The smell and taste of freshly popped popcorn makes me think of good times with people I enjoy. "March Madness" get-togethers just wouldn't have been complete if we hadn't passed the popcorn between jump shots.

Popcorn is definitely an instant crowd-pleaser, and our longtime family friend Geneva Johnson knew it best.

When we arrived at her lake cabin to spend a weekend with other adults and kids, she greeted us at the front door with a giant bowl of popcorn in her outstretched arms. The bigger the bowl, the better, as far as she was concerned.

Here's an easy recipe to spice up basic popcorn when your friends stop by.


SOUTHWEST PARTY POPCORN

10 cups popped popcorn

1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

3-2-1 popcorn flavoring to taste (see recipe below), or use taco seasoning mix

10-ounce package tortilla chips

1 tablespoon chopped scallions

1 cup salsa

Let's get started:

1. Spread popcorn into an 11-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle 3-2-1 flavoring and cheese onto the popcorn. Place tortilla chips around the popcorn at edges of baking dish.

2. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven, garnish with chopped scallions, set a bowl of salsa in center of dish and serve. Dip chips one at a time in the salsa, then scoop up the spicy, cheesy popcorn.

Tip: Make a mold for the salsa bowl by pressing the bowl into the popcorn in the baking dish. Remove the bowl before placing the baking dish in the oven.


3-2-1 POPCORN FLAVORING

3 tablespoons white cheddar cheese powder

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin powder

Combine the ingredients and pour into a clean spice jar. Make your own family label and attach to the jar.


Donna Erickson's new award-winning television series "Donna's Day" is airing on public television nationwide. Visit www.donnasday.com to find out when it airs on your local PBS station and to sign up for Donna's e-newsletter. Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families." © Donna Erickson; Dist. by King Features Syndicate