A Good Start

Chris and I made a resolution of sorts waaaaay back in January. We resolved to get our asses (and the rest of our bodies) out of the house more often, to experience as much of our amazing surroundings as possible, and along the way, to Get Fit. I’m a little on the cheesy side, so I aptly named this “Get Out and Get Fit 20-12”. Yup – lame as can be is me!

But whatevs. My point today is to tell you how awesome that plan’s been going so far.

Living in Northern California is nothing short of amazing – I know I’ve said that a time or two. Having the ability to hike and camp in February isn’t something I’d really considered before – but it’s more than possible here. Of course, if you’re a person of “seasons”, which I thought I was until last year, you’d surely miss the below-freezing temperatures and snows that happen elsewhere in the early parts of the year. If we ever start to miss that, we’ve realized that Tahoe is a weekend away, and loaded with snow and cold-ness right about now. But I haven’t missed it yet, and currently we are more than content with the mild winter, our down coats packed far away in the back of our closet.

So we’ve been going on these hikes around the Bay Area every chance we’ve gotten on the weekends. We hop up early one weekend morning, smoothies in hand, and head in whatever direction sounds good for the day. Chris gets to do his regular research about the area, and I get to figure out how to feed us, which is usually lots of fruit and granola, and a pre-made sandwich from Faletti’s to share. We’ve checked out the redwoods and beaches near Mt. Tam(alpais), we’ve gone down to Half Moon Bay and seen the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we’ve been to Mt. Diablo – twice.

This past weekend, get this, we went camping. Yeah! In February! Sure, it got down to the 30’s overnight, but despite the fact that we were sleeping outside, our sleeping bags kept us plenty warm. There were coyote conversing nearby, owls hooting throughout the night, and weird-sounding birds making strange puffing noises at 6 am. There were gigantic raccoons teaming up to pull open a trashbag left out by nearby campers, and shortly after we got there and started unloading the car, the fog rolled in like nobody’s business, making things look all sorts of horror movie-creepy.

With a little bit of planning, there was good food and plenty of good times. Yes, camping in May or August is sure to be warmer, but the fact that we could camp in February meant we had to camp in February. So we did.

After a night of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, fire-toasted legit s’mores, a little beer and wine (ssshhhhh…. the park said it was against the rules..), and some tunes, we called it a night and hopped up the next morning to make breakfast, finish off some leftover bloody marys (brought over for Super Bowl fun), and hike on another gorgeous Sunday.

2012 is definitely off to a good start.

Other Bay-Area hikes (Flickr pool):
Mt Diablo – Eagles’ Peak
Mt Tamalpais to Stinson Beach
Purisima Creek & Harkins Ridge
Mt Diablo Summit Loop + Camping

 

Achiote-Marinated Grilled Chicken
Adapted from Rouxbe, serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes active time (prep & grilling), at least 1 hour marinating

printable version

ingredients
2 oz achiote paste*
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t g cumin
juice of 2 limes
2 T brown rice vinegar
2 T grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T adobo sauce (from can of chipotle chiles in adobo)
1 chipotle chile (from can), minced
salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

*achiote paste is essentially ground-up annatto seeds with a few other ingredients. I usually find this on the Mexican food aisle with the Mexican spices. it’s a dark burgundy color, usually sold in small “blocks”.

instructions
mash up achiote paste in a small bowl and add the oregano and cumin. Add the lime juice through the minced chipotle chile and mash/mix until as smooth as possible. season to taste with salt and pepper (1/2 – 1 t of each).

slice three small slits into the top of each chicken breast. place chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and add half of the marinade to the bag. close bag, shake to mix marinade into chicken. refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight (more marinating = more flavor). save the remaining half of the marinade for basting.

heat grill to medium-high. grill chicken over indirect heat for ~5-6 minutes per side, until cooked throughout, flipping once. brush reserved marinade atop while cooking. top with cilantro and serve.

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I Got Crabs

Getting crabs can go either way, I suppose. Hopefully your mind is outta the gutter and you’re realizing that since this is a food blog, I’m referring to the more positive aspect of crab procurement.

But if you weren’t thinking along those lines, I really can’t fault you, because I probably would have gone there first, too. I can’t help it that I’m almost 32 and still relatively immature. What can I say – I try not to take life too seriously. Things have worked out ok for me so far, so there is that.

But let’s get to the point. It’s crab season in the Bay Area, folks! If you’ve got a big enough pot for some live Dungeness crabs (which I do not – yet), now is the time to get your hands on some. Otherwise, buying the pre-picked lump crab meat is the next best thing.

Now for me, having a “crab season” is something of an oddity. In North Carolina, it was always crab season. Blue crabs. If you’ve read along from the very beginning, you might remember me talking about our place at the beach. My pops had 3 or 4 crab pots, and every weekend we went to the beach he’d take the crab pots out and let them hang out in the sound for a few days. The next weekend we’d check them, and if we were lucky, they’d be FULL of crabs.

I never appreciated the crabbing and fishing like I do now. What I wouldn’t give for another weekend like those weekends we spent down there – taking out our own pots (or at least, watching pops do it), dragging the shrimp nets through the mud, digging for clams (the term “clam diggers” took on a whole new meaning, a legit meaning, then), peeling shrimp and watching a fat ol’ flounder fry up. Our little vacation trailer smelled like a shrimp shack almost nightly, and the steam fogged up the windows in a flash. We went through jars of cocktail and tartar sauce, and man, I totally took the hushpuppies for granted.

I don’t even think I cared much for seafood back then – unless, of course, the shrimp were fried up nice and crunchy. Nowadays, a nice piece of fish, or a handful of shrimp, and this time, a ginormous container of extra-fresh West Coast Dungeness crab, is a highlight of the day. My friend, Judy, told me their company had gotten a great deal on live or picked crab and if I wanted any, all I had to do was tell her how much and I could pick it up later that day. As much as I wanted to buy a few live crabs for dinner that Friday, I knew my lil’ pot couldn’t handle them in their full-on shell-on form. (And to be honest, I haven’t tossed a live crab in a pot of boiling water in a looooong time, so that was another issue that quickly became a non-issue.) So instead, I opted for pre-picked and with that, I knew it was crab-cake time. But not the crab cakes you get at the restaurant that are loaded with bread crumbs – real, meat-filled crab cakes was what I had in mind.

And so I went full California style and figured a recipe with avocado sauce was entirely appropriate. Sure, my cakes were so much more crab and so much less ‘glue’ that they didn’t quite stay together in cake form, so to speak, but I was generally ok with that – what was lacking in presentation was entirely overshadowed by taste this time around.

Even though I never ate crab cakes with avocado sauce back home, I still felt a twinge of nostalgia for all those weekends back East. It was a good feeling, and for a few moments I felt like I could have easily been sitting back there, shoving fried shrimp and a few bites of flounder and stuffed crab into my face. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and I was transported 3,000 miles away. ‘Twas a good night, a good night indeed.

Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet, 2004 via Epicurious.com; serves 4 

I meant to include an egg and more panko in my crabs, but I totally forgot to do both. Mine didn’t stick together very well, but I am sure that adding an egg and more panko will do the trick, plus I think a little more breading in the cake is nice for texture. Normally I’d try these things out before posting, but I doubt I’ll be buying a pound of crab again in the near future, and I wanted to share this while Dungeness is in season out here! plus, after reading a ton of reviews on Epicurious, I get the sense that others already tried these additions with success, so I’m sure you will, too. You’re welcome ;).

time commitment: 45 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
sauce
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1 T low-fat mayonnaise
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 t sugar
1 fresh jalapeño (including seeds), stemmed and quartered lengthwise
1/4 c skim milk

crab cakes
1 lb Dungeness (or other) crabmeat, picked over and coarsely shredded
3 T low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 c coarsely chopped cilantro
1 T fresh lime juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1/4 t black pepper
1 c panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 T unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 t chipotle chile powder
1/4 t salt

instructions
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 F. Line with parchment paper.

prepare sauce
Pulse avocado with mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, sugar, and jalapeño in a food processor until chile is finely chopped. Add milk and purée until smooth. Transfer sauce to a bowl and chill, covered.

make crab cakes
Stir together crabmeat, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice, mustard, pepper, 1/2 c panko, and egg in a large bowl until blended well, then chill, covered.

Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over moderate heat, then cook garlic, stirring, until golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add chile powder, salt, and remaining panko and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate to cool. Discard garlic.

Divide crabmeat mixture into 4 mounds. Form 1 mound into a patty, then carefully turn patty in crumb mixture to coat top and bottom. Transfer to baking sheet and repeat with remaining 3 mounds, then sprinkle remaining crumbs on top of crab cakes. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve crab cakes with sauce.

Juicing It

Last week is a week I hope not to repeat any time soon. Not because I had a lot of work to do, and not because traffic was rough most mornings, and certainly not because I was sick or anything of the sort. Last week sucked because Chris and I did a 3-day juice detox.

Exactly.

Sure, vacation was great and all, but somewhere along the way we became pretty disgusted with ourselves and all of the greasy, processed, yummy food we were eating. Our pants were a lot tighter (remember? I said bring your fat pants on a Deep South trip) and our tummies much gassier than usual, which, for me, is saying a lot. Too much detail? Never! Anyhoo, let’s just call it the straw that broke the camel’s back, and leave it at that. A 3-day diet of nothing but juice seemed like the perfect punishment answer.

To be honest though, it wasn’t the most horrible event to ever happen in my life. And we did choose to do it (and pay a ginormous amount to do it, also). The juices were tasty, at least most of them (I actually miss the almond drink at night), and we certainly weren’t starving since we were drinking water and/or juice almost constantly. But damn, I missed eating. I missed chewing. I missed the variety of tasting something different every day if I chose to. The worst part about it all? We had a lovely weekend beforehand including extra-amazing pulled pork, coleslaw, and baked beans, and I couldn’t even eat the leftovers since we had to go vegan for two days before the juicing started.

Let’s chalk that up to poor planning on our part. We ran out of weekends in September and October, and we had to have a “shredded meat + zombie show marathon” party before the season 2 premiere of The Walking Dead this past Sunday, so there really was no way around it whatsoever. I want to say it was worth it, but all day Sunday I thought about my friends Elizabeth and Kevin and just knew they were tearing into the leftovers we’d forced on them. If they didn’t live all the way on the other side of the bridge I would have stolen it all back come Wednesday, so clearly it’s best that we just got the leftovers out of our sight, right?!

Of course, now that we’ve advanced to solid foods (yay grown ups!), we are trying our best to keep things on the lighter side. Juicing was not only a great way to get rid of a lot of toxin buildup, but it was also a good kickstart to some better eating around these parts. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll still be eating butter, heavy cream, cheese, and our fair share of red meat around here, but hopefully just a little bit less than we have the past few months.

The tacos you see here were eaten the night before and the night after three endless days of nothing but juice our wonderful, exhilarating detox. They were inspired by Joy the Baker’s recent post, primarily because I had everything on hand but the sweet potatoes. Her recipe also included a crunchy component, a cabbage slaw, which is certainly a great idea. I was in no mood to have extra food lying around, so I skipped it. But seriously, crunch is always welcome in a taco, so feel free to add something similar if you’re feeling the need.

As for me, I gotta say – these tacos were great, easy to throw together, and perfect for pre- and post-detox requirements, but this week, I’m ready to have something with actual meat in it. Hallelujah.

ps – if you live in the Bay Area and wanna give the juice detox a try, use Juice to You. They use organic, local veggies and reusable glass jars – super duper green! Outside of the Bay Area? Try BluePrintCleanse, the national company that ships it to ya like nobody’s business.

 

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos
inspired by  Joy the Baker; makes 8 hefty tacos

time commitment: ~45 minutes (most inactive)

printable version

ingredients
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 T + 1 t olive oil
salt and pepper
1 t chipotle chile powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
8 corn tortillas, warmed in the oven
1 T cilantro, plus more for garnishing
lime juice, for garnish

instructions 
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Toss the sweet potato with 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper, chipotle chile powder, and cumin onto a baking sheet and bake for ~30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a medium skillet and toss in the onion. Saute on medium for about 5 minutes, until soft, and toss in the garlic for another minute. Then add the black beans and cook until heated throughout. Meanwhile, get the tortillas heated up in the oven. Once the black beans are heated, mix in a tablespoon of cilantro and then dump the beans and sweet potatoes into a bowl together.

Finish off with cilantro and lime juice, then scoop into corn tortillas.

Getting Fresh

Now that the big secret’s out, we can get back to this backlog of recipes I’ve been wanting to talk about for ages but wasn’t able to since there’s been about ten thousand things on my mind.

And let there be no doubt, there are still at least 9,000 things on my mind, but nonetheless, enough space has been cleared in my brain where I can talk about food again. Cooking it is another thing, but fortunately I have a pretty big backlog.

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of California (my future state of residence!!) is all the fresh food. The words fresh and local will be a little different in the Golden State than here in the Midwest – word on the street is that people grow oranges, and lemons, and maybe even avocados there! I’m hoping real hard to land a place with a lemon tree in the backyard, and if not, you best believe I might plant one myself, even with my horrible track record of growing things.

This is certainly a recipe that should fit well into any season, but it’s usually in January or so when I really crave something light and fresh in between all the stews and chili. Plus, with having a constant meat rotation with the CSA, I find that I need a good excuse to have some fresh fish that isn’t something coming from my freezer. This is a good, easy answer to all of those things.

And I never turn down a taco, or an avocado, or salmon for that matter. All things that make moving to the West Coast even more exciting, if truth be told.

Chipotle-Rubbed Salmon Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

time commitment: ~30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
salsa
1 Granny Smith apple—peeled and small-diced
1/2 cucumber—peeled, seeded, and small-diced
1/2 small red onion, small-diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, small-diced
1 1/2 T champagne vinegar
1 1/2 t sugar
salt

2 T mayonnaise
2 t fresh lime juice
2 t chipotle chile powder
2 t finely grated orange zest
2 t sugar
1 lb skinless wild Alaskan salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1 T plus 1 t extra-virgin olive oil
8 corn tortillas
salt
1 Hass avocado, mashed
zest from 1 lime

instructions
cut up all ingredients for salsa. toss with vinegar, sugar, and salt. can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lime juice. In another small bowl, combine the chipotle powder with the orange zest and sugar. Rub each piece of salmon with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and then with the chipotle–orange zest mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until they are softened and heated through.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan. Season the salmon with salt and grill over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Break salmon into small chunks. Spread the mashed avocado on the warm tortillas and top with the salmon, and salsa. Drizzle each taco with the lime mayonnaise and serve right away.

Battle Pistachio: How to Finish First

I suppose all I needed was a good excuse to whip up an angel food cake, and then purchasing the specific cake pan would be an easily-made decision that in no way needed to be put off any longer.

Truth be told, I can’t seem to decide why I haven’t made an angel food cake before, but I’ve made it a habit of straying away from the recipes that say “fold the whipped egg whites into the batter”, because I’m definitely an overfolder, with the likely resulting flat cake – so maybe that’s why. You’ve never seen a souffle on here either, have you? And I have made one of those, but it sunk miserably into the ramekin, hiding like the head of a turtle in traffic.

It seemed like only yesterday when I was guzzling chorizo-infused margaritas, but apparently it’s been two months, which meant only one thing: Iron Chef time again! And as busy as we’ve been lately, I looked forward to a Saturday night of friends, food, and booze; I wasn’t disappointed.

After Brook realized that he wouldn’t be kept alive unless he sent the ingredient by noon on Wednesday (we have some fierce competitors, remember. He actually sent it closer to 12:30, so they only took an arm and pinky toe instead of his life.), we soon learned of pistachio as our ingredient. Only this time I didn’t research any options at all; I had this specific recipe sitting around and just needed that little nudge to make it. Iron Chef was it.

I’m certainly an avid fan of the pistachio – and unlike some of my buddies, I was able to procure them shelled so I didn’t spend the afternoon losing feeling in my fingertips. I also fancy citrus fruits, particularly lime, and the combo didn’t disappoint. Tangy, crunchy, and pillowy soft – this is a cake that has to be somewhat healthy, even though you might not notice if you’ve got about 13 other dishes to eat in the same night.

Battle Pistachio was chock-full of goodness: pastas, skewers, macarons (another egg white dish I’m afraid of), pork, and chocolate – variety was not absent in the slightest. But all those aside, it was the venison sliders that took the prize. My cyber-now-real-life-buddy Kenna and her husband came to their first IC with guns blazin’, and they took the prize with the sliders. And whether Michael was the source of the dish or not might be debatable, but one thing’s definitely not: he finished first, and in this scenario, that’s the goal!

The Top Three:

1. Michael’s Venison-Pistachio Sliders (top, second from left)
2. Vicki’s Pistachio Pinwheels (bottom, far left)
3. Rachel’s Pistachio Dark Chocolate Crisps (bottom, third from left)

Battle 15 – March 12th!

Lime Angel Food Cake w/ Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 12

time commitment:  1.5 hours plus cooling

printable version

ingredients
cake
1 c cake flour
1 1/2 c superfine sugar, divided
1/4 t salt
10 large egg whites, room temperature
2 t finely grated lime peel
1 t vanilla extract
1 t cream of tartar

lime syrup and lime glaze
1/2 c superfine or granulated sugar
4 T fresh lime juice, divided
1 c unsalted raw pistachios, finely chopped in processor
1/2 c powdered sugar

special equipment
10-inch-diameter angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom

instructions
cake
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Sift flour, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites, lime peel, and vanilla on medium speed in large bowl until frothy. Add cream of tartar; increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle 1/3 of flour mixture over whites and gently fold in until incorporated. Fold in remaining flour mixture in 2 more additions just until incorporated. Transfer to ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan with 4-inch-high sides and removable bottom (do not use nonstick pan); smooth top.

Bake cake until pale golden and tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 38 minutes. Immediately invert cake onto work surface if pan has feet, or invert center tube of pan onto neck of bottle or metal funnel and cool cake completely.

Using long thin knife, cut around cake sides and center tube to loosen. Lift out center tube with cake still attached; run knife between cake and bottom of pan to loosen. Invert cake onto rack, then turn cake over, rounded side up.

Syrup & Glaze
Combine sugar and 3 tablespoons lime juice in small saucepan; stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Brush syrup all over top and sides of cake. Immediately press pistachios onto top and sides of cake, pressing to adhere.

Stir powdered sugar with remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice in small bowl until smooth. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Let stand until glaze sets, about 10 minutes.

Cut into slices and serve. Cake can be made 1 day in advance and stored at room temperature.

Sadly, we forgot to take the group picture while we were all still there, so we held the plate of sliders up in honor of Michael & Kenna!


Guinness is Good for You

Christmas has come and gone, as has the 4-day weekend that went along with it. The snow seemed to follow us down South this year, which is an extremely rare occasion in December. I didn’t like that part, but the rest of the trip, for the most part, was a blast.

Plus, the majority of the gifts I took home were cookbooks, or cooking paraphernalia of some sort. A girl like me can’t complain about that.

One of the highlights of said cookbooks was David Lebovitz’s newest brainchild, Ready for Dessert (thanks, Les!). I haven’t had the chance to read the book from cover to cover (yes, I do read cookbooks… shut it), but I most certainly hunkered down for a few moments after ripping the gift open to peruse long enough to find a seemingly sure-fire recipe to test out over the holiday.

It should be no surprise that I stopped, dead in my tracks, at a recipe with these two words: ginger and Guinness.

I’ve really developed quite an affinity for dark beers lately, and Guinness is an obvious go-to in that category – they are chocolatey, nutty, and perfect for this weather. I’m sure most any porter or stout would work here, and had I been in an area loaded with a plethora of microbrew choices, I probably would have gone for a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter or a Left Hand Milk Stout (gotta support the southpaws, since I’m one of ’em!), but really, you can’t go wrong with Guinness. Plus, it’s good for you, remember?!

Although I had no doubt (ok, a little, since the batter appeared ‘watery’), these cupcakes did not disappoint. They are light and fluffy, each bite into the ‘cake creating a small indention, but then a quick spring back – like the dough for bread when first kneading. The ginger and Guinness are definitely palpable, but so is the molasses, and we all know how much I love that. Naked, they are certainly sweet, almost cloyingly so, but the frosting, kicked up with a few squirts of lime, adds enough zip to provide perfect balance. They smell fresh, bursting with citrus and all things good in the world.

You could make them now, today, and finish up 2010 with a bang. Or you can hold out for a couple of days, and start the New Year off right – with more ginger, more molasses, and even better – more Guinness. That’s a resolution I can easily stick with, and you should too.

Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes w/ Lime Frosting
Adapted, barely, from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert; makes 12

time commitment: 1 hour, plus cooling

printable version

ingredients
cupcakes
1/2 c Guinness
1/2 c molasses
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 c ap flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
2 t g ginger
1 t g cinnamon
1/8 t g nutmeg
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 c finely minced candied ginger, plus garnish

frosting
4 T unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
3 T lime juice
1 T whole milk

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. line 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

in a large saucepan, bring Guinness, molasses, and oil to boil over med-hi. remove from heat and whisk in baking soda until dissolved. stir in brown sugar and let cool.

in a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.

whisk eggs into cooled brown sugar / Guinness mixture, then whisk in flour mixture until incorporated, being careful not to overmix. stir in minced ginger.

divide batter among cupcake liners and bake 22-24 minutes. cool completely on a wire rack.

meanwhile, make the frosting. beat butter on high speed until smooth and with speed on low, add in 1/2 of the powdered sugar. scrape down sides, add the lime juice and the remaining powdered sugar, and beat again, finishing by adding the milk. beat until fluffy, and add more lime juice if desired.

frost cooled cupcakes with lime frosting and garnish with ginger, if desired.

Snap, Crackle

For you non-Chicago folk, you should know that specialty popcorn is a pretty big deal here. You should see the lines outside Garrett Popcorn Shop during all four seasons – rain or shine, wet, cold, snow or sweltering heat, there is always a crowd lining up outside the door for a bag of caramel corn, cheese corn, or if you’re smart, a bag of the Chicago Mix.

Once you settle into the city, the popcorn hype abates a bit, and as a result we tend to only indulge in the cheese and caramel-laden treats when one person comes into town: my mother-in-law. She loves it so much that we mail her a larger-than-life tin for Mother’s Day. It’s become a tradition, of sorts.

Before we discovered said popcorn mecca, I remember the occasional Crunch n Munch box and the Cracker Jacks, and I’m sure many of you do too. And when I’m trying to cut back on all that fat & calorie loaded goodness, I could really tear down on those little single serving bags, too. One thing about popcorn that’s always kept me coming back is knowing it’s one of the only things that gets better for you when it’s cooked, and it doesn’t hurt that something so tasty is loaded with fiber.

As it turns out, Orville Redenbacher and all these other popcorn crazies really took advantage of us folk. After years of buying  pre-packaged popcorn, caramel corn, and all that jazz, I neglected to realize how easy popcorn was to make ‘from scratch’. Who knew air-popping your own popcorn was as easy as tossing it in a paper bag and hitting the 2 minute button on the zapper? And who know that even if you didn’t have a microwave you could toss the kernels into a pot, crank up the heat, and close the lid? Certainly not I, but I also didn’t realize how incredibly awesome homemade marshmallows were until a few months ago, either, so I reckon that’s not sayin’ too much, is it?

Credibility lacking and all though, I suggest that you throw caution to the wind and pick yourself up some kernels from your local grocer. The possibilities are endless, even if your creativity is on par with a matchbook. I promise. Well, I suppose if you aren’t feeling creative, you can do like I did and just piggyback on another recipe, or practically swipe the thing in it’s entirely for that matter. My point, is that making popcorn in thousands of variations is a cinch, and said popcorn is one of the most perfect snacks out there, if truth be told.

Perfect, especially, with a glass of wine, a boat, and good friends. Does it get any better?!

Tequila-Lime Caramel Corn
Adapted from Food & Wine, February 2010; makes 16 cups

printable version

ingredients
16 c air-popped popcorn
1 c light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
3 T agave nectar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 T tequila
juice of half a lime

instructions
Preheat the oven to 250 and position racks in the upper and middle thirds. Put popped porcorn in a large heatproof bowl.

In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar with the butter, agave nectar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Boil over moderate heat for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a long spoon, stir in the baking soda, tequila, and lime; the syrup will foam. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the popcorn and, using 2 spoons, toss to coat thoroughly.

Spread the popcorn on 2 nonstick baking sheets and bake for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and switching the sheets halfway through, until golden and nearly dry. Let popcorn cool completely before serving. Will stay fresh in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.