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Five ideas for jazzing up freshly popped popcorn

Popcorn is having a moment. No longer confined to movie theater buckets, the puffed kernels are showing up in gourmet shops, restaurant dishes, desserts and more.

This week, we're devoting our 5 Ideas For ... feature to the popped snack, with suggestions for ways to bolster the plain grain. We'll also show you how to make your own at home, so you can ditch for good the nasty trans fats still lurking in some microwavable popcorn bags.

It's easy to see the allure of the versatile corn. There's that unique texture, its ability to be made savory or sweet in a pinch, and the fact that it can be quite healthy (air-popped popcorn has about 40 calories per cup and is loaded with fiber) and quite sinful (caramel corn, anyone?).

But mostly, it's just plain fun to make and eat, the onomatopoeia appeal of its pop, pop, popping giving way to that mouthwateringly distinct smell and oodles of white puffs.

Popcorn descends from a kind of maize — one of the first kinds cultivated in Central America — that has small, starchy kernels with hard shells. This hard outer wall helps pressure build inside the kernels when heated; the shell explodes when too much pressure builds up, revealing the white popcorn. A snack and a magic trick all in one.

The American snack food we recognize today has been around since the early 1800s, led by Charles Cretor's first steam-powered popcornmaker, which made the snack mobile and ideal for serving to patrons at entertainment events like the circus. By 1848, the word "popcorn" was included in the Dictionary of Americanisms. The one entertainment venue that initially balked at serving the snack? Movie theaters.

Perfecting the pop

Pick up some unpopped popcorn kernels at the store and make your own fresh popcorn at home using one of these two methods. Both produce hot, plain popcorn to act as a suitable base for the following topping suggestions. Alternatively, a store-bought air popper is a faster way to get the same results. However you prepare it, making your own popcorn is vastly cheaper than buying it any other way. Note: 3 tablespoons of unpopped popcorn kernels yield about 6 cups of popcorn.

On the stove

Add 3 tablespoons of canola oil or coconut oil (or something that has a high smoke point and can withstand high heat) and 4 unpopped popcorn kernels to the bottom of a large pan with a heavy bottom. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cover with a lid. When the test kernels have popped and the oil is hot, add ⅔ cup unpopped popcorn. Make sure to cover with the lid again immediately. When the kernels start popping, shake the pan back and forth a bit, every 5 seconds or so. You know the popcorn is ready when the popping slows to every few seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and season immediately.

In the microwave

For this method, all you need is a paper bag, preferably one of those brown paper lunch bags. Use about ½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels per bag. But first, in a bowl, lightly toss the kernels with ½ teaspoon of canola oil. Then, add to the bag and fold the top of the bag down a few times, making sure you get a tight fold so the bag is mostly sealed. Place the whole thing in the microwave for about 2 minutes, though you should keep a close eye on it. It's best not to walk away while you're making this popcorn. If the kernels stop popping altogether or you smell burning popcorn, stop the microwave even if it hasn't run the full 2 minutes. It's always best to err on the less-popped side. Remove the bag from the microwave, carefully open the top and season immediately.

FIVE IDEAS

Cheesy Corn

Buffalo Blue: Melt 6 tablespoons butter with ⅓ cup Buffalo hot sauce, then toss with 12 cups hot popcorn, ½ cup crumbled blue cheese and some celery leaves. Season with salt.

Parmesan: In a microwave-safe bowl, add 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 clove of minced garlic and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave until butter is melted, about 30 seconds. Remove plastic wrap and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir. Add the garlic butter mixture to 12 cups fresh popcorn. Grate about ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese on top. Toss.

Spice It Up

Garlic Herb: Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan. Add 4 grated garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon each finely chopped fresh rosemary, sage and thyme. Let cook for a minute. Drizzle over 12 cups hot popcorn and toss with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Recipe from Food Network.

Spicy: Drizzle 12 cups hot popcorn with 2 tablespoons melted butter. In a small bowl, mix together ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Toss popcorn with seasoning blend to coat. Recipe from Food Network.

easy

Candy Bar Popcorn

Candy Bar Popcorn

Ingredients

  • ⅔ cup popcorn kernels, prepared according to one of the methods previously mentioned
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 20 "fun size" candy bars, like Twix, Snickers or Milky Way, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place popcorn in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil without stirring for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla extract. Pour caramel in a thin stream over popcorn, stirring to coat. Gently stir until all of the popcorn is covered.
  3. Place popcorn on two large shallow baking sheets and bake in preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, for about an hour. Remove popcorn from oven and let cool completely.
  4. Break popcorn into pieces and mix in chopped candy bars. Let the popcorn sit about 30 minutes. Store at room temperature in an airtight container. Serves 4-6.
Source: Adapted from twopeasandtheirpod.com

easy

Trail Mix Popcorn

Trail Mix Popcorn

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup popcorn kernels, prepared according to one of the methods previously mentioned
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1 cup roasted mixed nuts, almonds, walnuts or peanuts

Instructions

  1. Place freshly popped popcorn in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with some salt to taste, then shake to coat popcorn.
  2. Roughly chop the cranberries and roasted mixed nuts, then sprinkle over the popcorn and shake again. Serves 10 to 12.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times

easy

Salted Dark Chocolate Popcorn

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup popcorn kernels, prepared according to one of the methods previously mentioned
  • 4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt, divided

Instructions

  1. Place popcorn in a large bowl. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place the chocolate and ½ teaspoon salt in a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl. Heat in the microwave in 30-second increments until chocolate is very soft and becomes completely liquid when stirred gently. Immediately pour over the popcorn and stir to coat as thoroughly as possible.
  3. Spread evenly onto the baking sheet and sprinkle with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Let sit at room temperature until chocolate has hardened, about 1 hour.
  4. Keeps for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Serves 4.
Source: thekitchn.com

Five ideas for jazzing up freshly popped popcorn 11/02/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 3:18pm]
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