The first time I remember celebrating the Academy Awards was a childhood trip southwest to Phoenix. We were visiting my grandparents for spring break, and my mom and grandma took us to the grocery store and let us pick out our favorite treats. Then, we all sat in front of the TV and took in the glitz and glam of the awards show. While I don’t recall the nominees or the winners, I do fondly remember feeling a little connection to the excitement of the festivities.
When my friend Callie Aldridge approached me about cohosting an Oscar party this year, I jumped at the chance to collaborate and share some of that Oscar style with our friends. We decided to play on some of the classics of the cinema snack bar. Callie provided a range of popcorn flavors and complemented them with candy favorites like Reese’s Pieces, Swedish Fish, gummy bears, and M&M’s. We added to that a few more hands-on creations—she made loaded baked potato skins, and I went to work on some starstruck brownies (recipes below).
When it came to decorations, we had to include some sparkle in the evening. A few yards of gold sequined fabric did the trick, creating the perfect backdrop for our table scape. You can find the material at most fabric stores, and it makes for a quick and easy way to glam up any event. We added to that a few red balloons hung in the background for a pop of color, and we let the food do the rest of the work. The result was a glitzy-yet-whimsical snack bar—something that could be easily adapted to a New Year’s or engagement party, or really any festivity where you’re looking for an excuse to dress up.
I think the real fun of an Oscar party comes with bringing some of the nominees’ competition into your living room. Thanks to free printable ballots and bingo cards from How About Orange, the guests got to try their hand at predicting the night’s winners. We also created a little voting of our own, allowing guests to vote on several categories, including the Best Dressed and the Best Actress among their fellow attendees. The winners got to take home candy red balloon as a little trophy.
This is a fairly simple endeavor. The trick is to successfully extricate your brownies from the pan in a single stroke. To do that, I lined a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment so that the paper came up over the sides of the pan. This can be done with a single sheet of parchment—fold the paper so that it fits into the bottom of the pan, and then cut slits at each corner so that you can fold it easily and won’t crinkle.
You can use any brownie recipe or mix. To have enough for the party, I doubled a classic brownie recipe based off of Ghirardelli’s recipe because it creates a nice, moist brownie that holds together well for cutting out. Let the brownies cool completely, and then use both hands to pull on the parchment and lift the brownies out of the pan. Then, cut them out with a star-shaped cookie cutter. You could repeat this with any cookie cutter, although I would recommend a simple shape. I added a little extra sparkle to some of the brownies by brushing them with corn syrup and sprinkling them with decorative yellow sugar. As an alternative, you could add some depth of flavor by sprinkling them with a little sea salt.
Classic Chocolate Brownies
Makes 32 (2-inch-square) brownies
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (can be in chips or bars)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour blend (if you aren’t gluten-free, you can use regular all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper. In a heat-proof bowl or double boiler, melt chocolate and butter until smooth. Remove from heat, and transfer to a separate bowl. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. Stir brown sugar and vanilla into to chocolate mixture Add eggs, and mix well.
4. Fold flour mixture into chocolate mixture, mixing until well combined.
5. Stir chocolate chips into batter; then spoon into prepared pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven, and let cool completely before cutting with a cookie cutter.
Party Potato Skins
Makes 8-10 servings
8 to 10 small organic Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper as needed*
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
6 to 7 slices hickory-smoked, thick-cut bacon, fried in a pan until almost done (crispy on inside but not fully on the edges) and chopped
Garnish: sour cream, finely chopped fresh parsley
Note: You could even spice these up with sweet paprika, Mexican chili powder, or even dried basil and Italian seasoning!
1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Rub potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil. (I like to put the oil in a small ramekin, and dip my fingers in it, then rub the potatoes until they feel moist.)
3. Place potatoes on a baking sheet, and bake about 40 minutes, depending on the thickness of your potatoes. To check for doneness, wrap your hand in a baking towel, and squeeze. They should be a bit soft to the touch.
4. Let potatoes cool, then slice them in half. Use a small spoon, or cookie-dough scoop, to scrape cooked potato from insides. Leave enough flesh to have a thick rim of potato around edges.
5. Melt butter and add 1 tablespoon oil. Use a pastry brush to coat inside and outside of halves with butter mixture.
6. Sprinkle inside and outside of halves with salt, then turn them skin side up on baking sheet.
7. Bake halves about 7 minutes. Use tongs to flip them over. The insides should be golden brown.
8. Turn halves right side up, and fill with cheese and crumbled bacon. Bake again until cheese melts and turns golden on the edges, about 10-12 minutes.
9. Top with sour cream and parsley, if desired.