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Quick appetizer for New Year's: Toasted-coconut lime popcorn

Recipe: Easy snack for game days or binge-watching, too

Served with lime slices, this toasted coconut-lime popcorn makes a great appetizer with your favorite beverage.

Served with lime slices, this toasted coconut-lime popcorn makes a great appetizer with your favorite beverage. Kathy Morrison

I feel as if I've been cooking and baking nonstop the past few weeks. So for a New Year's appetizer, I wanted something quick and uncomplicated -- and preferably somewhat healthy.

Popcorn kernels plus coconut flakes and 2 limes
Use a gourmet popcorn if you can find one.

Also, I still have so many ripe limes, and hoped to use at least a few more just-picked ones before I juice and freeze the rest.

The solution to these desires turned out to be an old favorite: Popcorn, but dressed up a bit. After all, it's a whole grain, gluten-free, and low in calories.

This is popcorn essentially made the old-fashioned way: In a covered pot with hot oil. But I borrowed a technique from the New York Times, popping it in a wok (or wok-shaped pan, in my case). Any large (4 quarts or more) pot with a lid will work, however. Use a stock pot to double this for a crowd.

Do look for a gourmet popcorn if you can. The flavor tends to be nuttier, though the pops may not be as fluffy as microwave popcorn.

My preferred version is the savory one, with some tartness from the lime, but if you like your popcorn sweeter, I've included an option using brown sugar that still is nowhere near as cloying as caramel corn.

Warming the popped popcorn on a sheet pan in a 300-degree oven is a revelation -- it dries any bits made too soggy by the butter. And use the sheet pan to re-warm the snack if there are (unlikely) leftovers.

Toasted-coconut lime popcorn

Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients:

1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut

2 limes, one to be zested and juiced, the other reserved for garnish

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup popcorn kernels

1-1/2 tablespoons butter, either unsalted or salted

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt, or to taste

Optional: 1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar plus an additional 1 tablespoon butter

Toasted coconut on a pan
Toasted coconut is ready to use.

Instructions:

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut flakes in a thin layer on a sheet pan. Toast the coconut 6 to 8 minutes, watching carefully that it doesn't get too brown. Remove from oven to cool briefly, then scrape the coconut into a bowl. But keep the sheet pan handy -- no need to clean it yet. Also, keep the oven at 300 degrees.

Zest one lime, then juice it; set the zest and juice at ready near the stovetop.

Over medium heat, melt the coconut oil (which is usually solid this time of year) in a wok or any large pot with a tight-fitting lid. When it's melted, add 2 or 3 popcorn kernels and cover but not entirely -- leave the lid cracked a tiny bit.

Meanwhile, melt the 1-1/2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. (You can do this in the microwave, but as you'll see shortly, it's best to have the butter warm and right at hand.)

When the kernels have popped, pour in the rest of the popcorn, put the lid on tightly, and shake the pan frequently until the popping has slowed considerably and the pan is full of popped corn. (Lift the pan off the heat and shake vigorously if you start to smell pre-burning popcorn.)

Remove the lid and take the pan off the heat.

Popcorn in pan
I used a wok-shaped nonstick pan.

Add the lime zest and lime juice to the melted butter over low heat, and stir just enough to blend. Drizzle the mixture over the popcorn, stir briefly, then scatter the toasted coconut and the salt over the popcorn, and stir thoroughly. 

Pour all the pot contents back onto the sheet pan, spreading it out in an even layer. Return the sheet pan to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve popcorn warm with slices of the second lime on the side.

Sweeter option: Prepare as above, but when melting the butter, include the additional 1 tablespoon of butter and the 1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, blending over low heat until the sugar grains have dissolved.  Then add the lime zest and juice, and proceed as above. The popcorn will be just a little sticky.

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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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