Snacks are one of the (many) areas in parenting life that tend to get my goat. Yes, I know, kids need to refuel. Incessantly, it seems, sometimes. "Mummy, I'm hungry! Can I have a snack?" Exactly how many times a day do I hear that phrase? It's odd that it sometimes irritates me, given my love of food. But it does, I must admit. I would far rather put my time and energy into preparing a meal, and I do. However, for some reason, those kiddos' bellies just don't stay full between mealtimes. Perhaps it's all that moving around they do. Perhaps I should make them stop. Kidding. Perhaps I should follow their example a bit more...
Back when we lived in New Zealand, and the Boy was a toddler (a toddler with a very good appetite, but a toddler-sized appetite!), I used to watch three neighbor kids after school, for about an hour a day. I felt as if I'd been thrown into the lion pit, those first few weeks watching them, because until then, I'd had no idea how just how ravenous kids are, especially after school. I'd scramble around my kitchen, hearing their cackles for "FOOD!" as if they were a pack of hyenas, set to devour anything I put in front of them, fangs dripping greedily. No, I jest. They were really cute, and they smiled and said please, even. The gap between a toddler snack and a school age kid snack took me by surprise, though. Eventually, I learned from my friend, Jemma, the perfect, cheap, easy snack: Popcorn. You can make buckets of the stuff for pennies, and hey, I did. Once I figured out that trick, I made it happily, every day.
The brilliant thing about popcorn is that it's pretty much a crowd pleaser, no matter what age group your crowd may be. And on top of that, I never hear the "cha-ching" of my bank account decreasing as the kiddos annihilate it. Feed the beast, I say.
A few months ago, I was searching for an appetizer for a Cajun feed that the gang was planning. It was suggested that I bring a finger food, something light-ish, as the main meal was going to be rather on the filling side. I combed through recipes online, trying to find just the right thing, and also dead set against anything deep-fried. I am not the gal to attempt several batches of beignets. It just wouldn't turn out well. Then, I hit the jackpot, a la Martha Stewart. Cajun Popcorn. Oooo, boy, I was all sorts of excited about this one, let me tell you.
The recipe called for 1 cup of popcorn kernels, which makes about 2 very large bowls of popcorn. You can easily halve the recipe, for one large bowl, though. Make what you need. And be prepared for the popcorn to be inhaled. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
One more recipe note, before we get to the nitty-gritty: It is spicy. It calls for 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of cayenne, and unless you have a mouth of steel, which I don't, you just may breathe fire for a bit. For the kiddos, I omit the cayenne altogether, or just put the tiniest of tiny pinches in.
Cajun Popcorn, adapted from marthastewart.com
-makes about 24 cups, or two large bowls
1 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup (1/2 a stick), unsalted butter, melted*
2 1/4 tsp flake sea salt, or a larger grain salt, like kosher
1 1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp dried oregano, leaves crushed between your fingertips
3/4 tsp thyme leaves, crushed or ground in a mortar and pestle
1/2 to 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or adjust to your spice-tolerance)
*This recipe calls for a rather LOT of butter. I usually halve it, especially when making it for the kiddos' snack, to keep things a bit healthier. If you're going for an adult party appetizer, I advise that you go for the full amount. Grown-ups don't usually make as much pigs of themselves in group situations as kids tend to.*
In a small bowl, mix the spices together.
Using whatever popping method you prefer, pop the corn. I use an air popper, and make it in two batches. You can pop it on the stove, or however you desire.
Toss the popcorn in the melted butter, then throw over the spice mix, and toss to coat well.
How do you like that? Couldn't be easier, and sure to please even the hungriest of snackers. Just the thing to feed the beast.