For a long time, my sister and i have had a love affair with popcorn.
We grew up in a poor single parent family with 4 kids in a struggling neighborhood in South Richmond. Latch key kids with TV as the babysitter. As an adult i credit my cooking skills to Martin Yan and Julia Child. They were my every day after school babysitter, and while i was too young to appreciate their skill, their knowledge doled out in 30 minute segments seeped into my young and malleable brain, creating the perfect foundation for a budding foodie.
Not a day went by when we were kids that we didn't make a big bowl of popcorn for our after school snack when we were old enough to be trusted in the kitchen alone. I remember dutifully cutting cold butter into small bits to stick in the amber butter melting cup that went on top of the white and black whirling, hot air spewing popper that always sat on the counter. My sister and i would take turns flavoring, and measurements were never taken into consideration. We had a "feel" for popcorn flavoring. My brother, sister and myself would then go and munch on an embarrassment of riches (of popcorn) to our hearts content while watching the tube until mom got home. Cheap and tasty, it is still my favorite snack. While i doubt 10 year old versions of ourselves would have ever created anything this intense- i can guarantee we would have eaten it.
Salted Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Dried Cranberries.
Dark, chewy, crunchy, salty and sweet. If you have an air popper- pop the kernels in there and omit the oil.
1/3 rounded cup white popcorn kernels
2 tbs vegetable oil (do not use butter. it will burn)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon kosher (or better) salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup peanuts (preferably lightly salted or unsalted)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
In your largest stock pot (like a pasta cooking pot or soup pot) heat the vegetable oil on medium heat. once the oil starts to shimmer/smoke a little, pour in the popcorn and put a lid on the pot. shake the pot vigerously until all the kernels are popped. (hint- if more than 3 seconds goes by between pops, its done. don't burn the corn!) set the popcorn aside uncovered.
Line the bottom of a large cookie sheet (with a rim) with foil and spray liberally with vegetable oil. set aside.
Using the same pot, melt the butter on medium. once the butter has melted add the brown sugar and corn syrup mixing together with a long handled wooden spoon. Boil the butter and sugar mixture on medium until a thermomiter reaches exactly 300 degrees. Do not stir the mixture. test the temperature frequently( You will need a good quality candy thermomiter- the unbreakable kind, or a digital probe thermomiter for this)
Once the temperature reaches exactly 300 degrees, REMOVE FROM HEAT and add the salt and baking soda and stir well with a wooden spoon. NOTE-- It will look like you messed up here because everything will look bubbly and brown and gross and chunky. hang tight, its about to get awesome, I promise. QUICKLY after adding the baking soda and salt, add the peanuts/cranberries and then the popcorn and stir quickly and thoroughly to mix well.
Pour the molten popcorn mixture onto your prepared cookie sheet, and spread out quickly. while the mixture is still hot and sticky, sprinkle with a little extra salt. let set for 30 minutes to an hour uncovered until it is cool. Break the popcorn apart and store in an air tight container. Doubling this recipe is not reccomended unless you have a ridiculously large pot.