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SLIDESHOW — Playing with popcorn

The smell of popcorn wafting in the air can easily transport one back to childhood sleepovers, family fun nights or going to the movie theatres. For me, popcorn conjures images of how the making of popcorn has evolved in my life.

My first memory of popcorn was in India, where it was not a family affair to pop kernels at home. Instead it was done out on the streets. During the early evening, a vendor would come by the neighborhood with his hand pulled cart holding a portable stove with wok full of sand.

Back then the draw for us kids was not just the smell and the anticipation of eating the kernels but actually watching the vendor make the popcorn. He would take the popcorn and add it to the hot sand and rhythmically mix until the kernels magically turned them into white fluffs. I am not sure if it was the variety of corn used or the method, but this popcorn was sweet and earthy tasting. It was so good that no topping was needed.

When we came to Canada, my mom began making popcorn on the stove in pot .She would add a bit oil and then add the kernel. Although, I loved the “kling” “kling” noise the popcorn made when they hit the lid, the traditional flavour of the kernel that we grew up wasn’t the same. No matter how little oil my mom used we could always taste it on the kernel.

It didn’t take us long to acquire the taste of popcorn generously doused with butter and liberally sprinkled with salt. After tasting movie popcorn, it was unanimous between my siblings and me that greasy fingers indicated scrumptious popcorn. We always tried to replicate the flavour at home.

Then came the “magical” popcorn . . . Jiffy Pop! We gathered around the stove as the aluminum on top untwisted and ballooned up with popcorn. The popcorn was dripping with butter and seemed perfect. With three siblings, however, it seemed that there was never enough.

The air popper was never popular in our house; although you could make a large batch at once but the butter had to be added separately. For lazy teenagers, cleaning the machine and washing the butter dish and the popcorn bowl seemed too labour intensive!

The microwave bag was the answer to our household perfect popcorn dilemma; popcorn could be made in 2 1/2 minutes with butter and salt already added with no dishes to wash afterward! Unfortunately this is the popcorn that was served during any sleepovers, family movie nights or when the urge to snack sneaked up on us.

As a parent, seeking more natural and healthy ingredients to feed my kids, I again changed my method for making popcorn. I now use my microwavable popcorn bowl, add high quality popcorn, and simply microwave until the popping noise stops. Then I spray with olive oil or sparingly top with butter and salt.

As a foodie, I view the popcorn as a “fun, versatile” food that is like a blank canvas that can easily take on other flavours. With my need to tweak, add and seek out new flavours, I have discovered that there are variations that can add a little extra personality to popcorn.

A little garlic or onion salt, a touch of dry salad dressing, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese can easily perk up popcorn. For a sweet variation, don’t just stop with caramel popcorn take it one step further and drizzle with melted chocolate.

With so many varieties of spices available, you can also add some regional flavours. By adding seasonings that you use to make Pad Thai, curries, and taco, you can easily have your palate jumping to many corners of the world.

Another great thing about popcorn is that crushed up it can be used as a filler or a coating. It’s also a good substitute in some recipes like muffins and breads making it ideal for people who can’t have wheat gluten.

Here are my favourite and fun ways to enjoy popcorn.


Edible Popcorn Party Bowl

Yield: 1 bowl

10 cups popped popcorn

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 cup water

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 drops food color, optional

Spray the inside of a large, stainless steel bowl with cooking spray and the outside of a second large, stainless steel bowl; set aside. These two bowls will be used to form popcorn bowl at end of cooking time. (Note: if one bowl is smaller than the other, spray the outside of the smaller bowl.) Spray a third large bowl with cooking spray and place popped popcorn inside; set aside. Stir sugar, water, corn syrup, vinegar and salt together in a medium sauce pan. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, and boil for 3 minutes to allow steam to wash down sides of pan. Remove lid and attach candy thermometer to pan. Allow mixture to boil, without stirring, until mixture reaches 290F. Stir in food color, if desired. Working quickly, pour syrup over popcorn and toss with a large spoon until popcorn is thoroughly coated.

Pour popcorn mixture into first prepared bowl and use a spoon to push mixture evenly up onto sides of bowl. Firmly press second prepared bowl onto popcorn to form popcorn bowl. Allow popcorn bowl to cool completely between stainless steel bowls. To serve, tip popcorn bowl out and place on platter. Fill with popcorn to serve.


Coconut Curry Cashew Popcorn

10 cups popped popcorn

2 cups cashews

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 300F. Place popcorn, cashews and coconut in a large bowl; set aside.

Heat butter, sugar and honey in a medium saucepan. Stir mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil. Boil two minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and stir in curry powder and baking soda (mixture will foam). Pour syrup over popcorn mixture in bowl and stir until evenly coated. Pour mixture onto a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake 30 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Stir mixture a few times as it cools on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.


Pad Thai Popcorn

10 cups popped popcorn

1 cup chopped dry-roasted, salted peanuts or cashews

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup corn syrup

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sambal oelek (Thai chile paste) or plain hot sauce

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 250F (120C). Line baking sheet with foil brushed with oil. Mix together popcorn and chopped peanuts. Combine brown sugar, vegetable oil, and corn syrup in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add lime juice and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about five minutes. Remove from heat and quickly stir in sambal oelek, lime zest, and baking soda. Pour over popcorn, stirring to coat. Transfer popcorn to the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven, tossing every 10 to 15 minutes, until browned and sticky, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool and become crispy. Toss with cilantro before serving.


Cheesy Popcorn Bread

4 cups popped popcorn

1 cup yellow corn meal

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup 2% milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup shredded jack or cheddar cheese

1 (4 ounce) can mild, diced green chilies, drained, optional

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.

Process the popcorn in a blender or food processor until finely ground.Pour ground popcorn into a large bowl and stir in corn meal, sugar, baking powder and salt until blended. Beat egg, milk and vegetable oil together in a small bowl and stir into popcorn mixture just until blended.

Scatter cheese and chilies, if desired, over batter and stir just until evenly distributed.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned at edges and tester comes out clean. Cut into squares to serve.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on www.reddeeradvocate.com.

 
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