Ultimate Oscars Food - Caramel Popcorn with Variations

Settling in tonight to watch the Oscars with buds? Gotta have something harmless to throw at the screen when a lame movie - the one you didn't place a bet on - takes the statues.

Here's the recipe for caramel popcorn - but feel free to toss in just about anything that shines your statue beyond the corn: peanuts, cashews, wasabi peas, pretzels, and oh yeah - bacon.

Caution! If you've never worked with hot caramel - a word of serious warning: Don't stick your fingers in it to taste until it's cool. Hot sugar is worse than boiling oil on the skin and tongue. And pay attention while cooking - no texting while carameling.

Caramel corn
Have ready 2 baking sheets well greased with butter.

12 cups plain popped popcorn
3/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts (see variations), optional
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 -1/2 tablespoons clear corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or liqueur or flavoring)

Mix the popcorn with any add-ins you like. Pour mix into greased baking sheets and set on a flat, heatproof surface. Heat oven to 250 degrees.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to blend and melt sugar. When mixture begins to boil, time it and boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Mixture should be golden. Remove from heat, and stirring rapidly, stir in baking soda and vanilla. Caramel will foam and be lighter in color. Pour at once over popcorn in prepared pans, stirring to coat corn.
Bake in 250-degree oven for 1 hour, stirring to coat well. Pour cooked caramel corn into a large bowl or pan, and separate pieces. Store in an airtight container. Refrigeration will cause corn to become sticky. 
Variations: Add in 3/4 cup any crunchy food you like or combination: nuts, pretzels, cereal squares, crisp bacon bits, etc. For flavorings, use best quality vanilla, hazelnut or chocolate liqueur, rum or bourbon. Garlic or herbs can be stirred into the popcorn mix before caramel is added.

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