Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Homemade Popcorn, Milwaukee Style

So, I know what you may be thinking, or at least I was. A post on popcorn? Really? After much encouragement from a fellow popcorn aficionado, I succumbed to sharing my technique on homemade popcorn, which I've 'perfected' since moving to Milwaukee over 12 years ago. I have learned much about what makes the best bowl, and a lot of it was gleaned from various bars and movie theaters around town. There are a couple of common threads running through them all, one of which is the use of coconut oil - it is a must here. It doesn't have as high of a smoke point as it claims, yet it isn't necessary to get a ripping hot slick of oil in your pan to yield a great batch of popcorn. And plenty of popcorn salt is needed, and it should be added to the oil before you add a single kernel. This creates a perfectly seasoned batch, that sticks perfectly to each popped kernel.
The choice between white or yellow corn is entirely up to you. I prefer yellow, since I feel it has more flavor. Another option (though its not one in our home) is whether or not to add brewer's yeast. You'll find large shakers of the stuff at several theaters around town here, and if you find yourself wondering if you should shake some on your bag, do. You won't be disappointed. You may be a bit disheveled when you rise from your seat and see you're covered with a fine yellow powder (not dissimilar in appearance to pollen) all over your chest and lap. But its okay. At least around here, everyone knows why, and won't judge. Yes, brewer's yeast is very nutritious, packed with tons of B vitamins, but that isn't why you should try it. It gives a savory, slightly cheesy flavor to your popcorn that is not to be missed. It may not be for everyone, though the only person I know who has tried it and wasn't completely won over is my mother, and I think it's pretty much her only character flaw. I still adore her though. Happy Birthday, Mom!


1/3 cup yellow popcorn kernels; I prefer
   Orville Redenbacher's

heaping 2 Tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp popcorn salt - yes, you should go
   out and get popcorn salt. Table salt
   isn't fine enough. You may need more to taste if 
   you're adding yeast.

1 - 2 Tbsp mini flake nutritional yeast
   (brewer's yeast), or to taste

Place a medium size pot with lid over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and let it melt almost completely before adding the salt. Pour in the popcorn and jiggle pan to get an even layer of kernels. Do not cover the pan. Shake the pan every 20 seconds or so til you get a couple of popped kernels. Once this occurs, cover the pan with the lid but keep your hand on top to keep the lid ajar so the steam can escape. This ensures super crisp popcorn. Shake the pan continuously as it pops to encourage unpopped kernels to fall to the bottom, and hopefully pop. Keep shaking the pan over the heat, and as soon as the popping seems not as aggressive, turn the heat off. Continue shaking the pan over the hot burner till all popping has subsided and remove from heat. 

Empty the popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle over 1/4 of the yeast you plan on using and give it a gentle toss with your hands. What ever you do, don't toss the whole bowl of popcorn by flipping it around in the bowl, like you would flip a pancake in a pan without a spatula. This will only shake all the yeast to the bottom, and it won't be on your popcorn. I like to use a spritz of canola oil spray between each addition of yeast to make it stick a little better. Continue til all the yeast is used, tasting between each addition. Stop early if you like it on the lighter side, or keep going if you like it well coated with yeast, like myself. Serve immediately. Don't put the pot in the sink right away, because if you have more than 2 people enjoying it, you're probably going to have to make another batch.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

James Beard's Onion Tea Sandwiches

As far as tasty little tea sandwiches go, I've never come across one I didn't like. These are the first ones I've ever had though that made me stop in my tracks while I contemplated over the simplicity of them, and how it contrasted with what I actually tasted. Sharp, acrid raw onion paired with a robust herb? It completely works - the intensity of the onion is tamed by the fresh flat leaf parsley, and together they create a whole new taste. The creaminess of the mayo rounds everything out and adds just the right amount of richness a tea sandwich needs. The bread is important too - every day white sandwich bread will not do here. A simple loaf of french or italian 'peasant' bread works wonderfully - a little more chew than plain old white bread, yet not enough to make you really work at it like a ciabatta or baguette might. It's still a tea sandwich - you want it to go down easy. 

Which they will, especially during the holiday season when we're customarily bombarded with some relatively heavy appetizers/dishes. They're kind of a labor of love, so I'd save these for a small get together of specially chosen people that you have confidence in their enjoyment of these little beauties.
The following 'recipe' will yield a dozen, but I stopped at 6 here because 1.) I wasn't actually making them for a tea or cocktail party- just myself and 2.) although simple, they are a tad laborious. Plus I was starving and immediately after snapping a few shots I scarfed down 3 in about a minute. There is no need to make them circular, either. After doing about 4, I realized I could have simply made squares when removing the crusts and halved them diagonally for an equally appealing sandwich. Oh well. And don't worry about all the leftover bread scraps - if you have a food processor, simply toss them in and pulse till you get the consistency of bread crumbs you prefer, place in a freezer safe ziplock and they will keep in the deep freeze for about 1 month. Or, give them to your carb-ivore 2 year old who will relish a snack of just good bread.


1 loaf Italian or French 'peasant' style bread,
   preferably from a bakery so it is very fresh

~1 cup mayonnaise; homemade is best, but 
   store bought works just fine. Should really
   be full fat.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, rinsed very well and spun
   dry in salad spinner if you can, and chopped
   finely (no stems!)

1 large Vidalia, Wala Wala, Peruvian, or other
   sweet onion, peeled and sliced very thinly

coarse sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Slice your bread into ~1/2 inch slices, or get your bakery to do it when you purchase it. Using a sharp biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 24 circles out of the slices. If you get a round loaf, you'll get more out of each slice than one that was baked in a standard loaf pan. Set aside.

After rinsing and spinning dry the parsley, pick off most of the leaves, taking care not to discard any stems that aren't very thin and tender. Chop very finely and set aside. 

No need to measure out the mayo here - I just guesstimated as to how much would be needed to make 12. If you have a standard size jar that is at least halfway full, you should have plenty. 

Lightly spread mayo on the less attractive side of the bread on each piece before assembly. Add a few slices of onion, about 1/4 inch high, taking care not to allow any to hang over the edge. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently press the top round into the onion to 'adhere'. Using a small off set spatula (a butter knife would work too), spread a thin layer of mayo around the periphery of the sandwich, ensuring that the bread is well coated. Roll the sides in the parsley to coat well. You really want to pack it on here. Set onto a pretty serving plate, or whatever you plan on serving them on, and dig in. 

These can be made a day in advance and kept tightly covered with plastic wrap in the fridge. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving.

Recipe sort of, not really, adapted from James Beard.