But come on. You still need a sweet treat to end the day, or to motivate you to go to the gym, or just because, let's be real, you're addicted to
Let's compromise, shall we?
Air-popped popcorn is pretty much the healthiest snack food you can find, right? I mean, technically it's a whole grain.
So if the base is healthy, slathering it in butter and sugar doesn't disqualify it from being a health food.
First, you need to have just plain popcorn that's not all microwaveified. You can find it by the normal popcorn (or possibly the drink mixers, don't ask why) in any grocery store. Or you can buy fun multi-colored stuff from the bulk bin at Whole Foods.
It doesn't make multi-colored puffs, though, sorry.
Anyway. Then you need to pop this nice plain corn. If, like me, you have inherited an electric air popper from a kind friend who had about three of them, you are in luck.
If not, you have to do it on the stove and I can't really help you with that, but Google can. For instance, here is a nice summary of some different popping methods. Stovetop methods of necessity involve some sort of fat, so far as I can tell; vegetable, peanut, or coconut oil should work fine. I think olive oil has too low a smoking point.
Back to the recipe.
Pop some corn.
While said corn pops, or after, if you're popping it on the stove and only want to wash one pot, melt some butter. We usually use one stick to about a half cup (unpopped) popcorn.
Add a few shakes of vanilla.
Stir in some brown sugar. We usually use about 3/4 cup.
Turn up the heat nice and high. It will get really frothy and bubbly:
But eventually should get all melty and gooey and yummy looking. You'll know when you've finally gotten the brown sugar to actually melt and not just dissolve.
Constant stirring is necessary so it doesn't burn up and die. Play around with the ratios, heat level, etc. until you find perfection according to your own tastebuds.
You can add flavorings, too: a dash of vanilla is always good. We brought some to a Christmas party and added nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon for Christmas Spice Caramel Corn. A++.
Pour the caramel on the popcorn.
If you don't turn the heat up high enough, it will be more clumpy and grainy:
If you used a higher heat, it will be smoother and liquidier:
Now, if you are clever and thought ahead, you will have put your popcorn in a big bowl with a lid so that you can pop that lid on top and shake it like a Polaroid picture.
If you are less clever, or lack a sufficiently large lidded bowl, you will need to stir it all together with a big spoon.
Either way, you end up with this:
And I will totally back you up on designating it as health food.
This doesn't exactly turn out like commercial caramel corn. That would necessitate corn syrup and greater finickiness. I personally think this is amazing, but I'm a sucker for butter + brown sugar.
It tends to be a bit grainy, and depending on your shaking/stirring skillZ, you might find lots of big clumps of sugar while other kernels have nothing. I do not complain about this. If you are liable to complain about it, adjust your shaking/stirring accordingly. As noted, cooking for longer and on a higher heat helps with this.
And, seriously, this is about as easy and fast (and cheap!) as it gets. It really is, oh-we're-supposed-to-be-at-that-party-in-thirty-minutes-and-I-haven't-bought-a-present-for-the-gift-exchange-yet-either-so-we-need-to-go-to-the-store-on-the-way-to-the-party-so-I-have-ten-minutes-to-toss-something-together-without-a-recipe-from-what-I-have-on-hand easy.
It's also wow-that-actually-turned-out-really-well-let's-make-it-all-the-time-now addictive.