Homemade Cracker Jacks

Homemade Cracker Jacks

Ingredients

Caramel Ingredients
10 cups popped popcorn. This is about 1/3 cup of unpopped kernels, if you’re popping it on the stove, or most of a regular sized bag of plain microwave popcorn. Both ways will work fine in this recipe, since we’ll be baking it.
¾ cup packed brown sugar. This can be light or dark brown sugar. Traditional Cracker Jacks use the lighter sugar, but I like mine a little more, shall we say, robust, so I go with dark brown sugar.
cup light corn syrup
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp molasses
½ tsp fine grain salt
Stuff to Add After the Caramel is Done
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup peanuts. I like to use the red skinned peanuts, or Spanish peanuts, but regular peanuts will still be delicious!

Directions

Preheat your oven to 250°.

Spray a large sheet pan with non-stick spray, line it with parchment paper, and spray it again.

Get your baking soda (NOT baking powder! Check that label!), vanilla, and peanuts measured and put to the side, ready for their big moments! Once the caramel is ready, things move very fast!

Pop all your popcorn, put in in a very large bowl, big enough for assertive stirring in a just a bit.

In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, butter, and salt. Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until temperature reaches 250° with a thermometer or about 2 minutes after bubbles first appear.

Take the caramel off the heat and immediately whisk in the vanilla and baking soda. It will bubble and pop! Just letting you know 😉

Pour over the popcorn, using a rubber spatula to get all the caramelly goodness out of the pan, add the peanuts (if using) and stir stir stir to evenly coat the popcorn with caramel.

Pour onto your prepared baking sheet and spread evenly with the spatula. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, bake for another 20 minutes, stir, and bake for a final 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and stir one last time, then place on a cooling rack until completely cooled.

This would last up to one week in a tightly covered container or ziplock bag if you didn’t just eat it all, but you did.

Mexican Caesar Salad

Mexican Caesar Salad

Ingredients

¾ cup light olive oil or other neutral vegetable oil
1 roasted jalapeño (or 2 roasted serrano peppers) I’ll tell you more in the directions.
2 cloves rough chopped garlic (they’re going in the food processor, so just give it a good smack with the side of your knife to get it started.)
¼ cup grated cotija cheese (plus extra to sprinkle on top of the salad)
Juice of one lime
3 tbsp toasted pepitas (plus extra for garnish) You probably won’t find pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) with the other baking nuts, but I can always find them with the bulk foods in the Natural Foods section of my local Mega Market.
¾ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 small bunch of cilantro (mostly the leaves), or about 3/4 cup.
¾ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp milk
One avocado, mashed (optional)

Directions

We’ll start the recipe, as always, by getting everything ready and gathered. First we’ll roast the jalapeño (or Serranos if you can’t find a jalapeño). If you don’t want any spice in your dressing, and I respect that choice, just skip this part. You can either pan roast the pepper in a very hot pan until browned on all sides, or you can put it under a broiler, turning often, until nicely browned. Remove the stem (of course) and remove some or all of the seeds inside, depending again on how much spice you want.

The pepitas will also be toasted in a dry pan on the stove over medium heat. Shake them and stir them around and they’ll start to make popping and hissing sounds and quickly start browning. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. When done I take them immediately out of the pan and onto a plate so they can cool before adding to the other ingredients.

Start placing all of the ingredients into the bowl of your food processor, except the cilantro, the mayonnaise and the milk. Those we’ll take care of later. Buzz, buzz, buzz, until everything is combined and then add in the cilantro and let it go!

For an even creamier, more rich dressing, add in the mashed avocado at this point and blend it in. Delicious!!

Add the buzzed ingredients to the mayonnaise and milk, that have been whisked together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Done!

I like to serve this on a half head of romaine lettuce for each person, drizzle the dressing all over and garnish with store bought tortilla strips (found in the salad dressing aisle of your Mega Market, or you can fry your own), more shredded cotija cheese, more pepitas, and some jalapeño slices. It’s fun to slice into this, like a salady steak, or, you know, you can put it all in a bowl like regular salad eating people. I’m a rebel.

Sometimes I even serve this salad with a combo of romaine and kale, especially when I’ve added avocado to the dressing. However you decide to serve it, it’s sure to become a regular on your salad rotation.

Enjoy!

Shake and Bake Style Pork Chops

Shake and Bake Style Pork Chops

Ingredients

4 – 1/2 inch thick pork chops (you can use thinner or thicker cuts, but the bake time will need to be adjusted accordingly. As long as the internal temperature of the pork is 145° after cooking, you’re good)
1 ½ cups Panko bread crumbs
¼ Cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp Celery salt
2 tsp Kosher salt
1 ½ tsp Smoked paprika (if you don’t have smoked paprika, don’t make a special trip to the store. Sweet paprika is fine. I just felt that the smoked gave the mix a closer taste to the original Shake ‘n Bake)
1 ½ tsp Onion powder
1 tsp Sugar
½ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Dried oregano
½ tsp Dried parsley
½ tsp Dried basil

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°. Place a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper on a large sheet pan and spray with non-stick spray. Set aside.

Here I am with the mise en place again. Everything all together! Combine the bread crumbs with the seasonings in a bowl. Look at you 👀. You’re making things!

Drizzle the oil over everything. Using a fork (or just put some gloves on and mix with your hands like me), mix thoroughly. You want to make sure that all the bread crumbs are evenly coated with the oil.

Give your chops a light brushing of oil. Any oil will do, vegetable or olive. This gives the crumbs something to hold onto as well as ensure a little more crunch. And that’s what we’re here for, right? The packaged seasoning mix comes with a bag to “shake” your pork chops with the coating mix. I never used them, because I like a little more consistent coverage (more crispies please). In the name of authenticity, you can absolutely shake, and then bake. I like to pour my coating mix in a shallow sheet pan and press the pork chops in, roll them around on the sides, and generally make sure that coating is ON THERE.

Place Pork chops on the lined and sprayed sheet pan and bake at 425° or until a thermometer inserted into the side of a chop registers 145°. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, to allow the juices to redistribute and to not burn your face off while eating. Serve with maybe some potatoes and a vegetable, or just eat them like I did: the next day, when no one was home, with my fingers. It was good 😋 Real good!

Copycat Pepperidge Farms “Croissant” Pizza

Copycat Pepperidge Farms “Croissant” Pizza

Ingredients

Easy No-Cook Pizza Sauce
1 -15 ounce can tomato sauce
½ tsp Granulated sugar
1 tbsp Olive oil
½ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Dried oregano
½ tsp Dried basil
½ tsp Dried parsley
½ tsp Onion powder
Pizza Toppings can be ANYTHING you want on a pizza (even pineapple 🤭) I used:
Sliced pepperoni
Chopped red bell pepper
Browned ground Italian sausage
2 Cups shredded mozzarella cheese (or the cheese of your choice, depending on your toppings)
Egg wash: 1 egg whisked with 1 tsp of water
All Laid on a Bed of
1 package thawed frozen puff pastry. Some of my extrordinarily talented friends make their own puff pastry, or even (Gasp!) their own croissant dough, but frozen puff pastry is so, so good, and so easy for a quick meal. I use it here with GREAT results)

Directions

I like to start any recipe by getting ALL the ingredients out and ready before starting. This is called “mise en place” in the culinary world, a fancy French phrase for putting everything in place. Ready? Let’s start!

First, the really hard pizza sauce. Mix all of the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Done! 😅

The “set aside” part is actually very important. It allows the dried herbs to hydrate and the sugar to kind of counteract the acid in the tomatoes.

Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and gently roll out your thawed puff pastry just a bit. What you want is to kind of get rid of the fold lines a little and widen each “slice” just a touch. Slice the pastry sheet into 3 even pieces.

Using the dull edge of a paring knife, make some score marks all around the edge of your dough, about 1/4 inch in, without actually cutting the dough. It’s just decorative, but also gives you an actual border to work with as you move forward. Lightly brush your egg wash along the score marks. This will give you a nicely browned crust.

Place about 3 tablespoons of pizza sauce (don’t use any more sauce than this or your crust will get soggy.) down the center of your dough, using the back of the spoon to evenly spread the sauce within the borders you made. Pretty!

Sprinkle 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese, or the cheese of your choice (fly free, my pizza friend!) right on top of the sauce. See where we’re going with this?

Evenly distribute your toppings, on top! I used a classic sausage and bell pepper motif here. I use red bell pepper because I’m not a fan of the traditional green bell. Plus, it’s prettier 😊

Bake at 425° for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is beautifully puffy and your cheese is bubbly and browned a bit. Here I did pepperoni, sausage and bell pepper, and the classic “Deluxe” combination! 😋

Go on now. Make some pizza and let me know how it goes! Tell me all about it in the comments!

(Fun note: I experimented, and you can freeze these pizzas, fully dressed, and bake them at 425° for 30 minutes with fantastic fresh pizza results! YAY!! More Pizza, later on!!)