Recipes

What’s Cooking: Oscar-worthy party fare

The towering Courtesan au Chocolat pastry is the signature creation of Mendl’s. Our party version is shorter.
The towering Courtesan au Chocolat pastry is the signature creation of Mendl’s. Our party version is shorter. Fox Searchlight

Oscar parties bear some resemblance to Super Bowl parties: Food is necessary to get you through the long TV event and can help set a festive mood. But it shouldn’t be too fussy.

Ideally, there should be a theme. You can go with movie classics – popcorn and Junior Mints and something bubbly – or era-specific foods (say, 1950s cocktails and rumaki).

Oscar party menus are often inspired by the nominated films. The eight movies vying for the best picture Oscar on Sunday are a diverse bunch, but there are a few convergences:

“Boyhood” is set in Texas, and Chris Kyle, focus of “American Sniper,” is a native Texan. “Selma,” of course, occurs in Alabama, adding a Deep South angle.

Both “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” have scenes at Cambridge University. The Brits love cheese, tea sandwiches and just about any dessert. (Although Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing notes, “Oh, I don’t like sandwiches.”)

“Birdman” is set among Broadway’s theaters, with actors (hams?) played by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, while “Whiplash” is about a young drummer at an elite N.Y. music conservatory. (Hmm, bird could equal chicken, while a drummer must have – yes – drumsticks! You see how this works?)

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is in a unique category – it’s set in a fictional European country. (Some people would say its setting is director Wes Anderson’s fevered brain; there’s a good discussion for Oscar night.) But it does have food as a supporting character: Young Agatha works at Mendl’s bakery, crafting a signature pastry dubbed “Courtesan au Chocolat.”

Considering all the above, here is one potential Oscar party menu. Most of it is easily put together from items at the supermarket. And don’t forget beverages. (Try British-style ales or a pitcher of Manhattans.)

▪ Cheese plate, with at least 3 types of cheese

▪ Cucumber tea sandwiches (thinly sliced cucumber on buttered, crustless bakery bread)

▪ Fried chicken legs (see drumsticks, above)

▪ Ham sliders on cornmeal buttemilk biscuits

▪ Fiery bell pepper salad (how many other foods have a musical instrument in the name?)

▪ Mendl’s-style pastries (mini profiteroles).

Oscar Night

The 87th Academy Awards will air 5:30 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Red carpet coverage begins at 4 p.m.

See a video of how to make a Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate at www.sacbee.com/food-drink

Pastries in the style of Mendl’s

Makes two dozen 2-inch puffs

The shaped but unbaked puffs can be frozen ahead and baked when needed. Adapted by Kathy Morrison from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” recipe by German baker Anemone Müller-Grossmann and a King Arthur Flour recipe.

INGREDIENTS

Puffs:

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

1 cup water

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pinch salt

Larger pinch granulated sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature, beaten in a bowl

Filling:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

One 4-ounce baking bar semi-sweet chocolate, broken up

3 egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon flour

2 teaspoon cornstarch

Icing:

2 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons milk, or more as needed

Pink, green and/or lavender food coloring

Decor:

1 cup white chocolate chips, melted with 1 tablespoon shortening, optional

Cocoa beans or roasted almonds

INSTRUCTIONS

For the puffs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat and quickly mix in the sifted flour. Return to heat for a few minutes, stirring, and cook until the dough forms a single lump.

Allow to cool just enough to keep the eggs from cooking. Stir in the eggs very gradually with a strong wooden spoon. You’ll have a smooth, stiff dough.

Drop the dough onto the prepared sheets by rounded tablespoonfuls. Bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, switching pan positions at 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and make a discreet small piercing in the puffs to allow the steam to escape.

While they are cooling, make the filling: Heat the milk gently, and add chocolate, stirring to melt into a rich, almost steaming chocolate milk.

In another bowl, whisk yolks, flour, sugar, cocoa and cornstarch into a smooth mixture.

Add half of the hot chocolate milk to the bowl, a little at the time, stirring constantly. Then add this mixture back into the rest of the hot milk, stirring over gentle heat for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to a custard. Remove from heat; chill.

Once cooled, spoon the chocolate creme into a pastry bag and pipe into puffs via the hole; set right side up.

Make the icing: Combine the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and enough milk to achieve a consistency for dipping. Dye it one of the 3 colors used by Mendl’s, or divide the icing in 3 bowls and do all three. Dip puffs in icing about halfway; decorate with white chocolate squiggles, if desired, and top each with a cocoa bean or almond.

Alternate construction: Split the cooled puffs. Fill bottom with filling; dip the top only in icing, replace and continue decorating as above.

Fiery bell pepper salad

Serves 6-8 (about 4 cups)

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar dressing

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 each green, red and yellow bell peppers, cored and thinly sliced

Salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Mix dressing, cumin and chili powder in a salad bowl. Add bell peppers and toss well. Add salt to taste.

Cornmeal buttermilk biscuits

Makes 12

Recipe adapted from The Associated Press

INGREDIENTS

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup buttermilk

Optional additions:

1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapnño pepper slices

To make sliders:

12 ounces baked ham

Deli mustard or favorite condiment

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Mist a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and sugar. Add the butter and use 2 knives or your fingertips to work the cubes into the dry mixture until no clump is larger than the size of a pea. If using any optional additions, mix them into the dry ingredients at this stage. Set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg, cream and buttermilk. Add to the dry mixture and stir just until a dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, gently reworking the scraps to cut more biscuits (but do this only once).

Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool before slicing and adding ham and mustard.

Per biscuit (without ham): 240 calories; 4 g protein; 13 g fat (8 g sat.); 55 mg chol.; 320 mg sodium; 28 g carb.; 1 g fiber

Cucumber cream cheese spread

For 16 tea-size sandwiches

Classic cucumber sandwiches are just thinly sliced cucumber on crustless white bread that’s been spread thinly with butter. This recipe, adapted from cooks.com, makes a little fancier version.

INGREDIENTS

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 small white onion

1 cucumber, preferably English, peeled, quartered longways and seeds removed

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

8 slices white bread, preferably bakery quality, crusts removed

INSTRUCTIONS

Cream the cheese. Grate the onion and half the cucumber and press out the juice. Add to the cream chees along with the lemon juice. Add the salt and the pepper sauce, mixing well.

Add the mayonnaise to make a good spreading consistency. Spread on 4 of the crustless slices of white bread. Top with the remaining slices and cut each sandwich into fourths, diagonally.

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