Sweet Heat Popcorn For The Oscars

2 Mar

I’m going to an Oscar Party tonight, and my Sweet Heat Popcorn is coming with me. It’s a costume party, and there’s also a contest to guess which movies, actors, and directors will come out on top. It should be loads of fun even though I’ve only seen 1 of the 9 films nominated for best picture of 2014. (Note to self: go to the movies more often!)

IMG_0834

It’s just hours to go until the Academy Awards kick off, but there’s still time before the red carpet to knock out a batch of this  Sweet Heat Popcorn. You likely have all of the ingredients in the house, and it’s worth the few minutes of active cooking time for a treat this addictive. Plus, who watches movies, or awards shows for movies, without popcorn?

 A hefty dose of Sriracha sauce gets squeezed into a pan with brown sugar, a knob of butter, and a generous amount of salt. A little bit of vanilla extract rounds out the quick spicy caramel. The popcorn gets drizzled with the sauce, and what really ties it all together for me is that the kernels are no completely coated in caramel, like my Caramel Corn with Peanuts recipe.  There’s a little bit here, and a little bit there, giving a nice dose of spice without igniting your tongue on fire. It’s just the right amount. 

Sweet Heat Popcorn

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat your oven to 250°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Drop one popcorn kernel into the oil. When the kernel pops, the oil is hot and ready. Add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give it a gentle shake to coat the kernels in oil. You’ll hear kernels beginning to pop shortly. When the popping sounds slow down, remove the pot from the heat and transfer to the popcorn to a large bowl. Dump in the peanuts.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, sugar, Sriracha, and salt together, stirring occasionally until the sugars are dissolved and the mixture bubbles.  Off the heat, carefully add the vanilla extract and baking soda. The caramel will bubble up angrily when these ingredients hit. Let the mixture settle a few seconds, and stir to combine well.

Pour the hot caramel over the popcorn and toss it together to coat. Divide the popcorn evenly between the two baking sheets, and spread it into a single layer. Bake the popcorn to dry out the caramel for 20 minutes, stirring the popcorn to break up the pieces every 10 minutes.

Cool the popcorn completely before storing.

Makes about 8 quarts.

Thai Coconut Curry Turkey Soup

23 Feb

I overcooked the shit out of a turkey a couple of months ago.

IMG_0803

My apologizes for the flagrant profanity in the very first sentence of this post, but I feel that it is absolutely  necessary based on how dried out that damn turkey was. It was inedible in its current form. Really, really terrible. The worst I’ve ever had.

Have I mentioned that I worked at the Butterball Turkey Talk Line this year, and that I helped  hundreds  and hundreds of people  successfully cook their birds? The irony is not lost on me. This overcooked-is-an-understatement turkey happened well after the Turkey Talk Line closed for the season.

Now, I’ve cooked plenty of crispy-skinned, juicy turkeys in my past. In my own defense, I was using a meat thermometer that had somehow gotten waaaaaaay out of calibration. But I didn’t know that until it was way too late. And once a turkey is overdone, it’s overdone. And it’s all downhill from there. The USDA, Butterball, and anyone who understands food science agree that white meat is done at 165°F.

By the time I realized what was happening and checked the turkey with an alternate thermometer, the breast meat was registering north of 190°F. Nasty.

We choked down a couple of dry slices (aided by a lot of wine to help it go down), turned the carcass into turkey stock, and shoved the rest of the jerky meat into the back of the freezer. I couldn’t bear to throw it all away. What a waste that would be.

It’s been taking up space for a while, now, so today I decided to do something about it. I figured the only palatable way to use up this meat would be in soup form, since the broth would cover up the dryness. I love the flavors of a coconut curry soup, which is awesome with chicken or shrimp. As it turns out, it’s also excellent with turkey, even if it’s dryer than melba toast. Of course, it would be even more slurp-able with perfectly cooked turkey. 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh – temperatures to live by!

And for the love of good-eating, check your meat thermometer before you start cooking to make sure that it’s accurate. It’s easy to do. Place the probe in boiling water. It should read 212°F, but if it is higher or lower, you can adjust your readings accordingly.

IMG_0794

Thai Coconut Curry Turkey Soup

This soup is delicious with turkey stock and turkey meat, but if you have chicken meat and chicken stock on hand, that will also work well. Substitute vegetable stock and shrimp for a vegetarian version.

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon canola  oil
3 tablespoons red curry paste
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 cups turkey stock
1 can (14 oz.) light coconut milk
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2-3 teaspoons Sriracha sauce (or more if you’re a thrill-seeker)
2 cups finely shredded cooked turkey (leftovers work great)
7 oz. rice noodles
juice of a lime
For color and crunch: thinly sliced sugar snap peas, green onions and radishes, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges

In a large pot, saute the red pepper, carrot, and onion with canola oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the curry paste, sliced garlic, and ginger and continue stirring until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Add the turkey stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, and Sriracha and stir until well combined. Adjust flavor by adding additional fish sauce for saltiness and Sriracha for heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the cooked turkey and lime juice, and simmer.

While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the rice noodles according to the package directions.*

Pile about 1/2 cup of cooked noodles into the bottom of a bowl. Ladle soup over the top of the noodles. Sprinkle with sliced sugar snap peas, green onions, radishes, and fresh cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Makes about 6 servings.

IMG_0782

*If you plan to serve all of the soup at once, feel free to throw the rice noodles directly into the soup pot to cook. If you will be saving some of the soup for later, make the noodles as instructed above, and refrigerate them separately from the soup so that they don’t get mushy.

 

Cacao Husk Tea

17 Feb

A couple of weeks ago at this time, I was roasting, shelling, and grinding cacao beans to make my own chocolate bar. In Nicaragua. In 90°F, sunshine-filled bliss.

Image

Xalli Beach Hotel, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Today, I’m staring out the window at horizontally flying snow in Chicago. Another 6 inches, and still going strong. The only source of sunshine is straight out of my Nicaraguan memories, so I’m going to live inside of them for a minute.

During our stay in Granada, we spent a couple of hours at ChocoMuseo, a small business dedicated to making chocolate where cacao beans actually grow. In addition to Nicaragua, they have shops in Dominican Republic, Peru, and Guatemala. They sell various kinds of chocolates and things, but they also offer a hands-on workshop that starts with fermented, unroasted cacao beans and finishes with full-blown chocolate bars. There are a few steps – roasting, cracking, grinding, conching, tempering, and molding.

Large chocolate manufacturers usually spend several days conching the chocolate, a process that mixes and refines the flavor of the chocolate, making it less bitter and smoother in the mouth. Tempering comes next, the tricky process of bringing chocolate to certain temperatures, up and down, so that when it is molded the fat molecules are perfectly in place, giving the hardened chocolate a pretty sheen and a nice snap.

At ChocoMuseo, the conching process is cut down to 15 hours, and they forgo tempering all together, recognizing that it is futile to try to control chocolate in an non-air conditioned room at 90°F. The end result is a chocolate that is grittier and drier than what I’m used to, with a marbleized, matte finish. The workshop itself was very fun, informational, and well worth the price of admission, even if the finished product wasn’t ethereal.

Image

Frothing freshly ground cacao beans into hot milk with a molinillo. There was also some Spanish chanting and countertop banging going on at this point, led by our teacher. We sounded crazy, but it was fun. You should try it next time you make hot chocolate – spice it up a little!

I brought home a bag of Cacao Husk Tea after sampling it in the store. As the name says, it’s a bag of cocoa bean husks, packaged and re-purposed, instead of discarded after the cracking step of the chocolate-making process. Pretty brilliant, and pretty delicious, too. The husks get steeped in very hot water, just like tea. It delivers big cocoa flavor, and since it is made with water and not milk like most hot chocolates, the pure chocolate flavor isn’t masked by dairy notes.

Image

Cacao husk tea. Note the pieces of untempered chocolate with almonds.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve done a bit of reading about cacao husk tea. Turns out it’s full of antioxidants, flavanoids, and vitamin D, as well as theobromine  which is a mild,ting mood booster. So let the snow fall just a little longer. A mug of steamy Cacao Husk Tea and the memory of sunny Nicaragua take the sting out of winter.

 

Perks of Working in a Test Kitchen – Part 1

14 Feb

Sometimes the homemade pates de fruits you make for your boyfriend turn out more like dark, amorphous sugar-coated blobs than the gem-toned, sparkling squares of gummy perfection they were meant to be. Shit. Valentine’s Day is ruined!

IMG_1910

Slouchy. Super slouchy.

It’s times like these (and lots of other times, really) that I am thankful for my job. In the Wilton Test Kitchen, there’s always extra cake batter or cookie dough. In just a few minutes, I can go from candy failure to cookie savior and still bring something sweet to my sweetie on Valentine’s Day.

IMG_1917

Never too old for sprinkles. Ever.

I love, love, love Wilton’s Roll Out Cookie recipe, and I’m not just saying that because I work there. It doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling, which is a huge time saver, but if they are rolled, cut, and chilled for just a few minutes, the cookies hold on to their shape really well. It’s flavored with vanilla and almond extracts and a healthy pinch of salt. The cookies are crisp at the edges, and as a crunchy cookie person, I can appreciate that.

Thank you Test Kitchen job, for saving Valentine’s Day!

I’ll be back for those pathetic pates de fruits soon.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

26 Jan

I eat almost the exact same thing for breakfast every day of the work week. In the colder months, it’s oatmeal with whatever dried fruit i have in the pantry and a sprinkling of toasted nuts. When the weather warms, I change over to yogurt and granola with fresh fruit, with the occassional change-over from yogurt to kefir, which is…drinkable yogurt. Pretty boring, right? But when I need to get out the door quickly )because I’ve overslept  again, and then idled too long in the shower’s warmth, and forgotten that I needed to pack my bag for yoga after work), these breakfast standards are easy and reliable, and I actually really never get sick of eating them.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash

But on the weekends…I’m a sucker for a good breakfast. In my mind, going out for brunch is the ultimate urban luxury, and I do it as often as possible, but I can’t justify spending $20 for a couple of eggs and a plate of fried potatoes every single Sunday. Even if the eggs are fresh out of the happiest, most organic, free range chicken that ever lived, with yolks the color of sunshine and laughter. It’s just not in my best financial interest to indulge  my brunch habit weekly.

So today, I made my own brunch and there wasn’t a fried potato in sight. It cost way less than $20, and I got to eat it sitting on the couch with my favorite guy while watching cartoons for grown ups. It was luxurious in its own way.

Tomorrow, I’m back on oatmeal.

Baked Eggs with Bacon, Squash, and Kale Hash 

2 strips bacon, finely diced
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 cups torn kale leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons fresh minced sage
salt and pepper
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until it is crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon grease and discard the rest.

Toss the squash, onion, and kale with the garlic, olive oil, 1 tablespoon of bacon grease, thyme, sage, and a generous amount of salt and pepper until everything is well coated. Divide onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and roast, rotating the pans and stirring the vegetables after 15 minutes. Continue roasting until the squash is fork-tender, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Spray an 7 x 11 baking pan with cooking spray. Transfer the vegetables into the pan and stir in the cooked bacon bits. Press down on the vegetables so they form an even layer. Crack each egg into a small ramekin and pour slowly it over the vegetables so that the yolk doesn’t break. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, cracking and pouring each egg over the hash, one at a time. Sprinkle the eggs with additional salt and pepper and parmesan cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the whites of the eggs are set, but the yolks are still loose, between 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with additional cheese.

Makes 3-4 servings, depending on how hung over you are from Saturday night.

The Chemistry of Cookies

20 Jan

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Baking is the tastiest form of science.

Check out this great Ted-Ed video for a fun and informative rundown of the chemical changes that happen as cookie dough changes to cookies. Pretty sweet! (pun intended)

Almost-Homemade Biscuits

19 Jan

I’ve had a bag of Hidden Acre Farm’s Southern Snow Biscuit Mix in my pantry for a few months. It was a gift from a test kitchen freelancer whom I’ve worked with a lot. (Whom? Who? Who cares…there are biscuits on the table.) The possibility of a productive Sunday fizzled hours ago, and I’ve wanted to eat nothing but breakfast foods all day long, making it a perfect opportunity to test this stuff.

I don’t purchase many baking mixes. I make most of my baked goods from scratch. It helps me justify the $40K I spent on pastry school, you know? But this one came to me from a food pro whose family owns a pecan farm in South Carolina, where Hidden Acre Farm is located.  Plus, I give this woman a paycheck once in a while. She wasn’t going to give me bad biscuit mix.

There are only four ingredients listed on the packaging: winter wheat flour, calcium phosphate (an acid that is a part of baking powder), baking soda, and salt. Winter wheat flour is soft and has a lower protein content than regular all-purpose flour, making it ideal for tender, light biscuits.

Lots of southerners swear by White Lily Cake Flour for making biscuits. It is also made from winter wheat flour, like the Hidden Acre Farm mix. Southerners hoard White Lily though. It’s not sold nationwide, so we Yanks just don’t get it. I’d love to do some test kitchen experiments, using it to make biscuits  alongside this Hidden Acre Farms mix to see which flour reigns supreme.

Hidden Acre Farm Biscuits with Butter and Raspberry Jam

It’s pretty hard to believe that White Lily, or any other flour or recipe, could top this Hidden Acre Farms mix. They came together in mere seconds, with just the addition of heavy cream. I brushed mine with a splash of melted butter before baking because I’m a sucker for a crunchy top that gives way to a soft, delicate inside. These are everything a homemade biscuit should be – tall, golden and irregular outside, and downy inside. They’re perfect in their simplicity.

My Google research isn’t finding Hidden Acre Farms mixes for purchase online, but maybe if we all like their Facebook page, and ask really nicely, that will change.  If you’re near Rock Hills, South Carolina, consider yourself lucky.  You can get your hands on this mix at Moments In Time and The Peach Stand. Stock up.  Send me a few. If you really want to make my day, throw in a bag of White Lily. Biscuits, for all my friends!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,339 other followers

%d bloggers like this: