Caramel Corn Snack Mix

This weekend I was forced soooo far out of my comfort zone.

My friends persuaded me to go contra dancing. (Typically Ally and organized dance are two words that just don’t go together).

Touching random people, coordinating movements to music, gazing into a strangers eyes (there’s a lot of spinning) and getting all out of breath and sweaty in public when you’re not running. Pretty much every single thing that makes internal Ally scream… “Warning, beware of discomfort!”

As we were walking up to the dance hall my heart was racing. I was freaking out.

Two and a half hours later, I had a fantastic time. I think I’m finally realizing after 24 years… doing something a little (or extremely) uncomfortable is as Martha Stewart would say “a good thing”.

Is it time for you to do something different and uncomfortable, get out of your boring habits and routine? Let me be the first to encourage you!

And if you do, I’ll reward you with this caramel corn snack mix.

Take your basic caramel corn and add in some peanuts and pretzels … its right in my comfort zone, besides just being down right tasty.

Sugar, butter, corn syrup, salt, vanilla, and baking soda make the sweet crunchy caramel to go over the popcorn.

After it comes to a boil, let it work on its own for 5 minutes and it will begin to darken. The bubbling is so enticing yet so ridiculously hot, having a deeper sauce pot helps to prevent any potential splatter.

When the 5 minutes are up, add the baking soda and vanilla. It blooms, fluffs up and gets frothy. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for why this happens but it tastes good so the science is essentially irrelevant.

My apologies, it all moves pretty quick so getting goods photos of the steps was a little difficult.

It seems a little chaotic, you pop the popcorn, put the popcorn in the oven to keep warm, start the caramel,  the caramel finishes, the popcorn comes out of the oven, pour the caramel over the popcorn, stir/fold to combine and cover everything evenly, and finally put it all back in the oven to crisp it up (and take a breath).

But the chaos pays off…

30 minutes or so in the oven and gets golden and crunchy. Sometimes Instagram just makes things look soooo good.

Here’s how to do it:

Caramel Corn Snack Mix

Adapted from All Recipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unpopped popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 6 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups Dry-Roasted Lightly Salted Peanuts
  • 2 cups Pretzel Sticks, broken in half

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the unpopped popcorn. Moving the pan periodically to pop the corn. Remove from heat, place in a large baking pan, and keep warm in the preheated oven. Discard unpopped kernels.
  3. While the popcorn is popping, measure out the peanuts and break the pretzel sticks in half. Add into the large baking pan with the popcorn before putting into the oven.
  4. Mix sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt into a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture starts to boil. Continue cooking for 5 minutes without stirring.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour over the popped popcorn. Stir popcorn until evenly coated. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from pan and put into a large bowl to cool (or cupcake wrappers for easy individual servings).

Simple Spicy Taco Salad

Saturday I ran a 5k with some of my best friends…

5k=3.something miles

I do it all the time. Ok, hold-up, I used to do it all the time. Well this time, it felt like I completed a half marathon. I blame it on the hills I’m not used to running.

The reality is, I need to get into better running shape… and maybe eat some more salads and nothing beats a simple, spicy, taco salad.

I feel more fit already. Amazing what some leafy greens can do! I’m doing squats as I type!!! (slight hyperbole, I can barely chew gum and walk)

One reason salads are so great, you can be creative. With a taco salad, I usually do a spicy creamy dressing (recipe below), avocado, tomato, olives, and beans (not shown since 5 doesn’t make a square).

I also really like to put shredded cheese on top but it turns into a “You want some salad with that cheese?” situation. I try not to keep it readily available at my apartment… I think I’m addicted.

As always, anything Mexican inspired is best served with chips… AND salsa. The blue corn chips above are the baked blue tortilla  chips from Trader Joe’s. Delicious and healthy.

Arriba!

Here’s how to do it:

Taco Salad

Avocado, diced

Tomato, diced

Black Olives, sliced

Romaine Lettuce, 2 Hearts will feed 4-5 people

Salsa

For the Beans:

1 Can Black Beans (rinsed and drained)

1 tbsp. Taco Seasoning

Heat the beans in a pan with the taco seasoning on medium-low. Add a few teaspoons of water to thin out after putting in the taco seasoning. Heat for 5 minutes or so, until hot.

For the Dressing:

Adapted from Cooking Light

2/3 C. Sour Cream

1/4 tsp. Cayenne

1 tsp. Chili Powder

1 tsp. Cumin

4 tsp. fresh Lime Juice

1 small can Diced Green Chiles (The original recipe had a chipotle chili in Adobo sauce but I didn’t have any. I love green chiles and it ended up being a great substitute.)

1/4 tsp. Salt

Combine all ingredients together and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour so the spices and flavors meld. It is a thicker dressing but if you think it is a little too thick, you can thin it out with just a little bit of milk or water.

To serve, I think making individual plates is the best way to go. Everyone can get as much or as little of everything as they want.

Word to Your Mother…

I’m away from my baby on Mother’s Day. And by baby, I mean my cat that I treat like a child. Let me remind you…

Ollie on the Couch.

Ollie in the Dryer.

I have pictures of him from every stage of life. Annnnddd… you’re cat lady alert just went off.

He is actually away at ‘Summer Camp’ because I was away for such a long period of time on vacation, I let him stay with Grandma and Grandpa instead of finding and paying someone to take care of him here.

Thankfully, he has the greatest grandma in the world. Just so happens, if we follow the logic, it means I have the best Mother in the world. I mean it. I really don’t think there is much use in trying to compete either. It’s already settled.

She loves me unconditionally.

She always puts my sister and me first.

She never stops thinking/worrying/caring about us. Mom – “Ally now, if you are going to go out, make sure to bring your mace.” Ally- “Mom, I think it will be fine, I’m just going to Church.” Maybe it’s not that extreme… but you know what I mean. I’ll always be her baby.

She loves Ollie as if he were her own. If she loves a cat this much, imagine how fantastic its going to be when it’s an actual human being.

She loves sugar, butter, and sweets as much as me, including this baked french toast.

We made this the first time last Easter and I made it my new Easter tradition… it was that good. It’s a French toast/bread pudding hybrid but definitely still classified as breakfast.  Perfect for any brunch occasion, like Mother’s Day!

I’ve got two words for you. Streusel Topping. The original recipe uses pecans but you can mix it up with any nut you’ve got.

Slice the bread of your choice (I prefer Challah about 3/4 inch thick), layer in a 9X13 inch pan and sprinkle each layer lightly with cinnamon before layering the rest of the bread  on top. It will make two layers.

Pour over the egg mixture (which includes: egg, milk, sugar, vanilla, and a little more cinnamon) and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, sprinkle the streusel over the bread mixture and it’s ready to go in the oven.

After 45 minutes at 350 degrees. It get’s slightly puffed and ready to eat. Just serve with real maple syrup and a fresh fruit salad to balance it out.

Nothing says “I love you, Mom” like this… crunchy, buttery, cinnamon-y, down right delicious breakfast.

Here’s how to do it:

Baked French Toast with Pecan Streusel

Adapted from Coastal Living

Serves 8-10 people, easily.

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) loaf bread of choice (Challah, french, artisan) cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices
  • 8 large eggs
  • 3 cups half-and-half, (fat free works too!)
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon + extra to sprinkle over the bread
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Maple syrup

Pecan Streusel

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preparation

  1. Arrange bread slices in a greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkling each layer with cinnamon.
  2. Combine eggs and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl, whisking until well blended. Pour egg mixture over bread. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.
  3. Combine the first 4 ingredients of the pecan streusel and stir in the nuts. (This works well with a fork to get the crumbly texture.)
  4. Preheat oven to 350°. Sprinkle Pecan Streusel over bread slices. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until slightly puffed and golden. Serve with maple syrup.

California… Knows How to Party

California… Knows how to partaay. In the citaay of L.A.

Me and TuPac. Doin’ our thing in sunny CA…

Sometimes I drift into moments where I think I’m a hip-hop/rap mogul. Pardon me…

Leading up to my trip to Texas, I spent a few days in Southern California (LA, San Diego and La Jolla).

I went down with a good friend of mine who was also looking for a break from Seattle and an extra dose of vitamin D. It was only the second time I had ever planned a trip and travelled with someone besides my family. There is always risk involved when you surround yourself with the same people for an extended period of time AND you’re women…  but good news… we are still friends!!! We have some good stories together now too!

Here’s a few quick shots from the trip.

Nutella Crepe with Strawberries and Bananas from the Farmer’s market. Such good variety, prices and taste we had to go back twice. The first time I had Queso Fundido from Loteria Grill. Also to die for.

Griffith Park and Observatory. One of my favorite places in LA. I could have stayed there all day, above the city (and the smog), just hiking all over.

I don’t see my shadow very often. I had to take a photograph. This will probably be the last as it’s highly unflattering, Jessie and Kathy were meant for shadow photos… me? not so much…

I’m a museum nerd so Jessie appeased me and we went to the Getty Center. It was beautiful and so California. The grounds were as spectacular as the art.

Sprinkles cupcakes really are some of the best I have ever had. And you can buy a “shot” of frosting, the best and worst I have felt all in one day. One of those stomach to brain conversations “Brain, I know how sugar makes you happy but this is getting out of hand. XOXO, Stomach.” Needless to say we had a light dinner.

I love marine mammals, including these seals on Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla. They’re the grit your teeth and try not to run up and squeeze them, unbearable kind of cute.

The second day in LA we had one of Jessie’s (and now my :)) friends, Kathy, take us around the city. We made a pit stop in Chinatown where I was mesmerized by these HUGE cinnamon sticks at a grocery store. Can you believe it?!?

Venice Beach was beautiful and quite the experience. I passed on the multiple offers to have a “doctor” examine me for a medical marijuana license.

Sun + Sand = Perfection

It had been quite some time since I’d been to California and experiencing the culture at different stage of life was fun and exciting. We walked away with a light tan and the sun even warmly welcomed us back to the Emerald city.

Where Everything’s Bigger

It’s Wednesday evening and I just got home from my first day at work after a two week vacation. I had exactly 222 emails to greet me this morning.

I need to go back to my happy place so I just thought I would share some of it with you…

I’m exhausted, good exhausted. I think thats what usually happens on vacation.

I’m sunburnt, I mean ripe tomato sunburnt. Thank goodness I don’t see my dermatologist for a few weeks, she would KILL me. But I’m over-dosing on aloe, hoping for a nice tan in a few days.

I’m full of love. Sometimes I think I have to be one of the luckiest people alive. I’ve got family that isn’t just blood related. To feel unconditional love from so many people, its pretty legit. My love tank is far from “E”.

When most people think Texas, they think Hairspray, Humidity, Heat, and Howdy but for me, Texas is my motherland.

This is my Texas… and there’s always Shiner on tap.

We went down to Austin for a wedding. It just so happened to have some of the most beautiful wedding flowers I have ever seen. They scream Spring, right?!

Architecture in Fredericksburg, a quaint Hill Country town.

Rustic fence while hiking the Greenbelt in ATX. Very Texas, the only thing missing is a cowboy in Wranglers leaning against it.

The dirt and rocks above is supposed to be a river. Much of Texas is experiencing a major drought, again. Me? Well, I live in the rain and Seattle is in no drought. Admittedly, I’m selfish… I wanted nothing to do with rain. Now that I’ve left, lets pray for a good soaking.

A great winery in the Hill Country of Texas. Okay, I can’t really say great since I don’t drink wine, beautiful nonetheless.

It’s a beautiful place. My roots are there and always will be no matter where I go.