This week we’re taking a savory turn and this recipe is about as simple as they come. After last weekend’s cooking/baking/extended family Mother’s Day extravaganza, simple is about all I can master right now. And before you turn up your noses at the unsophisticated ingredients, do yourself a favor and make a batch. This mix beats the hell out of your pre-bagged Chex Mix.
So you’re a Cracker Jacks fan? Just hide a cheap prize in the bottom of the bowl, and you’ll never look at a box of that cloyingly sweet medley again.
Yes, this recipe is decidedly retro – in a good way. I count old cookbooks and yellow-ed newspaper clippings as some of my best sources of kitchen inspiration. Admittedly, I find plenty of recipes that should stay hidden in those pages for eternity. I’m looking at you Cheesy Surprise Log with your mayo, hard-boiled egg, and sauerkraut! <shudder>
But once you learn to look past the cooking holocaust that was the 1960’s and 1970’s and force yourself to relax your notions that good food needs to be complicated, there are some real gems to be found. Often the best part about old recipes is the challenge in updating them. Ditching the margarine, the canned pineapple, the corn syrup, the boxes of cake mix, or gelatin – and forcing myself to find a more wholesome work around can yield fantastic results.
The Popcorn Scramble recipe lives in my mom’s recipe binder and provides no clues as to where it comes from other than the “Fayetteville, Arkansas” printed at the bottom. A popular snack and homemade gift around the holidays, I grew up with the smell of the popcorn toasting in the oven and big roasting pans on the counter. It was impossible to walk through the kitchen without snagging a handful. To make the mix my own, I added a kick of cayenne. The balance of sweet, salty, and spice goes right year round with just about any array of appetizers and an ice-cold beer.
10 cups freshly popped popcorn, unsalted
3 cups rice cereal (ie: Rice Chex)
3 cups toasted oat cereal (ie: Cheerios)
2 cups roasted peanuts, lightly salted
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup HFCS-free light corn syrup*
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a very large roasting pan, combine the popcorn, cereals, and peanuts. Toss gently and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over low heat (stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn) for 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat, stir in the baking soda, vanilla, and cayenne. Bake 1 hour; stirring every 15 mins. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.
Yield: Aprx. 14 cups
*A Note on Corn Syrup: I avoid using corn syrup at all costs due to the widely known health and environmental issues related to HFCS. However, there are some recipes where its binding and texture properties are somewhat unavoidable. I suggest tracking down a natural HFCS-free corn syrup like this one to use when nothing else will suit. I plan to try this recipe substituting maple syrup in equal amounts as well and will report back OR chime in with your results!