I am a big fan of the sweet & spicy combo. Whether it is Jeni's Spicy Thai Chili ice cream (yes you read that right. Intrigued? Click here for Cleveland Foodie's interview with creator of the fabulous ice cream line and here to find out where it is available in Cleveland) or Lily's Chocolates signature Heather (in honor of Heather Haviland of Lucky's Cafe and my local fave - the Vine and Bean Cafe) filled with spicy cayenne pepper, a dash of Madagascar Vanilla Bean and surrounded by yummy dark chocolate. So when I saw this article in the NY Times combining this winning flavor combination and my favorite food, I knew it would made tonight.
It just so happened I had already planned a dinner for this week that also fit the bill. It is a healthy grilled cheese recipe from Ellie Krieger that doesn't use fakey fake weird fat free cheese. It uses real ingredients and while it isn't exactly what you ate as a kid or what you would get at Melt, this is still a very satisfying sandwich for 350 calories.
Spicy Caramel Popcorn
Nonstick cooking spray
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt.
1. Lightly coat two large, heatproof rubber spatulas and a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared bowl, removing any unpopped kernels.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper.
4. Have two large baking sheets ready. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, 10 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking-soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up).
5. Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.
6. Spread the popcorn onto the baking sheets and quickly separate them into small pieces while still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 4 quarts.
Sweet and Spicy Grilled Cheese
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 large red onion, finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces sharp Cheddar, thinly sliced, divided
8 slices whole-wheat bread
3 ounces pepper Jack cheese, thinly sliced, divided
1 large or 2 medium beefsteak or hothouse tomatoes, sliced
Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium. Add onions and saute, stirring, until edges are browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
Place 3/4-ounce Cheddar on 1 slice bread. Spread 1 tablespoon caramelized onions on top of cheese and top with 3/4-ounce pepper Jack. Top with 1 large or 2 medium slices tomato and other slice of bread. Repeat with 3 other sandwiches.
Spray a nonstick skillet or griddle with cooking spray and heat until hot. Place sandwich on griddle and weigh down with a heavy skillet or plate. Lower heat to medium-low and grill until underside is a deep brown but not burnt and cheese is partially melted, about 5 to 6 minutes. Flip sandwich and grill other side, an additional 4 to 5 minutes. Slice in half and serve hot.