Thursday, June 10, 2010

Veggie Might: DIY Microwave Popcorn - Reinventing the Wheel

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Three things are guaranteed when I try to make something from scratch:
  1. After having a Brilliant Idea, I will attempt it with only minimal planning.
  2. There will a mess/tears/fire.
  3. I will discover someone else has successfully accomplished my task (and published instructions) before me, rendering 1 & 2 unnecessary.
I’ve been on a popcorn kick lately, and I’m not a fan of the microwave variety (too expensive, processed butter-gunk). Normally, I make it from scratch in a big pot on the stove.

But as you know, if you’ve made popcorn the old-fashioned way, you have to watch it carefully, shaking the pot to keep the kernels from scorching. Why, I wanted to know, couldn’t I have my supa-natural homemade popcorn in a convenient microwave package (and without the added clutter of an air popper)?

My thought train followed this approximate track: Microwave popcorn is in a paper bag. I have those. Microwave popcorn bags are sealed with glue. I have that. Staples would probably set the microwave on fire. I’ve done that before and would not like to repeat. Okay let’s do this.

On my first attempt, I recycled a small brown paper bag (named Testela) from a local bakery. I put in 2 tbsp of popcorn, sealed it with a tiny bit of basic white glue, and set the micro for 4 minutes, just like for store bought. Just about all the kernels popped—not at all like store bought.

That’s right. No mess, no tears, no fire. Just delicious, perfectly popped popcorn—the perfect amount for one person, about 2 and 1/2 cups. Wheel: reinvented.

On subsequent attempts, I tried bigger bags and more popcorn with varied success—and dispensed with the glue. Folding over the edge is enough to keep the bag closed while popping.

The key to microwave popcorn success is matching the size of the bag to the amount of popcorn you want to pop, yet allowing the carousel in the microwave to turn as the bag expands. Stationary popcorn is burnt popcorn. Lunch-sized bags seem to work best.

The largest bag I tried, a mid-sized, take-out bag named Sandra Kilcan (seriously, check the bottom the next time you get a paper bag with your tea and muffin) was a bit too large for my microwave.

She got stuck in the spin of the carousel, and some of the kernels burnt while cooking. But a quick smoosh of the bag to push in the corners got things turning again. After 4 minutes, I dumped out the cooked kernels, and reheated the remainders for 2 more minutes.

That’s right. I broke the cardinal rule of microwave popcorn. I dumped out the popped kernels and REHEATED THE UNPOPPED KERNELS! And do you know what happened? Almost all of THOSE KERNELS POPPED! Take that Big Popcorn! Six minutes to nearly perfect popcorn.

Still, I recommend using a smaller bag and sticking with at 1/4 cup or less. That way you don’t have to hover, which is the whole point. Save time, save money, and save that butter-gunk for someone else.

Let’s recap:

DIY Microwave Popcorn

1) Recycle a small paper bag, preferably one with a cool name like Rocco Martinez.

2) Fill with 1/4 cup popcorn kernels. Fold over the edge and place in the microwave with the flap-side down.

3) Microwave on high up to 4 minutes. Check to make sure the carousel is turning. If your bag gets stuck, open the microwave and give it a little nudge, folding or reshaping the bag if necessary.

4) When the popping stops, dump the popped kernels into a bowl. Reheat any remaining kernels for up to 2 minutes.

5) Combine all the popcorn and season as desired. (I like mine sprinkled with a little salt and nutritional yeast—vegan cheesy.) Save the bag for another go.

6) Enjoy your delicious, healthy popcorn, free from processed butter-gunk and save some serious scratch.

Nutrition and Cost Comparison
Newman’s Own Butter Flavor Microwave Popcorn
3.5 cup serving: Calories: 170, Fat: 11g, Fiber:3g, Protein: 2g, $.96

DIY Microwave Popcorn 1/4 tbsp = 5 cups popcorn
5 cup total: Calories: 124, Fat: 2g, Fiber: 4g, Protein: 4g, $.08
2.5 cup serving: Calories: 62, Fat: 1g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 2g, $.04

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