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Simply Entertaining: An elegant meal worthy of an Oscar

Thursday, March 20, 2003

By Mary Miller

With the Academy Awards ceremony a few days away (if all goes according to plan), time's running out to re-create chef Wolfgang Puck's elaborate multicourse menu for your own Oscar bash. Maybe attempting one of his desserts would be enough. So will it be the chocolate tart filled with chocolate ganache, chocolate creme brulee and sour cherry sauce or the mini blown-sugar globe filled with a gold-dusted chocolate Oscar? I could whip them up in an hour or two. Ha, ha. On to the next idea.

The 2003 awards ceremony Sunday celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Oscars, so a nostalgic meal would fit the bill. A menu of foods that were new in 1929 might be fun and could include Oscar Mayer wieners, Twizzlers licorice, Columbo yogurt, Klondike bars and a lithiated lemon beverage (later known as 7-Up). Hardly a delectable meal.

Maybe a simpler version of chef Puck's menu is the best bet. Puck has more than 50 of his top chefs cooking for the event, with heaven knows how many helpers. Most home cooks could adapt his dishes or purchase similar prepared items without the need for even one hired helper.

Passed hors d'oeuvres at Sunday's Governor's Ball will include a brioche Oscar -- yes, the golden man made out of bread -- with caviar and dill cream, tuna tartare and vegetable sushi. At home, forget the bread statue and serve vegetable sushi or California rolls from the take-out sushi counter at various food emporiums or your favorite Japanese restaurant.

Puck's dinner officially begins with a spring pea soup topped with black truffle shavings, a lobster salad and assorted breads. Skip the pea soup. Purchase pre-cooked lobster chunks, top with steamed asparagus and sliced cooked beets. Leave out the artichokes and fava beans from the original recipe. Drizzle the salad with citrus vinaigrette. Pick up some terrific crusty bread from BreadWorks on the North Side (412-231-7555) or Allegro Hearth Bakery (412-422-5623) in Squirrel Hill. Close your eyes and picture yourself seated between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah.

The entree at the Governor's Ballroom in Hollywood will be wild French loup de mer Oscar: a mousse of pureed pike sandwiched between two sea bass fillets, wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Instead of sole baked in puff pastry, do it en papillote instead. Eliminate the pike mousse and add some veggies.

Of course, the piece de resistance, a complicated chocolate dessert followed by the traditional chocolate Oscar, is difficult to replicate.

For a fancy chocolate finale, visit the dessert section at Whole Foods Market in Shadyside or order beautiful treats from Jean Marc Chatellier's bakery (412-821-8533) in Millvale.

For fun after dinner, don't forget to pass out checklists for best/worst dressed and ballots for guests to place their guesses for the winners.

Orange Vinaigrette

  • 2/3 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as tarragon, basil or thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake well. Makes 1 cup.

"Meals That Heal"

Fillet of Sole in Packets

  • 4 to 6 celery stalks, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 leeks, white portion only, thoroughly washed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 medium carrots, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pounds sole fillets
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Place 4 rectangles (12-by-21 inches each) of cooking parchment or aluminum foil on a work surface. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium skillet, saute the celery, leeks and carrots in butter for 5 minutes, or until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

On each parchment piece, layer a quarter of the ingredients in the following order: sauteed vegetables, sole fillets, salt and pepper, tomatoes slices, lemon slices, bay leaf, thyme.

Fold the packets securely, tucking the edges under, and place on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes. Open packages before serving, or allow guests to open their own. Serves 4.

"The Junior League Centennial Cookbook"

Mary Miller is a Fox Chapel-based registered dietitian and food writer. For questions or comments, she can be reached at marymar333@attbi.com. The recipes in this story were PG tested.

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