Sriracha Popcorn

Popcorn is my perfect snack food — a crunchy, satisfying vehicle for butter and salt. When it comes to popcorn, I tend to shy away from the fancy, but every now and then I get a little crazy and try something new, like this sinfully delicious Cinnamon Bun Popcorn. I came across several recipes for Sriracha Popcorn yesterday, but many of them seemed too overpowering for my palate. In my opinion, sriracha is a stand-alone ingredient and really doesn’t need the enhancement of ranch flavoring or parmesan. But sriracha with simple butter and salt? Sign me up!

I popped about half a cup of popcorn using oil, and then I melted 2 to 3 tablespoons of salted butter and mixed 1 tablespoon of sriracha into the melted butter. Pour over popcorn, add salt to taste, and voila! Popcorn with a nice little kick. Not much of a “recipe” as much as a fun variation of everyone’s favorite snack.

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Diet: Week 2, or Stone Cold Sober Book Club

I survived week one of my competitive diet, although I have the sad distinction of earning the lowest number of points on my team, and my team has the sad distinction of being in last place — probably entirely due to me. Sorry, Team 3! Not sure if I mentioned this before or not, but I HATE LOSING. The really sad part is I was quite pleased with my performance until I saw the scores. I didn’t realize I’d be competing with perfect people who earned perfect scores. The poor sport in me wants to call them all liars with dicey accounting practices, but the lady in me just says, “Nice work!”

In any event, I need to up my game. As we’ve established, alcohol is only permitted one day a week, and this week, I’ve decided to choose alcohol on Saturday for a variety of reasons not just because my mother is visiting for a few days. That meant that last night I got to experience book club in a new and exciting way for the first time ever. I believe the word I’m looking for is “sobriety.” It was so weird, like I was in another country and couldn’t quite grasp the nuances of the foreign language they were speaking. I could understand everyone, but I couldn’t really understand everyone, if you know what I’m saying. But fortunately for me, my book club is comprised of smart, funny, interesting women who don’t require the consumption of alcohol in order to be appreciated…although I won’t lie — everything is more fun after a few glasses of wine.

I did, however, use my weekly allotted “meal off” so I could enjoy all the fabulous food. And enjoy it I did! My friend Amy always goes above and beyond in providing book club goodies, and there was NO WAY I was going to miss out on that. I was so excited that she made our friend Lauren’s famous spinach and artichoke dip. I secretly suspect that Lauren is a Helllmann’s mayonnaise heiress, because whenever you ask her about her recipes, she insists that you only make it with real Hellmann’s mayonnaise. The only change I made was using fresh baby spinach instead of frozen spinach (too mushy and too hard to fully drain, in my opinion) because I think that works out better. Yes, I realize artichoke dips are a dime a dozen, especially at book clubs, but this the best one I ever had.

Lauren’s Famous Artichoke Dip

1 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp Tabasco
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 cups Hellmann’s mayo
1/2 bag of baby spinach, chopped
1 can artichoke drained and “mushed”

Mix. Bake at 350 for 45 min

Cinnamon Bun Popcorn

Yes, you read that right. Cinnamon. Bun. Popcorn. I KNOW! So simple, yet so genius.  I realize people have been doing all kinds of pimped up stuff to their popcorn for ages, so I thought I’d seen it all. Frankly, I’m disappointed that I didn’t think of something so obviously delicious myself. And the best part is you probably have everything you need to make this already in your kitchen — just in time for the Oscars tomorrow night!

I first heard of the food blog Lauren’s Latest when my friend Kristan pinned some of her sinfully good looking Garlic Cheesy Bread on Pintrest and it showed up on her Facebook feed (more on that subject later…perhaps). Then today, less than a week later, Fine Cooking posted Lauren’s recipe for Cinnamon Bun Popcorn on its Facebook feed. Could Facebook be conspiring with the universe to make me fat? And, if so, should I blame cute little Lauren? She looks so harmless, but, oh, these recipes!

My only advice with this recipe would be to double it. Make the popcorn however you feel like making it. Like Lauren, I do it on the stove top. Unlike Lauren, I try to use coconut oil, since I think it’s healthier. But pop your corn however you wish.

I have a major aversion to stickiness, but this popcorn was so good that I managed to push my issues aside and eat more than my fair share. I have a feeling you may do the same.

Cinnamon Bun Popcorn by Lauren’s Latest (recipe here)

yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
a few dashes of salt
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or more if desired
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half & half

Directions:
In a small bowl, mix butter and cinnamon together. Set aside. In a separate small bowl, mix powdered sugar with half & half until smooth. You may have to stir in a little more half & half to get it to drizzling consistency. Set aside.

Place oil and popcorn kernels into a large pot. Cover with tight fitting lid or foil. Place pot over high heat. Shake pot back and forth over hot burner to heat kernels evenly. Continue shaking the pot until the popcorn starts to pop. After a minute or two, the popping will slow right down and you’ll have a pot full of popcorn. Dump the hot popcorn onto a baking sheet and drizzle with cinnamon butter immediately. Stir to coat. Drizzle the icing over the top and toss to coat as well. Serve warm, or let it cool so the icing can harden up a bit.

Recipe notes: It’s important to keep the pot moving the entire time its over the heat–this ensures the kernels don’t ever burn.

Adventures in (Not) Cheese Making

I was so excited to learn my uber-talented friend Loraine started to make her own cheese this fall. She took a three day course (Cheese College, I call it) in Vermont (where else?), and she immediately hit the ground running. I first sampled some of her amazing cheese made from the milk of her own animals at her annual Christmas party, a party filled wall to wall with so many homemade gourmet hors d’oeuvres that Loraine makes Martha herself look like a slacker.

In my typical delusions of grandeur fashion, I just assumed I would be able to learn this craft during a one hour visit. I had big plans of visiting Loraine yesterday and interviewing her about the cheese making process so I could share it with my readers, but as soon as I walked in the door, I knew I was in over my head. Too much science! I believe I am destined to be a cheese taster and not a cheese maker, as the level of chemistry and biology involved hurt my pretty little head. Considering I am challenged enough by maintaining the pH balance of Andrew’s fish tank, let’s just say this is the safest decision for all involved.

Assuming, though, that I was up for the challenge, I asked Loraine what equipment was involved, and how much money a hobby like this might cost. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: So, if someone wanted to get started on cheesemaking, what sort of equipment would be required and how much would it cost?

Loraine: Professionally? It would be quite expensive.

Me: PROFESSIONALLY? Ha! No, silly, I just want to impress my friends. You know how I am!

Loraine: Oh, well in that case, not too much money. Just some pots, a thermometer with a pH monitor, some molds, and a wine refrigerator or a modified refrigerator that can keep the cheeses at 52 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. (she points to a huge double glass door refrigerator in the corner) Or a floral refrigerator like this.

Me: Wait, you bought a floral refrigerator just for your cheesemaking hobby?

Loraine: Well, yes, but…

Me: Okay, interview over. I’ve officially determined that it’s much better to have a friend who makes her own cheese than to make it yourself. You know, much like having a friend with a boat…

If any locals are interested in learning more about this mysterious process, contact me and I will pass on your questions to Loraine. The rest of our visit was quite lovely and way too short. Loraine sent me packing with a delicious assortment of cheeses shown below (isn’t she amazing?) and I walked away, once again, proud of my ability to pick out the very best people to call my friends.

Tomme is nutty and smooth, and typically varies based on fat content and the cows’ seasonal diet.

Saint Marcellin is young, soft, complex, nutty and creamy. Possibly my favorite of the bunch.

Jarlsberg is a nice all-purpose cheese: nutty, buttery and mild. Equally good for snacking or recipes.

Bel Paese means “beautiful country” in Italian. It is semi-soft, mild, delicate, and goes well with wine.

 

 

 

Warm Black Bean & Chipotle Dip

This is, quite simply, the best bean dip I ever had. But before I waste your time, please don’t bother reading further unless you really like spicy food. This is definitely not a dip for everyone, but if you’re partial to Mexican food and can stand some heat, I guarantee this will win your heart and move to the top of your Favorite Appetizers list.

My first indication we had a winner on our hands was the nineteen positive reviews from Fine Cooking. Those readers don’t hold back any criticism, however minor, and I’m always surprised to find several poor or lukewarm ratings for recipes I love. If nineteen Fine Cooking readers find something worthy of praise, I figured the recipe must really be special. And it is!

The down side is that it takes a bit more work than your (my) usual slap-together concoction. It’s certainly not difficult, but it does require dirtying a saute pan and a food processor. The plus side is that you can make it up to two days ahead and it will keep nicely in the refrigerator, so you’re not messing around too much in the kitchen before a party — just bake at 425 for 15 minutes and serve. Many of the comments cautioned about using 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar, so I cut back to two tablespoons. Other than that, I followed the directions to the letter, and it came out perfectly.

Fine Cooking’s Warm Black Bean & Chipotle Dip by Tony Rosenfeld (original recipe here)

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more for the baking dish
2 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into medium dice
2 tsp. kosher salt; more as needed
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. chili powder
2 15-1/2 oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained well
2 canned chipotles en adobo, minced (about 1 Tbs.),  plus 3 Tbs. adobo sauce
3 Tbs. cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (if frozen, thaw first)
1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) grated Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
Tortilla chips for serving

Heat the oven to 425ºF. Grease a 1-1/2 qt. baking dish with oil and line a baking sheet with foil. Set the tomatoes in a colander over the sink and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of the salt.

Heat the oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add half of the black beans, the chipotles and adobo sauce, and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid reduces by about half, 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat until shimmering hot. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add half of the black beans, the chipotles and adobo sauce, and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid reduces by about half, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the bean mixture to a food processor, add the vinegar, and process until smooth. Let cool for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a large bowl. Add the rest of the beans, the tomatoes, corn, half of each of the cheeses, and 1/2 cup of the cilantro. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer to the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake on the foil-lined baking sheet (to catch drips) until the cheese melts and browns around the edges, about 15 minutes (longer if refrigerated). Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve with the tortilla chips for dipping.

Simmering in pan

Hot out of the oven

Best Buffalo Chicken Dip

Happy Super Bowl Weekend! Or, if you’re me, Happy Excuse to Eat Trashy Food Weekend!

I feel like I deserve major points for passing up the Buy 1/Get 1 Free Doritos display at my supermarket yesterday. It may have taken me ten years to learn this, but Doritos always lead to shame and self loathing. I prefer to save my calories for quality junk food, something which contains at least one wholesome and identifiable ingredient. Something like…buffalo chicken dip!

There are almost as many recipes for buffalo chicken dip as there are football fans, and each one is a little different. I have been on a quest to find the best buffalo chicken dip out there ever since Logan nonchalantly stated his friend’s mom made the best buffalo chicken dip ever. Each of my feeble attempts was proclaimed “Not as good as Mrs. S’s.” Hmph. Until recently…

When my Cousin Beth mentioned she was bringing her buffalo chicken dip to a Christmas party and that it is always a huge hit, I immediately requested the recipe. And she’s right — it was a huge hit. I held off posting about it since my picture came out very blurry, and I hate to post recipes without a picture. However, with Super Bowl Sunday looming, I thought sharing this recipe would be the right thing to do, and hopefully I will be able to add some enticing pictures soon.

I cut down just a wee little bit on the blue cheese dressing. My imaginary best friends at The Bitten Word use 1/4 cup ranch and 1/4 cup blue cheese in their concoction, so that might be something to consider, but other than that bit of creative license, I highly suggest following this recipe exactly as written. Like football, the devil is in the details. Go <insert team of choice>!

Cousin Beth’s Buffalo Chicken Dip

2  8-oz. packages of cream cheese

1  8-oz. container blue cheese dressing

1  12-oz. bottle Frank’s hot sauce

2  cups cooked shredded chicken (rotisserie or poached — PLEASE not canned, we do have our standards here)

2  cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients except cheddar cheese.  Put in a baking dish and sprinkle with cheddar.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serve with celery sticks and Frito Scoops.

My version of modern art: cream cheese and sauce in a bowl, ready to be mixed

Hot out of the oven and ready for some chips!

To Friendship (and Fondue)

Happy New Year! May 2012 be filled with love, happiness, good health, good food, good friends and prosperity.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

–Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

I have always loved traditions, and I am so fortunate to have a very special New Year’s Eve tradition: Dinner with the same two couples every year since the early 1990s. In a world where so much has changed, six friends have kept a commitment to spend New Year’s Eve together for eighteen years, give or take a couple here and there. We could be an HBO series about stable, married people, if there was ever a market for such a thing.

Back in his grad school days, Ed had the good sense to befriend a couple guys who married women I truly liked as real friends, not just husband friends. When it comes to friendship, I am more of a cat than a dog. I usually don’t instantly love everyone I meet. (Ed, on the other hand, is a dog, a friendly Golden Retriever, happy and loving to all. I am a scrappy stray cat who thinks she belongs on a Fancy Feast commercial). It’s not you, it’s me, and simply my reserved nature which I’ve come to accept it over the years. No hard feelings.

So while I may not have tons and tons of friends, I fiercely treasure the friends I have. Like my mother, I am loyal to those I love, and loyal people have friends for life. The funny thing about my NYE friends is that we really don’t see each other all that much throughout the year. Lunch and a party or two, but definitely not weekly or even monthly. However, I know I could call or text either one of them at any time, and they would be there for me in a heartbeat. They are both prettier, smarter, thinner, better mothers and better human beings than me, but instead of feeling threatened and perhaps a wee bit bitchy like I normally would with anyone else, I only feel admiration instead. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is. Just being around them a few times a year rubs off some goodness by osmosis, and then I’m set for the next few months.

As you can imagine, we have shared some memorable meals over the years. My friends always set the bar high, so it’s a little harrowing whenever it is our turn to host. For the second (third?) time, I will be playing the sushi and appetizer card. We all enjoy sushi, and who doesn’t love a meal comprised entirely of appetizers? If I ply everyone with enough wine and limoncello, I might once again convince them to play my favorite game, Balderdash. We will talk about our children and our parents and our jobs (and my lack of a real job) and our household projects and kids today. We will forget for a few minutes we have nine children between the six of us, three a piece, and reminisce about the good old days when we were young and just starting out our lives. We will eat too much and drink too much and vow to see each other more often next year, and then I will go to bed overwhelmed, once again, by my good fortune to be surrounded by such wonderful people on the last day of another good year.

Even if we are occupied with important things and even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune, still let us remember how good it once was here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us perhaps better than we are. – Fyodor Dostovevsky

To all of those I call my friend, thank you.

Edited Jan 1, 2012:

As always, we had a wonderful night of laughter and friendship. I nodded off for a few minutes between 11 and 12 (surprising absolutely no one who knows me), but I was awake in time to ring in the New Year.

My friends make the best fondue I have ever tasted, and we demand it each and every year. Lucky for you, they left behind the recipe. I know fondue recipes are a dime a dozen, but I cannot speak highly enough about this fondue. Seriously, THE best, ever. There is no better end to a good year than dipping things in cheese.

Classic Cheese Fondue by Ryan Hardy, Food & Wine

Ingredients

  1. 1 pound Gruyère cheese, coarsely shredded
  2. 1/2 pound Emmentaler cheese, coarsely shredded
  3. 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1 cup dry white wine
  6. 1 tablespoon Kirsch
  7. Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  8. Crusty bread cubes, hard salami and small dill pickles, for serving.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a bowl, toss the Gruyère and Emmentaler with the cornstarch. Rub the inside of a cheese fondue pot or medium, enameled cast-iron casserole with the garlic, then add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese mixture all at once. Using a wooden spoon, stir over moderately low heat just until the cheese is melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Kirsch and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the bread, salami and pickles.
Make Ahead The fondue can be refrigerated overnight and reheated in a microwave oven, or on the stove over low heat.

 

 

 

 

Southern Living Festive Crostini

My friend recently requested more appetizer recipes, and I aim to please. Appetizers and I have a complicated relationship. Or maybe dysfunctional is the word I am looking for? Everyone loves appetizers — myself included — but as a hostess, I have to stop myself from yelling to guests, “ENOUGH! You will spoil your appetite!” I have also been the guest who has had trouble resisting the appetizers, only to have dinner roll around and quietly think, “Oy, I’m so full. I sure wish I didn’t have to eat more food right now.” But let’s assume you and your friends possess a healthy adult-level of self control. If that is the case, I highly recommend this recipe. And if it’s not the case? Well, you’ve been warned.

My friend Susie shared this recipe with me back in 1999, and I’ve been making it every year since. It is perfect for the holidays with its red and green color. There are certain old millennium aspects of this recipe (dried tomatoes, canned black olives) that I’ve modified, but feel free to stick to the original if you prefer. I usually make the cream cheese/feta mixture and the tomato/olive mixture ahead of time, but I am a little obsessive like that.

Festive Crostini, Southern Living, December 1999

Yield: 30 Appetizers

Ingredients

  • 1/2 (3-ounce) package dried tomatoes (I use jarred tomatoes, so if you do, skip the boiling water)
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 (16-ounce) baguette, cut into1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1/2 (8-ounce) package fat-free cream cheese, softened (fat-free? NEVER!)
  • 1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 (2.5-ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained (I use sliced Kalamata olives)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Soak tomatoes in 1 1/2 cups boiling water 30 minutes; drain. Chop tomatoes, and set aside. (You can also use jarred sun dried tomatoes, well drained.)

Place bread on a baking sheet.

Bake at 400° for 10 to 12 minutes or until toasted.

Cut 1 garlic clove in half. Rub bread slices evenly with cut side of garlic.

Stir together cream cheese and feta cheese until well blended. Spread about 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture evenly on each bread slice.

Mince remaining garlic clove. Stir together minced garlic, tomato, olives, and parsley. Spoon over cream cheese mixture.

Ask Mom Mom: Book Club Food

Dear  Mom Mom,

It seems whenever I host book club or a similar event,  I tend to go way too far and put out enough food to feed the entire tri-county area.  Can you help me with finding a good balance of feeling like I’ve got enough food to satisfy without going overboard and feeling guilty for throwing out tons of food at the end of the night?  I would never want to be accused of not feeding my guests!

Signed,

Bookclub and Clueless…

Dear Most Considerate Hostess,

This is such a great question, as so many people struggle with this very dilemma. I won’t pretend to be the authority on this (okay, who am I kidding? I always pretend to be the authority), but I will tell you what I try to do in similar situations.

In a rational moment, preferably at least one week or more before your event, sit down and determine your categories of food. For example: something healthy like a crudités or salad, some sort of chip and dip, a cheese tray with nice crackers or bread, a hot appetizer, and a couple of sweet things. That’s six things, and I think that is plenty for the average sized book group. If you insist, you can have seven things, but I don’t advise it. Seven is a slippery slope to eight…

Next, depending on your level of ambition, map out your specifics. Your chip and dip category can literally be simple potato chips and onion dip, or it can be some groovy recipe you saw in Bon Appétit or Gourmet magazine last month served with high end organic chips and hard-to-find ingredients. Take it category by category, and DO NOT BE TEMPTED to add more categories. Stick to the plan! After all, this plan was hatched in a rational moment, not in a frenzy two days before your guests arrive — THAT’S when we get ourselves into trouble and overbuy.

I try to mix it up between easy and ambitious. Definitely browse my Appetizer and Dessert section here and see if anything appeals to you. Sometimes popcorn is every bit the hit as the gorgeous torte I labored over for hours (and probably spent $30 to make). Places like Costco and BJ’s have great ready-made appetizers and desserts, and while I would never advise a whole party full of them, they are decent fill-in items.

Now, I can hear you saying, “But Mom Mom, what if it’s not enough? What if I run out of food?” First, believe me, you will not. But if you are so worried about this unlikely event occurring, you can stock your pantry with a few emergency items only to be opened if nothing is left. Don’t laugh, but I suggest something really junky like Doritos and a giant bag of M&Ms. Middle aged women who are perpetually on diets go nuts over that stuff, especially after a few cocktails. Also, if you keep a box of frozen appetizers such as Cohen’s (cocktail franks and assorted puff pastry) in the freezer, within 20 minutes, you have more hot food. If your book club is anything like mine, by that point in the night, no one will notice or care. The main idea is that your “emergency food” is something that can keep in a sealed bag or frozen, and therefore will not go to waste.

Finally, remember that all of your guests are so happy to be at your house enjoying cocktails and friendship (oh, and sometimes even the book discussion), so try not to stress out too much over the food. I know that sounds silly, coming from me, but it’s true.

Roasted Chickpeas

I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but I first heard of this recipe from my friend Heidi’s Facebook page. Heidi is…how do I put this?…not someone I would normally look to for healthy recipes. The fact that she made these numerous times intrigued me, and I had to check this recipe out for myself. Sometimes our best ideas come from the most unlikely sources.

A day late and a dollar short, I see that roasted chickpeas were so last year, and pretty much every food blogger under the sun has already blogged about them. What’s next from me, chopped salad?

In any event, for a quick and healthy snack, these little guys can’t be beat. Once you’ve discovered you like them, you will learn that you need to double your batch next time, as they go quickly.

Roasted Chickpeas

1 can of chickpeas

1 T. olive oil

salt

Preheat oven to 425.

Drain and rinse beans. Pat beans dry really well. Dry beans are crucial to this process.

Coat beans in about 1 T. olive oil and spread on rimmed baking sheet. I highly recommend using something with a rim. You know, gravity and all.

After about 20 minutes, remove from oven, add salt and/or other seasonings (I like cayenne pepper), toss well and spread back in pan. Return to oven for another 15 minutes. Serve in a bowl and enjoy!