I don’t know how many times I’ve walked by one of those food carts that sell cinnamon almonds and just had to stop and enjoy the amazing aroma – I love to smell roasted cinnamon almonds almost more than I love eating them. This recipe for sugar & spice pecans will fill your kitchen with the scent of toasted nuts, brown sugar, vanilla and spices, but with a savory touch of salt and a little kick of pepper.
Sweet, salty and spicy is an addictive combination. When I make these pecans, I usually find my family hovering around them as they cool on a sheet of waxed paper, waiting until they’re ready to eat. I make these pecans as a topping for salads, especially my Berry Spinach Salad with Feta, but they’re also excellent by themselves as a snack.
I love salsa: salsa roja, corn salsa, pico de gallo, mango salsa, I’d be happy to eat salsa every single day. But I think salsa verde might just be my favorite. I bought salsa verde for years without thinking about making it myself, for some reason I always thought it was going to be difficult or require complicated ingredients. Last year my family planted a large garden for the first time and we made salsa verde from our own homegrown tomatillos. It was hands down the best salsa verde I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was. After that summer I’ve never gone back to store-bought salsa verde.
While traditional red salsa is tomato based, salsa verde is tomatillo based. If you’ve never cooked with or purchased tomatillos, they’re those small green tomatoes with husks on them. They’re not actually tomatoes, just a member of the tomato family and they have a bright, fruity flavor that I think comes out especially well when they’re roasted.
Lately, it’s been hard to get the whole family to sit down to dinner together. With two teenagers who are always at theatre rehearsals or basketball practice, schedules are unpredictable. I’ve started looking for recipes I can freeze in individual portions so the kids can prepare them easily and (I hope) eat less fast food when they’re ravenous after a long day. These green chile chicken taquitos have been a huge hit. They’re spicy, satisfying and crunchy, but baked instead of fried with about 300 calories each.
You can use any kind of cooked chicken as the base for the filling for these taquitos. The day I made this recipe I used cooked rotisserie chicken breast meat I bought at Costco, but you could use any cooked chicken you have on hand. Allie’s Crock-Pot Cilantro Lime Shredded Chicken works great in this recipe.
The cooked chicken is mixed with green salsa, canned green chiles, garlic and spices in a large sauté pan, and then simmered for a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. You want the filling to be fairly dry and not soupy. The filling gets its creamy texture and richness from a little bit of cream cheese, and a bright finish from fresh lime juice and cilantro.
Microwave popcorn is a popular snack with our family. The smell of corn popping brings people running from all corners of the house, hoping for a “sample,” or maybe a little bit more. People in our family have been known to hide their stash of microwave popcorn in dresser drawers and closets, just to keep it out of other family members’ greedy hands.
Reading the ingredient list on a package of commercial microwave popcorn might send people running in the other direction, though. Most microwave popcorn contains the chemical preservative TBHQ, and the strong “buttery” taste and aroma of some microwave popcorn comes from chemical flavorings, such as Pentanedione.
A better alternative is to make your own microwave popcorn, so you control the ingredients. The cost is a lot lower than commercial microwave popcorn, and you can experiment with creative seasonings and flavor combinations. Another great thing about this recipe is that it’s lower in calories than most microwave popcorn – 30 calories per cup, compared to 64 calories per cup for “movie theater butter” microwave popcorn.
Hummus and I go way back. Back to the early ’90s, in fact. It’s a long story, but my daughter Allison – yes, the same Allison who is my FoodLove blogging partner – could not swallow solid food for the first couple of years of her life. Everything she ate had to be pureed, mashed, or chopped into tiny pieces. I was in graduate school in Chicago at the time, and Allison had a nanny – a lovely, tall, rail-thin young woman from Israel named Iris. Iris was sympathetic about Allie’s eating problems, and one day she told me, “I’m going to teach you how to make the most wonderful food, that my mom makes at home in Israel.” That’s when I learned how to make hummus.
Iris didn’t seem too impressed by my hummus-making efforts, and I’m sure my early attempts at hummus didn’t compare with her mother’s. But I thought it was a miracle. Here was a food that was nutritious, easy to make, inexpensive and delicious, that my daughter could eat. Bonus – my husband and I loved it, too! So I like to brag that I knew hummus before hummus was cool – in the United States, at least. Now you can buy hummus at every grocery store or 7-11, or by the half gallon at Costco, but it’s a lot cheaper to make it for yourself. I like to try different varieties of hummus, but my favorite is the traditional Middle Eastern style, flavored with lemon, garlic, cumin, parsley and olive oil.
Caramel – in many ways, there’s nothing simpler. Caramel is, in its most basic form, just melted sugar, which is made into caramel sauce by adding cream and simple flavorings. I’d heard that making caramel could be frustrating – that it was easy to burn, and that it crystalized for the most mysterious reasons, but I didn’t get it. I’d always had an easy time making caramel sauce from an “easy” caramel sauce recipe with sugar, water, corn syrup, vanilla, cream and salt. Caramel sauce was no biggie, I thought.
Then this past Christmas, I decided to give out jars of caramel sauce with Granny Smith apples as gifts for neighbors and relatives. I really wanted to make a sauce with butter, because as much as I liked my regular sauce, it didn’t have the rich flavor I was looking for.
That’s when the trouble started.
Batch after batch, all the caramel sauces I made with butter tasted terrific, but as they cooled, they became grainy and crystallized. I tried all the tricks I could find to prevent crystallization, including higher heat, lower heat, adding a little corn syrup, brushing the sides of the pan with water to wash away the sugar crystals, and covering the pan to allow condensation to prevent crystals from forming. Every batch crystallized, and I became obsessed. I wasn’t going to let this caramel sauce defeat me.
Finally, I tried making caramel using the “dry method,” melting the sugar without adding any water in the beginning, then adding the butter and cream once the sugar is fully caramelized. With the dry method, it’s a little easier to burn the sugar, but crystallization is less likely. This method resulted in velvety smooth, rich, buttery caramel sauce.
To begin making this old-fashioned caramel sauce, it’s important to have all your ingredients and utensils prepared ahead of time. Once the sugar starts cooking, you have to watch it constantly. You’ll need a heavy saucepan with at least two quarts capacity, a spatula and a wisk that will withstand high heat, and an oven mitt to use if your pan gets hot. Have a plate handy to set your utensils on, because melted sugar is no fun to clean off the countertop.
Put 2 cups of granulated sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Be patient – you don’t want some of it to burn before the rest of it has a chance to melt.
Stir as much as you need to prevent burned spots and break up lumps as the sugar melts.
Once the sugar is completely melted, stop stirring. Almost immediately, the caramel will be bubbling and dark amber in color. The temperature on a candy thermometer inserted at this point should be 350 degrees. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you don’t really need one. You can judge by the color when the caramel has reached the correct temperature.
Once the caramel reaches the dark amber stage at 350 degrees, remove it from the heat. Stir in the butter with a wisk. The caramel will bubble like lava when you do this. After you have added the butter, add the cream and wisk until smooth. The caramel will bubble up a second time. Add the vanilla and salt and wisk to combine.
Return the caramel sauce to medium heat and boil gently, wisking constantly for 4-5 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Allow the sauce to cool for about 15 minutes, then pour into a glass jar. The caramel sauce keeps in the refrigerator for about 3 months.
Obviously, this sauce does not fit anyone’s definition of healthy, but two tablespoons served with half a Granny Smith apple has about 250 calories, and that is the kind of dessert or indulgent snack I can get behind. You could get really fancy and sprinkle your caramel apple creation with a pinch of sea salt, a couple of teaspoons of chopped nuts or some mini chocolate chips.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (double or triple the salt for a salted caramel sauce)
- Have all the ingredients and utensils ready for this recipe ahead of time. Use a heavy saucepan or saute pan with at least 2 quarts capacity, because the sauce will bubble up when the butter and cream are added. Make sure the utensils you are using are heat resistant. Have a plate handy to set the utensils on.
- Put the sugar in the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring as needed with a wood or silicone spoon or spatula to prevent burned spots and break up lumps as the sugar melts. Keep cooking, stirring gently and breaking up lumps until the sugar has melted completely.
- Once all the sugar has melted, stop stirring. Cook until the sugar is bubbling, has turned dark amber in color and reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer.
- Remove the caramel from the heat and add the butter, blending with a wisk. The caramel will bubble up when the butter is added.
- Add the cream and wisk to blend. The sauce will bubble up a second time.
- Add the vanilla and salt.
- Return the sauce to medium heat and boil gently, stirring with a wisk for about five minutes until thickened.
- Remove from heat and let cool for about 15 minutes before pouring into glass jars.