Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Superbowl Sweet, Nutty & Crunchy Turtle Corn

Thinking about what "snacky" things to make for Sunday's Superbowl had me reminiscing a bit. As I considered making a big batch of Turtle Corn (among the regular wings and guac and such), it harkened me back to the days when the girls were in college. 

Care packages with tins of this crisp, crunchy and chewy, caramel, chocolate and toasted pecan confection would be either mailed to one of the girls as a surprise or sometimes tucked into the backseat for an extra special bonus during a visit from mom and dad as a sweet reminder of home. It's been a long time since I made it for the girls (it's been a long time since they were in college!), but I did pull the old recipe out again recently.

Just a couple of weekends ago, I held a special brunch for a special bunch of friends. You guessed it, Turtle Corn made the cut for the menu and held a special spot on the dessert buffet. 

Turtle Corn in a treasured Fisher's Popcorn tin from Ocean City last year. (Also pictured, Hot Curried Cashews, Gingerbread Figgy Pudding Dark Rum Trifle, Blacktop Marble Cheesecake)

Even though I did just make it for a crowd, it's the perfect casual Superbowl snack...and any leftovers are always appreciated at work! Thinking of what to serve your guests for your own big Superbowl party? Turtle Corn might be just what you're looking for!

Turtle Corn

  • 4 quarts popped popcorn, checked well for unpopped or partially popped kernels and toss those away...you only want those big, beautiful, fully popped and fluffy pieces! (I use mushroom popcorn these days because they're bigger and fuller like the premium popcorn places use. Amazon, of course, carries it.)

  • 3 C sugar
  • 1 C water
  • 1 C light unsulphered molasses
  • 6 T butter
  • 4 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t baking soda

  • 1 pound pecan halves, toasted in the oven at 300 degrees until warmed and fragrant - watch carefully so they don't burn
  • 6 oz chocolate chips, melted

Prepare to put this together quickly as the caramel mixture will harden in a hurry. Put the popcorn and toasted pecans into a very large container - I use a canning kettle or a crab pot - before you start the caramel. Also prepare 2 large rimmed cookie sheets by buttering them lightly. 

In a large, deep, heavy bottomed pot, combine water, molasses, butter, vinegar and salt. Cook over medium high heat until your candy thermometer reaches 260 degrees (hard ball stage). 

Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Mixture will bubble up and then turn "creamy." (This is why you use such a large pot, you don't want to risk having this boil over on your stove or on YOU!) Once the bubbling subsides and the mixture well combined, immediately pour it over the waiting popcorn and pecans. Using a long wooden or metal spoon - not plastic, stir and mix until the popcorn is completely covered. Be careful not to touch the caramel, it will be one nasty burn, I assure you.

Remember those buttered, rimmed cookie sheets? Immediately turn the caramel corn onto the two cookie sheets, dividing equally. Use your spoon to spread the mixture on the cookie sheets. Let the caramel corn cool completely. 

Once cooled, break into pieces and drizzle with half the melted chocolate. Let the chocolate set, turn the pieces over and drizzle with the remaining chocolate. Let set and dry completely before storing in an airtight container or large ziptop bags.

This is the "mushroom" popcorn I used from Amazon. "Mushroom" refers to the shape of the popcorn.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Christmas Vacation, Edible Souveniers and Gypsy Kielbasa Unstuffed Cabbage

After a refreshing break, I'm back in gear once again and ready to go grab the New Year for all it's worth. (Ciao 2014, glad to see YOU in the rearview mirror!) 

This post might just as well be titled "What I Did On My Winter Vacation" and it's complete with lots of photos. Be grateful there isn't a slide show ala the 50's and 60's! (At least I would have served up some decent party foods and more than a few cocktails to make for an interesting evening.)

Where did I go? Baltimore. Yes, once again. It's so close and there is SO much going on all over! We visited old favorite spots and checked out new (to us, anyway) restaurants and bars...one we felt so comfortable in, we went back the next night! (Yes, I'm talking about YOU, Rye!)

Come on! Let's go on a guided tour. I just wish you could be feeling the warm sun and 60 degree weather we had IN DECEMBER(!) nearly the entire time we were there. Once we're done, there will be a new recipe for an easy, comfort food kinda dinner for the fam or company. Ready? Let's go!

No, it didn't take long to hit our favorite spot...you all know by now it's Bad Decisions. Let it be known that we DID check in to the Admiral Fell Inn first and even had a quick bite across the street before entering.

Really. There was food involved too...Ale Mary's is KNOWN for their tots! We enjoyed the Reuben tots....YUM!

Okay, I digress...back to Bad Decisions. AND Ostrowski's Home Made Sausage! John Reusing, owner of Bad Decisions, bought the sausage factory next door recently. Along with the famous Ostrowski family recipes, one massive smoker came along with the deal. What a find for the bar famous for Beer and Bacon nights! 

Kimber and I, and our dear friends Marti and Meredith, were favored with a private tour of the historic shop along with some excellent sampling. We left with containers of Sriracha sauerkaut, gypsy kielbassa (LOTS of black pepper!) and good spicy and smoky andouille.

Ostrowski's by night. (Photo credit: John Reusing)

On to the next stop!

Rye (see above, we stopped here BOTH nights in town!) is sexy as hell, if you're a cocktail afficianado. We are. Don't miss one of Doug and Dan's classic or original creations. Obviously, with a visit both Friday and Saturday nights, Kimber and I are fans. BIG fans! 

Tots seemed to be the noshing theme of the night. On the way back to the hotel, we made a stop at a new-to-us spot on South Broadway. 

Look at the size of the crab lumps in these Crabby Tots at Alexanders's Tavern! And for me, they have an extensive gluten-free menu. Apparently that's what happens when both the owner AND chef are celiac. 

Back to the hotel for a good rest....LOTS to do tomorrow!

Good morning, Fells Point! You're beautiful! (The view from our windows...not too shabby, eh?)

Starting the day at Slainte (where soccer is religion!)...and yes, a substantial breakfast followed. The housemade corned beef hash was particularly incredible! (Note to self...more effort must be made on photographing food, not just cocktails.) 

And now, our morning walk.

Dragon boats at the Inner Harbor. Notice the National Aquarium in the background?

Um...the Chesapeake. Duh.

From there, we stopped at shops galore and walked along the water the entire way back to Fells Point. Such a walkable area! Along the way, we noticed Brian Voltaggio's Family Meal nestled into the Power Plant by the other side of the aquarium. Temporary signs were in place and it looked as if it were ready to open at any time. After we got home, I saw that was their opening day. Missed opportunity! (The Frederick, MD Family Meal is a favorite spot of Kimber's and mine to stop on the way back to Pittsburgh.) 

Of course, our walk included a pause at The Horse You Came In On...complete with a wee sample of the Jack Daniels vanilla infusion. Happy moment WITH live music during the day!

Once back at the hotel, it was time for a nap before heading out once more. On the way to dinner at Lobo, there were a few dalliances at familiar watering stations along the way; Riptide By The Bay ("where the locals lounge"), the Waterfront Hotel (if you watched Homicide any time during its long run, this is the bar the cops bought). 

With the sun starting to lower in the sky, it was a cool, crisp walk to Canton on the far side of the harbor. And absolutely lovely.

And there was this "sailing" down Aliceanna Street heading for Canton. Captain James Landing is quite the landmark!

At last, we arrived at our destination for our evening's repast. Lobo is a new and thoroughly delightful restaurant on the scene in the Fells Point/Canton area of Baltimore. It came highly recommended by John Reusing, the owner of both Bad Decisions and Ostrowski's. He was SO right!

One gorgeous charcuterie board at Lobo! (BTW, Lobo = the Spanish word for Wolf...and the restaurant is on  the corner of Aliceanna and WOLF Streets!)

Crab fingers in the dead of winter and luscious shrimp cocktail. Oh, and a kickass cocktail to boot!

A slow walk back to the hotel, another stop at Bad Decisions (a GOOD decision), and nitey nite.

Good morning, Baltimore! (Cue song from Hairspray). No beautiful sunrise this morning. It was dreary. Who cares, we'd experienced warm 60 degree weather the entire trip and rain on the way home would be no big deal. And from here on we'd be driving to our destinations anyway. We had reservations for brunch at the esteemed Woodberry Kitchen in Hampden awaiting!

Nope, that's not Woodberry Kitchen. It IS the kitschy and delightful Cafe Hon in Hampden, home of Honfest. We were running early and stopped for a cuppa Joe.

Look who was waiting for us inside! Who knew Elvis was an ugly Christmas sweater fan?!

Finally at Woodberry Kitchen with a brunch cocktail. We HAD to, it was Doctor's Orders! (Name of the cocktail, really! It included carrot shrub, so you KNOW it was good for you.)

Well, look at that...I remembered to take a pic of our food. Cheese grits on the right, and on the main plate, housemade maple sausage and their own bacon. The toast was the most wonderful gluten-free bread I've ever had. Owner/chef Spike Gjerde's wife is celiac so they KNOW their GF!

Once full and happy, we headed for one last stop before hitting the road. We always peruse the aisles of the local spirits stores looking for the new and unusual.

What an extensive collection of wines, spirits, beers, bitters, charcuterie...everything you'd ever need for your very own party extrordinaire!

Well, look at that. Right in the heart of one of the hippest areas of Baltimore, we found a little bit of Pittsburgh. Hello, Wigle!

So cool finding a bit of the 'Burgh in the heart of Baltimore. And now, since I brought back a bit of Baltimore to the 'Burgh, the promised recipe using our treasured Sriracha sauerkraut and Gypsy sausage from Ostrowski's. Don't you just love delicious, edible souvenirs?!    

Gypsy Kielbasa Unstuffed Cabbage

  • 1/2 head of cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 of a large onion, diced
  • 1 LARGE potato, scrubbed, peel left on and sliced thinly

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 3 T minced onion
  • 1 T Crazy Salt
  • 3 T jalapeno ketchup (Heinz makes it and we can't live without it!)
  • 1 1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 lb Ostrowski's Sriracha sauerkraut, drained - RESERVE JUICE* - optional, regular sauerkraut or add Sriracha to a pound of fresh sauerkraut to taste (or wait for John to get online ordering up and running for Ostrowski's!)
  • 1 lb fresh, Ostrowski's unsmoked gypsy kielbassa, fried until browned on the outside and sliced into rounds - again, use regular unsmoked or wait for online ordering at Ostrowski's!
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, mix together the filling ingredients: ground beef through Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.

In a lasagna or other casserole dish, layer the diced cabbage, diced onion and sliced potatoes. Dollop beef mixture on top. 

Dollops of filling while the dish is in progress.

Cover with sauerkraut, tomatoes & rounds of kielbassa. Cover dish securely with foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. Uncover and bake another 20 minutes. Check to be sure the potatoes and cabbage are cooked thoroughly and give it another half hour if not soft and tender. Let sit 15 minutes before serving. 

Makes great leftovers!

*Why reserve the sauerkraut juice? For picklebacks, of course! What's a pickleback? A shot of Jameson IMMEDIATELY followed by a shot of picklejuice, or in this case, sriracha sauerkraut juice. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.