No. 42, 43 & 44: Snacks! Homemade Cracker Jack, Roasted Curried Chickpeas & Honey-Spiced Almonds

Mr. McCormick and I are snowboarders.

Well, if I'm being honest, he is a real honest-to-goodness snowboarder. I am capable of getting around the mountain, but I tend to leisurely make my way down a green or blue run at a painfully slow pace.

You could say I'm a tad cautious for the sport.

But we do love Tahoe. We spent last Christmas there with my family and it was truly magical. An epic 20 inches of snow fell the day before Christmas Eve and we woke up to this.

Tahoe Christmas

So beautiful. Even the pups were loving the weather.

Ballack

This was after Ballack snowplowed through two feet of powder.

This year's drought has changed the scenery dramatically. But snow or no snow (I fall equally well on man-made or fresh powder), we are so excited to get away for a few days. And we will need some cabin snacks.

Homemade Cracker Jack

Cracker Jack has the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Pair that with the 'grab-ability' of this classic snack, and it's perfect for a cabin treat. No prize included.

Ingredients

Serves 10 - 12
16 cups freshly-popped popcorn (about 3 3.5 ounce bags of lightly salted popcorn)
2 cups roasted, lightly salted peanuts
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Sea salt, to taste

To make

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Transfer the popped corn to a large large stock pot (or divide between 2 large mixing bowls), discarding any un-popped kernels as you go. Add the peanuts and toss to combine.

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and salt. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until the temperature reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla and baking soda.

Working quickly, pour the hot caramel into the pot and gently toss until the popped corn and nuts are evenly coated. Use your hands to gently combine the mixture, once the caramel had cooled just a bit.

Divide the popcorn mixture in half between 2 greased baking sheets, spreading into a thin, even layer. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 50 minutes.

Baking

(After first stir.)

Sprinkle Cracker Jack with a little sea salt and allow to cool in pans for 20 minutes.

Separate the popcorn into individual pieces with your hands before serving. This is best eaten the day it's made but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Roasted Curried Chickpeas with Rosemary & Thyme

Chickpeas are so very versatile, and I loved the idea of a spicy snack in addition to the sweet Cracker Jack. The balance of fresh herbs with the curry spice in this recipe from The Kitchn was also intriguing.

Ingredients

2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained and dried well
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly-grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

To make

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Pour well-dried chickpeas onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and use a spatula to loosen up any chickpeas that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Roast for another 5-10 minutes, or until chickpeas begin to crisp up.

Important note: To test for readiness, don't rely on a change of color. When the chickpeas turn brown they've become burned. Instead, check with the press of a finger: you want them to be slightly crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside. Mine cooked rather quickly.

Finished chickpeas

(Roasted chickpeas before seasonings.)

While the chickpeas are roasting the second time, combine the paprika, cumin, curry powder, salt, lemon zest, rosemary and thyme in a medium mixing bowl.

Transfer the roasted chickpeas to the bowl, add olive oil, and carefully toss them in the mixture until well coated (I used my hands).

Spiced on sheet

Return to the baking sheet and roast another 4-5 minutes. Once out of the oven, allow them to cool for 2-3 minutes. Serve warm or let cool and transfer to airtight container.

Honey-Spiced Almonds

I love spiced almonds in the winter, and had plenty on hand to give this Epicurious recipe a try.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups whole, blanched almonds
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons sesame seeds

To make

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat a large sauté pan on high, and add olive oil. Add almonds to pan, toast for 1 minute stirring often, and reduce heat to low. Continue to stir until the almonds are light golden brown, 6-7 minutes.

Toasted Almonds

Add honey and spices, salt and sesame seeds and stir to coat evenly. Spread nuts out evenly on to a large sheet tray and place in the oven until honey is dry, 10-15 minutes. Allow nuts to cool before serving.

The results

Cracker Jack

Yum! I halved the recipe and was surprised how easy the caramel making process was, even without a candy thermometer.

Final cracker

Watching the chemical reaction after adding vanilla and baking soda at the end was fascinating. My sugary syrup turned to caramel in an instant. Amazing.

I tested a few of the clusters before sealing them up for the trip north. The final product is super close to the real thing with a nice caramel shell. This will be so good to chomp on during the Super Bowl.

Roasted Chickpeas

I loved this spice combination. The freshness of the herbs with the curry is oh so good. I had a hard time ending my 'taste testing' and packaging these babies away.

Final chickpeas

Next time I may dry the chickpeas out a few hours before roasting. They were a tad damp when I started and therefore a bit softer in the end than I'd like. But still oh so snackable.

Honey-spiced Almonds

These looked beautiful, but I wasn't a big fan of the flavor profile at first. The smoked paprika overpowered the sesame and honey.

Final almonds

Sweet, spicy, just not my style. But the boys devoured them in the mountain cabin.

What homemade snacks do you just have to have on hand?

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