Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Working Eater Series: Popcorn, Elevated

Like most people, my "go-to" snack is popcorn. If it is not smothered in butter or margarine, laden with salt, or coated in a hard candy shell, it is a healthy, ethereal, and satisfying alternative to greasy and sugary snacks. And it usually is a staple in everyone's pantry! I usually try to air-pop my popcorn with dried corn kernels and a brown bag. All you need to do is fill a small paper lunch bag with 1/2 a cup of dried corn kernels, tightly fold or crumple it shut, and microwave it on high for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your microwave settings and when the popping sound decreases (just like the directions on the processed kind). Follow those directions, and you will have instant microwaved popcorn. For popcorn, do not resort to the artificially-flavored and carcinogenic popcorn brands of the Orville Redenbacher, Pop Secret, or Act II-persuasion.

However, plain popcorn is monotonous and buttered popcorn quickly gets tedious without something extra special to elevate it into "spectacular" territory.

For me, I love furikake, a slightly sweet and very umami/savory Japanese spice blend made of dried bonito fish flakes, seaweed, and other flavorings. If you are not familiar with furikake, think anchovies or fish sauce, but less salty and in a dried form. For a Japanese or Hawaiian-inspired popcorn snack, just add (1) slivers of nori (dried seaweed), (2) a couple of tablespoons of dried furikake seasoning, (3) several drops of dark sesame oil (very intensely flavored, so act with a judicious hand), and (4) a pinch or two of wasabi powder for the perfect flavor profile. You could also add salted peanuts too!

For a N'Awlins-inspired popcorn, dissolve a teaspoon or so of creole seasoning and a few dashes of Tabasco with a melted tablespoon of butter and quickly toss the mixture in with the popcorn and feast away!

For a South American-inspired popcorn, I usually just add salt, chile powder, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. This combo works with corn on the cob too, and it is divine!

I have also heard of additions of dried oregano, cumin, and parmesan cheese, but I have yet to try those flavor combos. Do you have any "spectacular" popcorn ideas to share? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Shaking In My Boots At Shake Shack

When I posted about the "In-N-Out and Five Guys taste-off" that we organized eons ago, many commenters remarked that there was "one burger chain to rule them all," and that I gravely failed to mention this burger joint. This place? New York City's Shake Shack. Therefore, when my beau and I visited the East Coast recently, we had to visit the burger joint I have heard as this "second-coming of In-N-Out," but way better.

Well, you know how I feel about In-N-Out. And you know how I feel about Five Guys. In seconds, you are going to find how how I feel about Shake Shack. (I will have to tell you about my favorite burger place in all the world, Umami Burger, real soon!)

Upon entering, my immediate impression was that Shake Shack felt trendier and more appealing to the hipster crowd. We decided to "go big" and order the Shake Stack, which is a classic cheeseburger with an additional veggie patty inserted inside the sandwich, as well. Shake Shack's veggie patty is not your standard salty hockey puck of tasteless and ground-up grains and beans, rather, it is a sliced portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese, breaded, and deep-fried. As you would imagine, the divine mushroom nugget contains a volcanic eruption of oozy, gooey, and stringy melted cheese and meaty mushroom flesh with each bite and is perfectly matched with its best friend, a crunchy, crumbly, and golden-brown breading.

Unfortunately, upon biting into the mammoth burger, it degenerated into a unphotogenic and gloppy mess, so you will only see pre-bite pictures. (Sorry for the blurry pictures, but my free hand can barely wrap around that monster!) As you can see, the Shake Stack typifies what is great about America: truth, justice, and deep-fried cheese.

As for the crinkle-cut fries, they were good, which means they were leaps and bounds better than In-N-Out. The ultimate verdict and my burger-licious impressions? I loved the juicy, greasy, savoryness of each burger and thought although it felt unhealthier, it was a tasty burger just a little more flavorful than In-N-Out. (It might have been the quality of the meat or the meat-to-fat ratio of the ground beef, the fresh house-made pickles, or the luxuriously soft and tissue-like lettuce.) It was definitely better than the squashed and foil-steamed mess that is known as a Five Guys burger. However, in my book, In-N-Out still wins for the easy accessibility (to California residents), the cheap prices, and the reliable quality. Shake Shack is definitely worth repeat visits though!

Have you tried these burger joints? Let me know your thoughts!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tex-Mex Seven Layer Dip

Without a doubt, my favorite party food is seven layer dip. With one deft swoop of a wide-brimmed tortilla chip, you can shovel a delectable and flavor-packed bite of seven unique tastes and textures into your open mouth. Also, since there is guacamole and salsa inside, you save on repeated trips to the party table!

Every family has their own version of seven layer dip, so you will definitely see many variations. I have had seven layer dips with both black beans and refried beans, with ground beef or turkey, and with plain chopped tomatoes instead of a piquant salsa. Some people use cilantro instead of scallions as their seventh layer. Others use lettuce, canned green chiles, or Mexican corn as one of the seven ingredients. In addition, you can use whatever proportions of the ingredients that you'd like, as long as no one ingredient eclipses the others.

Although there is room for creativity, it is generally accepted that there are six necessary ingredients that must be included in a seven layer dip. These are: (1) beans, (2) cheese, (3) sour cream, (4) tomatoes, (5) avocado, and (6) olives. (The seventh ingredient can be almost anything you would like. Well, maybe not pasta or chocolate, but you get my drift.)

This is my family's recipe.

Seven Layer Dip (Salsa de Siete Capas)
1 16oz can of refried beans
1 4.25oz can of pre-sliced black olives
1 cup of pico de gallo salsa (or 1/4 cup of jarred salsa with 1 large tomato, chopped)
1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 cup of sour cream (or nonfat Greek yogurt)
1 tbsp of cumin (or taco seasoning)
2 scallion sprigs, chopped and with the root end removed
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, and roughly smashed
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
tabasco, to taste
1 large bag of corn tortilla chips

Layer a wide transparent bowl with the ingredients, starting with the refried beans (with the cumin and tabasco mixed inside). Follow the bean layer with a layer of sour cream, shredded cheese, smashed avocados and garlic, pico de gallo salsa, black olives, and finally, the chopped scallions. Use the back of a wide spoon or spatula to help you spread the creamy ingredients. Serve the dip with corn tortilla chips and voraciously enjoy the dip in front of the television and with friends.

Also, instead of serving the dip in a large bowl, you can use a plate, individual custard ramekins (if they are transparent glass or plastic), or lowball liquor glasses. If serving individual portions in ramekins or liquor glasses, garnish each portion with a white or blue corn tortilla chip. This way of serving seven layer dip will result in less mess (in the dip itself), but will require the washing of many more dishes! Either way, I hope you enjoy this dip, I know I do!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Lookie What I Found: A New Felt Food Set At IKEA!

It comes with a faux plastic tray, pre-sliced fish, two spears of broccoli, lemon wedges, and halved tomatoes!

Okay, I admit, I am way too happy over these toys. But I do like these fabric food sets far more than the hollow play food sets (where each food item is basically just a hard plastic shell).

Sadly, the most unfortunate part about this post and my purchase is, is that my son doesn't even play with the other Duktig play food sets that I previously purchased for him. But, if you have child who loves to play in his or her pretend kitchen and help mommy make a scrumdiddlyuptious meal (or are like me), then the complete Duktig felt food set is made for you!

And yes, in case you are wondering, this new set is already collecting dust and cobwebs in my son's toy bin. (He is like his daddy and loves his toy cars.) Well, at least I am getting some mental satisfaction out of those toys!

The Absolute Best Way To Store Green Onions

My friend recently sent me a link on "the absolute best way to store green onions." Instead of putting bagged scallions in the crisper bin or vegetable drawer of a frigid and dark refrigerator, store them near a sunny window in a transparent glass of water (and change the water once it gets cloudy). To test this method of storage, I left some scallions in the fridge (on the right) and stuck the rest in a glass mason jar filled with tap water (on the left). The results were impressive.

It looks like an overgrown jungle in there! There was at least an inch of growth on the scallions that were partially submerged in water. Also, as you can visibly notice, the onions from the fridge were flaccid and droopy (and yellowed, but I cut those parts off). According to the link, the scallions will grow indefinitely (you are supposed to only use the verdant tops by snipping off what you need, and not the white portions), but I haven't tested this yet. And I have to admit, I'm a little suspicious about how the scallions would continue to grow without the nutrients from soil, but I'll let you know how this experiment goes!

Update: A fellow food blogger informed me (in the comments below) that after three (3) to four (4) weeks, the roots will begin to rot. But she gave her seal of approval to this method for short-term scallion storage! I should note that when I changed the water, I made sure to thoroughly rinse and scrub away the oniony slime on the bottom of the scallions. I also peeled back the visibly brown and wilted layers at the bottom that had been soaking in the water. It is a little gross, but I believe it helps the green onions keep their "shelf-life" longer. I also noticed the green parts of the scallions bent pretty easily (they do not seem very fibrous).
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