Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the Supremacy of Kettle Corn

The first time I ate kettle corn was in Telluride, Colorado. It was at one of the town park concerts, possibly Widespread Panic, the year a monsoon hit about three songs into the first set causing flooding, the ruin of many a Birkenstock, and the cancellation of the show (WP generously entertained everyone with three sets and an encore the following night).

Anyway, the popcorn was awesome - with a perfect sweet and salty crust. I've been tinkering with it at home ever since and have settled on a recipe replicated all over the internets.

We've always had a dedicated popcorn pot (we also have an electric popper but I don't care much for the popcorn it produces). I got our present one at Target, I think. It's just a stainless steel stock pot - about 10 quarts. It's way bigger than we need it to be (look for something around 6 quarts if you decide to become a popcorn fanatic like me) but we REALLY like popcorn. I make regular stove top popcorn with just canola oil and a lot of salt (cover the bottom of the pot with oil, add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of popcorn kernels, pop over medium/medium-high heat, dump into a large serving bowl and douse generously with table salt). But for a better treat, try this:

Kettle Corn
Print recipe only here

* 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
* 1/4 cup white sugar
* 1/4 cup canola oil
* 1 t salt

Have ready a serving bowl and two oven mitts or potholders. Add the sugar, salt and oil to a large pot (mine is a stainless steel stockpot that is used only for popping corn) and place over medium heat. When the sugar is dissolved (after 2 minutes or so) add the popcorn. When the popcorn begins to pop, begin to shake the pot without stopping until the popping slows (this prevents the sugar from burning). Once the popping has slowed remove from the heat and transfer kettle corn into serving bowl. Enjoy!

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Now Recommending SplashShopper for iPhone

They did it! Now that Splash Data has launched an iPhone desktop version, making setting up and syncing the device possible AND adding great sorting capabilities I can wholeheartedly recommend the SplashShopper application for iPhone. And I can add another recycled Treo to the Treo graveyard in my desk drawer. Wahoo!

For all you iPhone users, SplashShopper can be had (assuming you've downloaded the new OS) from main screen App Store. You will need an iTunes account to purchase it. At $9.99 it really is a steal. It will totally streamline your grocery shopping. The Books, Wine, and Gifts lists are also quite helpful for jotting down wines you enjoy, books friends have recommended and gift ideas as they come to you.

I'm confident you'll get as much out of it as I do.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blackberries della Nonna

We didn't hit a single Chicago-area U-Pick farm this summer. This would have been a great disappointment had we not had the opportunity to pick bowls and bowls of wild blackberries in the Pacific Northwest.

Blackberry season hits toward the middle of August. The berries pictured above are rooted in the sand on Puget Sound and in the backyard of our dear Nonnie. Were I there long enough to get sick of eating them straight off the thorny vine I would have done any of the following with them: Kristine's blackberry-macerated elk tenderloin (she marinates the meat all day in in smashed blackberries with tamari and garlic and grills it quickly over a high heat to lock in the juices), my favorite blackberry cobbler or a blackberry ice cream. Of course a simple sabayon topped with fresh berries would be great too.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Intelligencia to Ix-Nay the Enti-Vay

Chicago's Intelligencia Coffee made news recently when they announced plans to phase out 20-ounce coffee and espresso drinks. Quoth Intelligentsia founder Doug Zell, "Drinking our coffee is not like drinking jug wine."

My first reaction to the news was the equivalent of a high-five to Zell. I'm down with moderation. Intelligentsia wants to stay classy and leave the Biggie Coffee to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald’s.

I thought about Intelligentsia’s motive after reading an editorial in the Tribune which bemoaned the decision on grounds that, “You wouldn't like us when we're not caffeinated,” and called for a resurrection of the 20-ounce cup. (Note: Intelligentsia's Zell is of no relation to the Tribune's Zell.) I struggled to see how the news merited an editorial (because it doesn’t). There will always be a market for jug wine, Super Big Gulps, and super-sized, debt-riddled multimedia/entertainment corporations (maybe not the last one). With 7-Eleven and Starbucks both within shooting distance of the Tribune Tower, the editors will have no problem scoring their caffeine fix.

While I support Intelligentsia’s move isn’t Zell’s statement an admission that up until now they have been purveyors of jug wine? To distinguish themselves from their competitors they should have eschewed the venti from the start.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Flour Type Matters

My children's babysitter had a hard time baking in my house when the kids wanted to make cookies. She had no idea which flour to use. I had four types of white flour in unmarked containers: all purpose (AP), pastry, cake and bread flour. I've since labeled them to reduce confusion.

It's not necessary for the average home baker to keep four white flours. In addition to kitchen standard flour - AP - I highly recommend keeping cake flour.

So, what's the difference? Cake flour has less protein than AP flour, in fact the lowest protein content of all four flours in my pantry. The reduced gluten (protein) yields a lighter, more tender crumb. On the opposite end of the spectrum is bread flour - a higher protein/gluten flour that gives bread and bagels their chewiness. Pastry flour and AP are in between. Pastry flour has a similarly low protein content as cake flour but it's not chlorinated. Chlorinating cake flour serves to further break down the gluten. It sounds horrid, I know. I know of no company who produces a more natural cake flour.

I had the opportunity to do some cooking in my sister's kitchen recently and rediscovered how a simple substitution can radically alter a recipe. We were making pancakes and she only had half the amount of cake flour needed. My recipe calls for 2 cups of cake flour; we used one cup of cake flour and one cup of AP. The resulting pancakes were disastrous, a far cry from the light and fluffy breakfast we enjoy so much.

Cake flour is available in the baking aisle of any grocery store. Look for it in a 2# box. I alternately see two brands: Swans Down and Pillsbury Softasilk. As for substitutions, 1 cup plus 2 T cake flour can substitute for 1 cup of AP flour in a pinch. Following our dense pancake fiasco, I don't recommend substituting AP for cake flour. Find another recipe (not all pancake recipes require cake flour) or add cake flour to your shopping list.

For more info on flour varieties check out: The Joy of Baking

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