Popcorn is for sharing

Adrienne Freeman Contributing Writer Published October 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman / Contributing Photographer

Simple popcorn becomes simply special served in sparkly champagne glasses as a fun party appetizer. Fluffy kernels can easily be tinted to match wedding colors or a variety of party themes.

Popcorn is not just for movies anymore. It’s found as an appetizer in gastropubs, a garnish or side dish in restaurants and as snack food on store shelves and in mall kiosks. Brides and event planners tint the fluffy kernels to match the party theme. Butter and salt are no longer popcorn’s only friends – gourmet flavors, some that are familiar and some not, are showing up in the supermarket and in adventurous home kitchens as well. And with popcorn balls on many people’s favorite treat list, October is the optimum time to observe National Popcorn Popping Month.

According to the The Popcorn Board, Americans eat around 16 billion quarts of popcorn a year. Artisanal, handmade varieties pocket a pretty penny of what is valued as a $1 billion market, as reported by business network CNBC. Predicted to be one of the food trends of 2013 by Time magazine and a dozen popular online food blogs, the prognosticators seemed to be on point.

The Doc Popcorn chain, which claims to be the biggest popcorn retailer in the world since it began franchising in 2009, has grown quickly by any standards, with more than 85 PopShop locations open and 300 in development.

And the Doc Popcorn chain isn’t the only one in on the trend. Whether in stores or carts, classic flavors such as caramel, cheddar and buttered popcorn still thrive, served alongside newer, inventive ones such as jalapeno, cinnamon, bacon, buffalo or bleu cheese.

Popcorn, also known as popping corn, is a type of corn that expands from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Corn is able to pop because like some similar grains — amaranth grain, sorghum, quinoa and millet — its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy interior.

Pressure builds inside the kernel, and a small explosion, or “pop,” is the end result. Some strains of corn are now cultivated specifically as popping corn.

With Halloween around the corner and fall carnivals in full force, a new spin on Grandma’s popcorn balls or a zippy handful of Chipotle Spice Popcorn catches you up with the trendy, and delicious, cool kids!

MAPLE RUM POPCORN BALLS

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup dark-brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 teaspoons rum or maple extract

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

8 cups popped popcorn

6 pieces cooked bacon, chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Directions:

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside. Combine sugars and corn syrup with 1/3 cup water in a saucepan. Using a candy thermometer, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugars dissolve. Once mixture has reached 240 degrees, remove from heat and stir in butter.

Return to heat and continue cooking until mixture reaches 300 degrees. Remove from heat and carefully stir in extract, baking soda and salt. The baking soda will make the mixture bubble up; stir with caution.

Place popcorn, bacon and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl, and gently fold in caramel mixture until well coated. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Let the mixture cool slightly. Using silicone gloves or butter-greased hands, shape coated corn into balls. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat to form 12 balls. Allow the balls to set up at room temperature, about 15 minutes, before serving. Wrap individual popcorn balls in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container.

PEANUT BUTTER MINI POPCORN-BALL BITES

Ingredients:

6 cups popped popcorn, lightly salted

1 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

1/4 cup peanut butter baking chips (like Reese’s brand)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons honey

2/3 cup smooth peanut butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

Place the popcorn, peanuts and peanut butter chips into a large bowl, and set aside. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, and set aside.

Place the sugar and corn syrup into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Once the mixture has reached 240 degrees (soft-ball stage) add the honey, peanut butter and vanilla, stirring until fully combined.

Pour the sugar mixture over the popcorn mixture, and fold together until all of the popcorn mixture has been evenly coated and distributed.

Allow the mixture to cool slightly. When it is cool enough to handle, form into golf-ball-size balls. Lightly greasing your hands with butter helps to prevent sticking. Place the balls on the parchment-lined pan, and allow to cool completely.

Once the popcorn balls have set, wrap them in plastic wrap or wax paper before serving.

Topping ideas:

Sweet

Mexican chocolate: Sprinkle on a teaspoon of butter, then a few shakes of cinnamon, a dash of cayenne and a teaspoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder.

Cinnamon-sugar: Drizzle melted butter on the cooked corn to taste. Dust with 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar; then shake on cinnamon to taste. Other good combos: sugar and chai spices; sugar and pumpkin-pie spice; and powdered ginger and sugar, vanilla or lavender sugar.

Buttery maple: Coat with 1 teaspoon salted butter and 1 teaspoon maple syrup. Eat immediately; it could become a little soggy in places. For added flavor, add ground rosemary or black pepper.

Salty

Garlic and Parmesan: Sprinkle

on Parmesan (canned works the best) and granulated garlic or garlic salt,

depending on your preference.

Pizza popcorn: Make garlic and Parmesan from above, then add dried oregano and red-pepper flakes.

Ranch: Coat with unsalted butter; then sprinkle with packaged ranch-dressing mix.

Spicy

Buffalo: Toss popcorn with melted butter; then sprinkle with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Finish with a light topping of ranch-dressing mix.

Chili-spiced: Use smoky chipotle powder or regular chili powder for a spicy kick that isn’t as messy as the Buffalo-seasoning variety.

Taco flavor: Add 1 teaspoon taco seasoning per cup (low sodium is fine) for a spicy kick.

Fiery wasabi: Sushi lovers rejoice! Sprinkle on wasabi powder to taste, along with 1/4 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.

Savory

(If your herbs and spices are not powdered, use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle so they’ll sprinkle on popcorn more easily.)

Using 1 teaspoon of fat per cup of popped corn, add your choice of the following:

• Italian seasonings and olive oil;

• Curry powder (red or yellow) with coconut oil;

• Lemon pepper and butter;

• Garlic powder and butter or olive oil;

• Rosemary, thyme and sage with olive oil;

• Jerk seasoning and coconut oil;

• Old Bay seasoning, dried lemon zest and butter;

• Tarragon, dried mustard and butter;

• Smoked paprika and olive oil; or

• Chinese five spice and coconut oil.

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