Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

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Popcorn, patiently popped on the stove with a bit more salt than you intended, is Perfection. It does not require creativity or innovation or newfangled spice combinations because its light savory saltiness is the ultimate dinner substitute. It’s vegan, gluten-free, healthy (barring that salt situation), easy, cheap, and delicious. It’s my go-to around dinner time if I had a big lunch or if that salad didn’t fill me up quite all the way.

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My dad has received lots of flack from us lovely children over the years for his ability to eat a bowl of popcorn at literally any moment. Went out for a huge graduation dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet? Eh, there’s always room for some popcorn. You want someone to go see The Notebook with you? If he has nothing else to do and the movie theater sells popcorn, chances are Dad will volunteer. My main memory of doing homework in high school was next to Dad on the couch, a sportsball game on mute, him reading the paper, us both absent-mindedly eating popcorn and washing it down with cold seltzer.

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Now Daniel is the popcorn-maker of our household. Having taught him my mystical popcorn ways, he has taken it on as “his” kitchen task, which I’m totally okay with. I love that he developed his own routine with it, and look forward to our predictable nagging about appropriate saltiness. We never have leftovers.

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This is all a long way to reiterate that popcorn doesn’t need anything besides salt (and maybe a little love) to be Awesome. HOWEVER, during recent holidays when Daniel was in Texas with his family and my parents were frolicking in the New Hampshire snow, I was holding down the fort in Brooklyn all by my lonesome and made nontraditional popcorn after salivating at a Bon Appetit recipe, and IT’S REALLY GOOD. A couple more steps than a typical evening dose would require, but so worth it for a party or gift situation. Or, ya know, a “suffering thru the holidays alone because I have to work” situation. I did manage to save a couple pieces for Daniel to sample, and looks like this may be inserting itself into a more regular rotation. It’s goooood.

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one year ago: Mayan quichon de verduras (traditional Guatemalan veggie stew — I still want to experiment with this!)
two years ago: mushroom olive and farro stuffed acorn squash and roasted broccoli hot honey pizza

Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

from an old issue of Bon Appetit

Cooking spray
6-8 cups popped popcorn (I used ⅓ cup kernels)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

First, find two small rimmed baking sheets (or one large one) and a very large bowl. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; spray papered baking sheets and the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Put popcorn in the bowl and set all this aside.

In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Turn to medium heat and give a quick stir to combine. (I would avoid a wooden spoon for this task.) As mixture heats up, put the spoon aside and just swirl the pan as necessary. Bring mixture to a boil, then continue boiling for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is a toasty dark amber. Mine took 11 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and add in hot sauce and butter. This will sizzle and sputter and bubble, don’t be alarmed! Quickly stir in with your spoon and return to the heat. Return to a boil (this took no time), and cook for another 3 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and cayenne. Stir quickly, then pour over popcorn. Toss and stir quickly to evenly coat the popcorn, then pour out into a single layer (or close enough) on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-20 minutes, tossing once, until dry. Let cool. Break up clumps (or don’t and keep it more like popcorn brittle!). If you don’t eat it immediately, congrats, you have great self-control, also you can store it in an airtight container for five days or so.

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Caramelized Fennel with Dill and Goat Cheese

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Yes I know I’m roughly four years late to the party but…OTTOLENGHI’S “PLENTY”!!!

In the past, I’ve wistfully flipped through the beautiful, vegetable-and-spice laden pages, whispering “someday, I’ll have you” and getting creepy looks from very nice bookstore people. And then last week, due to a fortunate series of events we will from here on out refer to as birthday + boyfriend’s parents, I received my very own copy. No more awkward cell phone pictures of recipes (as the lovely book people look the other way) for me! Hoorah!

Onward to oil-splotched pages, handwritten notes in margins, and vegetarian nirvana!

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To start, Daniel chose two recipes at random. They absolutely didn’t go with each other but no worries, we made a delicious meal of it AND I cooked two new vegetables! Neither fennel nor okra have ever made an appearance in my kitchen until yesterday. I have now officially found my favorite fennel preparation–Ottolenghi’s version tempers the “licorice”-ness, not by hiding it, but by adding a spicy caramel kick and and a fruity dill and lemon zest finish. And THEN you add goat cheese.

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And the okra? Drenched in a homemade fiery sambal sauce and paired with gingery coconut rice, fried shallots, and cilantro (and roasted shredded chicken for the carnivore), it totally stole the show.

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Please refer to book for exact instructions (Fennel on page 172 and Coconut Rice with sambal and okra on page 230) but here’s roughly how I made the fennel. So far, so good, Ottolengz. Two outta two.

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Caramelized Fennel with Dill and Goat Cheese
from Plenty

2 large fennel bulbs, fronds removed, cut into ½-inch thick slices
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 T sugar
scant 1 t whole fennel seeds
s&p
big handful of dill, stems and leaves, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, chopped
3-4 oz creamy goat cheese

Heat butter and olive oil in a large pan over high head. When butter starts to sizzle, add a single layer of sliced fennel. Cook without moving for about 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Carefully flip over, using tongs, and brown on the other side (1-2 more minutes). Do this in batches, until all the fennel is cooked. Set fennel aside.

In the same pan, add sugar, fennel seeds, and s&p. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds, or until fennel seeds smell good. Add all the fennel back into the pan and cook for just another 1-2 minutes, stirring to evenly coat with caramel mixture. Return fennel to plate to cool.

In a big bowl, mix chopped dill and garlic. Stir to combine. Add cooled fennel slices, and mix delicately to coat. To serve, put all fennel slices in a single layer on a plate. Place spoonfuls of goat cheese on top. Finish with lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil.

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