Praline Pecan Popcorn

I was browsing the recipe sections of butter websites, as one is wont to do if one is a southern baker, and came across a recipe for Praline Popcorn. I used their recipe with only minor alterations to make southern style caramel corn.

I use a LÉKUÉ microwave popcorn popper so I can make popcorn quickly, with less mess than on the stovetop but without the additives and extra salt and fat found in most commercial microwave popcorn. To pop enough for this recipe, I used ⅓ cup of kernels, 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, ¼ teaspoon popcorn salt. It made more than eight cups but my dad kept stealing from the bowl, so I used what was left. The brown sugar/butter sauce will coat up to 10 cups of popcorn.

The pecans are lovely after being cooked slightly in the butter and brown sugar. The sweet caramel sauce added to the lightly salted popcorn makes a delicious treat.

Praline Pecan Popcorn

8 cups popped popcorn, lightly salted
1 cup pecans, chopped into pieces
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 250°F.

Place the popcorn in a large bowl.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add brown sugar and butter. Bring to a boil and add in the pecan pieces, stirring regularly.

After boiling for five minutes, remove from heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda. It will bubble up but stir until the chemical reaction completes and then pour the hot sauce over the popcorn and toss to coat.

Transfer mixture to a large rimmed baking sheet and spread out evenly. Bake 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Sometimes it is easier to pour it back into the large bowl to stir. Return to the baking sheet and continue baking. After 30 minutes, spread out onto foil or parchment paper to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating. Once cool, break apart to eat.

Store any remaining praline pecan popcorn in an airtight zip top bag.


No Added Salt Party Mix

I have a friend coming to town who is on a salt free diet. There will be a Saints game while he is here and I wanted to make a party mix that he could enjoy.

I’m using a salt free blend from Penzey’s Spices called Arizona Dreaming. It is spicy and flavorful with ancho chili pepper, black pepper, onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, oregano, cilantro, lemon peel, chipotle pepper, red pepper, jalapeño and cocoa. It adds wonderful flavor but not a lot of heat.

In my go-to party mix (Circles and Squares), I use Worcestershire Sauce. Because that has a lot salt in it, I instead replaced the sauce with Liquid Smoke to add a depth of flavor without added salt.

It is quite delicious and a good replacement for salty snack mix. Unfortunately, the Saint’s game today (they lost 10-20 to the Steelers) was not as enjoyable as my mix!

No Salt Added Party Mix

1 box Crispex cereal (15 oz) about 12 cups
1 box Cheerios cereal (8.9 oz) about 6 cups
2 cups unsalted roasted cashew halves and pieces
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (I used Figaro)
1 tablespoon Arizona Dreaming (or other salt free spice mix)

Mix cereals and nuts together in a large roasting pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the liquid smoke and salt-free mix. Pour over the cereal, stirring well to coat evenly. Bake 1 hour in a 250 degree oven, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Easy Artichoke Dip

When you need a quick appetizer, this is my go-to recipe. It makes about 2 cups and comes together with little effort or time, so you can focus on your guests.

I like it with Ritz crackers but the only limit to the dipping is your imagination.

Easy Artichoke Dip

1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
¾ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup grated mix of parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
Dash garlic powder.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the artichoke hearts. Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Put the dip in a pie plate or casserole dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until dip is hot and bubbling. Serve with crackers or chips.

Cheesy Sourdough Sausage Balls

I’ve been working on replacing my old Bisquick recipe of sausage balls. Not that I haven’t used the mix for pancakes, dumplings, etc but the sugar and all the other things in it are not what I want in my baking any more. The experiments were delicious and also gave me another way to use my sourdough starter (it is about to celebrate its 3rd birthday).

I like sharp cheddar cheese in these but any good melting cheese would work. You could also add a ½ cup of chopped olives for a briny kick.

Such a tasty appetizer – meaty and cheesy with just a little tang.

Cheesy Sourdough Sausage Balls

1/2 cup sourdough starter discard
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup warm water
1 pound pork breakfast sausage
1 pound (about 4 cups) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Splash of milk (if needed)

Mix together the sourdough starter, flour and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate.

Brown the sausage, using a fork to chop it up in small pieces as it heats. Drain on a paper towel and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400° F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of the stand mixer, combine sausage with the flour mixture. Stir well before adding cheese and melted butter. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined and comes together like a “dough.” If the dough needs a bit of additional moisture to come together, add a splash of milk.

Form into small balls (about a tablespoon in size) and place on the parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

The balls can be made ahead, cooled and frozen until ready to use. Just thaw and reheat.

Sausage Olive Cheese Balls

So, I like olive cheese bites and I really like cheese straws (even with bacon) and I love sausage balls. I figured why not put them all together into one delicious bite?

And I was right! Briny, meaty, cheesy – all that is delicious.

Make sure you grate the cheese yourself – the preshredded cheese is coated with a moisture absorber and it keeps the ingredients from sticking together.


Now, if only I had a bridge club or majohng group to share them with.

Sausage Olive Cheese Balls

½ lb bulk sausage
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup Spanish olives, chopped fine

Brown sausage and drain. Set aside to cool.

Sift  the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the remaining spices.

Mix the grated and softened cheeses, olives together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment on low speed until combined. Slowly add in the flour mixture. Sprinkle in sausage and continue on medium speed until the mixture comes together. Place bowl into the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the mixture from fridge and form into balls. Place on parchment paper covered baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating pans midway between cooking.

Fried Mozzarella Sticks

I had the peanut oil out at lunch and, after cleaning up from our meal, took a nap to dream up things to fry in it.

Cheese! And, not just any cheese, but mozzarella.

We didn’t use all the pizza sauce on Friday’s sourdough cast iron pizza so that was our dipping sauce. Below is the basic recipe:

Pizza sauce – dashes of basil and oregano plus a sprinkle of salt in a small can of plain tomato sauce, heated in a saucepan over low heat. Taste after it is warmed and add more of whatever it is missing. If there is a metallic taste from the can, consider adding in a pinch of sugar.

You can definitely season the bread crumbs – as our sauce was flavorful, I didn’t but a little cayenne would have been tasty.

As Mom said of the fried cheese, “It is like a pizza melting in my mouth!”

Fried Mozzarella Sticks

8 oz Mozzarella cheese block
1 egg
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ bread crumbs
oil for frying – I used peanut

pizza sauce or marinara sauce

Cut the cheese block in half and then each half in six equal size pieces.

Place the flour in a pie plate. Scramble the egg in a shallow dish. Spread breadcrumbs in another pie plate. Coat the cheese sticks in flour, dredge in the egg and then coat with bread crumbs. Place them on a rack above a baking sheet.

Freeze for at least an hour or up to two.

Heat about a quarter inch of peanut oil or other neutral oil in a large skillet. Bring the oil to about 375 degrees F. Fry for about a minute each side or until golden brown.

Serve with warmed pizza or marinara sauce for dipping.

Seven Layer Dip

I had some Lindsay’s Naturals ripe green olives the other day (Thanks to Helen for turning me on to them) and found them to be buttery and delicious. As I thought about them during the long dark night, I dreamed they’d be an excellent topper to a 7 layer dip.

Yes, I dream in appetizers.

The only solid rule to this dip is to use a glass dish so you can see the layers. Everything else, including order is up to you. For a bowl game, I’ve upped everything to fit into a 9×13 baking dish. This version is using a round bowl as I couldn’t find mom’s trifle dish.

For making my dip, I start by using a can of refried beans mixed with about a half cup of sour cream to make it dippable as my first two layers. As I’m in isolation with my parents, I’m only using 2/3rds of the can plus a quarter cup sour cream.

Then, I use taco meat for the next layer. I had some in the freezer from our last batch of tacos but it is a simple matter to brown a pound of ground meat and add seasonings to taste (here is my taco seasoning blend). Let cool completely (or thaw completely) before using.

I’m using frozen guacamole I thawed. Because I need to stretch it further, I mixed it with the meat before spreading that layer out.

I then did a layer of grated pepper jack and cheddar cheese. Toss on sliced grape tomatoes and, finally, sliced olives.

If you want to be pedantic and say the mixed layers don’t count as their individual parts, add a layer of lettuce after the meat but before the cheese. Add salsa as a layer and you can even add more sour cream as a layer. Or, be like my dad and cover your side with pickled jalapeño slices.

Once you’ve built it to your standards, place in the refrigerator to chill before serving with tortilla chips.

Yummy and shareable!


Meatloaf Stuffed Mushrooms

I found a pack of mushrooms on sale – they were larger than usual and had pretty deep caps so I knew they’d be good for stuffing. I’d also had a craving for meatloaf and decided to put it all together. I started with my basic meatloaf recipe, then stuffed the mushrooms and molded the remaining filling into a loaf.

If you’re making this for a party, use more than a single pack of mushrooms. You’ll get a smaller meatloaf but the stuffed mushrooms are worth the sacrifice.

I was out of diced tomatoes but I had a blister pack of cherry tomatoes and, after a spin in a food processor, they were perfect in the dish.

You can add the cheese after 30 minutes for a prettier presentation but I like it when it is a little crunchy, so I put it on before sliding the baking tray in the oven.

Meatloaf Stuffed Mushrooms

3/4 cup milk
2-3 slices stale bread (at least 1 1/2 cups worth when torn)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 lbs ground beef
8 ounces cheddar or pepper jack cheese, grated
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, chopped in a food processor
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces large stuffing mushrooms

Make a panade by soaking the torn pieces of bread in the milk for ten minutes.

Combine panade with all the rest of the ingredients (reserving a small handful of cheese to top the mushrooms) together in a large bowl. Mix with your hands.

Clean mushrooms and remove stem. Coat with olive oil and place on rimmed baking sheet large enough for the mushrooms and the rest of the meat loaf. Fill each mushroom with 1-2 tablespoons of meatloaf filling. Sprinkle additional cheese on top.

Form a loaf from the remaining filling and bake at 350 degrees F for 60 minutes (or until the loaf reaches an internal temp of 160 degrees). The mushrooms should be done at an hour but the meatloaf may take 75 to 90 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve.

Olive Cheese Log

I’ve written before about a quick and easy way to make a delicious appetizer (Make at home Cheese Log). Then I got to talking with Michelle about finding cheese in my freezer and my need to make a new one, she mentioned a cousin of hers who made one with olives. As we all know, I love the combination of cheese and olives (see my Olive Cheese Bites) so I set out to make my own version.

While many folks just form these into balls, I’ve always felt the ration of nuts to cheese gets a little off as you get to the center of the ball. Therefore, I roll mine out into logs instead.

You don’t need to do what I did and use leftover cheese – this is such a great appetizer, don’t wait until you’ve collected a pound of cheese ends and cubes leftover from events. Buy a block of cheddar and some cream cheese and you’re good to go!

Do not use grated cheese as the texture won’t be right. For the green olives, I used Manzanilla olives stuffed with pimentos for an added bit of color and flavor. You can also sprinkle a little paprika on them before rolling in pecans for presentation.

These logs freeze well. Wrap well and seal in an airtight bag. Thaw in the fridge.

Olive Cheese Log

1 lb block cheddar cheese, cut into cubes, at room temperature
1 – 8 ounce package
cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup green olives, chopped
1/3 cup black olives, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Add all ingredients, except pecans, to food processor. Pulse until smooth. Remove mixture with rubber spatula onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Roll into a log shapes and chill in fridge for about 30 minutes. Remove from wrap and roll in the chopped pecans, pressing to adhere. Wrap the logs in another piece of plastic wrap.

Chill again for at least 30 minutes (or better, overnight) before serving with crackers.

Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

I had a craving for peanut sauce. What better way to get the stuff to your mouth than spring rolls?

The last time I had boiled a pot of shrimp, I made a couple of snack bags of the peeled leftovers so I could have shrimp to toss into things. They were perfect little bites in the rolls.

You can use most any veg in them but I like the coolness of the mint and cucumber and the crunch of carrots. This is especially handy if you get the peanut sauce too spicy!

Peanut Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 teaspoon honey

Thin the peanut butter with the hot water. Whisk in remaining ingredients and then taste for seasoning. Add more hot water if it needs further thinning. Make at least 4 hours ahead and taste again for seasoning before using.

The recipe is based on the number on shrimp I had and the number of rice paper wrappers in the package, so we knew we could make eight spring rolls.

Shrimp Spring Rolls

35 small shrimp, pre-cooked
1 cucumber, seeds removed
2 carrots
half package rice noodle vermicelli
bunch of mint
package of spring roll rice paper wrappers

Prepare the vermicelli according the package directions. Slice the cucumber and carrots into matchstick sized pieces. Chiffonade the mint leaves.

Wet the rice paper wrappers in lukewarm water. Set the softened paper on a plastic cutting board. Place some rice noodles down and then a few cucumber and carrot slices beside and on top of the noodles. Sprinkle on some mint leaves. Make one tight roll. Set down the shrimp and continue to roll, folding in the ends before the final roll.

Set on a plate covered with a damp towel until ready to serve. Don’t stack as they will stick together. They are best eaten soon after rolling but can be covered tightly in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge for a couple hours if necessary.