assured me that though the corn was bitter and disturbing at first it grew on him. Patty and Alex agreed.

And so should you slightly burn your caramel corn before bringing it to class, don’t hesitate to do so. If people tell you it tastes funny just convince them they’re unsophisticated and you’ll walk away a winner.

Sloth Make Rocky Road

Hey you guys!!

Me Sloth!

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You Chunk!

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I love you Chunk!

Me Sloth like Rocky Road. You like Rocky Road? Me make it!

Me make Rocky Road with book from Chocolate Man. Buy book here. It good book.

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Make Rocky Road: buy chocolate. 1 1/4 lbs [565 grams] [20 oz.] bittersweet or semisweet. Chop chocolate. Knife scary so ask mama….

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Mama! You been bad!

Put 16 oz chocolate in heatproof bowl. Put on simmery water. Melt and stir until smooth.

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Take off heat. Stir in other 4 oz. Take temperature—not like Mama take temperature! When it fall to low 80 F, put back on heat and “flash” 3 to 5 seconds. Take off. Watch temp. Do again. You want between 88 to 91, but to quote book: “You’ll need to flash several times to get it to the correct temperature. Don’t be tempted to keep the chocolate over the heat until it reaches the proper temperature; it will continue to rise after you remove the bowl from the heat. (If the temperature rises over 91 F, you’ll need to begin the process all over again.)”

It scary!

When right temperature, add 4 cups mini marshmallows and 1 1/2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts. Spread on wax-lined cookie sheet.

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Put in fridge and chill.

I take nap. Rockabye baby on treetop, when wind blows cradle will rock, when bow breaks the cradle will fall… falll… FALLL!!!!!!!

When firm, take out and break in pieces. Look!

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Mmm! Sloth like Rocky Road! Look close!

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Me eat whole thing! None for you, Chunk! I sorry Chunk! What you have to say?

Chunk say.

Haha. I love you, Chunk!

A Decadent Snack

So with my salad ingredients (see below) I also bought a sourdough baguette at the farmer’s market. At around 5 or so I got hungry again and whipped up this easy to assemble snack: a slice of sourdough, with nutella and raspberries.

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I could’ve toasted the bread, but it was fine without toasting. I enjoyed my snack. My inner snack critic said, “Smart, sophisticated…really quite lovely. Well done!” That’s going on the billboard.

I Made Popcorn

This is really lame, and I apologize. Again, I started school this week so I didn’t have time to cook anything or eat anywhere interesting. Last night I came home hungry and I made popcorn. My technique was a mix of a few I’d learned. Second kottke reference of the day: I read kottke’s Popcorn Hacks post a few weeks ago and found it interesting. He says you can make microwave popcorn in a large pot. When you dump the bag in, you let the chemical “butter” melt and then coat the kernels and when the first one pops you cover and shake a lot until it stops popping.

That second part is the same one Nancy Silverton advises with her caramel corn recipe. It’s a great technique and I’ve done it before with vegetable oil and organic popcorn kernels. So last night I merged the two ideas and melted 2 Tbs of normal non-chemical butter in a pot, put 1/4 cup of kernels in and coated them all:

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I covered it and when the first one popped, I began to shake vigorously. Lots of popping and when it subsided I dumped it into a bowl and sprinkled with kosher salt:

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This was very fresh tasting and enjoyable. It wasn’t as naughty as movie theater popcorn or microwave popcorn but offered many of the same pleasures.

You know, I think if I have one food philosophy it’s not anti-fat (obviously) or anti-carb (no kidding): it’s anti-chemical. That’s the biggest change that’s come over my life since I started food blogging: in my old life, I ate processed foods like it was my job. My favorite thing to cook was a frozen California Pizza Kitchen pizza or Pillsbury cinnamon buns. Now I actively avoid anything that involves a periodic table to understand the ingredients. It’s not a philosophy that has a real following anywhere because the ends aren’t obvious: it doesn’t make you skinnier or prettier or maybe, even, healthier. But it makes you appreciate and enjoy food more: like with the popcorn, those three elements–popcorn, butter and salt–were each in their purest form and your mouth can feel the difference. And once you start thinking on those terms, it’s difficult to enjoy, say, a McDonald’s apple pie the way you might have when you were younger. But it makes real apple pie all that much better. [END SERMON]

When friends are over at 1 am watching “Reno 911” you might make this granola, but start it earlier because they’ll be gone by the time it’s done.

Kirk and Diana came over the other night, after dinner at “Shake Shack,” to watch a DVD Kirk had leant me a while back that I never watched: Spike Lee’s “25th Hour.” It was an interesting movie and afterwards Kirk said, “I’m going up on your roof. I’m not asking, I’m just going.” Kirk likes my roof, and Diana followed him up. I did laundry and when they came back down it was getting late. That’s when we started watching TV and around 12:30 I was like, “I’m hungry” and they agreed and I dug up this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook for granola.

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What you see above are the “raw” ingredients. This is so easy, you’ll balk. But stop balking: it’s easy, I tell you. Just take 2 cups of rolled oats (and I’m halving the recipe because it makes a lot), 1 cup of sweetened shredded coconut, and 1 cup of sliced blanched almonds and toss them together. And if you don’t have coconut, don’t worry, and same goes for the almonds but you should have oats. Then take one half of 3/4 cup of vegetable oil (see because we’re halving the recipe and the original recipe has 3/4 cup of vegetable oil but I’m bad at math so I think you should figure that one out: it’s like 1.5/4 cups, right?) and mix with 1/4 cup of good honey. Then pour that over the other stuff and stir it around to coat it. Pour on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it’s an even golden brown like this: [make sure to stir it around with a spatula every now and then while it cooks]

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Doesn’t that look delicious, at least for granola? I have a few confessions. First, we didn’t have vegetable oil so we subbed melted butter. I know, I’m not sure that’s advisable, but it didn’t hurt the end product, but it did make it cook much faster. That was the second confession: because of the butter it only took like 20 mins. But I’d recommend using the vegetable oil because it’s kind of pointless making buttery granola since granola is what you eat when you want to be healthy.

I tossed the end product with dried currants I had left over but BC (that’s the Barefoot Contessa) recommends dried apricots, figs, cherries, cranberries and roasted, unsalted cashews. If you have that stuff, more power to you. When all of this was done, though, as the title of the post suggests, Kirk and Diana were gone. I was left alone with granola and it tasted good. It makes your apartment smell nice, too. And that’s my healthy recipe for the day minus the butter.

I Did It! I Finally Did It! (Caramel Corn Success)

Remember my favorite kind of failure? It’s caramel corn! I’ve attempted caramel corn 8 times and each time I failed miserably. Constantly my readers offered me recipes from their grandmothers and constantly I ignored them.

Well—two days ago I finally looked myself in the mirror and said, “SELF, pull yourself together and make caramel corn! Use a reader’s recipe!”

I used Christine’s recipe (sorry, Sara, I know you posted your grandmother’s recipe first but Christine’s was the first one I read when I went back in my archives.) It worked like a charm. I’ll reprint it here using Christine’s words:

Okay here goes. Never fail Caramel corn.

1 cup butter

1/2 cup corn syrup

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

6 quarts of Popped corn(use the kind labelled Mushroom popcorn)

Heat your oven to 250F. Melt the butter, stir in the corn syrup, sugar and salt. Bring the misture to a boil stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the soda and vanilla (Careful! it foams!). Pour over the popped corn and mix well. Spread the coated corn into large cake pans and bake for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Let it cool and eat! You can add peanuts or any other nuts if you like. Trust me on this one. Would my Grandma lie to you?

No she wouldn’t!

I halved the recipe because that recipe would’ve made too much. It’s interesting to note that when you add the baking soda and vanilla the consistency becomes very strange–it almost looks like caramel shaving cream. Be not alarmed. I’d also note that it pays to stir well and when it cools try to keep it from forming flat clots on the bottom. Here’s my finished product:

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Delicious looking, no? Thanks Christine! Or, rather, thank your grandma!