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Look Who’s Cooking: Meet Chris Collins, the ‘Chex Mix King’

  • Chris Collins prepares his recipe for Chex mix in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins takes us through the first step of his fan favorite Chex mix, distributing a variety of cereal, nut and pretzels to a sheet pan before cooking the sauce. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins suggests sticking to these ingredients, especially these brands, to having the best version of homemade Chex mix. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Before placing his Chex mix in the oven, Chris Collins douces the dry ingredients with his homemade sauce. Using a turkey baster is the best way to ensure the sauce is distributed equally. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Collins stirs the dry items in his Chex mix using his hands. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins gets ready to pour his homeade sauce over his Chex mix before plopping it into the oven. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins’ Chex mix is ready to go in the oven after the sauce has been applied. One its done cooking, Chris instructs to transfer mixture to another cool sheet pan. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris says the secret to his fan favorite mix is in the details — sticking to the same brands and never boiling the sauce. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins keeps an eye on the sauce for his Chex mix, making sure it doesn’t boil. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins prepares his recipe for Chex mix in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins prepares his recipe for Chex mix in Greenfield. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Chris Collins distributes his homemade sauce over the dry mixture before putting it in the oven. Chris suggests using a turkey baster as it will evenly coat all of the mix. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • WEDEGARTNER



For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Chris Collins has been called a lot of names by supporters and detractors over his many years as a media personality and political columnist in Franklin County, but “Chex Mix King” was probably not one of them. Although, Chris admits that amongst his family and a few friends in the know, he has assumed that moniker.

The party mix was introduced by the makers of Chex cereal, Ralston Purina, in 1952 when recipes started appearing on the back of the Chex cereal boxes after, as legend has it, a wife of a Ralton Purina executive served it at a party. Later, General Mills began packaging a pre-made mix as a snack. Homemade Chex mix, of the type Chris makes, is an American pastime and there can be myriad versions. It’s commonly served at parties and during game day celebrations. Chris makes it for holiday gifts for family and friends. Traditionally, the mix includes two to three types of Chex cereal and nuts, pretzels, chips and other cereals or snack foods, along with a coating of butter mix.

As we march toward Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 4, it seems fitting that today’s column features a Q&A with the well-known local sports broadcaster Chris Collins’ Chex mix recipe, Chris’s fan favorite Chex mix, and how it came to be.

Roxann: So, why Chex mix?

Chris: My mother used to buy and serve the bagged Chex mix all the time. I was never really a big fan. It was too dry and it had too many things in it. As I got older and started seeing the homemade varieties at parties and bars, I still wasn’t that impressed. One day, after consuming some Chex mix at a party and picking rye crisp out of my teeth for hours, I thought, “I can do better than this.” I started making it and I’ve been making it for years now. I make it for family and friends and for my wife, Barb’s office parties. It’s usually a fan favorite and it seems to disappear rather fast.

R: What sets your homemade Chex mix apart from all the others?

C: I’m a simple man. I like simple flavors; nothing too fancy. I think there are a couple of things that set it apart from others. There are really only five ingredients, but it’s the type of peanuts and the type of pretzels I use that make it good along with the sauce. It’s really a “less is more” kind of recipe and the easiest thing you’ll ever do. The sauce, and how you make it, are keys to its success. I try to keep those things consistent, even though the mix might vary from batch to batch, depending on how long it’s cooked or some small differences in the quantities of the ingredients in the sauce, such as a bit more Worcestershire in one batch over the other.

R: And what are those special ingredients?

C: For the mix, I use just two kinds of Chex cereal — rice and corn. I don’t like to use the wheat variety because it makes it too heavy and dry. Then, I use honey roasted peanuts instead of dry roasted peanuts. They give it just the right amount of sweetness and a bit of caramelized sugar from the heating. If you’re allergic to peanuts, you can leave them out and substitute with a bit of brown sugar in the sauce mix. Next is cheddar Goldfish, then a certain kind of pretzels — plain butter snap pretzels. For the sauce, it’s margarine, not butter; seasoning salt and Worcestershire sauce.

R: Are there special tricks to the trade that you’ve learned over the years?

C: I don’t know if you’d call them tricks or not. But there are definite “must-dos.” I’m a stickler for the brands. The peanuts must be Planters, the pretzels have to be Snyder’s butter snap pretzels, the seasoning salt must be Lowry’s. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s the best I’ve used. The “butter” should be Land O’ Lakes margarine and then Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. Also, use a turkey baster to distribute the sauce. That way, you can make sure that you’ve gotten the sauce distributed all over the mix instead of just in one spot. The first time I did this, I used a measuring cup and basically dumped all the sauce in one spot. Not recommended. As for margarine versus butter, butter seems to be too oily and has a tendency to burn when cooking the sauce. That’s another thing. The sauce should be heated up slowly on a low heat on the stove to a color that looks a bit like black coffee. Do not ever boil the sauce.

R: So, that’s pretty specific. Do you ever vary it or get requests to vary it?

C: No. It’s the way I like it and so do most people who taste it. Don’t put too much stuff in it. My nephews love it. When their mother tried to make it, they had to break the news to her. Uncle Chris’ was better. So she’s happily conceded. There may be better versions out there. I don’t know. If people want to experiment, they can make more than one batch.

R: What have been your colossal fails or colossal successes?

C: Truthfully, some of what I thought were going to be fails turned out to be good. I once thought I’d burned the mix by leaving it in the oven a little too long, but it turns out that the sugar on the peanuts kind of caramelized on the bottom of the pan. When I took them out of the oven and was going to put them on the paper to cool, the peanuts had kind of made clumps of caramelized sauce goodness in the mix.

R: Any playoff or Super Bowl predictions you want to make?

C: Yes. I predict that if you make this Chex mix for game day, your friends and family will love it.

Recipe Notes: Although Chris would probably prefer you stick to this recipe, Chex’s website, www.chex.com, gives a great many variations for all occasions, from one with marshmallows and M&Ms for a kids party to a honey sriracha concoction using the Asian hot sauce and popcorn, to one made with coconut oil, for a “healthy” version. Chex it out!

Chris’ fan favorite Chex mix

Ingredients/Utensils

2 rimmed sheet pans, 12-by-19 inches

1 sauce pan

1 spatula

For the mix:

4½ cups Corn Chex

4½ cups Rice Chex

Honey roasted peanuts, to taste

Cheddar Goldfish, to taste

Snap pretzels, to taste

For the sauce:

One stick of margarine (8 tablespoons). Note: It’s one stick per batch.

4 to 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of Lowry’s Seasoning Salt. Note: Alter the amounts for a less salty version.

4 to 5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. One by one, starting with the Chex cereal, spread the ingredients over a rimmed sheet pan. When all ingredients are on the pan, give the mix a good toss with your hands or use a spatula to mix up the ingredients.

The Sauce

Put all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan on the stove at a low heat. Let the margarine melt and stir the ingredients a couple of times. Make sure that all the margarine is melted and does not boil.

When the sauce is ready, distribute it evenly over the mix using the turkey baster. Give it a toss every so often, using a spatula, to get all the pieces coated. Place the sheet pan in the preheated oven on a middle rack for 13 minutes. After 13 minutes, take it out of oven and test for crispiness. If it needs to be a little crispier, then put back in the oven for two to three minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool by pouring it onto a second sheet pan lined with parchment paper or paper towels. Parchment paper works best as the honey roasted peanuts tend to stick to the paper towels as they cool.

Store the mix in an airtight container or bag.

Chris Collins is the General Manager/Executive Director of Frontier Community Access Television, covering Deerfield, Conway, Whately, and Sunderland; Sports broadcaster for Bear Country and WHAI; and political columnist for The Recorder, writing “In The Arena” for the last 18 years.

“Look Who’s Cooking!” is a monthly column by Roxann Wedegartner where she interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers or all-around foodies.