On Snacking (and Sichuan Peppercorn Popcorn)

I am a snacker. I have spent years of my life wishing it were otherwise. I have set rules about how often I can snack and what I can snack on–once an afternoon, only after 7:00; celery, green apples, nuts. But, honestly, I love snacks. And, not celery. I devour boxes of crackers; I try not to let chips in the house. And, since this post is turning into a bit of a confessional, I really, really love anything covered in fake powdered cheese.

As with most things, I blame my parents. As two busy people who valued family dinners and extremely fine cooking, my parents long, long ago embraced a European–bordering on Argentinian–meal schedule. “It’s only civilized,” they say. Projected dinner time falls somewhere between 9:00 and 10:00 in their house. And, my mother, phenomenal cook that she is, has never gotten a meal on the table until at least half-an-hour after her goal.

Eating this late, even if you push lunch back, requires snacking. So, as a child, I got very good at it. But, since it was the early ’90s and the powers that be had yet to develop a plethora of organic snacking options, “healthy” snacking consisted of a lot of “baked” versions of generally fried snacks. Baked not fried bugles were a favorite. For years, my family stocked an early form of “healthy” cheese doodles that resembled nothing so much as packaging foam. But, since none of these things were very good, it seemed that we were often the only people buying them. Eventually, they would disappear from the shelves of our grocery store. One favorite after another, gone.

I blame the sudden disappearance of so many favorite snacks for giving me snack commitment issues. These days, I will discover a new cracker, puffed chip, or crunchy veggie, devour it happily for months, and then, just like that, it seems like something is missing. I jump ship, onto the next thing.

For the last few months, after years of feeling kind of eh about popcorn, I have been on a real bender. After moving from the fake cheese stuff to the lightly salted variety, it became embarrassing to be buying what I knew I could easily make at home. So I bought some kernels.

As they popped, I had a revaluation. I had just returned from Chicago with bags full of new spices. I didn’t have powdered cheese, but I did have sichuan peppercorns and dried orange peel. This popcorn had all kinds of potential.

I experimented with a bunch of spice combinations in my first few popcorn batches, but I’ve settled on two favorites: Sichuan Peppercorn Popcorn and Orange-Thyme Butter Popcorn. The former gives your regularly salted popcorn a kick along with hints of floral citrus. The latter tastes like movie popcorn grown up. Neither takes more than 10 minutes to make if you have the ingredients on hand.

I’ll probably move on in a few months, but until I do, Sichuan Peppercorn Popcorn will help me make it to dinner time, whenever that is.

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These aren’t really recipes so much as suggested spice combinations. Pop the popcorn as you usually do–I generally pop about half a cup of kernels at a time and then have enough or a few days. Here are some excellent popping instructions if you need them: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_popcorn/

For Sichuan Peppercorn Popcorn: While your kernels pop combine about a teaspoon of salt with 5 or 6 peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and mash together. Toss with popcorn a little bit at a time until salted and spiced to taste. 

For Orange-Thyme Butter Popcorn: While your kernels pop, melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave. Stir in a large pinch of thyme and a small pinch of dried orange peel. Pour butter mixture over popcorn and toss lightly to coat popcorn–again, I do this a little at a time until I think my popcorn is sufficiently flavorful. Any leftover butter is delicious on almost everything. 

No Such Thing As Vacation

Growing up one of my father’s mantra was, “There’s no such thing as vacation; just different places to work.” While I am generally not a rebellious child–more likely to accept parental wisdom as law than to question–I have never fully embraced this vacation doctrine.

So the fact that this Spring Break came not with a flight to somewhere warm or interesting but with a planned five days of uninterrupted work may have brought out an unbecomingly whiny, annoyingly grumpy side of my personality, which I wish I could say appears rarely but that’s probably not true.

I channeled at least a little of that grumpy energy into a baking bender that lasted until Noah made me a pina colada on Wednesday night–sweetly implying that it was time to get over my “why aren’t we in Aruba?” funk. A day later we took off for Rhode Island and I buried myself in a novel while snuggling by a fire.


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From here, I can tell you that even if I didn’t get to go away I did get to make some pretty great things that I had bookmarked for a long time. So, today, I thought I would put up  some links to the excellent food I made this week and throw out a big thank you to the excellent bloggers who pointed me towards these comforting, bad mood-defying treats:

Smitten Kitchen’s Millet Banana Bread: (Gluten-free: 1 cup buckwheat flour,  1/2 cup almond meal)

Casa Yelllow’s Frascatelli: (Wheat- free: 3 cups einkorn flour, 1 cup chestnut flour)

Sprouted Kitchen’s Cauliflower Gratin (Subbed millet for brown rice, added a chopped jalapeno, used chick pea flour in the roux)

My New Root’s Chocolate Buckwheat Granola (Added 1 cup mashed banana to the chocolate and took out the sugar, cut maple syrup down to  a 1/4 cup; threw in some dried cherries at the end).

I’ll be back with a real recipe next week.

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Carrot Socca

I have spent most of the last few months trying to combat this dreadful winter with citrus. Our kitchen is filled with bowls of mandarins, grapefruits, blood oranges, tangerines, and oro blancos. But, as the winter has continued in an unrelenting stream of gray days, I’ve moved my fruit fixations on to even warmer climates and started stocking mangos. It’s possible I should buy carbon offsets for my fruit bowl.

Last night, as I mulled over the fact that we were going North–NORTH– for “spring” break next week and as I stared at a weather report that suggested yesterday’s 50 degrees was going to disappear into rain and snow, I decided enough was enough. I was going to turn one bowl of citrus into something delicious. Having just seen Molly’s recipe for lime curd, my thoughts drifted to a tangerine-lime curd smeared on cookies and toast, layered with whipped cream and cookie crumbs for a trifle, or, to be honest, eaten furtively from a spoon every time I walked into the kitchen.

It totally failed. I juiced my tangerines and limes; I whisked them with sugar and butter. But, I whisked a few minutes too long, turned the heat just slightly too high, and all of a sudden it curdled. Bits of egg floated in melted sugar and butter along with some no-longer bright lime zest. It was gross. To add insult to injury, when I decided I had to taste it before dumping it down the drain, I burnt my tongue. Also there are splatters of tangerine juice and melted sugar all over our kitchen. It’s very sticky. (Cue “this would never happen to Robin” moans now.)

I decided it was all punishment for my globetrotting fruit bowl. “This is New England, Suzanne,” I said. “You should be eating root vegetables.” And so, as penance, I’m here to share with you a recipe for carrots. Luckily, my penance is your gain because this recipe is pretty tasty. And, let’s face it, at this point in the winter, you probably have some carrots sitting in the bottom of your refrigerator. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have citrus, you should not try to mess with it by adding butter and sugar.

This is a recipe for chickpea flat bread–socca–which is really more of a big flat pancake made of chickpea four, water, and a little oil. I discovered socca shortly after going gluten-free and for a while ate it at least once a week because it is so simple to make. Eventually, it fell out of rotation, but I made it recently and remembered how simple it is. Upon rediscovery, I decided that carrots would be an excellent addition to socca. My first attempt, however, ended in another kitchen disaster. I had roasted the carrots and then poured the socca batter around them. When I shook the socca loose from its pan, I ended up with mangled socca and a pile of roast carrots. They were quite good together but not exactly what I was aiming for.

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This time, I grated the carrots, sautéed them in a little butter and garlic and then stirred them into the batter before it went into the pan. The result was a cross between a socca and a carrot latke. It was crisp, sweet, and savory. At this point, I would definitely rather be sipping juice straight from a coconut but this is pretty good too. (And, as you can see, I ate it with a side of citrus anyway.)

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Cauliflower, Smoky Quinoa, and Radicchio Salad

A few weeks ago, Noah texted asking if he should pick anything up for dinner on his way home. (Good boyfriend points!) I told him he should figure it out what he wanted to eat because he was on his own. I had my own plans.

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In matters of taste, Noah and I do not always agree. He dislikes squash, cauliflower, and broccoli. There is a list of things that upset his stomach, which includes raw cabbage, quinoa, and many beans. I hate chocolate ice cream and can’t eat pizza so he also has his own (possibly more legitimate) complaints. In any case, I now rule out many of my favorite foods when I plan dinner (except when I’m on a conversion mission) or try to load all my broccoli and cabbage eating into lunch.

On this night, however, I had an idea for a salad and was determined to make it. When Noah got home and saw what was getting tossed into my bowl he nodded and said, “Now I get it. That’s all your favorite foods.” You see, I had myself a salad of roasted cauliflower, smokey quinoa, and radicchio. I’d also tossed in pickled shallots, jalapeño peppers, mozzarella cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. It was creamy but not unhealthy, spicy and tangy. This is a complicated salad. It takes a while to make, but I thought it was worth it. Even though it contained so many of Noah’s least favorite foods, I caught him sneaking a couple of bites. So, maybe it was a conversion mission after all.

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