Thursday, February 25, 2016

What I'm Serving at My Oscar Party


I grew up watching the Oscars, even though I never saw any of the nominated movies in my Pennsylvania coal-mining town.  The show seemed so glamorous.  Then I moved to California and went to hundreds of movies every year as part of my job as an entertainment journalist.

So far, no one has assigned me to cover the Oscars, and I’m glad.  I hear it’s agony for the reporters, who have to dress up and write their stories super-fast while missing most of the action.  Seldom do they eat until late evening.  Meanwhile, I sit around in front of the TV in sweats and slippers and see it all.

For this Sunday’s post-show Governors Ball, Oscar food impresario Wolfgang Puck ordered 1,000 stone crab claws, 7,500 shrimp, 300 lobsters and 1,300 oysters.  He’s also making chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, potatoes with caviar and chives and short ribs with truffle polenta for 1,500.

I, on the other hand, am cooking for 8.  Sadly there will be no Bear Meatballs in honor of “The Revenant,” which features a grizzly mauling Leonardo DiCaprio.  My local stores don’t carry bear meat.  But they do carry potatoes, so I will be serving “Martian” Baked Stuffed Potatoes, a dish Matt Damon’s astronaut probably dreamed about.

To honor four films set in the 1950s food--“Brooklyn,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Carol” and “Trumbo”—I’m making Not-Your-1950s-Meatloaf.  And as a nod to “Spotlight,” which is set in Boston, I’ll also offer Mini Shrimp Rolls.

That leaves dessert.  After considering numerous 1950s options, including Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Cherries Jubilee and Baked Alaska, I settled on cheesecake, but not just any cheesecake. It will be Chocolate Cheesecake because no meal celebrating anything is complete without chocolate.

Chocolate Cheesecake – serves 12-16 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”
3 8-ounce packages Neufchâtel or cream cheese 
1 1/2 cups chocolate graham crackers + 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) 
1 12-ounce package chocolate chips 
1 cup sugar 
3 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1 cup light sour cream 
Remove Neufchâtel or cream cheese from the refrigerator to begin softening. 
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 
To make the cheesecake crust, grind the graham crackers into fine crumbs in a blender or food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or large can.  Transfer to a medium bowl. 
Melt the butter, add to the crumbs and mix thoroughly.   Transfer the crumb mixture to an 8- or 9-inch springform pan (a special pan with a bottom that separates from the sides of the pan).  With the back of a large spoon or your hands, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides.  Try to make the crust equally thick everywhere. 
Melt the chocolate in a thick-bottomed pot over very low heat, stirring until it’s almost melted.  Turn off the heat.  The heat of the pan will melt the remaining chocolate. 
Put the Neufchâtel or cream cheese in a food processor bowl or large mixing bowl and process or beat until smooth.  Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, melted chocolate and sour cream and process or mix until well blended and no streaks of white are showing. 
Pour the mixture into the crumb crust and shake the pan gently to distribute it evenly. 
Place the pan on a cookie sheet to catch possible drips.  Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top begins to brown. Check it after 50 minutes to make sure it hasn’t begun to burn.  The center may seem a little wobbly, but it will firm up as it cools.  Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a rack. 
When the cake reaches room temperature, cover the top of the pan with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. 
To serve, run a knife around the inside of the pan, loosening the cheesecake.  Remove the sides from the pan and slip the knife under the bottom of the cheesecake to loosen it. With the help of two metal spatulas, you should be able to transfer the whole cheesecake onto a serving plate.  If it sticks, serve the cheesecake with the base in place.  This cheesecake tastes best cold.
          For more chocolate recipes, get “Chocolate on the Brain”