Spicy Caramel Popcorn Mexican Chocolate Brownies & Dinner at Annie & Kenton’s place

by Irvin on January 2, 2012 · 21 comments

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My friend Annie isn’t a huge dessert enthusiastic, which is an oddity in my group of friends. In fact, sweets aren’t her thing at all, though she absolutely loves food. Salty and savory, tends to be what she swoons over, as she can consume massive amounts of burritos, burgers and pho at any given time. We once pledged that together, over the course of a year, we would sample burgers around San Francisco to determine which one we thought was the best out of the entire city. An impossible task if you ask me, and one best left to those people who have a faster metabolism (I think we ate a three different place before calling it quits). So when she and her boyfriend Kenton invited AJ and I over for dinner I was in a quandary as to what to make for dessert. Then I figured out the perfect salty sweet savory treat for the evening, Spicy Caramel Popcorn Mexican Chocolate Brownies.


Spicy Caramel Popcorn Mexican Chocolate Brownies

Annie and Kenton had met while working at a high profile tech company that treats their employees exceedingly well. Free breakfast, lunch and dinner plus endless snacks, laundry and dry cleaning service, gym and yoga classes, and shuttle bus rides to and from the city down the Penisula, where the company is located are all perks included in the job. Annie had actually landed the job years ago when the company was big, but not the mega huge company that it is now. After working there for numerous years, both her and Kenton left to pursue MBAs in New Hampshire. After a few years away, they came back, and settled in a gorgeous loft like apartment in the dogpatch area of San Francisco, a hip up-and-coming neighborhood, perfect for the hip couple that they are.


Annie, Kenton and me hanging out in their loft, before dinner.


Annie making a cocktail and Kenton in the back simmers and stirs the sauce.

Whether it was because she was got free meals at her company, or because she originally lived in an area full of cheap eats, Annie rarely cooked. In fact, the only produce I knew her to purchase and have in her refrigerator was broccoli. I know this because twice a year, AJ and I would borrow her refrigerator and freezer for our holiday events and summer parties. She lived a block away from us back then, and that meant her kitchen was, in effect, our kitchen annex for prep work. So it was with a bit of surprise that we arrived at their loft and saw homemade pasta drying on the countertop.


The pasta machine and homemade pasta drying on the counter.


Kenton and Annie trying to change the pasta machine to cut the noodles.

Apparently for the past two years, while in graduate school, Annie had lived right near the King Arthur Flour headquarters and had taken a class on pasta making. “It’s the one gourmet thing I can make.” She proclaimed proudly when I tried to hide my surprise. Their apartment smelled rich with tomato sauce and meatballs simmering on the stovetop, and she fiddled with the pasta machine, trying to switch it to the right setting to cut the pasta into linguine. Disaster struck, when the pasta machine arm got stuck in slot the wrong way, rendering the machine useless. Annie, like any quick-witted MBA graduate, problem solved by resorting to hand cutting the noodles.


It takes three people to fix a pasta machine apparently.


Annie hand cuts the noodles as we work on the pasta machine trying to fix it.

I jiggled and yanked at the handle, while Annie cut the noodles, and eventually got the handle to come undone, which meant Annie could use the pasta machine and I could go back to drinking wine. AJ and I kicked back and watched Annie and Kenton expertly cook the fresh pasta, sauce the noodles, and then plate the avocado tomato fresh mozzarella salad to go with it. Dinner was superb, as was the company and the conversation.


Success! Pasta evenly cut. Though the handcut would have been just fine.


Fresh pasta with slow simmered meatballs and tomato sauce.


Avocado, tomato and fresh mozzarella salad.

In the end the Spicy Caramel Popcorn Mexican Chocolate Brownies were the perfect ending to the meal. Sassy, with a crunchy texture and deep sweet savory spicy flavor, Annie appreciated the fact that the dessert wasn’t a straightforward sugary treat. Kenton went back for seconds. And we all relaxed and discussed the usual things that friends discuss on Friday evening dinner parties: time travel, nice but boring people, mobile poker and teleportation. I’m glad that Annie and Kenton are back in town and I can’t wait to hang out with them more. Especially if it means I have an excuse to make desserts like this more often.


Spicy Caramel Popcorn Mexican Chocolate Brownies

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen @ keepitsimplefoods January 2, 2012 at 6:52 am

These look amazing! I love spicy desserts.


Debbie Henthorn January 2, 2012 at 7:35 am

You are the devil! It took me nearly 25 years to find a brownie recipe I was happy with. I actually found 2 around the same time and one is the one that is attributed to Katherine Hepburn (“for god’s sake, don’t use too much flour in the brownies!”) Nothing makes Harry more happy than popcorn. And he loves heat. And he loves brownies as long as I don’t add nuts.

BTW – Annie & Kenton’s pasta machine looks like ours. Harry can work it. I just make the dough. I’m too cute to mess around with those mechanicals!


Irvin January 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I love Katherine Hepburn’s brownies! If you do make these, let me know what you think. The brownie itself is great, without or without the popcorn.


Laura January 2, 2012 at 8:15 am

Those sound delicious!

I need to make pasta again! I haven’t made it in a while.


sippitysup January 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

I am not really a “traditional” dessert enthusiast either, so creative renditions using unexpected spices and flavors always catch my interest. Great party too. Happy 12 2 u! GREG


Irvin January 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Greg, it was lovely to hang out with you twice in 2012. Let’s hope we see more of each other (in real life) in 2012!


Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga January 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

Irvin these look so good and I love caramel corn and try to weave it into desserts and goodies as much as possible. And onto brownies, perfect!


Deanna B January 2, 2012 at 11:42 am

Another simply brilliant dessert. I was given a couple of bars of Vosges chocolate for Christmas and they lasted all of 2 seconds. One of the bars seems to have been inspired by you…blood orange caramel sound familiar?


Irvin January 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Ha! I have not seen those Vosges chocolate bars, but that sounds VERY familiar…Hmmm. Vosges, if you are reading my blog, you DO know that I am TOTALLY available for recipe developing… heh.


Ryan Franson January 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I love that you use specialty flours to augment the complexity of the brownies. I haven’t seen the technique of using multiple flours used much outside of gluten-free baking, but I think it’s overdue for attention and experimentation in conventional baking. I love barley, so I’ll definitely be trying these brownies. I can’ recall having seen mesquite flour anywhere though. Where did you find it?


Irvin January 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, baking gluten free has opened up a whole world of flavors and textures with flours. All of sudden flour no longer is just a filler but actually adds flavor to the end product. I can only hope the rest of the baking world understands this and starts to explore it more.

Mesquite flour is pretty awesome, it works so well with anything chocolate and gives a lovely soft texture to the end product. I get it in bulk at a natural food co-op here in San Francisco called Rainbow Groceries but I know that a some natural food stores and upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods carry it. You can also order it online from Amazon.


Ryan Franson January 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Awesome, I work walking distance from Rainbow Grocery. I’ll pick some up next time I swing by. Thanks!


Jan January 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Love that fresh pasta is “the one gourmet thing that [Annie] can make”! Awesome!
So excited about your brownie recipe! I’m a total popcorn addict!


Krissy {Krissy's Creations} January 2, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Wow! Those brownies look incredible! Spicy brownies sound just right for me – I’d love to have one now :). I just love your recipe for the brownies. The combination of flours seem to make a lovely textured brownie, especially the addition of barley and mesquite flour. It’s nice to something different other than the normal AP Flour. Can’t wait to try these! Happy New Year Irvin 🙂


Cooking Rookie January 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Fun adventures in spaghetti land :-). I have never seen a “live” spaghetti making machine.. I also have not heard about all these flours you’re using in the brownies, but they look so chewy and good that I’ll have to find them. Fun and delicious 2012 to you, Irvin!


Mary January 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

I love slightly unconventional desserts, so this is perfect for me and mine. I am new to your blog, so I took some time to browse through your earlier posts. I’m so glad I did that. I really like the food and recipes you share with your readers and I’ll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary


Dana January 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

OK, so I’m totally in love with this recipe. Totally. I don’t know where you get these ideas but keep them coming. And you can come to my house for dinner ANY TIME.


Brita January 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I would love to make these Gluten Free. Any suggestions? I recently made the Cong0 Bars. They were amazing!!


Irvin January 4, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Well I use 140 gram so of gluten flour (105 g of All Purpose and 35 g of Barley). So all you need to do is substitute in 140 g of gluten free flour. You can use a pre-mixed flour base like Cup4Cup or make your own blend of flours. I would recommend using a blend of superfine white rice, sweet rice, potato starch, teff, and sorghum or millet. Feel free to play around!

Oh, and you’ll probably need to add a little bit of a binder. I would take two teaspoons of chia seeds, grind them in a spice grinder (I use an old coffee grinder that I’ve turned into a spice grinder) and then add them to the melted chocolate and butter – right before you add the sugar and eggs into it. The water in the butter will activated the chia seeds.

If you make them gluten free, let me know!


Stephanie January 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm

OMG, those brownies look good, but I want their KITCHEN!!


merri January 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

the brownies look good but what i really love are the dinner and the apartment. i love lofts and that dinner looks so yummy! one year my father got my mother a hand pasta machine, it took HOURS to make so we never used it again!


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