Put some pop into popcorn for Oscars

Of all of the awards shows I love to watch (and I love to watch them all), the Oscars is my favorite. And it’s a great excuse to throw a party.

Many of my friends do the “red carpet” thing for their own parties and ask guests to dress in their black-tie best. But I prefer watching in comfy clothes and snacking on simple but satisfying nibbles. After all, it’s a very long show!

This year, I am going to make popcorn the old-fashioned way — on the stovetop — and flavor the hot kernels three different ways.

Everyone loves popcorn and there is no other food that is so closely associated with movies.

Even though I sometimes make microwave popcorn just like the rest of the world, when I make it from scratch, I can’t believe the difference in taste. Microwave popcorn is a mere shadow of the original.

There are basically two ways to top popcorn: wet and dry.

Let’s start with wet toppings, such as melted butter. Melted butter is always a crowd pleaser, but you have to make that version just before serving or else it gets soggy. Plus, buttered popcorn is always best hot.

Other wet toppings, such as melted chocolate, should be applied to popcorn spread flat on a baking sheet, then allowed to cool. Otherwise it becomes soggy.

The advantage of dry flavor toppings is that you can make the popcorn a few hours in advance, then serve it room at temperature. Just make sure to add the spices while the popcorn is hot.

My three favorites are truffle salt, Parmesan cheese and a sweet and spicy barbecue rub.

To cook the popcorn for use with a dry topping, I use a heavy enameled cast-iron Dutch oven set over medium heat. I heat the empty pot for about 2 minutes over low heat, then pour in the olive oil and the popcorn, increase the heat to medium and immediately place the lid on the pot.

The heavy pot helps prevent the popcorn from burning and almost all of the kernels pop.

I find that a good olive oil gives the popcorn a great flavor and that you won’t even want to add melted butter.

As soon as the popcorn is popped, I pour it out of the pan into the biggest bowl I have. I toss the popcorn with the seasoning and continue to toss so that the steam doesn’t make the popcorn soggy.

When the steam dissipates, I toss it a few more times, taste to make sure that I have enough flavoring, then let it come to room temperature in the bowl. At this point you can place it in serving bowls or baskets or even individual paper bags to give your guests.

And don’t forget to pair your gourmet popcorn with a flute of sparkling wine. The make the perfect high-low party combination.

Stove popcorn many ways

2-3 tablespoons olive oil (depending on the size of the pot)

1/3-1/2 cup popcorn kernels (depending on the size of the pot)

Fine-grain sea salt or other seasoned toppings

Heat an empty cast-iron Dutch oven over low heat for 2 minutes.

Add enough olive oil to the pot to thinly coat the entire bottom. Add a single layer of popcorn kernels. You want them to be touching but not more than one layer thick. Increase the heat to medium and place the lid on the pot. Wait until popping begins, then turn the heat down slightly.

Shake the pot every 30 seconds or so. Start shaking a bit more when the popping starts to subside. When the kernels stop popping in unison and you only hear one pop every couple of seconds, it is done.

Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Season generously with the toppings listed below, or another one of your favorites. Toss the popcorn in the bowl and sprinkle with additional seasoning several times to make sure you have an even coating. Serve immediately or let cool.

Servings: 1/2 cup corn kernels will produce about 12 cups popcorn.

Dry popcorn toppings

Truffle salt

1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Barbecue rub (use purchased or the recipe below)

Maple sugar and crisp bits of smoked bacon

Mini marshmallows, chocolate chips and chopped salted peanuts

Mini M&Ms, chopped roasted almonds and dried coconut

Ragin’ Cajun Spice mixture

Lemon-pepper salt

Italian spice blend and finely grated Parmesan cheese

Sweet and spicy barbecue rub

1/4 cup paprika

2 tablespoons superfine sugar

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons dried chipotle chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Makes about 1 cup.

Wet popcorn toppings

Be certain to spread the popcorn flat on a baking sheet before adding wet toppings, then let it set before serving.

Melted chocolate

Melted chocolate and peanut butter

Melted caramels and a pinch of salt

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