We have this amazing caramel corn shop here in Chicago called Garrett's Popcorn. Oh my goodness! The smell floats out of the shop, down the street around the buildings and through all of the people. It puts a spell on you and literally pulls you into the store with a force that is beyond your control.
You can't fight it, so don't even try. Well, I was in the city on Saturday with my daughter and as we were criss-crossing the busy streets filled with shoppers and street musicians, we were instantly overcome with an uncontrollable desire for caramel corn. I had this week's contest rolling around in my brain, and when that magic smell hit me, I thought about corn. Corn! Caramel corn is corn, right? I happen to have a fabulous caramel corn recipe that I originally came across on one of my favorite food blogs. I tried it, loved it, altered it a bit and have made it dozens of times. I can't stop making it because it's so simple and really delicious. So, being the right-brained creative thinker that I am, I figured this would make a great corn entry! If you can't get over to Garrett's, you really have to try making this one.
10 cups of caramel corn
package of plain microwave popcorn (unbuttered, natural flavor)
Preheat the oven to 250°F, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pop the popcorn according to the package instructions. (2 1/2 mins works good for me, 3 mins tends to burn it a bit) *Pick out each and every kernel that does not pop.* (This step is very important because you don't want anyone to break a tooth on caramel coated kernels!) Coat a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and dump the popcorn into the bowl.
In a saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a low boil over medium heat. Whisk often, until the mixture reads 250°F on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot caramel over the popcorn, using a rubber spatula to gently fold the caramel into the popcorn. Take care to distribute it as evenly as you can. Stir in the peanuts, if using, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring and turning the popcorn with a spatula every 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes. Gently break up the popcorn, and serve.