Monthly Archives: October 2008

Happy Halloween!

Boo!

Halloween Sheep

Witch and Pumpkins

Witch and Pumpkins Detail

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Filed under Pins and Needles, Stitching

Delicacies of Dallas: Caramel Corn

On our first night here (in Dallas) we had to stop at Patty’s local grocery store to pick up some essentials (Diet Coke, Diet Coke, ice cream, Diet Coke). As we were waltzing down the aisles, something caught our eye. Readers of IPB Proper may remember that we have a bit of a habit of impulse buying strange foods when we find ourselves in grocery stores while on vacation. In Buffalo, it was mochi. In Dallas, it was Orville Reddenbacher’s Caramel corn.

Patty was shocked that we didn’t have this particular item in New Jersey. I suspect its sphere of influence includes NJ, it’s just not part of our daily sphere of concern. And for that reason, neither of us could say no to trying it out. I mean, it’s microwave popcorn that has scads of prep instructions!

It should be noted that we were both recently struck with a completely-out-of-the-blue craving for microwave popcorn. Picking over the options at our grocery store, we selected Newman’s Own Butter Boom.

While it wasn’t half-bad — the flavor was good at first but lingered with a nasty aftertaste, and the overall consistency was rubbery — it also wasn’t so good that we felt like it was worth trying again. Evidently, we were wrong. After a bit of a microwave mishap and one bag of burnt popcorn left on the back porch to cool down, we had a bowl of fluffy white (probably rubbery) popcorn. And we had a packet of caramel. Pardon me, a “caramel flavored wafer”. The scads of instructions said to the wafer in fourths…

… And then place the resulting pieces strategically atop the popcorn…

… And then microwave it again to get the caramel wafer “bubbly and frothy”.

I’m not sure this is the very picture of “bubbly and frothy”, but it was melted enough for the next step — stirring with heat proof spoons. Patty tried to throw Schnookie off her game by shouting, “Don’t use those wooden spoons! They’ll catch fire!” But even that bit of kitchen tomfoolery didn’t keep Schnookie from stirring that popcorn-caramel concoction like a pro.

The ten minutes spent waiting for it to cool were tense and anxious. Would the popcorn be a better or worse culinary experience than the mochi? Were the off-putting aromas coming from the bowl a preview of the taste? Was the time and trouble spent making the treat utterly misspent? There was only one way to find out.

Initial reaction? Not bad! Certainly better than expected. Schnookie said it best when she said, shocked, “It’s like… caramel corn!” I’m sure Orville’s relieved we won’t sue them for false advertising. But seriously, our expectations were so low, the fact that it did briefly resemble caramel corn is a huge point in its favor. The fact that it hardened too much, too fast is a point against. The caramel was stronger than the popcorn, making it very, very difficult to pull the kernels apart. After settling some more, the caramel took on less of a caramel-y flavor and more of a toffee. Which is not a bad thing. The popcorn itself still had the rubbery microwave popcorn problem, but the coating of caramel/toffee/chemicals covered it up. All in all, it was a fun thing to try and to eat most of, but not a culinary endeavor worth repeating. So endeth our momentary infatuation with microwave popcorn.

The final review is: Microwave Caramel Popcorn – .5 stars, Mochi – negative 100 stars.

Update: 30 minutes after we finished the popcorn it became clear that it was… not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.

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Filed under On The Road, Slumming It, Taste Test

Delicacies of Dallas: State Fair Edition

An ode to the world’s greatest foodstuff:

Roses are red,
violets are blue.
Chicken-fried bacon
You’re the most amazing thing ever invented good golly but you’re freaking delicious.

Chicken Fried Bacon

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Filed under Dining Out, Meats Meats Meats, On The Road, You Don't See That Every Day

Maple Hoo Gets Its Tiki On

The November “Food & Wine” magazine showed up this past Wednesday, and it was one of those rare times when a cooking magazine and I are on the same wavelength; I flipped through it lovingly, stopping on almost every page to exclaim, “This sounds so good!” and then reading a recipe aloud to Boomer. Most of it was Thanksgivingy stuff, of course, but they had a short segment at the beginning about some retro-kitsch tiki bar that made me think less in nebulous “someday I’ll make that for an imaginary huge Thanksgiving dinner we’ll be hosting” terms and more in an “I’m going to make that this weekend” kind of way. Suddenly I couldn’t imagine a Sunday watching football without a Tiki Snack Mix to munch on while sipping my Rhum Swizzle.

Rhum Swizzle

To make the drink, you need:

* 7 large mint leaves
* Crushed ice
* 2 ounces amber rhum agricole
* 2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce brown sugar simple syrup
* 1/8 ounce grenadine

1. In a Collins glass, muddle the mint. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix by spinning a swizzle or long bar spoon between your palms while moving it up and down in the drink. Top with crushed ice.

I didn’t have crushed ice, because I didn’t want to clean out my dumb retro-y ice crusher that currently lives in the corner of the dining room on the floor. (It doesn’t work very well, but I bought it years ago because I thought it looked cool. For reasons I don’t understand, I haven’t given it away yet.) I also didn’t have any amber rhum agricole, so I used some cane rum. I suspect any kind of rum would work. And just because I want to brag about how totally Martha Stewarty I am, I happened to have homemade grenadine that I’d whipped up last weekend. The final result with this drink is a fantastically refreshing and delicious quaff. It’s got a nice perky freshness from the mint, but isn’t overwhelmingly so (I am not mint’s biggest fan…), and right alongside that is the tartness of the grapefruit, cut and smoothed by the grenadine and the mellow rum. And everything has a nice molasses vibe tying it together thanks to the brown sugar syrup. If I’d known how good these were going to be, I’d have made sure to have enough grapefruit to mix up about 15 more.

Tiki Mix

When I first read the Tiki Snack Mix recipe, I was all on an “oooh! I want to cook EVERYTHING in this magazine!” kick, so I totally fell in love with the concept. But in the cold, harsh light of day the next morning, I began to have my doubts. By the time Sunday morning rolled around, my commitment to it was wavering. The recipe is:

* 8 thick slices of meaty bacon
* 3 cups salted roasted peanuts
* 4 candied pineapple rings, cut into 1/3-inch triangles
* 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
* 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon honey
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* Kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a rack set over a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Drain on paper towels and cut into 1/2-inch strips.
2. In a bowl, toss the bacon with the peanuts, pineapple, sesame seeds, soy sauce, honey and cayenne. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring once, until the bacon is browned. Season the mix with salt and stir occasionally until cool, then serve.

The candied pineapple was throwing me off. But I soldiered on, figuring at the very worst that I’d be able to write a post about it. I managed to have a slice of bacon overhanging the tray in the oven, so the kitchen was filled with the heady aroma of bacon grease burning on the bottom of the oven where it was dripping, and I succeeded at getting honey all over me while trying to scrape a full tablespoon from the bottom of a large jar, where it had all crystallized (imagine Winnie The Pooh with his arm submerged up to the armpit in a honey pot. Then multiply that by a million), and I didn’t have any plain sesame seeds and had to dip into my “garnishes for baking” supply of black ones. But after everything was mixed together, baked up, and cooled, it turned out to be… AWESOME.

It’s not as sticky as I feared, so we can actually eat it while stitching (very, very carefully, mind you — there’s still soy sauce in there!), and the pineapple is just outrageously scrumptious. In fact, I’d say there isn’t enough of it in here! This is bacony and salty and spicy and a little sweet, and it makes me really, really thirsty for more Rhum Swizzle. In other words, it does its job perfectly.

The only thing I’m missing now (other than enough grapefruits to make 15 more drinks) is little paper umbrellas. And maybe some tiki masks. And some ironic hipsters. But in the grand scheme of things, those are minor complaints.

(Post by Schnookie)

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Picky Eating With Pookie: Beets, Beets, Butter Beets

What did I swear when I started writing Picky Eating with Pookie? That’s right, I swore no beets. Hold on to yer hat, Gentle Reader, but tonight? I ate a beet. Two beets! OK, fine, more like two infinitesimal bites of beet, which added up made one small bite of beet. But that’s one small bite of beet more than I was planning to eat this calendar year! The thing is, dinner just looked so delicious tonight.

October 9 2008

Chicken roasted with potatoes (fingerlings from our garden), farm shallots, and garlic (the German White that won our taste test) — it was Autumn served up on the table! So standing there, taking in the insanely delicious aromas, looking at a tray of beets and turnips, I thought, “Well, I suppose I could try a little one.” I mean, look at them! Even the most staunch beet-hater (i.e. me) couldn’t resist.

Beets and Turnips

I asked Schnookie and Boomer which little beet morsel (beetsel?) would be the best. Schnookie directed me to a teensy, tiny bit of Cylindra, one of the few beets on the tray that we grew. I admit, I closed my eyes tight while bringing the fork to my mouth since I’m still very attuned to thinking beet-colored veggies are nasty. I may also have kept my eyes scrunched shut while chewing. I may also have decided, while chewing, that it wasn’t half bad. I may also have decided it was the most disgusting thing ever.

But… Since I took another when offered to me during dinner, I guess I can’t pretend that I find beets the most reprehensible vegetable on Earth. Both bites tasted like Fall. Buttery, buttery Fall. They tasted like what I remember carrots tasting like back when I was a kid and didn’t yet hate carrots. They tasted… almost good. I think it’s an “almost good” that I need to work up to. I think liking beets is a reachable goal, but it might take a few years. I was shocked to discover that they weren’t cooked in butter. They tasted like if Orville Reddenbocher made Blast O’ Butter Beets, only they were roasted in just a splash in olive oil. It’s like nature’s candy, if butter were officially (and correctly) classified as “candy”.

Based on this Picky Eating experiment, I’m not going to be ordering beets as my birthday dinner just yet, but I will confidently say that peas just pulled ahead in the race for the most disgusting vegetable on Earth.

(Also, I ate a turnip. It was also quite tasty. Just as an aside.)

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Another Finished Project!

On October 6th I put in the final stitch and added my initials to “When Witches Go Riding”!

When Witches Go Riding Finished

From start to finish it only took 13 days (ooooh, spoooooky!) to work; the perfect amount for a little intermission from a big project like MFBville. This project really couldn’t have been more fun. I got to scratch that early Fall itch by immersing myself in Halloween motifs, I got to bask in the comfort-food-of-stiching simple joy of the Prairie Schooler style, and best of all, I got to play with different fibers. I said when I started it that I wasn’t completely sold on the Belle Soie silks, but I do believe I was wrong! Not only are the colors fabulous, but the threads are almost lighter than air. I was afraid I’d not be careful enough with the variegation, but in the end I’m pretty pleased with the effect of the gray in with the black.

When Witches Go Riding Spooky Tree

(Please ignore the results of what happens when you stitch with a cat in your lap.)

I was even more pleased with how the orange color (aka Lasagne) worked out for the leaves. I didn’t read the chart very closely in the store, and as a result I neglected to buy a gold color for the leaves by the owl. Instead, I used the darker end of a thread in the skein of Lasagne for one leaf, and the lighter end for two others.

When Witches Go Riding Leaves

So now this piece is off to the framer and then off to the basement until next Halloween when it will be taken out of storage with much, “oooh, the black cats are so cute” and “aaah, I love that spooooky tree!” and “hey, remember when we spent a Saturday pommerdoodling over this chart?” And now I’m off to MFBville, where I believe I left off with some pretty boring trees. Muh!

(Post by Pookie)

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Vanilla-Basil Gimlet

I recently had some leftover vanilla pods, after scraping the seeds out for baking. The obvious thing to do with them, of course, was to make vanilla syrup, and then use it in cocktails. So I dropped the seeds into some simple syrup while it was still hot, let it steep for a while, then strained it all and put the syrup in the fridge while I perused my cocktail books.

After much leafing listlessly through pages and pages, I found something in the 2007 edition of Food & Wine‘s cocktail book: a basil-lime gimlet.

Basil For Drinks

Basil I’ve got. Limes I’ve got. Vodka I’ve got. And instead of plain syrup, the vanilla syrup was ready to go. Perfect!

The recipe, in my adaptation, calls for 3 basil leaves (plus more for garnish), 1/2 oz. of vanilla syrup (or plain syrup, if you must, but remember! That’ll make just a plain basil-lime gimlet! It won’t be the same at all!), 2 1/2 oz vodka and the juice of one lime.

Basil Muddled

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the basil leaves with the syrup. Then add the vodka, lime juice, and some ice. Shake vigorously, and then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with additional basil leaves, and voila! Smooth, a little sweet, a little tart, delicious, and did I mention smooth?

Basil-Vanilla Gimlet

(Post by Schnookie)

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky