Friday, April 19, 2013

Flashback Friday: Kettle Corn

Flashback Friday: Revisiting a recipe from long ago

This weekend marks the annual festival at Iowa State University know as VEISHEA.  Students and alumni flock to campus for all sorts of events and entertainment.  The celebration began in 1922 and has since developed many traditions.  During my time at ISU I helped start a new VEISHEA tradition with the Culinary Science Club.  Each year they now make and sell several varieties of gourmet popcorn.  It was fun to be on the initial committee and watch how the tradition has grown and stabilized.  While I won't make it back this year I decided to celebrate on my own with a little popcorn action.

Caramel corn is now a given at VEISHEA along with one or two other flavors.  I believe this year the club is making Ranch popcorn and Cyclone, a fruity mix (raspberry and lemon when I was there) of red and yellow popcorn.  It's not really my place to divulge their addicting recipe, but if you're in Ames, Iowa this weekend be sure to pick up a box of every flavor and them some.  (Just stop by MacKay Hall.)

With 10 different posts featuring popcorn recipes, you've probably figured out that I have a thing for popcorn.  Another favorite college tradition involved homemade kettle corn nights with my roommate.  We easily inhaled a batch (usually more) between the two of us in one sitting, errr standing.  This stuff is seriously addicting.  Our favorite version involved sprinkling cinnamon and just a little cayenne pepper over the finished product.  Sweet is followed by salty and then a kick of heat, causing you to grab another handful of crunchy sweetness to balance out the spice.  And on and on it went, pretty soon the entire bowl would be gone before the movie even started.  Oh kettle corn, what would we have done without you.

Homemade kettle corn is infinitely better than the fake microwave kind.  Once you try it, you'll never go back.  Sorry.  Well, not really.  Popping up a batch is as easy and entertaining as it is addicting.  Our secret weapon is the Stir Crazy Corn Popper.

 My brother gave me one for Christmas and it pretty much changed my life (he's the best at picking gifts I never knew I needed).  The base heats the oil as the stir bar stirs the  kernels.  A clear domed lid allows you to watch the action as the kernels pop.  Flip the whole thing over and the lid becomes your serving bowl.  Pretty neat, huh?

With a little experimentation (and a few burnt batches) my roommate and I perfected a kettle corn recipe for the Stir Crazy popper.  Kettle corn can also be made on the stovetop, but the sugar and oil ratios are different.  If you don't have a Stir Crazy popper go get one.  Now.  They typically come on sale for around $20, which is well worth it in my opinion.  And no, I'm not getting any compensation for saying that.  Alternatively,  you can get a brother who picks out cool gifts.

 Ummm, can you tell I talk too much when I get excited?  You should have stopped me sooner, I could go on for quite a while.  Anyway, here's the recipe.  Wait, one more thing; I don't want you to feel too bad after you eat the whole bowl at once. (Trust me, it happens more often than not.) This 4-ingredient, sweet and salty snack with a perfectly crunchy sugar coat happens to be gluten-free and dairy-free, plus popcorn is a whole grain.  Okay, now I'm done talking.

Kettle Corn
recipe developed with my college roommate, Bethany 

2 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste

* Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. To the base of a Stir Crazy popcorn popper** add oil and 3 or 4 popcorn kernels. Cover and plug in, heating until kernels pop.  As soon as kernels pop, quickly and carefully add remaining kernels, sugar and salt.  Immediately replace lid.  If needed shake base to distribute sugar.
* Continue heating until kernels begin to pop, watching and listening closely.  When popping slows to 1-2 seconds between pops, immediately unplug corn popper and flip over, turning the lid into a bowl.  Sugar burns quickly, don't wait too long or leave unattended.  Pour popcorn onto prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle with additional salt (or cinnamon and cayenne pepper), if desired.  Let cool and break into pieces.  Store in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container.

**I'm not receiving any compensation from this company, I just love this popcorn popper. A lot.  I can't vouch for how this recipe would work over the stove or in any other type of popper.

You'll get a few darker pieces with caramelized sugar.  
Food for Thought: "True friends are always together in spirit." -L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


  1. You said to store the popcorn? Is there any leftover to store?

    Also, you didn't mention that incredibly nervous feeling you feel in the pit of your stomach as you add the sugar and salt. Intellectually you know that the kernels that you just added are nowhere near being hot enough to pop, but that anxiety comes from the feelings of "What if this is some freak popcorn that pops in 2 seconds instead of 2 minutes?" while having visions of a popcorn covered kitchen. I get scared EVERY time!

    1. After you eat the first and second batches, you will need to make and store the third batch you originally set out to make when you decided to bring treats to said event. (I once heard of three girls who even had to make a grocery store run for extra kernels after devouring the first batch) ;)

  2. YAY popcorn. Everything is going smoothly and we made more popcorn than ever before. Thanks for starting this tradition.

    1. Glad to hear everything is going well. You guys have quite the system down now. Have fun!