NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 7, 2012

It's not recommended to cook popcorn in a brown paper bag

By Susan M. Selasky Detroit Free Press
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Ever wondered whether you can make popcorn in a paper bag in the microwave?

In short, the answer to your question is this: Experts don’t recommend it, but magazines and websites reference it plenty.

In the past several months or so, I’ve seen mentions of the method in magazines. The most recent was in the September issue of Everyday Food magazine. And, of course, you can find just about anything online.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service says never use brown paper bags in the microwave.

Kathy Bernard, technical information specialist for the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, says it’s because they “don’t know what (the bags) are made of, what can cook out of them and many are made from recycling.”

The Popcorn Board supports the USDA stance. The board suggests that folks use a pan with a lid on the stovetop.

Other items not to use in the microwave, according to the USDA, are thin plastic storage bags, grocery bags, newspaper and aluminum foil.

Popcorn is a great source of whole grain, because it is an entire kernel that contains the brain, germ and endosperm. It’s a great whole grain snack.

When not doused with butter or cooked in oil, air popped popcorn has about 31 calories per cup, the Popcorn Board says. If you pop it in oil, it’s 55 calories per cup. And if you really can’t go without butter, lightly buttered popcorn has about 133 calories per cup.

Being able to control the popcorn seasoning is a huge benefit to making your own popcorn safely.

Here are a few suggestions for seasoning 3 cups of plain popped popcorn:

Sprinkle with desired amount of nutritional yeast (found at health food stores) for a nutty and cheesy flavor.

Southwest: Mix together 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar.

Cheesy Garlic (from Everyday Food): Mix 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon each of coarse salt, dried thyme and garlic powder.

Savory Rosemary: Mix 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons finely crushed fresh or dried rosemary. Place 4 quarts popcorn in a large bowl and pour butter over. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and 1 teaspoon garlic salt or sea salt. Toss again.

WHITE-CHOCOLATE CARAMEL CORN WITH CASHEWS

Makes: 12 cups

Preparation time: 25 minutes / Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

12 cups popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup kernels)

1 1/2 cups roughly chopped cashews

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

5 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place popcorn and nuts in a large bowl. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir in corn syrup, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until sugar dissolves, stirring once or twice. Raise heat to high, and bring to a boil (do not stir).

Boil, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 248 degrees, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in baking soda.

Pour caramel over popcorn mixture, stirring to coat thoroughly. Transfer to 2 rimmed baking sheets, spreading in a single layer. Bake 45 minutes, stirring twice. Test doneness by removing a few pieces of popcorn from oven; if they crisp within 1 minute, popcorn is ready.

Remove from oven, and immediately sprinkle with remaining salt.

Let cool completely.

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir until melted and completely smooth. Fill a small resealable plastic bag with chocolate, and snip a tiny hole in 1 corner. Drizzle chocolate over caramel corn. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, about 10 minutes, before breaking up.

Store caramel corn in an airtight container up to 1 week.

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From Martha Stewart Living, October 2012 issue. Tested by Susan M. Selasky.