Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Popcorn is its own form of comfort food.
Growing up, my mom would pop some in the microwave every Saturday night as my family gathered around the television to watch a movie.
Combined with M&Ms, peanuts and Chex cereal, popcorn became a decadent treat to share with fellow Girl Scouts by a campfire after a long day of adventures at Camp Hardee.
Eating popcorn and watching reruns of “Gilmore Girls” became a bonding experience when I moved into Clement Hall with Dayna my freshman year of college.
I seldom eat popcorn now, but I always have some around for days that turn out to be a bit blah and leave me in need of a small comfort.
I was excited when a package from The Popcorn Board arrived. The non-profit organization is funded by U.S. popcorn processors to raise awareness of popcorn as a versatile, whole-grain snack.
The package included several recipes that sounded easy and delicious, so I decided to try them.
I used a microwave air-popper that I borrowed from co-worker Shavonne Potts for all these recipes, but typical bagged popcorn would probably work just as well. I would try to stay away from varieties that include butter because that could interfere with some of the flavors.

The bacon lover in me was absolutely thrilled by this recipe.
My best friend Charlotte always says “Everything is better with bacon,” and I have to agree. This recipe did not let me down. It turned out to be a sweet, savory snack.
I made a few modifications. I didn’t use the maple extract because, honestly, I couldn’t find it at the grocery store. I’m not sure what it would’ve added, but the maple syrup alone gave it enough of a kick.
I didn’t cook the bacon on a jellyroll pan because I don’t own one or even know what one is. (See my accompanying column about my lack of kitchen experience). Basic baking pans worked fine.
I wish I had bought a basting brush for this recipe. I had to coat the bacon with maple syrup using the back of a spoon. That proved to be tough, and I ended up getting syrup all over the pan, which made clean-up difficult.
After three days of soaking and scrubbing, I finally got all the residue off the pan.
My advice: Use a brush and line the pan with foil.
The recipe calls for pecans and dried cranberries, which complemented the bacon and popcorn perfectly.
The recipe is flexible, so really any type of extras could be thrown in to satisfy your taste buds.

8 cups popped popcorn
6 slices thick-cut bacon

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
8 cups popped popcorn

2/3 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon maple extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Line jellyroll pan with foil. Place wire rack in pan. Arrange bacon in single layer on rack. Bake 15 minutes until ends of bacon start to curl.
Remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Brush bacon with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup; bake 15 minutes until browned. Cool, then coarsely chop bacon.
Combine popcorn, pecans and cranberries in large bowl.
Combine butter, black pepper, maple extract, remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup and reserved bacon drippings.
Cook over low heat until butter is melted. Drizzle over popcorn mixture and mix thoroughly.
Spread popcorn mixture in jellyroll or roasting pan.
Bake 5 minutes. Toss in bacon pieces. Serve warm.

This was my favorite because I absolutely adore the taste of coconut. Plus, anything covered in chocolate is a winner in my book.
This was the easiest of the three recipes to make because it required very little cooking.
I made these truffles in less than 30 minutes.
I used butter instead of coconut oil because it’s so easy to find. The recipe says either will suffice.
The recipe is supposed to yield three dozen truffles, but I ended up with about 16. My truffles were about the size of a golf ball, but they are supposed to be a tablespoon.
I used coconut as a garnish on top of the chocolate, but I forgot to add a bit of minced candied ginger.
Be sure to let these sit for a while for the chocolate to set.
I had to put them into a container almost immediately because my curious cat, Sam, was attempting to leap onto the counter to try them out, and I ended up with chocolate all over my fingers.
I popped them in the fridge for about 10 minutes for the chocolate to set before serving them.

Makes three dozen truffles
5 cups air-popped popcorn

2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 tablespoon coconut oil

or butter
3 tablespoons candied ginger,

1/2 cup shredded coconut

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter

Place popcorn in large bowl.
Place marshmallows and coconut oil or butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until melted; remove from heat.
Stir in shredded coconut and candied ginger. Mix well.
Spray hands with nonstick cooking spray, then scoop up one tablespoon of popcorn mixture.
Roll mixture with hands to form a ball. Place ball on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.
Repeat to make 36 balls.

Place chocolate in small, microwave safe bowl. Heat in microwave on HIGH for one minute, until melted. If not completely melted, microwave for another 15 seconds and stir again.
Stir 1 teaspoon coconut oil into melted chocolate.
Place chocolate in zipper-style plastic bag and seal. Snip off a tiny corner of bag.
Pipe chocolate on popcorn balls in a decorative pattern.
Garnish with extra shredded coconut and extra minced candied ginger if desired.
Place truffles in a cool place until chocolate is set.

My biggest mistake came as I was making these bars. I didn’t realize until they were almost done that I forgotten to add the pomegranate seeds.
That means bars pictured here are actually blueberry power bars, but they were still tasty.
This recipe took the most time and planning because I had to mix the ingredients together and allow them to firm up in the fridge for several hours before dipping them in chocolate.
Although the end result was good, I probably wouldn’t make these again because they were pretty messy.

8 cups popped popcorn
11/2 cups old-fashioned

rolled oats
1 cup dried blueberries

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and

coarsely chopped
2/3 cup honey

2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter

or margarine
6 ounces bittersweet

chocolate, melted


Line 13×9-inch pan with foil; spray with cooking spray.
Combine popcorn, oats, blueberries, pomegranate seeds and almonds in large bowl.
Combine honey, brown sugar and butter in small saucepan; cook over low heat to boiling; boil 2 minutes. Pour over popcorn mixture and mix thoroughly.
Using damp hands, press mixture firmly into prepared pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Cut into 12 bars.
Dip bottoms of bars into melted chocolate. Place on wax paper-lined pan; refrigerate until ready to serve. Store in tight covered container in refrigerator.