Caramel Bacon Popcorn

For today's Meals on Reels feature, we are taking you back. Back to the 80's and Val Kilmer's pre Top Gun days. It was a beautiful time. A time when science nerds banded together and harnessed the power of expandable foods to defeat their nemesis. I'm talking about Real Genius:

I have a complicated relationship with popcorn. I've never really loved it - not the plain/salted/buttered version anyway. It doesn't do much for me snack-wise. I feel like I have to eat an entire houseful to fill me up. I like something a bit heartier.

A recent visit to Ward III, a TriBeCa bar with fancy snacks, gave me just what I wanted in a popcorn: a sweet and salty version with snippets of crispy bacon! I ate two housefuls - I mean bowls.

So I searched around and cobbled together this recipe that has everything you might want in a substantive popcorn: sweetness from a caramel coating and craisins, a kick provided by a dash of cayenne pepper, just the right amount of saltiness and a smooth, buttery crunch from cashew nuts.

Here's how to do it. Just don't waste it on blowing up someone's house. The stuff is too good.

Sweet and Spicy Bacon Caramel Popcorn

What You Need:

1 package microwave popcorn - natural/unflavored variety (I used Newman's Brand)

6 ounces bacon, chopped

1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if spicy stuff freaks you out a bit)

For the caramel sauce:

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

What To Do:

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Heat popcorn in microwave according to package instructions. After it is finished popping, open the bag (carefully) and pour the popped corn into a large mixing bowl.

Cook chopped bacon in a skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.

Add bacon and cashews to the bowl with popcorn. Sprinkle in the coarse salt and cayenne.

Mix it up!

Coat a cookie sheet with nonstick spray (you can also use tin foil to protect your cookie sheet from sticky caramel sauce.

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.

Increase the heat to high and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally stirring, about 10-13 minutes.

Once it has turned brown, turn the heat WAY down and add in the heavy cream. Keep stirring until it starts to thicken. Then turn the heat off and continue stirring until it is smooth like caramel (it IS caramel!).

Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture and toss with spoons until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared cookie sheet.

Place this whole concoction in the oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on sheet on rack, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps.

This can be made 2 days ahead and stored in a giant ziploc bag in the fridge.

TIP: It's likely that you now have a medium saucepan covered in leftover caramel. And it's also likely that the caramel is not just coating the pan, but STUCK LIKE GLUE on there. Yup. I know how it is. To get it off, add some water to your saucepan (enough to cover all the caramel bits) and heat it up on the stove. The water will loosen up the stuck caramel, and you will be able to pour it all out. AND have a clean pan. Nice, right?

Not into making your own? Then get your own! My current favorite store-bought variety is from Popcorn, Indiana:

And I will still go for a bag of the timeless Cracker Jacks, especially if I'm at a sporting event (nothing says curling like peanuts and popcorn).