Real Homemade Popcorn & a Halloween Playlist

Popcorn, like Halloween, screams nostalgia to me. I have vivid memories of enjoying popcorn as a kid, at home and on Halloween, and we even had a woman in my small hometown who handed out homemade popcorn balls to trick-or-treaters and nobody had a problem with that. Ah, yesteryear.

Trick-or-treating, like everything else, has changed over the years and though it is still (apparently) popular with the kids, we don’t see a lot of action in our cul-de-sac. Last year, we had a 50% decrease in costumed-kid turnout, and that means the doorbell only rang twice rather than the usual three times. Who knows what this year will hold (especially with rain in our evening forecast), but at least we can enjoy our memories of Halloween from our own childhood, and I’ll figure out some way to use any candy we have left over.

We will be lucky to pass out half of this candy.

Throughout my childhood, there were many ways to make popcorn, including Jiffy Pop, which was first introduced in 1958 (when my parents were kids) and the best way to make it was over a campfire. It would sputter a bit at first as the oil inside the crumpled foil pan heated up, and then it would puff up into a giant ball that you had to have an adult tear open because the steam would burn your hands. It was crazy fun, and they still make Jiffy Pop today but it has largely been replaced by the convenience of microwave popcorn. When that trend became the norm for popcorn at home, I lost interest.

But popcorn started to have a new moment in my life almost a decade ago. I was living by myself with my three fur babies in a tiny, post-divorce apartment, and there were some nights that I didn’t feel like making a meal, so I’d settle onto the loveseat with my kitties and watch a movie with real, oil-popped popcorn and a glass of wine. Hey, there was nobody else around to complain or argue about it and, in an odd way, it was kind of liberating. When Covid hit two years ago and going to movie theaters was impossible, my husband and I started making more popcorn at home as we streamed movies on Netflix or Prime. Quite frankly, I don’t care at all about movie theater popcorn anymore because it pales in comparison to what we make at home.

The greatest benefit of making popcorn on the stove top is that you miss out on the chemical aftertaste and “after-feel” that the packaged microwave stuff always offers—you know, that chalky, filmy residue that lingers? There have been many red flags raised about the chemicals used in the microwave bags, and please raise your hand if you have ever had one catch fire in the microwave, or ever had to wave a wet towel in the air to stop the shrieking of your smoke alarm when the microwave popcorn got out of hand. Yeah, it’s everyone.

Making your own microwave popcorn may not be the best idea either, as some food safety experts have raised concern about heating brown paper bags (especially those which may include recycled materials) in the oven or microwave. So, from a safety standpoint, perhaps the old-fashioned method of popping it on the stove is still the best. It is certainly the tastiest.

Hot-air poppers were popular for a spell, but the popcorn is bland without some kind of oil and, given that we only make popcorn about five times a year, one of those bulky unitaskers doesn’t make a strong enough case to earn a coveted spot in my pantry.

Popcorn made on the stove is easy. Grab a lidded pot, at least as tall as it is wide, and preferably one with a heavy bottom to prevent scorching. It helps to have a pot with a vented—or even perforated—lid, if you can find one. Today, I use this pot that my husband loves for easy draining of pasta and potatoes. I like it for popcorn because the steam generated by the popping kernels has an easy way out of the pan and that keeps the popcorn nice and fluffy. You might also consider using a mesh spatter screen over a tall pot, and use a slightly smaller lid to keep it in place during popping so steam can escape but the hot kernels don’t.

I generally use peanut oil for popping, and I sometimes mix it up with a touch of extra virgin olive oil or unfiltered coconut oil. Do not try to make popcorn using only extra virgin olive oil, because its low smoke point practically guarantees you’ll have a mess on your hands, or maybe even a kitchen fire. Stick with oils intended for frying at higher temperatures, and you’ll be good. Heat the pot over medium to medium-high heat, and start with only two kernels to help you recognize the optimal heat level. As soon as those two kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn all at once and give the pot a little shimmy-shake to settle them into one layer, all evenly coated in the sizzling oil.

Let the popping commence! When you notice that two or three seconds elapses between pops, immediately turn off the heat and transfer your popped corn into serving bowls. At our house, we dive right into one large bowl nestled between us, and it’s especially fun when we reach for it at the same time. If you like butter-topped popcorn—and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?—then you can melt a couple of tablespoons in a dish in the microwave or a separate pan while your popcorn is popping. I like to transfer only part of the popcorn at a time into my giant serving bowl and toss it with melted butter and salt or seasoning in batches.

As for the seasonings, think outside the salt shaker for a moment, and consider what else is in your spice cabinet that might be tasty on popcorn. If you are sodium-averse, consider chili powder or garlic powder as a seasoning, or try one of the Mrs. Dash blends to add a little zip to your popcorn. Use your imagination, and leave a comment with your favorite!

That’s a lot of popcorn possibilities!

I promised a playlist for Halloween, and you’re welcome to borrow it for your own spooky enjoyment as you wait for the doorbell to ring. I’ve curated this list to include a little bit of everything—from classic Halloween “standards” to all genres of songs about witches, monsters, creepy-crawlies and devils. It helps to have the Spotify app, but you don’t have to be a premium member to listen. Just click the play button and enjoy!

Real Homemade Popcorn

  • Servings: Varies by pot size
  • Difficulty: Average
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Why subject yourself to substandard microwave popcorn, when you can make it on the stove top in minutes and get creative with the seasonings? All you need is a tall, lidded pot and a light oil for popping.The amount of each ingredient depends on the size of your pot.


  • Neutral oil, such as vegetable, peanut or canola oil
  • Whole kernel popcorn
  • Melted butter and salt or seasonings of choice


  1. Place a heavy-bottomed, tall pot over medium heat and add enough oil to just cover the bottom. Drop two kernels of popcorn into the pot and cover it with a lid until they both pop.
  2. When both kernels have popped, carefully add enough popcorn to completely cover the bottom of the pot in a single, dense layer. Immediately replace the cover and wait for the popcorn to pop.
  3. Popcorn is finished when 2 to 3 seconds passes between pops. Immediately remove the pot from heat and carefully transfer it to a large serving bowl.
  4. Toss with melted butter and sprinkle with seasonings of your choice.

Look for salt specially formulated for popcorn, as its ultra-fine texture helps it adhere quickly to your just-popped popcorn. Also, consider various types of seasoned salt to add interest, such as Old Bay, seasoned salt, chili-lime salt, or everything bagel seasoning.

Les’s Atomic Buffalo Turds

The name alone demanded that I make this appetizer when I ran across the recipe sometime while preparing for my 2015 Super Bowl party. The fact that it was a heat-fueled bite made it even better. Not only did it pair well with my favorite chili, but it also helped get the guests to leave on time.

For some reason, I didn’t make these spicy bites for the 2020 Super Bowl bash at our house (the last time we actually had people over). And last year, when it was just me and Terrie for the Pandemic Bowl, no turds.

With this year’s Super Bowl coming up, Terrie asked me to make these and share the recipe, so here goes. I wish I could credit a specific source for these, but I cannot remember where I found the recipe. It’s just an awfully good one, and very conducive to substitutions of spices and topping sauce. So many different things can work. The key is the mix of sweet to offset the intense heat. The original recipe suggested cooking these on an outdoor smoker, but this adaptation is adjusted for baking in a home oven.

Behold, atomic buffalo turds!

My 2016 batch, enough for a houseful of hungry Super Bowl guests.

Ingredients (makes 12 pieces)

6 medium size jalapeno peppers, halved and trimmed*

12 li’l smoky sausages*

3/4 brick of cream cheese

1¼ tsp. smoked paprika*

3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or less, if you’re scared)

6 slices of bacon, cut in half crosswise*

12 toothpicks

2 Tbsp. sweet rub seasoning*

Sweet finishing sauce*


  • Scoop out the innards of the jalapenos, removing most of the membrane and the seeds. However, if you really want heat, feel free to leave some of that membrane intact.
  • There are different brands of li’l smokies. Ideally, we’d love to find some without nitrites, but if they are made, we can’t find them. You can, however, probably substitute other kinds of normal size sausage and simply cut them down to the bite-size smoky portion.
  • There are many different types of paprika. For this batch, we used a bourbon smoked paprika we’d found online at Bourbon Barrel Foods.
  • I usually wrap the bacon raw around the jalapenos, but there is something to be said for lightly starting to cook the bacon in a skillet to render some of the fat and help it be more crispy later. But don’t cook it too long, or it will either burn or crack and fall off in the oven. Thin slices of bacon work better than thick.
  • The sweet rub seasoning can be anything you find that suits the bill; it is used to offset the heat. You can also make some your own, as we did in this case, using 3 parts of brown sugar to one part of Flatiron Pepper Co.’s dark and smoky BBQ rub. Flatiron is a very good specialty pepper company and we have enjoyed many of their products, which tend to bring the heat!
  • The finishing sauce is usually a sweet/tart, often fruit-flavored BBQ-oriented sauce. It goes on after the turds have cooked and provide a beautiful cooling note. Or, if you’re like us, you can look for a fruit-flavored-but-still-has-a-kick sauce. One year, I used a cherry-ancho BBQ sauce. For this batch, we had a raspberry-habanero sauce I’d bought from a friend who sells Pampered Chef products.


Preheat oven to 300° F.

The first thing to do is prep the jalapenos, which involves cutting off the stems, splitting them lengthwise and then taking out the seeds and membrane. The more of either you leave inside, the more the heat your turds will pack. Wash your hands thoroughly (unless you have kitchen gloves to work with, which I don’t) when you’re done. And don’t even think of getting that itch near your eye, even after you’ve washed your hands. Trust me. Been there, done that.

Prepare the cream cheese mix by adding the paprika and cayenne. The cream cheese will turn orange. Don’t be alarmed. It helps, by the way, to let the cream cheese get room temp for easier mixing. Scoop the cream cheese to fill the half jalapenos and be relatively generous. Then place one smoky right on top of the cream cheese, lining up your jalapenos on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Take one of the half slices of bacon and wrap around the jalapeno, covering the smoky and cream cheese mix and securing with a toothpick on top through the bacon. Push down through the smoky and keep going until you feel resistance from the bottom of the jalapeno. Do not pierce the jalapeno if you can avoid it, as that will cause the cream cheese mix to seep out.

Sprinkle a generous portion of whatever your sweet rub mix of choice is on each smoky and place the cookie sheet in the oven. Allow about 90 minutes. The long, slow baking time simulates the process of smoking them.

When the bacon looks done, remove the turds and brush or drip your finishing sauce on top of the turds. Then, enjoy the burn!

Good to the last scorching bite.

Artichoke & Garlic Hummus

In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!

We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!

As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.

Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke. 

Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.

It’s so much tastier than store-bought!


15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid

3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.

The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.


Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).

Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.

Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.

Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.

Artichoke & Garlic Hummus

Spiced Pumpkin Hummus

Amid the pies, cookies, muffins and lattes that have unfairly typecast pumpkin as being exclusively sweet, I’m flipping the script and respecting the savory side of this autumn favorite. This tasty twist on hummus is a simple appetizer that you can put together last minute for your Thanksgiving pre-feast. It’s satisfying, but low-fat, good for you and vegan.

All you need to make it is a can of garbanzo beans, a little pumpkin puree, some tahini and your preference of savory spices, and I’ll give you a few flavor ideas that will work splendidly.

Hummus is a blank canvas for your favorite flavors. This time, canned pumpkin and garam masala are making it special.

As with any hummus, you need to have a food processor or blender to be successful. For tips and tricks to make your hummus super smooth, you may want to check out my recipe for easy hummus at home. If you’re in a hurry, don’t worry; I’ll also walk you through it in a slideshow below. This is easy stuff.

At our house, a green plate means the dish is suitable for vegan guests.


1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), preferably low sodium

2 cloves garlic, minced (optional but recommended)

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)

1/2 tsp. savory spice* (pick a favorite or use one of my suggestions below)

Extra virgin olive oil (2 or 3 Tbsp., depending on taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


I used garam masala for this batch of hummus, but you might try chai spice, chipotle or ancho chile, cayenne, chili powder, cumin or smoked paprika. Make it your own!


Follow along with my pictures, or skip ahead for the written instructions and downloadable PDF for your recipe files!

  1. Pour the garbanzo beans and their liquid into a small saucepan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or long enough to see moderate bubbling as it boils lightly.
  2. Drain the beans through a mesh strainer, but do not discard the liquid; you’ll need some of it for blending the hummus.
  3. Transfer the beans to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until it has appearance of a coarse meal. Add the garlic, a pinch of salt and two tablespoons of the reserved liquid and pulse a few more times.
  4. Add pumpkin, tahini, spices, and several twists of freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until combined, and then run the processor constantly while streaming in additional bean liquid, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches your preferred consistency. This will only take a minute or so. Stop and scrape down sides as needed. Taste hummus and adjust seasonings to taste.
  5. To finish the hummus, run the processor constantly and slowly stream in olive oil. This adds a touch of healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as a silky creamy texture.

Transfer hummus to a covered bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Drizzle hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with additional spice or chopped pepitas, or both, for a pretty presentation. Serve chilled or room temperate with pita chips, crackers, vegetables or my soft pita breads.

Pita chips, cut-up veggies and crackers are all great for serving any kind of hummus.

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Kentucky Bourbon Pecan & Cheese Biscuits

It’s been a long summer of waiting, but today in Louisville, Kentucky, 20 thoroughbred horses will finally be turned loose in the 146th “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby.

For the race originally scheduled for the first Saturday in May, I had cooked up a storm for a Kentucky Derby Preview Party. If you missed those recipes, by all means check them out. You’ll get a chance to imagine two twists on the traditional Kentucky Hot Brown, and three fun cocktails that captured the essence and excitement of spring.

Today, I’m keeping it low key, with two special cocktails that celebrate the spirit of Kentucky Derby, with a late summer, headed-into-fall flavor palette. And because no party is complete without snacks, here’s my twist on southern classic cheese straws. These bite-sized biscuits are buttery and crisp, flavored with sharp cheddar (the standard for these down-south favorites) and gruyere, in a nod to the mornay sauce on a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich. The biscuit is speckled with flecks of fresh rosemary, and crowned with a bourbon-bathed toasted pecan. Despite the flavor complexities and my over-the-top description, these were easy to make from simple ingredients and just a few special touches. They taste southern and look downright fancy, and they’re just the right bite to accompany my Run For the Roses 2.0 cocktails. Let’s make ’em!


About 1 cup pecan halves (approximately 30)

2 oz. bourbon

1 stick butter, softened*

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

8 oz. finely grated cheddar cheese* (see notes)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper*

pinch kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. bourbon


Use either salted or unsalted butter for these cookies. The butter should be softened enough to mix, but not room temperature or melted.

Substitute other cheeses as you wish, but stick with a cheese that has similar texture to cheddar. I found a terrific cheddar-gruyere blend at Trader Joe’s, and it immediately took me back to May when I made the Kentucky Hot Brown Benedict. It’s fun to be able to keep a theme when making food for a special occasion.

The cayenne is optional, but it does add a subtle hint of “kick” that is a nice balance to the cheese flavor.


  1. Sort the pecan halves to select the best looking pieces. Place pecans in a shallow glass dish, and pour the 2 oz. bourbon to evenly cover. Gently turn and toss the pecans to ensure they are uniformly soaked. Set aside for about one hour.
  2. Drain the bourbon off the pecans, and arrange the nut halves on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 300° F for about 12 minutes, until nuts are dry and just lightly toasted. Allow them to cool completely and store in a covered container until you’re ready to make the biscuit cookies.

For the cookies:

  1. Using a box grater or food processor, grate the entire amount of cheddar cheese. Use the smallest grating holes you have for a very finely textured cheese. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, cayenne, rosemary, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer, beat together the softened butter and worcestershire sauce until butter is light and somewhat fluffy.
  4. Add the cheese to the butter mixture and beat to combine. I found that the cheese virtually disappeared into the butter to become a very soft and spreadable consistency.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture all at once, and beat on low speed only until all the flour is incorporated. Do not overmix.
  6. Transfer to the mixture to a covered bowl and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  8. If cookie dough has chilled overnight, it will be very firm. Remove from the fridge 15 minutes ahead of time before shaping.
  9. Combine brown sugar and 2 tsp. bourbon in a shallow dish. Place the cooled pecans, top side down, into the mixture. Gently shake the dish to ensure mixture gets worked into the nooks of the pecans, but only on one side. Allow them to rest in the bourbon sugar several minutes, about the same amount of time for shaping the cookies.
  10. Shape cheese mixture into 1″ balls and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet, approximately 1″ apart. Use a fork to slightly flatten the balls into disc shapes, similar to making peanut butter cookies.
  11. Carefully press bourbon halves, top side up, onto the cookies. If cookies have become warm at all, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm them.
  12. Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes, until set and lightly crispy at the edges.
  13. Transfer baked cookies to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Crispy and savory, with an extra kiss of bourbon in the pecans.

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