This is a reprint of my column that ran in yesterday’s issue of the Record-Eagle.
“I don’t understand all these things people are doing to popcorn. Why bother? Popcorn is perfect with just a little salt on it.” Thus said my father while we chatted on the phone a couple weeks ago. At the time of our conversation I wholeheartedly agreed with him. As soon as I put the phone back on the hook, though, my brain started saying, “Well, what about that whiskey caramel bacon popcorn? Oh yeah. And what about chipotle kettle corn? And, and, and…” You get the idea.
*As I wrote this column I had the Paul Simon song, ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’ going through my head. While I normally love this song, I had just watched an episode of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ on dvd with Dinah Shore singing the aforementioned song. It was wrong. That’s all. Just wrong. If you don’t believe me, look that one up. A more accurate way of phrasing this would be “While I wrote this column I had the Dinah Shore version of ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’ going through my head and making me feel crazy.”
Popcorn is the ultimate snack food. Portable, filling, inexpensive, tasty and customizable, popcorn can be eaten the way my dad prefers it or gussied up for company. Don’t forget that popcorn is a whole grain and whole grain equals healthy. Because you still have the germ and bran of the grain, you retain the biggest source of vitamins and minerals in any plant. Popcorn also delivers mega doses of fiber and anti-oxidants (specifically, polyphenols) in a low-calorie, gluten-free vehicle. Of course, adding butter and cheese and other goodies does away with the low-calorie benefit, but hey… at least you’re starting out ahead of the game.
For the very best tasting and healthiest popcorn, step away from the microwave. Forget the fact that microwave and popcorn have been grafted together culturally. Microwave popcorn, like many pre-packaged foods, is full of ingredients that are questionable for you, thereby negating some of the wonderful health benefits of popcorn. When you air-pop or stove-top pop your popcorn, you retain control over what goes into the finished product: Omit any items to which you have aversions or sensitivities and make it taste exactly how you want it to taste. Who doesn’t like a little control every now and then?
Superbowl and hungry crowds loom: I can’t think of a better time to get knee-deep in popcorn. Grab a heavy pan with a lid and a capacity of at least eight quarts and I’ll walk you through fifteen of my favorite ways to eat popcorn.
*All of these methods require using a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot with a capacity of at least eight quarts and a tight fitting lid.
- Plain Salted Popcorn. Add 3 tablespoons of coconut oil, canola oil or vegetable oil and 3 unpopped popcorn kernels to the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid. Place pan over medium-high heat and cover. When the oil is sizzling hot and the three test kernels have popped, remove the lid and add 2/3 of a cup of unpopped popcorn. Immediately replace the lid. When the kernels start popping, use oven-mitted hands to hold the lid on while firmly shaking the pan back and forth every 5 seconds. When the popping slows down to a pop or two every few seconds, remove the pan from the heat. Turn the popcorn into a lid and sprinkle lightly with fine salt. And this is where my Dad would stop… but not me!
- Basic Kettle Corn. Follow the instructions for Plain Salted Popcorn up until the test kernels pop. When you add the 2/3 of a cup of unpopped popcorn, also add 2/3 of a cup of granulated sugar (either raw or white). Immediately replace the lid and use oven-mitted hands to hold the lid in place while shaking the pan back and forth vigorously every five seconds. When the popping slows down to a pop or two every few seconds, remove the pan from the heat and turn the popcorn into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with fine salt and use a long handled spoon to stir gently. Be careful- the hot sugar can burn! Let cool to slightly warmer than room temperature before attempting to eat.
- Chipotle Kettle Corn. Follow the instructions for Basic Kettle Corn, but add ½-1 teaspoon of ground chipotle powder to the popcorn with the salt. Stir gently and cool before eating. For more detailed instructions, see here.
- Bacon Kettle Corn. Replace the coconut/canola/vegetable oil with an equal amount of bacon grease and follow the rest of the Basic Kettle Corn instructions. Along with the salt, add crispy crumbled bacon before stirring.
- Bacon Chipotle Kettle Corn. Follow the instructions for the Bacon Kettle Corn, but add ½-1 teaspoon of ground chipotle powder along with the salt and crumbled bacon.
- Hot Sauce Popcorn. This is exactly what it sounds like. Sit down with a bowl of Plain Salted Popcorn and a bottle of your favorite hot sauce. Shake a bit over the top, eat and repeat.
- Chili Butter Popcorn. Prepare popcorn using instructions for the Plain Salted Popcorn. Melt 4 tablespoons of salted butter and stir in 1-3 teaspoons of chili powder, to taste. Drizzle over popcorn and toss to coat before serving.
- Garlic and Parmesan Popcorn. In a microwave safe bowl, add 3 tablespoons of butter and ½-1 clove of garlic (minced or crushed through a garlic press) and cover with plastic wrap. Heat on HIGH just until butter is melted, about 30 seconds. Remove plastic wrap, stir, and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Follow the instructions to make Plain Salted Popcorn. When you turn the popcorn into a bowl, drizzle with the garlic butter mixture and grate a generous amount of fresh Parmesan cheese over the top. Toss to coat, then serve.
- Pizza Popcorn. Prepare like the Garlic and Parmesan Popcorn, but stir in ½ teaspoon of dried oregano and 1 cup of diced stick pepperoni.
- Super Health Boost Popcorn. Follow the instructions for the Plain Salted Popcorn, using extra virgin coconut oil as the fat (and reducing the amount of fat to 1 tablespoon.) After turning the popcorn into a large bowl, sprinkle with a small amount of fine salt, 1 teaspoon of ground flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes. Toss to coat before serving.
- Croutons. Really! Use any of the savory popcorns as a healthier substitute for croutons on salad, Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup, or Corn Chowder. Try it sometime, you’ll be surprised how delicious it can be.
- Sweet and Salty Popcorn Trail Mix. Follow the instructions for Plain Salted Popcorn. After salting, let the popcorn cool completely before tossing in 1 cup each of M&Ms, salted peanuts, chocolate chips, and thin pretzel sticks. Store in a wide-mouthed, airtight container.
- Mega Healthy Popcorn Trail Mix. Follow the instructions for Plain Salted Popcorn but omit the salt. When the popcorn is completely cooled, stir in 2 cups of dried cherries or cranberries, 1 cup of raw cacao nibs, 2 cups of whole almonds and 1 cup of unsweetened flaked coconut. Store in an airtight container.
- Way Too Good Toffee Chocolate Popcorn (inspired by Heather Arndt Anderson of Voodoo and Sauce) Prepare ½ cup of unpopped popcorn kernels with 3 tablespoons of fat like you would the Plain Salted Popcorn but omit the salt. When the popcorn has been turned into a bowl, stir in ½ cup slivered almonds and 1 cup dried cherries. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside. In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt together ½ cup of light corn syrup, 1 cup of granulated sugar, ½ cup of butter and ¼ teaspoon of salt over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour over the popcorn. Stir with a long-handled wooden spoon and turn onto the silpat lined pan. Sprinkle a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top and let the entire thing stand until completely cooled. When the chocolate has returned to a firm state, use your hands to break into serving sized pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Muddy Buddy Popcorn (Inspired by the Chex Muddy Buddies recipe) Place 9 cups of plain popped popcorn into a large bowl. Set aside. Add 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, ½ cup natural peanut butter (crunchy or smooth) and ¼ cup butter (you can substitute margarine, but do not use tub or spread products) to a 1-quart microwave safe bowl. Heat on HIGH for 1 minute. Remove the bowl, stir, and heat again on HIGH for 30 seconds or until the mixture is smooth when stirred. Mix 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract into the chocolate. Pour over the popcorn and stir until evenly coated. Sprinkle 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar over the popcorn and toss until evenly distributed. Transfer to a cookie sheet and spread out evenly. Cool until the chocolate is set up. Store in an airtight container.