Friday, September 6, 2013

Cheap Trick: Making Popcorn on the Stove

From pre-Montessori through grade school, my grandmother took care of me on my nanny's day off, and it was a day I looked forward to each week. One of the games we played was pretending I was at a diner, my grandmother holding a small notepad as I "ordered" food. While fruit from the garden was usually the afternoon snack, sometimes she would make us popcorn, and I always watched with amazement as she shook the pot on the stove.

If one grew up with a microwave, she may not have learned just how easy it is to make popcorn on the stove. Making popcorn on the stove takes about the same amount of time as tossing a bag in the microwave, and is simple enough for anyone to do. It is also less expensive, and it creates less waste to be added to a landfill.

Here is how my grandmother taught me to make homemade popcorn, and a few flavoring options I've tried out and enjoy.

Supplies needed:
-Popping corn kernels
-Pot with lid (My grandmother always uses a small pot with just a few kernels in the bottom, but I wanted to have several cups of popcorn, so I used a big pot. Either will work.)

To start, add a little oil to the bottom of the pan to keep the kernels from sticking and burning. We use coconut oil, but my grandmother uses olive oil. As long as one doesn't use too much, the popcorn will not taste like the oil, so just add enough to coat the bottom of the pot -- about three tablespoons in a big pot. The kernels do not need to be submerged in oil.

Next, add the kernels. In a big pot, one can nearly cover the bottom of the pot with kernels (as shown), but in a small pot, she should cover about half the bottom of the pot, or not all the kernels will have room to pop, leading to waste.

Cover the pot and put the stove on high. When the first kernel pops, start shaking the pot to keep the popcorn from burning. With a small pot, this can be done by continuously shaking the pot back and forth while keeping it on the stove, but with a large pot, I find it easier to pick it up and give it a violent shake every few seconds. Just be sure to hold that lid in place.

As soon as the popping slows down a little, turn off the stove and shake a few more times. Kernels will continue to pop.

Once one feels pretty confident the popping has subsided, she can open the lid and add flavor, if desired.

Kettle Corn: One of my favorites is kettle corn, so I usually sprinkle in some Truvia and salt. I prefer to use Truvia because it melts quicker than sugar, caramelizing some of the popcorn. This is a far more healthy version of the Orville Redenbacher's Kettle Korn I used to buy in college, but still has the sweet and salty taste.

Truffle and Cheese: For a fancy treat, drizzle a tablespoon or two of truffle oil on top, and sprinkle either Parmesan or cheddar cheese on top. I've tried gently mixing shredded cheese into the pot of popcorn to make it melt, but it mostly melted to the pot, so leaving it on top works better. I like this one as a party or picnic treat -- the truffle oil smells so good.

Classic Butter: Melted butter is my father's favorite. Drizzle some on with or without a little salt.

Salt and Vinegar: Drizzle on some white vinegar, and sprinkle on salt so that it sticks to the vinegar. Another of my favorites, and a great replacement to potato chips.

Salt and Lime: Same process as above, and surprisingly delicious.

Since one bag of popping corn lasts much longer than 3-6 packets of microwave popcorn, it means there is always fresh popcorn just minutes away, and topped with whatever seasoning I happen to be craving at that moment. And because it takes just five minutes or less, I love that it is also ready in a flash to watch a movie, or as a quick afternoon snack. We'll be popping some up tonight for movie night!

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-Kurt Vonnegut