The actual calendar start of summer is still weeks away. But as far as the movie industry is concerned, the hottest months have already begun. We've entered that time of year when, week after week, we're bombarded with so-called summer blockbusters. Each Friday brings the latest fantastical superheroes, marauding monsters, dazzling 3-D animation, beloved children's book adaptations and other big-screen fare that aims to fills the seats of theaters everywhere.

I love to take in the must-see movies as much as anyone, and I often go with my two younger sons Oliver and Alexander. As a chef, however, I almost always find one part of the experience, the snacks, more than a little disappointing.

That got me thinking: What would I do if I were given control over a movie theater's snack bar? I'd definitely keep a steady stream of individual-serving gourmet pizzas coming from an oven behind the counter. Maybe there would be fresh-baked cookies and chocolate truffles. We'd have gourmet ice cream bars too.

But what about the popcorn? Even if you get a batch that's been freshly popped, it usually comes with a buttery flavor that tastes artificial because it is; the result of products like unhealthy partially hydrogenated soybean oil and chemicals with tongue-twisting names, which together can leave an unpleasant aftertaste.

I'd much rather make my own popcorn, flavoring it with a combination of natural seasonings, as I do in the following recipe for a snack my team and I served at the Governors Ball following the most recent Academy Awards ceremony.

Spicy ranch popcorn is sprinkled with a powder that, on contact with the hot just-popped corn, bursts with the widely popular flavor of ranch dressing. You can make the seasoning powder in just a few seconds while your corn is popping. All you need are easy-to-find ingredients: Parmesan from the cheese or deli section; milk powder or buttermilk powder from the dairy or baking aisle; onion and garlic powders and red pepper flakes from the seasonings; and citric acid powder, usually stocked in the canning section or sometimes found labeled "sour salt" among the kosher foods. Seal them all in a jar, shake them up to mix, and you're ready to go.

But don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that you sneak good homemade popcorn into the movies. After all, while some movie theaters may allow you to take in your own snacks, others won't; so make sure to check ahead. The good news is that watching movies that you stream on TV, even recent blockbusters, has never been easier or better. So, at the very least, you can enjoy this popcorn in the comfort of your own home.

SPICY RANCH POPCORN

Makes about 4 cups (1 L)

Serves 1 to 4

For the popcorn:

1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unpopped popcorn kernels

SPICY RANCH POWDER

1/4 cup (60 mL) evaporated milk powder or buttermilk powder

1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon citric acid powder

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the popcorn, put the oil in a heavy-bottomed 1 1/2- or 2-quart saucepan. Add 3 or 4 kernels of the popcorn and place the pan over medium-high heat. When these test kernels pop, immediately add the remaining popcorn in a single layer, taking care to keep your hands, face and hair safely clear of the hot oil.

Cover the pan, and remove it from the heat for about 30 seconds. Then, return the covered pan to the heat and, as soon as you hear the kernels beginning to pop, gently shake the pan back and forth on the burner.

When the popping finally slows to 4 or 5 seconds between pops, remove the pan from the heat, carefully remove the lid to avoid the steam that will rise from the pot, and immediately empty the popcorn into a wide bowl.

While the corn is popping, prepare the spicy ranch powder: Put the evaporated milk powder, Parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder, citric acid powder and red pepper flakes into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake the jar briefly but vigorously to combine the ingredients. Alternatively, pull all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir them together thoroughly.

As soon as the corn has finished popping and you've emptied it into a bowl, sprinkle the seasoning powder evenly over the hot popcorn and use a large spoon to toss it well, evenly coating all the kernels. Serve the popcorn immediately, dividing it among individual bowls or movie theater-style boxes or bags.

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