Pop stars

For months, my friend Laura has been raving about the “best caramel corn EVER,” and urging me to try some. I finally got around to it, and turns out, she’s right. Inga’s Popcorn is pretty damn tasty, and hard to keep your hands out of.

a little Inga's Chocolate Delight

Using family recipes, Inga has created some really delicious caramel corn variations, not to mention cheesy varieties (try the jalapeno cheddar!). A Chicago Combo Mix of caramel and cheddar offers the best of both salty and sweet worlds if you just can’t get off the fence. Or if you have PMS. I sampled the Chicago mix and the new Chocolate Lover’s Delight – a wickedly yummy caramel corn drizzled with ribbons of dark chocolate. Both were so delectably light, they very nearly melt in your mouth.

Inga's cheddar/caramel Chicago Mix

Inga’s secret ingredient? The popcorn itself. For her concoctions, Inga uses only a special kind of organic popcorn grown by Mozingo’s Farms in nearby Brownsburg. This particular strain of corn somehow pops up incredibly fluffy with very little hull to wind up stuck in your teeth.

Inga’s is based in Zionsville, and you can find her various flavored popcorns in stores scattered throughout the village and at the Zionsville farmer’s market. The company just opened a shop in Bloomington to boot, and you can also order popcorn online via her web site.

For more information about how to get your hands on this addictive stuff (and trust me, you want to), visit www.ingaspopcorn.com.

On a side note, a few weeks ago, Laura gifted me a bag of ground cornmeal from Mozingo Farms that’s been sitting in my freezer begging to be used. This week, I busted it out to make some chili-accompanying bacon cheddar corn muffins. However, I think my ratio of cornmeal to flour was off and they turned out way too doughy. I also used a tiny bit of the cornmeal to dust the pan beneath a homemade pizza last night, and it added a fantastic hint of toasty crunch.

Tonight’s experiment – polenta. And a really great one, as it turned out. I’m not well-versed in polenta, so this was an experiment. One I’d eagerly undertake again. I’m also wondering what the difference is between polenta and grits. Anyone? Please feel free to chime in here, readers. From what I can tell, they’re basically the exact same thing, but I’m all ears if you know the difference and want to set me straight.

Polenta, as it turns out, is easy peasy to make, requiring a list of ingredients you can count on one hand and a wee bit of patience. All you do is bring some water and salt (or if you’re me, half water and half chicken stock) to a boil, stir in the cornmeal and then keep on stirring until it loses its grit and becomes soft and velvety, about 20 minutes or so. If it’s too thick you just add a little more liquid to keep things rolling. Also, if you’ve got a splatterguard in your possession, you’ll want to put it to use here. The consistency of this stuff is like molten lava and you do NOT want it splashing up onto your skin. Definitely not a cook-while-naked dish.

When the polenta has reached a silky texture, not unlike mashed potatoes, throw in as much butter as you dare and maybe some cheese. Spoon it onto your plate or into your bowl and top it however you like – standard spaghetti sauce, sautéed veggies, chili… go crazy. I whipped up a quick marinara of sorts with mushroom and onions and it was fab.

polenta with mushroom ragout

If you prefer, you can spread the polenta out into a baking dish while it’s still warm, let it set up, then cut it into squares and eat it that way. Heck, you can even fry the squares lightly in a little olive oil if you really want to kick things up. This is also a surefire way to entice the kids to eat it if yours, like mine did, turn up their noses and refuse to take a taste of the more porridgey version.

A great, easy recipe to have in your bag of tricks. Try in as an alternative to pasta or mashed potatoes sometime and report back.

Say cheese

I believe I mentioned in a post awhile back my penchant for pretty platters laden with cheese, bread, crackers, fruit, nuts, what have you… Hubby and I recently found ourselves amid a veritable jackpot of newly launched Ludwig Farmstead Creamery artisan cheeses and were all too happy to assemble a dinnertime cheese board to sample the wares, rounding out our spread with a baguette, hard salami, kalamata olives and some sliced cucumbers. An ideal summertime meal when it’s scorching hot outside and you don’t feel like firing up the stove.

Ludwig Farmstead Creamery cheeses

Under the capable direction of Zionsville-based cheesemaster Fons Smits (formerly of Traders Point Creamery and an international dairy consultant), Ludwig is turning out some damn fine specimens.

Now, let me preface this review by saying that I am not by any means a cheese expert, nor have I ever played one on TV. I just know what I like when I taste it. So without further ado, let me bring you along on a little virtual Ludwig cheesetasting tour:

Feather Ridge is the company’s bestseller, inspired by hearty European cheeses like Fontina, Vacherin and Mobier. This firm number eats smooth with a little tweak of sharpness on the finish. I couldn’t help but think it would taste fantastic grated over some pasta or maybe on a pizza.

Feather Ridge

The Jake’s Wheel havarti has a mild, mellow nature that lends itself to experimentation, but its semi-soft texture and buttery flavor is plenty delicious on its own merits. Perfect sliced on a crunchy little cracker with perhaps a smear of mustard underneath.

The talented Mr. Smits is having fun infusing this cheese with ingredients as the mood strikes him to produce variations that include, say, bits of Moody Meats bacon (a guaranteed hit with most Midwesterners); fenugreek, a love-it-or-hate-it herb/spice that vaguely calls to mind Indian cuisine; spicy habanero peppers (Fons says this cheese has a small but very enthusiastic fan base); Dutch garden herbs; Italian herbs; and Asian spices. I like the Dutch garden herb with its bright, pretty blend of mixed green herbs. It looks gorgeous, and tastes delicious – do I detect a little bit of dill here? I love dill.

Jake’s Wheel, Dutch garden variety

The Kickapoo, named in honor of a state park near the Indiana-Illinois border not far from where the Ludwig Farm is located, is creamy in texture with a fresh flavor and a tiny hint of sweetness. My three-year-old loved this cheese, gobbling up each bite I gave him and asking for more. I plan to try to melt some on toast or use it for a grilled cheese and see how it goes over.

Kickapoo

Blue cheese fans, sit up and take notice. Fons is toying around with a Kickapoo that includes a stripe of blue cheese culture running through the middle. If you like an extra-bold blue cheese that really brings the funk, this probably won’t pack enough pungent punch for you. However, if you’re looking for just a subtle hint of flavor that won’t overpower — a good starter blue cheese, if you will — this baby should be right up your alley.

Kickapoo blue

Traditional Dutch Farmstead Gouda is perhaps closest to Fons’ own heart, being a native Dutchman and all. A good, solid all-around cheese for sandwiches, salads, whatever.

You can currently find the lovely Ludwig cheeses for sale (and free sampling!) at the Zionsville Farmers Market on Saturday mornings; check the web site for updated product news and a list of other retail outlets. The cheeses are also available to order online.

For more information:

http://ludwigfarmsteadcreamery.com/