Caramel Corn

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If you were hoping for a let's-start-2012-on-a-healthy-note post that includes a recipe for salad, I'm afraid you are going to be disappointed.  If it is salad you are looking for, try the Kale and Pear Salad.  I made it again tonight (with apples instead of pears) for at least the 15th time and I still love it - healthy and delicious!

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This is not to say that I don't think of the start of a new year as an opportunity to set goals and think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year.  I would say that my "resolutions" are more akin to goals - I make them quantifiable or measurable (e.g., set a new marathon personal best, read X number of books, etc.) because I really enjoy tracking my progress throughout the year to see what I accomplished.  Even when I don't attain one of my goals for the year, I have usually worked toward it and often that goal just rolls over into the next year!  

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So, onto my first (of many to come) unhealthy posts in 2012!  I made this for the first time about two years ago with my wonderful friend H.  I remember standing in my kitchen eating clumps of it while it was still hot from the oven and marveling at how the caramel was still stretching from one piece of popcorn to the next and was so gooey.  I'm pretty sure that we ate half the batch right there (don't judge).  Since then, I've made this on numerous occasions.  I usually reserve it for parties as I have found it is incredibly dangerous to have it around the house.  

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Caramel Corn

Adapted very slightly from Orangette

Yield = 10 cups 

Before you start...

1.  I wouldn't recommend making this without a candy thermometer.

2.  Be sure to prep the baking soda and vanilla ahead of time (measure it out and have it ready to dump into the caramel at the right time).

3.  It is easiest if you have someone to help you when you add the caramel to the popcorn -- Rob is a wonderful kitchen assistant and turns the popcorn as I pour the caramel in.

4.  Be very, very careful with the hot caramel.  It does not feel good if it gets on your skin.

5.  I would actually measure out the popcorn to ensure you have 10 cups.  If you have more than 10 cups, I'd adjust the caramel accordingly (e.g., increase the amounts proportionately).  Mine is a little less caramel-y because I didn't make this adjustment.  Oops.  Sometimes I am lazy. 

Ingredients

1 (3½-ounce) package plain (unbuttered natural flavor) microwave popcorn, or about 10 cups fresh popcorn popped by any method, lightly salted

1 cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pop the popcorn according to the microwave package instructions or on the stove.  Coat a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray, and dump the popcorn into the bowl, taking care to pick out and discard any unpopped kernels.

Measure the baking soda and vanilla extract and prepare it for mixing into the caramel - it is critical that you do this ahead of time and have it nearby while the caramel is forming.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Continue to simmer, whisking often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla.  Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn.  Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn, taking care to distribute it as evenly as you can.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and place on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.  Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (it won't last that long, I assure you).

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