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Popcorn ideas popping up all over

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

I was once a popcorn purist: Salt, butter. Period.

Kettle corn, at least in its early days, was too sweet, and often hard and too sticky. Popcorn was meant to be a salty snack.

Caramel corn was OK, since my childhood seemed filled with Cracker Jacks. Then those huge tins of popcorn started showing up all over. The cheesy one was my favorite, but it sure did get stale fast.

Speaking of fast, fast-forward to today, when kettle corn comes in a rainbow of flavors and colors. They’ve also perfected kettle corn cooking, so now it’s a nice balance between savory and sweet.

And, thanks to the Popcorn Board, there are always new recipes that combine popcorn with lots of different things.

October is Popcorn Poppin’ Month, although popcorn doesn’t really have a season.

While every day is a great day for celebrating popcorn, the month of October is important because of the popcorn harvest, which takes place each fall across the Midwest.

Having been long regarded as a sign of good times, popcorn has found a new appreciation by today’s lean and green consumer. Celebrated for its seed-to-snack simplicity, popcorn is also vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and naturally low in fat and calories, which makes it an easy fit for the dietary conscious. And it’s budget-friendly.  A quart of popped popcorn costs as little as 15 cents.

All U.S. popcorn is GMO free, even if it is not labeled “non-GMO.” It also has no artificial additives or preservatives.

The new recipes this year combine dried cranberries and chocolate, a great flavor. Imagine sitting around the fire with some of this, or watching football, or a movie. It’s nice enough to be a hostess gift, too.

Cranberry & Chocolate Spiced Popcorn

8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

4 oz. dark chocolate, melted

1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, toss together popcorn, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Lay mixture flat on parchment paper lined tray. Drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle with sea salt.

Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes or until chocolate sets. Break apart into chunks.

And while we’ve got cranberries in the house, this recipe would definitely appeal to the sweet and crunchy crowd. It would be a nice change for a bake sale, too.

Pumpkin Spice Popcorn Bark

3 cups popped popcorn

1 cup mini marshmallows

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup O-shaped cereal

1/2 cup pepitas (salted pumpkin seeds) or shelled sunflower seeds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 tsp. pumpkin spice mix

2 (6 oz.) packages white baking chocolate, chopped

Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray, set aside. In a large bowl, combine the popcorn, marshmallows, pecans, cereal, pepitas, dried cranberries and pumpkin spice mix.

Place chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in microwave 1 minute. Stir to melt, microwave an additional minute. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour melted chocolate over popcorn mixture. Mix until well coated and spread in an even layer into prepared pan. Cool at room temperature until firm or refrigerate. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.

Down Home Apple Pie Popcorn

3 Tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground allspice

1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

8 cups popped popcorn

1 cup dried apple chips, broken into large pieces

1/4 cup toffee bits

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk melted butter with vanilla. Toss brown sugar with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.

Toss popcorn with butter mixture. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar mixture. Stir. Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Sprinkle apple chips and toffee bits over the top. Bake for 15 minutes or until toffee bits start to melt. Cool before serving.

Add chopped pecans for extra crunch.

This sounds a little weird, but it uses ground up popped corn in place of flour, so people sensitive to gluten could probably eat this.

Cheesy Popcorn Bread

4 cups chopped popcorn

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1 cup 2% milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup shredded jack or pepper jack cheese

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

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and 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 chillies (if using) 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 in squares to serve.

Elote Inspired Popcorn

10 cups popped popcorn

1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

2 Tbsp. favorite hot sauce

1 Tbsp. dried cilantro

1/2 cup Queso Fresco or Cotija cheese

Place popcorn in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add hot sauce and cilantro; mix well. Pour over popcorn, stirring to coat.

Sprinkle with cheese, mix well. Add torn fresh cilantro, if desired.

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