Ah, the new year.
Ah, the first few weeks of January. When everyone is eating light, kicking off weight-loss resolutions, trying to be healthy. Martha Stewart is trying to get us to eat kombu in a clay pot; Alton Brown is pushing sardines and avocado on toast. (To be fair, Alton looks amazing. And his "lists" of how much of which types of food to eat per week really are quite sensible. And his smoothies are tasty.) Hell, even Rachael Ray is slinging low-cal halibut in parchment ("FISH IN A SACK!"). Beware, however. All this good health has a definite shelf-life, and it starts to go bad right around the end of the NFL playoffs.
Now, I am no fan of resolutions. But even if I was, the way I see it, we all have until roughly Super Bowl Sunday to follow through with our new good habits. Because the minute The Food Network switches from its "healthy eating" promos to its "GET READY FOR THE BIG GAME HERE ARE SOME JALAPENO POPPERS!" ads, you can kiss those resolutions goodbye. The new year's good intentions are replaced by football party snack food: a gridiron of guacamole, spread on a platter and striped with sour cream yard lines...chicken wings...spinach dip...Tostitos. Super Bowl Sunday is the end of a short-lived resolution season, followed as it is by luscious baked goods for Valentine's Day, then green beer and corned beef in March, then dozens of chocolate Easter eggs in April. You get my point.
So I say, to hell with it all. It is January 10, and I am going to make some caramel corn.
This is the caramel corn of my youth, which I don't think I've had since my youth. But a romp through Mom's recipe box on New Year's Eve (I really know how to party) unearthed this gem and awakened in me a long-suffering hankering for caramel corn that I didn't even know I had. The recipe comes from my childhood neighbors, the Chases. They were awesome, and so was their corn. It's sweet and a little bit salty, laced with a deep brown-sugary flavor and spiked with big pecan shards. It's a perfect snack on a lazy, frigid Sunday afternoon in January, when the television ads say "Weight Watchers" but your growling stomach says "no thanks."
Never let it be said that my priorities aren't in line.
CARAMEL CORN WITH PECANS
8 c. popped popcorn (feel free to use microwave popcorn, just choose a "lite" variety without a lot of added flavorings)
1 1/2 c. raw pecans, very coarsely chopped
3/4 c. light brown sugar
6 T. unsalted butter
3 T. light corn syrup
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the popped popcorn and pecans on an 11" x 17" rimmed baking sheet lined with a Silpat.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to combine the ingredients. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes without stirring.
Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Pour the mixture over the popcorn and pecans and stir well with a spatula, covering as much of the popcorn with the brown sugar mixture as possible.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir. Bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and stir one last time with a spatula, coating the popcorn as evenly as possible. Cool, and happily consume.
Makes 8 cups of caramel corn.