It is 98 degrees outside. I'm told Fahrenheit, but I believe it to be Celsius because I am sweating like a homo in a hardware store*. The fan is set to full on Arctic Chill, which is more like Delta Breeze because I'm learning that the sun penetrates our house in the warmer months like a hooker's anonymous John making it a veritable hot box of scorchy death.
It's April. People... God... Why is it in the upper nineties in April?!
I'm in the kitchen right now, which is in the hundreds right now because I have the oven preheating and I'm over a gas burner cooking pots full of popcorn and stirring together a caramel sauce. Baked air, coils of steam caressing as much skin and surface as possible, and wrathful sunlight all invade the kitchen at once to destroy me. And I, masochist that I am, am choosing to be here.
Why? Because it's springtime. Baseball season is here. And it's April. And darn it I have a potluck to be at.
One of those great sort of potlucks you have to be lucky to experience, and that I am blessed to be a part of every fourth Sunday when the weather becomes... well, I would say pleasant, but let's say not rainy or cold.
Guests range from artists to caterers, CEO's to lawyers, as well as an intern and publicist for fun. All eclectic. All down to earth. All of them very into food and more than just comfortable with a whisk in their hand.
You will see no prepackaged food. You would be quietly shunned for such a sin.
Instead, people show up with shaved fennel salads, chilled yogurt and cucumber soups, grilled eggplants with herbed lentils, crisps of whatever fruit is in season, and always the most superb bottles of wine.
So for the sake of nostalgia and showing off I'm making caramel corn. To mix it up a bit I'm adding almonds instead of peanuts and a dash of ancho chili powder because in this kind of heat a bit of help sweating is a good thing.
Spicy food - in a strange way - makes perfects sense when it's sweltering outside.
So this popcorn was well-received, devoured by all after too much wine in a beautiful surroundings composed of fountains, terraces, well-kept gardens, and even a Stone Henge. It's the very place we're actually holding the wedding. So as Fiance and I enjoy sitting here laughing with friends, it feels like a small preview for the big event just a few months away.
And, just because I can, I think I'll make sure there's a bowl or two of caramel corn for guests to casually pop in their mouths and laugh over because of the fact that there is caramel corn at the wedding. It just feels right, more fun, more casual when you have snacks like that at events like this.
A touchy of whimsy and ancho make all social events just the better.
Ancho Almond Caramel Corn
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves a whole damn potluck of people
6 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2/3 cup popcorn kernels
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
2 cups roasted almonds
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil and 3 kernels in a 3-quart sauce pan over medium-high heat. When the kernels all pop add 1/3 cup of the kernels then take the pot off the heat and count to 30. Place back over the heat and shake the pan. The kernels will begin to pop, place the lid on the pan, but slightly ajar to allow steam to escape (ensuring cripsy corn) while preventing the popcorn from exploding all over your kitchen. When the popping stops pour the popcorn into a large roasting pan. Repeat with the remaining oil and kernels.
2. Preheat oven to 225F. Clean out the sauce pot and place the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, molasses, and salt into the sauce pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a full boil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until candy thermometer reaches 250°F. Remove from heat; stir in the baking soda and the ancho chili powder. The caramel will foam up a little and turn a lighter color when you add the baking soda.
3. Carefully pour the caramel corn over the popcorn and add the almonds. Stir together until the popcorn and almonds are well coated. Bake for 20 minutes, stir the mixture back together again, and bake for another 20 minutes. Turn the caramel corn out onto some wax paper to cool, then break the mixture up and devour or store in an air-tight container.
*Seems some people were upset about the "homo in a hardware store" line in the last post. One sent a rather incredibly vitriolic e-mail. So...
1) I am a homo.
2) I get flustered in Home Depot because I have no idea what anything is, what it does, or how to use it. This is much to my partner's chagrin.
3) I see how the confusion that this is a jab at the lesbian stereotype. It was not every meant that way and to be honest it didn't even cross my mind because I just don't think of lesbians that way the same way I don't think of gays in a certain way (except how awesome they are).
4) Calm the 'eff down.