Fake It ‘Til You Bake It

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks

While we’re all on coronavirus lockdown, many of my friends have been spending their time at home baking and posting pictures of the sweet treats on social media (including my co-swooner, who’s been sprinkling her magic fairy dust over at Sugar Nerd). “Stress baking” is a thing, and it’s bringing comfort to people in this time of isolation and uncertainty. But while I have a major sweet tooth, I’ve been finding my own comfort in baking a simple, savory snack.

There are several vegetarians in my family, some bordering on vegan, so whenever we have a get-together, there are always meat alternatives on the table: Tofurky or Field Roast at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Smart Dogs and Boca Burgers on the 4th of July, and plant-based sausages and bacon for Easter and Mother’s Day brunch. Nobody makes a habit of eating these regularly, because they are often made with highly-processed ingredients, particularly one brand of fake bacon (aka “facon”) that has an ingredient list as long as my arm, including artificial flavors and colors—but real egg whites, making it unsuitable for vegans.

A few years ago, I saw a recipe for vegan bacon online that had only FOUR all-natural ingredients: soy sauce, maple syrup, liquid smoke, and large flake coconut (also called coconut chips). I immediately saw the logic of this lineup—salty, sweet, smoky, crunchy, and umami—but it took me until just recently to finally try it out.

There are so many things in life that fail to meet expectations, that Kirsti’s and my highest compliment is to say something is “not disappointing.” Well, coconut bacon is NOT disappointing. To use a friend’s favorite phrase, it’s “stupid good”—as in, so good that I ate most of the first batch in a single day and made myself sick, only to do the exact same thing with the second batch! Stoopid. But GOOD. It smells and tastes the most like real bacon of any other version I’ve tried.

Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, this recipe is ridiculously easy and virtually guilt-free: no nitrites, pan full of grease, or piggies-in-peril. The soy sauce is high in sodium, but as long as you don’t eat an entire batch in one day (ahem), you should be alright. Pulse some in a food processor to make vegetarian bacon bits for sprinkling on salads, baked potatoes, and pizza. Enjoy it whole at breakfast, in a BLT (with vegan mayo), on a maple bar, or in any one of the many ways by which bacon has blown up foodies’ feeds in recent years.

If you’re stuck on store-bought “facon” and haven’t tried this incredibly realistic bake-on, you’re gonna fake it…’til you bake it.


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VEGAN COCONUT BACON*

4 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari [I used the low-sodium version]
2 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2½ cups unsweetened, large coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Whisk all wet ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut and mix well to ensure even coating.

Spread the coconut in an even layer on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then stir. Bake another 8 to10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the coconut in the last few minutes. This stuff will go from not-quite done to completely burnt very fast! Remove from oven when the coconut flakes on the outer edges of the pan are becoming a deep dark brown, but not black.

Place baking sheet on a cooling rack. The coconut will continue to crisp as it cools. Coconut bacon will keep 1 to 2 weeks in an airtight, plastic container, but will become less crisp the longer you store it.

 

*When I found this recipe online years ago, I copied and pasted it into a Word document on my computer without making note of the source. While preparing this post, I was unable to locate the exact recipe, even when doing a Boolean search for some of the specific phrases. I am presenting it here verbatim in the hope that someone will recognize the recipe and I can give the original source its due.

 

The Hot Zone

Author: Kirsten K., Cocktails, Drinks, Food, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Savories, Snacks, Sweets

Here in Southern California, we, like many others in this country and around the world, are under a “Stay at Home” order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We are still allowed to go out for essentials, but panic buying has left many store shelves empty of staple items. Due to the ever-present threat of earthquakes in California, I’ve always kept plenty of emergency food and supplies on hand—and, fortunately, I’d purchased TP shortly before everyone lost their minds and launched a thousand memes—but I ran out of a few basics last week, like dental floss and honey, so I was forced to venture out from my bunker.

It was the first time I’d seen all of the empty supermarket shelves for myself and I found it alarming, but also oddly amusing. At my local Sprouts market, every last bottle of water, carton of eggs, jug of milk, tray of meat, and bag of dried beans and rice was gone, but so was every single bag of tortilla and potato chips. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Americans consider chips to be a staple food.

I headed for the honey aisle, only to be brought up short again when I saw that this section, too, had been stripped bare. All of the varieties, from acacia to wildflower, were gone—except for a few squeeze bottles of Mike’s Hot Honey. Apparently, the honey hoarders couldn’t handle the heat, but I was already a fan of sweet and spicy condiments, so, with no other options available, I bought a bottle.

If not for the locusts locals descending on the sweetener section, I might never have discovered this fiery find. Infused with chilies, it gives a zesty zing to sauces, cocktails, and foods both sweet and savory. I enjoyed it with a cheese board I’d put together in preparation for a party that was cancelled at the last minute due to the lockdown. I’ve also substituted Mike’s Hot Honey for some of the sugar in my Castillian hot chocolate and added a dash of cinnamon, transporting it instantly from España to México. ¡Arriba!

With the news looking more and more like something out of The Hot Zone every day, I questioned whether I should even write this post. Given that there are those for whom food is scarce and the future uncertain, celebrating my quarantine comestibles may seem insensitive, but it’s increasingly apparent that the little pleasures of life—quiet time spent at home, a walk alone in fresh air, the daily habit of writing, and even a sweetly (and spicily!) unexpected discovery in the midst of a pandemic—can bring the greatest comfort in times of crisis, so we should enjoy them whenever possible.

However, I do NOT recommend that you rush out to the market if you’ve been ordered to stay in, so you may need to wait for a while before you can “Netflix and chili” with your honey, but if you need to restock some essential items and happen to come across Mike’s Hot Honey, take the heat!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Mike’s Hot Honey

 

Don’t want to wait? You can purchase Mike’s Hot Honey from Amazon or order online directly from the company’s website. For recipes—including a free digital recipe book—and other ideas for how to enjoy Mike’s Hot Honey, click here.

 

Erin Go Bread

Author: Kirsten K., Breakfast, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Snacks, Sweets

My version of this recipe defies all raisin.

For as long as I can remember, my mother has made Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day. She is not Irish, nor is anyone on either side of my family (as far as we know), but every year in mid-March, I receive a freshly-baked loaf from her kitchen.

The recipe was found in a church cookbook compiled years ago from favorites submitted by parishioners as a fundraising effort. The Irish Soda Bread entry is credited to Pat O’Connor, whose name inspires confidence in the authenticity of the recipe, but neither the shape nor the texture of this bread resembles the traditional raisin-studded, round loaves with a cross cut into the top that I typically see for sale at this time of year.

That suits me just fine, though, since—unlike most Irish Soda Bread I’ve tried—this version is super m-word (I’m not allowed to write or say it!), with a light, sweet flavor and an unusual texture that I’d describe as slightly, though not unpleasantly, “rubbery.” In any case, it’s SO easy to make that why would you buy one of those dry, rustic-looking loaves when you can pull this church-sanctioned knockoff from your oven in no time?

Like St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, my mother drives the raisins out of my Irish Soda Bread each year and replaces them with chocolate chips, so I ask you: who’s the real saint? It may not be traditional, but it’s tradition in my family. Every March 17th, along with the wearing (and sharing) o’ the green, my mother and I enjoy an Irish coffee with a slice from this recipe. Erin Go Bread!


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IRISH SODA BREAD

1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups sifted flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins (or chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350°. Cream sugar and egg. Add sifted flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix in buttermilk. Add raisins (or chocolate chips!). Bake for one hour.

 

Sex and the Valley – A Cocktail for Valentine’s Day

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Entertainment, Food & Drink, Recipes, Spirits, Television

The first time I had a cosmopolitan, I was at a trendy bar off Melrose Ave. called The Pearl. I was 25 and newly living in Hollywood. I felt so cool holding my oversized martini glass with the tart pink elixir, which tasted like a grown-up Jolly Rancher. I think I had four of them. Later that night, I threw up, and that was the last time I had a cosmopolitan for over 20 years.

Later, of course, Sex and the City made the cosmo famous. Did that tempt me? Nope. I wasn’t into drinking trendy drinks anymore. I drank red wine. I read Bukowski and made fun of drinks like cosmopolitans and apple martinis. Now I live in the Valley. I still drink red wine and I still like Bukowski, but I have definitely become less judgmental about what other people like to drink.

Recently, my friend Cindy served cosmos when my husband and I went to her house. I dubiously accepted the martini glass. I took a sip. It was unexpectedly delicious. And then, at my friend Christy’s, I was poured a freshly made cosmopolitan from a fancy pitcher, and again I was delighted by its refreshing pucker. I had come full circle back into girly cocktail territory. Were mom jeans next? Why even try to overthink it? A tasty draaaank is a tasty draaaank! The cosmopolitan was back and I was all in.

Cut to last weekend: my friend Lorne was staying with us and we invited Cindy and our friends Kelli and Doug over for dinner. Cindy was bringing some lovely wine for the shrimp pasta I was making, but I thought it would be fun to have a cocktail when everyone arrived. I thought about that damn cosmopolitan, and the newfound happiness it had brought me, and decided to make them.

You may recall that I did a post a few months back about Ketel One Botanical vodkas. To shake things up, I used the Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka for my cosmos, and it definitely lent a mysterious, but much commented on, floral note that elevated the cocktail from the toast of ’90s Manhattan to sophisticated Valley Girl (I realize that might not be a great analogy, but this Valley Girl is sticking to it). Everyone loved it. Like, kinda freaked out.

Since Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to share the recipe. Put on your best Manolo Blahniks—or, in my case, some old comfy slippers—whip up a batch of these pretty-in-pink cocktails, and live it up à la Carrie Bradshaw. Just don’t drink four of them.


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SEX AND THE VALLEY COSMOPOLITAN COCKTAIL
(adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
Serves 4

1 cup Ketel One Rose & Grapefruit vodka (or your favorite vodka)
½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
½ cup sweetened cranberry juice
¼ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice (just do it)
Lime wheels for garnish (optional)
Organic rose petals for garnish (optional)

Pour ingredients into a large cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until cold. Pour into four martini or coupe glasses. Garnish with a lime wheel and an organic rose petal.

 

Lemon Aid

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Holidays, Recipes, Sweets

Today is National Ice Cream Day, and whether you plan to celebrate with scoops of the dairy-derived dessert or pints of a plant-based alternative, I’ve got a sweet and simple recipe that you can squeeze out in mere minutes.

Many years ago, my brother-in-law’s co-worker shared his “secret” formula for a foolproof hot weather treat: lemonade ice cream. It is embarrassingly easy, utterly unsophisticated…and absolutely awesome!

With its cool, creamy texture and tart, refreshing flavor, lemonade ice cream is the perfect summertime sweet. The recipe involves just two ingredients, two pieces of equipment, and two minutes of your time—it’s almost too good to be true!

If you’re looking for a last-minute dessert, it’s lemonade ice cream to the rescue. You can blend up a batch for your next seasonal social and still have plenty of time to enjoy the lazy days of summer (emphasis on “lazy”). And when guests are swooning from the heat, start spooning up this treat and you’ll render lemon aid.


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LEMONADE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:
One half-gallon of vanilla ice cream*
One 12 oz. can of frozen lemonade concentrate

Equipment:
Large glass or metal bowl
Large mixing spoon

Directions:
Place bowl in freezer for 30 minutes or more before preparing recipe (recommended, but not strictly necessary). Set ice cream on counter at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Remove bowl and lemonade concentrate from freezer. Empty entire carton of ice cream and full can of lemonade concentrate into the bowl. Mix together with spoon until blended (I prefer a uniform mixture, but my sister likes to gently fold in the concentrate, stopping when there are still random chunks of vanilla ice cream and frozen lemonade in the mix). Cover bowl and return to freezer for at least an hour to set before serving. The consistency will be a little softer than that of regular ice cream. Serve with a slice of lemon or a strip of candied lemon peel.

Variations:

  • To fancify this dorm room dessert, add a drop or two of Lavender or Rose flavor extract from Medicine Flower before mixing, then serve with a sprig or sprinkle of lavender buds or rose petals that haven’t been treated with pesticides.
  • Substitute a can of frozen concentrated limeade for the lemonade, then serve in a margarita glass. First dip the rim of the glass in lime sugar (or salt), then slip a slice of lime on the edge.

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*For vegans and those who avoid dairy products, substitute four pints of vanilla non-dairy dessert (I like Vanilla Island from Coconut Bliss) for the ice cream. Since I never see quarts or half-gallons of dairy-free ice cream at my local supermarkets, I usually make small batches of this recipe by mixing a pint of non-dairy ice cream with ¼ can (or to taste) of the frozen lemonade concentrate. Just scoop it out of the can, replace the lid, and secure with a rubber band to store in the freezer for later.

 

It’s Pickle Time!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Starters

When I’m at the farmer’s market and see that yellow beans are in season, as they are now, I rejoice! That means it’s PICKLE TIME!

I’m a big fan of homemade pickles. First, because they are delicious, but also because they are easy and quick to make and people usually lose their shit over homemade pickles. Another great reason to make pickles is that you can make one big batch, which will keep you in pickle supply for a few weeks. And, better yet, you will still have enough left over to give as gifts.

There are so many vegetables that are perfect for pickling: yellow and green beans, carrots, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel—almost any firm veggie will work. Go to the farmer’s market, see what’s fresh, and pick yourself a peck. Peter Piper won’t care.

Another great thing about pickling is that you can use the bones of the recipe and riff on it. If a Grateful Dead song was a snack food, it would be pickles. Sometimes I like to throw a little curry into the pickling liquid; sometimes it’s all about the dill, a few cloves of smashed garlic, and a healthy sprinkling of red pepper flakes. If I’m using cucumbers, I usually add more sugar than if I’m using beans. You really can’t mess them up as long as you have water and vinegar and a few spices, and showing up to your friend’s house with a jar of pickles will definitely earn you rock star status.

I know some recipes call for sterilizing the jars, yada yada yada…but the pickles never last long enough at my house to go through all that trouble. If you are planning on storing them in your cellar along with salt pork, preserves, and potatoes to get you through winter, then, by all means, please sterilize your jars. Otherwise, consume within three weeks and it’s all good, ’cause, you know—vinegar!

I like to serve pickles in a pretty dish as part of my appetizer spread. They go nicely with some salty nuts and a creamy, mild cheese to cut the vinegary tang. And when you are going to visit your friend, tie a ribbon around a jar of those beautiful pickles and bask in the glow of their delight!

Here are some tips for using different veggies:

BEANS – Wash and trim. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about four minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling. They will still be crunchy, but won’t have that raw flavor.

CAULIFLOWER – Wash and cut into florets, then follow directions above for similar results.

ASPARAGUS – Wash and trim ends so stalks are the size of your jar. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about two minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling.

BEETS – Roast before pickling. To roast beets, preheat oven to 400° F, wash and trim ends,* wrap beets in foil with a little water and place in a baking dish to roast until a knife pierces easily (about 45 minutes for four medium beets). Once cool, slip off skins with your fingers and slice into rounds or wedges. *If the greens are fresh, save and sauté with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper—delicious!

CARROTS – Peel and cut carrots in half and then half again (and half again if your carrots are large). Trim to the size of your jar. Carrots can go in the pickling liquid raw. If you boil them, they get flabby. Nobody likes a flabby pickle.

FENNEL – Wash fennel and trim fronds (which can be put in the jar along with, or instead of, dill), remove any wilted outer layers. Cut bulb in half and slice crosswise.


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BASIC VEGETABLE PICKLE RECIPE
2 lbs. veggies
2 cups water
2½ cups distilled white vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
⅛–¼ cup sugar (optional)
2–3 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
2 tsp. whole peppercorns (optional)
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Bunch fresh dill

EQUIPMENT
You will need three half-liter canning jars. I like Weck 742 half-liter Mold jars. They have a really nice shape. (Sold in sets of six only. They are cheaper here than at Amazon. You can also get canning jars at World Market, Target, and most grocery stores.)

Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pack veggies into about three half-liter jars and add several sprigs of dill. Remove garlic from pickling liquid. Fill jars with hot liquid and cap immediately. Admire the majesty of your pickles!

Wait until jars have reached room temperature, then refrigerate the pickles. You can start eating a few hours after pickling, but they’re best if you can wait 24 hours.

Keep one, give two away!

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Other variations to try (aka channeling your inner Jerry Garcia):

  • Add 1 tsp. curry powder.
  • Replace dill with fresh tarragon, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or mint (or a create a combo).
  • Include several strips of lemon peel.
  • Substitute whole fennel or mustard seeds (or try half and half) for coriander seeds.

 

Killer Shrimp – A Love Story

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Entertaining, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Pop Culture, Recipes, Savories

Original Killer Shrimp menu.

Shrimp and bread, shrimp and rice, shrimp and pasta. Along with sweet potato pecan pie, those were the only items on the menu at Killer Shrimp, a restaurant that opened over 20 years ago in Marina del Rey, CA. The shrimp was thrown, to order, into a spicy sauce that the restaurant says is simmered for 10 hours, and comes with fresh French bread to dip into the magical elixir. To say this dish is thrilling is no exaggeration.

I lived in the San Fernando Valley and would often make the hour-long drive to eat at this punk rock homage to shrimp. The restaurant in the Marina was on the 2nd floor of an ugly 1980’s mini mall, but inside it was dark and cool and they played rad music—the kind you played in your room on vinyl after riffing through the import section at Moby Disc. No one played music like this in restaurants back in those days. Then again, no restaurant had only three things on the menu either. Killer Shrimp was more like a club than a restaurant. We even waited in line to get in. It felt a little dangerous, but exciting. Kind of like the way it felt to go to Melrose Ave. in the early ’80s when it really WAS wild to see someone with pink hair and a nose ring.

The original Killer Shrimp in Marina del Rey, CA.

Then, as if my dreams became real, they opened a Killer Shrimp in the Valley. The Valley restaurant was also very dark, but much bigger, and all the servers could have been in fashion spreads for The Face. They all wore black and, according to my friend Christy who worked there, the girls were required to wear Viva Glam red lipstick from MAC (the very first Viva Glam). It was a microcosm of cool in the Valley that hadn’t existed before or since. What all self-consciously cool restaurants these days aspire to be, Killer Shrimp simply was.

Even though there were three items on the menu, the ONLY acceptable order was shrimp and bread. Seeing the oversized bowl before you—hot, scented with rosemary and cayenne, and swimming with colossal-sized shrimp—was, in a word, exquisite. The bread that accompanied the shrimp was fresh and chewy and perfectly soaked up the sauce without becoming soggy, but we have to talk about this sauce for a minute.

The flavor was so complex, with layers of richness and spiciness and herbiness…you would have to resist the bowl-licking urge with all of your might. There are many ingredients in the sauce, including butter (a lot of butter—just deal with it), Worcestershire, lemon juice, and beer, but even though the restaurant simmers their sauce for 10 hours, you can whip this recipe up in about 15 minutes with the same glorious results. I truly cannot overstate the majesty of this dish. It makes every annoyance in life tolerable. It makes me believe in a Higher Power. It proves, without a doubt, that food is more than fuel. It is the meaning of life in a bowl.

Killer Shrimp eventually closed all of its restaurants. There was a hole in my heart the size of a giant crustacean. I searched many times online for the recipe to no avail. Several years ago, they opened a new Killer Shrimp back in Marina Del Rey, but it is not the same. It’s more of a sports bar with a huge menu and no MAC red lipstick in sight. I can’t go there. Then, one day, my sister-in-law Stacey invited my husband and me over for dinner. She had found a recipe online claiming to be as good as Killer Shrimp and was going to make it for us. I was excited, but I didn’t have much hope that it would come close to the singular deliciousness of the original. Luckily, I was wrong. It tasted, well, KILLER.

And now, for those of you that have missed Killer Shrimp for all of these years, the recipe is now yours. And for those who have never tried it, I wish I could be with each and every one of you as you taste your first bite. Maybe when your mouth explodes with fireworks of pure umami and your brain recognizes the profoundness of the moment, you will think of me.

I may just have a tube of the original Viva Glam lipstick still in my makeup bag. I’m going to turn off all the lights, blast The Clash (on import vinyl) and and serve my husband some shrimp—dressed all in black, of course—and pretend that all is right with the world.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

KILLER SHRIMP

Adapted from a recipe found on the Internet many years ago
Serves 2 (can be doubled)

¼ lb. plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ tsp. finely chopped garlic
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper (can be doubled if you like it really spicy)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ tsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. dried rosemary
1/8 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 lb. colossal shrimp in the shell (known as Original), or peeled and deveined
½ cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable stock
¼ cup beer at room temperature
French baguette

Combine ¼ lb. butter, garlic, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and dried herbs in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for about 4-5 minutes to soften garlic, but be very careful not to brown or burn garlic and butter. Add shrimp and cook about two minutes (it is important not to overcook the shrimp in this dish). Add the last 2 Tbsp. butter and stock. Shake pan back and forth for two minutes. DO NOT STIR, only shake skillet, which breaks down the butter and liquid and emulsifies the sauce. Add beer and cook for one minute more, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Pour into two large bowls and serve sliced baguette on the side.

Cue The Clash and shove your face in that bowl.

You’re welcome.

 

And the Oscar for Best Snack Goes To…

Author: Kirsti Kay, Entertainment, Food, Food & Drink, Movies, Pop Culture, Recipes, Snacks, Television

Oscar night is my favorite night of television. For as long as I can remember, Kirsten has come over and we settle in on the couch for a long night of eating, drinking, and yelling at the television.

I love seeing all the beautiful dresses on the red carpet while I’m in comfy clothes on the couch with my dog in my lap. I was lucky enough to go to the Oscars once and, while it was a spectacular evening (Faye Dunaway cut in front of me in the bathroom line), it was super stressful.

As much as I love watching the show, (The monologue! The winners! The montage!) I look forward to our snacking tradition just as much. Every year it is the same: champagne (natch) and popcorn. And not just ANY popcorn…Oscar-worthy popcorn! Yes, friends, this snack should be on every table at the Governor’s Ball. Heck, if they gave out this popcorn in a gold-plated bowl instead of the Oscar, I think there would be zero no-shows.

So, set your DVR for Live from the Red Carpet, chill your champagne, and make yourself a big bowl of this game-changing snack that will make your microwave* variety popcorn as boring as the Price Waterhouse portion of the Oscars ceremony.


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TABASCO PARMESAN POPCORN

½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. canola oil
½ stick salted butter, melted
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp. (or to taste) Tabasco sauce
salt
pepper

Get out your big pasta pot and heat canola oil on high heat until shimmering. Swirl it around so it coats the bottom of the pan. Add popcorn and put the lid on the pan. Once you hear the popcorn start to pop (this will take a few minutes), turn heat down to medium high and shake the pan a few times. When there are several seconds between pops, remove from heat. There are usually some kernels that don’t pop. That is O.K.

While popcorn is popping, melt the butter and mix in the Tabasco.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and toss with the butter/Tabasco mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and salt & pepper to taste, then toss again until mixed well.

Immediately start the second batch of popcorn, because the first bowl will be gone before Giuliana Rancic asks Greta Gerwig who designed her dress.

 

*Note from Kirsten: Kirsti has always insisted on making stovetop popcorn, which takes a little more time and effort than using the microwave, but which makes a HUGE difference. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried popcorn popped in hot oil on the stove. Don’t take shortcuts with pre-Oscars popcorn!

Second note from Kirsten: for those who don’t like spicy foods or want to put a different spin on this recipe, replace the Tabasco with 5-10 drops of liquid smoke.

 

Na Nanaimo, Na Nanaimo, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bar

Author: Kirsten K., Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Recipes, Sweets

For the past two weeks, I have vicariously skated, skied, and slid across the ice and snow in PyeongChang from the comfort of my couch. Over the years, my Olympic training has given me the ability to get through a 5-hour telecast in 1-2 hours (I could medal in speed watching), and I like to reward myself for this feat with a sweet treat. In the spirit of the games, I decided to go for the gold and seek inspiration among the top medalists, but while the Norwegians may have set the bar, the Canadians have perfected it.

There is much debate about exactly when the Nanaimo bar made its debut (likely sometime in the early 1950s), but in the years since, this no-bake dessert has achieved cult status in Canada. Named for the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, there are many variations on the recipe, but all involve three basic things: a brownie-like crumb base, creamy custard filling, and chocolate icing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

I first heard of these bars from my boss, who makes them each Christmas. When she was a showgirl in the ’70s, one of her fellow dancers shared the handwritten recipe, which she labeled “Nanimo Bars,” and which my dyslexic boss calls Namino bars(!). Despite the confusion, I was able to find various recipes and information about Nanaimo bars online, but since I’ve only tasted my boss’s version, hers has qualified for this post.

In her recipe, vanilla pudding powder is used in place of the traditional custard powder, which can be more difficult to find,* but they can be used interchangeably. If I’m to be the judge, the custard is what sets these bars apart, but the combination of chewy base, creamy filling, and rich topping makes them a 1-2-3 sweep.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games will come to an end this weekend, but you can whip up these bars in record time, so take a break from sofa spectating and go all “oot” to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes—and sweets!


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

Illustration by Melissa Elliott

NANAIMO BARS

Base:
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
10 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups graham crackers, crumbled
2 cups coconut, chopped fine
1 cup chopped nuts

Place butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl that is set in boiling water (i.e. double boiler). Stir until mixture resembles custard. Blend in graham crackers, coconut, and nuts. Press evenly into a greased 8×8” or 9×9” pan.

Filling:
½ cup butter
6 Tbsp. milk
4 Tbsp. custard powder or vanilla pudding powder
4 cups sifted powdered sugar

In a small bowl, combine milk and custard (or vanilla pudding) powder until powder is dissolved. In a larger bowl, cream butter, milk/custard mixture, and powdered sugar. Spread filling on top of base and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Icing:
8 baking squares of semi-sweet chocolate, OR
1¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. butter

In a medium sauce pan, melt chocolate and butter together over a low flame. Pour the warm mixture evenly over the filling and return bars to fridge. Once the icing has hardened, cut into squares. Makes 1-2 dozen, depending on size of squares.

 

*Custard powder can be found at World Market and many high-end markets and specialty foods stores.

Variation: replace semi-sweet chocolate chips with milk chocolate chips for the icing, as in the top right picture above.

 

Note: Kirsti went to see Bananarama in concert this week, and I couldn’t resist riffing on the chorus from one of their hits for the title of this post. 😊

 

Castile Yourself

Author: Kirsten K., Drinks, Food & Drink, Hot Drinks, Recipes

Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.

Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.

Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.

I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.

It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.


Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:

CASTILLIAN HOT CHOCOLATE

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)

Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.

 

*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.

You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).