Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

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Popcorn, patiently popped on the stove with a bit more salt than you intended, is Perfection. It does not require creativity or innovation or newfangled spice combinations because its light savory saltiness is the ultimate dinner substitute. It’s vegan, gluten-free, healthy (barring that salt situation), easy, cheap, and delicious. It’s my go-to around dinner time if I had a big lunch or if that salad didn’t fill me up quite all the way.

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My dad has received lots of flack from us lovely children over the years for his ability to eat a bowl of popcorn at literally any moment. Went out for a huge graduation dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet? Eh, there’s always room for some popcorn. You want someone to go see The Notebook with you? If he has nothing else to do and the movie theater sells popcorn, chances are Dad will volunteer. My main memory of doing homework in high school was next to Dad on the couch, a sportsball game on mute, him reading the paper, us both absent-mindedly eating popcorn and washing it down with cold seltzer.

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Now Daniel is the popcorn-maker of our household. Having taught him my mystical popcorn ways, he has taken it on as “his” kitchen task, which I’m totally okay with. I love that he developed his own routine with it, and look forward to our predictable nagging about appropriate saltiness. We never have leftovers.

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This is all a long way to reiterate that popcorn doesn’t need anything besides salt (and maybe a little love) to be Awesome. HOWEVER, during recent holidays when Daniel was in Texas with his family and my parents were frolicking in the New Hampshire snow, I was holding down the fort in Brooklyn all by my lonesome and made nontraditional popcorn after salivating at a Bon Appetit recipe, and IT’S REALLY GOOD. A couple more steps than a typical evening dose would require, but so worth it for a party or gift situation. Or, ya know, a “suffering thru the holidays alone because I have to work” situation. I did manage to save a couple pieces for Daniel to sample, and looks like this may be inserting itself into a more regular rotation. It’s goooood.

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one year ago: Mayan quichon de verduras (traditional Guatemalan veggie stew — I still want to experiment with this!)
two years ago: mushroom olive and farro stuffed acorn squash and roasted broccoli hot honey pizza

Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

from an old issue of Bon Appetit

Cooking spray
6-8 cups popped popcorn (I used ⅓ cup kernels)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

First, find two small rimmed baking sheets (or one large one) and a very large bowl. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; spray papered baking sheets and the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Put popcorn in the bowl and set all this aside.

In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Turn to medium heat and give a quick stir to combine. (I would avoid a wooden spoon for this task.) As mixture heats up, put the spoon aside and just swirl the pan as necessary. Bring mixture to a boil, then continue boiling for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is a toasty dark amber. Mine took 11 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and add in hot sauce and butter. This will sizzle and sputter and bubble, don’t be alarmed! Quickly stir in with your spoon and return to the heat. Return to a boil (this took no time), and cook for another 3 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and cayenne. Stir quickly, then pour over popcorn. Toss and stir quickly to evenly coat the popcorn, then pour out into a single layer (or close enough) on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-20 minutes, tossing once, until dry. Let cool. Break up clumps (or don’t and keep it more like popcorn brittle!). If you don’t eat it immediately, congrats, you have great self-control, also you can store it in an airtight container for five days or so.

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Key Lime Pie with Salty Cracker Crust

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Real life interference: I meant to post this recipe in mid-October, right after Daniel’s birthday. But then a Malta conference happened, a trip to Japan was embarked upon, a crazy man was elected president of my country, and I was eyebrows deep in a directing project until last week. So, big sigh, things will continue to keep spinning (sometimes out of control) and I’m still trying to figure out what this crazy man means for the future of my country, my loved ones, and myself. But hey, we can still eat pie. And so, a post.

Growing up, birthdays meant chocolate. In the form of cake, frosting, ice cream, or all of the above. A birthday was only successful if it had sticky fingers and smudgy cheeks. I remember when I switched to vanilla frosting atop my chocolate cake — the horror! I had betrayed my chocolate brethren. And to this day, for me, a birthday must have a modicum of chocolate to be considered successful — perhaps this is just a hot fudge drizzle or one bite of dark chocolate bar — but it’s still lurking. Birthday = chocolate. Simple math.

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Daniel, on the other hand, can’t seem to care less about chocolate. We obviously don’t interpret math the same way. I have made him an orange caramel birthday cake and a blueberry lemon cake and a berry cheesecake, which honestly were all delicious but didn’t scream birthday. I mean, no chocolate crumbles on the floor to sweep up or white shirts to get frosting stains out of?? What is this!?

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And this year he goes on to request a pie for his birthday. “Yeah, I’ve always liked pie better than cake.” …who are you?! So now not only no chocolate but also no frosting?! I need someone else to bake birthday things for.

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This request spawned a truckload of research of about key lime pie. Does it count if it isn’t actually made with key limes? (Mostly yes, except for a few diehard Floridians.) Do all recipes use sweetened condensed milk? (Yes.) Should you put merengue on top or whipped cream? (Up to you, whipped cream is a whole lot easier.) And in this research I found a deviation from the traditional graham cracker crust — a salty, buttery sub that swaps the ubiquitous grahams for Saltines! As I recently had some issues with a graham cracker crust, I figured why not give it a go?

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It reads like a recipe from my elementary school PTA cookbook that someone’s Grandma makes every year for July 4th . And yet, it’s a beaut! …although a beaut I didn’t completely conquer. The recipe said not to crush your crackers until they were sand-like, so I stopped at pea-like crumbles, which didn’t hold together so well after baking. This lead to luscious lime curd atop … well, buttery, pea-sized cracker crumbs, not exactly a coherent crust. Which, don’t get me wrong, is delicious! Just not particularly easy to serve. I recommend crushing the crumbs for longer than you think is necessary, and don’t be afraid to add more butter. When you pre-bake the crust, really bake it until it’s golden and keeping its shape. (I didn’t let it go quite long enough.) And yes, despite, a crumbly crust, Mr. Weirdo Birthday Boy was totally, totally satisfied. (and so was I!)

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one year ago: Guatemalan rellenitos de plátano (fried plantain heaven)
two years ago: buttermints and Indian-spiced cabbage heaven

Key Lime Pie with Buttery Cracker Crust

From smittenkitchen and food52

1½ sleeves of Saltine crackers (the salted variety) (or try Ritz!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter (½ a cup), room temp (or more)

Zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
A generous ½ cup fresh lime juice (for me, this was 6 puny limes)

One small carton (1 cup or so) heavy cream, chilled
1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Zest of 1 lime, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush up your crackers using your hands (or banging them with a can) until they’re uniformly small and crumb-like. Toss in sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the cracker crumbs with your fingers until well-incorporated and dough-like. Press crust mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 21 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside and keep oven on.

Beat together lime zest and egg yolks with an electric beater for five minutes, until thickened and slightly lighter. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for an additional three minutes. Gently stir in fresh lime juice with a spatula. Pour into cracker crust and bake for 12 minutes, or until top is set. Let cool completely.

Pour chilled heavy cream into a bowl, add sugar and beat until it’s fluffy! (It comes together very quickly using electric beaters, but sometimes it’s fun to make Daniel do it with a whisk :).) Add more sugar if you want a slightly sweeter cream. Lovingly spoon whipped cream atop your cooled pie. Decorate with zest. At this point, it is recommended to chill the whole shebang for a while, but I think that’s mostly so you can create clean lines when you slice your pie, and who the heck has time for that? We ate it immediately and were none the worse. Keep pie in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for a few days and try not to have a spoonful with your morning coffee.

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