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!
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