On the contrary, an Academy Awards viewing party does not inspire super-size plates of heart-hazardous grub. Instead, dainty portions of more nutrient-rich fare seem de rigueur while watching those Hollywood babes slink down the Red Carpet.
Putting together an elegant, tasty Oscar Night spread is really quite easy. It’s all in the presentation—make it small (like the waistlines of those coveted designer frocks!). Soup ladled into shot glasses is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Anything mini makes you just wanna declare, “aww, that’s so cute.”
Banana smoothies served in mini parfait glasses are equally festive.
Put out some edamame dip and veggies, a bowl or two of pita chips and nuts, and you’ve got yourself some Oscar-worthy snacks. Oh, and don’t forget lemon-zest parmesan popcorn in petite containers for continued munching throughout the evening. Even with the music escorting stars offstage, the program can get a little long.
And to really pull your night together, calligrapher Nancy Howell and her husband, graphic designer Mark Lerner, have created this very snazzy Oscar Ballot, which they have kindly given permission for anyone to use…it is yours for the printing, just click here. Please look them up, not only are they extremely talented, but fun to work with. (Remember the recipe platter Nancy illustrated for me?).
So here’s the skinny on the Oscar Night menu…
Homemade Spiced Nuts
Seriously, one of the BEST nut recipes ever: Ina Garten’s Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts. Sweet and spicy, they are more addictive than chips. If you make these, I bet more than one person will ask you for the recipe, as I once did to my friend Elizabeth, who has kept me in good supply ever since!
Fall Squash and Apple Soup
Debra Ponzek, former executive chef at New York’s Montrachet Restaurant, shares a recipe for a velvety-smooth Fall Squash and Apple Soup on her Aux Délices catering site. To ensure the creamiest texture, I use a blender to puree the soup.
Two-ounce plastic shot glasses are available online or at most party stores.
If you don’t have the time or energy to make soup, just dish up a prepared one.
Lemon-zest Parmesan Popcorn
Give some added zing to popcorn—either freshly-made or store-bought—by sprinkling 1 tablespoon melted butter and the zest of 1 lemon over 8 to 10 cups of popped corn. Toss thoroughly. Next sprinkle the popcorn with 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan. Add a few turns of freshly ground pepper and toss again.
Use gold star stickers to glam up mini red-stripe popcorn boxes.
Place one small garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Using a spatula, scrape the garlic down from the sides of the bowl and add 12 ounces (about 2 generous cups) cooked shelled edamame, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 tablespoon white miso paste, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 cup fresh cilantro. Process until smooth. Add salt to taste. If desired, add 1/2 teaspoon or so of Sriracha sauce.
Be sure to save out a few edamame for garnish so guests don’t mistake the green dip for guacamole.
Serving dips, chips and veggies in uniform dishes creates a simple yet stylish presentation. If you don’t have something already, you can buy white plastic bowls for just over 5 dollars.
Frozen Nilla Wafer Banana Smoothies
In a blender mix 2 cups low-fat frozen vanilla yogurt, 1 cup skim milk, 2 frozen bananas cut into small pieces, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and a 1/2 cup ice. Blend until smooth. Add 1/4 cup crushed Nilla wafers and blend again. Serve immediately.
(For peanut butter lovers, replace Nilla wafers with crushed Nutter Butter cookies.)
Clear two-ounce plastic cordial glasses adorned with gold stars are perfect for serving mini shakes.
And the Oscar goes to…
Why is it that I had no idea what these colorful candy hearts, above, are called? Both my daughters do, but if you asked me I’d say, “you know, those cute little hearts that say things, the ones made by, I think, Necco.” Well, I learned something new: they’re called Sweethearts AKA conversation hearts, and yes, they are made by Necco.
Do you know these legendary candies with sayings now come en Español? They are also available in chocolate, cinnamon (with supposedly equally spicy sayings), and sugar-free.
But just like the rest of us, these little candies have evolved over the years. After all, they’ve been in production for over a century and now billions of candy hearts are sold annually. While some of the original sayings have remained and include “Be True,” “Kiss Me,” and “Sweet Talk,” others have come and gone like “Fax Me” and “Email Me.”
Some of the newest phrases include “LOML,” “Tweet Me,” and “Text Me.” BTW, LOML = love of my life (just like this candy’s name, something else I learned!).
While I don’t especially love eating these little guys (I much prefer a gooey salted caramel truffle or fruit-nut-chocolate bar), I adore their iconic look—they just scream, well converse, Valentine’s Day. Check out this staggering cake from Gimme Some Oven. Ali made a masterpiece!
Since I’m not a huge fan of their flavor, but love their look, I’ve always wanted to recreate the heart-shape candies as mini cakes.
When skimming through Family Fun in the orthodontist’s office waiting room (I can always get through a good 3 or 4 issues to glean some creative ideas during one appointment), I remember seeing the best idea for cheater’s petit-fours: cut store-bought pound cake into squares and dip it in icing. So easy.
That’s how I was going to make my conversation heart cakes, pound cake dipped in icing. But in the end, I ended up not cheating, and baked a cake. But only because I’m a hopeless bake-a-holic. I also tried the store-bought method, and it worked like a charm…honestly, it was so quick that if you have an extra half hour in your schedule today, go for it.
Either way, make your own conversation hearts this Valentine’s Day…it’ll be a piece of cake!
Method 1: Easier Sweethearts Pound Cakes
1 store-bought pound cake
1 can creamy vanilla frosting (don’t buy the whipped kind)
red gel pen
1. Slice a store-bought pound cake into 1/2-inch slices.
2. Using a heart-shape cookie cutter or knife, cut one heart from each slice of cake.
3. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet or piece of wax paper. Line your heart-shape cakes up on the rack
4. Scoop out 1/4 cup canned frosting into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 15 seconds. Add a drop of food coloring and stir until thoroughly colored. The frosting should be thin like a glaze. If not, heat for another 5 or 10 seconds.
5. Gently pour some icing onto the center of the cake and using a spoon, coax the icing toward the sides. It should easily fall over the edge and coat the sides. Unfortunately there will be what seems like an excess icing beneath the rack.
6. Using a bamboo skewer or toothpick, gently pop any small air bubbles that may appear in the frosting.
7. Then repeat with the next color. Work in small batches so the frosting doesn’t form a crust and start to harden.
8. Allow the cakes to dry about 1 hour. They will not harden completely but will be slightly tacky to the touch. Do not refrigerate them, keep them at room temperature.
9. Use the red gel pen to decorate your cakes (the Betty Crocker Cookie Icing in a bag works well too). You made it this far…U R IT.
Method 2: Homemade Sweethearts Pound Cakes
For the pound cake you’ll need:
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2-1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
To make the pound cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line an 11 x 17-inch sheet pan with parchment paper with a 1-inch overhang on the two long sides of the pan. Grease the pan and parchment using baking spray.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add 1-1/2 cups of the flour, the cream, and then the remaining 1-1/2 cups of flour, beating well after each. Stir in the vanilla extract.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top becomes golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely.
For the icing you’ll need:
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon room-temperature water
6 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
To make the icing:
1. Place the chocolate chips, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon water in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and stir vigorously, working to incorporate the ingredients and get the mixture as smooth as possible. Put the bowl back in the microwave as needed at 10 to 15 second intervals, stirring well each time until the mixture is completely smooth.
2. Put the sifted confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and add the melted white chocolate mixture. Mix on low for a minute or two.
3. Slowly add the boiling water and continue to mix until the desired consistency is achieved. You want the mixture to flow well, but not be runny. Add more water or confectioner’s sugar as needed. Finally, add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
You’ll yield about 4 cups of icing.
I cut 12 cakes from my 11×17 pound cake (I had eager testers waiting in the wings so not all the cake made it to heart shapes.) I cut my hearts using a knife and tracing a cardboard cutout, a cookie cutter would definitely have been easier. My cakes were 3 inches from top to bottom. I think I’d make them slightly smaller next time.
Nevertheless, I used one cup of frosting for every three cakes and had enough leftover to do at least two to three more cakes, which would have frosted all the pieces from the entire 11×17 cake.
I put one cup in a bowl, colored it, and frosted the cakes. Then repeated the procedure. Keep a damp paper towel on top of your unused frosting when not using to prevent a crust from forming across the top.
To assemble the cakes:
1. Place a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet or piece of wax paper. Line your heart-shape cakes up on the rack.
2. Gently pour some icing onto the center of the cake and using a spoon, coax the icing toward the sides. It should easily fall over the edge and coat the sides. Unfortunately there will be what seems like an excess icing beneath the rack.
3. Using a bamboo skewer or toothpick, gently pop any small air bubbles that may appear in the frosting.
4. Allow the cakes to dry about 1 hour. They will not harden completely but will be slightly tacky to the touch. Do not refrigerate them, keep them at room temperature.
5. Meanwhile, mix one egg white with about 1-1/2 to 2 cups confectioner’s sugar in a small bowl. Add a few drops of water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. This is the icing you’ll be writing with so you want it to maintain its form when piped. Add several drops of red food coloring and mix well. Put the icing in a small plastic baggie or piping bag and use to write your sassy sayings!
Until recently I shied away from slow-cooker pork. And you wanna know why?
This is why (photo above): My husband’s 12-hour+ slow-smoked pork shoulder. Man oh man can that guy smoke. “Slow and low” is Jim’s mantra, and the day-long feeding-of-the-fire is certainly worth every ounce of effort. The pork shoulder’s crisp, blackened skin seals in the fat and moisture, which tenderizes the meat as it cooks, making it juicy and succulent.
You know how good it is to lick the spoon after making chocolate chip cookies? That same satisfaction comes with the first bite or two of freshly pulled pork. Hey, the “puller” should benefit from her work, no?
When the last days of summer are approaching, Jim will smoke a few extra butts to freeze. With proper wrapping, which involves lots of Saran Wrap and foil, the pork thaws out surprisingly well. But come February, those smoke-laden babies are long gone.
Just like with sour cherries, there’s not much you can do but wait for the season (smoked pork season?)…you know what I mean. During winter we never attempted to make pulled pork in the oven, just like we wouldn’t grow cherries inside.
But then the slow cooker arrived. When perusing recipes I could use with it, pork came up nearly ever other time. I just couldn’t help myself, I put that big pork butt in the ceramic crock, added some seasonings and liquids, and in less than 12 hours, I had me some mighty tasty pulled pork.
While this preparation may not result in a smoky depth, the pork is tender and flavorful, it fills the kitchen with mouth-watering smells while cooking, and certainly satisfies a hungry crowd on a cold winter’s eve. Plus huge bonus: you can leave the house and aren’t tied to the smoker all day!
Unlike summer pork, which I serve with barbecue sauce on the side, I mix sauce in with the winter pork meat. After I’m done shredding it, I put the meat in a large Dutch oven, pour sauce over it, and reheat.
My preference is homemade sauce, but like smoking, bbq sauce is in Jim’s department. I haven’t recorded him making it yet. That’ll be on my to-do list next summer, during smoked pork season, so until then I can’t provide you with the recipe.
If we’re out of sauce (like the pork Jim makes large quantities at a time), I’ll use Stubb’s. I admit though, I haven’t experimented with many.
And don’t forget a big scoop of creamy coleslaw to complement the warm, shredded meat. You may just forget it’s winter…if only for an hour or two.
Sweet Home’s Slow-Cooker “Winter” Pulled Pork1 cup ketchup 1 cup cider vinegar ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce 1/3 cup packed brown sugar 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 tablespoon smoked paprika 1 teaspoon liquid smoke ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 12-ounce beer 1 large onion, chopped (1-1/2 to 1-3/4 cups) 3 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped One 6-pound pork shoulder (boneless or bone in, whichever is available; pork butt, Boston butt, or picnic roast all work)
1. Stir together the first 12 ingredients (ketchup through beer) in the crock of a slow cooker.
2. Add the onion and garlic cloves. Stir until combined.
3. Place the pork shoulder in the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or until the meat easily comes apart or falls off the bone when pulled with a fork. When the meat reaches this point, transfer it to a cutting board (the sauce gets discarded because it’s too difficult to separate out the fat).
4. Using two forks, hold the roast with one and use the other fork to pull the meat apart. Place the pulled meat in a large saucepan and add up to one bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (add slowly until desired consistency of meat to sauce is achieved).
Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is heated through.
Serve on hard rolls with coleslaw.
Creamy Coleslaw¾ cup mayonnaise ¼ cup pickle juice 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon granulated sugar 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 head cabbage, shredded 3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the first five ingredients until smooth. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
2. Place the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Add about half the dressing to the bowl and toss to combine. (I like to use my hands to mix everything up.) Continue to add dressing until desired coverage is achieved.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Let coleslaw stand for at least 30 minutes before serving…helps the flavors to meld. Salt and pepper more if needed before serving.
NOTE: I use the food processor to shred the cabbage and carrots. I also like to use ½ purple and ½ green cabbage for a more colorful salad.
Although the KIDS ONLY page of this blog is really only supposed to be for kids only (my 11-year-old daughter posts there) you really should take a peek at last Wednesday’s post. I promise, I’m not leading you astray here. The egg cup recipe you’ll find is not to be missed!
I had wanted to post about these eggs because they’re so darn delicious and everyone should know about them, but they’re not mine to post. This is a recipe Camilla has truly made her own. She’s probably made them at least 15 times—not including the times she’s prepared them while staying at other people’s houses.
I can honestly say I’ve never made them, only eaten them. I’ve assisted—grating cheese, greasing the pan—but never captained the ship, that’s Camilla’s role. She made them the day after Christmas for a house full of guests and everyone swooned.
The cheese that tops these eggs, which are baked in a cupcake pan, melds with the whites for a creamy texture that is surrounded by an almost crispy proscuitto and complemented by rosemary. A nice baguette or sourdough loaf and bowl of fruit and you’ve got breakfast for 12 (we double the recipe when we have that many though, most times people want two egg cups).
The eggs hold well if not eaten the minute they’re out of the oven. They’re even good at room temp. If you like runny-ish yolks though and know that the eggs will be sitting for more than five minutes, underbake them slightly.
So many friends have asked Camilla for the recipe we think you’ll want it too. Let her know what you think if you try them. Click here or on the KIDS ONLY medallion to the right for the recipe.
And because I’m her mother I can’t help but mention the Hot Chocolate Cookies Stop Motion Animation video she posted two weeks ago…scroll to the bottom of the “Delicious Hot Cocoa Cookies” post to view it. It’s sweet!
On the torn, stained pages of my great-grandmother’s journal are many recipes using dates. There are four types of bars, cookies, fillings, and a cake. Curiously, I have only had dates straight from the bag. When I asked my mother why she doesn’t bake with dates, she told me she used to, but guessed my sister and I didn’t like them and stopped using them. “In fact,” she said, “our groom’s cake was a date cake, Grandma insisted we have one at our wedding.”
When I received the journal, I didn’t think much about it, other than how lovely it was to have such an old family book in my possession. Then a few weeks later I started really reading it, studying entries, imagining my great-grandmother Phoebe cooking from these tattered pages that were once clean and new.
- This journal began an entire dialogue—the conversations that I’d wanted to start for years but hadn’t. I engaged in long telephone talks with my grandmother, using the recipes as points of entry for discussion. The stories that unfolded were unbelievable; I learned of feuds, family traditions, and idiosyncrasies…and I learned that my parents’ groom’s cake was a date cake.
When I told my sister about the cake she just said, “ewwww, who would want to eat that?” Actually—I did. I love dates. Is that weird? They may not be the most popular fruit on the block, but even with their wrinkled skins and bug-like brown color, I do see them appearing more regularly these days on menus, in recipes, and in stores. C’mon, can’t you see a little beauty in these unsung heroes?
So I gave the cake a whirl. Not knowing what to expect, I made it as directed by my mother. This modest cake may not have a glossy buttercream or show-stopping fruit topping, but it does have a memorably rich, ambrosial flavor. The super-moist crumb has a gratifying chocolate taste. I doubt most tasters of this cake will recognize the dates, and will instead ask what makes the cake so moist. It truly is downright delicious—a big slice of it is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of freshly brewed hot tea. Just what I love on a cold winter’s day.
So what has happened to desserts with dates? My 1953 hand-me-down copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook includes a similar date cake recipe, my 21st century 12th edition (2004) does not. However, the most recent 75th anniversary edition of the BHG Cookbook includes a date pudding, which the book dates from the1930s and 40s in its special “most-beloved” recipe section.
I think dates are making a comeback. This fruit, higher in potassium than bananas and higher in antioxidants than blueberries, is packed with health benefits. If you are on the fence about dates, I encourage you to try this cake—it’s extremely tasty and will restore dates to their rightful place in your baker’s pantry.
Great-grandma’s chocolate date cake
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (I like using Ghirardelli 60 Percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips in this recipe!)
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan using baking spray.
2. Put the dates in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let stand completely covered in water until cool, then stir in the baking soda.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the egg and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
5. Slowly add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and beat on low. Increase the speed to medium and beat until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine. Stir in the date mixture, including all the unabsorbed water. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and the walnuts, if desired, in a small bowl and spoon over the cake.
7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed with your finger. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan. Gently open the springform pan and serve.