Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Old Fashioned Kettle Corn

Did you know that the perfect kernel humidity for popping pop corn is 14%?  No?  Really?  You mean this isn't a universally recognized and randomly memorized fact?  Are you sure?  Hmm... I guess it's really only something you would know when dating the son of the son of a popcorn corn farmer. 
But of course you know it's all about the humidity if you want large fluffy popped corn and not a lot of old maid's at the bottom of your pot.  Right?  No, not that one either? 
I suppose you might ask what an old maid is too.  Huh...  there's a lot more to being the girlfriend of the son of the son of a popcorn corn farmer than I originally thought.  Oh, and old maids are the kernels left behind, those that are un-popped.  Haha, get it?  No, really, I swear that is what they are actually called. 

Being somewhat close to related to a popcorn farmer, you learn things like this.  And you also end up with a few container-fulls (of course, air tight, remember the humidity!) of popcorn kernels.  Subsequently, when you see popcorn recipes, you kinda get excited.  Even more so, when you have been sans microwave for 4 months now and are starting to jones for a 90 calorie bag of kettle corn.  And though I doubt this is 90 calories, it sure went down quickly.

It came together even faster, although I am lucky to be dating the owner of a nifty-difty, home-fashioned pop corn popping pot (see right).  But, the original recipe suggests it could be made with a big pot and spoon.  So you could try that, or find your own son of a son of a popcorn corn farmer.  Is that getting old yet?   Anyways...

Ben and I made this last Sunday, before I headed home from Chi-town.  We ate the majority of it in the next hour and Ben polished off the rest later that night. So you know it was tasty.  That being said, we both had the same critique.  It is one dimensional.  You really only get a single note.  I'm not sure if that's because the brown sugar didn't caramelize as well as white would have or what.  My short lived research on the subject revealed that most recipes stick to oil, sugar and salt, so I'm not sure what it could have been missing.  A dash of a cayenne maybe and a little less salt might be worth a shot.  A small sprinkle of, what else, cinnamon?
Or, and this just came to me... popping in flavored oil.  I bought a bottle of meyer lemon olive oil a while ago.  Just imagine, lightly lemony, light sweet, just a hint of salt, freshly popped popcorn!  Not your traditional kettle corn granted, but that would have gotten old fast.  Just an idea...

Old Fashioned Kettle Corn
Inspired by Marcus Samuelsson

Don't worry about buying a whole jar of un-popped corn.  Popcorn is not only a delicious, but when done right, nutritious snack, dessert, what have you.  Did you know that popcorn counts as a whole grain?  And that you're supposed to be getting lots of whole grains every day?  That's what I call two birds with one stone.  Pop up some corn plain and top it with freshly grated cheese and chopped herbs.  Or mix it warm with mini chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  You may not even miss microwave popcorn... or you know only miss those 90 calorie bags just a little, teensy bit.

1/2 c. unpopped popcorn kernels
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
3. Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 Tbsp. sea salt

In a large pot, over medium high heat, let oil get hot.  After a few minutes, test temperature by throwing in a few kernels.  If they pop quickly, you're ready to go.  Add kernels and brown sugar and quickly stir well, so kernels are well coated.

Put lid on pot and wait for kernels to start popping.  Grab pot (which will be hot, hot, hot) with potholders and swirl kernels around pot.  Get the kernels moving in a circular motion, with the lid on, continually moving to avoid burning the sugar.  Take pot occasionally off flame if necessary.

When popping how slowed and there are a few seconds in between pops, take pot of flame.  Let cool for a few minutes.  Pour popcorn into large bowl and sprinkle with sea salt.  Add a little at a time, tasting until seasoned correctly.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chocolate Buttermilk Loaf


I have no story.  No cute anecdote or funny past memory.  I always feel like I have to have a story or some lead in or something.  But nada.  I thought about it all day, but I couldn't even make up a decent one.  I do have pictures.  At each step of the way.  I had hoped that I would have better pictures, but I do what I do with my little Sony point and shoot.  So, tonight, you get pictures.  

I suppose there is a little back story.  Like I went up to Notre Dame this weekend for the football game (And we won!  Woohoo!  Go Irish!) and I was staying with my friend Tara (remember her?) and I didn't want to show up empty handed.  And I have been wanting to make this cake for awhile, which of course comes from my blog crush, Deb.  And, well, that's it.  Thus chocolate buttermilk loaf came into our lives.

Everyone was a fan.  Granted, what is there not to love about a dense chocolate loaf cake?  It was thick, which probably doesn't sounds appealing, but it was.  And crumby, yet moist.  It wasn't exactly what I thought it was going to be, but it was delicious.  I wish I had eaten it warm out of the oven, but it had to travel with me, so it had to wait.  And it was good once we broke into it, and even better the next morning for breakfast.  

I had thought about adding a teaspoon of cinnamon or so to the batter before baking.  Thought about it all day long.  But then again, when don't I think about adding cinnamon?  And then there I was and the batter got foamy and into the pan it went and I admit it, I forgot.  Probably cause the batter got kind of foamy and it took me by surprise, so don't let that take you by surprise.  And think about maybe adding some cinnamon.  Wow, this post ended up longer than I thought.

Ben thought this picture would be the bomb.  I will admit, it turned out cooler than I thought.  And this is now the end of the story that's not really a story.  So get baking!

Chocolate Buttermilk Loaf
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temp.
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c.  granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temp
1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. cocoa powder (see Deb if using Dutch cocoa powder)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Butter and flour loaf pan.

In large bowl, cream butter.  Add brown and granulated sugar and cream together until fluffy.  Add egg and beat well.  Follow with buttermilk and vanilla, beat well.  "Don't worry if the batter looks a little uneven", even kind of gritty.

Into same large bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Mix together until well blended, but don't over mix.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Put in oven and bake for 60 to 70 minutes.  To check doneness, insert toothpick into center of loaf, it is done when the toothpick comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool in pan, on rack, for 15 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool, or serve warm like I wanted!

If you add cinnamon, please let me know how it turns out!  I'm dying to find out.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Garlicky, Smoky London Broil with Chipotle Chiles

Last weekend was one of those that makes me happy to count myself among the hallowed ranks of food bloggers.  Starting Friday afternoon and finishing with Saturday's lunch, not only had I tried out three brand new recipes, I really liked all three of them too.  There was the delicious, buttery shortbread cookies, the easy and soon to be even further adapted homemade granola, and finally there was what I consider the best meal I have had all month (and that includes a dinner at me and Ben's favorite Chi-town suburb restaurant): This spiced London broil recipe that we sliced and served up taco style for Saturday afternoon late lunch.  This was the perfect lazy Saturday late afternoon lunch, it wasn't too much stress to put together and it was soul satisfying.  This beef, served on a tortilla-vehicle or not, is delicious. 

When I was back on campus last week for the career fair, I snuck into one of the dining halls and grabbed a copy of that Wednesday's New York Times.  Notre Dame was great about always having, not only our school newspaper, the Observer, readily available, but also current New York Times, USA Todays and Chicago Tribunes.  It was an easy way to make sure we weren't completely enveloped in the ND bubble, and for me it meant two things:  NYT Crossword puzzles daily and the Wednesday dining section.  Wednesday's was my favorite newspaper all week, not only was there a whole section devoted to food, complete with recipes and everything, Wednesday meant the crossword puzzle wouldn't be too easy that it wasn't challenging, or too hard that I only got a few boxes filled in.  Yes, it was just right.

I remember once sitting on the bed in Ben's tiny dorm room looking at the dining section while he was busy on his computer.  Lacking scissors and seeing a recipe that I just had to add to my ever growing pile, I started to rip it out by hand, apparently with enough fervor that Ben told me he was concerned I was going all "Beautiful Mind" on him.  That might have been the first time I've admitted to my recipe hoarding problem...

Anyways, back in the present, this recipe came from the New York Times I swiped two weeks ago.  And, as I preached above, it is damn tasty.  The recipe is to simply grill the thing and serve, a method I would not for a second scoff at.  But if you have the time and desire to take it on step further, I'm telling you, think tacos.  I wouldn't have thought about had someone not randomly told me he was craving tacos and I had already decided that I was making this.  I simply whipped up a quick salsa (if you can call it that) with cilantro, onion (red and white, cause that's what I had) and a small jalapeno, thinly sliced the pan-seared beef, and piled it all onto warm corn tortillas.  Tada, tacos.  Add a lime wedge on the side and you are good to go.  And please don't think I am bluffing here, but they were, without a doubt, easily the most tantalizing tacos I have had in a very long time. 

Can anyone say 3 for 3?  Booyah. 

Garlicky, Smoky London Broil with Chipotle Chiles
from NYT 9/2/11 Dining Section

For Steak:
4 Tbsp. pureed chipotle chiles in adobo
2 Tbsp. honey
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2-2.5 lbs. London broil
2 tsp. kosher salt

For Salsa:
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1 small jalapeno, diced
Juice of half a lime

In large bowl, whisk together chipotle chiles, honey and garlic.  Stream in olive oil, whisking to combine.

Season steak liberally on both sides with salt.  Place in bowl with marinade and rub both sides with marinade.  Cover and let marinade for 30 minutes to 24 hours.  If leaving to marinade longer than 30 minutes, refrigerate.

Let meat come to room temperature (if refrigerated).  Heat large skillet on medium high heat.  Add small swirl of canola oil and let warm.  Add steak to pan and cook 4-5 minutes on each side, for medium rare.  Remove steak from heat and let rest 10 minutes.

For Tacos:
While meat is marinading, cooking or resting, make salsa.  Combine all ingredients in small bowl and mix well with lime juice.  Warm tortillas in skillet over medium heat.  Once meat is rested, cut in thin slices.  Pile high on corn tortilla meat and salsa and top with a squirt of lime.  Enjoy!

Note:  The original recipe called for the steak to be grilled.  The next go around for me, I will more than likely broil it.  Either way, I'm sure it'll be just as freaking delicious! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Homemade Granola

One of the reasons I love my boyfriend is because he is a proud card-carrying member of the great Costco.  Actually, not to brag or anything, he just so happens to be an executive member.  That's right girls, but back off, he's mine!  Frankly, I'm not quite sure why exactly being an executive member is that much more awesome, but I guess his membership card is shinier...  The truth is, Ben and I both love Costco.  And as much as we try to avoid falling into the couple rut, sometimes life is so much better when we spend half of Saturday afternoon grazing our way through the aisles of Costco, joking about who has better bulk-buying etiquette.  Because, and you know it's true, just like every other exclusive member's only clubs in existence, there are important secret rules that are never spoken, but always followed. 

Aren't you so excited to see how this ties into homemade granola?

Anyways, back when I used to live only mere miles from the closest Costco, and not the absurd 4 hour drive that I now suffer, my bulk purchases were much greater.  Cheese, fresh salsa, frozen fish filets, and always Chobani Greek yogurt.  Now, there are some super food fads that I have been slow about jumping on the bandwagon for, albeit not from lack of trying.  There's quinoa, healthy, yes but also basically tasteless pods.  And kale, which if you ask me taste like very thin, recycled plastic spinach.  But Greek yogurt?  I am so all over the Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is a good, protein-rich, low fat meal that really can act as either breakfast, lunch, a light dinner or even dessert.  And Costco sold it in a very convenient flat of 12. It is a super food.  It just doesn't do well on 4 hour car trips home, so I've been stuck with buying the economical and boring tubs of plain Greek yogurt.

Although I would be more than happy to eat my yogurt with several good shakes of cinnamon mixed in and a heavy swirl of honey over top, sometimes you have to go big.  Ben likes when I make a fruit compote to stir in throughout the week.  This weekend, I tried my hand at homemade granola, something new from me.  The recipe, for the most part, came from my September issue of Cooking Light.  I guess I never realized how generally easy a thing granola is to make.  It kind of reminds me of my candied pecan recipe, infinitely adaptable and it too will soon bend to my will.  It's a good starting point, but I'm already planning big changes for my next batch: raisins or craisins, chopped pistachios, maybe subbing some or all of the maple syrup for honey.  Does anyone know how to make those yummy, oat-y clusters in cereal?  The point is, there will be a next batch, however adapted.  And if you needed the push, it's a good way to jump on the Greek bandwagon.  Guten Appetit!

Homemade Granola
Inspired by September 2011's Cooking Light

2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 c. chopped pecans
2 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 Tbsp. maple syrup

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

In small bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.  In large bowl, beat egg whites and vanilla with whisk until foamy.  Fold in oats and pecans.  Fold in sugar mixture, then maple syrup. 

Spread granola mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring at least once.  Remove from oven, loosen granola from sheet with a spoon and let cool on wire rack.

For yogurt, stir a heaping teaspoon or so of cinnamon into a bowl of Greek yogurt.  Swirl in honey and top with a generous sprinkling of your granola.  Eat up!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shortbread Cookies

On Sunday afternoons after Ben leaves, I usually try my best to be productive.  I try to workout, clean the mess that has taken over my kitchen, wash laundry, fold laundry, blog, maybe vacuum and just try my best to prepare for the upcoming week.  But today, I got caught up, drawn to the various September 11th tributes on the TV.  It's been 10 years and I felt that somehow I needed to make sure that I properly remembered the date. 

I know that my last entry was sentimental and corny and I apologize for this one seems to be heading in the same direction.  But it doesn't seem right to not acknowledge the day and go right to shortbread cookies.  I could have at least had something patriotic, right?  The truth of the matter is, I don't really know what to say.  I have been rolling it around in my head all afternoon and all that comes out is "wow, ten years".  So I guess I'll just leave it at that, and encourage everyone to hug those they love and know you aren't alone if you find yourself with a few tears rolling down your cheek for those who had to live through, are still living through, the tragedy ten years ago. 

There is no segway into shortbread cookies from there.  So, I'll dive in and be short and sweet.  My first, most eagerly awaited, Bon Appetit magazine finally arrived about a week ago.  My first venture into the cooking magazine world was with Cooking Light, and to be completely truthful, I've been a little disappointed.  There's been a few good finds, but in general, It's just not doing it for me.  Sometimes you need butter, you know?  And my first venture into my first Bon Appetit magazine couldn't prove that point any better.

These cookies are buttery, deliciousness.  And, if you like, you can be like me and try to convince yourself that they are also healthy because they are made with only whole wheat flour.  Well, that and ten and a half tablespoons of butter.  Yes, that is a lot of butter for 16 cookies, but they are fantastically worth it.  My only wish in this butter drenched dream was that I hadn't used the strawberry preserves in my fridge as the filling, but rather something a little more tart to cut through the lovely, buttery cookie.  I could keep going, but there are only so many times one can use the word butter as a descriptor.  Butter just doesn't really have enough synonyms, you know? 

This recipe is already cut and pasted into the big green cookbook, no questions asked, and with any luck will make its reapparence in my kitchen soon.  They are very easy to make and I promise you, as delicious and buttery as I am claiming. 

Shortbread Cookies
From my first (the September 2011 edition) Bon Appetit!

2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
10 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter, room temp
1 large egg, room temp
1 large egg yolk, room temp
3 Tbsp. (about) raspberry (or other fruit) jam

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, sugar and baking powder in large mixing butter.  Cut butter into small pieces and mix into flour mixture with hands.  Cut butter in until to mixture forms a course meal texture.  In smaller bowl, whisk together whole egg and yolk until well combined.  Pour egg mixture into flour and butter mixture and stir until just incorporated.  Don't overmix.

To form cookies, take about 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into a ball.  Place onto prepared baking sheet.  In center of ball, make an indentation for the jam (wider is better than deeper).  Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. 

Bake cookies about 12-15 minutes, until golden, switching trays around once in the middle of baking.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

Makes about 16 cookies.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chocolate Mousse


The problem with being exiled as a nomad for two years after graduation is that home, besides being that place I grew up in Mesa, Arizona, becomes here.  The place where I finished growing up.  The place where, after 4 years and many late night, freezing walks home, I almost figured out how to live in snow.  The place where I met many friends and met the boy.  And, oh yeah, the place where I got my education and engineering degree.  You know, home. 

I'm back on campus for a few days to help out at the career fair and be the best little company representative that I can be.  It's a strange feeling to be back, in the middle of the school week, walking around campus.  Just like while in school, it is almost to easy to forget where you are at.  And then, walking home after an exam, or walking the long way to the dining hall on the other side of campus because your friends hate the one on your side, you look up and see it.  The dome.  And please excuse me if I'm sounding corny or overly nostalgic or annoyingly Notre Dame obsessed, but you see it and you remember that you are home. 

Except now, I'm only a visitor, only here for a few days.  I'm home, but armed with the knowledge that in a day's time, I'll be back to living a life with shallow roots, only returning here for football weekends, drunken reunions and apparently, career fairs.  I'm envious of the kids around me, walking home to their dorm rooms, stressing about the career fair and trying to decide whether or not they are driving up to Michigan this weekend for the first away game of the season.  I am fully aware that college can't last forever, but I would have been ok with it going on another year or so.  The real world is still bumming me out.  Which is why it's so good to be home.

It's also fitting that what I was planning on writing about today, before I got all nostalgic, contemplative and generally whiny, was chocolate mousse.  A dessert I learned to make in the downstairs kitchen of North Dining hall and a dessert that was almost always present at our fancy, postgame candlelight dinners.  Chocolate Mousse.  The Notre Dame chefs put on some cooking classes during the school year.  If you could get a committed group of 10 or 12 students, they would put on one for your club or dorm, free of cost.  A favorite was always the death by chocolate class, which I attended twice and during which you learned to make truffles, the world's best brownies, and always chocolate mousse.  I broke out the recipe two weekends ago when Ben was in the Haute visiting. 

I'm going to let you in on a little secret now: chocolate mousse is easy.  And, when you plate it right, it's also downright impressive and everyone will think it took much more effort than it actually did.  All you need is a pastry tip and a pretty serving glass.  Or, if you're like me, a Ziploc baggy and cheap margarita glasses.  And voilĂ !  You have just rocked dessert. 

Chocolate Mousse
From the Notre Dame Kitchen

1.5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 c. heavy cream
6 Tbsp. granulated sugar (3/8 cup)

Melt chocolate in double broiler.  Remove from heat while a few lumps still remain, and stir until smooth.

In chilled metal bowl, combine cream and sugar.  Mix with electric mixer fitted with a chilled balloon whip(s) on medium speed until soft peaks form.

Take 1/3 of whipped cream and whip thoroughly into melted chocolate.  Fold remaining whipped cream into chocolate mixture, working quickly so chocolate bits don't form in the cream.

Pipe into desired serving dishes and chill for 2 hours, up to overnight.  If not serving soon, store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gooey Corn and Artichoke dip

When Ben and I go to a restaurant, especially when we are trying out a new one, there are certain menu items that, if present, we will order 98% of the time.  This includes foccacia, flat bread, and if it's a Chinese restaurant, crab rangoon.  Actually, we won't even try a new Chinese place if these aren't on the menu, but that's more because I am on the eternal quest to find the perfect crab rangoon.  (And if you are wondering, the closest to perfection I have found is J.W. Chen's in South Bend, IN.  Seriously, if you are in South Bend, you need to go to this hole in the wall and order crab rangoon.  And some pecan shrimp while you are at it, because it doesn't get any better than that. MMMMmmmm). 

ANYWAYS...  also included in that list is artichoke dip.  Ever since we drunkenly stumbled across a superb version of artichoke dip with huge lumps of fresh crab in it at Pike's Market in Seattle, we're more than willing to try it out if it appears on the appetizer menu.  The one stipulation we have about that is that it has something unique about, something to make it stand out, something that makes it different than your every day T.G.I Friday's Spinach and Artichoke dip.  You know, something like fresh corn off the cob.

I came across this recipe once before when I first found the Big Girls, Small Kitchen blog.  This was before I started up my love affair with fresh corn on the cob and I sort of bypassed it.  When it popped up on my radar again, this time as a online feature at Huffington Post, I knew I was going to try it immediately.  I love cheese and I love corn and I love artichoke dip.  Ben loves at least 2 out of the 3.  And I was sneaking in a vegetable! 

First off, I was too anxious to try the dip to let it bake as long as it needed, and the golden brown crust that should crown the top is missing.  Also, I cooked it in glass and it was rather deep, so I likely should have let it cook longer, maybe even at a high temp.  But look at me, already starting off with the negative.  This dip is good.  This dip is creamy.  The corn in it is amazing.  This dip will disappear very fast at any dinner party.  It just didn't hit my artichoke dip sweet spot.  Ben may argue a bit with me on that point, but it just wasn't quite there.  I'm still searching for the artichoke dip to put into my big green cookbook, and this wasn't the one.  It's out there, I'll find it.  And until then, I'll be dreaming of hot crab and artichoke dip....

Gooey Corn and Artichoke Dip
Inspired by the Big Girls in a Small Kitchen

2 14 oz cans artichoke hearts, drained, half finely chopped, half roughly chopped
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 c. mayonnaise
2 c. freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In medium bowl, mix together all ingredients.  Taste and season more if necessary.  Pour into ovensafe dish.  Bake in oven until top is golden brown, 30-35 minutes.  Your patience will be rewarded!