Date Night In The Kitchen: 3 Gourmet Paper Bag Popcorns

When Josh and I first got married, we went to the movie theater nearly twice a month. We lived a block away from a fairly cheap movie theater, a five-minute drive from an amazing movie theater with the best popcorn and comfiest seats, and a town away from the dollar theater. And as it happens, that year released lots of our favorite movies, the kind where we couldn't help going back to see them in theaters again. I'm not sure we'll ever see as many movies in one year as we did in 2012.

Beyond these great movies that we loved seeing, we love the entire experience of movie-going. We are absolutely addicted to salty buttery popcorn and love being surrounded by fellow movie buffs or couples looking for something fun to do for date night. We love that we're forced to focus completely on the movie- no phones or laptops on our laps while we miss little details because we're looking at the wrong screen. We love that it's socially unacceptable to talk in a movie theater and we relish the silence of the crowd until the very end when a burst of rapid conversation starts to discuss what we all had just witnessed. We love the drive home afterwards where we talk about what we loved and hated about the movie and the many details we noticed. Movies are our jam.

But since 2012, our income has taken hits and our debt has built up with Josh finishing school and me going to culinary school and both of us making the mistake of using a credit card. We needed to get serious about a budget. So we sat down and figured out our priorities and calculated how much money we could spend on the things we cared most about and when all was said and done there just wasn't anything left for the movies. As much as we loved going to the movie theater together, it wasn't a priority and we both knew it. 

Our date nights evolved. We began cooking together more, playing games or Nintendo64, watching our favorite shows on Netflix while working on a home DIY project, going window shopping at the mall, or simply going for a long drive where we could talk or listen to our favorite music. But we missed going to the movies. More specifically, we missed the anticipation of seeing a new movie and watching it in the dark while shoveling delicious popcorn into our mouths.

So we got more intentional with our movie night at home. We'd plan out which movie we'd watch in advance so we could get excited, maybe even planning a movie marathon of our favorite trilogies. On our weekly grocery trip, we'd buy some special snacks rather than eating dinner on the couch. We set a rule for no phones or laptops and would turn the lights down low so we could focus on the screen. We would start it early enough that no one would fall asleep before the end, but late enough that turning on our favorite show and vegging afterwards wasn't an option. 

And it did the trick! We didn't need a movie theater or overpriced popcorn to have an enjoyable movie night. We simply needed a couch, DVD player, and a little bit of forethought. And though we sometimes miss the giant bucket of buttery movie theater popcorn, we've found alternatives that we love even more that really jazz up the night. And what's better is, they're fun to make together beforehand and even Josh gets involved in the creative process with ideas on what to add in to make it even more fun. If you've got a nearby Winco or local grocery store with a great dry goods section, have some fun shopping there together and come up with your own ideas for great add-ins!

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't judge a microwavable store-bought bag of popcorn. But the cheapest and easiest way to make popcorn is buying a big bag of kernels and some brown paper bags and popping them in the microwave on your own. Then you can control the salt and flavors and know exactly what is in the bag before you eat it. Of course, if you're anti-microwave or like a more old-fashioned style, stovetop popcorn is great as well. But these recipes are all meant to be cooked in the easiest way possible- the microwave.

3 EASY GOURMET PAPER BAG POPCORNS

Perfect for: A quick and easy date night at home
Pair with: Some fun bottled sodas! Jones are my favorite. 

GARLIC & PARMESAN POPCORN

1 brown paper bag (lunch bag size)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1-2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese, to taste (See note)

In your brown paper bag, combine kernels, olive oil, and garlic salt. Fold the end of the paper bag over three times and shake a few times. Place in the microwave on it's side and microwave on high until there are 2 seconds between pops (Don't walk away! Stay and listen!). Shake the bag before opening. Add in the parmesan cheese and dried basil and shake to combine. 

Note: If you want a good parmesan flavor, get a block of parmesan cheese and grate it yourself. Pre-shredded parmesan you find in a can in the dry goods section of the grocery store is very flavorless.

SWEET CEREAL POPCORN

1 brown paper bag
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
3/4 cup total of your favorite cereals (I used Lucky Charms marshmallows and cocoa puffs)
sheet of wax paper
1/2 cup (4 oz.) white chocolate

Add your kernels to the brown paper bag. Fold the end of the paper bag over three times. Place in the microwave on it's side and microwave on high until there are 2 seconds between pops (Don't walk away! Stay and listen!). Spread the popcorn out onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper. In a small heat-proof bowl, microwave the white chocolate at 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely smooth when stirred (don't overcook!). Drizzle the white chocolate over your popcorn and immediately sprinkle on the cereal (so the chocolate helps the cereal stick to the popcorn). Let cool. If you want to speed things up, throw the pan into the freezer until the chocolate is solid. Once the chocolate is solid, stir the popcorn around to combine.

SALTY CARAMEL & PRETZEL POPCORN

1 brown paper bag
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
sheet of wax paper
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup salted butter
3 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Movie-size box of Milk Duds
1/2 cup chopped snack pretzels (or more, to taste)

Note: Please read this recipe at least one time through before beginning. Once the caramel is ready, you need to work very quickly so you'll need to be prepared. If you wait too long after the caramel is finished cooking, it will be one sticky glob rather than a nice drizzle. 

In your brown paper bag, combine kernels, oil, and salt. Fold the end of the paper bag over three times and shake a few times. Place in the microwave on it's side and microwave on high until there are 2 seconds between pops (Don't walk away! Stay and listen!). Shake the bag a few times then spread the popcorn out into an even layer on the wax paper.

In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine the brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave an additional minute and stir. Mix in the salt and baking soda and quickly drizzle the caramel over popcorn. Immediately add the Milk Duds and pretzels. Let dry for a few minutes then enjoy (with napkins nearby).

Make sure to head to BethanyGrow.com for the coconut curry popcorn recipe! m

Check out my post of 20+ movies that are perfect for date night! You're both guaranteed to enjoy them!