Hot and Sour Bac Ha Soup

WIN_20150527_134738Today’s soup is light and refreshing, low calorie, and chock full of fresh vegetables. In other words, it’s a perfect summertime soup! We’re cooking with Bac Ha today… a new ingredient in Crowded Earth Kitchen. I found this at my local Asian grocery store, and was intrigued by it’s appearance. It looks like fat celery on the outside, but looks like a sponge on the inside – how fun!WIN_20150527_130507

Bac Ha contains calcium oxalate, and MUST be boiled before eating. Don’t worry, once you boil it, Bac Ha is perfectly safe. Without boiling, Bac Ha is said to cause “intestinal irritation.” I’m, er, not real curious about what that exactly means, and boiled my Bac Ha as instructed! It’s really a delightful vegetable, light tasting and airy, and will surely find it’s way into future soup recipes. The spongy center of this veggie is perfect for soaking up delicious soup broths. Yum!

WIN_20150527_132401Ingredients (Serves 6)

6 cups chicken stock

1 lime leaf

4 inch piece of lemongrass

1 teaspoon chili paste, such as Nam Prik Pao

WIN_20150527_1313042 stalks Bac Ha, peeled and sliced like celery (about 2 cups)

2 baby Bok Choi, sliced like celery (stalks AND leaves)

1 cup snow pea pods, sliced lengthwise

1 cup mushrooms, any variety, sliced

WIN_20150527_1324561 lime

Directions

Step 1) Add Bac Ha to a pot of boiling (not salted) water. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Step 2) In a separate pot combine chicken stock, lime leaf, lemongrass, and chili paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.

Step 3) Add bok choi and mushrooms; simmer for 5 minutes.

Step 4) Add previously boiled Bac Ha and snow pea pods; simmer for 2 more minutes.

Step 5) Ladle soup into serving bowls. Squeeze juice from 1/2 lime into each bowl. Slice up the squeezed lime half and add to bowl as a garnish. Serve immediately.

Watermelon Lime Cooler

WIN_20150529_105252What’s with the food industry’s obsession with fake watermelon? You know what I’m talking about… lipstick-colored watermelon sherbets and sorbets, cloyingly sweet and perfumed watermelon bubblegum, and powdered drink mixes containing a dozen different ingredients not found in nature. These products seem to grow in popularity during the summer months, when REAL watermelon is available! It just doesn’t make any sense.

Try this instead: buy an actual, real watermelon. Cut it in half, scoop out the delicious fruit, and puree it in a blender (this should be done in small batches). Then, freeze the puree in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can pop out the cubes, freeze them in a bag, and use them all summer in delicious beverages! I’ll even confess to freezing extra watermelon for “emergency” summer drinks in the dead of winter. True story.

To make today’s Watermelon Lime Cooler, simply puree 1/2 of a lime (with or without the peel, it’s up to you), 6 cubes of frozen watermelon puree, and 1/4 cup of cold water. That’s IT – for about 10 seconds of effort, you get a refreshing glass of real summer flavor, complete with fiber, vitamin C, and beneficial lycopene. Need something a little sweeter? Add a teaspoon of marmalade before you blend the ingredients together. Enjoy!

Vintage Post: Dandelion “Honey”

dandelionThis is a vintage post, but seasonally appropriate and lots of fun. Don’t spray toxins on your lawn… let those dandelions grow au naturel! The beautiful golden color and early summer fragrance of dandelions attracts bees, providing life sustaining nectar this time of year. Bees are HUNGRY in May and June, and if we want them around to pollinate our fruit orchards and vegetable gardens later in the season, we had better provide them with something to eat right now.

You can benefit from dandelions even more directly by making dandelion honey. Give this recipe a try – it’s delicious, and a great conversation starter!

In The Garden, Week 1!

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Pineapple Mint, Orange Mint, and Sage

Gardening season has finally arrived! Growing my own food is really my favorite part of cooking. Few things are as satisfying as creating a meal from fresh, healthy ingredients grown by my family. This summer, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature a weekly post with garden updates. A few summers ago, our $200 gardening investment led to a harvest worth over $2,000. Can we do better this year?

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German Chamomile (I can hardly wait for tea!)

Gardening is part art, part science, and part dumb luck. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we rely pretty heavily on dumb luck! We are lucky to have enough growing space that we can garden badly and still end up with a bountiful harvest. It’s not that we try to garden badly (sometimes, our garden is beautiful), but it’s nice to have room for mistakes.

Important: Crowded Earth Kitchen grows organic food, entirely free from herbicides and pesticides. We believe strongly that these toxins have no place in a backyard garden. Stay tuned for tips on poison-free weed and pest control!

Below are a few photos from the garden we began planting just this week. Watch for growing updates! As we begin to harvest food, we’ll feature seasonal recipes from the garden. When we begin picking by the wagonload in autumn, you can count on lots of canning and preserving recipes here at Crowded Earth Kitchen!

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Lavender in the front garden

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Russian Sage in the front garden

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Beet sprouts tucked among the petunias in the side garden

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Compost buckets with drainage holes. Each bucket is surrounded by four plants (32 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, and a few odds-n-ends). When the buckets are filled with water, they pull nutrients from the compost deep into the soil, encouraging the plant roots to grow deep and strong.

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30 foot rows of red and yellow seed potatoes, purple and white onions, okra, multicolored carrots, and green beans. The space between the rows needs to be weeded already!

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The side bed of chard and peas took an unexpected heavy rain, which crowded the seeds into one small area! No worries, we’ll just thin them out and plant the bald areas with a few lovely kale transplants.

Baked “TroutSalmon” (Baked Steelhead)

WIN_20150523_215706“What kind of fish is a steelhead?”

Well, that depends upon whom you ask. Some markets label this fish as “steelhead trout,” while others use “steelhead salmon.” The skin of this fish features a faint pink stripe, which by itself would land the fish squarely in the trout camp. Steelhead’s reasonable price is also more reminiscent of trout. The flesh of this fish, however, is pink and tastes exactly like salmon. Further, the fish actually contains MORE of those heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.

Call it a trout, or call it a salmon. Either way, it’s delicious. We’re going to use a light hand in preparing this tasty fish – no batter or tartar sauce today. All these wonderful filets need is a light dusting of chili powder and a bit of finishing salt to make the flavor pop!

WIN_20150523_212006Ingredients (Serves 2)

2 steelhead filets

1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground chili powder

finishing salt (I like Jacobsen lemon sea salt shown, left. Any coarse sea salt will do.)

Directions

WIN_20150523_211508Step 1) Slice the lemon and use it to line your baking pan as shown.

Step 2) Lay your steelhead filets skin side down on top of lemon. Dust with chili powder.

Step 3) Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until fish flakes WIN_20150523_211937easily. Sprinkle with finishing salt and serve immediately with a fresh green salad.

Truffle Popcorn

WIN_20150520_121235When I think of indulgent foods, I think of chocolate… champagne… popcorn…

Popcorn?

This, my friends, is not just any popcorn.

While some folks will grudgingly admit to a secret chocolate stash, or a secret bottle of a top shelf liqueur, my confession is a small bottle of truffle oil and an even smaller tin of truffle salt. It’s not that I won’t share… I will, and I do. It’s just that, if I leave these glorious items in plain sight, one of the budding cooks in my house will surely do something unintentionally heinous, like use truffle oil to grease a pan for pancakes, or dump truffle salt on a frozen pizza.  [Shuddering] Hence, the secret location.

WIN_20150520_121431Truffle oil is akin to vanilla flavoring, in that each of these items contains the same primary flavor compound as the real thing, without the hefty price tag. Are the flavors exactly the same? The consensus is “no.” In fact, some celebrity chefs are downright disdainful of truffle oil, and will only cook with true truffles. With the elusive fungus fetching up to $3,600 per pound… and I am NOT joking… I’ll take my chances on the rumored difference in flavor!

Truffle salt, made by infusing salt with bits and specks of black truffle, is less controversial and just as delicious. My little tin of truffle salt was a gift from my husband, purchased at a Seattle-based shop called Sugarpill. It made me smile… my husband knows me well!

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So… pop up about 8 cups of air popped popcorn. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of truffle oil. Drizzle this fragrant mixture over your popcorn, and sprinkle lightly with truffle salt. You’ll never think of popcorn quite the same way again!

Caramel Blondies

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“Can we make brownies, but not the brown kind?” Half-Pint eagerly asked.

“I like the brown kind. Let’s make the brown kind!” Pickle-in-the-Middle countered.

And so I ended up with two sets of eyes looking up at me, waiting for me to pick a favorite (dessert or child… I’m not entirely sure which!).  Think fast, Mom, think fast…

Enter Caramel Blondies. Blonde “brownies,” lacking cocoa, would surely meet one child’s request for “not the brown kind” of brownies. Rich caramel swirls would be delicious, I imagined – and brown. We gave it a go, and the results were spot-on wonderful the very first try. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

WIN_20150504_181015Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon milk

WIN_20150504_1824581 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup melted caramel or Dulce de Leche

Directions

WIN_20150504_182608Step 1) Melt butter and brown sugar together in a medium (not small) saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Step 2) Add egg and milk to the cooled saucepan; blend well.

Step 3) Add flour, baking powder, and WIN_20150504_182749baking soda to the saucepan and stir to combine all ingredients. Batter will be stiff.

Step 4) Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter to a greased, 9 inch round tart pan or pie dish.

Step 5) Use a teaspoon to drop dots of melted caramel or Dulce de Leche onto the WIN_20150504_185517batter. Use a butter knife to “draw lines” through the caramel in several directions.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the blonde batter (NOT the caramel) comes out clean. Small wedges of this dessert are wonderful served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Medley of Fudge

WIN_20150515_190501We’re back! Crowded Earth Kitchen celebrated the end of Exam Week by taking a hiatus. We loaded Half Pint, Pickle in the Middle, and Half Grown into the kidmobile and headed “up North” to the land of waterslides, miniature golf courses, restaurants with paper moose antler hats (seriously), ice cream parlors, and fudge shops. The kids arrived back home sleep deprived, over sugared, and smelling faintly of chlorine. In other words, they had a great time.

But about the fudge… what is it about family tourist destinations and fudge shops? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one without the other. It’s not like fudge is ever on my grocery list, but on kid-centered vacations, stopping for fudge is an absolute must.

Clockwise from the top in the photo above, we sampled root beer fudge, Heath bar fudge, classic chocolate fudge, and milk chocolate vanilla swirl fudge. Which of these treats would you like to see recreated at Crowded Earth Kitchen? Post a comment with your favorite and I’ll work on a recipe for you!

Yes, You Can Make Gnocchi

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For many budding home cooks, gnocchi is a bit mysterious. Unless you had an Italian grandmother to shadow in the kitchen, or watched that creepy scene from The Godfather too many times, these little potato dumplings can seem complicated.  But hold on a second… really, they’re just dumplings, right? Right.

In this recipe, we’re switching things up a bit by baking the gnocchi instead of boiling. Baking is a foolproof way of assuring a hearty, satisfying texture. Also, the flavor achieved by baking gnocchi on a pan lined with butter and herbs is, well, amazing. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150429_184324Ingredients (Serves 6 – keep in mind that gnocchi freezes well!)

3 large potatoes (I used russet potatoes)

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter (not margarine)

1/2 teaspoon dried, cracked rosemary or herbes de provence

1/2 cup grated parmesan or fontina cheese

WIN_20150429_185827Directions

Step 1) Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Add to a pot of boiling (not salted!) water, and boil until potatoes are soft (check after 10 minutes). Drain and mash the potatoes. Allow to cool, uncovered.

Step 2) After mashed potatoes are cool, add flour, salt, pepper, and eggs. Using your WIN_20150429_190233hands, mix until all ingredients are well blended and a soft dough forms. The dough will be a little bit sticky, but if it is really impossibly sticky, add another few tablespoons of flour. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add milk (only one tablespoon at a time!) and mix until dough holds together.

Step 3) Place a clean towel over the dough WIN_20150429_190849and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes.

Step 4) Break off pieces of dough (about the size of a tennis ball) and roll by hand on a lightly floured countertop to form “snakes” of dough approximately 1 inch thick.

Step 5) Use the edge of a fork (you really don’t need anything sharp) to cut pieces about 1 inch long. Your individual gnocchi WIN_20150429_191213will look like little pillows.

Step 6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While gnocchi rests on the countertop, place 1/4 cup of butter on a large baking sheet with shallow sides. Melt butter on baking sheet by placing it in the oven for a minute or two as it preheats.

Step 7) After butter has melted, tilt the baking sheet back and forth to make sure that the entire surface is coated with butter. Sprinkle herbs evenly over the baking sheet, and place your gnocchi on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping gnocchi over once after 10 minutes.

Step 8) Transfer gnocchi to serving plates and sprinkle with cheese. Enjoy!

 

 

Lavender Vanilla Meringues

WIN_20150509_204230Where I live, Mother Nature can’t quite make up her mind… it’s warm and sunny one day, cold and windy the next. I may have to be patient for summer weather, but there’s no need to be patient waiting for summer flavors! These meringue cookies are light and airy, with a burst of lavender flavor. If sunshine had a taste, this might be it.

WIN_20150509_191617Ingredients (makes 48 meringues)

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 drops red food coloring

1 drop blue food coloring

1 teaspoon dried lavender

1 cup white sugar

picture194Directions

Step 1) In  scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla extract, and cream of tartar at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes until soft peaks form.  It’s OK if the peaks fall over at this point, when you lift the beater out of the mixture.

Step 2)  Add food coloring, lavender, and WIN_20150509_193617sugar – a little at a time – to egg white mixture.  Beat at high speed for 3 – 5 minutes until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.  When you lift the beater out of the mixture now, the peaks should stand up straight.

Step 3)  Drop tablespoonsful of the meringue mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving 1 – 2 inches between meringues.  Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a cooking rack and Enjoy!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sisters

I Am From

I am from strong women

A heritage quilt stitched with love and determination

I am more durable than decorative

More educated than wise

Slowly becoming embroidered.

I am from Alvilda

A gritty Norwegian pioneer, 1900s single mother

Who settled the harsh Dakota prairie

Hungered through the Depression

And lived to be one hundred and three.

I am from Frieda

A small boned and big hearted, poised German woman

Whose fragrant kitchen and ample table

Veiled stories of a young girl’s fight for bread

On an immigrant ship.

I am from Helen

A kind, commonsense woman, adopted Dutch orphan

Whose hands crocheted comfort and

Whose colorful pantsuits

Were emancipatory images.

I am from Gladys

Who raised seven children

With loving hands and little voice

She buried a son, then a daughter

And never wavered in her faith in the Lord.

I am from Joanne

Outwardly practical, inwardly whimsical

Painting, photographing, collecting, telling celebratory stories

Of Life, love, family

Making me want to learn how to cook.

But mostly

I am from Susan.

In my mother’s face I see my reflection,

In her eyes I see years of selflessness and pride in our future.

She insisted – insists – upon strong daughters, my sister and I.

In following her lead

And finding our identity,

We continue the patchwork, my sister and I,

Crafting new patterns out of familiar fabric

Carrying our heritage forward.

Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler

WIN_20150507_184737This recipe makes me think of swimming in my Grandparents’ backyard pool every summer as a child. From late spring to early autumn, Grandma pretty much lived in the swimming pool and always welcomed company. Grandpa would bring out the “silly hat collection” – big straw hats festooned with all manner of decorations – to protect little ears and shoulders from the sun.

I don’t know what it is about an afternoon in a swimming pool that makes people so hungry… it’s not like any of us were trying to qualify for the Olympics, we were just loafing around in the water! Nonetheless, as soon as we dried off, the grandchildren would descend upon the kitchen like a pack of hungry wolves. We never stayed hungry for long. Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler is just one of the many wonderful summer treats we could find in Grandma’s kitchen (though she would usually double her own recipe and bake it in a 9×13 inch pan). I hope you enjoy it nearly as much as I still do!

WIN_20150507_171955Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 egg

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided (see directions below)

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

WIN_20150507_1726441 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/4 cup milk

1 pint blueberries

WIN_20150507_1729591/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter, 2/3 cup sugar, egg, and vanilla extract.

Step 2) Add flour, salt, and baking powder alternately with the milk (add half the dry WIN_20150507_183143ingredients, half the milk, the other half of the dry ingredients, and the other half of the milk).

Step 3) Spread batter into a greased, 9 inch round baking dish (a deep dish pie plate works well).

Step 4) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with the blueberries, and sprinkle sugared blueberries over batter.

Step 5) Mix 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle over the top of everything.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the batter (not a blueberry) comes out clean.

Homemade Sauerkraut

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I have a cousin who makes the best homemade sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted. It’s so good that when I’m gifted with a jar, I snack on cold sauerkraut all by itself. If your only exposure to sauerkraut is the commercially prepared stuff in the green supermarket cans, I understand your skepticism. Homemade sauerkraut does NOT taste like that… really. You’ll just have to pick up a head of fresh cabbage, follow along below, and trust me!

I’m not using my cousin’s recipe today because I don’t want to bother him for instructions right now. He’s in the middle of finishing a Master’s Thesis, and has my sympathy! Finishing a thesis is like childbirth or a root canal… in hindsight you might be happy you’ve gone through the process, but that’s only because the human mind has ways of blocking out parts of those experiences! I digress.

Rather than pester my cousin, we’re just going to give this a go with a few heads of purple cabbage, some salt, and a crock pot. A crock pot? Yes. We’re not actually plugging it in – we’re just using the crock itself as a fermentation vessel. There’s really no need to buy a fancy fermentation container – waste not, want not! The process is simple. Salt pulls the water from slices of fresh cabbage. The salt, water, and cabbage undergo lacto-fermentation pretty much all by themselves – all we need to do is weigh down the cabbage and make sure it stays covered with the fermentation liquid. That’s it. In as little as three days, you have crispy kraut!

WIN_20150427_185552Ingredients (Makes about 2 quarts)

2 heads of purple cabbage

1/2 cup of salt (Do not cut down on the amount of salt – we need it for food safety in this recipe!)

1/4 cup cider vinegar (Again, we’re using this for food safety!)

Directions

Step 1) Wash and slice your cabbages into thin shreds. Save a few outer leaves for step 4, below. Don’t use the cores at all, they’re too tough – just toss the cores in your compost bin.

Step 2) Place the vinegar in the bottom of a scrupulously clean crock pot.

Step 3) Layer 1 inch (no more!) of shredded cabbage and 1 tablespoon of salt (no less!) in the crock pot. Repeat layers until cabbage is used up. You may find that you need even more salt… do NOT skimp on the ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt per inch layer of cabbage. The salt is whatWIN_20150427_185702 prevents harmful bacteria from growing during the fermentation process!

Step 4) Cover your crock pot of salted, shredded cabbage with a few reserved cabbage leaves, being careful to completely cover the shredded cabbage along the sides of the crock pot.

WIN_20150427_185747Step 5) Now, weigh down your cabbage. That’s right – find a few clean salad plates and just stack them on top of everything to press down on your cabbage. Between the salt and the weight, your shredded cabbage will release a lot of liquid in just a few hours, which is exactly what you want to happen! The liquid and the salt will create a brine, and you want ALL of your shredded WIN_20150501_081527cabbage to remain underneath that brine!

Step 6) When your cabbage is below the level of the crock pot lid, place a clean, thin towel over the top (remove a few plates if necessary, but leave at least one in place). Cover with the crock pot lid, and wait. Just let this sit on the counter at room temperature.

Step 7) Wait some more.

Step 8) Somewhere between Day 3 and Day 7, the magic happens. Lacto-fermentation occurs, resulting in a delicious tangy taste and an abundance of healthy probiotics. The flavor (and the concentration of probiotics) will grow during the week – when the flavor is strong enough for you, transfer your kraut to the refrigerator and consume within the next two weeks.

NOTE: Check your kraut before you taste it! Fermentation is pretty safe, especially with a lot of salt and a little vinegar, but spoilage (especially due to air exposure) can occur. If your kraut smells bad, looks slimy, or shows any sign of mold, THROW IT AWAY and start over! Crowded Earth Kitchen is not a wasteful kitchen, but saving a few dollars is not worth making yourself (or anyone else) sick. Agreed?

Layered Taffy Apple Salad

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This salad is a more natural alternative to fruit salads made with “non-dairy whipped topping.” Really… if whipped cream doesn’t contain cream, what the heck is it made from? The chemist in me could go on and on about this, but instead I’ll just ask nicely… please put the frozen tub of fake whipped cream back where you found it, and try this instead.  🙂

Ingredients (Makes 6 servings)

3 apples, chopped (not peeled) in bite size pieces

15 ounce can of crushed pineapple

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 cup of whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, crushed

WIN_20150502_190113Directions

Step 1) Drain the can of pineapple and save the juice!

Step 2) Combine pineapple juice from Step 1, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Whisk well to incorporate cornstarch. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and allow to boil for about 1 WIN_20150502_191308minute or until juice thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Step 3) Combine chopped apples, pineapple, and cooled sauce from Step 2. Stir until well combined.

Step 4) In a scrupulously clean, medium size bowl, beat whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until thickened (this takes approximately 2 minutes).

Step 5) In each serving bowl, layer 1/4 cup of apple mixture, 1 tablespoon whipped cream, and a few crushed peanuts. Repeat with a second layer of apple mixture, whipped cream, and crushed peanuts. Serve immediately.

Cherry Popcorn

WIN_20150429_151210This treat is guaranteed to make you smile! With just three ingredients and 20 minutes, you can make a big bowl of fruity goodness that’s just perfect for Game Night or after school snacks. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150429_141106Ingredients (Makes 10 cups)

10 cups air popped popcorn

1 cup cherry juice

1/2 cup light corn syrup

Directions

WIN_20150429_142955Step 1) Spread 10 cups of air popped popcorn evenly on a large, greased baking pan with shallow sides.

Step 2) Bring 1 cup of cherry juice and 1/2 cup of light corn syrup to a boil in a medium saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes, until reduced to one-third of its original volume. Remove from heat.

WIN_20150429_144850Step 3) Drizzle cherry syrup over popcorn and place popcorn in a preheated 250 degree oven. Bake for 5 minutes.

Step 4) Remove popcorn from oven and stir popcorn with a metal spatula (some of the syrup will have sunk to the bottom of the pan; you want that syrup coating the popcorn!). Allow to cool completely before serving.