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Bar Bites: Chicago-Style Spicy Cheese-Caramel Popcorn
Salty and sweet is the best of both worlds, right? That's just what you get with "Chicago Mix," a cheese and caramel corn-filled bucket of joy. Championed by Chicago fave Garrett Popcorn, it's actually pretty easy to make at home.
The key to getting that perfect pop—puffy and cloud-like—is by employing an air-popper. Once your kernels have popped, separate the corn into two batches.
The cheese corn preparation is best left until the caramel corn is in the oven since it requires less time and effort. Don't worry about procuring a pricey shaker of cheese powder: the cheese packet inside Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Cheddar Explosion is boss. When it comes to getting the cheese to adhere to the popcorn, here's the trick: mix a portion of cheese powder with butter before tossing it with the popped corn. Then add the remaining powder in stages, tossing thoroughly before adding more.
Likewise, the caramel corn involves two stages. First, you make the caramel on the stovetop, adding baking soda once it's removed from heat. After tossing the caramel with the popcorn, it needs to dry in the oven. Before combining your corny mixes, be sure each batch has dried since a good Chicago mix must retain its individual flavors. And when it does, it's worth its weight in packed-on pounds.
Note: Microwaving in a folded-over brown paper sack or shaking it stove top is an adequate substitution, though the results are not the same.
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About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago."