caramel and peanut popcorn

Last week my husband and I got to celebrate two things (and not in any particular order…just kidding, Andy, heh…): his birthday and the season opener to the 2012 season of Carolina baseball. Maybe you’ve heard that we won the national title two years in…okay, I’ll stop. But, yes, Andy’s birthday was last week and we always spend part of his celebration by going to the first game of the season and cooking a big, fun tailgate meal and hanging out at the park for hours before the first pitch. Trust me, it’s always wayyyy too much food for two people to eat, but, somehow, we manage to take it to the house every time, leaving enough for a shared leftover lunch the next day. So, we enter the game a little sleepy, a few pounds heavier, super pumped to heckle the left fielder (no, no, we’d never do that), and watch some championship-quality baseball.

I try to include at least one baseball classic in the tailgate menu every year. Last year we had roasted and salted peanuts and Carolina BBQ. This year I made some caramel and peanut popcorn, homemade Cracker Jacks, if you will. No offense to Cracker Jacks (and I guess they have one up on me, that darn little prize in the bottom), but I think this popcorn was so much more delicious.

Do do do do, strum dum dum, try some today!

That was my 1950s caramel and peanut popcorn jingle.

caramel and peanut popcorn
ingredients
about 6 cups popped corn
1 cup all natural cane sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, shelled

create
In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine the sugar and water over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat slightly and bring to a boil without stirring. You may need to use a wet pastry brush to brush any crystals down that form on the sides of the pan. Boil until the sugar is a deep amber color, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and gently whisk in the heavy cream (don’t worry, it’s normal to bubble). Stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 250ΒΊ. Add the popped corn to a large mixing bowl. Pour the cooled caramel over the popped corn and sprinkle the peanuts over. Very carefully, use a rubber spatula to evenly coat the popcorn with the caramel and peanuts. Turn the mixture into a greased casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the pan and stir the popcorn. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes longer.

I found that I ate more of this popcorn before it was even baked. It was SO good that way. And SO good baked, too. So, really, you can eat it at any stage of this process. Another perk: no corn syrup. I mean, cavemen made caramel without it, so we certainly can, too. That’s right, you know those cavemen were makin’ some caramel. Hm.

Oh, did I mention that South Carolina baseball has won two…oh? I did. Okay. Well, did I mention that Andy just turned another year older? Ah, yes, he did. So, happy birthday, husband, and go Gamecocks.

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