I must say, I went home with quiet a bit of loot once the weekend was said and done. I now own a Wüsthof knife that is as sharp as it is expensive, and knowing how little I will cry while slicing onions is enough to make me cry anyway; a white pea coat that would make Jackie O. jealous; a hand painted plate from Bethlehem; an antique pie basket that I cannot wait to stuff with double blueberry and chocolate cream; and the sweetest sing-song Happy Birthday voice message I could ever ask for. Something about four year olds trying to sing while they're distracted by the television - it gets me every time.
So I had planned a little get together with a few friends which exploded into a full blown birthday party, which actually made me feel a little silly since birthday parties are for kids and people obsessed with being the center of attention. Or perhaps I have mixed emotions on the matter because I always had joint parties with baby sister and being six years older than her, I always had to compromise on a Winnie the Pooh cake of some sort. But no matter, we made it happen.
Now this part is shameful. Really, it is. I had not one, not two, but three chocolate cakes this weekend. Emily, Kate, and Justin brought a collection of raspberry filled, whipped cream coated, double chocolately goodness to my table and I huffed and puffed and blew the house down until the candles were out and wishes came true. I nearly had an asthma attack with the amount of lung power it took to get those puppies out. Sheesh. We ate pizza with mushrooms and onion, chocolate covered cherries and sangria with molasses and figs until I was red cheeked and Justin whispered in my ear that it was time to put down my wine glass.
Tipsy or not, I never want to be a poor hostess, and sending my guests home empty handed would've been tacky and classless. I've been on a bit of a holiday baking strike the past few weeks, truly ironic for someone who writes two food blogs, but I just can't deal with the excess of it all. Mostly because I know the cookies I hand out will probably just be grouped in with the other 12 dozen you'll be receiving this Christmas and I think they deserve better love than that. So I made the easiest batch of caramel corn known to man, and probably the most delicious. It's coated with a sweet and salty caramel that wraps around every bit of every piece, so you're left wanting for nothing, and studded with crunchy peanuts that keep the popcorn on it's toes. It's nothing like that sugar coated Styrofoam cup you've been passing off as acceptable caramel corn in those giant tins - oh no, you deserve better than that.
Caramel Corn with Salted Peanuts
Adapted from DamGoodSweet, via Orangette
Before you start, mise en place. Have everything ready because this whole process will move quite quickly and I don't want you fumbling for the box of baking soda while you're trying to keep the caramel from scorching. Have everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start. Trust me.
Also, you'll want to make sure you use the best quality vanilla you can find. It really makes a difference in taste and aroma.
1 (3½-ounce) package plain (unbuttered natural flavor) microwave popcorn
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped (I used honey roasted, actually)
Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and transfer the popcorn from the bag to the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can. Stir in the peanuts, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.