The Salty Road to Deliciousness

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Sweets

Salty Road 1I think, when all of us were kids, we thought that saltwater taffy was made with actual water from the sea. The very thought of taking a bite of THE OCEAN made the treat much more interesting and delicious than it would have been otherwise. I was always pretty sure I tasted the brine somewhere in that little fluffy pillow, but I also believed in magic and fairies and the goodness of people, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch for me.

Salty Road 2Later, when I found out the “salt water” in saltwater taffy was marketing, I was disappointed—much like poor Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he finds out his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring is a crummy commercial (be sure to drink your Ovaltine!). But even at that young age I did appreciate the genius behind the idea. So, when I discovered that Salty Road Salt Water Taffy has actual salt in it, I had to try it.

Salty Road Salt Water Taffy is made in Brooklyn with all natural ingredients and a lot of love. Not only does their taffy have salt in it, they use a coarse salt that gives the taffy a really addictive crunch, making eating only one piece almost impossible. Salty Road 3Combine the salty goodness with unique flavors such as Bergamot, Chili Chocolate, Sour Cherry, Peppermint and Salted Mango Lassi, and you have got yourself one perfect bite of pure deliciousness.

With holiday flavors just released, like Snow Mint, Pumpkin Pie, and Eggnog, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. A chewy, salty, awesome Christmas.

I still believe in magic and fairies and (mostly) the goodness of people, but now I am definitely sure I taste the sea in my taffy…or at least the salty tang of Brooklyn.

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Salty Road Salt Water Taffy

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Flowing Smoke

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

After a hot, dry October, fall finally arrived in Southern California this past week and I smelled wood smoke in the air for the first time on my nightly walk. The aroma instantly brings to mind cozy nights at home in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot cocoa warming your hands. But even though the season for hearth fires is short here in the southwest, I enjoy the pleasures of wood smoke year-round in my kitchen.

Flowing Smoke 1I have been crushing on liquid smoke for a while now. Just a few drops of this versatile seasoning lends a rich, earthy flavor to sweets and savories alike. From the now-defunct smoky black beans at El Pollo Loco (bring them back!) to the swoon-worthy Smoked Chocolate Chips from Hot Cakes, I have long had a fondness for the fume. Since most of us don’t own or want to fuss with a smoker, liquid smoke makes a delicious and convenient alternative.

There are many different types and brands of liquid smoke on the market, but my current favorite is Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke. I have added it to black and baked beans, sprinkled it on pizza and eggs, and mixed it into hot chocolate and ice cream (try it with salted caramel). You can also add a dash or two to melted chocolate and pour it into molds for your own smoky chocolate bar. Top with a toasted marshmallow and sandwich between two graham crackers and you’ll be singing Kumbaya in no time. Campfire Girls, eat your hearts out!

By far, my favorite way to enjoy liquid smoke is in buttery popcorn tossed with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. Any way you like it—alder, hickory, mesquite—experiment and have fun. You just might discover an indispensable addition to your culinary repertoire…and that’s not blowing smoke!

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Cedar House Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke

 

Flowing Smoke 2SMOKY PARMESAN POPCORN

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp. canola or coconut oil*
½ cup popcorn kernels
3-4 Tbsp. butter or Earth Balance spread†
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese†
liquid smoke
salt and pepper

Directions:
Pour the oil in a 4-quart stock pot and heat over a medium flame for about a minute. Add the popcorn kernels and shake the pot slightly to coat them with oil. Cover pot with a lid, leaving a small opening at the edge to vent the steam. When the kernels begin to pop, move the pot gently back and forth over the flame in a continuous motion until the popping slows down to several seconds between pops. Immediately take the pan off the stove, remove the lid, and empty the popped corn into a large bowl.

Melt the butter in a small pan on the stove or in a microwave. Add a few drops of liquid smoke to the melted butter and stir to blend. (I like a lot of liquid smoke and give the bottle a few good shakes into the butter, but you may want to start with a small amount and add more to your taste.) Pour the melted butter evenly over the popcorn and toss until popcorn is thoroughly coated. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste, then toss again to mix well. Grab a large stack of napkins and enjoy!

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*I prefer the crispiness of popcorn popped in oil, but you can make yours in an air popper or other popcorn maker, if you prefer. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

†You can veganize this recipe by replacing the butter with Earth Balance and the Parmesan cheese with ¼ to ½ cup of nutritional yeast. Earth Balance is sold at most supermarkets. Nutritional yeast can be found at many natural foods stores and vitamin shops.

That’s My Jam!

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

That's My Jam 1I have a problem with condiments. It’s not the taste (although, don’t get me started on relish), it’s the loitering. As a single person, a bottle of ketchup can sit on the door of my refrigerator for months. And yellow mustard? That’s once or twice a year, tops. Spying the partially used bottles every time I look in the fridge is almost as upsetting as watching the contents wash down the drain when I finally decide to dump them.

Jams and jellies tend to go faster, but they can still overstay their welcome—with one notable exception. Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam is so delicious that I have trouble keeping it on the shelf. It is, quite possibly, the most swoon-worthy thing I have written about on this blog to date.

That's My Jam 2My good friend Mika, a pastry chef and foodie extraordinaire, turned me on to this sweet and spicy spread several years ago when she discovered it at a local farmer’s market. While the label recommends serving the jam as a condiment or glaze for meats, we at The Swoon Society like to spoon it atop baguette slices that have been heaped with Saint-André triple-crème cheese. If you serve this as an appetizer, be prepared for guests who are too full to do more than pick at the main course.

Not content to take a supporting role, the fiery, smoky flavor of Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam shines when paired with simple foods. For an unexpected treat, heat a little of the jam and pour it over vanilla ice cream. The casein protein in dairy products helps to neutralize the spiciness of the chipotle pepper, while the cold ice cream cools the fire. (Vegans can enjoy Jimmie’s on non-dairy cream cheese and coconut milk ice cream, but these foods do little to soothe the burn.)

That's My Jam 3Uncle Berch’s Foods only sells Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam in packs of three, four, or five jars, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it. You will tear through those jars and find yourself ordering more to give away to friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors alike. Keep some on hand to use as host/hostess gifts, but make sure to always hold back a jar or two for yourself, or you’ll inevitably dip into your stash.

I’m not sure who this Jimmie is (or Uncle Berch either, for that matter), but he knows his way around a pepper. In addition to the original, he makes three other Chipotle varieties, as well as versions with Red Fresno Chili, Habañero and Ghost Pepper. The label quotes Jimmie as saying, “It’s easy to make things hot. It’s hard to make it taste good.” You can’t exactly set it to music, but his flavors completely rock. Jam on!

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Jimmie’s Chipotle Pepper Jam

 

Saint-André triple-crème cheese can be found at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and many gourmet cheese shops.

Better Late July Than Never

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

Better Late Than Never 1It might be early August, but it’s never too late to try these Bacon Habañero Tortilla Chips from Late July. As some of you know, I have a fondness for the chip, so I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss these since they were introduced in January, but a recent special at my local market brought them to my attention and they are seriously swoon-worthy.

The term “bursting with flavor” is overused, but it applies in this case. Chip Review raves, “[W]e’re willing to bet that these are probably the most bacon-y bacon flavored chips that we’ve ever tried!” And that’s saying something, since they also happen to be vegan. That’s right, no Babes were harmed in the making of this snack, so babes—and boys—of all bents can enjoy them. And don’t be intimidated by the infamous pepper on the label. While some reviewers have complained that the seasoning doesn’t have the scorching heat of true habañero, I appreciate that I don’t need to consult a Scoville scale or put my doctor on speed dial before tearing into a bag of these chips. The blend of spices provides a pleasant, yet potent, heat that deliciously complements the smoky sweetness of the bacon flavor.Better Late Than Never 2

Bacon Habañero is one of four flavors in Late July’s line of Taco Truck-Inspired Tortilla Chips. I’ll probably pass over the Crispy Yellow Corn on my way to try Nacho Chipotle and Jalapeño Lime, but that’s assuming I can break away from this bright red bag anytime soon. In addition to being suitable for vegans, these chips are gluten-free and made from organic corn and non-GMO oils and seasonings, so get ‘em while they’re hot and save some bacon by stocking up when they’re on special. The next time I see a sale, I plan to buy enough to last me until late July.

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Late July Bacon Habañero Clasico Tortilla Chips

 

Late July snacks can be found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many natural foods stores.

Join the Popsicle Revolution!

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dessert, Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Snacks, Sweets

Popsicle 1Popsicle. A happy little word that conjures memories from childhood summers, when there wasn’t anything else to do but sit on the porch with the neighborhood kids and fight over who got the last cherry one. We didn’t care that we were sticky or that it was blazing hot outside. Give a kid a popsicle and all is right in her world.

Today, popsicles have been enjoying a renaissance. I first encountered this Popsicle Revolution when People’s Pops took Brooklyn by storm with their handmade pops made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. With flavors like Raspberry & Basil, Blueberry & Buttermilk, and Apricot & Lavender, I was on board with this Frozen Confection Train.

Popsicle 2Shortly after that, I heard of a place tantalizingly named Suck It Sweets in Studio City.* Oh, my. I could drive there. And I did. And it was Awesome.

I had their Cherry Cobbler pop and, may I say, it was not disappointing. SO not disappointing.

Sometime later, while cruising the frozen section at Whole Foods, I stumbled upon paletas. These are Mexican ice pops made from Mangoes and Chilies and Hibiscus and Coconut and a myriad of other wonderful, regional ingredients. ¡Muy deliciosos!

The signs were unmistakable. My mission became clear. I promptly ordered the following gear: pop molds, sticks, and the bible of frozen confections—the People’s Pops recipe book. I started out classic…trying out Straight-Up Raspberry for a visiting relative. Then I attempted their Blackberry & Rose. Both were Crazy Good.

Popsicle 3

Monin Violet Syrup

My latest fave is Cucumber & Violet. When I saw that recipe in the book, I gasped out loud.** It was serendipitous, because I had just bought some Monin Violet Syrup and was itching to try it. This violet syrup has the truest violet flavor I’ve tried. I can’t wait to experiment with it more. And I have always loved cucumber in spa water and cocktails—I couldn’t wait to try these pops!

They are super easy to make. The only ingredients are:

cucumbers
simple syrup
lemon juice
violet syrup

Popsicle 7

Simple. The taste? Fresh Floral Deliciousness. Neither flavor is overpowering, and they aren’t overly sweet, just really refreshing—perfect on a hot afternoon or even as a palate cleanser during a dinner party. Seriously, friends, who would not be absolutely delighted by a Cucumber & Violet frozen pop between courses on a summer night? Anyone who wouldn’t is not invited to my dinner parties! Even my husband Aaron, who is continually barraged by my floral flavored food, loved them.

I admire the gang from People’s Pops for taking a common treat and turning it into something unexpected and innovative. I’m happily working my way through their recipe book—Vive la Révolution!

 

CUCUMBER & VIOLET POPS (adapted from People’s Pops: 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop)

Popsicle 41 ¼ lbs cucumbers (about 2 or 3), peeled
2/3 cup simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup violet syrup (preferably Monin), or to taste

SIMPLE SYRUP

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Simmer sugar and water in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Makes about 1 cup.

Purée the cucumbers in a food processor and add to a medium-sized bowl with a pouring spout. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup. Add the violet syrup, tasting as you go, until you reach delicious violet goodness.

Pour into ice pop molds, leaving a bit of room at the top, since the mixture expands as it freezes. Insert sticks and freeze for at least 4 to 5 hours.

Popsicle 5

Unmold the pops by running warm water over the mold until they release easily. Give an adult a popsicle and all is right in their world.

Popsicle 6

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People’s Pops

 

Monin Violet Syrup is available from the company’s website. You can purchase pop moldswooden popsicle sticks, and the People’s Pops recipe book from Amazon.

 

* This location has unfortunately closed. Come back to me!

**For more violet goodness, see previous posts on The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur and Kusmi Violette tea.

 

Bliss and Vinegar

Author: Kirsten K., Food, Food & Drink, Recipes, Savories, Snacks, Starters, Sweets
Bliss and Vinegar 1

Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co.

As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but a friend recently introduced me to one brand of vinegar that might just lure the flies away from the honey pot. Mika is a true foodie, so when she tells me she’s discovered a culinary treasure, I pay attention. On a trip to Northern California, she visited Sutter Buttes Olive Oil Co. and, though they are known for their olive oil (natch), Mika fell hard for their Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar. Having lived in Italy twice, she knows a swoon-worthy balsamic when she tastes one.

Bliss and Vinegar 2Balsamic vinegar (which contains no balsam and is not, strictly speaking, vinegar) has been produced in Italy for centuries, but it’s become so ubiquitous in recent years that many people don’t realize they are actually consuming a cheap imitation. That bargain bottle you scored at the market is probably inexpensive wine vinegar tarted up to look like the real thing. True balsamic vinegar comes only from Modena or Reggio Emilia in Italy, is aged anywhere from 12-100 years, and can be valued at hundreds of dollars a bottle.

Bliss and Vinegar 3Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a true Italian balsamic vinegar. Sutter Buttes imports theirs from Modena and it is thick, sweet, and delicious. Barrel-aged up to 18 years, it has the glossy color and silky texture of a balsamic reduction, with just enough tang and acidity to complement savory dishes. In addition to the classic combo of olive oil and vinegar as a dip for bread, it can be used in salad dressings, drizzled over fruit and cheese, or—my personal favorite—spooned over vanilla ice cream.

Sutter Buttes sells a variety of flavored balsamic vinegars, from Peach and Fig to Espresso and Vanilla, but I’m a purist. I favor the singular personality of their Traditional version. Whatever your preference, with such a diversity of choices at an exceptional price, you’ll soon be full of bliss and vinegar. Buon appetito!

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Sutter Buttes Traditional Style Aged Balsamic Vinegar

 

It’s Crunch Time

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

Crunch Time 1A co-worker turned me on to Have’a Corn Chips close to 15 years ago, and I’m still not sure if I want to thank him or smack him. These chips are so delicious and addictive that I usually end up eating the entire bag in one sitting, followed by the obligatory guilt trip. I would be hesitant to write about them on this blog were it not for the fact that, before the recriminations begin…swoooon.

Crunch Time 2The formula is deceptively simple: corn, soybean oil, soy sauce and a dash of lime. Diabolical! It’s a potent combination of crunchy/salty with a dose of umami that mere mortals are helpless to resist. And I’m convinced that the company hired psychologists to design the packaging. At 4 oz., the bag is less than half the size of a standard bag of tortilla chips, but double the size of a large single serving bag of Doritos. After you eat half the bag, you think, “Well, there’s only a single serving left. Might as well just eat that too.” Have’a Chips should really change their name to Have’a Bag.

Crunch Time 3

The coveted dark chips.

Then there’s the mystery. I have been told by more than one person over the years that Have’a Chips are made by Hare Krishna monks (a myth, according to this article), and the company does not have a website or any social media presence that I can find (the Have’a Corn Chips Facebook page was created by a fan and hasn’t been updated since 2013). Their operation is as murky as their bag is clear, but since I love a good mystery as much as I love a good chip, I’m content to remain in the dark.

Speaking of which, I’ve been known to take every bag of Have’a Chips off the shelf at the market to scrutinize them for the one with the darkest chips (dark = soy sauce). A Have’a Chips addict has no shame! Except when it comes to punctuation. The apostrophe in the name of these chips is enough to drive a grammarian crackers, but it remains as much a mystery as the company itself.

If a co-worker (or anyone else) offers to share his Have’a Chips, be warned: one bite of this savory snack and you’ll find yourself saying, “Thank you, sir, may I have’another?”

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Have’a Corn Chips

 

Have’a Chips are available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many natural foods store. They can also be purchased online at Amazon.

 

Fig Hash or The Proper Way To Eat An Appetizer, In Society

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

Fig Hash 1The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that there is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled, four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth on the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

(From Figs by D.H. Lawrence)

Figs are mysterious. A black teardrop with a dirty secret. Little orbs with a musty aroma and a strange but lovely flavor. They are the sex bomb of the fruit world. They also happen to be my secret weapon when I have a summer party.

We used to live in a house with a big fig tree. Our first year there, I was so excited to see the little green nubs appear early in the spring and watch them grow for many months until, around the end of July, the tree exploded with black, heavy, ripe fruit. In the span of a few days I had dozens of figs in the kitchen and I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Even though I loved cooking and baking, I had never eaten a raw fig. I was intimidated, but excited to
fig-ure it out. (See what I did there?)

Fig Hash 2One day, Kirsten and a few other friends were coming over for a late afternoon hang out. I was going to cut up a few figs and put them on a cheese platter, but there were so many of them. I ended up quartering a bunch of those little beauties, putting them on a plate, crumbling blue cheese on top, drizzling honey over and topping them with some chopped pistachios. Fig hash was born! It was a huge hit. People would invite me over and then sheepishly ask if I could bring fig hash. Or, when I had friends over and the fig hash came out they would say, “Ohhh, we were hoping you were making that!” When we moved, we passed the recipe on to the new owners as sort of a legacy.

Fig Hash 3A platter of fig hash is not a dainty plate of crudité. It’s more like a gorgeous, sexy mess of sticky deliciousness. You could pass appetizer plates and forks and dish it up, but we normally open a bottle of rosé or sauvignon blanc, sit outside and dig in with our hands like savages.

When we moved into our new house a year ago, one of the first things we did was plant a fig tree. Just a few days ago, we got our first ripe fig. I could eat it in the proper way, splitting it in four, delicately tasting its glittering, rosy honey. But I think I will put my mouth on the crack and take out the flesh in one bite, the vulgar way.


FIG HASH

2 baskets of fresh figs (green or black, about 12-15 figs)
3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
Honey (about 2 TBSP)
2 TBSP roasted unsalted pistachios, chopped

Quarter the figs and put them on a platter. Sprinkle the blue cheese over the figs, drizzle with honey and top with the pistachios. Eat properly or vulgarly – your choice.

MMMPop

Author: Kirsti Kay, Food, Food & Drink, Pop Culture, Snacks

If there is a zombie apocalypse, my office is the place to be. I am a snack hoarder. There, I said it. You want salty? I got it. You want sweet? Well, please let me know if you prefer dark chocolate, milk chocolate, gummy, minty or caramel. I have fruit—fresh and dried. I have nuts—raw and roasted. I also have enough bottled water for a week and even a bottle of wine. The problem is, I never want to eat my own snacks. If my co-worker Jenny is eating some Cheez-Its, I must buy some too, and then they sit in my drawer until Jenny comes in and asks if I have any Cheez-Its.

MMMPop 1A few weeks ago, I did a Costco run during my lunch break. I get very giddy at Costco—so many snack choices for my drawer! On this day, one of the free sample ladies was giving out tiny paper cups filled with Skinny Pop popcorn. I smiled and continued down the aisle. I love popcorn, but have never liked packaged popcorn. I like my popcorn cooked in oil on the stove with lots of melted butter. When I came back up the aisle, the free sample lady looked so pleadingly at me, her hair net askew. I felt bad for her, so I took the tiny cup, and thus my obsession began.

I’ve never been a fan of anything labeled “skinny.” It is usually code for gross. This product, however, is a revelation! A snack fantasy! Total deliciousness in popped form! It is also:

  • cholesterol free
  • zero trans fat
  • preservative free
  • dairy free
  • peanut free
  • gluten free
  • non GMO

and only 39 calories per cup, so “guilt free” can also be added to that list! The only ingredients are: popcorn, sunflower oil and salt. The salt-to-popcorn ratio is absolutely perfect and the popcorn itself is fluffy and light and completely addictive. It is actually a snack I look forward to every day. It takes the edge off and stops me from eating a handful of peanut M&M’s. The fact that it’s also healthy is almost superfluous, so tasty is this snack!

The biggest test of all was my husband, Aaron. I brought some home and told him it was called Skinny Pop. He looked dubiously at the bowl. We turned on Game of Thrones and soon he was shoving handfuls into his mouth. He commented that the butter and salt were perfectly proportioned and was incredulous when I told him there was no butter. I got wrapped up in the fate of Jon Snow, and when I went to reach for some popcorn, the bowl was empty. A sheepish Aaron said, “This popcorn is my sun and stars.” I couldn’t agree more.

MMMPop 2

Skinny Pop popcorn is available in 4 flavors: Original (which is what I tried), Black Pepper, White Cheddar, and Naturally Sweet.

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Skinny Pop

 

Skinny Pop is available at Costco, Whole Foods, Target and many grocery stores.