Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food Gifts, Part 2

So what happens when someone or a family has a nut allergy and I can't make my famous spiced nuts? I make my second favorite food gift, maple popcorn. The recipe is vegan and nut free, so it is great for people with allergies or with specific food restrictions. Though if you desire, you can always add nuts to it (my friend Paige - who is the source of this recipe - likes to add buttered almonds).

I first had maple popcorn at the end-of-the-season CSA potluck picnic. In the food tent was a large brown grocery bag with maple popcorn written on it, full of yummy looking popcorn. I put a large handful on my plate, alongside my other food choices, and brought it back to our picnic blanket. I think I only ate one or two pieces, because Ely devoured the whole pile in less than a minute. I had to go back for more (and probably for more again). Next year at the same picnic, we arrived at the same time as my friend Paige, and I saw she was carrying a large brown grocery bag with maple popcorn written on the front. "Did you bring that last year?" I asked. She replied that she did, and that maple popcorn is one of her family's favorite treats and something she often brings to potlucks or parties. Needless to say, I procured the recipe from her and it has become a favorite of ours too. When dinner is skimpy or a letdown, maple popcorn is a must. Trader Joe's has very large, inexpensive glass bottles of maple syrup and there is always one in our fridge.

Maple Popcorn
I've found that 6 Tbsp of popcorn kernels will fit nicely in a 6 quart lidded saucepan. This is the perfect amount for an afternoon or evening treat. To make larger quantities, double or triple this recipe and pop your kernels in a large, lidded stockpot. The recipe below is light on the maple syrup - if you want every piece of popcorn coated, then increase the maple syrup to 1/2 cup or more.

-6 Tbsp popcorn kernels (buy small amounts frequently because popcorn dries out quickly and won't pop as nicely, I've also found that the cheap grocery store brand is usually tastier and pops better than anything organic or in the bulk bins)
-3 tsp canola oil (or whatever vegetable oil you like to use)
-1/3 c. maple syrup (I use grade B, but whatever you like best will work)
-1-2 Tbsp of water
-ground sea salt to taste
-optional toasted nuts like peanuts, almonds, pecans, etc.

Pop your popcorn in a heavy, lidded saucepan or stockpot on the stove over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently. Dump the finished popcorn into a brown paper bag and season to taste with sea salt. If you want nuts in your maple popcorn, add them to the paper bag with the popcorn. In a small heavy, lidded saucepan, bring the maple syrup and water to a boil. The syrup needs to reach soft ball stage, so either use a candy thermometer or keep checking to see when a tiny drop of syrup forms a ball in a glass of water. The syrup heats slowly at first, then progresses rapidly at the end so keep your eye on it. If the mixture gets too hot and reaches hard ball stage, the popcorn won't turn out quite right. When the syrup is candied, drizzle over the popcorn in the bag, close the top and shake vigorously to mix everything together. Let cool before eating or storing. For gifts, package up in bags or tins.