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.
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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 at room 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!
• Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."