The Super Bowl plays out this weekend with the Winter Olympics lighting up just a few days later. Sports watching reaches the extreme and armchair fans need snacks to stay fueled. Whether you’re just lounging with your own team or planning some record-breaking parties, flavored popcorns make for simple, tasty treats everyone will enjoy.

(Image: Prevention Road)

Microwave Misdemeanors

Microwave popcorn’s been a pantry staple for over 30 years, giving a quick option for popping up a bag anytime. That warm, buttery aroma magically pulls people down hallways towards break rooms … or scatters crowds faster than an agitated skunk when an ill-timed burn releases the unmistakeable stench. Sadly, it’s not just that smell that lingers indefinitely. Those handy-dandy pre-packaged bags are loaded with potentially dangerous chemicals like the diacetyl added for buttery flavor and the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) lining the bag — both camp out in the body long after the last kernel’s been crunched. Holy Redenbacher! No JollyTime when that little PopSecret’s let out of the bag. There’s nothing corny about possible carcinogens.

Microwave popcorn’s been a pantry staple for decades, but may not exactly be safe snacking. (Image: SeriousEats.com)

Never fear, loose kernels pop just as quickly in an inexpensive air popper or by microwaving in your own bowl. Here’s  how:

  1. In a large, microwavable bowl, mix 1/2 cup kernels with 1 tbsp of oil.
  2. Cover with a microwave-safe steam lid. (A plate will also work.)
  3. Cook on high setting for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on oven wattage.

It may take few test batches to learn the right timing on your microwave. Yes, burnt popcorn still stinks, but it’s not nearly as pungent as the boxed version. This method offers the possibility for using different kinds of oils, giving the popcorn a subtle flavor before adding salt or seasonings — think peanut oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, truffle oil, rosemary-infused olive oil or even bacon drippings.

The NordicWare microwave popcorn bowl sells for under $9 at Target and makes for safer popping. (Image: Target.com)

Air poppers have been around for awhile, popping kernels right into the bowl without using oil. This Cuisinart model sells for around $40 both online and in stores such as Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, as well as department stores. (Image: cuisinart.com)

Fearless Flavor

Now it’s time to get creative with seasonings and the possibilities are endless. Sweet or savory or spicy, whatever you crave. Just about anything that can be put into a recipe, dressing, marinade, or dry rub can be tossed with popcorn and shaken for flavor. Melted chocolates, drizzles of caramel, mini marshmallows or sugared nuts can all swirl together turning popcorn into a crunchy dessert. To make dry spice mixes stick, spray a mist of olive or other oil onto the popcorn first, then shake on the flavor. Recipes using stickier ingredients or liquids should be tossed together and then popped into the oven for a few minutes.

Check your spice rack to mix up some munchy madness. (Image: Williams-Sonoma)

Quick Mixes

  • Cajun: Peanut oil + sea salt + Tony Chachere’s
  • Italiano: Italian seasoning + garlic salt + Parmesan cheese
  • Mexican Chocolate: Cocoa powder + cinnamon + cayenne pepper
  • Pumpkin Pie: Light brown sugar +  pumpkin pie spice
  • Ranch: Spray popped corn with oil and toss with a packet of ranch seasoning
  • Taco: Spray popped corn with oil and toss with a packet of  taco seasoning
  • Vegan Cheese:  Coconut oil + nutritional yeast + chia or hemp seeds

A little spritz of oil helps the seasonings stick to the popcorn and adds flavor.
(Crate & Barrel Oil Mister, $14.95, Image: crateandbarrel.com).

Shake & Bake

  • Buffalo: Melt together in small saucepan 4 tbsp butter, 2 tsp Buffalo wing hot sauce (try Frank’s or Texas Pete’s), 1 tbsp honey, 1/2 tsp salt. Pour over popcorn (about 12 cups) spread in baking pan and bake at 325º for about 10 minutes.
  • Chile Lime Tequila: Whisk together 1/3 cup melted butter, 2 tsp lime juice, 1/2 tsp lime zest, 1 tsp tequila. Add  1/2 small jalapeño, seeded and minced. Pour over popped corn spread then sprinkle with spice mix of 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp red pepper flake, 1 tsp ground cumin, and 2 tsp salt. Bake at 325º for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Cinnabon: Melt 1/4 cup butter in saucepan, slowly stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 cup light corn syrup. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp baking soda. In a large bowl, pour mixture over popped corn (about 12 cups) and stir to coat evenly. Line a baking sheet with foil sprayed with cooking spray, then spread popcorn onto sheet and bake at 250º for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Cool Ranch: Combine 1/3 cup melted butter, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp ranch salad dressing, 1 tsp dried parsley flakes, & 1/4 tsp onion powder. Pour over popcorn (about 12 cups) in baking pan and bake at 325º for about 10 minutes.
  • Maple Nut: Combine 1/2 cup of maple syrup and 1 tbsp brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, whisking frequently. Whisk in 1/2 cup of butter and 1/4 tsp salt, then remove from heat , allowing to cool slightly. In a large bowl, toss popped corn with 1 cup of chopped walnuts; drizzle with maple syrup and mix evenly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil sprayed with cooking spray, then spread popcorn and nuts onto sheet. Bake at 250º for 20 minutes. (Take this one to the next level by adding crumbled bacon … yes, bacon.)
  • S’more: This one mixes up similar to Rice Krispy Treats. In a large mixing bowl, crunch up about 9 graham crackers into small pieces and toss in with about 10-12 cups of popped corn. Melt 4TBSP butter in saucepan, add 1/2 bag of mini-marshmallows (about 2/3 cup), stirring until marshmallows melt and mixture is smooth. Drizzle over popcorn and graham cracker mixture, stirring until well-coated. Add remaining mini-marshmallows and  1/2 cup mini chocolate chips. Spread onto wax paper and let dry into clumps.

Sprinkled and seasoned or shaken and baked — sample sweet or savory recipes for popcorn perfection. (Images: Pinterest)

Serve It Up

  • Mix up a variety of seasonings, pour into inexpensive cheese shakers and label with tags christening your concoctions with thematic names (Super Bowl Sesame Spike, Bronco-Bustin’ Buffalo Ranch, Seahawks Sweet Cinnamon & Sugar —Gold Medal Garlic & Herb, Lemon Pepper Luge, Spectacular Sochi Shake)
  • During the Olympics, challenge guests to create international flavors representing competing countries using ingredients such as wasabi powder, Thai spices, Fleur de Sel, Italian Parmesan, Hungarian Paprika, etc.
  • Traditional red and white striped popcorn cartons are widely available. Check discount stores, party stores, dollar stores, and even some grocers.
  • Also at party and dollar stores, find small plastic megaphones and paper party hats. Fill the cone with popcorn for individual servings.
  • Decorate gift bags or lunch sacks with jersey numbers, mascots, cheer chants, Olympic rings, whatever! Or set out markers to let guests decorate their own.

Set up a popcorn bar for sports party snack fun!
Fill cheese shakers with seasonings ($3 at Target, cheaper at restaurant supply warehouse), and label stickers or tags. Check party and dollar stores for creative serving containers, such as party hats or mini megaphones, or classic striped popcorn cartons.(DollarTree, 2 for $1).
(Images: Target, Etsy, Party City and DollarTree)

(Image: iVillage.com)

Enjoy!