Homemade Cracker Jacks

September 25, 2015

While Cracker Jacks are available in every supermarket in America, it only takes a little effort to make homemade. Of course, fresh cooked popcorn taste so much better than popcorn that was popped in a factory 6 months prior. The freshness will become immediately apparent with your first bite. Each box of Cracker Jacks is only 1-ounce, and provides as natural stopping point. The biggest problem is that you will have a hard-time stopping. This recipe yields the equivalent of 28-boxes, so I have learned to break it down into 6 or 7 zip-lock bags. It’s absolutely delicious. 5-stars.

Freshness makes it better

Freshness makes it better

Chris Kimball does have a similar recipe for Butter Toffee Popcorn, but my goal with this recipe was to make something special for my kids (for kids Cracker Jack’s are better than Butter Toffee Popcorn). The main differences are that Chris Kimball calls for 1/2-stick more butter and 1/4-cup less corn syrup. Plus Cracker Jacks include molasses.


  1. You can pop your popcorn in any way you want. I prefer to use a hot air popper, since it doesn’t add any oil.
  2. I found it very easy to coat/bake the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan. But you could use anything: a disposable aluminum pan, a large metal bowl, or two cookie sheets.
  3. While I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts, the most Cracker Jack-like peanut is to use Spanish Peanuts (with red skin still intact). I have even used dry-roasted peanuts; but I recommend using lightly salted nuts. Full-salt Planters will taste much saltier than Cracker Jacks; but perhaps a more gourmet balance of sweet to salty.
  4. Cleaning up after making caramel doesn’t have to be difficult. I boil water in the pots and the caramel stuck to the bottom of the pan will eventually dissolve. To clean my roasting pan I set over two burners to boil the water.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $3.75 for 1-3/4 lbs (4-quarts).
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Ready at 5:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for is here. My descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

4 quarts popped popcorn (made from 2/3 cup kernels)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar (7-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups Spanish peanuts (7-1/2 ounces); I used lightly salted cocktail peanuts

  1. Adjust a rack to the middle of your oven, and preheat to 250-degrees.
  2. Pop the popcorn (my preferred method is with a hot air popper). Grease large roasting pan, and use your hands to evenly spread the popped popcorn in a large roasting pan; leaving behind and discarding any “old maids” (un-and-under-popped kernels). Place in oven until ready to coat in Step 4.
  3. In a 2-quart saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses and salt. Set over medium burner, bring the mixture to a boil; stirring frequently. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes until the mixture reaches 255-260 degrees; using a cooking thermometer to take the temperature.
  4. Remove the popcorn from the oven. Working quickly, remove from heat and add vanilla extract and baking soda. Mix together and you will see the color change as the baking soda incorporates air into the mixture. As evenly as possible, pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and toss well to evenly coat all the popcorn (use two heatproof spatulas or wooden spoons; lightly buttered or sprayed with a non stick spray).
  5. Sprinkle with 1-1/2 cups of peanuts; continue to toss until become distributed.
  6. Return roasting pan to 250-degree oven and bake for 45 minutes, stirring well every 15 minutes. Try to evenly coat popcorn and gently break up slightly into smaller pieces.
  7. Allow to cool, and then break into smaller pieces.
  8. Evenly distribute between 6 or 7 zip-lock bags with as much air removed as possible.  Chris Kimball says that it can be stored in an airtight container for 5 days; but it will never last that long.
Your kids will love you even more if you make this for them

Your kids will love you even more if you make this for them

Cherry-Plum-Blackberry Preserves

July 27, 2015

While none of my past jams or jellies (see Triple Berry Jam, Grape Jelly and Cherry, Plum and Raspberry Jam) was a failure; they were all delicious. Each of my past recipe was hampered by the exact same issue: the results were always a little too runny. I either added too little sugar or mis-estimated the correct amount of pectin based upon the combination of fruit. I finally resigned myself to the impossibility of using regular pectin; it just isn’t for me. So, I switched to Low-Sugar Pectin, which doesn’t require a precise ratio of sugar and acid in order to thicken. While harder to find (I had to order over internet), it’s perfect for those who don’t want super-sweet jam. Finally; 5-stars; the jam taste like fruit rather than just sugar.

Summer sweetness all year long

Summer sweetness all year long


  1. If you do decide to use regular pectin; always follow the specific recipe for correct gelling. Every fruit requires a different proportion of pectin, sugar and lemon juice. If something is even slightly off (or if you over-or-under-cook it), it will be runny. If the fruit was picked too early on the farm. the jam may not set. While Ball’s (the mason jar company) pectin-calculator is a big help, but it requires using a single fruit to get accurate results.
  2. While I love blackberries; be careful because they can add too many seeds.
  3. If you live more than 1000-feet above see level, you should adjust your processing time in Step 9 based upon your altitude. More or less; add 1 minute per 1000 ft. in elevation.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $12 for 5 pints of jam; about 5 pounds.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:00 PM. Finish time 8:30pm

3 pounds Cherries
3/4 pounds dark-skinned plums (about 4)
3/4 pounds blackberries
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup low-sugar pectin
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Run jars through dishwasher on high heat, using a heated dry cycle. Wash the screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Bring a saucepan to a boil, remove from heat for five minutes and add flat lids with the wax seal upwards. Allow to stand in hot water until ready to use; which will soften the wax used to seal the lids.
  2. Bring large pot full of water to a light boil. In my case, I use two Dutch ovens instead of one large pot, because my jars don’t fit in pot. These will be used to process the jam after sealing the jars. Put a wire rack on the bottom of the pot to prevent the jars from coming in contact with excessive heat from the burner, otherwise the bottom of the jar may break. Once boiling, reduce burner to maintain a simmer.
  3. Sterilize your jars by placing them in the hot canning water for 10 minutes above 185-degrees. Leave your jars in the hot canning water until you are ready to fill them so they remain sterile and hot, but be sure to completely drain jars well before filling.
  4. Meanwhile Pit the cherries. Quarter and pit the plums. Finely chop all fruit. Place four small spoons and a plate in the freezer (for Step 8).
  5. Combine plums, cherries, blackberries and lemon juice into an 6 to 8 quart pot. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until juices form, stirring occasionally.
  6. Increase burner to medium/high. Uncover and add pectin and bring to a full boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred); about 20 minutes longer.
  7. Add in sugar and return the jam to a boil. Once it has returned to a full boil, continue boiling for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  8. The temperature should register 220-degrees. To test if the jam is ready, scoop a little jam onto a frozen spoon. Return to the freezer, and wait 1 minute. Remove spoon from freezer, and gently nudge the edge of the jam with one finger. If the jam is ready, it will wrinkle slightly when pushed. If it is not ready, it will be too thin to wrinkle. If the jam does not wrinkle on the first attempt, cook two or three minutes more, and repeat the gel test.
  9. Remove the pot of jam from heat, skim off any foam. Using canning tongs to remove a jar from the simmering water, and empty the water back into the pot. Ladle jam into hot jars (use a canning funnel if you have it); filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a slightly damp paper towel; otherwise the jar will not properly seal. Top the jar with two piece lids and finger-tighten, being careful not to force the lid.
  10. Using canning tongs to put back into simmering water. Process closed jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes (adjusted for altitude); start timing as soon as water returns to boil.  Water must cover jars by 1 inch. Add boiling water, if necessary. Try to ensure that the jars aren’t touching the sides of pot and are spaced 1″ apart.
  11. Remove jars and place upright on a towel or wire rack to cool completely; 24 hours. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (Once cooled, if lids spring back when pushed down then they are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary. Put any unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use first. ) Store jam in a cool, dark place up to 1 year.

Chicken Flautas

June 19, 2015

I love recipes with lots of leftovers so that I have food to bring to work for lunch the next day. This recipe is perfect; making between 20 and 24 flautas; enough for almost an entire week’s worth of lunches. Generally Chris Kimball does not make very good Mexican food; this is a recipe that I’ve personally been developing for about 9 months; trying to make my lunchtime chicken taste more like pork or beef. The results are very good; I use tomato paste, dark beans and a few anchovies to add meaty flavor (no, of course it doesn’t taste fishy). I used chicken thighs because they won’t dry out if I cook them until they become shreadable. I guarantee; you will not believe that you are eating chicken. 4-stars; great depth of flavor, but there are textural issues with the tortillas when reheating in the microwave. Optimally, reheat them in conventional oven.

So good you'll forget it's chicken

So good you’ll forget it’s chicken

With beef prices roughly double from what they were a few years ago, I have been eating a lot of alternatives. I posted these pork taquitos earlier this year. While pork is more flavorful with a richer, more succulent texture, chicken is a healthier option.


  1. The topping you add can elevate these flautas from 4 to 4-1/2 stars. Some of my favorites toppings include: guacamole or diced avocado, sour cream, lime juice, and of course, salsa. Also, after the tortillas have become crispy (or if reheating in a conventional oven) I love to sprinkle grated cheese over the top and run them under the broiler until the cheese browns a bit.
  2. Sometimes, instead adding vegetable oil to the pot, I use the skin from a few pieces of chicken and render out the fat; using that chicken fat in lieu of vegetable oil. It adds about 4 to 5 minutes; bit does two things: (1) adds flavor, and (2) also helps build up the fond on the bottom of the pan which translates into deeper flavor in the final flautas.
  3. If reheating prepared pre-made flautas, bake in oven at 300-degrees until heated all the way through; about 20 minutes, flipping half way through reheating. If you have to reheat them in a micowave, bake them in Step 14 until the tortillas become very hard, and flip them half way through re-heating.
  4. When I first was developing this recipe I did not add the cheese to the mixture, rather I topped the  chicken prior to rolling (in Step 13) with grated cheese. This had two drawbacks; first the flautas I prepared first had more cheese than the last flautas in the second batch. But beyond that, as the cheese melts during baking it oozes out the open ends and burns.
  5. 4-lbs of chicken thighs yields 1-1/2 pounds of shredded chicken meat. I think I prefer to use closer to 5-lbs.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $11 for 20 to 24 flautas. (plus toppings)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s doesn’t have a recipe for flautas. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1/2 bag dried, dark kidney beans, or 29-oz can of beans.
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (see Comment #1)
4-to-5-lbs bone-in chicken thighs
1 large onion
2 jalapeno
1 red bell pepper
2 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 clove garlic
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (3 filets)
juice from 2 limes
1/3-cup chopped cilantro
8-oz mild cheddar cheese
20 to 24 small fajita-size flour tortillas
Server with diced avocado, diced tomato, salsa

  1. For best results, soak 1/2-pound of dried beans for 8 hours or overnight. Use 1-1/2 tablespoons salt for 2 quarts of water. Otherwise if you don’t have dried beans or the time to soak them overnight, you can use 29-ounce can of dark kidney beans.
  2. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs. Pre-heat 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil a large dutch oven set over medium-high burner; when the oil begins to shimmer. Place half the chicken skin-side down in skillet; cook for a total of 7 minutes, turning once, until both sides are golden brown. Wipe out pot using paper towels, add another 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil and repeat this step for the second batch of chicken.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients. Dice your onion and jalapeno, removing the seeds (as desired to control the heat of the final flautas). Peel the 2 cloves of garlic. Also in a small bowl, add 1 Tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons oregano, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons coriander, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  4. After you are done cooking the second batch of chicken, reduce burner to medium. Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, your onion, jalapeno, bell pepper and  and 2 teaspoons salt; allow to soften over medium burner for 5 minutes. Use the liquid exuded from the vegetables to deglaze the bottom of your pan.
  5. Add tomato paste and pressed/minced garlic; continue to cook for 1 minute. Add the contents of the spice bowl from Step 4; allowing the flavors to bloom for 1 minute.
  6. Add chicken stock and beans, bring up to a simmer over high burner. Cover pan, turn down burner to medium-low and maintain a simmer until instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thighs registers about 185-degrees, 30 to 40 minutes longer.
  7. Remove chicken to cutting board and allow to rest until cool enough to handle.
  8. Meanwhile, turn up burner to medium and allow cooking liquid to gently boil; about 20 minutes. The beans should become thickened with very little liquid remaining. Meanwhile, begin to pre-heat your oven to 375-degrees.
  9. Use your fingers (or two forks) to shred the chicken, discarding bones and anything that feels like excess fat or cartilage. Add shredded chicken directly to the pot once your beans have finished reducing.
  10. Zest 2 limes and squeeze their juices; adding to the pot; mixing until everything is evenly combined.
  11. Grate cheese on the large holes of a box grater and add shredded cheese to pot. Mix until evenly combined.
  12. Prepare a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, lightly sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray.
  13. Prepare the flautas in batches of 10 to 12. Form 1/4-cup (2-1/2 ounces) of chicken mixture into a line in running along the center of tortilla. Tightly roll up flauta and lay on baking sheet so that the weight of the flauta holds the tortilla closed.
  14. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, then flip for 5 minutes. If you plan to re-heat them in the microwave then bake until the tortillas become very hard.
  15. Repeat from Step 12 with the second batch.
  16. Serve immediate with toppings of your choice (see comment #1).

Pan Seared Scallops

May 16, 2015

For year’s I have been watching Gordon Ramsey yelling in Hell’s Kitchen about rubbery or raw scallops. While watching with amusement, I also clearly remember my only personal failure to make scallops four years ago. So when I saw that the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated (May/June 2015) included a recipe for Pan Seared Scallops, I was excited to try this “new recipe”. After already purchasing everything for this recipe, I realized they just republished the same recipe from 2009.

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Great sear and delicious; but overcooked

Getting a great sear using a residential, gas range requires pre-heating the skillet on your most powerful burner for upwards of 4 minutes. I was a little uneasy pre-heating my non-stick skillet to such a high temperature (health concerns here).  If you have a cast iron skillet you should use that. Otherwise, the recipe is very straight-forward. Cook the scallops for 1-1/2 minutes per side in a screaming-hot pan. After flipping, baste with melted butter while the second side cooks. Unfortunately, the basting technique tilts the skillet removing from direct contact with the flame. The cooled pan takes longer for the second side to sear. The bottom line if this: You have a choice between searing the second-side or cooking to only 115-degrees. Mine cooked to 130-degrees.

The results were delicious; to me they seemed perfectly cooked, even at 130-degrees. The browned butter was delicious and helped attain great caramelization. I only cooked half my scallops today; and want to try one of these sauces when I cook the second half; Lemon Brown Butter or this Orange Lime Vinaigrette,


  1. The recipe calls for dry sea scallop, which means that they are not treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP). I was disappointed to find out that the scallops packaging (from behind the fish counter in my supermarket) didn’t list the ingredients. I bought then frozen and they gave up so much liquid as they defrosted that I assume they were wet. Therefore, I brined the scallops as directed in Step 1.
  2. The recipe says to remove the tendons. I’m not 100% sure what those are, but I didn’t see anything on my scallops that could be removed.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $25.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess? Low.
Start: 5:30 PM. End time: 6:15 PM.

The original Cook’s Illustrated recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1-1/2 pounds dry sea scallop, 10 to 20 per pound
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Lemon wedges

  1. Remove tendons.  If you can only find “wet” scallops, Add 1 quart cold water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons table salt to a medium bowl. Soak scallops for 30 minutes.
  2. Put scallops on a baking sheet that is lined with a clean dish towel, then put a second clean towel on top of scallops and softly press down to blot away any liquid. Allow then to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes so that the towels will dry out the scallops as much as possible.
  3. Season both side of the scallops with salt and pepper. Set a 12″ non-stick skillet over high burner, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil a pre-heat for 4 minutes until the oil just begins to smoke. Add half the scallops to the pre-heated pan with the flat side down; laying down in a clockwise pattern (so that you can flip them in the same order you set them down). Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side, without moving them, until they become well browned.
  4. Just before flipping, add 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet.
  5. Use tongs to flip the scallops and cook the second side, and tilt skillet so that butter runs to one side. Use a large spoon to baste the scallops with the melted butter as they cook. They only need to cook for between 30-seconds to 1-1/2 minutes. The sides of the scallops should be firm and the centers should still be opaque; and measure 115-degrees.
  6. Tent loosely with aluminum foil while you make the second batch. Use paper towels to wipe out the skillet and repeat the cooking process with the remaining scallops.
  7. Serve as soon as the second batch is ready with lemon wedges or an accompanying sauce.

Valentine’s Day Snickers

February 15, 2015

Last year, I made some amazing Valentine’s Day truffles. I pulled out all the stops and created something that I considered unique and amazing. This year, without an official Girl Friend, I almost didn’t make truffles. But I decided at the last-minute to make them, and I made them jointly together with my nearly-16-year-old son, who plans to give some to a friend of his. In a twist this year, I included a recipe that I have been experimenting with for the past 7 or 8 months; homemade Snickers. I know that I am not alone in my love of Snickers.

Delicious Valentine's Day Truffles

Delicious Valentine’s Day Truffles

Snickers are a combination of three different layers; each made separately and layered on-top of each other. First, I made the caramel. Then layered the nouget on top. I froze everything solid so that I could cut them into pieces without squishing the more delicate nougat. Finally topped with chocolate, which importantly makes the sticky middle layers much easier to eat.


  1. While I generally love dark chocolate, I didn’t like using exclusively dark chocolate with the taste of Snickers. I achieved a great, rich flavor using 50% dark chocolate and 50% milk chocolate. I used Belgian chocolate from Trader Joe’s ($4.50/lb).
  2. 500 grams of chocolate will cover about 30 truffles.
  3. While I tried a couple of times to make my own marshmallow, it was too delicate a process and I ultimately have changed the recipe to simply buy Marshmallow Fluff. I imagine that I could also use regular marshmallows, melted down, but Marshmallow Fluff works perfectly.
  4. I also considered using homemade dulce de leche instead of caramel; because it is so easy to make. While the texture is perfect, the flavor is slightly different. Ultimately I opted for caramel.
  5. If you are making snickers bars instead of truffle-sized treats, then melt 8 ounces of chocolate and pour over nouget (after the 20 minutes in the refrigerator). This will give a nice even base layer of chocolate. Cut into 2-3/4″-by-1″; yielding 24 bars.
  6. A few of the websites I used when working through this recipe include here and here.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time: 10:00 AM. Finish time: 6:00 PM.

For the caramel:
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk
8 oz roasted salted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Spray a 8″-by-8″ baking pan with cooking spray, then line with a 14″ long piece of parchment paper folded over to match the exact width of the bottom of the pan. Leave a few inches of overhang on each side. Then spray the parchment paper again (never use wax paper). Set aside.
  2. Fit a heavy-bottomed small-sized saucepan with a candy thermometer so that it is near, but not touching the bottom of the pan. Remove thermometer for the time being; only using it for the last few minutes (otherwise your thermometer will overheat).
  3. Add sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, butter and kosher salt and set over medium-high burner. Stir mixture for 2 minutes until sugar completely dissolves. Use a wet pastry brush to wash down the inside of the pan to eliminate crystallization. Continue to boil , occasionally swirling the pan (but not stirring), and brushing to prevent crystallization, mixture for about 16 minutes until it reaches 260-degrees.
  4. Meanwhile roughly chop peanuts; roughly in half.
  5. Immediately remove the saucepan from heat, add peanuts, evaporated milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Mix until the peanuts are evenly distributed. Pour caramel mixture into prepared pan using an oiled rubber spatula, spread evenly in the pan. Let cool for 30 minutes until caramel is no longer warm to the touch. Place in freezer until caramel is solid; about 3 hours.
  6. To fully clean the caramel from your pans it may be necessary to re-soften using boiling water.

For the peanut nougat:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons evaporated milk
1 cup marshmallow fluff
3 tablespoons cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in sugar and milk, stirring until dissolved and bring to a boil; about 1 minute.
  2. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and fold peanut butter until melted.
  3. Fold in fluff, and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Pour over bottom layer of caramel and allow to cool completely in refrigerator for 20 minutes. Freeze until solid for 3 hours.
  4. Use a paring knife to run along the sides without parchment. Use parchment sling to remove pan.
  5. Place on a cutting board with the caramel-side down, cut into appropriately sized pieces. Put back in freezer while you prepare the chocolate coating in the next section.

For the chocolate coating:
1-lb milk chocolate
1-lb dark chocolate

  1. Bring a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer over high heat; once simmering, turn off heat. Place ALL BUT 6-OZ of chocolate in a dry heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over the saucepan and stir until chocolate is completely melted and reaches 118°F.; about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile break the remaining chocolate into smallish pieces.
  3. When chocolate reaches 118°F, remove the bowl from the saucepan. Add remaining 6 ounces of chocolate and stir until all chocolate is melted and cools to 100°F. Do not remove the thermometer from the bowl.
  4. Keep the saucepan over low burner. As necessary, return the bowl to the saucepan to maintain the temperature between 95°F and 105°F.
  5. Fill each cup of a mini-cup-cake pan with mini-cup-cake-liners; which will help maintain the form while the chocolate cools.
  6. Spoon chocolate into each empty cup, add one square pushing down so that the chocolate squishes halfway up the sides. Top with another spoonful of chocolate to cover.
  7. Freeze for 5 minutes. Use the tines for a fork to help remove from mini-cup-cake pan. Repeat until your run out of chocolate.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

November 21, 2014

I’m in the middle of my Thanksgiving preparations and don’t really have time to figure out how to make homemade chocolate syrup. But I have a few good reasons why I made time. First, my squeeze bottle of Hershey’s “Genuine Chocolate Flavored” syrup has been empty for a couple of weeks, and I feel bad because my son has been eating ice cream that clearly needed chocolate syrup. Second and more important, I had examined the ingredient list (in an effort to answer the question: what does “Genuine Chocolate Flavor” really mean?), and was very disappointed with Hershey’s choice of ingredients. It’s as if they had purposefully tried to use the worst possible ingredients. The first two ingredients are: (1) high fructose corn syrup, and (2) corn syrup. Really, using just regular corn syrup was too difficult. This homemade recipe uses regular sugar, and I omitted the other chemicals and artificial flavors. Finally, instead of using real vanilla Hersey’s uses “Vanillin”, so they are obviously using imitation vanilla made from a wood pulp waste product.

Delicious Ice Cream definitely needs chocolate syrup

Delicious Ice Cream definitely needs chocolate syrup


  1. Hershey’s isn’t tricking us by calling it “Genuine Chocolate Flavor”, as I had assumed. Chocolate includes both Cocoa powder and Cocoa butter, whereas chocolate syrup includes only cocoa powder. It is a non-fact product (a good thing) and thus by excluding the Cocoa butter, Hershey’s cannot call it Chocolate. Hence the phrase “Genuine Chocolate Flavor”.
  2. Many people suggest using Dutch-processed cocoa, but I just used whatever I had in my kitchen, which was Hersey’s. Hershey’s is natural cocoa powder; not Dutch processed.
  3. This recipe yields 18-ounces of chocolate syrup. I re-used the same Hershey’s syrup squeeze bottle, but eventually I imagine that I will just use a regular squeeze bottle. Also you can use regular mason jars.
  4. The recipe continues to be non-fat, which means that there is no cocoa butter in any of the ingredients. That could change depending up what type of cocoa powder you use.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $1.15 for 18-ounces of syrup.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5 PM. Dinner time 5:10 PM.

While Chris Kimball does have a recipe to make chocolate syrup, I wanted a replacement for Hershey’s that has a stable shelf life. Chris Kimball uses dairy (heavy cream and butter) which means that it must be used within a short period of time. Today’s recipe is based upon Alton Brown’s cocoa syrup recipe.

1 cups water
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cups cocoa powder (2-5/8 ounces)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Mix sugar, water, corn syrup, and kosher salt in medium-sized pot and bring up to a boil. Whisk in cocoa powder and continue mixing until it is dissolved. Boil for 1 minute, and remove from burner.
  2. Stir in vanilla extract. Allow to cool to room temperature. You can either strain into squeeze bottles: in case you have a lot of solids that could plug up your bottle.
  3. Store in refrigerator. While the recipe will appear to be too runny, it will thicken when it cools to refrigerator temperature.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

October 17, 2014

One unshakable truisms in the kitchen is “that fresh is always better than canned”. While those ubiquitous Libby’s can say “100% pumpkin” and are seductively easy to use, its slight off flavor has always made me want to roast my own pumpkin. In past years, I’ve read that I need to find “sugar pumpkins” (whatever those are), which are 8-to-10″ in diameter and have a darker orange exterior compared to jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Hmm. Is that really all I’ve got to go on? And the difference is important: Sugar pumpkin have more flavorful and denser flesh. They are drier, and thus take less time to cook.

IMPORTANT HALLOWEEN TIP. How to prevent squirrels from eating your pumpkins.

After paying extra attention this year, I did finally notice that a few markets are properly labeling them as “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins”. In my case, I found a 5-3/4 pound sugar pumpkin, which yielded 2 pounds of pumpkin puree. That’s enough to make two pies, and only required about 15 minutes of work (over the course of nearly 3 hours).

BTW, I am planning to use the same Pumpkin Pie recipe that I’ve used for the past 3 years. Based upon a simple tasting of the pumpkin puree, the flavors are much deeper and more flavorful. I’m sure that this will make for a 5-star pumpkin pie!


  1. The pumpkin puree should be used within 4 days or frozen in an air-tight container (with parchment paper pressed onto the surface of the pumpkin) for up to 2 months.
  2. I did try to roast the pumpkin seeds, but didn’t pay close enough attention as they baked in the same hot oven as the pumpkin. They overcooked, but fortunately didn’t burn, which could have ruined the pumpkin puree.

Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 2:00 PM. Done at: 4:45 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1 small sugar pumpkin

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 375-degrees.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Remove the seeds and pulp. Line a rimmed-backing sheet with parchment paper, and set pumpkin halves with the cut-side downwards.
  3. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes until the flesh can be easily pierced with a skewer. Flip the pumpkin over and roast for 30 minutes more.
  4. Scoop flesh from skin into a food processor, process until smooth. Unless you have a full-sized food processor, you will need to process one half at a time (i.e. in two batches).
  5. Drain the puree in a fine-mesh strainer, set over a bowl for 1 hour. Mine lost about 6 ounces of water.
  6. To test consistency, pack some of your puree into a small drinking glass and unmold it onto a plate. It should slump gently toward base but otherwise hold its shape. Loosen as necessary with drained liquid, or return puree to strainer and continue to drain it if it is too loose.
  7. Measure out puree into two 16-oz containers before freezing. A typical Libby’s can weighs 15-ounces.
  8. When you use cook with it, you should use it exactly as your would canned pumpkin.


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