With August in our rear-view mirrors, we welcome September. In my mind, it's in the running for best month of the year. I look forward to the first pumpkins, our muscadine grapes maturing on the vine, the first blush of color on our gorgeous mountainsides. It's a breathtaking time of year. Of course, we want the warm days to stretch out just a bit longer, minus the extreme heat and humidity. But at the same time, we yearn for those first nippy evenings when we can retreat to our living rooms and light a fire.
Apples will soon come to market; pumpkins will fill roadside stands; grapes will turn into wine; gardens will give a final deep breath before collapsing into the soil; and county fairs will open around the country. Our own here in Hamilton County happens Sept. 29-30 at Chester Frost Park.
As nights cool, it's time to cocoon. I'll make my recipe for nutty caramel corn and sit down to a Netflix binge night or, on the weekends, a football gathering with friends. You should see how fast even a big bowl of this stuff will disappear. This is the easiest and possibly the best caramel corn you'll ever have to snack on. It's a recipe I found on the Kraft website a few years ago. I tweaked it a bit to include mixed nuts rather than straight peanuts, which makes it taste more like popcorn from a box of Cracker Jack. I love the different textures that pecans and almonds, in addition to peanuts, add to caramel corn.
One word of caution: Be sure to weed out all of the unpopped kernels so there are no unexpectedly hard bites in this delicious sweet-salty snack.
Nutty Caramel Corn
3 quarts popped popcorn (about 2 bags microwave popcorn, popped)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (no substitute)
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups mixed nuts
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Place popped popcorn into a large, 4-inch-deep buttered baking pan, and place it in the oven to keep warm. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a soft boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and quickly stir in the soda and vanilla. Remove popcorn from the oven. Slowly pour syrup mixture over popcorn, and add nut mix, mixing well. This may prove a bit difficult at first, as the caramel mixture hardens quickly once removed from the heat. But as you stir it while it's baking in the oven, it will soften and get much easier to stir. Butter a large cookie sheet, and turn the popcorn mixture into the pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. You don't want the popcorn to get overly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely. Break apart. Store in tightly covered container.
No time to shop and make dinner tonight? While food trends come and go, the business of home-delivered meals continues to grow. And two of the most-recent ones to appear at your front door are both based in the South with ties to Chattanooga.
» Atlanta-based PeachDish procures all ingredients, including meats and produce, from Georgia and other Southeastern states' farmers and food artisans, including getting its cherry tomatoes from Signal Mountain Farm and breads from Atlanta's H&F Bread Co., where former Chattanoogan and Bluff View Art District baker Robert Alexander is head baker. PeachDish tempts your palate with dishes such as eggplant with farm eggs, seared okra and quinoa salad; or seared chicken breasts with peach salsa and buttered barley. These are meal kits, so have fun cooking with your mate and/or kids. Dinners are designed to be on the table within 30 minutes or less, making them perfect for weeknight meals. Order online at www.peachdish.com.
» Birmingham-based Nourish Meals does just that, nourishing the body and the soul with ready-made meals, many of which are gluten-free, paleo-friendly and keto-friendly. If you're pressed for time, you can still feast on braised beef with mashed sweet potatoes and crispy kale; barbecue salmon with roasted zuchini; spinach marinara with beef over zoodles (zucchini noodles) and other chef-inspired meals. Lunches are offered too, so why not bring a BLT chicken with asparagus salad to your office and impress co-workers? Everything from the crispy kale to the zoodles tastes amazingly fresh. These meals are TV diners on steroids. Interestingly, Chattanooga is one of Nourish's Top 4 delivery markets, so this tells me two things: Chattanoogans don't always have time to make meals from scratch, but they appreciate good food. For a complete menu and more information, log onto www.nourishmeals.com.
It's been a while since I've tried meal delivery, but knowing that by doing so I'll be supporting Southern businesses, I'll be ordering again — but not for the Southern support alone. These meals are mouthwatering.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.