Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Foodie Fare by Brian Rounds

As a foodie, I pride myself in my opinion of food.  As a child, my grandmother and mother taught me how to cook. They taught me what lies beyond the recipe – the real art of cooking. My grandmother never measured a thing; everything was done by sight and feel.  This is true cooking. This is the art of cooking.  Her lack of measurement snuck up and bit our family in the behind after she passed away.  A year prior to her passing, my father sat with her and coaxed her recipes out of her.  Sufficed to say, it was a darn good thing I was paying attention all those years that I helped her in the kitchen.  When she was relaying her recipe for her mocha fudge frosting (a family favorite), she left out the chocolate.  She explained to my father how to make her meatballs; she forgot to tell him to add ground beef.  I guess for an 86 year old woman, remembering that she made meatballs was a feat all in itself, right? My mother was always astonished at my ability to crack open the pantry and make something delicious with no recipe to speak of, and no plan. 

Enough about me, let’s talk food. When I say food this week, I mean popcorn.  I think mankind has suffered a great deal at the mercy of popcorn.  As I explained to a friend a few days back, popping popcorn has become a lost art.  I can pretty much assume that everyone is thinking I’m crazy.  Ripping open the plastic wrapper on a microwave popcorn bag is not art – no way.  I’m talking a huge pan on the top of the stove filled with big fluffy puffs of freshly popped corn awaiting a splash or two of butter and a sprinkle of salt. So simple. So delicious. So incredibly lost.

As a child, my most cherished family memories are of my parents and brothers on movie night.  This was back when ABC aired the Magical World of Disney every Sunday night.  My father would take out the big pasta pot and cover the bottom with canola oil and popcorn kernels. He then placed the lid on it and waited patiently. On the burner next to that he had a small sauce pan with butter melting in it, and close by on the counter, the salt shaker. When the first “pop” came, he started shaking that pan furiously to prevent the puffs of corn inside from burning.  The smell at this point was heavenly and it permeated the entire kitchen and living room. 

When the popping would slow, he would take the cover off the pan and steam would billow forth and a kernel or two would pop itself out of the pan.  If I was quick enough, I could grab the stray kernel and pop it into my mouth (pun intended).  Even without butter and salt that popcorn was amazing.  He would dump the pan’s contents into a huge metal bowl, drizzle the butter in big circles over the corn and toss it vigorously just like Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay would with one of their delectable sautés.  My father would then sprinkle the entire bowl with salt and dole it out into smaller bowls for everyone to have some. We would each get a paper towel, a glass of soda, and find a spot in the living room just as the movie was starting.

Where did the art of popcorn popping disappear to?  Why are we so gaga over processed, chemical laden bags of instant popcorn that crunches like Styrofoam? Sure, it’s convenient – it’s fast, and doesn’t leave a mess behind.  I have only had one microwavable popcorn that even comes a distant close and I decided to count the ingredients in that compared to the ingredients in my father’s recipe for popcorn. Please keep in mind that I typically use only the purest of products (If I use butter, it is real butter, no fillers, no preservatives other than salt).  The microwavable popcorn has 10 ingredients that include preservatives and artificial flavors and colors. The homemade, real, popcorn has 4 – dried corn, canola oil, butter, and salt. Even if you don’t care about what you are eating, let’s talk taste! The taste is incomparable and the texture is far superior in the homemade popcorn.  I urge you to take the time to rediscover the true art to popping popcorn. In my house, I have a pan with the sole purpose of popping popcorn – nothing else touches that pan other than the hot water used to clean it – not even soap.  There is a machine available at Wal-Mart in Windham for $40 that stirs the popcorn for you so you don’t have to shake it. Take a step in the better, healthier, direction – pop real popcorn. 

2 Tbs. Canola, Corn, or Vegetable Oil (To make it even healthier, substitute Olive Oil) 2/3 Cup Popcorn kernels ½ Butter Salt In the bottom of a deep pasta pot (at least 8” deep, but not deeper than

10”) pour oil and popcorn and shake to coat the bottom. Cover.  Melt butter in microwave or on stove top.  When it starts to pop, shake the pan without letting it come off the burner completely. When the popping slows, remove from heat and open the cover. Pour popcorn into a large bowl and drizzle with butter and sprinkle with salt to taste. Enjoy. 

Other things you can do with popcorn:
As it starts to pop sprinkle into the pan garlic and onion powder (about ½ tsp each). Another spice you can add is chili powder. The possibilities are endless! If you like your popcorn sweet, you can drizzle maple syrup (we are Mainers and should only be using REAL maple syrup, but that’s another

column) over your buttery popcorn and enjoy – just have lots of napkins kicking around.

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