Popcorn remains one of America’s favorite snacks.
This well-liked munchie is easy to eat while watching TV, movies or football and is an inexpensive tasty snack to serve guests at your next party. I think half the fun of making popcorn is watching it turn from hard, little yellow kernels into a fluffy white pillows of delicious goodness.
Popcorn is very versatile. If you are craving something salty or sweet, popcorn can fill the bill. The supermarket shelves are bulging with numerous flavored choices; however, this easy-to-prepare snack can be transformed into a gourmet treat right in your own kitchen. By popping your own popcorn, you can get creative with the flavor combinations.
Popcorn toppings can be sweet or savory depending on your taste. Chili, barbecue and Cajun spices will add a savory flavor to your popcorn, while caramel, chocolate and cinnamon will sweeten your snack.
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Making popcorn from scratch can be tricky. Not only do you want as many kernels to pop as possible, but you also want to keep the kernels from burning at the bottom of the pan. I use the three-kernel test method, which goes like this:
I heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, put in three kernels (cover) and when they pop, I add the rest of the corn in an even layer. Cover and wait for the popping to begin and when it does, I alternate shaking the pot for three seconds then letting it sit on the burner for three seconds. Then when the popping slows down to almost nothing, I give it another shake and pour it out into a bowl.
Popcorn is a whole grain and naturally low in fat and calories (as long as you don’t load it up with too much butter). Three cups of popcorn is equivalent to a single serving of a whole grain food. Popcorn is also a good source of fiber, which helps to increase satiety and give a sense of fullness and satisfaction that lasts for hours. This can be helpful for weight control.
Popcorn is considered a whole grain because it is made up of three components: the germ, endosperm and hull. It is one of the four most common types of corn -- sweet, dent, flint and popcorn -- however, out of these four, only popcorn pops. It differs from the other types of corn for the reason that its hull has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open. The most interesting thing about popcorn is that when the kernel explodes, rather than scattering into little pieces, the starches puff up into little clouds. This phenomenon happens when the starches inside the superheated kernel hit the cooler air outside the kernel and immediately cool. This immediate drop in temperature causes the starches to congeal, forming the classic popcorn shape. In essence, popcorn is “frozen” at the moment of explosion.
Jazz up the flavor of popcorn while sneaking in an extra serving of vegetables, fruits and antioxidants with these healthy popcorn snack options.
Pile on the taste by tossing in some wasabi peas, soy nuts, pumpkin seeds, mixed nuts, dried fruits such as craisins, dried cherries, apricots, dates or banana chips, etc. Yogurt-covered raisins will also add another healthy dimension to popcorn.
Add a taste of decadence by adding a handful of dark chocolate chips, which are not only delicious, but contain powerful antioxidants. Crumble up a few dark chocolate covered graham crackers or break up a few dark chocolate covered pretzels into the popcorn for a tasty crunch that is good for you.
Season your popcorn with a variety of fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, mint or lemongrass, or spices such as curry, cayenne pepper or chili, garlic or onion powders. Many herbs and spices offer their own health benefits and help boost the nutrition of popcorn. In “Everyday Italian,” Giada de Laurentiis even substitutes rosemary-infused olive oil for the butter of the conventional popcorn recipe, rendering basic popcorn “elegant and sophisticated.” Something as simple as a little grated Parmesan cheese or as quirky as pumpkin pie spice adds flavor and zip.
Another interesting way to serve popcorn is to top soup (I like it on top tomato soup) or salad (adds nice crunch and new dimension).
Popcorn kernels should be fresh and plump. To keep them from drying out, store them in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator or freezer. If the kernels start to dry out, Marion Cunningham of the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” advises adding a tablespoon or two of water for each two cups of kernels and shaking the jar to distribute the water.
When hunger strikes, try popping popcorn. The whole family will enjoy this economical and versatile treat.
3 tablespoons canola, peanut or grapeseed oil (high smoke point oil)
1/3 cup of high quality popcorn kernels
1 3-quart covered saucepan
2 tablespoons of butter (to taste)
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan on medium high heat. Put 3 or 4 popcorn kernels into the oil and cover the pan. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the1/3 cup of popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and count 30 seconds. (Count out loud; this is fun to do with kids).
This method first heats the oil to the right temperature, then waiting 30 seconds brings all of the other kernels to a near-popping temperature so that when they are put back on the heat, they all pop at about the same time. Return the pan to the heat. The popcorn should begin popping soon, and all at once.
Once the popping starts in earnest, gently shake the pan by moving it back and forth over the burner. Try to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam from the popcorn release (the popcorn will be drier and crisper). Once the popping slows to several seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and dump the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl.
With this technique, nearly all of the kernels pop and nothing burns. If you are adding butter, you can easily melt it by placing the butter in the now empty, but hot pan. Salt to taste.
Makes 2 quarts --- a nice amount for two people or for one hungry one.
Note – if you add salt to the oil in the pan before popping, when the popcorn pops, the salt will be well distributed throughout the popcorn.
-- Simply Recipes
Sweet and smoky almond popcorn
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup hickory smoke flavored almonds
5 cups popped popcorn
In a large saucepan or pot, heat sugar and water over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes or until sugar is melted and mixture is bubbling, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter until melted and well blended. Stir in popcorn and almonds until well coated. Remove from heat and allow to cool before serving.
Makes 5 cups.
Store in an airtight container.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white sugar (white sugar will taste like popcorn balls; brown sugar will taste like caramel corn)
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels (use good quality)
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, stir in the sugar and popcorn.
Cover and shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning. Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped.
n Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps.
7 quarts plain popped popcorn (two 3.5 ounce bags microwave popcorn = 7 quarts popped corn)
2 cups dry roasted peanuts (optional)
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup margarine
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the popped popcorn into two shallow greased baking pans. You may use roasting pans, jellyroll pans or disposable roasting pans. Add the peanuts to the popped corn (optional). Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.
Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat. Don’t worry too much at this point about getting all the corn coated.
Bake for 1 hour, removing the pans and giving them each a good stir every 15 minutes. Line the countertop with waxed paper. Dump the corn out onto the waxed paper and separate the pieces.