For you non-Chicago folk, you should know that specialty popcorn is a pretty big deal here. You should see the lines outside Garrett Popcorn Shop during all four seasons – rain or shine, wet, cold, snow or sweltering heat, there is always a crowd lining up outside the door for a bag of caramel corn, cheese corn, or if you’re smart, a bag of the Chicago Mix.
Once you settle into the city, the popcorn hype abates a bit, and as a result we tend to only indulge in the cheese and caramel-laden treats when one person comes into town: my mother-in-law. She loves it so much that we mail her a larger-than-life tin for Mother’s Day. It’s become a tradition, of sorts.
Before we discovered said popcorn mecca, I remember the occasional Crunch n Munch box and the Cracker Jacks, and I’m sure many of you do too. And when I’m trying to cut back on all that fat & calorie loaded goodness, I could really tear down on those little single serving bags, too. One thing about popcorn that’s always kept me coming back is knowing it’s one of the only things that gets better for you when it’s cooked, and it doesn’t hurt that something so tasty is loaded with fiber.
As it turns out, Orville Redenbacher and all these other popcorn crazies really took advantage of us folk. After years of buying pre-packaged popcorn, caramel corn, and all that jazz, I neglected to realize how easy popcorn was to make ‘from scratch’. Who knew air-popping your own popcorn was as easy as tossing it in a paper bag and hitting the 2 minute button on the zapper? And who know that even if you didn’t have a microwave you could toss the kernels into a pot, crank up the heat, and close the lid? Certainly not I, but I also didn’t realize how incredibly awesome homemade marshmallows were until a few months ago, either, so I reckon that’s not sayin’ too much, is it?
Credibility lacking and all though, I suggest that you throw caution to the wind and pick yourself up some kernels from your local grocer. The possibilities are endless, even if your creativity is on par with a matchbook. I promise. Well, I suppose if you aren’t feeling creative, you can do like I did and just piggyback on another recipe, or practically swipe the thing in it’s entirely for that matter. My point, is that making popcorn in thousands of variations is a cinch, and said popcorn is one of the most perfect snacks out there, if truth be told.
Perfect, especially, with a glass of wine, a boat, and good friends. Does it get any better?!
Tequila-Lime Caramel Corn
Adapted from Food & Wine, February 2010; makes 16 cups
16 c air-popped popcorn
1 c light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
3 T agave nectar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 T tequila
juice of half a lime
Preheat the oven to 250 and position racks in the upper and middle thirds. Put popped porcorn in a large heatproof bowl.
In a large saucepan, combine the brown sugar with the butter, agave nectar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Boil over moderate heat for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a long spoon, stir in the baking soda, tequila, and lime; the syrup will foam. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the popcorn and, using 2 spoons, toss to coat thoroughly.
Spread the popcorn on 2 nonstick baking sheets and bake for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally and switching the sheets halfway through, until golden and nearly dry. Let popcorn cool completely before serving. Will stay fresh in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks.