It's no secret that I'm crazy for the movies. And television. And teenage vampire romances. I'm a pop culture fanatic! (and not terribly proud about that, by the way) Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that my most favorite kind of non-holiday, non-birthday party would be something in that entertainment realm. What might be the biggest opportunity for such a party? The Oscars, of course!
Granted, most Oscar broadcasts are painfully long, with a few big-ish awards conveniently placed in the beginning and the really important ones set for the end of what can be an interminable evening. The hosts are always panned the next day (for the record, I LOVED Hugh Jackman last year, and I thought Alec and Steve were pretty great this time), there's an inevitably lame musical number, and the awards are clearly political decisions not at all based on merit.
That said, I still love 'em. I love watching the stars arrive in their beautiful and sometimes hideous finery, I love the tributes (and sometimes even the acceptance speeches), and I love it ESPECIALLY when I know something about the nominated films and actors. This year, I was 8 1/2 out of 10 for nominated films (my SH fell asleep during the delightful and heartwrenching Up and I turned it off so he wouldn't miss anything-explaining the 1/2-and I didn't have a chance to watch A Serious Man). The best, in my humble opinion? Precious, by a long shot. I was impressed by The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Up in the Air, but they all paled in comparison.
In order to properly celebrate, my beloved MIL and I came up with a menu for our party, inspired by Epicurious, which we promptly shared with my soon-to-be sister-in-law C, recently arrived from her homeland, the Emerald Isle. There would be one item per nominated film, and we would divide up the responsibilities of preparation. Here is our clever creation:
- blue martinis (Avatar)
- "prawns" (District 9)
- haroset (A Single Man)
- tabbouleh (The Hurt Locker)
- macaroni and cheese (The Blind Side)
- collard greens (Precious)
- sliders (Up)
- chocolate cake (An Education)
- apple crostata, rather than apple strudel (Inglorious Basterds)
- airplane-sized bottles of whiskey as a digestif (Up in the Air)
C and I took on the desserts and the collard greens, and if I MUST say, they were definitely high points in our meal (full disclosure: this could be because the collard greens were sauteed with bacon and the cake batter AND frosting included coffee). I borrowed recipes from Barefoot Contessa, and we produced a mouthwatering chocolate cake and crostata with a delicately sweet flavor perfectly enhanced with a pile of lightly whipped cream.
I'll include the chocolate cake recipe, mostly because I could have eaten an entire bowl of frosting by myself (yes, I know it's a simple buttercream, but it has COFFEE in it!!) but also because the cake itself is barely sweet, with a deep, dark mocha flavor. Utterly delicious.
Beatty's Chocolate Cake + Chocolate Frosting, adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
butter for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
4. Place one layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
(note: I recklessly rushed through the recipe and quickly produced the frosting, not even realizing it called for an uncooked egg. I think it may be a part of the recipe to add gloss and sheen to the frosting. I would rather be safe than sorry, so I threw out my first batch and whipped up a new recipe, sans egg. It turned out just fine.)
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
***1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature***(use at your own risk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1. Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add
the egg yol k and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Come on, Oscars 2011!
P.S. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the Oscars occurred on March 7, practically a MONTH ago. Still working on that time management!