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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BBQ Sweet Potato Nachos + Upscale Bar Food Dinner Party

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Imagine: You invite two friends over for dinner. You may have previously bragged a bit about how much you love cooking and recipe planning etc. You chat about blogs, Bon Appetite, restaurants, food trends. You promise to go all out.

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Flash forward to two weeks later, the morning of said pre-planned dinner. You have some frozen corn in the freezer from last week’s CSA. That’s it. You realize that you have roughly nine hours to create a beautiful and memorable meal. You have a minor freak out.

But then coffee was consumed and magazines and blogs were consulted. And so a theme was deliberated over: Bar food? No, Mediterranean. No, fancy bar food. Bourgeois bar food! The barista thinks its a good idea.

Commence brainstorming: some sort of soup, but on toast? something like dip, but in salad form? how much fried stuff is too much? do we need dessert?

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And so, four grocery stores, one bike ride, 4 bottles of vegetable oil, and many hours later, this is what we came up with.

“Spinach Artichoke Dip” Salad

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not pictured: a very healthy dose of parmesan and feta, and lots of lemony vinaigrette

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” 

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Daniel says, “yeah those tasted great but dang were they ugly. I’m not taking no pictures.” And I said “oh okay YOU=CAULIFLOWER.” And its my blog so here’s his picture.

Sesame-Soy (actual) wings

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“Stuffed jalapeno” individual polenta cakes (leftovers amazing with scrambled eggs!)

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a healthy dose of bacon to please the carnivores

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Homemade Sweet Potato Chip nachos, vegetarian and meaty versions

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With beer and whisky. No need for dessert.

We mostly just followed other recipes, tweaking as we went. But, in honor of the blog name, here’s the recipe for those awesome nachos.

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Vegetarian (or not) BBQ Sweet Potato Nachos

adapted from the Food Network

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices with a mandoline
vegetable oil for frying
¼ c salt
⅛ c ground pepper
⅛ c garlic powder
healthy dash cayenne
1 T olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 jalapenos, one diced and two cut into thin rounds
1 T tomato paste
1 cup BBQ sauce
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ lb ground beef, optional
2 cups shredded cheese; we did half smoked gouda and half monterey jack
½ bunch of cilantro, chopped, optional
sour cream to serve, optional

Make sweet potato chips:

First make seasoning mixture by combining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne. (Keep in mind this makes a ton! Keep leftovers for future chip batches.) Break out a large heavy pot (5 quart if you have it), fill it up to roughly ⅓ with vegetable oil (I’d say about 4 inches depth. You’re going to use a lot of oil here), and heat it until it reaches about 360º (use a candy or deep-fry thermometer). Place enough sliced sweet potatoes in to create a fairly dense surface layer and start actively patting them down under the oil with a slotted spatula. The temperature is going to drop pretty quickly, but if it stays above 180º you’ll be fine. Keep stirring and turning and drowning for 5 to 7 minutes, and just when you start seeing the hearts of your sweet potato chips going brown, start removing them and place them on a thick bed of paper towels. Sprinkle your seasoning mixture and coat to taste. As soon as the oil temperature reaches 360º, repeat. Once your crispy batch cools enough, toss them into a bowl, but keep the same paper towels on the plate for reuse with all cooked batches. As you repeat this process, more and more of the seasoning will rest on the paper towels, so keep that in mind as you’ll need to coat each new batch a little less. Also, feel free to eat as many of these chips as necessary to “test” that you’re doing it right, as well as to revel in how amazing it is that you’re making chips all by yourself.

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Make BBQ beans/meat:

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until onions are translucent and garlic smells wonderful, about 5-6 minutes. Add diced jalapeno and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the air smells spicy. Add tomato paste, black beans, and s&p. Mix so tomato paste coats everything. Add BBQ sauce and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so, or until mixture thickens and smells amazing. Add extra BBQ sauce if mixture becomes too thick. If you want a non-vegetarian version as well, heat another medium skillet. Add a small splash of oil and add ground beef, stirring frequently, until evenly browned and cooked through. Add half of bean mixture to beef and simmer together for another five minutes or so.

To make nachos:

On a rimmed cookie sheet, or any other large platter, layer sweet potato chips, bean/beef mixture, jalapeno rounds, and cheese. Repeat. Place in a 400 degree oven until cheese gets melty, about 5-7 minutes. Top with chopped cilantro and sour cream and serve while hot!

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