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November 20, 2008

Exploding food

popcorn1.bmpI was going to do a post on popcorn this week. I just hadn't gotten around to it.

Sunday night I popped my own popcorn for the first time in, I don't know, years. My recipe is simple: You take a big skillet with a tight-fitting lid, cover the bottom with one layer of popcorn (I used organic for the first time) and shake it constantly over medium high heat until it's so popped it almost pushes the lid up.

In spite of what the Owl Man says below, this works better than using oil because then the popcorn absorbs the enormous amounts of real butter I pour on it better. I had a fleeting moment of considering melting the butter in the microwave, thought better of it, and heated a large bowl in the microwave instead. Then I put the popcorn in it, melted the butter in the skillet (I'm embarrassed to tell you how much), poured it over the still-hot popcorn and tossed it with salad implements. Then I ground salt and black pepper over it and tossed it again.

Anyway, Owl Meat scooped me, so I won't be able to do that post now. Here's his excellent Funtastic Thursday. EL

"I have 1341 Dining@Large posts in my reader and not one mention of popcorn.  Is that possible?  I think popcorn is something we take for granted and is a particularly American passion.  When I lived in Madrid, the movie theaters didn't have popcorn.  I blame Franco.  Today I would like to salute the humble American kernel -- the only food that we want to explode.
Check out this video of popcorn popping in slow motion. It is beautiful and a little suggestive.  It's like vegan erotica.   (It's just popcorn; you can watch it at work.)
For me the only great popcorn is at the Charles Theatre.  It's not just a snack, it's an event.  My secret pleasure is snarfing up a few morsels with my tongue like a lizard before I get to my seat. 
In a graduate school class on Petrarch, the Italian professor used to veer off topic and tell stories about life in Italy.  He stunned the table of earnest learners by reminiscing gleefully about something he loved as a child:  Exploding mice on a stick.  Roasting mice over a fire.  Ka-pow!  People seemed stunned or nauseated and then I laughed.   He was saying "maize" with a heavy Italian accent.  Exploding mice indeed.  
Paramour Bourbon Girl and I saw our first movie together recently and I had anxiety about the popcorn situation.  What if we were not popcorn compatible?  It happens.  We were, but some people are impossible to share popcorn with.  You know what I mean.  
There are tons of movies with popcorn in the title, including ten simply named "Popcorn."  My favorite is a horror movie from 1991 with the tagline: Buy a bag, go home in a box.

Apparently "Popcorn" was a hit song in the 1970s.  Dig on this: "Popcorn" by Hot Butter (Techno Remix).
Since cell phones use microwaves, have you ever wondered: Can cell phones pop popcorn?
Hooray for the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of Jiffy Pop: In 1958, after five years of experiments, Fred Mennen completed the first Jiffy Pop pop-in-pan container. He began marketing his product, featuring natural and butter flavors, in 1959, and a year later it was distributed to every major U.S. market. The butter flavor was made even better in 2002.
Even better?  Is that possible?  I wonder what the ingredients are ...

INGREDIENTS:  Popcorn, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Natural Flavor, Color, TBHQ, Methyl Silicone.
Methyl silicone?  Did Jiffy Pop get some "work" done in 2002?  Hmmm ....
Popcorn crimes against humanity: 
* Artificial "butter" flavor.
* Movies theaters that dump stale bags of pre-popped corn into their popcorn display bins. I'm talking to you, Senator Theatre.  Oh, the humanity!
* Air poppers and air-popped popcorn.  (That's you, Landmark Theatres.)
* People who tell you how bad it is for you.  Shut up already.  It's a whole grain snack with lots of fiber.  At my popcorn Mecca, my beloved Charles Theatre, it is popped in canola oil and ... insouciance. 
Let's pop!"


(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:54 AM | | Comments (56)


I forgot to add the reason why I thought of popcorn in the first place. I had a dream ...

St. Augustine and I play human chess at his Moroccan villa in a courtyard plush with orange trees and fragrant lemon grass. We eat roasted hummingbirds stuffed with pistachios, ginger and coriander. A man in a mask of my own likeness brings a dipping sauce made from blood oranges, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Thunder or artillery fire rumbles in the distance and the men on the chess board are replaced with monkeys and koalas. Mmm ... crunchy. Monkey King's Bishop to check. Paprika-dusted popcorn is offered from a tajine painted with jackalopes. Popcorn?! That doesn't make any sense. This must be a dream.

Ridiculous because popcorn is a New World food.

In India, they pop the popcorn in hot, dry sand. Delicious, as long as you elutriate it before eating.

I love to hear people's popcorn choices. Many years ago, on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, Johnny Ray sang Cry (with the bandstand moved right behind him since he could barely hear). The popcorn came in long, see-through glassine bags; it was fresh and warm with lots of salt. The French Fries at Shappy's Minute Bar were also salted, were crinkle-cut, and came in a cardboard cup. Two yums!

Indian popcorn ... intriguing. How do you pop it in sand without it flying everywhere? Can you explain the technique more?

Mmmm.... popcorn in those square cardboard containers at the boardwalk or fairs. That's all good.

The old Arcade Theater on Harford Road had some of the best popcorn around. Lots of butter on it too!

OMG, the koalas should have given it away before the popcorn did.

Mmmm...popcorn! With lots of butter, salt and, when I'm feeling wild, some powdered chipotle.

Damn. I have to look up elutriate again. I forgot what it meant.

"Artificial butter flavor" is evil, indeed! That stuff has been implicated in cases of lung disease among workers in the factories that produce those microwave popcorn bags.

Personally, I like the Habanero Ass Kickin' Popcorn from Southwest Specialty Foods.

Elutriate needs to be retired. It means to wash or wipe or shake clean. Dumb word.

Oh yeah, the koalas are out of place. And jackalopes.

That's a tasty dream. Who was it that said a mind is a terrible thing to taste? Is that Bourbon Girl at the end?

whats with you and monkeys?

Did you know you you can make your own microwave popcorn?

I'm not sure about India, but I read in elementary school that Native Americans in the southwest, or perhaps Central America, used to pop corn by throwing it in (covered) jars of heated sand. I always wondered how they got the sand off, though.

I think popcorn used to much better at all movie theatres (except the Charles). I don't think any of them pop it freshly anymore.

My son won one of those special popcorn pots with "popcorn" oil and "seasoning". That was very good if you salted before popping and threw away the seasoning. Whatever oil that is (I think maybe coconut) it really rocks!

1) Monkeys are funny.
2) Monkeys are funny.

A mind is a terrible thing to taste? An album from the "band" Ministry.

Less obnoxious than I remember. I think I actually like it. Not the kind of reference I would expect from Lemon Girl.

Here's an absolutely terrifying cover of "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Ministry. (NSFW)

Why is air-popped popcorn evil?! It's my absolute favorite, especially when buttered and saltly correctly-- much less greasy tasting, and my fingers don't get as greasy.

Liz wrote: Did you know you you can make your own microwave popcorn?

The link takes you to a method for popping corn in your microwave. It says, basically, put it in a bag, staple the bag closed and zap it.

I thought you weren't supposed to put metal (staples) in a microwave?

I guess air popped buttered would be good. I'm thinking of plain air popped. Blech.

Liz I checked out that post. You tell people to put a paper bag with metal staples in the microwave? Isn't that a fire hazard? I once saw a paper-covered wire twist tie turn into an ignition switch.

Bucky and OMG, I asked the same question the first time I heard of this method. The links I cited in the post say that a metal staple won't cause harm, but you could also just fold the top of the bag shut.

I have also had success popping corn in a glass or plastic bowl with a lid. Far cheaper than buying store-bought microwave popcorn.

I've heard that as long as the ratio of non-metal stuff to metal stuff in the microwave is okay. So the staples would be just a small bit of metal vs. a lot of other non-metal stuff, like the bag and the popcorn and seasonings and oil.

Not that I'm going to try it.

Hey Owl!

My meat arrived today. Must say, very impressed with the packaging. All the way down here and still quite cold.

The lebanon bologna is excellent! I like that tangy smoky flavor. And its not greasy like some sausage can be.
Gonna have some of the smoked turkey later on.

Thanks for the tip!

Having seen Ministry in concert (they rock, of course), I think that Rammstein is actually a more appropriate band for the topic of exploding food.

Bucky, I hear the staples aren't enough metal to bother the nuke. I do use that method, except, instead of staples, I use a big plastic clip with no metal parts. Works fine.

I thought you weren't supposed to put metal (staples) in a microwave?

The staples on the bag are OK -- I think because it doesn't touch other metal to allow an electric arc to form. (After all, lots of microwaves have metal shelves in them.) But if you're worried about it, just fold the bag over. That's what I do because I never have a stapler handy.

Woo hoo! A Lebanon bologna convert. It is ridiculously lean - smoky, tangy and peppery too. After Bourbon Girl pointed out that calling something Lebanon bologna was a bad PR move, I would like to point out that it was being made up the road in Lebanon PA since Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East.

Rammstein! Awesome Lissa. Does a lot of stuff explode at their concerts? Maybe Gwar too.

I can't wait for OldPhil to tell us to stop blathering on about that darned devil's music.

I miss Lebanon bologna! Owl, know anywhere around east Baltimore to get it? Hmmm, I should check Santoni's in north Highlandtown. They're a heck of a lot more likely to have it than the evil Canton Safeway.

Most all of the microwave popcorn bags have a metallic sheet on the side that goes down. It heats up and helps pop the corn, but can also scorch the bag if left in too long.

Friend of mine once figured that if corn could be popped in a paper bag, it should do alright in a plastic bowl. Big mistake. The lernals heated up and melted themselves into the plastic. A few did pop but the bowl was ruined. Made a nice souvenir, though.


You make me laugh - Gwar?

yeah, the lebanon bologna was darn good. I had two slices and now don't feel like cooking dinner.

You know, the one and only tops in devil music is Black Sabbath. There is a Black Sabbath cover band called Snowblind that plays around Baltimore, most often in the Shamrock on Harford Road. They play pretty much only the stuff when Ozzy fronted the band. You know, the good stuff.

"We Love You All"-Ozzy's favorite sign-off.

Rammstein's stage show involved a lot of fire. Preferably spurting out of strange places. Their stage show is a parody of heavy metal and death metal, and most of the kids there weren't getting it. I loved it!

To make Indian popcorn:

Fill a gargantuan skillet with sand and heat over hot coals (this is usually done at ground level). When sand is piping hot, bury corn kernels in the sand and wait for them to start exploding out. It helps to have a relatively clean area surrounding the skillet from whence the popped kernels can be retrieved, placed in a mesh sieve, and briskly shaken to eliminate the sand. The fresh hot popcorn is then portioned into newspaper cones and consumed while wandering off through the bazaar.

I did manage, once, to catch the paper bag on fire. I hadn't put it in the centre of the turntable, it got stuck, got a hot spot and, well, ignited.

Fortunately, my sink is near my nuke, so I just tossed the flaming popcorn into the sink and turn on the tap.

I haven't had trouble with the large plastic bowls I've tried, but I also didn't seal the lid tightly. Popping kernels do get pretty hot, though, so glass is probably safest. Also, if there are too many unpopped kernels, I sometimes dump out the popped corn before putting the unpopped back in, so the popped ones don't get scorched.

Lissa, have you ever tried adding a little something sweet to your chipotle popcorn, a la kettle corn, or is that just way too crazy?

I don't know about ratios of metal to other materials, but I put Chinese take-away cartons with the little metal handle with no ill effects. I only do on carton at a time and initially I stood and watched for arcing that never happened.

If you brave it, be aware that the metal gets REALLY hot so don't touch when you take the carton out of the microwave.

Liz, I'm not really fond of sweet stuff, so, no, I haven't tried adding something sweet to the chipotle popcorn.

I do make hot chocolate, though, with less sugar than most use and with hot pepper (which kind depends on my mood, chipotle works) and cinnamon.

RtSO - back in the old days Jiffy Pop was made with a metal handle that got REALLY hot while you were holding it and aggitating it over the flame of the stove. You needed an oven mitt to be able to do it without burning you hand off. I did not read the directions and therefore did not know this, and of course (as with most things) learned it the hard way!

I don't have a microwave and refuse to have one ever again.

Even though its a load of bird droppings (not naming any names ; ) ) but I think 'the container does get hot in a microwave' comment was floating around my tiny little brain. After my hard way lesson, I now spin the container so I can handle it without the handle. BTW: Jiffy Pop doesn't have metal handles any more?

Hmm, I hate "foodie", hate "sandbox", don't have (and don't want) a microwave...I'm starting to wonder if I'm really Owl Meat.

Although my id is definitely on a shorter leash (apologies to JM).

OMG, unless the smokey haze around my college years has really damaged my memory, I believe "Sexy" was a RevCo song (short for... well, Revolting somethingorother...), not Ministry.

Ah, a quick search reveals my memory is, largely, intact.

And I thought I invented you, Hal. My id is a rental.

sean, I just found the Sexy song on youtube labelled Ministry, but you probably know that Al Jourgensen of MInistry is the leader of the Revolting Co**s too. I'm no expert on those guys.

Well, ironically enough, given a previous post of mine, my links aren't working today.

Anyway, yeah, it was RevCo, not Ministry.

You might check for lebanon bologna in the deli at Weis Markets - I imagine there are some downtown. They're based in central PA and so have some PA Dutch specialties (whoopie pies, sweet and sour salad dressing, Cope's dried corn.)

betsy -- unfortunately, Weis Markets has no stores in the City of Baltimore, although they have some suburban locations (Perry Hall, Pasadena, and further outlying areas).

There's a Weis Market in Glen Burnie, where I have the misfortune of working.

I'll have to check their for Lebanon bologna. Thanks for the tip, Betsy!

Hall -- I believe the Weis Market in Glen Burnie closed in early October, at least according to this news item -- and the location no longer turns up in the store locator on the Weis Markets website.

hmpstd - you are right, that store did close down, apparently without any warning...

Hal - I guess that means you have the misfortune of working in Glen Burnie, cause I was going to say you would have known they closed!

Oh yeah, kind of related to the original post of popcorn, Weis does have really good popcorn chicken. I used to work right by that store in Glen Burnie, I became addicted to it. They used to put out those sample containers (kind of the size of what take out places put fries in) of the chicken, potatoe wdges, etc. One day a saw a woman pick up the whole container of chicken tenders, place it in her cart, and proceeded with her shopping.

Trixie, I had to read that a few times before I got it. Nice catch of my unintenionally ambiguous wording! You should be hanging out with McIntyre.

But puffed wheat and puffed rice is blown out of canons. Doesn't that count as exploding food?

I clearly remember commercials showing this...1812 Overture...bang...

But puffed wheat and puffed rice is blown out of canons. Doesn't that count as exploding food?

I clearly remember commercials showing this...1812 Overture...bang...

blown out of canons

That would be quite a musical feat!

blown out of canons

There's a mental image I'd rather not have...

You know how hard it is to tune a canon? That's probably why the church invented castrati.

Tuning cannons is even harder.

Tuning cannons is even harder. Harder, perhaps, but I suspect the chorister chosen for the honour of becoming a castrato might want to file a minority report on the subject.

[BTW, my name is gone again. It has to be Blogware. Until the last couple of days, this has not been happening. !$%$%&%*%^#$@!%^*&]

I hereby resign my membership in POEM.

I have been deemed anonymous several times from both my office pc and home laptop so, while I'm willing to take the hit for the times I've found a remark so in need of response that I've jumped right intot he comments section and forgotten to go back to the details before sending. However, there have been several other times when I know I've filled in all the blanks and still shown up as anonymous.

As long as we're on the subject: The truly clever anonymous remarks? Those have all been me.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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