Sunday, March 20, 2011

coconut oil popcorn

Ginger here. You may think, given the color of my hair, that I am a fiery person--impatient, temperamental, given to sudden outbursts, perhaps even reckless at times. That's very stereotypical, you know.

It's also true. Well done.

I get fired up about things. That's how I like to think of it anyway. Those who have spent time around me while driving in traffic or after tickets to the Adele concert sell out in one hour might have other ideas. Whatevs. I'm going to put a positive spin on it. There are certain things that just get me going. Such as:  acoustic guitar, ultimate frisbee, ice cream, and my sketchbook. That is just a short list, of course, but you just need to know that if something is really awesome, I am apt to get unreasonably excited about it.

In the world of food, one of these especially terrific things happens to be butter. Yes. I love butter. It's true. Paula Deen might be a little nuts, but she's sure got one thing right--butter is where it's at. Fat = flavor, and butter is king. That's why the best cookies, cupcakes, scones and biscuits are made with it. Think of all the things it's good for: cookies, mashed potatoes, and pie crust, spread on fresh bread, slathered on pancakes....the list goes on and on and ON. Mmmmm....butter is definitely something to get excited about

I'm going to go all sciencey-nutrition-student on you now, as you're thinking, "Well! Butter is surely terrible for me--only meant to be had in instances of indulgence or emotional weakness--it will most surely make me fat and immediately give me heart disease!" False, people, FALSE! Butter (along with the other healthy fats) is, contrary to what you might think, not where the problem is. Our bodies NEED good fats for so many essential processes--think about fat-soluble vitamins, for example. They're pretty important for many things, and if we didn't consume fat in our diet, we would be virtually unable to utilize them. Fats also help to aid in digestion--especially grains and protein. Yes, that butter on your bread actually facilitates more efficient digestion and nutrient absorption. The fat that is marbled in meat does the same thing, helping to aid in protein breakdown and uptake, and helping us to efficiently use those vitamins. Doesn't fat make us fat, though? You're still thinking this. Well, the short answer is no. The longer, more scientific, sure-to-bore-you answer has to do with how different types of fat (i.e. saturated vs. monounsaturated vs. polyunsaturated, etc.) are metabolized differently by the body, and the kinds of fat you have in your diet can make a difference...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

Oh no, I've put you to sleep--so sorry, I'll stop now (even thought I could go on and on...).

SO, back to butter! Well, it is delightful, and our ancestors ate it for years without any trouble with heart disease/diabetes, etc, so it seems  logical that things should work out the same for us in this day and age, right? That's what I think. Now that I have sufficiently raved about butter, I am going to introduce you to another of my favorite fats--and one that is incredibly healthy (woot!)--coconut oil. This stuff is pretty great, if you ask me--I've actually thought so for quite some time now. Apparently others are starting to figure it out as well, even in the world of mainstream headlines--I was SO excited when I saw this article in the New York Times about the health benefits of coconut oil. It's about time, I'd say! You should read it, I think you might find it interesting. Hooray for good fats!

Since coconut oil is a saturated fat, is it very stable, which means it can be used for cooking at high temperatures (sauteeing, roasting, etc.), without breaking down (when fats break down, they become scary, both from a taste and nutrition standpoint). It works very well in baking, too--it's really quite versatile. Coconut oil also gives things a fabulous flavor, if you use the extra-virgin stuff, although you can find oil that has been expeller-pressed to remove the flavor, if you aren't a fan of coconutty things.

This brings me to the part of this post where I will attempt to tie everything together for you, and provide a reason for all that you've read thus far. Finally, I know. Just to recap, I can get unreasonably excited about things, butter is awesome, and coconut oil is also quite fabulous. One of my favorite foods in the world happens to have to do with all of these things--excitement (I LOVE it), coconut oil, and butter. It is popcorn.

I. Love. Popcorn.

Not just any popcorn, mind you. My dad's popcorn.

dad's popcorn
I suppose I am a bit of a popcorn snob, actually. Okay, I'm probably a terrible popcorn snob--no microwave popcorn, no movie theater popcorn, no concession stand popcorn--all unsatisfactory, and unworthy of my consumption. Could this popcorn that I speak of really be that much better than any other popcorn? Uh, yes. Why else would I be raving about it so? It's not even complicated--or expensive. It only involves four ingredients:  popcorn, coconut oil, butter, and salt. You also need to have access to a large pan with a lid and a stove, or, if you're really serious about making good popcorn, you can get one of those fancy oil popcorn makers (not the air popper kind! this is important!) like this:

Yeah, I'm an enthusiast, what can I say. My parents, knowing my love for popcorn, got me one of these to take to college when I graduate from high school. I think my dad said something along the lines of "now you can make popcorn for your friends, and show them what the good stuff tastes like." It is still going, and is probably one of my most beloved kitchen belongings. I've made dad's popcorn for lots of people in the last five years, and made believers out of all of them (you know who you are). It's some good stuff. Spoon is the latest convert to the world of coconut oil-made-popcorn, and I think I can safely say she's a big fan. We have been known to polish off a giant bowl of popcorn in the first 15 minutes of a movie without flinching. So good!

How is it made, exactly? Well, simple. There's no real recipe, just ingredients and amounts to suit your tastes. There are some requirements, however. First of all, YOU MUST use coconut oil, or it simply won't be awesome. Second, you must use REAL, salted butter. Nothing else will do. That's all. So here's the method:

If you're using a pot, place it on the stove over medium-high heat and add/melt enough coconut oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is melted, add enough popcorn kernels to cover the bottom, and put the lid on. As soon as you hear the first kernel pop, start shaking the pan back and forth on the heat (please, whatever you do, don't take the cover off to try to watch the popping--this will end badly, trust me. When the popcorn starts flying all over the kitchen and the stove, the pieces that land on the burner will start on fire. I have experience, right Alyssa?). When the popping starts to slow/stop, take the pan off the heat and pour your popcorn into a large bowl, preferably a brightly-colored one, which will make the experience that much more exciting.

popcorn with the fancy popcorn maker
Alternatively, if you have a "fancy" popcorn maker, you plug it in and again melt enough coconut oil on the heating surface to evenly coat it. Add a handful of popcorn kernels, put the top on, and sit back to watch the magic that is popcorn popping (if you really need to see things happening, you need one of these). Simple. Put your popcorn in a big bowl.
Regardless of the method you use to pop your popcorn, the next steps are the same. Melt a few tablespoons of butter and drizzle it over the popcorn. Shake some salt over the top, and mix it well, so the butter and salt are distributed evenly.

 Taste, to make sure you don't need another tablespoon of butter or a bit more salt. When it meets your approval, devour immediately (although it is also admittedly quite good for breakfast the next day, if you can't manage to finish it all right away). Mmmmm. I love popcorn. Thanks dad.


p.s.  Heh. I couldn't resist. You know you like it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

fast pizza. and crepes.

So many blog-worthy things were seen, eaten, said, and laughed about this past weekend (like unfortunate things that can happen in conjunction with sneezing) that I think I am going to need to make more than one post.

Sucks to be you guys.

(Yes, YOU, our 3 faithful readers).

Why does it suck to be you? YOU have to keep following our blog because you have unknowingly become addicted to reading about food and cats. Which is embarrassing in itself. How do you explain something like that to your friends?

"Oh, sorry I didn't call you back last night, I was busy reading a blog about cooking and a cat named Pi who drinks from a waterfall!!!"


(By the way, I would probably be really excited and demand the URL, but I can assure you this would not be a common reaction).

Best to keep this to yourself.

Unless you hang out with people like us. Then, by all means, feel free to spread the joy. We would like to have 4 readers by the end of the year. If there are still only 3 of you, then Pi and I are going on strike.

So there.

And now it is time to get down to business. The likelihood that I am going to pack this one post chock full of food and useless information in an effort to not have to follow up with an additional post is about 98%. Ready?

Of pizza, crepes, and cats
By: Spoon

I'm sure you all know that feeling you get after a really long day of work/school/youtube video watching. That feeling like the last thing you could imagine doing is putting effort into making something to eat (and doing the resulting dishes). You wander the kitchen with a sad face, alternating between opening and closing the cupboards and fridge and sighing dramatically. This is the moment where you wish you still lived with your mom, because she would probably take pity on you and make you something tasty. Instead, your roommate tells you to stop letting all of the cold air out of the fridge and to eat a bowl of her 5-day-old chicken curry and to be happy.


So, what do you crave when you're super hungry, extremely tired, and exceptionally lazy?

Pizza, of course.

The easiest way to conjure up a pizza for yourself usually involves either the freezer or the phone. I will admit my version takes a little bit more effort, but I can promise you that it is likely more satisfying, and if you plan things right, you can get away with having only one utensil to wash. Impressive, huh?

It would be selfish of me to take all the credit for this idea, as it was Ginger who originally got me started on this. But, I will take the credit for making it most often, because really, honestly, I probably eat this at least once a week. Ginger eats it probably once a month, but she is more cultured than I am.

Which she should be, because in the coming years, one of us is more likely than the other to spend a large amount of time with our arm up a horse's butt, but I won't say who.

Need a hint?

Crispy Tortilla Pizza
By: Spoon

Preheat the oven to about 350 degrees. If you want your pizza done faster, turn the temp up, but I have found 350 to be perfect in order to get the right amount of crispiness. Make sure you have a rack in the middle of the oven. I recommend doing this before preheating.

Place a flour tortilla on a paper towel (we're going for the least amount of dirty dishes, remember), and slather it with whatever tomato based product you can find in your fridge. Except ketchup. We're going for sauce here, so you can use anything from spaghetti sauce, to actual pizza sauce, to those cans of stuff you can get at the grocery store that just say "sauce" on them. I usually end up using spaghetti sauce, because there is usually a partially used jar in the fridge. Nobody ever uses an entire jar of spaghetti sauce.

After putting the sauce on your tortilla, add whatever toppings you want. I alternate between three different pizzas, but I'm lame like that. Get creative. Fridge dive. Hide something you don't like under a bunch of cheese to see if you can get yourself to pretend to like it.

Here are my three alternates:

1) Three cheese and basil: Parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese with some chopped, fresh basil if available.
2) Canadian bacon and mushroom: Self explanatory.
3) Some crazy greek based concoction: I saute mushrooms, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives in a little bit of olive oil. Believe it or not these are all ingredients that I have acquired from other recipes, so it's not like I went out and bought them with the intention of using them for tortilla pizzas. That is breaking the rules of tortilla pizza making. Tortilla pizzas are not intentional. The just happen. Embrace it. Anyway, I saute all of that stuff, plop it on the sauce, and then top it with feta and mozzarella. Tasty.

After you get your toppings all together, throw them on the sauce topped tortilla and then mound with cheese. Make sure to keep everything at least a half inch from the edge of the tortilla so as to prevent meltage and burnage.

Finally, bake it. Open the oven, grab opposite edges of the tortilla (I usually go with the 9:00 and 3:00 positions), and run as fast as you can to the oven before your tortilla decides to fall apart. Place the tortilla directly on the rack, so the bottom has a chance to get crispy. I can't tell you how long I bake mine for, as it is different depending on the ingredients and how "done" you like your pizza. I usually go sit down and forget about it until Ginger tells me my pizza is done. Works pretty well.

I think it takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Let's leave it at that. You'll figure it out.

When the pizza is cooked to your liking, slide it off the oven rack directly onto a cutting board, let it sit for several minutes, then cut and snarf. Pretty easy, huh?

So, as indicated by the title of this post, I also want to mention crepes. By mention, I mean talk about their endless possibilities as far as fillings. We made a double batch of crepes this past Sunday, and have been eating them all week. For anyone who doesn't know what a crepe is, get your butt to the MN State Fair this fall and visit La Creperie. I'll leave it at that.

I can't leave it at that. Crepes are delicious flat little egg-y pancake things that can be filled with so much deliciousness it will blow you away.

By: Spoon

Hey, an actual recipe! Don't get excited. You won't see from me too often.

1 egg
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt

That's it! Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, blending as flour is added so you avoid clumps. You could use a food processor, but we all know that I'm all about using as few dishes as possible.

Heat a medium sized pan for a couple of minutes, then use a pastry brush to put a thin coating of oil down in the pan. The pan is hot enough when drops of water sizzle instantly. Pour in enough batter to make a thin coating over the bottom of the pan (1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter), tilting the pan to evenly distribute the batter. The crepe should be very thin. Cook until set (about 30 seconds or so), then flip and cook on the other side for about 5-10 seconds. Toss the cooked crepe out onto a plate, then cook another, and keep tossing them onto the plate. They don't stick together, which is awesome. I usually re-oil the pan after every third crepe.

So, after you have your pile of crepes on a plate, what do you do with them?

You fill them.

Here is what we have tried so far, but know there are infinite possibilities. Sweet and savory things fill crepes equally well, it just depends on what you're craving.

1) Butter and cinnamon sugar
2) Eggs, cheese, and spinach
3) Baked squash, goat cheese, and arugula
4) Vanilla ice cream and homemade berry sauce
5) Fresh sliced banana, cream cheese (mentioned below), oats, cinnamon, and honey
6) My personal favorite: Homemade berry sauce and cream cheese (but not just any cream cheese). We used some awesome cream cheese we found at Seward Co-op and combined it with almond extract, powdered sugar, cream, and a touch of honey. SO good.

I'm getting really excited for asparagus season, so I have an idea for a slivered almond, mushroom, swiss cheese, asparagus combo. I'll get back to you on that.

The third (and final, breathe a sigh of relief!) part of this post is completely dedicated to cats.

Actually, pretty much just cat videos that never fail to amuse us. For those of you without cats in your life, you are missing out. Pi makes us laugh at least 42 times per day, and that's when she's slacking. She going to be embarrassed that I'm telling you all this, but she jumped into a glass door last night while playing with one of her toys. She's fine, but she definitely didn't appreciate being laughed at.

So here are some videos that I feel encompass all that is cat.

Ready to be entertained? Good.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

chocolate coconut walnut cookies

the cookies! scroll to the bottom if you'd prefer to bypass my ranting and read about them!
Living in an apartment building is an interesting experience, for various reasons. Also, it seems to be something that most of us deal with, at some point, so I think that you will be able to relate. Whether it is right after we leave home for the first time (I think dorm living qualifies as apartment-like living, right?), after college when we are still too restless to commit to one spot for long, or at any point that buying a house requires more money or responsibility than we are willing to devote. The three of us (ginger, spoon, and pi) currently fall somewhere between the second and third situations I have described--early twenties, uninhibited, impulsive, and generally trying to figure out life. Apartment living suits us perfectly, I would say. However, nice as it may seem to not be responsible for shoveling the driveway or mowing the lawn, living in a building with a bunch of other random people does not come without some interesting consequences.

First of all, in most places, it costs an arm and a leg to do laundry. Everyone who has ever lived somewhere where the laundry machine runs on quarters knows what it is like to go as long as possible between loads.

This may manifest itself in various ways, such as the re-wearing of any clothes whose cleanliness has been found to at least surpass a certain level (smells decent, no overly visible spots, etc.). People in this situation may also be found to become unreasonably upset when they are spilled on or otherwise gotten dirty--especially when it's on jeans (which almost never have to be washed, if successfully maintained). For me, my limiting factor is definitely underwear. Yes, I said it--it's true. I can go through clothes and clothes without doing laundry, but as soon as I'm out of underwear, I have no choice. I am forced to either pay up (in quarters, which I never seem to have enough of), or go home. I'm 22 and I still bring my laundry's free, okay? This is probably worse--I have actually attempted to prolong my time between doing laundry by going out and buying more underwear...only to realize that it would have been cheaper to just do my laundry. It must have been something about the amount of quarters it takes that made it seem like the better financial decision at the time. Ranting aside, quarter-eating washers are something I certainly will not miss when I either live in a house or have a place with laundry.

Secondly, landlords can be interesting. As can "caretakers"/"building managers," as we have found. Our landlord has been in our apartment exactly once. I have never actually met her, so the fact that she does in fact exist is something I believe simply because spoon has told me that it is true. She is mostly unresponsive to questions/e-mails, especially when they are in regards to our dishwasher which has not worked since we moved in (man, we could use that thing), or the second air conditioning unit that was supposed to be fixed last August. I have mostly given up on her, but will continue to grumble about having to do dishes by hand most certainly until I move out. Our "building managers" as they call themselves are also rather curious. They live in the building as tenants and are in charge of those jobs such as mowing of the lawn, vacuuming the hallways, and fixing things that need fixing. We don't usually see or hear from any of them except when it snows and they come around banging on our doors trying to figure out whose cars are still parked in the lot, or when we see their son mowing the lawn in his Joe Mauer jersey (so far the only shirt we have ever seen him wear). Anyway, they're interesting to deal with, to say the least.

Finally, for now, when you live in an apartment, you are there with a random assortment of other people, as I mentioned. Often, you have pretty much nothing to do with each other, and it may even feel rather awkward every time you see another tenant in the hallway or parking lot. The other thing about your neighbors, of course, is that you don't get to choose them. So, if you're stuck living next to people who constantly burn popcorn, or play Dance Dance Revolution at all hours of the night, you pretty much just have to deal with it. Walls in these places are notoriously thin, and even if it's not ideal, you often get to hear what's going on in the next room. For us, rather, we get to hear what's going on directly above us. And it never stops. By the way it sounds when our upstairs neighbors (affectionately known as "the elephants") walk from room to room, they must weigh about 300 lbs each.

They also like to jump off furniture, drop things, play ridiculously loud video games, and yell at each other such that we can hear every word (funny, I just heard the girl yelling about something, how ironic). At all hours of the day. And night. We've decided that this guy and girl who live above us do not have jobs. Nor do they sleep. Not ideal for us, who rather enjoy sleep, and being able to concentrate on things. Sometime, some night when they are being especially ridiculous (tag around the apartment, perhaps?) we are going to run up the stairs ring their doorbell, and run away as fast as we can. We are going to ding-dong-ditch these people. That will teach them! Well, maybe not, but at least we can say we got back at the elephants at least once. Mark my words. It's going to happen. Ah, apartment living....

Okay, okay, sorry about that, I have a cookie recipe to share as well. This is the good stuff. Spoon wanted to call them Elephant cookies, after our lovely neighbors, but I wasn't so sure. So I'll just call them what they are--which is a lot of things, so be prepared. These cookies have all manner of wonderful rolled up in them, and are quite delicious, if I do say so myself. These cookies contain some decently healthy ingredients, so you are allowed to eat more, not that you'd be able to help it anyway--I put dark chocolate, coconut, oats, and walnuts together--oh, and a little bit of peanut butter too, and mmmyes. Very good. Like chewy and crispy at the same time, with enough going on to keep things interesting (one wouldn't want to get bored while eating a cookie, now would she?), but not so much that you become overwhelmed and forget what you thought you were eating in the first place (a cookie!). I think these would also make delicious ice cream sandwiches...just saying :)

Chocolate-Coconut-Walnut Cookies
(with oats and peanut butter, but that makes the name too long)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½  tsp baking powder
1½  tsp baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup peanut butter
¾  cups granulated sugar
¾  cups packed light brown sugar
2  eggs
½  tablespoon vanilla
1 ½  cups semisweet (or darker..) chocolate chips
1 ½  cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, flaked (or shredded) coconut
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or line with a silicone baking mat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in peanut butter until well combined. Gradually beat in the sugars and continue to beat until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. With a wooden spoon or large rubber spatula stir in the chocolate chips, oats, coconut and walnuts—this might be kind of tough, but use your muscles!

For each cookie, drop spoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheets and use your hand to press them down slightly. Bake until the edges are set but the middles still look light and puffy, about 10 minutes—make sure you don’t overbake them! Enjoy!

 mmmmm nomnomnom