Fresh Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Sundae Topping

While we’re still trying to fight off winter, spring has already sprung in some of our sunshine states like Florida and California. When I you start to see fragrant strawberries from these states popping up in your stores, you know that warmer days are right around the corner. At least, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself…

There are few things better in life than a perfectly red, ripe strawberry. When I buy them, I can always be counted upon to eat at least half of the clamshell package on the way home. So I’ve learned my lesson and usually buy two, just to be on the safe side. As much as I love to eat them “as-is”, it’s so much fun to cook and bake with them in the kitchen!

Cake. Cupcakes. Ice Cream. Vodka. Margaritas. Salad. Salsa. Syrup. You name it – I’ve made it! But one thing that was conspicuously missing was a good homemade strawberry sauce. Which, oddly is probably the easiest of all of those things to make. Fresh strawberries cooked down with a bit of sugar and a vanilla bean. Heaven over a bowl of yogurt and granola in the morning, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the evening…

Look for berries that are a deep red in color, but most importantly – smell them! Good strawberries are extremely fragrant. That’s usually my rule of thumb for most fruits, actually – the better it smells the better it’ll taste. So, keep your sniffer in mind the next time you’re in the produce aisle!

Homemade Marshmallows

I know, I know – I’ve been another couple of months MIA. I feel like it’s been one sickness after another around here since the New Year, and I’ve just been in kind of a funk as far as cooking in the kitchen is concerned. Sticking to my old stand-by’s…and not trying anything new or out of my comfort zone. I’m doing my best to “shake it off” though, and crossing out something on your “want to make from scratch” bucket-list is always a great place to start!

Marshmallows were at the top of that list for me. With as often as we make s’mores around here, a big fluffy homemade marshmallow would be just the ticket to elevate them to the next level. You can control the thickness and shape, and you know precisely what is going into them…something that’s not so easily accomplished with the store bought variety. Not to mention the fun you could have experimenting with flavors and colors!

A stand mixer is pretty much required, as it requires quite a bit of time whisking the mixture to the perfect cloud-like consistency. It’s minimal hands on work – heating up the sugar syrup and blooming the gelatin. Then it gets a spin in the mixer, and a good amount of cooling time before cutting and enjoying. Which, is of course always the hardest part.

They turn out perfect every time, and are a delightful little gift packaged up in a pretty cellophane bag. They also hold up really well to a good roasting, they’re more substantial then your average marshmallow – which tend to just want to slough off the stick. And, they keep for three weeks! Not like they ever last that long around here.

Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour and Alton Brown

Citrus Pork Tenderloin

Just when I think I can’t possibly come up with another preparation for a pork tenderloin, I’ll find a new twist that I love. I’d originally made a version of this tenderloin while out on the boat this year. I’d put it together in the morning, then grilled it on the boat. The orange, lime, honey, and garlic meld together to give wonderful flavor to the pork. And the sugars in the orange juice and honey give the create a beautiful, deep carmelization. Just served it with something simple like sesame noodles or potato salad. Everyone always loved it!

As it was such a big hit over the summer, I figured it would be something that would translate nicely to a one-dish meal, now that the weather has turned cold. So instead of grilling, I seared it off in a cast iron skillet, ten added some sweet potato wedges, Brussels sprouts, and fresh cranberries. The whole thing is placed into the oven to finish off cooking. In about 30 minutes, you’ve got a delicious (and complete!) meal.

I’d never roasted cranberries before, but now that I have – it certainly won’t be the last time! The flavor concentrates, and their sweetness really comes out. Not to mention that they were so gorgeous and festive dotted in-between the roasted veggies. For a meal that’s so easy, it’s really impressive. Something a little different than ham or crown roast of pork – also much more economical. I know I’m trying to pinch a few pennies between now and Christmas! Everyone will love this one.

caramelcorn

One of my favorite things about our local fireman’s carnival in the summertime is their homemade caramel corn. Sure, you can get great caramel corn on the boardwalk in Ocean City…but the site of a giant copper kettle full of popcorn, butter and brown sugar being continuously stirred by one of our local hard-working guys is one to behold. For me, that scent wafting through the air means summertime on Chincoteague.

But then fall arrives, and the carnival is over for another year…leaving me without a giant tub full of caramel corn to munch on. So, I decided to start taking matters into my own hands a couple years ago, and started making my own. A few basic ingredients and about an hour – and you have a giant batch of caramel corn that stays good for a couple weeks, or also make excellent gifts when bagged up and tied with a pretty ribbon.

Peanuts, are of course optional…but we love the nutty crunch that it adds. Looking forward to playing around with some different ingredients to change the flavor up a bit…maybe a little cayenne to spice things up, or a little cinnamon and nutmeg for an autumnal spin! With Halloween coming up, it’s the perfect excuse to try making this classic for yourself at home – you won’t regret it!

Homemade Caramel Corn

1 cup popcorn kernels, un-popped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250° F. Line two baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper, set aside.

Pop popcorn using your preferred method, I use and air-popper and have to do two batches. Place the popped popcorn onto the baking sheets.

Meanwhile, to make the caramel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, mix in the corn syrup, brown sugar and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.

Once the mixture reaches a boil, let the mixture continue to boil for 5 more minutes without stirring. Remove the mixture from the heat, stir in the baking soda and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and become frothy. Evenly drizzle the caramel sauce over the popcorn on the baking sheets, and use a silicone spatula to gently toss and coat thoroughly. It’s okay if there are some clumps of caramel throughout, it will melt and become better spread out while baking.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, removing from the oven to toss/stir every 10 minutes. After 40 minutes, test a cooled piece of popcorn. If it is not completely crispy (i.e. still slightly mushy when you bite it), bake for 10 minutes more.

Remove the baking sheets to a wire rack and allow popcorn to cool completely before breaking apart for serving or packaging. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (no way in hell it’ll last that long).

Source: adapted from Annie’s Eats