DULUTH — My family has been going gangbusters eating popcorn since Christmas, when my daughter received a bowl that cooks the kernels in the microwave.
But here's the plot twist: That first bowl, an Orville Redenbacher Presto PowerPop, was hugely disappointing. It needed a disposable cardboard insert to work, something we'd need to keep purchasing. And the cardboard burned after one use, despite the instructions that said it could be used multiple times. And there was a weird plastic peg at the bottom of the bowl that burned and melted.
But the idea of it stuck. I didn't want to give up on popcorn that doesn't include the added artificial ingredients, oil and salt in your typical microwave popcorn bags. And while cooking popcorn in oil on the stovetop is delicious, it's not exactly quick or easy, and it's pretty greasy, too.
Happily, the second microwave bowl we tried has turned into a family favorite. It's a Salbree silicone product, found for $16.90 from Amazon. The bowl is collapsible, so stretch it out before cooking in it. It took some experimenting to find the best amount of popcorn and cooking time. We fill it to the bottom line (one-quarter cup) and then hit the microwave's "popcorn" button to set it for two minutes. Different microwaves are sure to vary on this, however.
I expect you'll see no more microwave popcorn bags in our kitchen. This simple bowl cooks up a whole-grain snack that is fluffy and clean with no added oil, salt or anything. The kids like it plain, but I like mine with butter and salt, a fact that led me down another path, wondering during a recent trip to the grocery story whether any of the "buttery" toppings would be good. Save a few calories, maybe? Be easier to prepare? Consider what follows the subplot, as I stretch the bounds of credulity to see how much I can write about this popcorn bowl.
Spoiler alert: They're all bad
That ends the "things we like" for this edition of Things We Like because to answer the question: The "buttery" toppings were not good. We tried four: Molly McButter Flavor Sprinkles, $2.49; Orville Redenbacher's Popping & Topping Buttery Flavored Oil, $3.69; Kernel Season's Butter Spritzer, $3.59; and Kernel Season's Butter Popcorn Seasoning, $2.69.
My kitchen counter was our taste-testing station, although one teenage tester said we should have left some popcorn plain as a control group. "It's not scientific," she groused. I told her we all know what plain popcorn tastes like.
Real butter and salt got the following comments: "That's good," "My favorite" and "That one's the best."
Molly McButter: "Can't taste that one," "Not good" and "The powders are bad."
Orville Redenbacher oil: "Tastes fake," "Can't taste anything" and "Tastes like oil." (Which begs the question of what it actually tastes like, but I guess the lesson is that not everyone is the same.)
"I have high hopes for this one," the 9-year-old said of the Kernel Season's spray. "I don't want to eat this one," said one teenager. It coated the popcorn and made the bowl greasy, but it, like the others, didn't taste like much.
Kernel Season's powder: "I don't like that one," "Nasty" and "Absolutely not."
I thought the results would be more interesting, a split vote, maybe. Happy surprises, funny debate. Not a unified "yuck" to the whole lot.
On the thinnest of positive sides, the calorie content in three of these is negligible. (The Orville Redenbacher oil has 120 calories per tablespoon, more than butter, at 102 calories per tablespoon.) So if the faint scent of butter is enough for you, maybe these products would suit. But if you want actual butter flavor, grab the actual butter.