Savory and sweet

Today counts as a double because it was a Baking Sisters day, and since we’re still working our way through the states, this month we decided to tackle Montana and Nebraska.

I should note, for the record, that most states don’t actually have any sort of ‘official’ food (although some certainly do), so we have to rely on the internet to give us ideas, on either something the state is known for (producing) or something that’s most often found in restaurants in that area. So for Montana, we picked Butte Pasties, and for Nebraska we picked popcorn balls, because apparently Nebraska is a huge producer of popcorn.

Pasties are one of those foods that’s been around forever, in various forms. Let’s face it, basically every culture eventually develops a food that can be carried around and eaten without the need for a plate or silverware, and the outer casing is usually some kind of pastry dough. In this case, it’s a basic butter-based pastry dough (there are other versions that use lard, but as we’ve determined in previous challenges, my sister and I prefer to avoid that when possible). We made the dough and then, even though the recipe didn’t call for it, popped it into the fridge to chill while we made the filling. I chose to make the traditional filling, which is cubed beef, onions, and potatoes.

Once you have a huge bowl of filling, then you divide the dough into 4 pieces, and roll each piece out into a round the size of the dinner plate (yes, really). Divide the filling between the four ginormous dough circles, then fold the dough in half over the filling, and seal the edges with a little bit of whisked egg. The tops are given a quick egg wash, and then they go into the oven and bake for roughly an hour, which seems like an inordinately long time to bake anything involving pastry dough, but which is necessary for all the raw meat and veggies to actually cook through.

It’s hard to get a sense of size from these, I know, but Richard and I split one between us and it was plenty for an extremely filling lunch. The rest will go into the freezer for future lunches.

These were fairly easy to throw together, and I could easily see doing similar pasties (maybe without the potato but perhaps some additional veggies – carrot, double the onion, a little chopped celery, leeks) and even ground meat instead of the cubed stew meat to save some time in the prep work. Delicious.

And now on to Nebraska. My sister and I decided to make Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls, because why not. And here’s where it gets amusing.

Today happens to also be a Big Day if you care about Sports Ball. So Richard went to the store first thing this morning like he usually does the morning of our Baking Sisters sessions, except that we very belatedly realized that the stores would be packed due to everyone getting ready for the big Sports Ball Event. Oops. Anyway. The point of this little sidebar is that the only popcorn he could find was little bags of microwave popcorn. Okay. So those should still be fine, right?

Ha. No. The package said the bag should only take about 1 to 1 1/2 minute to pop. After zapping it for probably closer to 8 minutes, I still didn’t have more than half the kernels popped. In fact, despite the fact that the package said each bag should have produced over 5 cups of popped corn (and I only needed 5 cups), I ended up having to microwave three separate bags, in order to get enough popped corn to use for the recipe. And on the other side of the videocamera, my sister was having very similar problems with her plain popcorn she was trying to pop in a pan on the stove. We both found it pretty amusing that the most difficult part of today’s baking adventure was popping corn. Thanks Nebraska!

But anyway. Corn finally popped, you then make a caramel out of corn syrup and sugar, and once that’s done, you stir in peanut butter and a little vanilla, and then you very quickly mix that into the popcorn until it’s well coated. Let it sit for just long enough so you can work with it, and then it gets formed into balls.

These are definitely snack sized little confections (each one has only about half a cup of popcorn in them), but they turned out quite tasty. My caramel was the perfect consistency so the balls hold their shape without it being too brittle. The peanut butter flavor comes through, but also the caramel, and the whole thing is a chewy, delicious treat. Nebraska, you are forgiven!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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