Vanilla and Cardamom-Scented Peanut Butter Popcorn

If popcorn could take part in high school popularity contests, this recipe would win the titles Most Likely to Succeed, Best All-Around, Most Popular, and Tastiest.  Ok, that last one isn’t a real category (or at least I hope it isn’t!) but truly, this is the ultimate crowd-pleaser.  I got my inspiration from The Kitchn, and tweaked the recipe by eliminating the processed sugar, switching out vegetable oil for the superior coconut oil, and adding my fave spice, cardamom.  After tasting the finished result, I knew I had hit the jackpot, but I wanted some second opinions.  So at work, I enlisted a group of taste-testers, which wasn’t hard, to see if this recipe was as good as I thought.  Their reactions sealed the deal:

“Oh. My. God.  This is delicious!”

“What is this?  This is A-MAZING!”

“I can’t stop eating it!”

“Can I have more?  Please?!!”

Even the chefs were impressed.  And they aren’t easily impressed.  But don’t just take my word for it, or the word of many still-salivating fans.  Try it out for yourself.  I predict you’ll become a hungry-for-more fan too.

Recipe for Peanut Butter Popcorn

Yields approximately 16 cups

Popped popcorn from basic recipe (using ½ cup kernels)
½ cup honey – I usually recommend raw honey, but in this case use liquid honey, an unfiltered one if you can find it (more nutrients!).
¹⁄3 cup brown rice syrup
½ cup organic peanut butter – Either smooth or crunchy works.  Make sure the only ingredient listed in your PB is peanuts!
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
sea salt to taste

Directions

  • Double and triple check your popcorn for any unpopped kernels.  Breaking a tooth on a kernel that’s covered in identically colored sweetness is not so sweet.
  • Mix honey and syrup in a medium-size saucepan and heat over medium to medium-high heat.
  • Once it begins to boil, remove from heat and add peanut butter, stirring until melted.  Add vanilla, cardamom, and a pinch or two salt and stir.
  • Divide popcorn into two large bowls for better coating.  Drizzle PB mixture over popcorn and gently mix.  I suggest doing this gradually so you can control the amount of coating.
  • Sprinkle with more sea salt to taste.  I highly recommend using the coarse kind here, it imparts pleasant bursts of salt that cut through the sweetness.
  • To dry out the mixture, spread popcorn in single-ish layer on baking sheets.  Bake at 300°F for 5-7 minutes.  If you like a chewier treat, bake for 5 minutes.  If you’d rather have a crunchier, drier version, bake for 7-10 minutes until popcorn’s beige color turns light brown.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before using a spatula to transfer popcorn to bowl or container.  Don’t wait too long though, the popcorn will weld itself to the baking sheet!

Sweet and Spicy Popcorn

No one can resist this popcorn!

I’ve always enjoyed gourmet popcorn.  The ones that come in the big tins, divided, in various flavors.  As a kid, I’d grab tiny fistfuls and delight in their cheddary/chocolaty/toffee-crunchy goodness.  As I became a teenager, I realized that all that stuff on the usually diet-friendly popcorn was anything but, and stayed away from it.  Now I know that the real danger in those tinned temptations is all the preservatives, additives, coloring, and processed sugar and fats…it’s junk popcorn!  But not to fear, you can still enjoy gourmet popcorn, by using quality, natural ingredients like the ones below.  This recipe is sweet with a (medium) spicy kick from chili powder.  If you really crave heat, you’ll want to increase the chili ratio to suit your tastes, but if you’re serving this at a party or giving it as a gift, it’s at a pleasing spice level.

Sweet & Spicy Popcorn

Popped popcorn from basic popcorn recipe (½ cup kernels), omit salt
½ cup Grade B maple syrup
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Combine all ingredients, except popcorn, in a pot over medium heat (can use the one you popped your popcorn in, less dishes!).  Swirl the pot around intermittently until the syrup bubbles and begins to reduce–about 5 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the popcorn–gradually for better results–and gently stir until properly coated.   The popcorn is really sticky at this point.  Delicious, but sticky.  So to dry it out, prepare two baking sheets covered in aluminum foil (I strongly recommend the heavy-duty type, unless you like to pick bits of foil off your popcorn) or if you can find it, baking parchment paper, and spread the popcorn out in a single layer.  Bake at 300°F for 5-7 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to fully cool.

Basically Delicious Popcorn Recipe

I love making popcorn.  Not microwave popcorn though.  I pop it the old-fashioned way…in a pot on the stove.  This method is just as quick, more delicious, and exponentially better for you.  This recipe for basic popcorn, which is not to be confused with bland popcorn, is simple and works well.  My popcorn never burns, and there are usually no more than five unpopped kernels for each ¼ cup I make–I’ve never seen that happen with microwave popcorn!  This recipe is also the foundation for all my fancy schmancy popcorn creations.  Get poppin’ people!

“Basic” Popcorn Recipe

1 tablespoon coconut oil – This measurement is with hardened oil…unless it’s summer, it will most likely be this way.
1/4 to 1/2 cup popcorn kernels – I like to make bigger batches so I can enjoy more later!
sea salt to taste

Add coconut oil in a large heavy pot, one with handles on each side.  Heat on medium-high until the oil melts, making sure there’s enough to cover the bottom of the pot.  Add popcorn kernels, shake the pot to evenly distribute, and cover.  Leave the lid slightly askew to reduce condensation.  Get some oven mitts ready to avoid a really toasty situation.  When the kernels start popping, lift the pot about 2 inches above the flame.  Shake the pot every 10 seconds or so (make sure your thumbs have a good grip on that lid!) until the popping slows from fireworks to sputtering.  Move pot to a cool burner and turn off heat.  Keep the lid on until the popping stops to avoid any errant popcorn missiles to the face.  Pour popcorn into a large bowl (or two) and sprinkle with sea salt.

I often jazz things up by adding pretzels, dark chocolate pieces, dried cranberries, and nuts into the fluffy puffs…it’s a potpourri of yumminess!

Tasty, Whole Food Snacks To Satisfy Every Craving!

What do you do when cravings are pestering you and crying out to be satisfied?  You silence the little buggers with one of these tasty treats, that’s what! These snacks are guaranteed to do the trick when you need a fix but don’t want to suffer from eater’s remorse.

Craving Salty?

  • Olives–try ones stuffed with garlic, blue cheese, jalepeño, or feta
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut or kimchi–just a couple spoonfuls should do the trick!
  • Roasted, salted nuts–even better when you roast them yourself.  Spread raw nuts on baking sheet and bake at 275°F for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the nuts.  Warm, fragrant roasted nuts are such a treat!

Craving Sweet?

  • Apples dipped in honey and cinnamon.  Or topped with homemade “gourmet” nut butter (see celery snack tip below under “Crunchy”).
  • Oatmeal or grains cooked with raisins, maple syrup, and apple juice or milk.  Add bananas and nuts, sprinkle with apple pie spice…get creative!
  • Cook carrots in grass-fed butter until tender and caramelized.  Then drizzle with local honey or Grade B maple syrup and cinnamon.
  • Cut sweet potatoes, yams, or squash (like acorn or butternut) into chunks, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until tender.
  • Chocolate-dipped confections–Melt ½ cup organic chocolate chips (or grain-sweetened for non-dairy option).  Dip pretzels and strawberries into the chocolate, place on baking sheet or plate covered with wax paper, and refrigerate until chocolate hardens.  An indulgent treat!

Craving Crunchy?

  • Pretzels
  • Tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and salsa.  To make your own chips, cut whole tortillas (like Food for Life sprouted corn variety) into four wedges, spread them on an olive oil-coated baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown.  Don’t want to make your own?  Garden of Eatin’ brand is good too!
  • Celery topped with peanut or almond butter (make sure it’s non-hydrogenated with no added sugar).  To make it sweeter, mix first in a small bowl with raisins and cinnamon, perhaps a little honey…like the gourmet brands but without all the bad stuff!

Craving Chewy?

  • Popcorn–can make your own by adding enough oil (coconut oil is delicious and great for high temperatures) to cover the bottom of a big, heavy pot.  Add ¼ cup of popcorn (4 servings, can save some for later!), cover and turn the burner on high.  Shake the pot occasionally.  When the popping starts lift the pot about two inches above the flame so the popcorn doesn’t get burned (use mittens to protect your hands) and keep shaking every couple seconds.  You’ll know it’s ready when the popping stops!   Sprinkle with sea salt and whatever spices you’re craving.  Can mix in some raisins, chocolate chips, and nuts to make it interesting.
  • Homemade french fries–all taste,  no guilt!  Cut 2-3 washed and scrubbed potatoes into ¼ inch wedges, sticks, circles–whatever shape you like–and place on baking sheet lightly coated with olive oil.  Brush tops of potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for about 40 minutes at 350°F until golden brown, turning them over halfway through.  Especially decadent dipped in olive oil/flax seed mayo (Spectrum organic brand for example) mixed with spices like cayenne or cracked pepper!

Let me know what you think about these snack ideas.  Do you have any other healthy suggestions that have worked to crush your cravings?

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Bacon Cheddar Popcorn

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

Bacon.  Yum!  Cheddar. Yes, please! Bacon and cheddar on popcorn? Whoa. Our reactions:  Eyes closed in appreciation.  Sighs of delight. Hands immediately dove back into the bowl for more. Even our cat couldn’t keep his paws off it.  The bacon fat must have had some sort of residual life energy because we began acting like pigs. We couldn’t get the popcorn into our mouths fast enough.  And I think we even snorted and squealed a little.  Embarrassing, yes, but a testament to how incredible it tastes.  A word of advice:  Don’t eat this popcorn when you’re ravenously hungry! Why?  After tasting it, you’ll try to eat it all yourself. Don’t.  Restrain yourself.  It doesn’t look filling–it’s only fluffy popcorn after all–but the richness of the bacon catches up to you when the rate at which you’re inhaling the popcorn slows down.  And then you’ll feel slightly sick.  Believe me, I’m speaking from experience.  This recipe will probably be enough for 5-6 people snacking on it.  It’s not meant to be a meal for two.  Again, in our defense, it’s crazy good…you’ll see.

Photo by K.C. © 2010 Kristin Conroy

The basics of this recipe were shared with me by Anthony Prontelli, Executive Chef at Rock Center Cafe in Rockefeller Center.  I list a whole package of bacon in the ingredients in order to get enough bacon fat from it.  If you have bacon fat lying around–starting to sound like a great idea!–you’ll only need a few slices of bacon to crumble on top at the end.  I would recommend not leaving this popcorn out any longer than you would for other dishes containing bacon and cheese.

Yields about 16 cups popcorn

Ingredients

1 package (8 ounces) uncured, no nitrate/nitrite, antibiotic-free bacon  I used a smoked maple variety

Bacon fat, from cooked bacon (about 3 ounces)

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

Sharp, aged cheddar, finely grated

Sea salt, to taste (optional)

Method

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet until browned and crisp enough to crumble.  Place slices on a plate with paper towels.  Save a few strips of bacon to crumble on top of the popcorn.  Put the rest away.  Drain bacon fat from skillet into a container or measuring cup for easy pouring.
  2. To pop popcorn: Pour bacon fat into a large heavy pot (one with handles on each side), only enough to coat the bottom.  Reserve the rest of fat for later on in the recipe.  Turn the heat to medium-high.  Add popcorn kernels, shake the pot to evenly distribute, and cover.  Leave the lid slightly askew to minimize condensation.  Get some oven mitts ready to avoid a really toasty situation.  When the kernels start popping, lift the pot about 2 inches above the flame.  Shake the pot every 10 seconds (make sure you’re thumbs have a good grip on that lid!) or so until the popping is reduced from fireworks to sputtering.  Place the pot on a cool burner and turn off the heat.  Keep the lid on until the popping stops to avoid any errant popcorn missiles to the face.
  3. Pour popcorn into a large bowl (or two) and drizzle with the remaining bacon fat.  Immediately sprinkle with cheese (and sea salt, if desired) and mix thoroughly.  Ideally, use a microplane to grate the cheese–giving you more of a powder than small pieces–so it will incorporate better with the popcorn. Top with bacon crumbles and mix only slightly to prevent all the bits from falling to the bottom of the bowl.

Try to keep the squealing to a minimum!