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The Popcorn Post

Hello, again, Dear Readers:

It’s already March. Nearly the end of the first quarter. How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Or have you forgotten them already? (Most people have, so if that’s you, you’re not alone.)

I’m sorry I’m late–I had mucho trouble getting the pictures uploaded into the site! Thank heavens for Dropbox.

I took a ride back into my fabulous new HEB to do some research for this story, but I couldn’t resist taking a few extra pictures. On the patio, I was greeted with this lovely setting:

Wouldn't you love to come home to this idyllic patio setup?

Wouldn’t you love to come home to this idyllic patio setup?

Those wooden square things stacked up by the wall with the Texas star on them are actually coolers. No kidding. No, of course I didn’t buy any–yet. But I did take a picture of it for future reference. HEB has a number of those wooden Texas-star adorned pieces, and they’re just fantastic.

For dessert, these lovely cakes are available in the bakery. No, I didn’t sample or buy one, but aren’t these absolutely gorgeous?

Honest. . .very hard to resist, but I did.

When I see a cake like that, especially a wedding cake, I wonder why anyone would need a special occasion to enjoy a cake like that. But they’re not gluten-free, so I keep walking.

Walking over to the fish and meat area, I had a conversation with the guys behind the fish counter. Huge Dungeness crabs and east-coast lobster snap and swirl dangerously in tanks behind the counter, and lovely presentations like this in the case abound:

FISH!

FISH!

And if you’re a fan of Red Dwarf, you hear Cat sing that song in your head: “I’m gonna eat you little fishy. . . .”  Admit it, you did, because I did when I was in HEB.

If you’re a coffee fan, you’ll be enthralled with the coffees available:

Coffee Bins

These are all HEB’s own house brand of coffee. Good stuff here. The blue ones are regular coffees, like their delicious Breakfast Blend, and the yellow bags are flavored coffees.

Want your regular brand? Here you go:

Coffee Bags

And nearly every other kind of packaged coffee you could want.

I also found this curious item:

What the heck is better than peanut butter?

What the heck is better than peanut butter?

I checked the ingredients and found out:

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Um, what? How does adding sugar, soy and other chemicals make it “better than peanut butter?” This is why I stress reading labels. Just give me plain old peanut butter, with just peanuts, preferably unsalted and chunky, thanks very much.

I have a couple of posts in the draft file, and I hope to get a new recipe tested soon. But in the meantime, I have something more important to talk about.

Popcorn.

I called Neighbor E the other night, to ask if he wanted to go with me to HEB. No, and he was just finishing up. . .a bag of microwave popcorn. Eeewwwwww!!!

If you haven’t had popcorn in a while, well, there’s a lot more to it than there used to be. You can still buy those Jiffy Pop pans to put on the stove and watch the foil expand–if you’re old enough to remember that.

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You can pop popcorn in a big heavy pot, a little oil, with salt and butter when it’s done. But you’re probably more familiar with microwave popcorn, because these days that’s what everyone does, right? You can buy single bags in office vending machines all over the US, and you always know when someone in the office “just wanted some.” And I know a couple of folks who thinks buying it in a big tin can is the best way to have popcorn, or from the microwave.

But I’m here to tell you to ditch the chemical-infused microwave popcorn. I’ll tell you more about that shortly.

We’ve been eating popcorn in the US since the 1820’s. It comes from a variety of corn that produces hard kernels that can’t be eaten fresh (unless cracked teeth is your thing.) Heating the kernel, and the water inside–either in a pot on a stove or in a microwave–causes the water to steam and the corn to turn inside out in a flash.

POP!

Food writer Tori Avey, in this article on the PBS website, explains where it comes from:

The popcorn variety of maize was domesticated by Pre-Columbian indigenous peoples by 5000 B.C.E. It is a small and harder form of flint corn, most commonly found in white or yellow kernels. The stalks produce several ears at a time, though they are smaller and yield less corn than other maize varieties. The “pop” is not limited exclusively to this type of maize, but the flake of other types is smaller by comparison. Popcorn likely arrived in the American Southwest over 2500 years ago, but was not found growing east of the Mississippi until the early 1800s due to botanical and environmental factors. Today the Midwest is famous for its “Corn Belt,” but prior to the introduction of the steel plow during the 19th century, soil conditions in that region were not suitable for growing corn.

She also explains that although most corn in the US is genetically modified, popcorn isn’t. That’s a little good news.  Popcorn became a favorite when it was introduced into movie theaters, and, well, it’s just *there* now, isn’t it?

I quit eating popcorn many years ago because of the high carb content, but a couple of years ago, I just had a craving for it, darnit. I walked up to folks and asked, “Have you ever tasted. . .popcorn?” I’m not eating it daily, but I do have it sometimes after exercising with the kettle bell and I’m watching something on TV, or in the afternoon when I’m in the mood for it. Sometimes.

If I’ve given you the idea that popcorn is something you need in your life, let me show you what I found at the lovely new HEB the other night:

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Look carefully at the bags of popcorn in the center of the bottom shelf:

Regular, plain, bagged popcorn.

Regular, plain, bagged popcorn just waiting for the heat.

Yes, that’s the way we used to buy popcorn, and pop it on the stove in a big pot. Let me point out that the bag on the right, that sells for $2.66, is a four-pound bag. No kidding. FOUR POUNDS. If you pop half a cup at a time, how long will that bag last in your pantry?

But most Americans unthinkingly go for the expensive “convenience” of microwave popcorn. Take a look at what’s actually in one of those bags:

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Yes, it’s “gluten free,” but what’s TBHQ? Read what FoodBabe has to say about it in this article:

TBHQ that is found in Smart Balance, stands for “Tertiary Butylhydroquinone.” It’s a dead giveaway that you shouldn’t be eating this, if food companies have to use an acronym for a long chemical name on the ingredient label.

TBHQ is a chemical made from butane (a very toxic gas) and can only be used at a rate of 0.02 percent of the total oil in a product. Why is there a limit to this? Maybe because eating only 1 gram of this toxic preservative has been shown to cause all sorts of issues, from ADHD in children, to asthma, allergies and dermatitis to dizziness and even has caused stomach cancer in laboratory animals.

Here’s a Smart Balance box–she’s not kidding.

This is Smart Balance microwave popcorn, a "healthy" brand.

This is Smart Balance microwave popcorn, a “healthy” brand.

Admittedly, there are *less* chemicals, and annatto is a natural coloring agent, but still. . .there’s one chemical you don’t need. And even if it wasn’t there, for $1.99, you could have more popcorn than that.

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This, I believe, is the Central Market’s organic brand, which looks a little healthier than the rest. You can see more of the chemical breakdown that’s in most microwave popcorn in this infographic from the article on FoodBabe.com:

From the article on FoodBabe.com

Source: FoodBabe.com

Still want that stuff? Seriously. . . .

Now, I’ll tell you the best reason to abandon microwave popcorn in an office setting. It’s dangerous. Don’t believe me?

There were several instances during my stint at Boeing where we were evacuated from the building because the fire alarm went off. Heat of summer, cold of winter, daytime or after dark (I tended to stay in the office after 5 pm sometimes.) During the day there could be more than 2,000 people in the building, and we all had to go out to the back garden with the duck community, making the poor creatures wonder what was going on and why we weren’t handing out snacks to them. We sat and waited whilst the Pasadena Fire Department went through EVERY floor (in full gear) and checked every inch of the place. I should point out that the building is a quarter-mile long, and six stories high. This took a while, causing work stoppage.

And what was the cause of these incidents? On several occasions, it was. . .microwave popcorn, that was either forgotten, over-popped, or someone just set the timer too long, causing it to smoke. Not everyone follows the directions exactly. I didn’t hear about any fires caused, but the smoke from microwave popcorn incorrectly popped set off fire alarms and the whole evacuation thing.

NOW do you see why? Work stoppages cost the company money, and waste the time of firefighters called to deal with it. It’s a pain in the butt. And it just stinks up the place, too.

Vani (the lady behind FoodBabe) also gives a recipe for a “superfood popcorn.” I haven’t tried it, but I did find the red palm oil she talks about:

Red Palm Oil

Red Palm Oil

Vani also talks about using organic popcorn. I did find some, but since popcorn is NOT GMO, it might be fine using regular. But if you want “organic,” it’s available:

Organic popcorn? Who knew?

Organic popcorn? Who knew?

HEB also has it in their bulk section. Check your local grocery if they have bulk items, and you may be able to find it:

Popcorn in bulk.

Popcorn in bulk.

Whatever you do, put real butter, olive oil, coconut oil, or whatever on your popcorn. Don’t use this and ruin it:

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To me, this is like putting Cool Whip on the fresh berries of spring. Why?

EWWWW!!

“Rich Buttery Taste?” EEEEWWWW!!

A pound of REAL butter costs less than that bottle in HEB. Why would anyone put that on popcorn? Yuck. Can’t have dairy? Use olive or coconut oil. Not this drek.

Anyway. . . .

You can also buy popcorn already popped, in bags just like potato chips.

BOOMCHICKAPOP!

BOOMCHICKAPOP!

Several brands are available, including HEB’s own Central Market Brand:

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Convenient, but certainly not cheap. However, BOOMCHICKAPOP brand is made with all-natural ingredients, and they’re very open about that. I haven’t tried any of these; I just prefer to make it at home.

Here’s an article from Austin Women’s Magazine about. . .popcorn.

Now you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay, Amy, you’ve ruined my microwave popcorn. Now what do I do?”

Well, you re-learn popcorn.

I’ll be the first to admit that the microwave, derided by many as a bad thing, is a spot-on convenience that’s hard to beat. I do, in fact, have one–I’ve had to replace mine twice in the last year; the last one, a Rival, got a demonic possession or something and started acting funny. I now have that huge 900-watt red West Bend one that’s too big for my kitchen. (Long story.) Vani, as well as Dr. Mercola, advise getting rid of microwaves completely; I’m not on board with that yet, but might be in the future.

I have indeed discovered how to make microwave popcorn without the expensive, chemical-laden bags. I have heard of people making it with brown paper bags, but then you’d have to buy the bags. What if you’re out of them? Use a bowl!

I took Jillee’s advice from One Good Thing By Jillee and tried it myself.  The first time I made it, I used a flat-bottomed casserole dish with a cover. No. It has to be a bowl (microwave-safe, of course.) You can use oil, but I’ve tried this several times and it doesn’t require oil (although I just made some with a teaspoon of coconut oil in the bowl, and it works well.) Put about a quarter to a third cup of popcorn kernels in the bottom:

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And cover it with a microwave-safe plate:

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You’ll have to play with the timing a bit–in my 900-watt microwave, 5 minutes was about it:

Partially popped!

Partially popped! (Didn’t realize the oven needed a good cleaning!)

When it’s done, the bowl and plate will be VERY HOT.

Use potholders and caution when you remove it from the microwave. If you want butter, melt it now, in a smaller container in the microwave. (You can also do it ahead of time.) To prevent the butter from popping while melting, use a lower power, like 40%, and start at a minute. If it’s not melted, go another 30 seconds at 40% power. You don’t need to melt it all the way; if there’s a little bit left, swirl it around a bit in the bowl and let the warm part melt the rest of it.

If you’re more a stove-top popcorn person, here’s how simple it is: get a heavy-bottomed pot (like a wide chili pot, about 5 quarts or so) and put a couple tablespoons of coconut or olive oil in the pan, heat it on high. Add in up to a half-cup of popcorn, and put the lid on. If you want melted butter, microwave it now and get out your serving bowl. And do NOT go anywhere else! Soon, you’ll hear popping from the pot, and you’ll need to keep an ear close by. When it slows down, and you’re not hearing a lot of active popping, it’s time to turn off the heat and get that popcorn into the bowl–carefully! Pour your butter, salt, or whatever else you want on it, and enjoy.

And here’s a kitchen tip I figured out recently, for whatever kind of popcorn you make. Add your oil/butter and salt, or other seasonings, and stir it with. . .your salad tossing tools.

They toss the popcorn so easily!!

They toss the popcorn so easily!!

Why did we never think of this before?

If you find some “old maids” in the bowl, you can just put them back in the microwave for one more go-round. Many will pop, some will not. But this only works once. Keep an eye on it to make sure you don’t open your microwave door to flames.

But if you do, I want to hear about it!

I tried re-cooking the old maids with microwave popcorn with a friend of mine at the SGI Community Center in New Orleans. No fire, but it was a mess. She passed away a year later and kept that secret. What happens in the kitchen. . .stays in the kitchen, right, Regina?

I used to have one of those countertop air poppers, and should not have given it to the Salvation Army. I have bought three of them from both Wal-Mart and Target and returned them. Why? The plastic top melted, stunk up my kitchen and made the popcorn taste nasty. However, I have found the best popcorn popper yet:

Of course it works.

Of course it works.

I got it last year on eBay, and while I have tested it, and it works, I haven’t made popcorn IN it yet. The instructions tell you to put a flat plate out, but I could just elevate it and open the spout over a bowl. I’ve taken it apart and carefully cleaned it, so I could make popcorn in it if I wanted to. This lovely toy works with a heating element in the base under that cone assembly. It heats the kernels much like a pot would do. It’s 50 years old, and it works better than three different modern air-poppers I tried.

Sur la Table has a selection of popcorn tools and accessories, including this bigger (and pricier) Waring popcorn maker with a “melting station.” It makes 20 cups of popcorn, more than I need, and melts butter at the same time. Popcorn spices are also available, as well as the infamous Nordic Ware bowl and a couple of other silicone accessories that Amazon has. They’re not available in my local Sur la Table, so it’s on my Amazon wish list. There is an air popper from Cuisinart, and a couple of movie-theater-style machines adapted for home use.

Did you think there was this much available for popcorn? Me either.

Now, what if you’re at work and wants some popcorn, but don’t have anything but a microwave? I’ve got you covered there, too.

First thing you want to know is to get something made of SILICONE. I made the mistake, before I found Jillee’s blog post, of buying a Nordic Ware Microwave Popcorn Popper. (It was Target, so it was red.) Used it once, worked great, washed it and returned it. My popcorn was ruined by a nasty chemical taste imparted in the bowl. No thanks. However, the silicone models, from what I’ve read, don’t do that. (I can’t seem to find one locally, so I’ll order one or two in the future.)

There are a number of different types of popcorn poppers for the microwave, including many made of glass–but if you’ve got glass mixing bowls at home, well, try that first. From silicone, though, you can get this 10-cup popcorn maker for under $20, and like the glass bowl method, doesn’t need oil. If you’re in an office of folks who like popcorn, you can be their new BFF (“best friend forever”) and make popcorn for the folks.

But if you’re not, and just want to make some for yourself, there are also several options available in silicone. One I found is made completely of silicone, but I don’t know how much it actually makes.  I thought this small popper cup was a good item, but discovered that it is only partly silicone and contains plastic. This one is all silicone and makes a quart. I guess it would be a matter of figuring out how much popcorn you want at a time and popping less than a quart. It’s a little pricey, but it should last forever, if not until you retire. My advice would be to try it out at home before you take it to work. Then you can have popcorn all you want, no fire department involved.

There’s always the brown-paper-bag method although I’m a bit leery of it. Just make sure you know exactly how it works before you bring that to work, OK? The whole point is *not* to call the local fire department!

Soon I plan to do a review on Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Happy Cooking. However, I’ll give you this recipe (on page 43) that I have tried and absolutely LOVE to make. It uses parsley, which I have growing on my back patio. While it’s thoroughly delicious, if you are caught short without fresh parsley, dried parsley will work too, although not quite the same as the fresh parsley.

You pop the popcorn first, then follow the directions. I prefer the stovetop method with the oil and half a cup of kernels, but microwaving the kernels will work too.

Warm & Spicy Popcorn

Serves 4. (Gluten free, vegetarian and vegan)

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I just use a little dash, less than a quarter of this amount)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 7 cups popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup of kernels)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

 

In a small bowl, stir together the cumin, parsley, coriander, cayenne and salt. Put the popped popcorn in a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss thoroughly to distribute. Sprinkle with the spice blend and toss again to coat the popcorn with the seasonings.

So there you have it–a long story about something most people don’t think about too much.

Enjoy!