The Perfect Pop

The Perfect Pop

One of my research participants told me about this method of popping corn.  It was a cold night in January and we would both rather be elsewhere — in this particular situation, we would both rather be home in front of the fire, digging into a book we’d both started reading at the same time, and stuffing our faces with popcorn.  She told me about this new/old method she’d re-discovered: the art of cooking popcorn on the stove top.

We’d had an air-popper growing up, which was fun to watch, but noisy, and when you poured the melted butter over the popcorn you often ended up with soggy popcorn in some places and no butter at all in others.  The flavour-distribution method needed work.

Then of course there are the microwave popcorns, which always seem to leave a weird film on my teeth and which all taste (to me) faintly of chemicals.  I’m also not a huge fan of using the microwave, unless it’s to melt butter for baking or heat up my tea.

Everyone has their own method for making popcorn on the stove, and I tried a bunch of them (including the method prescribed by my research participant).  The best and simplest method I came up with was a combination of her recipe, this one, and this one.  You should definitely test out different approaches to see which works best for you, your stove, and your pots and pans.

So.  Take yourself a large saucepan with a lid (the amounts below will give you about 12 cups of popcorn).

Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to the bottom (anything with a high smoke point will do, like canola, sunflower, peanut, or grapeseed.  I like to use peanut oil because I think it tastes better on the popcorn).  Place over medium heat and let it get nice and toasty.

The Perfect Pop

Plop 3 or 4 kernels of popping corn (my research participant tells me that No-Name brand kernels are terrible for popping this way, so use another brand if you can) into the pan and cover with a lid.  When you hear the kernels pop (you use more than one in case that one is a dud), you know the oil is hot enough for popping.

The Perfect Pop

Pour in 1/2 cup popping corn.  For a sweet treat, add 1/4 cup sugar as well (if you use white sugar it tastes like candy corn, and if you use brown sugar, it’s like caramel corn).  For a salty taste, add in 2 tablespoons salt instead.

The Perfect Pop

Stir it all really well, cover, and remove it from the heat.  Wait for 30 seconds.  This brings all the kernels up to the same, almost-popping temperature.

The Perfect Pop

Put the pan back on the heat.  Very shortly thereafter the corn should start popping like crazy, and all at once.  Keep the pan covered but leave the lid slightly ajar to let the steam escape, and every few seconds, give the pan a shake back and forth on the burner to keep the popped kernels from burning.  When you get to the point where there are about 2-3 seconds between pops, it’s time to take the pan off the heat.

The Perfect Pop

Pour the popped corn into a large bowl.  If you used sugar, allow the corn to cool slightly (so you don’t burn your tongue), and break up the large clumps with a spoon.   Then feel free to gorge yourself silly.  I did find that the sugar version has a slightly smaller yield, and I think that has something to do with the stickiness of the sugar tamping down the explosive properties of the corn.

The Perfect Pop

Some of the kernels got caramelized before they’d reached their full potential.  But perhaps I just didn’t stir it well enough.

The Perfect Pop

Super Moist Corn Bread

I always think of corn bread as being something out of the South (and by that I mean the southern United States), baked on a hoe over a fire after a long day of harvesting sun-drenched fields. Or from Latin America, where indigenous people have been using corn in recipes for ages and ages.

When I was looking for a modern twist on corn bread, however, every single online recipe I found was credited to someone in CANADA.  How strange is that?  Sure, we grow a lot of corn here, but the association just isn’t the same.  In any case, I adapted this particular Canadian recipe from WillowsMom99 at AllRecipes.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and generously butter a large cast-iron skillet.  We’re going to do this the old-fashioned way.  Sort of.  If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you should be ashamed of yourself and feel guilty enough to go out and purchase one immediately.  Until you do so, however, you can also use a 9″ x 13″ pan.

In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups cornmeal (not to be confused with grits, corn flour, or masa harina) with 2 1/2 cups milk and let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 2/3 cup granulated sugar.  I might lower the sugar amount to 1/2 or 1/3 cup, but if you like your corn bread sweet, then go for it.  Mix in the cornmeal mixture and stir well.

Add in 2 eggs and 1/2 cup butter, melted, and stir until smooth.

Here’s where you have a chance to get creative.  I stirred in as well about 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese and 2 cups frozen corn.

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cornbread comes out clean. 

Allow to cool slightly in the skillet on a rack, then tip out and slice into wedges for serving.

Great with chili or just on its own.  Just remember to wrap it up tightly to store it, as it goes stale very quickly.