Monthly Archives: December 2010

Little Gifts: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

Sometimes, when it is the holiday season and you have pulled yourself out of bed in the wee hours to watch the earth shift in front of the moon on the solstice for the first time in 372 years, when you’ve stood on your stoop at 3 in the morning with the wind howling and the streets empty and otherwise quiet around you, face to face with the amber moon, when you’ve returned to bed and slept snugly only to rise for weekday brunch, a luxury in and of itself, made even better by lingering for hours around a small table with friends who were barely in your life a mere year ago, when it is the solstice and the sun seems to shine extra brightly to make up for it being the very shortest day, when all these things are part of your winter, sometimes it is nice to bring a little gifty to that weekday brunch to celebrate the season.

While your circumstances may be slightly different, I wish you many reasons for celebration this winter, opportunities that call for something small and homemade to share with others. There is a chance that you simply do not feel like making cookies, but want to whip up  a little something to give away. That’s the boat I was in last night. I had made some caramel corn a couple of weeks back, and, while it was very tasty and swiftly consumed and likened to crack in its addictiveness, a little voice in my head refused to shut up about making caramel corn again, but next time adding a little chipotle. I decided to give it a whirl. Once I got cooking, I realized I was a little short on corn syrup, and I decided that bourbon would be a great way to compensate. Don’t question my logic, people — the addition of whiskey yielded very decadent results, and you will want to eat it up.

Recipe: Bourbon-Chipotle Caramel Corn

What Goes In:

  • 1 cup unpopped popcorn
  • nuts (optional)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

How To Do It:

  • Pre-heat oven to 250°F and line your biggest baking sheet with parchment.
  • Pop your popcorn however you like and pile it on the pan (I popped mine on the stove in two batches). Add nuts if you like — I used about a half cup of sliced almonds and half cup of peanuts.
  • Melt brown sugar, corn syrup, and bourbon together in a large sauce pan, larger than you think you need, because this stuff is both sticky and bubbly. Let it bubble away on medium heat for five minutes or so.
  • Combine butter and chipotles in a food processor until smooth. Or just blend up your chipotles. I really only combined them because my food processor is too big to fully blend up a couple of small peppers on their own.
  • Add chipotle butter and salt to your bubbly caramel mix. Stir well and cook together for another few minutes (clearly, this is a very scientific process).
  • Turn off heat. Add your baking soda. Stir rapidly. It will foam up a bunch and get lighter in color and thick. Stir in vanilla, too, and quickly pour over popcorn. Stir the sauce into popcorn as well as you can. I like to use a silicone spatula for this — it is good for the stickies.
  • Bake for about an hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even distribution of caramel and to prevent popcorn from burning.
  • Remove from oven and let cool completely. I left mine out overnight.

The caramel might still be a little on the soft side when you take it out of the oven, but it will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, tumble it into cellophane bags and add adorable gift tags (mine, shown here, are courtesy of the ridiculously sweet Eat, Drink, Chic). Embellish with ribbons, tulle, love letters, whatever your heart desires, and share.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Gifting!

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How to Celebrate a Sunday Birthday

Thursday: Wear a fascinator to work and tell everyone that your birthday is coming. Feel childish in your excitement. Run with it.

Friday: Reflection, Kirtan, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

Saturday: Clean your apartment. Bask in the open space of your bedroom where, mere days ago, summer’s window AC units had been stacked, staring you down with their large-scale clutter. Go to the market. Cook food. Have people over, make punch, laugh a lot, adore whatever family and friends are around you. Soak in the celebration even if you have a little tummy ache.

It was a mellow party, a nice party, and it ended early enough for Shawn and me to do some cleaning so we weren’t faced with a mess this morning, music still playing, early enough to slow dance in the living room in a pretty dress and sock monkey slippers and new birthday earrings in the wee hours of the real birthday day, when the guests had all left or gone to sleep. What could be better than that?

Sunday: Birthday! Wake up to your little sister and her adorable boyfriend cooking eggs in your kitchen. Feel your heart swell even as you decide to keep your eyes closed a little longer, listening to the clatter of pans and coffee mugs in the next room. Talk on the phone more than usual. Open presents. Post a recipe from your birthday party that was requested last year, made this year, too, requested again.

Squash Lasagna

What Goes In:

  • 4 pounds or so winter squash (a couple medium butternuts or comparable amount other squash)
  • 6 Tbsp. butter (yep, lots of butter)
  • small handful sage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper
  • 8 oz. or so gruyère, grated
  • 1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

How to Do It:

  • Prepare squash: Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast until soft, then scoop flesh into a big bowl.
  • Brown 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan. When the butter turns light brown and smells nutty, remove from heat, toss in sage, and mash into squash with some salt and pepper.
  • Make bechamel: melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter, whisk in flour, slowly add milk, stirring lots to avoid lumps. Add some salt and pepper and a little nutmeg. Stir and cook until it’s thick.
  • Assemble lasagna: Put a cup of bechamel in the bottom of a pan. Layer uncooked lasagna noodles, bechamel, cheese, and squash. I had 4 layers, ending with bechamel only, with some leftover cheese.
  • Cover with foil, bake for half an hour or so at 35o. Remove foil, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, cook until cheese is melted and browning just a little. Probably around 15 minutes.

If you are, say, making kale chips and decide to crank the heat to 400 instead of 350, you will most likely end up with a burned, crispy layer at the bottom of the pan. Some of your friends will claim that that’s the best part. Others will push it to the side but still ask for the recipe. Having done this two years in a row, I recommend just remembering to keep the heat on the lower side.

Enjoy your lasagna, friends! I am off to enjoy a walk on a gray day, tasty dinner cooked by a professional, and yet more good cheer.

Year End Love

Last year, I posted a list of resolutions around this time: things to make, things to do, things, things, things.

Well, I still don’t have a cheese press, and I haven’t made soap from scratch with fats and lye, and I might even have to throw away a vegetable or two from the fridge today because I didn’t use them before they got funky, and I still don’t compost here in my city apartment with no outdoor space, though I did reach out to some local gardens and urban farms about taking in my scraps this year, so progress, right?

Last year, at my birthday time, the resolutions felt a little manic. It had been such a difficult year, a time of huge transition, trying changes, and all I wanted was to shed old skin, enter a new decade, be OK, and breathe. Being creative, writing down creative goals, was a way to celebrate that inner spark, to push it out to the surface a bit.

At a meeting the other day with some new ladies in my life, we talked about intention. Among many other things, we talked about what we thought intention was, how it differed from goals. I said I thought that goals were something that you work toward, and that intention was living in the work. This was a work meeting, mind you, and there is a chance this comment had more relevance in context, but I am always big on reflection around the time of my birthday, which comes just before the end of the calendar year. And it feels good to look back at that list of goals, things to do, and to realize that I’m not at all sorry about the things I planned to but did not create.

The desire to be creative, the intention set to make myself and others happy, the year of living inside my values, well these are just the best things that I could hope to have. Looking back and looking forward, I can say that the things I wanted most out of my thirtieth year have come my way: opening and settling, calming and centering. Breathing. I love the new shelves in our spare room. I love that there are shiny jars on these shelves, summer’s bounty preserved, labors of love to be given and shared this holiday season. But these things don’t compare to the comfort I feel in my own skin, newfound and gracious, as I enter this next year.

Tomorrow I will walk to the Grand Army farmer’s market in the hat a dear friend made by hand this time last year, chat with people who work the land around here, tote home bags full of vegetables, early winter harvest. Tomorrow I will cook for friends, break out some liqueur from the workshop party, celebrate the year that’s just passed and the new one coming the best way I know how.

As the air gets cold and the winds turn bitter and as 2010 ticks into 2011, I wish you, nice readers, much coziness, much love. I wish gifts for you this holiday season, woolly hats and shiny jars changing hands, but mostly I wish you a cozy home, comfort in your skin, ease of breathing, ease of love. Thank you for being a part of this last year and all its wonders. I am wishing you the best in all that comes next.