Some food, some drink.
Variation on a homemade snacking standard: Mexican Chocolate Puppy Chow.
The folks that make the breakfast cereal call it "Muddy Buddies", but at my house it's known by the only slightly less-dignified name of "puppy chow". Whatever your lawyers make you call it, this old-hat of cereal snack mixes got a makeover from yours truly by adding Mexican Chocolate flavors and making it all the more interesting with the addition of ancho-chile roasted pecans. And yeah - just like the original, it's still gluten free if you're inclined to care about such things.
If you're the visual learning type, you'll want to check out the how-to video companion episode for this post!
About once a month, a box of Rice Chex cereal finds its way home from the grocery store with my wife. This is an unspoken signal meant for me. There's only one reason that a woman who otherwise prefers a marshmallow-laden breakfast cereal would opt for something relatively healthy: She wants me to make her some snack mix. If this call to arms isn't heeded within about a week, then the overt verbal cues begin to snowball -
"Boy, I could sure use some puppy chow."
"So, when are you gonna make me some puppy chow?"
(Talking to my 4 year-old daughter) "How about you and your Dad make Mommy some puppy chow today? It would make me soooo happy!"
"You know if you have nothing to do today (what?! seriously?), I'd let you make me some puppy chow."
You get the idea. I don't mind making my wife some cereal snack mix, but every time I've attempted an experiment, it's been met with fierce opposition. The way the wife likes her chow is plenty of sweet with nothing that would interfere with her ability to experience the simple union of chocolate and peanut butter. As for myself, I tend to think that affair a bit one-dimensional (or, two-dimensional if you don't count chocolate+peanut butter as a single flavor). However, when I'm making chocolate-enrobed goodness for myself, I need more for my teeth to do and I need more flavors vying for my attention.
My favorite way to turn the most-revered of sweet cereal snack mixes on its ear is to imbue the whole mess with the flavors of a Mexican-style chocolate. Likewise, to add texture and to act as a foil for all that powdered sugar, I turn up the heat a bit with pecans that have been toasted in butter and ancho chile.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Measure the cereal into a large bowl and set aside.
In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt butter with 1/4 tsp salt, ancho and cayenne. When butter starts to get foamy, add the pecans, and stir frequently. Toast pecans in the chile butter for 5 minutes, taking care not to burn your nuts. When toasty, set aside to cool.
In a 2 cup microwavable bowl, nuke chocolate, peanut butter, 2 Tbsp butter, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp cinnamon on high for 30 seconds and stir. Continue to microwave in 30 second intervals and stirring until mixture can becomes smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, and fold in until evenly coated. Spread the mix out on a Silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan for 30 minutes to cool. After a half-hours' time, pour the mix into a 2 Liter lidded plastic tub, add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and shake until well coated. Freeze for 20 minutes and finish by tossing with the pecans, the last 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and a 1/4 tsp cinnamon. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.
The original Chex "Muddy Buddies" recipe is good, but the simplicity of the recipe belies the method. There are details that the original recipe omits that may seem slightly fussy at first glance, but in the end they make for a better end-product. Here are a few steps you don't wanna skip -
- Once the cereal is coated with the chocolate+peanut butter mess, you'll want to spread it out on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet and let everything cool down for about 25 - 30 minutes. If you try to add the powdered sugar now, you'll need twice as much, and that'll totally defeat the purpose of using decent chocolate.
- Powdered sugar should be added in two stages; once to help set the chocolate, and a final shake after the chocolate is set to mitigate the mess on your fingers.
- The respite in the frezer helps to quickly and decidedly set the chocolate and allows for the aforementioned spin with the last quarter-cup of reserved powdered sugar to coat everything more effectively.
- You can melt everything in a double-boiler instead of the microwave, but you'll save yourself at least 7-10 minutes by opting for your radar range. Just be sure not to over-cook, and give everything a stir after each thirty second pulse. When you reach the right amount of heat, the chocolate won't be completely melted until it's stirred thoroughly.
- Watch your nuts! Start the heat at medium to melt the butter and infuse that chile goodness, and make sure you're stirring often while wheeling back the heat as things start to toast. At the first sign of smoke, kill the heat.
- If you don't have 85% chocolate then you can fake it pretty good using a combination of semi-sweet chocolate chips and a heaping teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in your vanilla (fwiw, a heaping half-cup of semi-sweet chips is usually 3.5 oz).
- I have a lidded 2 liter plastic tub expressly used for the purpose of coating my chow. You want an over-sized container with rounded sides so that the cereal doesn't get crushed as you coat it in the chocolate mix; and plenty of head space to ensure that the bits get plenty of hang-time in the sugar dust.
- On the topic of not crushing your cereal into oblivion when coating: Tip your container on its side and fold the mix from the outside of the container with a spatula or spoonula, letting the weight of the mix do all the work.
If you leave the lid off your batch of Mexican chocolate puppy chow, be ready to make a second batch. I've watched folks that say that they care for neither chile nor dark chocolate totally go to town on this stuff. Salty snack mixes are usually the standard when tipping back a beer, but with the addition of the chile-roasted nuts, this'll play ball too. Go for a brown ale or stout, as their malts play nicely with the dark chocolate.
For those folks that are fence-sitters regarding the whole spicy/sweet thing, lets break down the flavors and textures you're gitting with this puppy chow remix: You'll taste the cinnamon first as the chocolate-coated bits hit your tongue. As you crunch into your first handful, the creamy bitterness of the dark chocolate starts to come through, and those flavors are bolstered by the less-than-trivial amount of vanilla that was added early on. But wait - what this? As you bite into that first pecan, there's a buttery and salty crunch that finishes with the subtle heat of chile as you reach for your second handful.