archives: cooking

salted caramel popcorn

Ages ago, when friends of Jason’s got married, I perused the registry and was elated to see they’d requested an air popper for popcorn. Something about an air popper makes me smile—even though I’ll be the first to admit that popcorn properly popped with oil in a pot is crisper and infinitely better—so I jumped at buying it for them. That year, Jason surprised me with my own air popper for Christmas. I don’t make popcorn all that often, and sometimes I still opt to cook it on the stovetop, but the air popper is always magical.

This weekend I decided to make a batch of salted caramel popcorn for a friend as a pick-me-up after she’d gone through a rough time last week. Out came the air popper and a look at Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for spicy salty caramel popcorn. I modified the recipe enough that I wanted to jot it down here for posterity—I just know the next time I go to make it I’m going to see “3 cups of sugar” and balk again, but I won’t remember if I successfully changed the recipe and just how. Turns out that is far more than is necessary to coat this much popcorn! The recipe below doesn’t have any spiciness; just add some cayenne to taste if desired.

salted caramel popcorn

Salted Caramel Popcorn
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Pam spray oil
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Pop the popcorn in  your air popper! Catch it all in a giant bowl that you sprayed with Pam. [alternatively, pop the popcorn with some oil in a pan.] Spray two large baking sheets and two spatulas with Pam and get them in position on the counter. Combine the sugar, butter, salt, and about 6 tablespoons of water in a saucepan over high heat. Leave it to bubble until light golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda, and give it a good whirl in the pan to combine (it will bubble up). Pour it over the caramel and start tossing with the spatulas until all the popcorn is covered. Transfer to the baking sheets and spread out and separate into small clumps or individual pieces. When cool, store in an airtight container.

beurre & sel jammers

Despite my all-around crafty hobbies, and even though on a call I once explained my passion for handmade by saying I’d churn my own butter if I could (that is a lie: I have no desire to ever churn my own butter), one thing I know a lot about but never do is can. I haven’t (yet) spent a day boiling sugary substances and sterilizing jars and then listening to the telltale ping of a seal. See, I know the lingo and the theories both from reading Twitter and from having proofread some canning cookbooks, notably Canning for a New Generation. But while I haven’t done it myself, I have plenty of friends who are masters at it—and they share the fruits of their labors (heh) with me.

jam jars

Our pantry is actually bursting with filled jars of jams, jellies, cordials, and sauces that my friends have made. Some jars are finished immediately: Give me a jar of dilly beans and they’re gone within an hour. Introduce me to Cowboy Candy, and I’ll eat so many in one sitting that I end up curled up in a ball with the worst heartburn I’ve ever experienced. But the truth is, we rarely put jam on things. We almost never have bread in the house, and though there are times when I make biscuits, they are few and far between. Even though I rarely eat them, I will not refuse them or part with them—I consider them some of the most special foods we own! I realized that baking them into cookies would be the perfect way to finally enjoy them.

beurre & sel jammers

Enter Dorie Greenspan’s Beurre & Sel Jammers, which were featured in Bon Appetit’s Christmas cookie issue from last year. What a fussy recipe—right up my alley, I suppose. You make a sugar cookie dough that is rolled out, frozen, and cut to shape from the hard discs. Then you make a separate streusel. Assembly is actually easy once all the parts are prepped: Drop a disc in a muffin tin, dollop with jam, sprinkle with the streusel. I did learn some things about making these cookies as I went: Make a lot more streusel because you’ll run out (I had to make more twice!), and add more jam right before baking because it’s tastier with more jam. Oh, and maybe you like to fuss with making streusel by using your fingertips but I believe in better living through technology so I use the food processor.

beurre & sel jammers prep

beurre & sel jammers prep

beurre & sel jammers out of the oven

The taste? Like a delicate, light shortbread with a morsel of sweet jam. I used 4 different flavors of jams: cherry, lemon, lime, mint marmalade from JulieFrick, nectarine also from JulieFrick, mango-lime jam from Nova, and then strawberry-raspberry from a storebought jar (we wanted a 4th complementary flavor that was also pretty, and it seemed the right fit). The recipe recommends a firm jam, but I didn’t mind a little spreading under the streusel.

Beurre & Sel Jammers, adapted from Bon Appetit
Dough
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

Streusel and Assembly
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
various jams, about 1 cup total

Special equipment
A 2-inch cookie cutter; 3 standard 12-cup muffin tins

Preparation
Cookie Dough
Beat butter in a large bowl in a mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add both sugars and salt; beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low; beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour and mix just to combine. Dough will be soft and slightly sticky.

Divide dough in half. Place each half between sheets of parchment paper. Flatten dough into disks. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough, occasionally lifting paper on both sides for easy rolling, until 1/4 inch thick. Freeze dough in paper until firm, at least 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep frozen.)

Streusel
Mix flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the butter and vanilla into the dry ingredients until the mixture is sandy. Cover and chill. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.)

Assembly
Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Using cookie cutter, cut out rounds of frozen dough from freezer. Place rounds in bottom of muffin cups. Gather scraps and repeat process of rolling out, freezing, and cutting. I found it made well more than the recipe-specified 34 rounds—I got something like 40. Spoon about 1 teaspoon jam into the center of each round of dough. Using your fingers or a small spoon, sprinkle 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons streusel around edges of each cookie, trying not to get any in the jam. Top off the dollop of jam with more jam to cover an errant bits of streusel.

Bake cookies, in batches if needed, until sides and streusel are golden, 20-22 minutes. Let the area around the jam be pale. Let cool in tins for 15 minutes. Run a small knife or offset spatula around edges of muffin cups; gently remove cookies (it’ll pop right up) and let cool completely on a wire rack.

beurre & sel jammers

tenderloin sandwiches

I don’t quite know how it happened—I’m a good mid-Atlantic girl!—but I find myself these days literally surrounded by Midwesterners. They have a particular brand of earnestness, niceness, and . . . odd childhood food favorites. When we are all together they’re always reminiscing about some Cool Whip–laden dessert or cheesy baked dish. I personally don’t recall ever eating these things growing up. Crab cake, anyone?

One thing they’re forever talking about that you just can not find outside that expansive section of our country is the tenderloin sandwich. They clamor to tell me how it should be eaten: on crappy hamburger buns / with little to no condiments / where the meat is so big it exceeds the bun by inches all around / with something like waffle fries from a bag. Sounds . . . delicious? Waffle fries would be a guarantee, at the very least.

They found recipes, settled on one, and decided we would have a whole Midwestern night. Somehow, however, I ended up in the kitchen doing all the cooking. I pointed out that I was the only non-Midwesterner. Holly said “We know how to eat them, not how to cook them.” It fell to me to butterfly pork tenderloin while Holly, Jason, and Chris pounded them flat and then breaded them up. I fried them all to what looked to me to be crispy perfection. (And let’s be honest. The idea that I might relinquish control of my kitchen was a folly.)

We piled the giant tenderloins on Wonder Bread hamburger buns (I added lettuce and mayo) and dug in, with waffle fries and supermarket cole slaw on the side. And you know what? It was truly delicious, in the way only an all-white meal can be.

A few lessons learned, should you want to make this yourself:

  • Do not be afraid to pound this out to absurdly large diameter. It shrinks up a LOT once it’s in the oil (think bacon’s shrinkage). Go even bigger than you think, if you want it to hang over the bread like it did in your childhood.
  • Keep the oil very hot. Even in my cast iron pan, it cooled if there were two pieces in the pan, leading to longer frying times.
  • Lettuce adds a much needed brightness and crunch. I conveniently had iceberg in the fridge; I don’t think any other kind would be appropriate.
  • Wonder Bread hamburger buns are really perfectly soft.

Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches
Cut a whole boneless pork loin into 1-inch pieces. Butterfly these pieces and then pound between two pieces of plastic wrap (as you can see, I bought my Saran Wrap around Christmas, so it’s red!) til 1/8 inch thick. We use old empty heavy salsa jars to pound, but a meat tenderizer would probably work best!

Dip the pounded meat into water, then dredge in a mixture made up of 2 parts flour to 1 part cornmeal, seasoned generously with salt and plenty of pepper.

Heat a half-inch of vegetable oil (I used canola) to super hot in a cast-iron pan. (I didn’t put a thermometer in to test the temp, just tested the oil by tossing loose flour into the oil. When it sizzled like crazy, it was ready.) Set the breaded tenderloin in and fry til golden brown, about 3 minutes a side.

Serve on crappy buns with desired condiments (DO NOT BE AFRAID OF CONDIMENTS, MIDWESTERNERS).

orange- and soy-glazed baby back ribs

I have a backlog of Bon Appetits and Food & Wines stacking up in the foyer where we drop our mail. We’re talking months and months of unread magazines. I’ve also been between knitting projects and books, so the last few commutes I’ve grabbed a magazine or two and read them on the way in. Jason ends up peeking, too, and in whispered tones we start excitedly meal planning. The Orange- and Soy-Glazed Baby Back Ribs from the January 2012 issue of BA were the first to catch our eye, and I made them this past Sunday.

There’s not too much to report other than that they are AMAZING. Make them now. I followed the recipe exactly, and I think cumin seeds are crucial; you can’t substitute ground cumin and get the same effect. (They don’t taste strongly of cumin, and in the eating they pop in your mouth and add a burst of flavor.) What else, what else . . . Not much. Follow the recipe and you’ll be happy! I’m proud of us because, I must confess, it’s the first time I’ve used the broiler part of my oven. It’s tricky to get the pan in and out of the lower tray, so I’d always been pretty much terrified of it, but Jason was brave for both of us. It made all the difference, too. Brace yourself for so much more broiled goodness from me in the future: frittatas! bruschetta! creme brulee!

Orange and Soy-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

3 lbs baby back pork ribs, cut into individual ribs
1 cup soy sauce, divided
3 garlic cloves, smashed
5 teaspoons cumin seeds, divided
3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, divided (I used chipotle pepper flakes)
3 tablespoons canola oil
6 garlic cloves, minced (microplaned)
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts finely chopped, dark green sliced (the magazine photo shows it in long skinny strips but I did not have the patience for that)
1 1/2 cups fresh squeezed OJ (I did not juice oranges myself; I bought fresh-squeezed OJ)
orange, lemon, lime zest (I only had orange and lemon)

Combine the ribs, 1/2 cup of the soy, 3 smashed garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a large pot. Add water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer, with the lid slightly askew, for 2 hours.

About 20 minutes before that two hours is up, heat the oil in a saucepan and add the remaining 3 teaspoons cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes and let sizzle for about 30 seconds before adding the minced garlic and finely chopped scallions, remaining 1/2 cup soy sauce, and orange juice. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 20 minutes or until reduced and thickened.

Drain the ribs from the pot and place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Let sit 10 minutes. Preheat the broiler, then spoon the glaze over the ribs. Broil for 2-3 minutes, then turn, spoon on more sauce, and broil the second side for 3 minutes. Serve garnished with the green parts of the scallion and the zests.

happy valentimes!

It’s Valentine’s Day, my favorite annual holiday and time for me to make strawberry ice cream again! We’re taking a low-key approach to the day, like we always do, with no gifts and just a dinner at our favorite neighborhood sushi place, but I had to continue my streak—this is the 4th year!—of making him strawberry ice cream.

Year 1, the year of Neapolitan, was the most transcendent strawberry ice cream ever. I decided to make him strawberry in all subsequent years—no need for the chocolate or vanilla.

Year 2, I followed the same recipe, but it just wasn’t as good. I could detect small ice crystals in the finished ice cream, and that ruined the texture. The taste was still stellar, but something about the process wasn’t working.

Year 3, I tried to solve the icy problem by allowing the entire base to chill thoroughly before I put it in the maker. I made the base (tasty!) and let it sit in the fridge overnight. But alas, the ice cream still had an iciness. WHY.

Year 4. This year. Last week I talked with my gastronomical friend Peter (husband of the Hungry Knitter, Lauren) about it and he suggested the sugar content was too high, not that temperature was an issue. Hmmm. So this year, I didn’t just blindly follow the recipe. In fact, I flat-out ignored some of its quantities. And the result? Rich, creamy, silky smooth ice cream. It is perfection on a spoon. We are going to enjoy this tonight!

Ben & Jerry’s Strawberry Ice Cream, modified

1 lb strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk

Get the freezer bowl good ‘n’ frozen—I tend to leave one in the freezer at all times, but give it at least 3 days to fully freeze. No sloshing inside it at all if you shake it! Leave it in the freezer while you prep (get it out only at the very last moment!).

Toss the strawberries with the 1/3 cup sugar and lemon juice and refrigerate for a few hours (at least 2).

Beat the eggs until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. I do this by hand and count it as my workout for the day. Add the 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, a little at a time, until fully incorporated. Beat for 1 minute more. Add the cream and milk.

Get the strawberries out of the fridge and puree to a chunky consistency (I use a stick blender). Add to the cream base. Ladle into the ice cream maker (I have this one by Cuisinart) until the freezer bowl is just 3/4 full. I think pouring all of it in overwhelms the bowl and reduces the temp too much, preventing the base from freezing evenly. I put the extra in a container and it’s in the fridge; I’ll make a separate batch later this week, once the bowl is refrozen.

Let your ice cream maker do its thing—mine’s thing is 20 minutes of churning—and then transfer to a container and put in the freezer to freeze fully. Enjoy!