WND – Oscars 2010

March 12, 2010

I acknowledge that I am not sane about the Oscars. I don’t mean about caring who wins – although I’ve seen more than a usual number of the movies up for awards this year and hoo boy did I have firm opinions about who shouldn’t win Best Picture/Best Director. Mercifully, the Academy chose to reinforce my faith in humanity this year rather than crush it like they did in 2006 so four years from now I won’t still be grousing about what should have won but didn’t. Sadly there were very few really entertainingly terrible dresses this year – which, let’s face it, is the real reason I watch the Oscars. There was far too much pale pink, and flesh-tones, and Miley Cyrus needed to stand up straight (apparently Lauren Bacall agrees with us on this, which is reassuring because it means that I could be turning into a classy dame and not just channeling my father) but nothing that approached the cheerful insanity of Bjork’s swan dress from 2001, although that is the gold standard for insane Oscar dresses and would be hard to beat.

All that being true, the reason I like entertaining for the Oscars is because it’s an excuse to experiment and make things I’m not entirely sure people will like (b’stilla), things that are just too rich for everyday (cauliflower tart), and things that are just fun (pickled grapes). The Oscars are a chance to fiddle with appetizers and try things in small quantities because I’m not entirely sure what they’ll taste like, and if they’re not entirely successful it won’t be disastrous because there are other things on the table to eat.

Apricot Sidecar

Oatcakes with Goat Cheese and Figs
Pickled Grapes
Cauliflower & Caramelized Onion Tart
Dips & Veggies

Apricot Sidecar
Many many many months ago I went out to dinner and on a whim ordered a cocktail made with ginger ale and Absolut Boston (black tea & elderflower flavored vodka). Now, I don’t love vodka, but it was amazing. Then a friend decided that we needed to own a bottle of the Absolut Boston so he bought it for us and it sat on a shelf in our apartment for about 3 months until I decided that the Oscars were as good a time as any to experiment with cocktail making. Unfortunately he called in sick to the Oscar party, so he didn’t get to partake, but that just means we’ll have to make it again and I’m okay with that.

Verdict: This was awesome and since I now have a bottle of apricot brandy and it doesn’t call for simple syrup, it will be very easy to make as often as I want. Or well, I should probably make it slightly less often than I want, because it’s just this side of lethal.

½ oz Cointreau/Triple Sec
½ oz Apricot Brandy
1 ½ oz Boston Absolut
¼ oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients. Shake with ice, strain and serve with a curl of lemon peel.

(25-30 appetizer sized pieces)

I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to like this but I’ve been clicking on recipes for it for years, so I figured that I should just bite the bullet and try it already. It’s a traditional Persian dish which combines savory chicken and egg with a cinnamon almond sugar mixture, and sometimes I think that sounds amazing, and sometimes I think it sounds just really odd. In deference to a friend who’s allergic to nuts I made half of these with just cinnamon sugar and rolled them into a different shape so I’d remember which ones were which after they’d baked. I liked the ever so slight crunch that came from the almonds, and the flavor but if you wanted to eliminate a step they tasted just fine with the plain cinnamon sugar.

Verdict: Tasty, and less of a hassle to make than I expected. I don’t think I would ever make this in a larger size than small appetizer sized pies because I think they’d be overwhelming, but in appetizer sized quantities they were very tasty and different. I think because I made them in appetizer sized shapes I ended up using much less of the almond sugar than the original recipe called for, which I liked. I think it might have been too sweet with the full quantity of sugar.

Almond Sugar
¼ cup blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
1 ½ Tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

In a food processor grind fine almonds, granulated sugar, and cinnamon. Almond sugar may be made 1 day ahead and kept covered in a cool dark place.

Ras el Hanout
½ tsp aniseed
1 tsp fennel seeds
8 whole allspice berries
seeds from 8 cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
15 whole black peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seed
a pinch dried red pepper flakes
a pinch ground mace
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

In a spice grinder or cleaned coffee grinder grind fine aniseed, fennel seeds, allspice berries, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seed, and red pepper flakes, In a small bowl stir together ground spice mixture, mace, ginger, and nutmeg until combine well. Ras el hanout may be stored in a tightly closed jar in a cool dark place up to 6 months. Makes about ¼ cup.

Note: I only had to buy anis seeds to make this, but it’s possible not everyone has the entirety of the Penzys catalog in their pantry. It smells amazing, and it keeps once you’ve made it, but if it involved going out and buying 12 things I’m betting you could get away with a blend of allspice, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, and really those are all things you should have anyway.

¼ tsp saffron threads, crumbled
2 Tbsp hot water
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 garlic cloves, cut into thin strips
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
¾ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ras el hanout
2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs
1 ½ cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 ½ Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste

In a small bowl combine saffron with hot water and let stand 10 minutes.

In a heavy 4-quart kettle sauté onion and garlic in 3 Tbsp butter over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate and add ginger, ras el hanout, and pepper. Cook mixture, stirring, 3 minutes.

Add chicken parts, broth, and saffron mixture and simmer, covered, turning the chicken once, until chicken is very tender and cooked through, 25 to 35 minutes. Let chicken stand in cooking liquid off heat 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, reserving cooking liquid and solids, and, when cool enough to handle, shred chicken, discarding skin and bones.

Measure reserved cooking liquid and solids and if necessary boil, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 ¾ cups. Reduce heat to moderate and add eggs in a stream, whisking. Cook mixture, stirring, until eggs are set, about 3 minutes. Remove kettle from heat and pour egg mixture into a coarse sieve set over a bowl. Let mixture drain undisturbed 10 minutes before discarding liquid. Transfer egg mixture to a bowl. Stir in chicken, parsley, coriander, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste and chill. Filling may be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled, covered.

To make appetizer sized pieces
Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt 6 Tbsp butter.

Take one sheet of phyllo dough and place so the long side is facing you. Lightly brush the middle third of the sheet with butter. Sprinkle with almond sugar mixture. Fold left third of sheet over the middle third. Repeat butter/sugar. Fold final third over. Place a soup spoon of filling at the bottom of the length. Fold over and then tuck in side and continue to fold up. Place seam side down on a baking sheet, brush top lightly with butter and sprinkle with a little more of the almond sugar mixture.

Alternatively, place sheet so short side is facing you – proceed as above folding sheet into thirds. Place about a tablespoon of filling on the bottom of the sheet and fold up in triangles.

Oatcakes with Goat Cheese and Figs
(makes about 60 oatcakes)
I was pretty much sold on the figs with wine and honey and figured I’d make the oatcakes just because it was the Oscars and why not. And, okay, the figs with the wine-honey syrup are amazing and I am currently eating the leftovers out of the container in the fridge without the intermediary step of putting them on crackers with goat cheese. But, the oatcakes are also pretty amazing, and incredibly easy to make.

Verdict: The combination of the oat cakes, goat cheese and figs is perfect. If you didn’t want to make the oatcakes, the figs would be really nice just on a cheese plate, although for this particular recipe I’d cut the figs a little smaller next time so they don’t overwhelm the cracker and cheese.

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
½ stick (¼ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp milk
1 cup quartered dried figs, stems trimmed
½ cup dry red wine
2 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp tiny fresh thyme sprigs
Soft mild goat cheese (about 5 oz)

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter 2 large baking sheets.

In a food processor pulse oats until chopped fine. Add flour, salt, baking powder, and butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse until a dough just forms. On a lightly floured surface roll out dough 1/8 inch thick (about a 13-inch round) and using a 1 1/2-inch cutter cut out about 60 oatcakes. Arrange oatcakes on baking sheets 1 inch apart and bake in middle of oven 12 minutes (oatcakes will not change color). Transfer oatcakes to a rack and cool completely.

In a small saucepan combine figs, wine, honey, and 1 Tbsp thyme sprigs and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most liquid is evaporated. Transfer fig mixture to a small bowl and cool.

Top each oatcake with about ½ tsp goat cheese, a fig piece, and a few thyme sprigs.

Pickled Grapes
I served these with the oatcakes, although they’d also be good with just a cheese course and they could not be easier to make.

Verdict: Nicely understated pickle flavor, nice as something different and unexpected with a cheese plate. And seriously, could not be easier to make.

1 pound red or black grapes, preferably seedless
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsps mustard seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 (2 ½” cinnamon stick, cut in half (if using two jars, otherwise leave whole)
¼ tsp salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, and pull them carefully from their stems. Using a small sharp knife, trim away the “belly button” at the stem end of the grape exposing a bit of the flesh inside. Divide the grapes among 2 pint-sized clean, dry canning jars (or a large Tupperware container).

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature and then pour over grapes. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving.

Cauliflower & Caramelized Onion Tart
I’m having a cauliflower renaissance, although I suppose that implies that at some earlier point I was also obsessed with cauliflower and then went into a decline over it, which isn’t true. So maybe it’s just a cauliflower naissance. Either way, I have never bought and cooked so much cauliflower as I have in the past month, and loved every bite of it (still not convinced it’s really a vegetable though – it’s just so white).

Verdict: So good, but so rich. I think if I made it again I’d try it with some really high quality ricotta in place of the mascarpone just to bring it down to something you could eat more than a small slice of and not feel incredibly guilty. Also, I know the recipe says to blind bake your pie crust, and in theory I’m absolutely on board with this. In practice I went through three pie crusts that all cracked before I threw up my hands and just threw a store bought pie crust into a pie plate and layered in the ingredients and put it in the oven and called it done. It tasted just fine, although the pie crust has gotten a little soggy as the week progresses.

1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 lb) cut into 1” florets
3 ½ Tbsp olive oil
1 refrigerated pie crust or a homemade tart shell (recipe below)
1 large onion, halved length-wise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
8 oz mascarpone cheese (or whole milk ricotta)
½ cup milk
¼ tsp ground white or black pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese (Swiss or Comté are great swaps)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Toss cauliflower with 2 Tbsp olive oil in large bowl. Spread on rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast 15 minutes before turning florets over and roasting until brown and tender, another 15-20 minutes in my oven. Cool cauliflower then either leave as is, or thinly slice depending on how refined a tart you’re going for.

Blind bake your pie crust.

Heat remaining 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onion is a deep golden brown, stirring occasionally (about 20-30 minutes)

Use a knife/spoon/pastry brush to spread the bottom and sides of crust with mustard. Spread onion over crust. Arrange cauliflower over the onion.

Whisk eggs, mascarpone, milk and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in Gruyère. Pour mixture over filling in tart pan, sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake at 350 until tart is golden and center is set, about 40 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 15 minutes before serving.

Do ahead: Onions can be caramelized, dough can be parbaked and cauliflower can be roasted a day ahead. Store a parbaked crust at room temperature, and cauliflower and onion in the fridge. Cauliflower and onion should be kept in separate containers. Whole tart can be made and baked a day in advance, reheated in a low oven before serving.

Dips & Veggies

Verdict: I liked the tzatziki because I always like tzatziki, I was less blown away by the white bean & roasted red pepper dip. I liked that it wasn’t hummus, because I get tired of hummus but I wasn’t enthralled by the flavor. I guess I’ll have to continue to search for another non-hummus, non-mayonnaise/sour cream based dip.

Recipe previously given: Things I Fail to Understand

White Bean & Roasted Red Pepper Dip
15 oz can of white cannelini or navy beans
1 small jar roasted red peppers, or about 1 cup, drained
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Puree everything in a food processor until smooth.

Rejected Recipes
These got left by the wayside not because I didn’t think they sounded good, but because there are only so many hours I can spend in the kitchen before I go a little crazy, and because I realized I should at least gesture in the direction of a vegetable.

Savory Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin, feta, phyllo – what’s not to love?

Stuffed Mushrooms
I do love me a stuffed mushroom, but again not really a vegetable and I only had so much oven space available.

Stuffed Pizza Rolls
These I still plan to make sometime, they just ended up not really going with the rest of what I was making.

Chorizo & Potato Spanish Tortilla Bites
Hmmm, potatoes and eggs and crispy bits of chorizo.

Roasted Chickpeas
I’ve made these before, but I need to figure out how to perfect the recipe. They’re great when they first come out of the oven , but they get soggy really fast and then they go incredibly stale.

Things Other People Brought to the Party

Baked Dumplings
I do actually know the recipe for this because my roommate made them, although they were apparently the only thing I didn’t take a picture of on Sunday night.

10 oz ground turkey (or ground pork)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 Tbsp lemongrass, minced
2 Tbsp ginger, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

Wonton wrappers (about 40)

Saute the ground turkey in the sesame oil with the scallions, lemongrass, ginger and garlic until the turkey is cooked through. Add the soy sauce and cook until it is reduced and coating the filling. Cool.

Fill the wonton wrappers with about 2 tsp of filling.

Brush a sheet pan with olive oil and place the wontons on the pan. Brush the tops of the wontons lightly with olive oil. Bake at 400 for 5 minutes on each side, or until browned and crispy. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

Chocolate Peanut Clusters
Apparently these are exactly what they advertise themselves to be – peanuts and chocolate. To which I say, excellent use of two ingredients because these were great.

Raspberry Pavlovas
These are insanely good. I believe they’re originally a Martha Stewart Valentines Day recipe, but I won’t hold that against them. They’re raspberry meringues sandwiched with raspberry curd. The original recipe has you then also serve it with whipped cream and a tart raspberry sauce, but I think I actually like these mini kissed shaped ones better without the whipped cream or sauce.



  1. With the oat cakes and fig, do you think you could use fresh figs? I do not really like dried figs and also when our figs ripen in the summer, if it is a good year, I am hard pressed to find enough things to do with them. This sounds wonderful. Will they keep in a jar in the fridge do you think?

    • Hmmm, I’m not sure. What happens to fresh figs when you cook them? Do they kind of dissolve like other fresh fruits, or do they keep their shape? I think you might end up with more of a compote, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

      I kept the dried version of the cooked fig mixture in the fridge for a couple of weeks – snacking on it periodically until it was all gone.

  2. […] Recipe previously given:  Oscars 2010 […]

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