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Just popping in…

Friends! Hi!

Allow me to be the very last person to wish you and yours a very happy Halloween, Thanksgiving and holiday season. It’s a Hallogivingmas miracle! All hope is not lost, however, because I’m dropping in here at the end of the year with one last munchie for you to add your New Year’s Eve spread. More on that in a sec.

So let’s see. Where did we leave off. Oh! That whole growing a human thing. Well, I’m in my 38th week and this baby girl is still tucked in tight. We celebrated our first Christmas together this past week. This little pumpkin is spoiled already! And her daddy looks awful proud!

Mama is doing as good as can be expected. A little uncomfortable, a lot anxious. Things that used to be easy have become quite difficult. Putting on socks, for example. There’s something you take for granted. I need to set aside a least a full two minutes to get my socks on. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and got winded bending over to get the stuff out of the cart and on to the checkout. The teenager behind the register had himself a little chuckle over the whole thing. Heh. But, despite all that (and all the other minor pregnancy annoyances) I am over the moon excited and Baby Girl is doing well. She should make her grand entrance any day now. I’ve never been so ready for anything in my entire life. Labor? Bring it! Let’s do this!

So I guess tomorrow is New Year’s Eve although I must admit I’m not paying much attention. There will be no parties. We have no plans. I’ll probably ring in the new year fast asleep on the mound of pillows I use to keep the heartburn at bay. But you! You probably have all kinds of big plans. There will probably be sparkly spiked drinks and mounds of finger foods made with all things perfect like goat cheese and puff pastry. Maybe you’re even getting all dolled up. Put on some glittery nail polish and have a drink or two for me. I’ll live vicariously through you.

Now, if your New Year’s Eve get together involves more Bud Light and bean dip than Champagne and caviar, allow me to tempt you with one more easy and irresistible treat. Make a big batch of this stuff, put it in bowls on every coffee table, end table and TV tray in your party space and marvel at the way your guests find themselves powerless to keep their mitts off it. It’s pure, crunchy, buttery, sweet evil. I’m talking about…homemade caramel corn!

Caramel corn is my ultimate snack food weakness. Once I get started, I cannot. stop. eating it. I actually made this batch a few weeks ago to give away as part of a “My favorite things” gift exchange with the girls at work. Is caramel corn seriously one of my favorite things? Why, yes. Yes it is. In fact, let’s just go ahead and remove “whiskers on kittens” from that song and put insert caramel corn there instead. Much better. πŸ˜‰

I’ve tried several caramel corn recipes over the last few years but I keep coming back to this one. I like it because it doesn’t involve a candy thermometer and it’s low and slow bake in the oven allows the caramel to melt evenly over the popcorn. The end result is a light and crisp sweet snack and not a gooey, stick-to-your-teeth clump. It also keeps insanely well in an airtight container. Not that it’ll hang around that long. Try this stuff. Fall in love. Addictive. You’ve been warned.

HOMEMADE CARAMEL CORN (Recipe Source: As seen at Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Christie’s Corner)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup popcorn kernels, unpopped*
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (try a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste for an extra flavor boost!)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Pop the popcorn using your preferred method. (Do you have a Whirley Pop yet? We LOVE ours and haven’t bought microwave popcorn in almost two years. Recommended!)
  2. Place the popcorn in a very large bowl. You may need two very large bowls. You know what? Just use two bowls. You’ll need a lot of room to stir the caramel into the popcorn.
  3. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  4. To make the caramel, melt the butter in a two-quart sauce pan over medium heat. Add the corn syrup, brown sugar and salt and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Once the mixture is boiling, let the mixture continue to cook for 5 minutes without stirring.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will bubble and get frothy. Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn in the bowls and stir or toss to coat. (This takes a little patience, just keep after it!)
  6. Spread the popcorn evenly on the prepared baking sheets. It will be clumpy, but will spread out as it bakes. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, tossing/stirring every ten minutes and rotating the baking sheets if needed. After 40 minutes, test a piece of cooled popcorn. It should be light and crispy when you bite it. If it’s still chewy/gooey feeling bake for another 10 minutes.
  7. Allow the popcorn to cool completely on the baking sheet before storing in an airtight container.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

*If you prefer to use microwave or already popped popcorn, I would estimate you’ll need somewhere between 30 and 32 cups of popped popcorn for this full recipe.

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Always Be Prepared

I am nothing if not perpetually unprepared.

Well. Wait. That’s not completely true. I always come prepared for things like big speeches and final exams. I bring the materials and the points I’m responsible for to meetings at work. I’m usually prepared to answer work-related question when presented with one. I am a responsible adult, after all. Or I do a pretty darn good job pretending to be. Whatever.

But I never have an umbrella handy when it’s raining. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had an umbrella handy once in my entire life. I don’t think I even *own* umbrella. If I do, I have no idea where it is. In fact, if it’s pouring rain, not only will I not have an umbrella, I’ll have no jacket, no hood and I’ll being wearing wildly impractical footwear (silk ballet flats, perhaps?) and super long, draggy pants.

Need to put gas in the car when it’s five below? Sure wish I had a hat. Freight train stopped dead on the one set of tracks I absolutely must cross or there’s no possible way I can reach my office short of donning a Superman cape and leaping over tall buildings in a single bound? Should have left 10 minutes earlier. Also, should have peed first.

I have no extra batteries. No emergency needle and thread handy to fix a wayward button that fell off a shirt. We’ve run out of toilet paper before. Like totally and completely out, not a square in the house out. I know. I know.

I don’t have my important papers stacked together neatly in a file ready to grab at a moment’s notice. No stash of bottled water and canned goods. I’m not exactly sure where the flashlight is and we don’t have a weather radio. Oh, a first aid kid? I think there’s some loose band-aids under Eric’s sink in the bathroom and maybe some ointment in the laundry room. If someone’s bleeding profusely, I’m likely zero help anyway, so it’s not like a first aid kit is going to do any of us much good.

Don’t cut yourself at my house, please and thank you.

I’m also unprepared when it comes to having my blogging ducks in a row for foodie-type holidays bloggers go nuts over. Like Cinco de Mayo. This shredded beef for tacos would have been much more appropriate if presented last week. Posting it on May 7th makes me quite lame. But it doesn’t make the beef any less delicious.

This is one of my favorite things to come from the crock pot to date. To be honest, I don’t use my slow cooker that often because I find most of the meals to come out of it to be meh. I like my meat tender like anyone else, but there’s a difference between tender and mushy. The slow cooker crosses that line too often for me. This beef stands up well to extra long cooking time, and the flavor is so fresh and yummy. It’s perfectly seasoned and spiced. We stuffed it in tacos the first night, then I made Mexican-inspired stuff shells and some pressed sandwiches with pepper jack and hot sauce with the leftovers over the course of the week. Easy, versatile, and tasty. Even when you’re unprepared. πŸ˜‰

SHREDDED BEEF FOR TACOS (Recipe source: As seen at Elly Says Opa!)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 (2-3 lb.) boneless beef roast (rump, chuck, whatever you have)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat a large, heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the oil. Sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper. Β Once the oil is hot, add the roast to the pan and brown on all sides until a nice crust forms, about 2 minutes per side. Β Place in the slow cooker.
  2. To the pan with the beef drippings, add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the beef broth and spices, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the seasoned broth and onions over the top of the roast.
  3. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until fork tender. Β Shred meat with a fork and moisten with a bit of the cooking liquid. (To soak up any extra liquid, you can turn the crockpot to high for a little bit after shredding the beef.)

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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A Test of Wills

A common question I get asked as a food blogger is “what do you do with all those cookies and cupcakes and treats you make?”

Well. I’m going to answer that right now. And I’m going to be honest. For the most part, we eat them.

Gasp! Pearl clutch! Faint!

So there you have it. I make my cake and eat it too.

You’ll hear a lot of bakers say they make a treat and usher right out the door to neighbors, to husband’s offices, to parties and events. I certainly do that too (all of these firework cookies went on platters and off to our new neighbors) but during a normal week, I’m usually baking for us. Halving recipes and scaling down are a normal occurrence. I don’t need 24 cupcakes, but 12 for the two of us to share over the course of 7 days or so. Okay, sure.

Of course, there are rules. Strict guidelines as to what can be eaten when and how much. For the most part, my willpower remains strong around the treats in the house until it’s time for a little indulgence.

However. Sometimes. Yes, sometimes something comes along that really tests me. Sometimes there’s something in the house I can’t resist. That’s when the nibbling starts. It’s not the usual suspects that get me, the brownies, the chocolate chip cookies. It’s the things that shouldn’t be THAT good, but somehow just are.

Things like this Sunflower Cookie Brittle.

These shards of buttery shortbread cookie are stuffed to the brim with sweet mini chocolate chips and salty sunflower seeds. A very simple cookie dough is pressed into a jellyroll pan and baked. Once cooled, it’s broken into jagged, rustic pieces that are perfect for popping in your mouth every single time you’re in the kitchen. Something about the the soft, sandy texture and the sweet/salty flavor made these absolutely irresistible to me. Simple, but wonderful.

I had mixed emotions when the brittle was gone. On the one hand, I could return to my regularly scheduled carrot sticks, but on the other, I sure was sad to see it go.

SUNFLOWER COOKIE BRITTLE (Recipe Source: Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig pg. 230)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond or vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purposed flour
  • 1 cup salted, roasted shelled sunflower kernels
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and extract and beat until creamy. Add flour gradually, beating until blended after each addition. Fold in sunflower seeds and chocolate chips. Press the dough into a 16-1/2 by 11-1/2 by 1-inch jelly-roll pan.
  2. Bake the cookie for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Break the cookie apart like peanut brittle. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks. Makes about 3 dozen pieces.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Chewy, Fudgy, Triple Chocolate Brownies
Two Years Ago: Strawberry Blueberry Buckle
Three Years Ago: Crispy Oven “Fried” Chicken

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And the Winner Is…

All! Thank you SO much for the great response to the Heartland cookbook giveaway. There is so much food and tradition to discover right here in the US of A – thank you for sharing your favorites with me. I’m not very well-traveled (how Midwest of me, right? Ha.) so I have yet to discover many of your favorites but I’m totally up for an epic road trip where we don’t stop to do anything but eat. You in? We’ll just gather new friends along the way. Like Dorothy in Oz. We’ll sing and maybe skip a lot. No flying monkeys though. Too scary. And I don’t trust those things with my snacks. Sticky monkey fingers and things.

Anyway…

Let’s get down to business. The winner!

Random.org used it mad number scramblin’ skills (how does it do that?) and chose…

Comment 32! The lucky winner is Sally who said…

Congratulations, Sally! I’ve never been to Cincinnati myself but from what I’ve heard about this chili, I need to get out there and try it. I’ll be dropping the book in the mail to you after the long weekend! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Thanks again to everyone for entering! Most of all, thanks to all of you for reading. I love our time here – laughing and eating together. Makes me smile every time I think of it. You are all awesome sauce. Don’t ever forget it. πŸ™‚

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Vote for Luxury

Hey all! Voting is open for the third round of the Project Food Blog challenge! If you liked what you saw of my luxury dinner party (or if you were there! Holla!), click on over right here and cast a vote for me! πŸ™‚ It would mean ever so much to me. For real. Do you know how many dishes I washed this weekend?? LOL.

Thanks again to all of you for all of your encouraging comments and support. You are all SO great. The food blog community is so friendly and welcoming. I wish ALL of you could have come for dinner this past weekend. πŸ™‚ Thanks for the votes!!

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Voting times two!

Well, well, well. Here we are again. Anyone else have that creepy deja vu thing going on. No? Just me?

Alrighty then.

It’s that time again. Time to vote! I was so honored to be chosen to move on to round two in Project Food Blog, thanks to YOU! You guys rock my socks. For realsies. πŸ˜‰ Now let’s see if we can go for the three-peat here.

If you liked what you saw with my Dobos Torte, a classic Hungarian dessert, click on over here and give a little votey-poo to your cake-loving bloggy friend.

Ahem. That is, vote for me.

If you do it, I will love you more today than yesterday…but not as much as tomorrow. πŸ˜‰ Thanks again!

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Blog UPGRADE

Happy Monday, friends!

Happy and Monday in the same sentence? Is that legal? On the plus side, Monday is about over, so that’s good. On to Tuesday and bigger and better things.

I have no recipe tonight. Lame, I know. Hey, it’s Monday and I’m tired. But I just wanted to pop by and say I updated the About Me section of the blog! Added a few pics, a bit more about me and the blog. Check it out if you’d like!

Click on The Milkman’s Wife tab at the top of the page or go here.

Happy cooking, baking and eating! More delicious eats coming later this week! πŸ™‚

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