Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

It’s all about the saucy sauce.

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This is really a simple recipe. Barely a recipe, actually. Make some rice. Steam some veg. Buy some tofu. And mix it all together with a swanky, saucy sauce.

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I have a pretty well-stocked Asian pantry these days. Gochujang and miso are staples in my fridge, and I have both light and dark soy sauces in the cupboard. Usually, whipping up a little Asian-inspired sauce for things isn’t challenging. But if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of sourcing every single bottle available in the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese grocery stores, my staples are a nice soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil. I use a lot of rice wine vinegar, but other acids work well (lime, for instance). Mirin is another nice thing to have but I can easily do without. Fish sauce on the other hand… it’s hard to replicate that flavor. Just don’t smell it and you’ll be fine.

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This recipe has some specialty items from the Asian grocery store, but feel free to swap in any other mushroom for the buna shimeji or tarragon for the perilla leaves. We make rice bowls a lot and they’re pretty versatile – truly a kitchen-sink kind of dish if there ever was one.

Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

The last note here is about the tofu. Get the good stuff or make your own. Sometimes I’ll use a super firm tofu in rice bowls, but this one uses a creamy, silken tofu. The custard-y texture is a nice contrast against crunchy vegetables.

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Rice Bowls + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked according to package directions
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
1 avocado, sliced
buna shimeji or other mushrooms, roughly chopped if needed

1 package silken tofu

1 clove garlic, smashed in a mortar & pestle with a bit of salt
1 teaspoon white or black sesame seeds, smashed in a mortar & pestle
1 fresh red chile, finely minced
1-inch nob of ginger, finely minced
1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (or tamari or Liquid Aminos)
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar (or other acid like lime juice)
2 tsp water

1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 perilla leaves, rolled and finely sliced
a few extra slices of red chiles

Making the bowls is easy enough: prepare the rice according to the package. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and steam or blanch them for 1-2 minutes. You want them still snappy. Combine the rice, veggies, and avocado in a big bowl. Dole out individual portions in smaller bowls or on plates.

For the mushrooms, I had a bit of this handy douban oil from this recipe on hand (except made with gochujang and coconut oil), so I quickly pan-fried them in that for about 2 minutes. If you don’t have chile oil on hand, just fry them in any other high-smoking-point oil. The key to mushrooms: fry them on high heat. Otherwise, they’ll release moisture and you’ll steam them. Top individual portions with mushrooms.

Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch long pieces – kind of like thin bricks. Place a slice on each individual portion.

For the sauce, toss everything into a jar or deep bowl and shake or whisk vigorously. Pour over individual servings to taste, and top each bowl with the green onions, perilla leaves, and red chiles.

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Pan-Fried Cauliflower + Shishito Peppers + Marinated Olives

Eric and I just returned from a whirlwind, week-long trip through Texas. With stops in Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio, we managed to cover a lot of ground. One thing I learned in Texas: I can eat tacos every. single. day. So many tacos. We even tried San Antonio’s famous puffy taco. But now that we’re home, it’s time to detox and eat some vegetables.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Shishito Peppers (5)

I went a little overboard at the grocery store when we got back and bought nearly every single vegetable in the produce aisle. I had to take stock yesterday of what we had in the fridge and come up with a plan to use it all. First stop: pan-roasted cauliflower with many good things on top.

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In other news, Eric and I were talking the other day about this whole gluten debate after watching this Jimmy Kimmel clip revealing the absurdity of the gluten-free trend. As always needs to be said, this absurdity does not extend to those who have celiac disease. Nonetheless, all this talk about gluten got me thinking about what a wonderful community of bacteria and enzymes I have in my gut. I am literally tolerant of everything. I eat street food in the most exotic of destinations, and I can eat anything under the sun that my little heart desires – without consequences. When I see the problems that others have with their guts, I realize how lucky I am with my little community in there.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Shishito Peppers (4)

So, this recipe. We’ve got cauliflower, of course, but also shishito peppers (shishito peppers!!), radishes, red chiles, and even garlic scapes (garlic scapes!!). Shishito peppers are one of those foods… you know the ones… if I see it on a menu, I have to order it. If I see it at Joong Boo, I have to buy it. Same goes for garlic scapes, garlic chives, ramps, or any other iteration of garlic or its family members. Thus, put these things together and you get a real winner.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Shishito Peppers (2)

Pan-Fried Cauliflower + Shishito Peppers + Marinated Olives

For the marinated olives:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced into thick chunks
1/4 cup garlic scapes, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
4-5 pieces of shaved lemon peel
7-8 sprigs of fresh thyme or 3-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 cup kalamata olives
1/2 cup castelvetrano olives (or any other variety)

For the rest:

2 fresh red chiles, finely sliced
1 small head cauliflower, sliced
15ish shishito peppers, or more or less according to your liking
handful chopped, roasted peanuts
5-6 radishes, finely sliced
juice of 1 lemon
salt + pepper to taste

To make the marinated olives, combine the olive oil, garlic, scapes, lemon peel, and fresh herbs in a large pan over medium-low heat. Let the oil warm and infuse the flavors for ~5 minutes. Add the olives, stirring to coat them. Turn off the heat and transfer the olives and oil to a jar or other container. You can keep all the flavoring ingredients in the mix if that’s easier.

Without washing the pan, turn the heat to medium-high heat and combine the chiles, cauliflower, and shishito peppers in the pan. Add more of the flavored olive oil if needed. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and allow the cauliflower and peppers to cook until the cauliflower is browned and the shishito peppers are blistered. When this happens, turn off the heat, top with radishes, peanuts, a bunch of marinated olives and fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust for seasoning and serve.

Tuna Cups with Quick-Pickled Swiss Chard Stems

This is a quick little lunch that I whip up sometimes. Tuna salad is often a kitchen-sink dish for me, and this one became a way to use up some quick-pickled swiss chard stems left over from a salad last week.

I read a great tip on Food52 a while ago about keeping a bag of vegetable food scraps in the freezer. When the bag is full, pull it out and make vegetable broth. You can improve the flavor of tons of things with broth – cook rice, or lentils, or beans in the broth instead of water.

I’ve been tossing in kale stems and leek tops, but chard stems are too pretty for the freezer. Instead, I quick pickled them and waited for an opportunity to use them.

Tuna Cups with Pickled Swiss Chard Stems

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Tuna Cups with Quick-Pickled Swiss Chard Stems

leftover swiss chard stems, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup vinegar of your choosing
1 cup water
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons curry powder

1 can tuna
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1 teaspoon whole-grain or dijon mustard
1/2 red onion, finely diced

parley, cilantro, or other chopped herbs

1 bunch butter lettuce

To make the quick pickles, put the chopped stems in a jar. Combine the vinegar (I used distilled white vinegar), water, salt, and curry powder in a pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, poor the pickling brine into the jar. Cover with a lid and put in the fridge to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine tuna, greek yogurt, mustard, onion, and herbs. Finely dice the pickled chard stems and combine with the tuna.

Peel leaves of the lettuce head off and fill with the tuna salad.

Chickpea Pancakes + Oven-Roasted Tomatoes + Caramelized Onions

I sat on the stoop this morning drinking coffee, catching up on emails, and doing a bit of work. It was chilly – around 50 degrees – but the sun was shining and I was determined to get some rays on my face. Nothing like the morning sun to set your mood for the day.

Chickpea Pancakes (5)

This recipe comes mostly from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty. I added a few tweaks but the pancakes, the layering of flavors, the techniques – all Yotam’s genius at work. In subsequent servings I sprinkled roasted pumpkin seeds and Aleppo pepper on top. Smoked paprika would be lovely as well. The original recipe calls for a dollop of crème fraîche, which we happened to have on hand (homemade, in fact, by Eric!), but greek yogurt would work equally well.

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So with this spring weather we’ve been enjoying lately, I am more and more excited about summer fun. I recently picked up a new sleeping bag for summer camping adventures. We’ve been borrowing Eric’s brother’s bag for a while now, so it was time to finally invest in our own. It is the coolest sleeping bag I have ever seen, and I’m so, SO excited to use it. I’m really trying hard to not wish away these beautiful spring days until our first camping trip of the season.

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Chickpea Pancakes + Oven-Roasted Tomatoes + Caramelized Onions
adapted, slightly, from Plenty

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
drizzle of olive oil
pinch of salt, crackle of pepper

2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon za’atar or roasted thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt, crackle of pepper

1 3/4 cups chickpea flour
2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of salt, crackle of pepper
2 egg whites

arugula leaves, to serve
crème fraîche or greek yogurt, to serve

Preheat the oven to 275. Arrange the cherry tomatoes skin side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper over the top. Bake for 30 minutes.

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over high heat and add the onions, za’atar, and salt and pepper. After a minute, turn the heat to medium and slowly cook the onions until lightly caramelized, around 20-30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then combine with pancake batter. Heat a pan over medium heat and oil generously – enough so the pancakes don’t stick. Pour a small amount of the batter in the pan to form 6-8″ cakes. When holes and bubbles start to form, about 2 minutes, flip the cake and cook for another minute more. Continue until all the batter is gone.

To serve, layer the onions and tomatoes on top of the chickpea pancake. Top with arugula and crème fraîche as well as any other finishes you like – nuts, seeds, etc.

Citrus Salad

I recently discovered that I like grapefruit. No, love grapefruit. The pink variety, specifically. All these years I thought that I didn’t like grapefruit mostly because I loathed grapefruit juice, but I should know better than to judge a fruit by its concentrated juice counterpart.

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These bright pinks ones are my favorite. So juicy and mildly sweet. I’ve mainly been eating them in two iterations: on their own as breakfast or in a salad for lunch or dinner. This version is my most basic one – the one that I make when I don’t have much time – but I often jazz it up with avocados, sesame or pumpkin seeds, or some lightly blanched green beans or asparagus. With a simple vinaigrette, the salad makes for a nice contrast to the cold, snowy scenery outside.

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We went on a couple fun trips within the last couple months. I piggy-backed on a work trip of Eric’s to El Paso to visit White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns, and for Eric’s birthday, we paid a visit to his birthplace – Puerto Rico. In Carlsbad, we went on a fun wild cave tour that had us crawling through crevices and rappelling down underground cliffs. We were also planning on camping at nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but unseasonably cold weather forced us indoors. We still had a weekend’s worth of camping food, though, so we still cooked our meals on the camp stove inside the hotel – and only set the smoke alarm off once!

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Puerto Rico was a week-long adventure. We flew to nearby island Vieques and drove around stopping off at whichever secluded beach we wanted. Back on mainland PR, we drove around the island the rest of the week, stopping in Ponce, Boqueron, Rincon, Arecibo, and of course, San Juan. Oddly enough, we barely stepped foot on a beach once we left Vieques – too much other fun stuff to do!

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Citrus Salad

*As mentioned above, there are many ways to spruce up this salad to make it heartier. Add sliced avocado, blanched asparagus or green beans, and cashews or seeds.

1/2 pink grapefruit, peels removed and segmented with no membranes
1 blood orange, peels removed and sliced into rounds
1 head butter lettuce
1 tablespoon red wine or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt

Wash and dry the butter lettuce, then tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Prepare the fruit and arrange them atop the lettuce. Mix the vinegar, oil, and salt together and pour over the salad.

Herby Garlic Soup

I’ve received more winter weather and wind chill advisories from my iphone weather app than I’d like to think about lately. Talking about the weather may be a little overdone, but seriously, this has been a harsh one. Oh, and I am running a half marathon on Saturday–a day for which the weather forecast keeps getting colder and colder and snowier and snowier. Good thing we have a trip to Puerto Rico coming up in just one week. In the mean time, garlic soup.

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This garlicky broth is not at all as harsh as it sounds. And for a 15-minute broth, this one packs a lot of flavor. In fact, I may ditch all my other vegetable broth recipes and just stick to this from now on.

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With lots of watercress and chives, this soup has nice herby, savory notes. The beans and carrots make it hearty, too. It’s just good.

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Herby Garlic Soup

1 head garlic
10-5 peppercorns

1-inch knob of ginger, sliced into 4 slices
2-3 bay leaves (optional)
4 cups water

1/2 cup cannellini beans, cooked
1/2 cup borlotti beans (or other heirloom bean), cooked
2 carrots, sliced thinly
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 bunch watercress, chopped
chives, sliced (optional)
salt, to taste

In a saucepan, combine garlic, peppercorns, ginger, bay leaves, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. After five minutes, remove the ginger and simmer another ten minutes. Strain out the garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves (set the garlic and peppercorns aside; discard the bay leaves).

Pour the broth back into the pot and add the beans, carrots, and zucchini. Bring it back to a boil and then immediately remove from heat. This should be just enough to take the raw edge off the vegetables but still keep them crisp.

Salt to taste, and garnish with chives and watercress.

As for the garlic and peppercorns, combine with a bit of water in a blender and grind until smooth. Use a spoonful here or there to make a vinaigrette, or mix it with tahini and more herbs to make a vegetable dip. The garlic will taste mellow and sweet, almost as if it’s been roasted.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 5: Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

Day 5. (days 1, 2, 3, and 4) We’ve reached the end, and we’re going to go out with a bang. A big porky bang.

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Pulled pork has become one of our favorite indulgent meals because it’s so easy to make it good. I don’t cook meat that often – it’s expensive, often time consuming, and when it tastes good, it’s not particularly healthy. Yes, there are plenty of healthy boneless, skinless chicken recipes out there, but I’d just as soon make something vegetarian that tastes equally good, if not better.

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Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

I made this pulled pork in the slow cooker, but you can also do a braise in the oven, which is faster. To do that, follow the first steps of browning and adding the braising liquid in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Put the whole thing in a 350-degree oven for 2-2.5 hours. After two hours, check it. If it pulls apart with a fork, it’s done, if not, keep cooking.

1.5 pounds bone-in pork loin
1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed or canola oil)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, quartered
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 dried avocado leaf (optional)

mixed veg
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uice of 2 limes

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey

corn tortillas

If your slow cooker has a removable pot, pull it out and heat it over medium-high heat. If not, heat a pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil. Generously season the pork loin with salt and pepper, then brown each side of the meat in the oil. Be sure to get a deep brown color on each side.

Once every side is browned, remove the pork from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic, onion, and cumin to the pan and stir it around in the remaining oil. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. Add a splash of the apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the leftover brown bits. If you’re doing this in a separate pan, transfer everything to your slow cooker now and add the rest of the vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, Mexican oregano, and avocado leaf. Season this sauce generously with salt, then add the pork back in. Otherwise, add the remaining ingredients to your slow cooker pot while it is still on the burner. Bring the liquid to a boil, then move the pot into the slow cooker.

Cook in the slow cooker for 5 hours. At this point, the pork should be falling off the bone and tear apart easily with a fork. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and pull it apart using two forks. I usually do this in a large bowl, then pour a bit of the braising liquid over the pork and stir it around. I like to keep the braising liquid by straining out all the other stuff. I will water it down and use it as a base for soups, and you can freeze it to save for later.

To make the slaw, combine lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and honey in a small bowl. Whisk it all together, then toss the mixed veggies in the dressing.

To make the tacos, warm the tortillas in a dry frying pan or over a gas flame. Add the pulled pork and some of the dressed vegetables. Eat.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 4: Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

Day 4. (days 1, 2, and 3) Are you sick of veggies yet? In anticipation of the fatty, porky tacos that are to come tomorrow, today we have a kale salad. You might have noticed that I make kale salads a lot. They’re just good.

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We’re back from Louisville and had so much fun driving around rural Kentucky to taste bourbon. Our favorite of the day was at the Heaven Hill Distillery; they make the Elijah Craig 12-yr bourbon that went down nicely without the aid of water. Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve had the prettiest distilleries with a lot of old buildings; Buffalo Trace is pictured below.

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This picture is of Willet Distilleries bourbon aging warehouses… they look like eery old prisons.

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With our newfound educations, we felt a lot more comfortable ordering bourbons at the bar!

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We ate at Chef Edward Lee’s restaurant in downtown Louisville called Milkwood. It was so delicious, and the cocktails were perfect. The octopus bacon was a killer starter, but the pork burger was what we thought about the rest of the night.

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And now… back to healthy food for the week!

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Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

1 bunch lacinato kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 can full-fat coconut milk

zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon honey
mixed veg

To prepare the kale, remove the stems and roll the leaves up into a tight bundle, then finely shred the leaves. Place the kale in a large bowl and mix in the olive oil. Massage the leaves until they are all coated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and honey.

Toss the kale with the veg and dressing.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 2: Creamy Coconut Soup

It’s day 2 of having a big bowl of vegetables in the fridge (see day 1 here). Today’s recipe is super easy. Simmer coconut milk with some aromatics and then add your vegetables to the pot. Done.

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Què màs? Well, Eric and I are heading to Louisville this weekend to drink our way through the Bourbon Trail. We have an ambitious plan of visiting four (maybe five, if we can handle it) distilleries on Saturday, including Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Heaven Hill, and Willet. We’re quite excited. I’m making a big batch of quinoa patties to sustain us between distilleries, and I’m loading them with veggies. Broccoli, rapini, and butternut squash are getting mixed in for maximum health benefit in addition to herbs and parmesan cheese. This trick of ours – bringing quinoa patties to munch on – also helps us cut down on eating-out costs while we travel. Win-win.

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Creamy Coconut Soup with Veggies

1 13.5-oz can full-fat coconut milk
13.5 oz water (just use the can to measure this)
1/2 inch knob of ginger, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 stalk lemongrass
salt to taste
mixed vegetables
handful of toasted pepita seeds

In a pot, combine the coconut milk, water, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough outer leaves and cut off the ends. Cut it into 4-inch pieces and smash it with the back of the knife. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, being careful to never let it boil.

You can heat the vegetables in the microwave for a minute or two to warm them, then place them in a bowl. Ladle the coconut broth over the vegetables and top with toasted pepita (pumpkin) seeds.

Popcorn, 3 Ways

More iPhone photos in this one… sorry. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to pull out my SLR and take a proper photo. So anyway, this was dinner a couple weekends ago. Popcorn, a bottle of wine, and a Breaking Bad marathon. Thankfully we have finally finished watching Breaking Bad; now we can have our lives back. I will admit to having a small hole in my heart for about two days after we watched the finale, but it healed quickly.

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Anyway, back to the popcorn. My new obsession is sichuan peppercorns. The red ones are more readily available, but the green ones are my favorite. This popcorn was made with the red variety, though. Both versions cause a similar mouth numbness that is just… so. cool. The numbing effect is perfect with spiciness. The red ones have more of an anise flavor, while the green ones verge more toward minty-ness in a way.

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Another relatively recent discovery is dried curry leaves. I found these at a grocery store in Little India in Chicago, but you can order them online easily. I ground them in my spice grinder with a little turmeric and it adds this sort of grassy curry flavor to the popcorn.

The other thing that I love on all popcorn is something green and fresh. Usually this just ends up being an herb, but I had some finely processed asparagus from a dumpling-making session and found that those were great also.

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Popcorn, 3 Ways

This recipe doesn’t really have exact measurements, just ratios. Just sprinkle things on until the popcorn tastes good is my general rule. If you need a tutorial on popping popcorn, there is a great one over at Simply Recipes. I always pop mine on the stove top in a big pot. You can top it with butter, which is of course amazing, but if you want something slightly healthier, pick up an olive oil spray canister and just spray the popcorn. Then mix all the spices together in a bowl and sprinkle it on with salt to taste. Toss the popcorn and top with fresh greenery.

Curry + Pea Shoots

2:1 ratio of ground, dried curry leaves and ground turmeric
finely chopped pea shoots

Spicy Sichuan Peppercorn + Black Pepper

2:1:1 ratio of ground sichuan peppercorns, freshly ground black peppercorns, and red pepper flakes
finely chopped green onions

Truffle Salt + Cheese

truffle salt to taste
parmesan cheese
finely processed asparagus

[for the truffle salt + cheese popcorn, I actually like to microwave it for 15-30 seconds to allow the cheese to melt over the popcorn. yum.]