Scott’s Perfect Popcorn – Updated!

Posted on January 15th, 2015 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy

Get Thee Away From Me

Note that this article has been updated to reflect refinements that have been introduced to our popcorn process over the years. They are tweaks, but make the popcorn even better!

First and foremost, we have switched from Orville Redenbacher popcorn to Kernel Seasons. It tastes better, and also is GMO free.

Second, we pop our popcorn in coconut oil now, which lends a fantastic taste element which will also be familiar, because many (if not most) movie theaters use coconut-based oil for popping.

Third, we use clarified butter instead of just melted butter. This makes a *huge* difference in taste and texture. The clarified butter contains virtually no moisture, so the popcorn stays perfectly crisp, and the butter flavor is concentrated as well. See the sidebar on the right below for tips on how we make clarified butter for popcorn.

Below is the original article, with edits made to reflect the above three changes:

My favorite food is popcorn. I have loved it since I was young, and I have spent a large portion of my adult lifetime refining my recipe to the point where it is perfect to me, and it seems to be popular with those to whom I serve it. There is nothing magical or difficult about the making of this popcorn, nor are the ingredients exotic or hard to find. Any reasonably handy kitchen person should be able to make it with no problem. However, the exact combination of process and ingredients has been perfected through almost 20 years of refinement, and I wanted to share it with my fellow popcorn lovers (and also maybe win a few converts to the manual process).

The Gear

To make Perfect Popcorn, you need the right equipment. First and foremost, do NOT use a popcorn popper of any kind. They all trap too much steam, which makes the popcorn soggy instead of crispy. Even those with vented tops still have slant-side domed lids, which increase the condensation of steam inside the popper before it can vent. Perfect Popcorn is made in a pot on the stove, using a manual process. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The pot I use is a heavy, expensive 9.5 quart stainless steel pot from Dansk, which I got as a gift from my in-laws, and have used several times a week ever since (thanks Sherry and Bill!!) The bottom is heavy, and contains a copper disk sandwiched between the inner and outer stainless steel layers. The pot you use should be as thick and heavy as possible to ensure even heat distribution and to eliminate scorching. Scorching is the kiss of death to popcorn, as even a few scorched kernels will assault your nose and taste buds, busting your popcorn eating groove. Also, if you can, stay away from non-stick pots, as their surfaces also promote the condensation of steam, and most are not heavy enough to ensure proper heat distribution.

Next, you need a tiny metal saucepan

Salt-Rising Bread (story and recipe)

Posted on December 18th, 2012 in Commentary,Recipes by EngineerBoy

Heaven-scented memories…

When I was a kid in the 1960’s in Southern California, we would buy loaves of Van De Kamp’s Salt Rising bread at the grocery store.  The whole family *loved* this bread, it smelled heavenly while it toasted, and tasted even better.  The ultimate was to pair it with Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry Preserves…yum!

We then moved to Texas, and found that the same bread was available here, too!  But, alas, after a couple of years all the Van De Kamp’s products disappeared from the shelves, including our beloved salt-rising bread.  This was the early 70’s, and over the next few years we would get our salt-rising fix by bringing home a bunch of loaves any time we traveled to California, which was usually once or twice a year.  We didn’t get to have it all the time, but it turned into a special thing since we only got it once in a while.

But then it disappeared in California as well, as Van De Kamps stopped producing salt-rising bread some time in the mid 70’s, then eventually went out of business completely.  And that was the last of the salt-rising bread for me, for the next 30 years, or so.  Then 5-6 years ago I got a wild hair to figure out how to make it myself, and turned to the internet.

What I found was that the King Arthur Flour Company actually sold a Salt-Rising Bread Yeast, and I ended up buying some and making salt-rising bread at home.  It was good, but it’s a two day process, so I only made it a few times.  Then King Arthur stopped selling the yeast, and as of today the page linked above contains this disclaimer:  “Sorry, this item is currently unavailable for purchase”.  It has said that for the last few years, so I’m not optimistic they are ever going to bring it back, so I figured I needed to figure out how to make it from scratch.

That led me to find some homemade recipes which turned out to be tricky to master, but after a couple of false starts and failed starters I eventually found a combination of ingredients and steps that work beautifully and predictably, and you can find that recipe below.

Here’s where the story gets a little more interesting.  My grandmother passed away earlier this year, and one of the things that came up as we sorted through memories of her were details I’d never heard before.  In the 1930’s, during the height of the Depression, she moved to Los Angeles seeking employment, and ended up working at the Van De Kamps Bakery store.  It was there that she met my grandfather, who was a regular customer, and they ended up getting married.

So not only does salt-rising bread thread through my earliest childhood memories, but in actuality the connection with Van De Kamp’s goes back even further, which makes it taste

Scott’s ‘Homemade’ Meat+Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce

Posted on January 29th, 2012 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy

I was never able to find the spaghetti sauce that I wanted, so I decided to figure out making it for myself.  You see, I wanted a combination of a meat sauce and a vegetable sauce, and could not find a restaurant or a recipe that fit the bill.  Note that this is ‘homemade’ only in part, as it includes marinara from a jar.  I have made it completely from scratch, and it’s good, but it’s wayyyy too much work and it takes wayyyy too much time, and it’s only slightly better/different, so the marinara from a jar is simply a nod to the realities of a hectic lifestyle.

This recipe makes enough for four people, plus a healthy helping of leftovers – as with all spaghetti sauces, it’s better reheated the next day.  Ingredients as follows:

3 jars Newman’s Own Marinara sauce
2 lbs. lean hamburger
1 sweet onion
8 cloves garlic
1 bunch asparagus
2 green squash
2 yellow squash
2 cups mushrooms
8 tbsp olive oil

Heat a large skillet on medium, add 2 tbsp olive oil, and saute half the garlic and onions (both diced) for 4-5 minutes, then add the ground beef, and salt and pepper to your tastes.  Let the meat continue to brown while chopping the rest of the vegetables.

Finely dice the rest of the garlic and the other half of the onion, and keep them separate from the rest of the vegetables as they will be cooked separately.  Cut the asparagus into .5″ to .75″ lengths, making sure not to include the woody base of the stalks, which can be tough.  Slice each squash in half lenghtwise, and then slice each half in half again lenghtwise, so it is in long quarters, then thinly slice making little pie-shaped chunks.  Slice the mushrooms thinly.

Heat a large pot on medium, add the remaining 6 tbsp of olive oil, then add the onion and garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes, then add the rest of the vegetables.  Continue cooking the vegetables for another 10 minutes, until they begin to get soft.  At this point the meat should be close to done browning – when it’s browned, drain any fat, then add to the vegetable pot.  Add the three jars of marinara, and stir.

Reduce head to medium-low, so that it cooks at a slow simmer, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  That’s it.  I occasionally juke it up with fresh basil or oregano, but it’s not strictly necessary.  I also sometimes add broccoli, but only some of the time since it turns it into a much chunkier, more vegetable-ier sauce.  We have taken to eating over Barilla Pasta Plus spaghetti, which has protein, omega-3s, and fiber, but tastes like regular old empty-calorie pasta.  And don’t forget some freshly-grated parmesan!

There’s nothing magical here, but I can say that this sauce is universally popular, and we always end up eating all the leftovers as well.  It is also a unique combination, in my experience, of a meat sauce and a vegetable sauce, and it’s something

Homemade breakfast muffins

Posted on April 4th, 2010 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy

The preparation and the finished product

I’ve always been partial to McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg, but I prefer to avoid fast food whenever possible, and I prefer to eat healthy ingredients.  For the sake of this article, “healthy” refers to the ingredients being as natural and pure as possible, and as free of chemicals, hormones, pesticides, preservatives, cruelty, and “modified” ingredients as possible (and not necessarily “food pyramid” healthy).

So, over the years I have learned to make breakfast muffins at home, and have refined the recipe to the point where I can barely eat fast-food muffins any longer, since they pale by comparison (if I do say so myself).

The recipe below is for three muffins, the ingredients are:

3 farm eggs

1/3 lb of natural pork breakfast sausage

3 tbs butter

3 slices Kraft Deli Deluxe American cheese, 3/4 ounce per slice

3 Bays sourdough English muffins

2 tbs of pure maple syrup (not Log Cabin or Butterworth type, but actual pure maple syrup)

Salt and pepper to taste

Tabasco to taste (optional)

A few words about the ingredients – we get our eggs and pork from Yonder Way Farm, which we are lucky enough to live a 10 minute drive from.  If you live in or around the Houston area we highly recommend either driving out to the farm (just outside of Brenham), or getting your order from one of their many delivery locations in the area. See more about Yonder Way Farm at the bottom of this article.

Also, if you’ve never had farm eggs (or if it’s been a while), they are amazingly better tasting than store bought eggs.  The yolks are almost orange, instead of yellow, and the eggs are naturally a variety of shapes and colors (see picture above).

One other ingredient note – the cheese we use is specifically and only Kraft Deli Deluxe American.  Don’t confuse this with the individually-wrapped “cheese food” versions of American cheese, the Deli Deluxe American is actually cheese, not a chemical concoction, and is significantly better tasting than the disgusting “cheese food” versions.

The gear is as follows: 

12″ Emeril Pro-Clad Stainless frying pan (which we *love* and use almost daily), for the eggs

Cast iron frying pan, for the sausage (if you don’t have one, ask your mama about them)

One Non-stick egg ring, for forming the sausage patties (but NOT for the eggs)

Three stainless-steel egg rings, for the eggs

Nylon spatula

Scissor tongs

Coffee cup or small bowl

Butter knife and fork

First, leave the cast iron skillet cold for now, but put the stainless steel skillet on medium-low heat (setting 3 out of 10 on our electric stove) with the three stainless steel egg rings in it, to pre-heat.

Now, in the COLD cast iron frying pan, we need to create the sausage patties in place

Scott’s Perfect Iced Tea

Posted on August 10th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy

Sweet Texas Iced Tea

When I was a young teenager, my family would always tell me, “You make the *best* iced tea!”.  I was quite proud of my iced tea, and would make it regularly for the whole family, and I always made sure we had iced tea available in the summer.

However, as I got older and wiser, I realized that while I was quite competent at making iced tea, my family had most assuredly been overstating its superiority because they knew that such praise would keep me in the kitchen slaving over a hot pot of boiling water.

Their behaviors (you know who you are!) were right on the border between encouraging and exploitative, but one of the side-effects is that years spent making iced tea has led me to a recipe and method that has become quite good, if I do say so myself.  It is a far cry from my original tea-making days, but it is still in keeping with the spirit of good, old-fashioned Texas sweet iced tea.

5 family-sized Tetley Iced Tea Blend tea bags
1 family-sized Luzianne Green Tea bag
1 regular-sized Lipton Mint Tea bag
¾ cup Florida Crystals Natural cane sugar

Revere Ware 3 quart sauce pan
Tupperware Impressions 1 gallon pitcher
Measuring cup
Nylon spoon
Stainless steel strainer (fine mesh/net)

Fill the 3 quart sauce pan with water up to within approximately ¾” from the top and bring to a boil.  While the water is heating, put all the tea bags in the pitcher, removing the paper tags from the Lipton and Luzianne tea bags (the Tetley Iced Tea bags are string-less and tag-less, made for iced tea!).

Once the water is boiling, *carefully* pour it into the pitcher over the tea bags.  Give the pitcher a few seconds of stirring to fully immerse the tea bags, then set aside and let it steep for 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes are up, remove all of the tea bags (one at a time, and squeezing the excess tea out against the inside wall of the pitcher so that it runs back down into the pitcher).  Once the tea bags are removed, place the strainer over the (empty) sauce pan, and pour the tea through the strainer and into the sauce pan.  This step filters out any tea leaves that may have been released by the tea bags, which have a tendency to fall apart about 20% of the time.

Pour the strained tea back into the pitcher, add the 1 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Note that this step is crucial because you want to dissolve the sugar in the water while it is still warm.

Once the sugar is dissolved (only takes 5-10 seconds of stirring), add ice and/or water to bring the tea level up to an inch or so below the top of the pitcher (leaving room for the lid to snug down without getting into the tea). 

Grilled Pineapple Salsa

Posted on August 9th, 2009 in Engineerboy,Recipes by EngineerBoy
Sweet, spicy, and tasty!

Sweet, spicy, and tasty!

We’ve been on a fish taco kick lately, trying various combinations of fish, salsa, toppings, and preparation methods.  Yesterday we cooked up a grilled pineapple salsa that was really tasty, and was great on the fish tacos, recipe as follows:

3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 fresh garlic clove
1 fresh jalepeno
2 cans pineapple rings in juice
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped purple onion
2 limes
2 tbsp sesame oil

Combine the four dry ingredients (sugar, chili powder, salt, garlic powder) in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Drain and spread the pineapple rings out on plates or a cookie sheet and sprinkle one side with the powder mixture, flip the rings and sprinkle the other side.

Heat a skillet on medium-high until hot, then add the sesame oil.  Swirl the oil around to coat the inside of the skillet and pour off the excess oil.  Add the pineapple rings in batches making sure that each ring sits flat on the skillet, and brown the pineapple on both sides – about 2 minutes per side.  Set the rings aside to cool.

Slice open the jalepeno and remove/discard the seeds, then chop finely.  Chop the cilantro and onions, and mince/mash the garlic clove.  Slice the pineapple rings into small wedges about ¼ to ½ inch across.  Combine the pineapple, cilantro, onions, jalepeno, and garlic, and squeeze the juice of two limes and mix thoroughly.  Refrigerate for an hour (or more) to allow the flavors to combine.

Options and alternatives:  As with all sweet/spicy dishes, feel free to dial the flavors up and down to taste.  Also, if you feel industrious, fresh pineapple would be great, as would cooking the pineapple on the grill (like with a flat basket and/or in large strips).

The salsa went great with our fish tacos (complemented with tasty Texas Twisters Creamy Cilantro Cotija sauce from H.E.B for you Texans), but should also be good with pork or chicken, or just with chips.  Yum!

Homemade Caramel Corn Recipe

Posted on December 14th, 2008 in Recipes by EngineerBoy
Look Out, Teeth!

Look Out, Teeth!

So for that last few weeks I’ve been having a craving for some nice, tasty caramel corn.  Now, when it comes to this confection I’m a purist – I don’t like anything in it but the popcorn and the coating, no nuts, no nothing else.  And that’s really hard to find at a store.  So I finally broke down tonight and made some at home, for the very first time, too.

The recipe is a mash-up of several recipes I found on the tubernets, and it goes like this:

6-7 quarts of air-popped popcorn
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Make the popcorn in an air popper, then put it into a large roasting pan and put it in the oven while making the coating.

To make the coating, combine the butter, sugar, honey, and corn syrup in a tall pot and heat over medium-high heat until it boils, stirring constantly.  Reduce the heat a little but keep it boiling, and let it boil without stirring it for five more minutes – it’ll get kind of bubbly and frothy.

Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the vanilla and baking soda.  The baking soda will make it foam up even more, so keep stirring until it settles back down a little bit.  Take the popcorn out of the oven and turn the heat in the oven up to 250 degrees.

Using a ladle or large spoon, drizzle about 1/3 of the syrup over the popcorn, then use a couple of big spoons to stir it up.  Repeat this process 2 more times, adding 1/3 more of the syrup each time, until all the syrup is on the popcorn.  Sprinkle some salt over the popcorn for the final stir, then place in the oven for 75 minutes, taking it out to stir it up every 15 minutes.  When you stir it, make sure to bring up the popcorn/syrup from the bottom and also to break up any large chunks of popcorn.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 15-20 minutes before eating.  You can eat it right out of the oven if you like, but it’ll be kind of sticky and gooey (not to mention hot).  After 20-30 minutes it will be more like what you expect from caramel corn, with individual pieces that mostly don’t stick together.

I will state, unequivocally, that this recipe resulted in the tastiest, most savory caramel corn that I have ever eaten.  Enjoy.

Tender and Juicy Texas-Style Barbeque Brisket on a Gas Grill

Posted on April 2nd, 2008 in Recipes by EngineerBoy
Texas Barbeque BBQ Brisket, click for larger version

Fork tender and juicy…yum!

I have a low-end little gas grill (Sunbeam Grillmaster 660) that we use for our weekend barbequing.  I used to be strictly a charcoal kind of guy, but I’ve been won over by the convenience and predictable heating of a gas barbeque grill, which is why  I recently read these gas grill reviews and decided to order the Char-Broil Signature TRU-Infrared 325(It’s high time I upgrade my grill).  There are some Texans who claim that *real* brisket can only be made over coals and/or wood, but I beg to differ.  I’ve been eating barbequed brisket my whole life, starting when we moved to a small Texas town in the 60’s, where my uncles would make brisket (along with ribs, chicken, and homemade venison sausage) for family gatherings.  Since then I’ve eaten brisket from just about every kind of barbeque joint and backyard cook you could think of.  And the brisket described here, cooked over a gas grill, ranks right up there with the best of ’em.

The brisket pictured here will give you an idea of what yours should look like.  Note the tray of charred wood chips on the left.  Also, only the left side of the grill is on, and the right side (under the meat) is off.  Also remember that the brisket cooks with the cover closed.  Click the picture for a larger version that shows more detail.

The Keys to Good Brisket

Good meat – get a big chunk of uncooked, unflavored brisket, 10+lbs with a nice fatty side, just a big old slab of meat in a vacuum sealed heavy plastic package.  Do NOT use any of the pre-flavored, pre-smoked briskets for this recipe, and do NOT trim the fat off.
Patience – prep time can extend overnight, cooking time is 6+ hours, resting time is nearly an hour and none of the steps can be rushed.
Restraint – very little seasoning is needed, and the meat must cook virtually undisturbed (no forking, flipping, meat-thermometer-stabs, or manhandling – just gentle slow cooking and smoking).
Non-violence – up until the time you’re ready to slice and serve the brisket, the meat should not be punctured or pierced in any way.  No forks, thermometers, unskilled tong use, flavor injections, slicing, scoring, tenderizing, etc.
Practice – it will probably take a few iterations for you to get the hang of the nuances of your grill, tools, and preferences.

Tools and Such

Gas grill with independent left and right side burner controls (only one side will be lit)
Big roasting pan or foil pan, large enough to hold the brisket and tough enough to withstand grill heat
Lots of aluminum foil (the extra-wide kind is better)
Aromatic wood chips (mesquite, pecan, hickory all work good) plus small foil pan or metal tray

Bourbon Chicken and Dumplings

Posted on July 1st, 2007 in Recipes by mynagirl

I’m an old hand at “juking” up recipes on the fly — sometimes the results are good, sometimes the results are.. well, edible. In rare cases, I come up with something that tastes REALLY good. This, I humbly submit, is one of those.

Bourbon Chicken and Dumplings


Organic Chicken Broth
Organic Beef Broth (optional)
Chicken breasts, boneless
Chicken thighs, boneless. Choose the right ones from DCW Casing website
Fresh thyme, parsley and sage
Fresh carrots
Fresh celery
Bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)
Half-and-half or cream or milk
Salt (I used a Garlic Sea Salt Grinder… yum)

In a big pot combine:

chicken broth (and beef broth if you want — I didn’t have enough chicken so I used beef as well)
the chicken breasts and thighs
carrots (I use whole carrots, skins and all, cut into 4″ lengths)
celery (I use stalks about 4″ long and leave the leaves on 1-2 stalks)
fresh thyme, parsley, and sage (don’t chop any of it up)
many splashes of bourbon

Let cook on med-low for a while until the chicken is tender. I did 1-2 hrs I think. Funny story: the bourbon happened because I snacked on a carrot from the cutting board I’d also used for the semi-raw chicken. I yelped out two seconds after I did it, “augh! I might get salmonella!” and my brilliant engineerboy husband said, “quick, take a swig of alchohol!”. So I did, and then I thought, well, I don’t have any white wine and soup is ALWAYS better with wine, and tossed in a bunch of bourbon. Concern of salmonella is the mother of invention… at least in this case!

Remove the carrots, celery, and spices from the broth (I throw away the spices, carrots and celery but I guess if you like to eat them you can leave them in). I also put a bunch of ground salt, and some black and tri-color pepper in there, freshly ground.

Take the chicken out of the pot and cut it into pieces. Add a little cream or milk into the broth.

Let cook another hour or two on low heat.

Preheat oven to 350. Turn up heat to medium on the broth, enough to get a boil but NOT SCALD. Mix up dumplings:

Bisquick and milk as per directions on the box
I ground the Garlic Sea Salt and sprinkled Paprika in the dumpling dough

Drop the dumpling dough in by big heaping spoonfuls. Let boil for 4-5 minutes. Then put pot in oven for about 15-25 minutes, until the tops are brown.

Damn fine! If I do say so myself!

Vegetarian Recipe: Stir-Fried Chickpeas and Rice

Posted on March 1st, 2006 in Health and Fitness,Recipes by mynagirl


Portabella mushrooms, chopped
Red Onion, chopped
Montreal Chicken Seasoning (contains no chicken)
Canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Cooked brown rice
butter (can substitute olive oil)
ginger sesame marinade (optional)


Pre-heat a cast-iron skillet, frying pan, or wok on medium heat.
When wok is hot, add butter, and portabellas and red onion. Add a dash of Montreal seasoning.
Stir-fry until onions are carmelized.
Then add chickpeas, drained, and more butter. Add another dash of seasoning.
Stir-fry until chickpeas are browned.
Then add more butter and the cooked brown rice (cold from the fridge is ok). Add another dash of seasoning.
Stir-fry for another 5 – 8 minutes (add a Tbsp or so of ginger marinade if desired) until everything is nice and sizzling hot.

Editor’s note: When I first posted this recipe, I commented that I usually pair this dish with cheese to get some protein. But my great friend Darla clued me in the wonder food that is chickpeas: Check out the amount of protein in these bad boys, not to mention iron and fiber. How cool is that?

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