Cathie Campbell

Fun foods are popping out during the holiday season

It's December, there’s a chill in the air and leaves are falling. This time of year finds me busy in the kitchen, baking and cooking holiday goodies to stash in the freezer until Christmas.

My Italian Nana spent weeks preparing breads, cookies and candies every year, and she gave the most incredible trays full of the treats to each of her sons’ families and also her daughters. She included red and green popcorn balls with her Christmas goodie trays.

Hers were the old-fashioned crunchy kind, but since those days, I have discovered a few recipes for chewy popcorn balls. No matter which type you prefer, perhaps you will find a good recipe here you deem worthy of trying.

Remember to always remove the hard, unpopped kernels before mixing the popcorn and syrup, as biting into one of those can cause some painful tooth damage.

Hope you enjoy these recipes and find the time to roll up your sleeves and get that popcorn popping.

Candy corn popcorn balls

I have seen red and green candy corn this time of year, but it's not easy to find. You can substitute other types of candies.

1 cup unpopped popcorn kernels

6 tablespoons oil, preferably canola

3 jars (7 1/2 ounces each) marshmallow creme

Red and green food coloring

1 cup candy corn (or more, if you like)

Butter or cooking spray

1. Prepare popcorn with oil in very large pot (or in batches, if necessary, in large pot) according to package directions; transfer to very large bowl. Line baking sheets with wax paper; set aside.

2. Place marshmallow creme in large microwave-safe bowl, microwave on High in 15-second intervals, stirring until fluff is smooth and bubbly. Tint fluff with red or green food coloring.

3. Pour over popcorn. Coat hands with cooking spray. Using hands (when cool enough to handle), mix popcorn with marshmallow creme until well coated. Mix candies into mixture until well distributed.

4. Shape mixture into baseball-sized balls. Place on baking sheets; let stand until dry; about 30 minutes. Makes about 15 popcorn/candy balls.

Festive Jell-O popcorn balls

Courtesy of Kraft Foods, this makes delicious, chewy popcorn balls. This one is my favorite. I use any type of red gelatin, plus green.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1 package (10 1/2-oz.) miniature marshmallows

1 package (3-oz.) Jell-O Gelatin, any flavor

12 cups popped, plain popcorn

1. Place popcorn in large bowl. Microwave butter and marshmallows in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until marshmallows are puffed. Stir in gelatin mix until well blended.

2. Add mixture to popcorn in bowl; toss to coat. When cool enough to handle, grease hands with butter and shape mixture into 16 balls. Let cool; wrap in plastic wrap if planning to store.

Old-fashioned popcorn balls

From the collection of Paula Deen.

2 cups sugar

1 1/3 cups water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

18 cups popped corn

1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, syrup, vinegar and salt. Cook over high heat until mixture reaches 255 degrees F (hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer. Stir in vanilla.

2. Pour over popped corn, tossing gently to coat. When mixture is cool enough to handle, lightly grease your hands and press popcorn into 3-inch balls. Cool completely on waxed paper.

Caramel popcorn balls

These are chewy with lots of flavor. The caramel sauce won't set up unless it reaches the correct temperature, so be sure to allow it enough time to boil. You can also just melt some caramels with a bit of water and use that mixture.

10 cups popped popcorn

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1/2 cup butter

1. Set popcorn aside in a large bowl. In a 2-quart saucepan combine sugars, corn syrup, water, salt and vinegar.

2. Using a candy thermometer, heat mixture to boiling and stir regularly until temperature reaches 260 degrees F. This will take about 15 minutes. Stir in butter until melted.

3. Stir caramel sauce over popcorn and stir until well coated. Spread popcorn on clean counter top and let it set up for a few minutes. Form popcorn into balls and allow to cool. Store in airtight container or plastic bags. Recipe may be doubled.