How to make the most delicious popcorn I’ve ever had

March 20, 2010

Buttery popcorn without butter

The most delicious popcorn I’ve ever had was not in some movie theater. It wasn’t some exotic flavor in a gourmet restaurant. It was, of all places, in the remote jungles of Indonesia.

There was nothing special about the popcorn per se. The secret was obviously in the oil…extra virgin coconut oil, which the women made by cooking the coconut for hours until the fat separated.

After I came back home, I tried to re-create the yummy-ness and found that I could.

Vegan Buttery-Tasting Popcorn
Ingredients
2 Tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
2 Tablespoons popcorn (preferably organic)
salt to taste

Place the oil and ONE popcorn kernel into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Put on high or medium-high heat.

One kernel of popcorn and coconut oil in the pot

When the kernel pops, add the remaining popcorn. Hold the lid on with one hand and use the other to move the pot back and forth over the burner rapidly, to prevent burning.

Use a pot with a tight-fitting lid

After about 40-60 seconds, the corn will start to pop. This lasts for about 20-30 seconds.

Watch out–there is a bit of sputtering. Keep that lid on!

AS SOON AS the corn stops, remove it from heat, and dump it into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy!

Extra virgin coconut oil can be found in a health food store. Be sure it’s food grade, not cosmetic grade. It probably won’t say as much on the label. Look for guidelines as to how much to consume or how to add it to food; then you’ll know it’s food grade.

Don’t be surprised if you have to spoon it out of the container and it won’t pour. Coconut oil solidifies at 76 degrees F. It’s perfectly fine to use either solid or liquid.

You can try to use less oil, but in my experience, you lose the flavor. There is no real coconut flavor to the finished popcorn, only a luscious butteriness without the butter.

Looking for a shirt for a popcorn lover?

Gimme Popcorn Popcorn Lovers Shirt shirt
Gimme Popcorn Popcorn Lovers Shirt by alinaspencil
View other Popcorn shirt T-Shirts

Popcorn Lover’s Eye Candy, or How to remind yourself to eat healthy snacks

February 22, 2010

Looking for a unique gift for a popcorn lover? Get him or her this popcorn design cool mousepad/ mouse mat.

Gimme Popcorn Popcorn Lover Mouse Pad Mat mousepad
Gimme Popcorn Popcorn Lover Mouse Pad Mat by alinaspencil
See more Popcorn mousepad Mousepads

This design features a picture of popcorn kernels flying about, with the words, “Gimme Popcorn.”

Looks good enough to eat. In fact, it’s a great way to remind yourself to eat healthy snacks. Did you know popcorn is a whole grain, full of fiber, with no cholesterol?

*Don’t like the white background? Click on “customize,” then “color,” “background,” and choose from the dropdown menu.

Don’t like your choice? Hit “revert” to try again.


Gimme Mochi Shirt

December 27, 2009

Calling all lovers of mochi, mochi balls, mochi ice cream, kinako mochi, anko mochi, zenzai and mochi on a stick!

If you love mochi as much as I do, you might want to get one of these shirts:

Gimme Mochi Shirt shirt
Gimme Mochi Shirt by alinaspencil

Mochi, rice cake, is a chewy, sticky, versatile food that is eaten in Japan as snacks and dessert. It can be fried, steamed, baked, grilled, put into soup, ice cream, and bread. It can be stuffed with sweetened beans (anko), coconut, peanut butter, or chocolate. It can be eaten sweet or savory, with soy sauce, roasted soy flour (kinako) or nori (seaweed).

Express your love of mochi with this shirt, which has pictures of various kinds of mochi. “Mochi” is in Japanese writing, plus “Gimme mochi!”

It’s traditionally eaten as the first thing on New Year’s Day…so be ready for it with this shirt.


Vegan No-Cook Spiced Apples

December 25, 2009

Looking for a quick, easy, healthier potluck or holiday dish? Try these spiced apples. There is no cooking involved, apples are in season, and you probably have everything you need already. You can throw it together in about 15 minutes.

I made these at the spur of the moment, when I had planned to make Li Hing Apples but couldn’t find my li hing powder. So I used a different combination of spices, with the goal being to create an apple pie-like flavor.

Ingredients (amounts are approximates)
3 apples, washed, cored, sliced into wedges (about 12 per apple)
1 TBS lemon or lime juice
2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger

Directions
Keep the peel on your apples! The peel contains boron, which is necessary for strong bones. (I personally think it plays a key role in preventing osteoporosis, but that is my intuition and based on observation and theory.)

Since apples are one of the top 10 polluted produce items, however, buy organic apples whenever possible, and wash them well.

Mix together the apple slices with lemon juice. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.

Taste and adjust the flavors. You want a balance of sweet, sour, spicy, with a touch of saltiness.

Keep in mind that this needs to sit for about an hour for the flavors to get incorporated fully. You’ll get an idea of what it will taste like, but now it has a harsher, more raw flavor. Later it will become well-rounded and mellower yet fuller in taste.

These are also great for a quick snack, and the spices add extra phytochemicals, plant-based health-maintaining compounds, plus variety.

My guess is that because of the sugar and salt, they will get soggy and won’t keep more than half a day or so (unless you don’t mind the sogginess…they’ll still taste good.)

(Sorry, no picture and no exact amounts. I made this in a hurry, then rushed off to the party, where it was eaten and complimented. When I make it again, I’ll write things down and edit this post.)


Vegetarian Thai Cooking Class

December 6, 2009

The first thing I did upon arrival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was head to May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s on Ratchapakinai Road, next to the Sumit Hotel, about 4 doors up from the Thai Red Cross office, which is easy to spot.

Look for the plants in front of the tiny shop.

I had a bowl full of something luscious, with coconut milk curry and vegetables, and I was immediately happy.

Last time I was in Chiang Mai, I took a cooking class from The Farm, an organic farm about 20 minutes out of the city. It was a well-organized class, the food was delicious, and it was a nice break to get out of the city and spend a relaxing day making mouth-watering food. I highly recommend it.

This time I wanted to take a class that was specifically vegetarian, not just a cooking class that substituted vegetarian ingredients. Since May Kaidee’s had a cooking class available, I had to taste the food before signing up.

No use taking a cooking class from somewhere with tasteless, or worse, awful food.

So I was relieved that the food was delicious and that it was close enough to my guesthouse, which meant I would be coming back often to eat. (I did–I went every day except when I was out of commission due to food poisoning…grr.)

Class started at 9 am with a bowl of fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Then the other three students and I, plus Duan, May’s sister, who runs the Chiang Mai restaurant with her husband, daughter, and brother, set off for the local market.

There Duan pointed out and explained several ingredients crucial to Thai cuisine. She showed us sticky rice, kaffir limes, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, holy and Thai basils.

Choy sum swarming with bees


Most of the produce was already familiar to me, including long beans, choy sum (Chinese greens with yellow flowers that the bees were swarming around), gailaan (sometimes called Chinese broccoli, and what Duan called kale), round and long eggplant, pumpkin (large, flat, and brown, like a more rowdy cousin of the Japanese kabocha).

The Thai papayas are enormous, at least eight inches long, orange and shaped like a cylinder. The papayas in Hawaii are much smaller, shaped like yellow pears on steroids.

We also saw the rice noodles that people ordered by width and watched the vendor chop them with her cleaver before putting them into a tiny plastic bag secured with a rubber band. The thin version, like fetuccini, are what is used to make Pad Thai, the popular fried noodle dish. The uncut sheets are the wrappers for uncooked spring rolls.

After filling our baskets, we walked back to the shop, past a rotund yellow dog that took up half the road. Cars, people and motorcycles inched around it to pass. We couldn’t decide if she was pregnant or just obese.

The Somphet Market Dog--fat or pregnant?


Back at the shop, we chopped some baby corn, greens, and cauliflower before heading upstairs with bottles of drinking water, to get to work.

Each of us had a station with a wok and shared areas with dark and light soy sauce, chili paste and already-chopped garlic and chilies.

For each recipe, Duan walked us through the steps. “Put one spoonful of oil in your wok. Now add chilies, half spoon, and garlic, half spoon.” Spoons were the Asian soup spoons, the long ones with handles bent upwards, that come with bowls of gau gee min and ramen, Asian noodle soups.

“Now, quickly…KHON!

That meant “Stir!” in Thai. We spent many hours that day khon-ing.

“Next put tofu and vegetables….khon faster!”

And so it went. After the first three dishes, I lost track of how much of what went into what. Fortunately, all the recipes had been printed out for us, so we stopped after a few to make notes about substitutions and anything else not already written for us.

Duan prepares rice wrappers to make uncooked spring rolls.


Each of us had a tasting spoon, which we kept in a pocket in the front of our aprons, for sampling the dishes as we finished. This was an interesting part of the course, because we learned how much of a difference in flavor small substitutions could make.

For example, clear Tom Yum, coconut Tom Yum, and Tom Kha soups were identical, save for the amounts of coconut milk we added, but the flavors were more different than you’d imagine.

Four hours later, we had a spread large enough to feed us all for lunch and dinner. Fried noodles, soups, several kinds of curries, and the famous Kao Soi, a northern Thai curried noodle specialty.

The finished uncooked spring rolls: light, fresh, chewy, crunchy, spicy, and refreshing, all at once.


We also made lip-smacking peanut sauce, and May Kaidee’s famous and possibly the most popular dish on the menu: Pumpkin Hummus. Various seeds, spices, chilies, and cooked pumpkin were pounded with a mortar and pestle. The end result was creamy, complex pumpkin magic.

Duan said it was their mother’s special recipe. She used to make it for them growing up, and they ate it with everything, from balls of sticky rice, to spread on bread as sandwiches, or as a dip with vegetables. It was easy to see why this was such a popular dish.

The only non-vegan things were the yogurt in the morning, plus the egg noodles in the Kao Soi. But that was a variation on a curry dish, so you could leave them out.

I gave my leftovers to my Thai massage friends, since I did not have a fridge in the guesthouse and did not want to tempt fate with even more food poisoning.

Thank you, Duan, An, Nain, and Opal, for delicious food every day, and for your help! Khob kun mahk kha!

If you are interested in taking the cooking class, visit the restaurant and talk to one of them. I highly recommend it.

May Kaidee Vegetarian Restaurant, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Thai Crepes and Batik Class

December 3, 2009

I spent the day at Chiang Mai Batik Painting School with Ann, the teacher, at her home.

She served me some snack/dessert cakes she had gotten at her daughter’s school.

Thai mini dessert crepes

They were like miniature crepes, stuffed with a filling like you’d find in eclairs, and rolled like burritos. The Thai name sounded “like Tokyo,” she said. (Don’t ask me about pronunciation, however…when I tried to tell my Thai massage friends about it later, I said “Tokyo” several times, trying different high-low-middle-rising-falling tones in combination, before they finally figured out what the heck I was talking about!)

I resorted to basic batik techniques to make a pillow case, keeping my elephant friends in mind:

If you have free time in Chiang Mai or are interested in batik, get in touch with Ann. She offers beginning and advanced classes.


Ai Dtim (That’s Ice Cream to us English Speakers)

November 25, 2009

The other students who were with me for our vegetarian cooking class shrieked when they heard the cha-ching, cha-ching of an ice cream vendor pass the restaurant.

Ai Dtim! You dtim. We all dtim for ai dtim!”

The Thai version of the ice cream truck had passed.

“You have to try it,” they insisted.

“Put rice on top.”

“And make sure you get it in the bread.”

“Bread?” I asked.

“Yeah–ice cream sandwiches…real ice cream sandwiches.”

“Make sure it’s not in the square thing.”

“Yah–it looks like it’s in a keg,” they explained.

“Okay, I’ll look out for it,” I promised.

Yesterday I heard the familiar ringing and spotted a woman wearing a pointy hat, pushing a keg on wheels.

Ai dtim?” I asked.

She opened the lid to show me. Deep down was some white substance. There was a row of small bread slices. This must be the stuff.

“Okay,” I said, and pulled out my camera.

She pointed to the bread and to some plastic cups.

I knew to choose bread.

She leaned over until her entire arm was buried…

A Keg-O-Mystery


and filled the bread with miniature scoopfuls while I snapped pictures.

Fill it up. I don't want an empty bottom.


She drizzled milk from a can on top, then pointed to a plastic container filled with peanuts. I nodded my head.

Just a drizzle'll do ya.


She was going to hand it to me, but I remembered the rice, so I pointed to the other plastic container. She unscrewed the top. Inside was cooked sticky rice.

Okay, I’ll try it…

She put a mini scoop of sticky rice on top, then more canned milk. I had her hold it while I took a photo and paid my 10 baht (30 cents US).

Want a bite?


The first few bites were coconut milk. I loved it. I couldn’t tell if it was only coconut milk, or it had dairy milk in it as well. It went perfectly well with the crunchy peanuts. Surprisingly, the bread made a nice combination.

The sticky rice was strange, along with milk that wasn’t sweetened; it must have been evaporated milk, and not sweetened condensed milk, as I had thought it was.

As I got further down, the ice cream changed from coconut to nearly tasteless vanilla. So there must have been a combination of the two in the keg, and she obviously strategically planned it so the vanilla part went into the bread, soaking the bread as it melted. Very interesting.

Not sure I’d eat it again, if I had to have both flavors. I’d want only the coconut milk kind, with peanuts. If I could have only that kind, I’d definitely eat it again. Better listen for that bell.

When’s the last time you ate something so interesting?