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Food: Oscar picks

Erin Broccoli? Chocolat candies? Serve celebrity fare to celebrate annual awards

Whether you're a movie fan or not, whether you didn't like — or didn't even see — any of the nominated films this year, the Academy Awards is a good excuse for a party. You can cheer for your favorite stars, jeer at blubbering acceptance speeches and critique the gowns and hairstyles (proof in some cases that money can't always buy good taste).

This year has its disadvantages. So many Beautiful People split up (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman; Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger) putting a damper on celebrity-watching. (Ah, well, they'll all be back next year with new partners.) Also, the Awards are on Sunday night — not the best timing for a party. Movie stars may not have to get up and go to work Monday mornings, but the rest of us do. As an alternative, you could host your party on Saturday and watch one of the nominated best pictures.

To start with, roll out a red carpet (or a roll of red paper) from your driveway up to the porch and hand out cheap sunglasses so your guests can make a Hollywood-style entrance while you snap photos of them coming to the door. Or you can ask them to dress as movie characters.

Background music could include past Oscar-winning soundtracks or this year's nominated songs.

Give guests ballots for predictions and prizes for the most wins. Besides the "official" nominees, guests can vote on categories like Best Acceptance Speech, Weirdest Outfit, Most Arrogant Actor, Youngest-Looking Seventysomething, Next Drug Rehab Referral and so on.

Now for the food. Go casual and serve theater munchies like popcorn, hot dogs and Junior Mints. Or you can pull out all the stops and compete with what the real stars are having at their post-Oscar parties. Last year at the Governors Ball, Wolfgang Puck served marinated lobster salad, tuna tataki appetizers with wasabi cream, Spago pizzas, and chicken breasts with wild mushroom risotto and truffles. How do we know this? Well, an Associated Press article noted the menu as the leftovers were delivered to Los Angeles homeless shelters and missions.

Here are our suggestions, themed around this year's nominees. The egg rolls, chocolates and sub sandwiches can be bought ready-made. The recipes will serve about six people; for a crowd, you'll have to double or triple them.

'Gladiator' Spear Caesar Salad

Hanks' Franks

'Erin' Broccoli

'Crouching Tiger' Egg Rolls

'Traffic' Brownies

'Cast Away' Coconut Milk Creme Brulee

'Chocolat' candies

Julia Roberts' Fresh Peach Crisp

'U-571' Sub Sandwiches

'Perfect Storm' Baked Swordfish

If you think this is eclectic, consider past Oscar nominations (Tang and Moon Pies for "Apollo 13"? And what about "Silence of the Lambs"? Yuck!) You can mix and match some of the above suggestions with recipes that past Oscar winners contributed to "Newman's Own Cookbook," compiled by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner, and "Autograph Celebrity Cookbook," compiled by Richard Brown. (Julia Roberts' Peach Crisp came from "Newman's Own Cookbook.") Past winners' dishes include Richard Dreyfuss' Braised Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic, Olympia Dukakis' Greek Meatballs, Joanne Woodward's Cereal and Paul Newman's Munchies.

For drinks, ice water seems appropriate, considering how many water-centered movies came out this year — "U-571," "What Lies Beneath" and "The Perfect Storm." (And we thought "Jaws" and "Titanic" had the last word on water hazards.)

The following recipes, except the Coconut Milk Creme Brulee, are our own adaptations.

For those guests sure to fuss and fume over who should've won and the dumb Academy choices, don't forget a bowl of sour grapes.


'ERIN' BROCCOLI

1 pound fresh or frozen broccoli, chopped

2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast

1 can cream of chicken soup

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)

1 cup shredded cheese

2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs

Arrange broccoli and chicken in a 2-quart casserole dish. Mix soup and milk and curry powder in a small bowl and pour over broccoli and chicken. Microwave about 8 minutes, covered, until broccoli is crisp-tender. Mix cheese and bread crumbs in a small bowl and sprinkle over top of casserole. Microwave, uncovered, for about 4 more minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. Let stand at least 2 minutes before serving.


'GLADIATOR' SPEAR CAESAR SALAD

This Roman Empire-inspired salad is something Russell can Crowe about.

1 pound asparagus

1/4 cup butter

2 large bunches romaine lettuce

Caesar salad dressing

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 to 2 cups croutons

Bend each asparagus spear in half, so tip is almost touching the stem end. It will snap and break at the point where the tenderness begins. (Reserve the woody stem ends for soup, or discard them.) Rinse spears under water. Heat butter in skillet and saute asparagus spears, stirring until tender but not limp. Wash and tear lettuce leaves in large bowl. Toss with dressing, top with cheese, croutons and asparagus spears.


'TRAFFIC' BROWNIES

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup powdered sugar for garnish

1 teaspoon chili powder for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mix chocolate and oil together. Mix in sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients and spread in pan. Bake 30 minutes or until brownies start to pull away from sides of pan. Do not overbake. Cool slightly. Mix powdered sugar and chili powder together. Place in a wire sieve and gently shake over brownies until lightly dusted.


'CAST AWAY' COCONUT MILK CREME BRULEE

Perfect for a deserted island with a lot of coconuts.

1 can coconut milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

6 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

12 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, egg yolks and coconut extract together very well. In a medium saucepan, bring the coconut milk and heavy cream to a boil. Remove from heat when mixture can no longer be stirred down.

Slowly pour hot liquid in a thin stream into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the custard into six 6- or 8-ounce oven-proof custard cups. Place in a water bath (a baking pan with 1 inch of water in it).

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until custard is just set or firm. Remove custard cups to a wire rack. Allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Prior to serving, sprinkle each custard cup evenly with 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar. Place on baking sheet and broil, rotating pan until the sugar lightly browns. Be careful not to allow sugar to burn. — Andre Prost Inc.


'PERFECT STORM' SWORDFISH

It's good, but not worth risking your life for.

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1 to 2 pounds swordfish steak, 1 inch thick

2 teaspoons fresh or dried basil

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Arrange lemon slices on flat glass casserole dish. Arrange swordfish over lemons. Sprinkle basil, oil, salt and pepper over fish. Cover with microwaveable plastic wrap. Cook on high 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from microwave and let stand 2 minutes before serving.


HANKS' FRANKS

2 pounds smoked cocktail weiners

1 bottle barbecue sauce

Pour sauce over weiners and heat. Serve with toothpicks.


JULIA ROBERTS' FRESH PEACH CRISP

If unpeeled peaches bother you, peel them.

7 ripe but firm medium peaches, unpeeled, pitted and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup Scotch whisky (substitution: apple juice)

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Topping:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 sticks unsalted butter, melted

Softened frozen vanilla yogurt as an accompaniment

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-by 2-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, toss the peaches together with the lemon juice. Add the whisky, sugar and brown sugar and combine well. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the baking dish and dot with small pieces of the butter.

To make the topping: In a bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon until combined. Add the butter gradually, stirring it in to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle it evenly over the peaches. Even though the topping should be evenly distributed, you want a rustic, pebbly look to the top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 to 10 minutes more to brown the top.

Let cool slightly, then serve warm in bowls, topped with scoops of frozen yogurt.


ZUCCHINI PANCAKES WITH SMOKED SALMON AND YOGURT-DILL SAUCE

From Holly Hunter, 1993 Best Actress for "The Piano."

Yogurt-dill sauce:

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

Pancakes:

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed

2 large Idaho potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

1 small red onion, thinly sliced and cut into julienne strips

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted, for cooking

Accompaniments:

2 cups mixed baby greens

12 ounces sliced Norwegian smoked salmon or gravlax (2 slices per serving

1/2 cup chopped chives for garnish

Very thin lemon slices for garnish

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make sauce: In a ceramic or plastic bowl, combine all the ingredients, cover and chill. (If you are making the sauce in advance, add the lemon juice just before serving or the yogurt will separate.)

To make the pancakes: Grate the zucchini and potatoes on the large-hole side of a grater, or in a food processor. Put the grated vegetables in a bowl and add the onion, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a 7 1/2-inch nonstick omelet pan, heat 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil together with 1/4 teaspoon of the melted butter over medium-high heat until hot. Pour 1/4 cup of the grated vegetables and spread the mixture to the edges of the pan, pressing down firmly with a rubber spatula, to form a pancake about 1/4 inch thick. Cook about 3 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Gently lift the pancake with the spatula to check the underside. If it is deep golden brown in color, turn (or flip) the pancake and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, until golden. Remove the pancake to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, then transfer to a baking sheet. Place in the oven to keep warm.

Repeat making pancakes with the remaining ingredients in the same manner, being sure to add 1 teaspoon of oil and a bit of butter to the pan before making a new pancake.

To serve, put a generous 1/4 cup of greens on each of 6 salad plates. Spread each pancake with about 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) of yogurt-dill sauce, then put a pancake on each plate on the greens. Arrange 2 slices of salmon on top of each pancake. Gamish each serving with some chives, several lemon slices and a generous grinding of pepper. Serve the remaining sauce in a bowl on the side.


JOANNE'S CEREAL

From Joanne Woodward, 1957 Best Actress for "The Three Faces of Eve." You will need to bake this in batches; the recipe will fill 3 to 4 cookie sheets.

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

2 pounds honey

1 pound oats

2 pounds almonds

1 pound sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 cup chopped cashews

1 cup chopped walnuts

4 cups wheat germ, roasted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Mix the oil and honey together with 1 1/2 cups of water. Mix together the dry ingredients. Combine all. Spread thinly on nonstick cookie sheets. Bake and keep turning until golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. Cool and keep in tins.


NEWMAN'S MUNCHIES

This was a runner-up in a recipe contest sponsored by Newman's Own products and Paul Newman, 1986 Best Actor for "The Color of Money."

2 cups Newman's Own Organic Pretzel Sticks or your favorite, broken in half

2 cups whole nuts (dry-roasted unsalted cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans or walnuts; peanuts are too small)

3 tablespoons Newman's Own Caesar Dressing or your favorite

1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan choose

5 cups popped Newman's Own popcorn, or your favorite, prepared according to the package directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the pretzels and nuts in a 13-by-9-inch metal baking pan. Combine the dressing, basil and oregano and pour over the pretzels and nuts. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cheese over all and mix to coat. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once.

Pour half of the popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cheese. Pour the remaining popcorn into the bowl and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cheese. Add the baked pretzels and nuts, mix and serve.


BRAISED CHICKEN WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC

From Richard Dreyfuss, 1977 Best Actor for "The Goodbye Girl."

2 tablespoons olive oil

1(3 1/2-pound) chicken, skin removed and cut into 10 pieces

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped

1 1/3 cup chicken broth

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

In a 5-quart covered saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Dredge the chicken in the flour, gently shaking off the excess. Saute the chicken, half at a time, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken pieces to a platter; set aside.

Add the garlic, rosemary and prosciutto to the pan and cook 1 minute. Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer, turning the pieces over midway, until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a large serving platter. Stir the parsley into the pan juices and spoon them over the chicken. Serves 4.


GREEK MEATBALLS

From Olympia Dukakis, 1987 Best Supporting Actress for "Moonstruck."

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground lamb

1 large egg

1/4 cup milk

1large onion, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 drops red wine vinegar, optional

1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs, cornmeal or wheat germ

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large bowl, combine the beef, veal, lamb, egg, milk, onion, mustard, tamari, 1/2 teaspoon of the oregano, the salt, garlic powder, vinegar, if using, and bread crumbs. With your hands, gently mix the ingredients until combined. Shape into 36 walnut-size meatballs.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add half the meatballs and sprinkle them with 1/4 teaspoon of the remaining oregano and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Cook, gently turning the meatballs over as they brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a platter and repeat with the remaining meatballs, oregano and 2 tablespoons parsley. Transfer the last batch to the platter with the other meatballs, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve. Makes 36 large meatballs.


E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com