An Oscar menu to steal the scene

Times Staff Writer

Return with us to the days of yesteryear, when glamorous movie stars roamed the streets of Los Angeles -- and dinner was served during the Academy Awards ceremony.

Imagine, if you will, the Cocoanut Grove, where the awards presentation banquets were held from 1930 to 1936. It looks like a scene from “The Aviator.” (Wait, it is a scene from “The Aviator”!)

A vast room with hundreds of tables lighted by tiny lamps, waiters rushing by with silver trays, women in evening gowns and serious jewelry, men in tuxedos.


But what are they eating? How can you duplicate that excitement, that sense of occasion at your home Sunday? What would the Cocoanut Grove’s Chef Henri, who oversaw banquets honoring presidents, emperors, admirals and comedians, do for such a noteworthy event?

Why, he’d create a theme menu. Something to represent each of the films nominated for best picture in each course.

To start, a toast from “Ray.” Champagne? Maybe not: Instead, we’ll sip Bols gin, just like Ray Charles’ (Jamie Foxx) girlfriend (Regina King) did when she drank her dinner. She drank it straight out of the bottle; we’ll raise a martini glass.

The first course, a goat cheese and hazelnut salad with oven-dried tomatoes, is drawn from “Sideways,” the surprise hit about a couple of middle-aged guys, Miles and Jack (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church), on a yuppified bender through the Santa Ynez Valley. This is the same salad Miles has for his first course at Los Olivos Cafe, where Miles and Jack go on a double date with Maya (Virginia Madsen)

and Stephanie (Sandra Oh). It pairs beautifully with Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc, one of the wines served in that scene.

Our main course is from “The Aviator”: steak and 12 peas. In a scene set at the Cocoanut Grove in 1927, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is such a regular that the headwaiter, upon seating him and Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), simply asks if he’ll have “the usual.” Hepburn is offered clementine soup (whatever that is), roast duck and poached pears in rose-petal sauce. Hughes’ “usual” was a steak and “12 peas,” which had to be meticulously arranged on the plate in a grid pattern because he was, shall we say, a picky eater.


Chef Henri, by the way, though French, had a streak of Alice Waters-like passion for local produce, according to Betty Goodwin, author of “Hollywood du Jour: Lost Recipes of Legendary Hollywood Haunts.” He created dishes with avocado, citrus fruits, abalone, sand dabs, California oysters and California figs.

To accompany the steak, turn to “Finding Neverland” for a traditional Scottish dish of mashed potatoes and turnips called clapshot. OK, it wasn’t actually served in the movie, but it could have been: In the scene in which “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) endures a tense, silent meal with his wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), they dine on roast beef and a potato dish that’s spooned from a square silver serving dish. Clapshot? Likely as not. Our tasty version, with chives and just a wee bit of butter, is from “Traditional Scottish Cookery” by Theodora Fitzgibbon. The wine pairing? Whitcraft Pinot Noir, imbibed in “Sideways,” of course.

From “Ray” comes the bread basket, featuring cornbread and molasses, a dish so much a part of African American folklore that it’s enshrined in story and song (“Don’t want no cornbread and molasses, / Gimme beans, Lord, gimme beans!”). Cornbread and molasses were among the few staples that got rural poor Southerners through the Depression.

In the film, when Charles takes his future wife, Della Bea (Kerry Washington), to lunch while he’s on tour in Houston, he teases her for being a country girl. How does he know that? She’d asked for molasses with her cornbread.

And for dessert -- what else but lemon meringue pie from “Million Dollar Baby”? As Clint Eastwood’s tough-on-the-outside character, Frankie Dunn, begins to warm up to the fiercely ambitious Maggie (Hilary Swank), he reveals a fondness for lemon meringue pie -- but, he says, the real thing, with homemade lemon custard, none of that store-bought stuff. Maggie helps Frankie find the pie of his dreams even as he helps her fulfill her own dreams.

The Times Test Kitchen director Donna Deane’s recipe is from her mother, a classic version with a buttery-toasty crust, terrifically lemony filling and a cloud of ethereal meringue.


It’s so good, we couldn’t help but name it “Million Dollar” pie.


‘Midlife Crisis’ salad of goat cheese, hazelnuts and red onion

Total time: 20 minutes plus 1 hour, 30 minutes roasting time

Servings: 4

Note: From Nat Ely, Los Olivos Cafe

Sherry vinaigrette

2 tablespoons aged Sherry


1 tablespoon finely diced


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the vinegar, shallots, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.


4 plum tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 (4-ounce) log goat cheese

3 tablespoons toasted crushed hazelnuts, divided

8 cups (4 ounces) clean field greens (no bitter greens)

1/4 cup Sherry vinaigrette

1 cup shaved (or very thinly sliced) red onion rings

1. Cut the tomatoes into 6 wedges each. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the wedges, skin side down, on a baking sheet. Dry in a 250-degree oven for 1 hour, 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

2. When the tomatoes are almost done, roll the goat cheese in 2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts to coat.

3. Place the greens in a bowl, add one-fourth cup vinaigrette and toss to coat.

4. Divide the dressed greens among

4 salad plates. Top the greens with the tomato and shaved red onion.

5. Slice the nut-crusted cheese log into four equal “coins.” Place a cheese coin on each salad. Sprinkle the salads with the remaining tablespoon of crushed hazelnuts. Serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Each serving: 315 calories; 9 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrates;

4 grams fiber; 28 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 13 mg. cholesterol; 443 mg. sodium.


‘Stiff Upper Lip’ clapshot

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: From “Traditional Scottish Cookery” by Theodora Fitzgibbon

1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

1 pound turnips, peeled and

cut into quarters

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring two medium saucepans of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes to one pan and the turnips to the other. Bring both back to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and place each batch of vegetables in a colander over the hot pot. Allow to dry (off the heat) for 15 minutes.

2. Mash the potatoes and turnips together with the butter, making sure the butter is evenly distributed. Stir in the chopped chives, season with salt and pepper, transfer to a hot dish and serve warm.


Each serving: 209 calories; 3 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates;

4 grams fiber; 12 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 31 mg. cholesterol; 205 mg. sodium.


‘Million Dollar’ pie

Total time: 45 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time

Servings: 8

Note: From Winifred Deane


1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold butter, cut up

3 tablespoons ice water

1. Stir together the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or by hand until the ingredients are combined and the mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Sprinkle in the ice water. Quickly stir the water into the flour mixture with a fork just until the dough holds together.

3. Shape the dough into a ball, then flatten it into a 1-inch-thick circle. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

4. Roll the dough into a 15-inch circle on a lightly floured board. Lift the pastry onto a 9-inch pie plate and gently fit it into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Trim the edges, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Flute and crimp. Chill the shell 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Line the pie shell with a piece of parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and pie weights and continue to bake until the crust is golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.


7 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups boiling water

3 egg yolks, beaten

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Gradually add the boiling water and stir until blended.


2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until it boils and the mixture is clear and has thickened,

4 to 5 minutes. Pour the filling into the top of a double boiler or into a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add a small amount of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks and return all to the pan, stirring until blended. Cook 2 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, butter and lemon zest. Place plastic wrap on top of the filling and cool to room temperature.

5. Pour the filling into the baked pie shell, spreading it evenly.

Meringue and assembly

4 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

1. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Continue beating until soft peaks form.

2. Slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is stiff but not dry.

3. Spoon the meringue onto the pie filling. Spread and swirl the meringue over the filling, sealing to the edges of the pie.


4. Bake at 400 degrees until the meringue peaks are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Each serving: 476 calories; 5 grams protein; 75 grams carbohydrates;

1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat;

10 grams saturated fat; 122 mg. cholesterol; 397 mg. sodium.


‘OCD’ New York steak with 12 peas

Total time: 20 minutes plus standing time for steak

Servings: 4

Note: From Donna Deane

16 to 18 English pea pods

2 (1 pound each) New York steaks (about 1 1/2 inches thick)


Coarsely ground black


2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons butter,

plus 2 teaspoons cold butter

1/2 cup veal stock, beef stock or red wine

1. Shell the peas. You should have 48 peas. Discard any extra.

2. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before cooking. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat a large heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil and 2 teaspoons butter. Add the steaks to the hot skillet and cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes. Turn the steaks and continue to cook, 5 to 6 minutes for medium rare. (If pan seems too hot, reduce the heat to medium.) Remove the steaks to a platter and keep warm.

4. Add the stock or wine to the skillet, stirring to deglaze the pan. Heat to simmering and cook until the liquid is reduced to one-fourth cup. Add the 2 teaspoons cold butter bit by bit, shaking the pan and swirling to thicken the sauce slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Meanwhile, add the peas to lightly salted boiling water in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and arrange the peas, 12 on each of 4 serving plates.

6. When the sauce is ready, cut each steak in half. Place a piece of steak on each plate and spoon sauce over.


Each serving: 402 calories; 50 grams protein; 2 grams carbohydrates;

0 fiber; 20 grams fat; 8 grams saturated fat; 140 mg. cholesterol; 128 mg. sodium.