Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oscar Party

I'm back! And I brought my big girl camera (rather than just my iPhone) to take lots of pictures of last weekend's eating adventures.

Part of the reason for the trip home was for the Murnanes' 3rd annual Oscar Party. This is a very serious Hollywood event complete with a red carpet, swag bags, and prizes for whoever does the best on their Oscar ballot. I won last year, but this year had a very poor showing. The highlight of the evening is the carefully planned dinner theme to go along with the year's best movies. Here's the spread:

Blue Sky Martinis
Na'viled Eggs
Crazy Hearts of Palm salad I (the early years)
Crazy Hearts of Palm salad II (the comeback)
UP in the Skyline Chili Dogs
Blind Side Tacos
Chocolate Almond UPside down cake

The party was so much fun. It's such a wonderful oasis in the cold winter months, even though the Oscars were a little later this year than they usually are.

Obviously the Avatar theme was big this year...which is how I came up with one of the desserts that we brought. I had a vision awhile ago of doing a red velvet cake but making it blue instead. Actually, two shades of blue. But my mom added onto that idea with the suggestion that we should create a Pandora-like jungle on top of the cake, as well as an extra little dessert - jewel cookies with blueberry jam. I'll start with the cookies.

This is a recipe from an old Martha Stewart Christmas book. My mom said she used to make them a long time ago, but I'm sure I was A. grossed out by the nuts and jam on them, and B. disappointed by the lack of icing. Now I love them. We even happened to have a botanical-looking pedastal tray to serve them.

We used blueberry jam, but the recipe calls for raspberry. You can use whatever kind you want. We also used dark brown sugar, for no reason, and it made them a little darker in color. Also...confession, I rolled the doughballs a little too big so they flattened out a little more than they should have while baking, so we ended up with about 2 and a half dozen instead of 5 dozen. And we had to bake them a little longer than the recipe says. But they were so soft and delicious.

Jewel Cookies
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoons salt
2 2/3 sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 cup raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, then add the flour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls.

Brush each doughball with beaten egg white then roll in the chopped pecans and place 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Press the center of each ball with your thumb and fill with 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown along the edges. Cool on rack.

And now, the piece de resistance...the Avatar cake!

I know, it looks like a high school science project. Just wait until you see the inside. I used Paula Deen's red velvet cake recipe, and her recipe for cream cheese icing (she has a couple, I went for the one without marshmallows). I'll copy it exactly the way she has it, but for my cake I waited until the end to add the food coloring so I could separate the batter in half and create two shades of blue.

2 cups sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 Tbl unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces red food coloring
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbl white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into 3 (8-inch) round greased and floured pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.

I tried to make the cake a mixture of two shades of blue, like the Avatars. Here's before and after baking photos.

Cream cheese icing:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

I put a little blue food coloring in the icing, too.

Then we decorated the top of the cake. If you haven't seen the movie, it won't make any sense. For the Home Tree, we went to Michael's Crafts. It's just made up of some greenery from the fake flowers department. We also got those dragon-like birds at Michael's. The smaller trees and the military vehicles came from a cake decorating store called the Happy Hostess. This store is crazy, in a good way and bad way. If you ever need anything like edible pink glitter, mini snail-shaped cookie cutters, or a huge variety of plastic figurines to put on top of a cake...this is your place. We also got the "rocks" on the cake from this place - they're actually jellybeans.

And just like in the movie, Home Tree fell. RIP Home Tree. It was just too heavy for the soft cake to hold up. Anyway, we finally got to eat the Avatar cake! Slicing into it revealed a cross-section of the two shades of blue, and the light blue icing. We served it with wildberry lavender ice cream from Jeni's (which I will write about later this week), the closest ice cream we could find to blue that would actually taste good. Ta da!!!


  1. Happy to see this awesome Oscar party. Have been looking for ideas to throw my niece a birthday party at one of Chicago event venues. Want to have a lovely Barbie doll themed party as she loves it. Will look for dazzling ideas for the day.