Friday, May 10, 2013

0 Popcorn Snack Bars

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What?! A candy-coated popcorn snack bar that's actually GOOD for you?! Are you kidding me?! Does such a thing even exist? Yep. :)

Salty and sweet, and yes, healthy, this snack covers all of the bases. It's got all-natural carbs, healthy fats, and protein, Omega-3's and -6's, etc., is an abundant source of energy, and heck, it even fights germs (i.e., the honey, walnut oil, walnuts, almonds, and cashews). It's sort of like Cracker Jack's healthier, badass cousin. :)

Unlike other kinds of candy-coated popcorns, this one doesn't have tons of refined sugar, artificial ingredients, or boatloads of saturated fat. For example, if you read the label on a box of Cracker Jack, you'll see the following ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, popcorn, peanuts, molasses, salt, corn &/or soybean oil, and soy lecithin. Note that popcorn is listed third, after sugar and corn syrup (!). Or, check out the label on a can of Poppycock, another candy-coated popcorn that tastes very similar: Mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, cashews), corn syrup, sugar, butter (cream, salt), popcorn, brown sugar, salt, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, soybean oil, or soy lecithin. Popcorn isn't even one of the top ingredients. It's listed fifth, after mixed nuts, corn syrup, sugar, and butter. Wow, that's a real eye-opener, eh?

These popcorn bars are really easy to make, so why not make a healthier version and enjoy a guilt-free snack instead? :) Plus, it also makes a great gift for the holidays or other special occasions!

Popcorn Snack Bars

8 c. plain, freshly air-popped popcorn (about 3 Tbsp. popping corn kernels)
1/3 c. raw, unsalted almonds
1/3 c. raw, unsalted cashews
1/3 c. raw, unsalted pecan halves
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. walnut oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat toaster oven to 350ºF. Pour plain, freshly air-popped popcorn into a large heat-proof bowl. Pick out and discard any unpopped kernels. (After all, you don't want people to swallow whole kernels or break their teeth!) Set aside. Spread almonds onto an aluminium-foil covered toaster oven tray and bake in the toaster oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes, opening the oven after the first 5 minutes to stir them a bit. (Nuts burn easily, so watch them carefully as they toast.) Transfer the nuts to a separate heat-proof bowl and let them cool for about 5-10 minutes.

While nuts are cooling, preheat (a regular) oven to 350ºF. Then, add honey, maple syrup, and salt, to a large sauce pot, stirring once to combine, and then simmer, undisturbed, over low heat. (Watch it carefully so that it doesn't boil over.) Cook until honey dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir in the walnut oil in the last 30 seconds. Remove from heat, then stir in the vanilla and baking soda, the latter of which will cause the mixture to foam. Quickly add nuts and stir until fully coated with syrup. Then, using a heat-proof spatula, immediately transfer nuts and any remaining syrup to the bowl with the popcorn and mix together rapidly until the popcorn and nuts are completely covered in syrup. Then swiftly transfer the mixture to 9" x 13" baking tray lined with parchment paper. Using the heat-proof spatula, firmly press the mixture into the baking tray, evenly distributing it across the tray. Make sure there are no gaps anywhere and that the mixture is of a uniform thickness. Bake in oven for 7-8 minutes, or until bars have solidified and become golden brown. Let the bars fully cool, then refrigerate for 1 hour to further solidify. Cut into 10 uniformly sized bars, slicing once lengthwise (down the center of the 13" side), and then four times crosswise (equidistantly down the 9" side). Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 10 (2 3/5" x 4 1/2") bars.

Chef's Notes: It's best to consume these snack bars within 1-2 days of making them. Otherwise, they'll become sticky and will crumble fairly easily while you're eating them. And that'll make for some very messy eating. More popcorn will probably hit the floor than your mouth. :) If you're not going to eat them right away, then be sure to store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh.

After the syrup has finished cooking, do not delay any of the steps immediately following, from the moment you remove it from the stove top up until the instant after you've just pressed the syrup-coated popcorn and nuts into the baking tray. Otherwise, the syrup will begin to harden and will make the popcorn and nut mixture difficult to handle.

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