Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: With just 4 steps and a trip to the spice cabinet, you can elevate all of the snacks already in your pantry into a mix that's suitable for special occasions and raucous get-togethers.
Picture your favorite snacks: pretzels, peanuts, bagel chips, cereal, Fritos -- the foods that, despite all our talk about kale, get us through day-to-day life.
Now, picture your favorite snacks blanketed in a coating of spicy, salty butter and baked in the oven until crispy and toasted. Suddenly, your favorite snacks have been elevated beyond the stuff of everyday sustenance. Now, they're a diverse mixture of all the snacks you love united under a common flavor.
Ordinary snacks are for road trips, between-meal mouthfuls, school lunches, and watching TV. Snack mix, however, is suitable for special occasions and raucous get-togethers -- and at this time of year, that means football games and Oscar parties.
To get started, you need to pick your path: savory or sweet. Spicy snack mix goes particularly well with ice-cold beers and chicken wings, but if you're forgoing the big game and watching the Kitten Bowl instead, you might prefer a mix flavored with honey and dotted with dried fruit and chocolate chips.
1. Compose the ultimate mix. Get out a big bowl and start gathering everything you want as the base for your snack mix that will fare well in the oven. (You’ll want to hold off on any chocolate or dried fruit for now.)
This list will get you started:
Consider any tasty, bite-size morsel in your pantry to be fair game. Make sure that there are no duds in your mix -- otherwise, your guests are going to scavenge for the good parts and you’ll be left only with the undesirable leftovers (rye chips, anyone?).
2. Melt plenty of butter. For both the savory and sweet varieties, you’re going to want to melt enough butter to coat your mixture. For a big serving of snack mix, you’ll need approximately a stick or a stick and a half of butter for 12 to 14 cups of stuff, but use your judgment.
3. Raid the spice cabinet.
If you’re looking for a savory, bar snack sort of mix, you’ll want to add plenty of salty, tangy flavors. Try a combination of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, garlic (fresh or powdered), onion powder, or soy sauce.
If you want something on the spicier side, throw in some cayenne, chili powder, curry powder, or paprika. Whatever flavors you decide, be sure to add a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
Melt the butter and seasonings in the microwave (or in a cute butter warmer). Dip in a piece of cereal (or a finger) to make sure the mix is properly seasoned. Pour the melted butter mixture over your base and toss everything until well-coated.
If you’re interested in a dessert-y snack mix, you’ll want to add some form of sweetener at this point. Brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar are all possibilities.
You can also experiment with spices: cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves. (If you use it to bake delicious cakes and quick breads, it will probably be good in your snack mix.)
Maybe you’re feeling chocolate-y and you want to add cocoa powder. Melt that with the butter, too. Add a pinch of salt and do a taste test. Then, coat the mix with the melted butter.
4. Bake to perfection. Spread your mix evenly across a couple of baking sheets.
Bake in a low temperature oven (about 250° F) for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes, or until the mix is crisp and dried out.
Let cool, then add all of the goodies you’ve had in reserve: mini-marshmallows, raisins and other dried fruits (papaya and mango chunks, chopped figs and dates), chocolate chips, M&Ms, yogurt-covered raisins, and anything else you fancy.
Pour the mix into a big, party-size bowl and let your guests have at it.
Eat a handful every time your team has the ball. Eat a handful every time the opposing team has the ball. And if you get bored of the game, start planning your next snack mix concoction.
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Photos by James Ransom