Thursday, July 23, 2015

How to make perfect cheese popcorn

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Every afternoon around 3 p.m. I look around my home office and think "Yep, time for a snack."

Popcorn is one of my go-to afternoon snacks. I used to do the nasty microwave bags. But then I read Elise's "Perfect Popcorn" method on Simply Recipes and threw the bags away. A pot, some oil, popcorn kernels, salt, and five minutes: That's all it takes to make truly perfect popcorn with virtually zero unpopped kernels.

It pays to start with high-quality popping corn. I buy mine in the Whole Foods bulk food department and store it in a recycled jar in the pantry.

What do you like on your popcorn? My favorite topping is Cabot Creamery's Cheddar Cheese Shake, real cheddar cheese in a soft flowing powder that coats each fluffy kernel. It's so flavorful that I don't even need any extra butter or salt. Sometimes I add a little chili powder or garlic powder along with the Cheddar Cheese Shake, just to change things up.

And yes, in case you were wondering, I am eating a bowl of cheese popcorn right now as I type this! Sorry, keyboard.

Disclosure: Cabot Creamery provided me with a sample of Cheddar Cheese Shake as part of their Cabot Cheese Board blogger program. No actual money changed hands.

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Perfect Cheese Popcorn
All it takes to make perfect cheese popcorn is five minutes and a few simple ingredients. You'll never go back to microwave popcorn after trying this simple method.
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (can substitute a more neutrally flavored oil like canola or grapeseed)
  • 1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 3 Tablespoons Cabot Creamery Cheddar Cheese Shake
Put the oil and 6 kernels of popcorn in a heavy 5-quart pot with a tightly fitting lid. Turn the heat to high. Wait about 45 seconds.When the first kernels start to pop, turn off the heat. Pour in the rest of the popcorn kernels and the salt (if using), then cover the pot again. Count to 30, slowly.Turn the flame back on to medium-high and start shaking the pan gently, back and forth across the burner - this keeps the popcorn from burning. It's a good idea to vent the lid slightly, but you'll need a heavy-duty oven mitt on the hand that's holding the lid ajar, as steam will be escaping.Keep shaking the pan as the popcorn starts to pop. After about a minute, the popping will stop. Turn off the flame and pour the finished popcorn into a large bowl.Sprinkle the popcorn with the Cabot Creamery Cheddar Cheese Shake. Toss the popcorn to distribute the cheese powder. Eat immediately, licking the extra cheese powder off your fingers between bites.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 6 cups

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Roasted Hatch chile mayonnaise

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It's almost Hatch chile season again, and foodies around the U.S. are getting excited.

The long, tapered green chiles from New Mexico have a cult following here in southern California. I can get both the hot and mild varieties at just about every grocery store within a 10-mile radius. Many stores have chile-roasting events in their parking lots so you can take home bags of freshly roasted chiles instead of having to roast them at home. (Hatch chile roasting starts August 15th at Bristol Farms - more stores will be posting their schedules soon, no doubt.)

Personally, I don't mind roasting them at home. I wash the Hatch chiles, turn the burners on my gas stove to high, and lay the peppers directly on the iron grates of my stove. I turn them until they're blackened on all sides, then pop them into a zip-top bag to steam. The charred skin slips off easily and I'm left with strips of fragrant roasted chiles to use in sandwiches, quesadillas, casseroles, and condiments like this Hatch Chile Mayonnaise.

Some ideas for this delicious and simple Hatch Chile Mayonnaise:
  • Spread it on a sandwich with roast turkey, thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, shaved red onions and watercress
  • Spoon it on a burger (put some diced roasted Hatch chiles in the burger itself, too)
  • Serve it with broccoli fritters, zucchini fritters or spinach pancakes
  • Use it as a sauce for oven-roasted salmon fillets or chicken
  • Mix it with chopped hard-boiled eggs for the best egg salad of your life

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Hatch Chile Mayonnaise
A simple condiment made with roasted fresh Hatch chiles from New Mexico
  • 6 Hatch chiles (hot or mild)
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
Wash the Hatch chiles. Roast them over an open flame on a gas stove (I lay mine directly on the burner grate), turning frequently, until the skin is black and charred on all sides. (If you don't have a gas stove, broil the peppers in the oven, turning frequently.)Put the charred Hatch chiles in a zip-top bag for 30 minutes. They will steam as they cool.Slip the charred black skin off the chiles. If you want your Hatch Chile Mayonnaise very mild, remove the seeds and ribs from inside the peppers. Put the roasted Hatch chiles, mayonnaise and lime juice into a food processor. Process until smooth.Store in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 cups

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dazzling food and complex business logistics at Dodger Stadium

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Once a year the Los Angeles Dodgers invite food bloggers like me to visit Dodger Stadium, sample the new menu items from the stadium's ever-improving concession stands, and take in a game. I've been lucky enough to be on the list twice now, and it's one of my favorite events of the year.

The food at Dodger Stadium, where Executive Chef Jason Tingley is in charge of all the kitchens, seems to get tastier and more interesting every season. This year we tried a hot dog Tingley created to honor Los Angeles's firefighters, topped with spicy cheese, jalapenos and Flaming Hot Cheetos; smoked chicken wings; Street Corn Nachos, topped with grilled fresh corn kernels; a really terrific pepperoni pizza. Tingley adds new items throughout the season - look out for that same pepperoni pizza with an actual Dodger Dog baked into the crust (yes, really).

But you know where my head is at these days - I'm thinking like a small business owner 24/7 because of Not Ketchup, my condiment business. So while I was tasting all this delicious food, I was thinking about bobbleheads.

And logo-imprinted barbecue tools, too.

David Siegel, the Dodgers' VP of ticket sales, showed us the many promotional items the Dodgers will give away to fans this season, including multiple bobbleheads, the barbecue tools pictured above, a pop-up laundry hamper, and several dozen more. High quality stuff, not throwaway trinkets. In all, the Dodgers will give away about 1.5 million promotional items this season.

And while he was talking, all I could think about were logistics - the same kinds of things that I have to deal (on a smaller scale) with when buying and distributing promotional items like t-shirts, hats, basting brushes, squeeze bottles and more for Not Ketchup.

For example:

  • Where do they store 1.5 million promotional giveaway items? I order a small fraction of that amount and the boxes are taking over my living room, family room, bedroom and office. Is there a cavernous warehouse under the stands near the outfield? As it turns out - no. The Dodgers work with a promotional company that warehouses the items until they're needed on game day. 
  • What happens to leftover items? The Dodgers handle this the same way I do: They give them out throughout the year for community outreach and other fan events. I stick mine randomly into online orders - one of the advantages of ordering from the Not Ketchup website instead of Amazon.
  • How many ideas do they consider before choosing the winners? I have an amazing promotional products guy, and Keith and I have looked at very long lists of possible Not Ketchup giveaways, including pens (boring), pads (maybe someday), barbecue tools (expensive), oven mitts (couldn't find good ones), wooden spoons (ditto), and more. The Dodgers marketing team says they consider more than 100 product ideas each year, ultimately choosing the things they think will resonate best with fans. (I suspect price has something to do with it as well - at least it does for me.)

The Dodgers also have to think about logistics I don't deal with. For example, they hand certain giveaway items to fans as they enter the stadium, and others on the way out. How do they decide? Items that are heavy, bulky, or could be used as a weapon wait until after the game. Safety first.

As I was leaving Dodger Stadium on a beautiful Monday night, it struck me that I may never again be able to enjoy a baseball game - or a trip to Disneyland, or a visit to the mall, or grocery shopping, or ANYTHING ELSE - without this business-oriented undercurrent of questions, ideas and analysis running through my head. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Just a different way of looking at the world.

Disclosure: The Dodgers invited my family and me as their guests for this event. All opinions and weird logistical musings are, of course, my own.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Truffled white bean puree

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Photo: Lynne Hemer, Cook and Be Merry

I'm often in need of a quick, elegant hors d'oeuvre to keep guests busy and on the other side of the counter while I'm finishing dinner preparations in the kitchen.

I like this truffled white bean puree because it's simple, I can make it ahead, and it's an unusual combination that raises the eyebrows a bit.

You could serve it with crackers or toasted pita bread triangles, but I love making tiny cups out of cucumbers. Buy small Persian cucumbers - the ones with the thin skin you don't have to peel - and hollow out a little divot with a melon baller. You can make these a few hours ahead and store them in the refrigerator in a zip-top bag, between layers of damp paper towels.

If you can't get your hands on a fresh truffle to grate on top (or the budget doesn't allow it), buy a tiny jar of truffle salt and use that instead. You'll get the same flavor, although not the same visual.

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Truffled White Bean Puree
This appetizer couldn't be easier: White beans pureed with lemon and truffle oil. Serve in tiny cucumber cups or with crackers.
  • 1 15-ounce can white cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 6 Persian cucumbers
  • 1 black truffle, fresh or canned
Make the bean puree: Put the beans, lemon juice, lemon zest, and truffle oil into the bowl of a food processor. Process until very smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to let the flavors blend. (Can be made 1 day ahead; store covered and refrigerated.)Make the cucumber cups: Wash and thoroughly dry the cucumbers. Cut off the ends, then slice the cucumbers into 1-inch rounds. Using a small melon baller or the tip of a very small spoon, hollow out one side of each cucumber slice, being careful not to cut all the way through. You'll end up with a fingertip-sized depression in each slice.Transfer the bean puree into a piping bag, or use a zip-top bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe a swirl of the truffled bean puree into each cucumber cup. Grate a little of the truffle on top of each piece. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10 servings

Friday, April 3, 2015

5-minute cucumber salad

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Today I'm sharing with you my 5-minute cucumber salad - a side dish for days when you need to get some vegetables on the table and there's no way in hell you're actually going to have time to cook anything.

(Just to be clear, that's 5 minutes of active time. It does need to sit and marinate for at least 5 minutes at room temperature, or 20 minutes in the refrigerator.)

Peeling, seeding and chopping the cucumbers is the most time-consuming part of making this cucumber salad. You can make it a 3-minute cucumber salad if you use English cucumbers or Persian cucumbers, which need neither peeling nor seeding.

If you have 6 minutes, toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet before adding them to the salad. I never seem to have that sixth minute, though. I can assure you that the sesame seeds taste fine straight from the container. If you want to be really fancy, get the shaker with the mixed black and white sesame seeds.

This is one of my favorite simple salads. Yesterday my 16-year-old son and I stood at the counter eating it with our fingers. Don't judge.

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5-Minute Cucumber Salad
A simple marinated cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Make it even more quickly by using Persian or English cucumbers, which need neither peeling nor seeding. That's 5 minutes of active time, by the way: You do want to let the salad sit for a few minutes to let the flavors get friendly.
  • 3 large cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon (optional) sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
Peel the cucumbers. Cut them in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds using a teaspoon. Cut the cucumbers into 1/2-inch slices.Put the cucumbers in a zip-top plastic bag. Add the rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and sugar (if using). Close the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible.Let the cucumber salad sit at room temperature for 5 minutes or in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.Sprinkle with the sesame seeds before serving. Serve chilled.NOTE: The cucumbers will get more flavorful the longer the salad marinates. Keep the cucumber salad in the refrigerator for up to three days. By the third day the cucumbers will have lost much of their crunch, but the flavor will be great.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings