Not your grandmother’s Chex Mix
This recipe is not your grandmother’s Chex Mix, because it is my grandmother’s Chex Mix. It is also one of my favorite things about the holidays. This Chex Mix is spicy and salty, and way more intense than the run-of-the-mill store bought variety or the recipe on the back of the Chex box. This recipe includes crazy stuff like cayenne pepper and Tabasco sauce, and the look and smell of the spices and oil all blended together may make you want turn your back and walk away. Don’t be intimidated – once this goop is spread over a pan full of cereal and dotted with butter, just a short time in a cool oven will transform the mix into toasty, crunchy, salty deliciousness.
About that spice mix. You’re going to need a whole heckuvalot of spices that you may or may not use again until your next installment of my grandma’s Chex Mix. Beau Monde? Summer savory? Indeed these jars only cross the threshold of my spice rack but once a year.
– Beau Monde: This spice blend seems to only be available from Spice Islands brand spices, which are readily available in South Dakota and Iowa supermarkets. (Although I’ve never tried to find it anywhere else. Let me know how that goes for you.) Although the Spice Islands website claims that Beau Monde is merely a mixture of celery, onion and salt, the various internet recipes that I found also include cloves, cinnamon, all spice and nutmeg. I’m fairly certain there are no cloves in the Spice Islands version of Beau Monde, and indeed it does smell and taste mostly like celery salt. So if you can’t find Spice Islands Beau Monde at your grocery store, proceed with caution!
– Summer Savory: I have also always purchased the Spice Islands brand of summer savory – however, since it is an actual herb, I doubt the flavor varies as much from one manufacturer to another. It smells to me like a more earthy thyme. The internet doesn’t really agree on its flavor profile – I’ve read it described as “spicy” and “aromatic” which is about as vague as it gets. Although I don’t really use it in any other recipes, it seems like it would be a nice addition to sausage dishes or hearty stews.
– Marjoram: This spice is related to oregano, and supposedly has a milder flavor. However, in this Chex Mix we are using ground marjoram which seems quite pungent to me when compared with the dried or fresh leaf oregano I use in Italian recipes. Along with the savory, it adds a slight touch of sweetness to the mix.
– Hickory Smoke Salt: This stuff is crazy powerful, and is definitely one of the overriding flavors in the spice mix. It also gives the spice blend the distinctive black goopy texture and pungent aroma. Be careful when pouring the hickory salt into the measuring spoon – this stuff aerosolizes instantly and will make you sneeze! My grandma’s original recipe calls for two tablespoons of this stuff, although I’ve been cutting back in recent years because it makes the Chex Mix very salty if you use the full amount.
– Worcestershire sauce: This is not really a weird ingredient, but I would just like to say that it never occurred to me until Friday that Worcestershire sauce is fermented fish sauce, kind of like that stuff they throw in your Thai food. I had this epiphany while celebrating my friend’s successful PhD defense on Friday night, when she mentioned that the bartender at this drinking establishment would make vegetarian bloody Marys without the Worcestershire sauce upon request. Of course, the Thai fish sauce is primarily fish and salt, while Worcestershire sauce contains a slew of other savory ingredients in addition to the fish. Learn something new every day, yes?
The bulk of this recipe – the Chex, pretzels and nuts – is of course like every other Chex Mix recipe out there. But it is the unique blend of spices that makes me think of the Christmas season growing up in South Dakota. I’m going to get a little corny here for a moment, but this stuff tastes like home more than any other recipe, and I look forward to making it every year. Sometimes being a grown-up is ok, because we get to take old traditions and make them our own, and make up new traditions as we go along. This is one tradition that will be around in my family for a long time to come – a tradition that they will have to pry from my salty, buttery hands.
Adapted from Jean Kearney
A full batch of this recipe yields about 2.5 gallons of snack mix. (40 cups/9.5 liters) You can try to make a smaller batch, but I think you’re better off just getting some festive holiday containers and giving it your favorite people. It will keep for at least a week at room temperature, sealed in an air-tight container.
–DO NOT BURN THIS STUFF. It is not delicious. You will know if it is burning if the Rice & Corn Chex start to get a brown edge on them. The worst part is that the butter burns at this point. Watch your oven temp and stir more frequently if need be.
-You will need one very large, deep roasting pan (or like a large pan that they use for catering) or two smaller pans that will fit the width of your oven. If you don’t have a standard-sized oven, you will probably want to make this in two batches. I was lucky to find some pans at my supermarket after searching a few stores around town – it seems pretty tough to come by deep aluminum roasting pans these days. (Therefore I wash and reuse mine every year, and they have probably lived in 3 or 4 different apartments with me.) The disposable aluminum roasting pans are particularly nice because they are so bendable and you can easily make them slightly narrower to accommodate your oven, as you can see below:
On to the recipe!
The Spice Mix
2 Tablespoons Beau Monde seasoning (Spice Islands is recommended.)
1.5 Tablespoons hickory smoke salt (I used this quantity this year, you can use slightly less if you wish.)
2 teaspoons garlic powder (NOT garlic salt)
2 teaspoons summer savory
2 teaspoons ground or crushed marjoram
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup oil, vegetable or canola
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
dash of Tabasco (or more, to taste)
The Cereal Mix
1 box each of Rice, Corn and Wheat Chex
1 bag of pretzels (I usually use about 1/2 to 3/4 of a bag, depending on the bag size, this is up to you)
2 – 11.5 oz cans of nuts, lightly salted (I usually do 1 mixed nuts + 1 cashews, because I love cashews)
3 sticks of butter (Can be scaled down by 1/2 stick or up to 1 stick, unsalted is best)
Make the Spice Mix
1. At least 2 hours before you plan on making the Chex Mix, mix all spices, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco in with the oil. Whisk the spice/oil mix vigorously to ensure a good emulsion. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for a few hours or overnight.
Make the Cereal Mix
1. Preheat oven to 250 °F/120 °C
2. Pour the cereals, pretzels and nuts into the roasting pans, being careful to distribute evenly between pans if you are using two pans.
3. Dot the cereal mixture with pats of butter, about 1/2 Tbsp pats distributed evenly over the mixture. There is no need to use softened butter here.
4. Give the spice mixture another good whisk and pour evenly over the cereal mixture. Even after mixing, the spices will quickly settle to the bottom – if you are using two pans be careful to evenly distribute the gloopy black bottom layer of the spice mixture evenly between the two pans.
5. Stir the mixture, and place in a preheated 250 °F/120 °C oven for 45 minutes Remove from the oven and stir every 10-15 minutes while baking. Be observant of the oven temperature and do not let the mixture burn!
6. Remove the Chex Mix from the oven after 45 minutes, and allow the mixture to cool in the pan for about an hour. Stir two or three times as the butter and oil may settle to the bottom of the pan while cooling.
7. Place in resealable plastic bags or tins, and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner until after New Year’s. (Yes, I love to eat party mix for breakfast, why do you ask such a silly question?) The Chex Mix will keep sealed in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week.