Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Night 2006

Last night, some friends of mine held their annual Oscar Night party. Recently, at their annual Superbowl party, I volunteered to provide the food for last night's wingding, and I came up with a menu that I thought would keep everyone happy.
I didn't want to get too fancy, yet I wanted to impress, so I chose pierogies, chicken quesadillas, a really nice recipe for seared tuna loin, and Death By Chocolate which I had made for previous parties and was a request from several of the partygoers.

I had made the Death By Chocolate, the quesadillas and the pierogies at least once before, but I had never made the tuna recipe, so I was a little nervous about that one.

I'll start with the pierogies, as I have mostly covered my misadventures in a former post. As related in "Happiness Is A Warm Pierogi", that first batch came out perfectly, or certainly as well as could be expected for a first attempt. This gave me confidence going into the second attempt, and yet, the best laid plans and all that... well, the result was some tasty, yet remarkably ugly-looking pierogies. First of all, I doubled the recipe, and ended up making about 100 of the suckers over the course of a Friday evening about a week ago. However, since I didn't need all of them right away, I decided cook up about half of them, and to freeze the rest for the party. What I didn't know, was that I should have laid out the pierogies on a cookie sheet in the freezer and actually let them freeze before putting them in the Ziploc baggie. This finally did occur to me when the second batch was ready for the freezer, but by that point the first bag was a solid pierogi log. Yeesh. I made an initial attempt to separate them, but all I ended up doing was breaking some of them in pieces. So I decided to just leave them, and worry about it when the time came to cook them. So, just to recap, Bag 1 contained a big log comprised of about 36 pierogies, and Bag 2 contained about 17 individually frozen pierogies.

When the time came to boil them up, I had placed Bag 1 in the fridge overnight to attempt to loosen the log somewhat, and it actually worked - to a point. I managed to get most of the pierogies saparated, except for a few that were completely fused together, and several that just fell apart. No matter, I still had about 40 viable pierogies, so from there I was cruising. I boiled them all up, and placed them in a sealed container to be fried up at my friends' place. Done and done.

The tuna loin seemed deceptively easy to prepare. The recipe was courtesy of Alton Brown from his show Good Eats. It involves marinading the tuna overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, honey and wasabi, then rolling the tuna in sesame seeds, and cooking it in a very hot pan for about 30 seconds per side. The idea is to sear the outside of the tuna, and leave it rare through the middle. Simple, right? Well, the marinading went according to plan, but I over-cooked the tuna just slightly. OK, I cooked the tuna right through. It didn't end up mattering that much, as it still tasted amazing and everyone seemed to like it, but I was disappointed with myself.

The quesadillas, on the other hand, turned out beautifully. The recipe is adapted from one I found in the Toronto Sun newspaper of all places, in an insert concerning Superbowl snacks. This recipe is just the way I like them - really simple, and really tasty. Here's the recipe:

Ian's Three Cheese Chicken Quesadillas
Makes 16-24 wedges

* 8 8-inch tortillas
* 500 g (1 lb.) chicken breasts
* 150g (5 oz) marble cheese, grated
* 150g (5 oz) mozzarella cheese, grated
* 150g (5 oz) smoked gouda cheese, grated
* 1/2 a large onion, sliced
* Honey mustard
* Crushed chili flakes
* Vegetable oil
* Freshly ground pepper

1) Place four of the tortillas on a large baking tray, and spread some mustard on each one.
2) Fry onions with a sprinkling of the chili flakes in a skillet with a little oil until golden brown. Drain and set aside.
3) Brown chicken in skillet until cooked through. Shred with two forks and set aside.
4) Divide the cheese, onions and chicken evenly between the four tortillas. Season with pepper to taste.
5) Cover each with the remaining tortillas and gently press them together.
6) Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the quesadillas one at a time to the skillet and cook until tortillas are a crispy golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 1 - 1½ minutes per side.
7) Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Cut each quesadilla into four or six wedges, and serve with guacamole and sour cream.

Now for the dessert. I got the recipe for Death By Chocolate from my mother - thanks, Mom! As I stated above, I have made this many times, always to rave reviews. And it's so simple to make. Very little actual cooking is involved, the tricky part is in the assembly. Here we go.

Death By Chocolate

* 2 packages (4 envelopes) Dream Whip, or other whipped dessert topping
* 2 packages Oetker Double Chocolate Mousse
* 1 large Chocolate Brownie mix (I used Double Chocolate Supreme)
* 4 Skor chocolate bars, crushed
* 1 225g bag of Chocolate Clodhoppers, crushed
* 1 225g bag of Vanilla Clodhoppers, crushed
* 1/3C liqueur (I used Amarula, but have used Kahlua, Frangelico, etc.)
* 2 C + 2 C cold milk (for the Dream Whip and chocolate mousse)

1) Prepare the Dream Whip, the chocolate mousse and the brownies as per package instructions.
2) When the brownies come out of the oven, prick all over with a fork and pour the liqueur over the top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to let the liqueur soak in.
3) Mix together the crushed Skor bars and clodhoppers in a bowl.
4) Break up the brownies with a fork, making a loose pile.
5) Assemble the dessert in layers in a trifle bowl (or other large dessert bowl) as follows:
* Half of the brownies
* Half of the chocolate mousse
* Half of the Chocolate bar mixture
* Half of the Dream Whip
Repeat, and top with shaved semi-sweet chocolate OR chocolate chips

It should look something like this:

*NOTE* A trifle bowl, as called for in the recipe, is narrow with high sides, but the bowl I used is shallower with a wider bottom, so I had to adjust the quantities somewhat. One batch of brownies just won't stretch far enough for two separate layers, so if you're planning to use a bowl with a wider bottom, I would suggest making 2 batches of brownies, and using one for each layer. Same with the candy bars. The original recipe called for only 8 Skor bars, but I found that that was insufficient for two good-sized layers.

This dessert is something else, and if you're jonesing for your chocolate fix, I can't think of a better way to get it.

The food all went over very well, and although I spent my entire Sunday in the kitchen and was beat by the end of the party, I was happy with the results. More importantly, so were my friends.

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