Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Best of Both Popcorn Worlds

She was in the mood for popcorn. I was, well, not so much. I make perfectly good popcorn, but dinner had been plenty salty and I was thinking something sweet was a better idea. I thought about s’mores—but since we had neither marshmallows nor graham crackers, that was a non-starter.

Yes, I make perfectly good marshmallows. But not instantaneously. (Also, I’m not sure we have gelatin.) And, yes, I should probably look up a graham cracker recipe (or at least add graham crackers to the shopping list), but that’s still not going to help now.

But we do have plenty of chocolate. What would happen if I added chocolate chips to a bowl of hot popcorn? (Probably nothing much, I decided. I Googled. I got an idea. I got out the Dutch oven.

Fifteen minutes later I put the pot between us on the coffee table.

“Write it down,” she said forcefully. “In exact detail.”

Peanut Butter Cup Popcorn

Put 3 Tbsp oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. (Peanut oil is best, but we were out; I used canola and kept a close eye on the pot.)

Add 3 popcorn kernels to the pot and put the lid on, slightly ajar.

Meanwhile, add to a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup:

3 oz. peanut butter
4 oz. good quality chocolate
1 Tbsp butter

Heat, stirring every 30 seconds, until all the chocolate is melted. Stir to combine.When the third kernel pops, remove the pot from the heat and add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels. Put the lid on the pot and wait for 30 seconds.

Put the pot back on the heat, with the lid ajar. Shake the pot now and again so nothing sticks or burns. When the popping slows to once every 2 or 3 seconds, remove from heat and carefully remove the lid.

Pour the chocolate-peanut butter mixture over the hot popcorn (which is still in the hot pan) and stir until all the popcorn is coated. Add a bit of salt as desired (depending, mostly, on how salty the peanut butter is).

Serve, along with napkins. This stuff is sticky and messy and wonderful.

Here’s where it gets tricky. She said to write it down in exact detail. I used half of a Godiva Masterpieces Milk Chocolate Caramel Lion of Belgium Bar (1.5 oz) and half of a Theo Dark Chocolate Coconut bar (1.5 oz). But that’s what I used because that’s what I had at hand—both bars were already opened; the caramel bar had been in our shared Easter basket, and the chocolate-coconut bar had been left over from a batch of brownies she made a week or so ago. I think the caramel in the Godiva bar was useful in making the chocolate sauce more gooey-licious, but I would have happily used chocolate chips instead if neither bar had been opened.It was not too salty, it was not too sweet; it was crunchy and gooey. It was sort of the best of both popcorn worlds. We’ll definitely try it again.

By the way, here’s the way I usually make perfectly good popcorn.

Perfectly Good Popcorn

Follow the popping instructions as above.

While the oil is heating, combine

2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Toss the hot popcorn with 3 Tbsp melted butter, then add the spice mixture; stir to combine.

 

You Can Only Stretch So Far

She misses burritos more than almost anything. I mean, obviously not more than the freedom to be outdoors, and the feeling that it is safe to go to the market, but quite a lot.

So okay. We have everything we need for burritos: chicken, veg, spices, cheese, sour cream, a bit of not-too-wilted cilantro, even the last of a container of guacamole. But not tortillas. There’s a market within an easy walk that I’m sure has them in stock, this is not the time to just make a quick run to pick up one thing.

I am resourceful. If I can make tater tots, I should be able to make tortillas. Not as well as a commercial bakery, but well enough. Flour, water, salt, shortening—these we have. I mixed up the dough and let it rest in a covered bowl on the counter during my afternoon of teaching.

She came downstairs after her long day, beat. “Would you like a burrito for dinner?” “YES!—but no,” she said; no restaurant trips for us yet. I showed her the bowl. “You’re making tortillas!” It was like I could spin straw into gold.

I sautéed strips of onion and pepper, then the strips of chicken, and got them all toasty with cumin and paprika and just a little heat from chili powder, and sauced just a little from some tomato paste and a bit of water stirred in just before everything was cooked through. That was the easy part.

I portioned the dough, heated the pan, got out the rolling pin. Try as I might, I just could not get the dough rolled thin and wide enough to bake something that would wrap appropriately into the snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug shape of a proper burrito. I was frustrated, but the toasty not-quite-flatbreads that were coming off the hot pan smelled amazing.

“Soft tacos, then,” she said with commendable adaptability.

Soft tacos it was, then. The best soft tacos ever? Maybe not. But certainly the best ones I’ve ever made. Surely not the best tortillas, but definitely the freshest we’ve ever had. I may put tortillas on the grocery list; I may poke around on-line to see if I can find an instructional video with tips on how to get homemade ones thinner; I may say burritos are something we’ll wait for until we feel like visiting restaurants again. As for homemade tortilla dough, it may be that, like a budget or a frisky kitten’s patience–“Play with me now, Papa!”–some things can only stretch so far.

Thankfully, and well fed, we haven’t yet reached the breaking point.

Close Calls and Grits

You know those signs they hang in factories–“X days without an accident”? Well, I nearly needed to reset the one in the kitchen to 0.

I had defrosted some shrimp for dinner. “Are we going to have shrimp and grits?” she asked hopefully. I hadn’t gotten that far in my planning, but it sounded good to me.

I looked up the recipe (I know, right? I looked up a recipe!), I gathered the vegetables, I got the grits from the pantry, I started a skillet heating; I was ready. I got out a saucepan to make some quick stock from the shrimp shells–and then I realized that the beautiful shrimp had no shells. They had tails, but those really weren’t enough to flavor a stock.

Okay; I checked the freezer inventory. “Chicken stock, 1 qt jar.” Excellent. I’ll add the tails to the stock; that’ll do the trick. I diced and sautéed the vegetables while the stock defrosted in the microwave. I toasted the grits in a little butter.

Wow, that’s really thick stock, I thought. And it’s kinda lumpy. Was it gravy we’d mistaken for stock? Was there something wrong with it? I gave it a taste.

Mashed bananas.

Clearly the jar was mislabeled.

Good thing I didn’t just dump it into the pan with the toasted grits. I boiled some water for the grits, salted it liberally and laid the shrimp shells on top before lidding the saucepan. The cooked grits got a little more butter, and plenty of shredded cheese; if they weren’t quite as tasty as I’d hoped they were certainly fine. And the shrimp gravy had a little more tomato than usual to account for the stock I couldn’t add to it. Not perfect, but not bad.

I wrote a comic sketch for an industrial show some years ago–at the client’s request–making fun of the corporate language distinguishing between the words “incident” and “accident,” and how the phrase “near miss” seems to indicate that there was, in fact, a collision of some sort. That script was lost several moves ago, but the intention was to riff on the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine. I’m sure my sketch wan’t as funny as theirs, but it was certainly better than shrimp and grits and mashed bananas.

Happy-as-Possible Meal

“Oh, and I also vacuum-sealed the Dino-Bites,” I said when she came down to collect kitchen towels for the next load of laundry.

“The what?”

“Dino-bites. Little dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Organic chicken. The kids left them.”

(“The kids” was what we’d taken to call the pair of my beloved former students who’d been our house-and-cat sitters while we were away. Upon our earlier-than-expected return home, and the news that the university wasn’t going to re-open for on-campus classes, they had decided to decamp to stay with relatives in Florida. They’d bought groceries while they were here, and I guess hadn’t had room for the Dino-Bites in their cooler for the trip to Florida.)

“Dino-Bites,” she said, amused.

“Organic Dino-Bites,” I clarified, and she went back to the laundry.


Fast-forward a couple of weeks, to my first-day of on-line teaching, which had also included a two-hour on-line writing workshop and a bunch of other projects that involved staring at the screens in my office, not least of which was getting the tech working properly so I could do all this remote stuff; while, upstairs in her office she was dealing with work problems of her own. We were both in a mood, is what I’m trying to say. It was the sort of day when we’d have stopped at the burrito place for take-out on the way home; or, if she’d been on her own for dinner she would have visited the drive-through for some chicken nuggets and fries. Because however much meal planning you do and how careful you are about choosing only the best, sometimes you have to do that. It was definitely that sort of day, but we weren’t going out yet, not even to pick up something quick.

“Go take a shower,” I said. “I have a plan.”

She came back a while later, with damp hair and fresh jammies, and I presented dinner. Some vegetables, sure–we’re grown-ups most of the time–along with a pile of French fries and some dinosaur-shaped organic chicken nuggets.

Dinnerasaurus Rex

Closest thing to a Happy Meal I could provide. Some days close is good enough.