Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bacon Popcorn

We all know it's Halloween, but it's also another pretty significant day: the last day of National Popcorn Popping Month. And I've saved a pretty interesting recipe for last.

How do you like the sound of Bacon Popcorn?

I found the recipe here during some random Google search at some point and gave it a try to use up leftover bacon way back when I made BLTs. The reason for my cryptic remark about having a use for rendered bacon fat finally revealed! I'm sure you've all been wondering. I've been holding on to this just waiting for Popcorn Month.

Like I said, you start with rendered bacon fat.

Then you pop the corn using this fat.

To add more flavor, you freeze, chop, and grind bacon slices and sprinkle it on like salt.

The end result is very subtly bacon flavored and quite rich. Definitely another way to cancel out all nutritional value of the pre-seasoned corn. If you don't get the bacon fine enough by grinding it, you will definitely need to add a little salt. This is a really fun one to bring out in the presence of carnivores - meaty popcorn!

This may be my finale recipe, but that doesn't mean it's the last way to spice up your corn. How could I forget all those days in a friend's basement in junior high and high school munching on pungent corn coated with onion powder, garlic powder, onion salt, and garlic salt? A reader told me about "kamikaze" popcorn he made as a kid using butter, tabasco, salt, and soy sauce. One of my friends seasons hers with tamari and yeast. Another tops hers with furikake, the Japanese rice seasoning. Then there are a couple more of my personal favorites - popping corn on the stove in duck fat and adding copious amounts of sea salt, or drizzling truffle oil over the top of air popped corn, again with lots of sea salt. And that doesn't even begin to skim all the varieties of cinnamon and sugar topped corn, the pink squares my husband grew up savoring in the park, balls of sticky caramel goodness - the varieties are endless! And I'm always looking to try new versions. Please comment with your favorite popcorn recipes, or send me a personal note. Popcorn Month is over, but my love for this snack continues.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Popcorn, Indiana

It wouldn't be a proper Popcorn Month if I didn't discuss the most popular genre - movie theater style. The ultimate in popcorn, many would say. Or maybe it's just pandering to the lowest common denominator. Either way, I admit I'm a sucker for the salty, buttery deliciousness. I even sometimes suggest the husband man and I go to some crappy movie he's been wanting to see but I know I'll hate just so I can get my hands on a tub. But my discovery of today's popcorn tribute makes the theater obsolete when I all I want is the snack.

Popcorn, Indiana. I discovered this delectable bag of corn at Walgreen's, of all places. They make the standards, like kettle corn and cheese corn, plus a spate of other flavors from bacon ranch to wasabi, but the basic Movie Theater Popcorn with real butter won me over.

Now, this is an example of how toppings can remove the nutritional value of these healthy whole grains, but darn this stuff is so good I find it hard to care. And at least it's natural fat, right? This isn't just some bag of neon yellow kernels popped in the microwave, only half of which actually have any flavor, all of which have the texture of styrofoam. No, this stuff tastes like the real deal. Better even, since we've all had the stale, greasy wadding churned out by some apathetic theaters. Even out of a bag, Indiana, Popcorn delivers fresh, buttery popcorn that tastes fresh from a top shelf concession. But I warn you, it's hard to share even this gigantor bag. Seriously, seriously addictive. The kettle corn is pretty darn good, too.

Indiana, Popcorn is pervasive enough to land on my drug store's shelf, so I'm guessing it's not hard to find at least some of the flavors. But all flavors are available on their site, so this nosh is out of no one's reach.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thatcher's Gourmet Popcorn

So far I've left out a very deserving category of popcorn that simply must be recognized for National Popcorn Popping Month - caramel. And local SF gourmet poppers Thatcher's just happen to make my favorite store-bought caramel corn. Whether classic or in whimsical flavors such as Tiramisu Cappuccino, Thatcher's delivers a satisfying crunch from a thick candy coating chock full of flavor, never bland sickly sweetness.

They also have bold, full flavored cheese varieties, and cheese might just be my favorite type of popcorn of all time.

I find Thatcher's at CalMart in Laurel Village, for those of you in the Bay Area. Everyone else, keep an eye out at your local grocer or purchase from one of many online vendors.

*** I apologize for the low quality images. I've recently had ankle surgery that prevents me from going anywhere, much less the market, and I admit I counted on the Internet providing better than it did. But trust me on the contents of the packages stamped with a cable car, even if you can't quite make it out in these images. Thatcher's will not disappoint. ***

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Texas Popcorn

As National Popcorn Popping Month continues, the inspiration for this new-to-me popcorn recipe came from an unlikely source: a Disney star on a late night talk show. Yes, I learned about "Texas Popcorn" by watching Selena Gomez make it for Jimmy Fallon. It sounded just bizzarre enough to intrigue me.

Selena's version of Texas Popcorn entails tossing popped corn in a paper bag with Tabasco and salt. The coup de gras, though, is to then dip the pieces into pickle juice. She had me at "pickle juice."

We don't really keep Tabasco around the house, so, after popping a batch of hot air black diamond popcorn (which is why the popcorn has black hearts - it's not burnt, I just like how it photographs) I tossed half of it in a paper bag with popcorn salt and Cholula hot sauce

And the other half with popcorn salt and Pickapeppa sauce (which I love tossed over cream cheese served with crackers - an appetizer that seems super fancy but is actually super easy - I have old family friends to thank for that one!)

I may have overdone it with the Pickapeppa. The flavor was great, but it softened the popcorn to the point of sogginess. Oh well, first attempt!

I then served it all up with a small bowl of Claussen dill pickle juice.

And you know what? It was just weird enough to work! The flavors mingled while keeping separate places on the palate, a true menage of taste sensation. A little spicy, a little salty, and a little something else that just brought it all together. Each sauce was equally as successful, which tempts me to experiment with different hot sauces and blends (the Cholulah and Pickapeppa together was fantastic!) I'd also love to experiment with different pickle juices, with bread & butter and especially Wickle's pickle juice at the top of my list, but the purity and tartness of dill will be hard to beat. So this strange little experiment came out a huge success! I highly recommend serving Texas Popcorn at your next movie night.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rosemary Popcorn

Yesterday I shared my favorite store bought popcorn in celebration of National Popcorn Popping Month. Today I share my favorite popcorn recipe, Popcorn with Rosemary Infused Olive Oil from Giada di Laurentiis.

This recipe starts by infusing oil with rosemary. This is done very easily by placing 5-6 sprigs of fresh rosemary in a small sauce pan with 1 cup olive oil and cooking it together at medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. After removing the pan from the heat and allowing the oil to cool, the infused oil and sprigs can be stored in the fridge for up to a month. I find that the fat molecules tend to solidify in the fridge, so it's good to plan ahead and set the oil out on the counter an hour or two before you plan on using it.

Giada goes on to suggest using half a cup of this oil to pop 1 cup of kernels on the stove, then tossing the popped corn with a further 2 tablespoons of infused oil and plenty of salt. This creates a very decadent dish perfect for bringing out at a movie party with friends. For a more sensible snack, I find that air popped popcorn drizzled with a couple of tablespoons of oil and plenty of fine sea salt delivers just as much flavor while saving on lots of calories and fat.

The added bonus is all the other wonderful things you can do with the infused oil. Add it to salad dressings and marinade in place of plain oil for a richer, more complex flavor, or sprinkle a pan with a few drops to toast bread to elevate your sandwiches to restaurant quality. I used both techniques for my Rosemary Balsamic Portabella Sandwich.

This recipe also inspired me to branch out into other infused oils. I found that garlic infused olive oil also makes a great popcorn topper, especially when paired with garlic salt to really umph up the flavor. To infuse olive oil with garlic, heat half a cup of olive oil in a small saucepan until just bubbling. Add 4-5 medium cloves of sliced garlic. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool and transfer to a container such as a bottle or cruet. This will keep in the fridge up to one week, so a much shorter life span than rosemary oil, which is why I only make half a cup at a time. This oil also works very well in many recipes as a substitute to plain oil, like in my Ultimate Summer Quinoa Salad. The garlic flavor it provides is smooth, and even a little sweet, never sharp.

Keep coming back for more great popcorn recipes and products throughout the month!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

479°: The Degree of Perfection

October is Popcorn Popping Month! That's right, a whole month to honor my favorite snack. Whether crunchy, crispy, salty, sweet, cheesy, or buttery - few things have the ability to sate my various cravings as the versatile popped corn kernel. That it's a whole grain packed with fiber and [starts out] low calorie means we can tackle [certain versions] guilt free. I've been kept away most of the month so my popcorn blogging is behind schedule, but I still have a week and a half to share my favorites of my favorite snack. So let's get down to business. Not a moment to waste!

In the store bought category, the favorite of my favorites of my favorite is the gourmet popcorn brought to us by local company 479°, so named because that is apparently the best temperature at which to perfectly pop popcorn kernels - "The Degree of Perfection." How local? When purchasing a couple boxes to photograph and munch for this post, I learned the creator shops at my market. Yeah, that's local.

But location is not the important thing here. The important thing: Flavor. That's what 479° delivers in bushels. From subtle and sophisticated to bold and brazen, this popcorn offers unique takes on this classic snack, raising it from the ranks of greasy movie theater buckets mindlessly shoveled into our gullets by the handful to true foodie heights of gourmet excellence perfect for savoring one morsel at a time.

My favorite of this favorite of my favorites of my favorite... ummmm, I think I lost track. Anywho, my favorite of 479°'s many flavor options is the Madras Coconut Curry + Cashews.

Who's surprised my favorite flavor is of the savory variety? Not any of my regular readers. This bold flavor pairs the warmth of fragrant Indian spices with a hint of sweetness. Think the sweetness and slight crisp you find with kettle corn, not the full sweetness and solid crunch of caramel corn. This unique snack is so worth staining your fingernails yellow.

I also really enjoy another bold, savory flavor from 479°, Pimentón de La Vera.

This flavor matches smoky paprika with fresh tomato flavor and a kick of that same crisp sweetness. It's like a fancy barbecue in your mouth.

So far I have tried almost every flavor 479° currently offers. There's a variety for every taste profile. Some hit my particular snacking nerve better than others, but none turned me off. I would say that the caramel varieties have a softer coating than expected, lacking the satisfying crunch I look for in my caramel corn. But the flavor is there, especially in the Chipotle Caramel + Almonds' low, slow heat. For more subtlety, the Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt and Black Truffle + White Cheddar offer a hint of delicate elegance for the refined palate.

For my fellow San Franciscans, I've found 479° with varying degrees of success and availability at Village Market in the Ferry Building, the defunct Blue Fog, Andronico's, and Bryan's - but not always, and not every flavor. I've looked for it at other suggested retail partners, like Whole Foods and CalMart, with no luck. The scarcity just means even more excitement when I finally see those glossy boxes stacked in front of me. Whether or not you live in the Bay Area, take a look (and a chance) at other retail partners listed here. And even if you don't live near a retail partner, you can always order sampler packs, collections, and a PIY (Pop It Yourself) kit (which I'm dying to try) from the website. It may not be as easy as hitting the local market to find this delicacy, but it's worth the extra effort to taste something that redefines the concept of the previously simple snack that is popcorn.