Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Simple Snack. Made Simpler.

I have a confession to make. This is slightly embarrassing to admit, especially since I try so hard to be the poster girl for all things homemade. And of course I strive to buy as few packaged items as I can in an attempt to reduce both excessive waste (why, oh why, does everything have to come in blister packs these days) and unnecessary food miles. Because, obviously, anytime I buy a pre-made item like, say cookies, I have to confront the fact that each of the ingredients are grown or processed in different places, and then they are each trucked in to the final processing plant, and the packaging materials are trucked in, and then the finished packaged product is trucked back out to stores. And even then, we haven’t yet dealt with all my other neuroses about whether the product is made from organic ingredients, if high-fructose corn syrup is involved, and if there are ingredients I cannot pronounce.
Truly, it all gives me a headache. And God only knows what they put in Motrin.
But what about that confession, right? Well, here is the thing. For years, when I’ve craved popcorn, I’ve opened a box, ripped off the plastic wrapping, and put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. Truly, it is the only reason I even have a microwave. The Big Boy refers to the microwave as the popcorn maker and was aghast when I used it to reheat some pasta for lunch a few days ago. And what started this whole popcorn dialogue in the first place was a recent Amateur Gourmet post about microwaves, popcorn on the stove, and (oh, for pity’s sake) a discussion regarding the structural integrity of food that is reheated in microwave ovens.

Now I’m not one to bandy about architectural terms when it comes to warming up some leftovers for lunch. But it did get me to thinking because there are a number of issues with relying on microwave popcorn, and here is a short list that I have compiled:

  1. On the ingredient list of the most pure, organic microwave popcorn, there is an item called “color added.” I don’t feel like complaining about the rotten English there, and besides, Big Mama already had to listen to a diatribe from me on the subject, but why is color added to popcorn? And white isn’t a color anyway.
  2. The list of ingredients includes “natural flavor.” Um, what flavor? Popcorn flavor? Did the popcorn itself not come with its own flavor?
  3. The afore-mentioned over-packing issue.
  4. That whole food miles thing too.
  5. It doesn’t even taste that great.
  6. You have to use a microwave to make it.
  7. There is a nasty chemical in the bags the popcorn is popped in called PFOA (short for something I can’t pronounce, which means I don’t want it near my food) that has been deemed a likely carcinogen.
  8. Little kids get a BIG kick, and I mean a B.I.G. K.I.C.K. out of making popcorn on the stove.
Know how I found about number eight? Yep. I decided to go old school. When I went grocery shopping I purchased a bag of organic popcorn kernels and I popped it myself. And, because I’m in a list-making mood today, here is what I found out about popcorn that is popped on the stove:
  1. It tastes better. A lot better. Big Mama came over and polished off what I didn’t eat. And she kept making noises like “yum” and “wow.”
  2. Three-year-olds break out the big belly laughs when they hear the popping sounds in the pan.
  3. The ingredient list on the bag only has one ingredient listed. And I bet you can figure out what that ingredient is. And I’m sure you can pronounce it.
  4. It costs much less than microwave popcorn. Much, much, much less.
  5. There is far less packaging than microwave popcorn.
  6. It doesn’t take any more time than making it in the microwave. Okay, maybe it takes an extra 60 seconds. And you have to wash the pan. But is that really such a sacrifice?
  7. It reminds me of my childhood.
Who would have thought that such a simple activity would turn into such a moment of reminiscing? When I called The Carnivore to tell him of our latest cooking project, he waxed poetic about his own childhood popping-on-the-stove adventures. Mom and I started in with one of our “Remember when…” conversations, and the whole thing just made my day. A bowl of popcorn that was rife with profundities. Really, who'd have thought? And did I mention that it tastes great? Oh, yum. I want more right now just thinking about it.
Wanna try this at home? Just imagine, we could start a revolution. A popping corn revolution. I'm getting so excited...
  • 3 Tbs cooking oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • Sea salt
  1. Pour oil and popcorn kernels into a really, really big pan.
  2. Put a lid on the pan. This is probably the most important step.
  3. Heat over medium-high heat.
  4. When the popping starts, begin to gently shake the pan.
  5. When popping slows to a near-stop, turn off the heat, wait a couple of seconds before lifting the lid to be sure popping has stopped.
  6. Get broom out anyway because you didn't wait and now there is popcorn on the floor.
  7. Toss the popped corn with salt.
  8. Join the revolution.


Dee said...

Nothing is better than real popcorn without a lot of chemicals! I would have to add butter, though, as I'm too immature to go without...

here's a site I found that has vegetarian recipes you might want to check out:


Kathleenb said...

I adore popcorn. While my mom was alive, she popped popcorn nearly every night for a snack. My fil was the same way before diabetes. I still do it the old-fashioned way myself often - and almost never use the microwave stuff. It smells good popping, but it doesn't taste nearly as good.

If you like sweet "kettle" corn, try putting some sugar in the pan while the corn pops. Just be extra careful to shake it enough not to let the sugar burn. <= 1/4 cup is enough sugar for a big batch. Yum.

Shari said...

I threw out my microwave last year because I only used it for 2 things, making popcorn and heating the babies bottles (fostermom, can't nurse them). Then I read a few studies from years ago when microwaves weren't as modern as they are now, but anyway, researchers had found that microwaving formula molecularly changed it and made it neurotoxic and toxic to the kidnys. Same day I threw it out. I figured if it does that to formula it can't be all that great for adult food either.

Linda up north said...

Hey Welcome to the club! We gave up microwave popcorn last fall. We got a giant bag of popcorn from Sam's club and had it gone before Christmas, snacking on popcorn every night. Good stuff :)

Anonymous said...

I also don't have a microwave--grew up without one, and have never missed it. I'm not horribly bothered by them, I suppose--I'll definitely eat microwaved food at friends' houses, but for myself, I just can't enjoy cooking when I don't understand what's happening to the food. Microwaves, well, they creep me out. Personal quirk, eh?

My family always added some nutritional yeast to our popcorn as well--not everyone likes it, but for me that's the only way to eat popcorn! Gives it a slightly cheesy flavor.

Anonymous said...

I am a real popcorn convert too, Sarah. A couple of years ago my husband bought me a popcorn kettle and assorted varieties of gourmet popcorn from the same place as my Christmas gift. It was love at first pop and I've never looked back.

momma-o-minnie said...

The only "real" complaint I've ever had is that we had to "designate" a "popcorn" pot because it became stained so much... I finally left one large one (big family, have big pots) that is to be used exclusively for popcorn (the old pressure cooker that blew it's seal...
My kids LOVE it...

Shel said...

I've always hated microwave popcorn- even the organic kind. I have a popcorn popper (the kind that uses a little bit of oil). I use some olive oil, then when it's done I spray it with more olive oil (my kids prefer a sprinkling of butter melted in the *microwave*) and sprinkle with salt. It's perfection!

You're right, it's much cheaper, tastes so much better, and it really isn't that much effort to make it the old fashioned way.

Anonymous said...

My dad always put three kernels of corn in the oil. When those had popped, he knew the oil was hot enough to add the rest of the kernels.
By the By, if you eat microwaved popcorn every day, and inhale deeply when first opening the bag, you can get a very rare (and if not diagnosed in time, deadly) respiratory disease. Weird huh?

Anonymous said...

I started making stovetop popcorn last fall when the glass turntable in my microwave broke. No matter the tricks I used, I could not get the microwave to pop more than half the bag of corn. My son and I missed popcorn.

I remembered stovetop popcorn from my childhood and decided to try it. My son was surprised "You can make popcorn on the stove!?"

I found a replacement microwave plate, but we still make stovetop popcorn. Yes it's healthier and almost as easy, and uses tons less packaging. We can season it how we want. But honestly the key for me is price. I probably save $10-$20 a month. With a budget as tight as mine, that matters!

Sarah Beam said...

I hear you on the budget issue. It is amazing that we have gotten so accustomed to the purchasing mindset that we have essentially forgotten how to make things ourselves, and we just blindly hand over money to the food producers.

We love stove-top popcorn. It taste infinitely better, and saves so very much money.