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Crooked Kitchen

Turning pocket change into tasty meals.
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Chile Popcorn, Inspired by Rick Bayless

September 30, 2009 By: Matt Category: Food

spicedpopcorn Chile Popcorn, Inspired by Rick Bayless

When I made my chili, I ate some of the leftovers with toasted de arbol chiles. The great flavor of those chiles made me want more. I wanted to find a way to use the de arbol chiles as a snack, with a lot of the grassy, aromatic chile flavor. As they’re dried chiles, eating them on their own without cooking isn’t very pleasant – not to mention they’re pretty hot.

I’d been following Rick Bayless on Twitter (@Rick_Bayless) ever since his Top Chef Masters win, and though he claims to spend only 20 minutes a day Twittering, he’s very good at responding to questions. So I posed a question: what can I do with chiles de arbol to enjoy the flavor, aside from salsa? He responded with the recommendation to saute peanuts with garlic and chile pieces.

I’m not especially big on peanuts (though I did eventually try his idea), but I thought the idea of frying the chiles was a good one. The first thing I did was to stem and seed some de arbol chiles, and fry them in olive oil until they were darkened, then sprinkle with salt. They turned out crunchy and salty, and the heat was tamed a bit. The high notes of the chile flavor were mostly gone, however. It was more toasty than grassy. (If you want to understand what I mean by grassy, open up a packet of red pepper flakes from your nearest pizzeria and take a big whiff. That’s the flavor I’m going for.)

But whole chiles aren’t much of a snack. They’re so hot you can’t eat a lot, and they don’t have much substance. So I had an idea of my own: throw some de arbol pieces in with the popcorn in a stove-top batch. The de arbols will toast in the hot oil before the popcorn pops, and quickly spread their heat to the popcorn via the oil.

These days, people seem to think that the old-fashioned method is difficult and messy. It really isn’t. It’s just as fast as microwave popcorn, and not difficult at all. Rather than launch into a comparison of modern society to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I’ll just show you the process.

Stovetop Popcorn

  1. Start heating a heavy pan on medium heat. There’s a difference of opinion in whether to start all the ingredients cold, or add them to a preheated pan. I preheat my pan.
  2. Add oil to the pan. Use an oil with a high smoke point, like peanut, sunflower, or canola. Add enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add the popcorn kernels to the pan. 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels wil make about 5 cups of popped popcorn. Adjust the number of kernels for you pan size. Don’t worry about how much you want to eat – no matter how much I’ve made, I always end up mowing through it all.
  4. Add large flavor additions. At this point, if you prefer, add any large additions – dried chile pieces, garlic chips, nuts, whole spices. Do not add any ground spices or powders – they’ll burn way before the popcorn starts popping.
  5. Shake the pan, and partially cover. Shake the pan to coat the kernels with warm oil. Partially cover the pan – you want to prevent the popcorn from popping out all over the kitchen, but you don’t want to hold in the steam.
  6. Continue heating until the first pop. Keep the flame on medium, shaking every once in a while, until you hear the first pop. Then the real work begins.
  7. Shake well every 10 seconds. The idea is that the smaller, denser kernels will easily fall down between the popped kernels to rest on the hot pan bottom.
  8. When half the kernels have popped, drop the heat to just above low. You don’t want to continue to heat the oil, or it could start to smoke and break down, leading to acrid- or oily-tasting popcorn. Continue shaking every ten seconds.
  9. When the popping slows, remove from heat. With a space of two or three seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat. Keep it partially covered, as kernels will continue to pop from the heat of the pan. Wait until the popping has completely stopped.
  10. Pour the popcorn out and season it. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. While it’s hot, sprinkle on salt and any powdered seasonings you want to use. Toss the popcorn in the bowl and repeat sprinkling until it looks (and tastes!) the way you want it.

Hot Coffee: Feeding Your Own Bad Habits

September 18, 2009 By: Matt Category: Food, Money

I have a bad habit.

It’s a habit a lot of people have. A habit that drains money faster than cable TV. Faster than broadband internet.

My name is Matt, and I’m addicted to Starbucks. (Hiiii Maaaatt.) That’s right. I pay $2.65 every weekday morning for a large (fine, venti) iced coffee.

But now I’m trying to get off that habit. I’m going back to making my own coffee (which, I have to admit, tastes much better than Starbucks’). Today I’ll cover my method for making hot coffee. Later I’ll write about cold-brewing, which is good for both hot coffee and iced coffee.

coffeeinmug Hot Coffee: Feeding Your Own Bad Habits

Continue reading to learn about The Beans, The Grind, and The Brew and see my method for hot coffee »

Eating from the Pantry

August 23, 2009 By: Matt Category: Food, Money

Over on The Simple Dollar, Trent writes about Eating What You Have On Hand. He knows that eating at home saves a lot of money over eating out, but what do you do when you’re too tired/sick/lazy to really cook dinner?

Along the same lines, I’ve come to realize that I tend to snack on and eat whatever’s convenient. For lunch, I’ll usually eat leftovers because it’s easy – it’s sitting in the fridge and usually only requires a bit of pepper and a trip to the microwave. At snack time, I’ll look at the fruit bowl and flip open the refrigerator door and grab whatever’s quick and at hand.

So why not combine the two and really crunch your food budget?

By a lucky coincidence, many of the healthiest foods are also quite cheap in their raw form.

So what I decided to do is start cooking some healthy and very inexpensive staple foods once a week in bulk, store them in containers in the fridge, and utilize them all throughout the week in various dishes.

He suggests cooking a big batch of a staple – something like beans, rice, or whole grains – then using that bit by bit through the week. You can combine it with any quick-to-cook vegetables you have on hand.

I like to do this too. I tend not to eat most leftovers, but if I have precooked base ingredients I’m happy to transmute them into something new.

Trent doesn’t mention meat. While cooking vegetarian meals is a really good way to save money, it’s not an option for me – not only because I’m a zealous omnivore, but I also need lots of protein from meat sources. In addition, his staple recommendations aren’t the best for me (I should be leaning more toward refined grains than whole grains), but for the average healthy person, his advice is very good.

One of the things I love is fragrant rice, either basmati or jasmine. When I cook rice, I’ll cook a big batch and save the extra rice. Reheated in the microwave with a bit of water, it comes back to life well enough to eat again plain. But my favorite thing to do with leftover rice is make fried rice. That uses up a good amount of rice, and little bits of leftover meat, vegetable, or practically anything else. Fried rice will be fully covered in another post soon.

Eating What You Have On Hand has made me think about what I currently have on hand. Tomorrow I’ll take a full inventory of my pantry, fridge, freezer, and spice cupboard, and see what I can make of that.

Fundraiser Drive

August 22, 2009 By: Matt Category: Money

Recently the time between my posts has increased. In part, that’s due to lack of time and motivation, but the ultimate cause is lack of funds. I have lots of post ideas, but I don’t have the cash to go out and obtain the materials to make them work. Recipes I’d like to try, produce I’d like to do research on, and products I’d like to review – they’re all on the backburner until I can scrounge up enough change to fund the posts.

Starting today, and running for a week, I’ll be calling for donations. I’ve set up a permanent donations page that outlines what I’ll use the money for, and what perks you’ll receive if you help me fund my work. All donated money will go directly towards this site, and I will stay accountable by explicitly recording what the money has funded.

I ask only for a small donation – $1 can contribute to a recipe, $5 will pay for an entire single-serving recipe plus leftover ingredients, $10 will fund an entire multiple-serving recipe or a research post. If you donate, you’ll get acknowledgement and a link to your website or blog on the post that your donation made possible, and the top 5 fundraisers will have a link permanently posted on the donation page.

Please help me keep posts going. I don’t want to sound desperate. For now, my hosting costs are covered, but without more help than I’m getting, I’m afraid that my content will suffer.




pixel Fundraiser Drive

Flashback: Homemade Burgers

August 21, 2009 By: Matt Category: Flashback, Food

This is part of a series of posts I’m bringing back from my previous food blog. The topics might not be as focused, but I think they still deserve to be republished in a current forum. Enjoy this post from February 2007 about my experiment with grinding my own burgers.

Inspired by some talk of homemade burgers, and that I hadn’t had a good burger in a while, I decided to make my own burgers – including grinding my own meat. I reviewed the Good Eats episode on ground beef, and tried to recreate that burger. Instead of Alton Brown’s recommended mixture of half-chuck and half-sirloin, I went with all chuck, a two-pound package of it.

patties Flashback: Homemade Burgers

Continue reading to see how I formed the patties and how they turned out »

The Chili con Carne Project

August 13, 2009 By: Matt Category: Food

Earlier this week I picked up some chorizo, and I’ve made chorizo and eggs for breakfast every day since then. The exposure to the Mexican spices and chiles woke up my long-dormant desire to make a big batch of chili, one of my specialties.

 The Chili con Carne Project

I made this chili milder than usual for the benefit of my mother, who can’t handle lots of heat; but I still packed as much chile flavor and deep body into it as I could. I used a method similar to that used for Ragu alla Bolognese, cooking down and caramelizing the vegetables, meat, and tomato paste before adding the liquid.

Continue reading to see the recipe and a full chili pictorial »

My Favorite Scrambled Eggs: Chorizo con Huevos

August 11, 2009 By: Matt Category: Food

chorizoconhuevos My Favorite Scrambled Eggs: Chorizo con Huevos

Salivary glands, lips, and lymph nodes: the ultimate breakfast meat.

The last couple days, I’ve been eating chorizo con huevos (chorizo sausage with eggs) for breakfast. Mexican chorizo is sausage made from finely ground pork, vinegar, lots of ground chile, and spices. It’s typically packaged in plastic casings, which are removed to cook the paste-like sausage inside.

Chorizo con huevos is one of my favorite scrambled egg dishes. The chorizo has more than its fair share of spice and flavor, and it’s happy to share with the eggs.

Continue reading to see how I make chorizo con huevos, and why the nationality of your sausage matters »

Flashback: Tom Kah Goong, Thai Coconut Soup with Shrimp

August 07, 2009 By: Matt Category: Flashback, Food

This is part of a series of posts I’m bringing back from my previous food blog. The topics might not be as focused, but I think they still deserve to be republished in a current forum. Enjoy this post from 2006 about Tom Kah Goong.

tomkahgoong Flashback: Tom Kah Goong, Thai Coconut Soup with Shrimp

Tonight I made Tom Kah Goong, Thai coconut soup with shrimp. This was the first Thai food I ever ate, in a Thai restaurant back home that took over the space of the Chinese restaurant that I used to go to. It’s basically a broth made with coconut milk, chicken broth, galangal, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. I didn’t have any galangal or lime leaves, so I used ginger, extra lemongrass, and lemon juice. After the broth had simmered for a while, I added straw mushrooms and shrimp, and the soup was ready to eat.

This was not only the first Thai dish I attempted to cook (Thai Kitchen instant noodles don’t count), but also the first time I successfully used fish sauce. The last time was in an omelette meant to go on top of ramen, but that whole operation was botched. The first time, I made egg drop soup, but botched the addition of the egg so that the soup became creamy instead of giving me strands of scrambled egg. I added fish sauce to that, and it ended up smelling and tasting like cat food.

Anyway, I gritted my teeth and started pouring fish sauce into the soup, eyeballing 2 tablespoons. Very quickly, there was a strong pungent odor that wasn’t all too pleasant, but wasn’t like the cat food odor I encountered before. I wonder if I upset the people downstairs with the strong smell, who were watching TV and eating pizza. I tasted the broth at that point, and didn’t notice any unpleasant pungent or fishy taste. It did exactly what it was supposed to: fill out the flavor with some body, and add salt.

The combination of hot, sour, salty, and sweet flavors was very nicely matched. The shrimp were a little big; slightly smaller shrimp would have been easier to eat. I garnished the soup with cilantro and sliced chiles before I ate it. It was the kind of meal that’s so tasty that even though I was dying from the chiles, I keep eating them because it was all so good.


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