Oscar party advice: Pace yourself for a long evening of fun

February 26, 2018 GMT

The annual Academy Awards show is only a week away (March 4). In her monthly Q&A column for Hearst Connecticut Media, Maile Carpenter, editor in chief of Food Network Magazine, offers ideas for setting the stage for a winning Oscar viewing party that’s playful, easy and full of fun food and drinks.

Q: The Oscar for Best Oscar Party goes to …? Tell us about an exceptional awards party you threw or attended. What made it so special and how can readers get inspired from it?

MC: We featured David Burtka’s party in the magazine last year, and it was such a perfect night. His husband is Neil Patrick Harris, and if anyone knows how to do it up for the Oscars, it’s this guy. David tells guests to dress up like their favorite movie star; he serves simple, elegant appetizers, and he welcomes everyone with a bubbly cocktail. You don’t have to splurge on expensive champagne to make the night feel special: Grab some prosecco or sparkling wine and dress it up with a fun garnish or splash of fruit juice. David also makes sure to have plenty of food for the big night. As he points out, “It’s a long show!”

Q: For those who do not get the red-carpet invite, what are some creative ideas hosts can bring to life for a special Oscars evening?

MC: The show is so much more exciting when everyone bets on the results. Have your guests complete an Oscars ballot when they arrive and give out prizes for the top scores. Or make sugar-cookie Oscars (you can find cutters on etsy.com) and present them throughout the night for accomplishments like Best Picture (Taking), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Snack Mixing …

Q: What are some award-winning yet simple-to-make party foods that will help make the night glamorous and stress-free?

MC: David’s party menu included a super-simple, tasty bite: endive leaves with gorgonzola and honey. He mixed gorgonzola with a little heavy cream, then he put a small scoop of the cheese into each endive leaf along with a drizzle of honey, some toasted pine nuts and a few pomegranate seeds. A fun dessert option: Make a basic cupcake with vanilla frosting and put store-bought caramel corn on top. This isn’t necessarily glamorous, but everyone loves a concession stand. Buy some movie-theater favorites in bulk (M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids, Twizzlers, Junior Mints, Milk Duds, the works) and put them in bowls with scoops and clear cellophane bags so guests can create their own candy mix.

Q: For hosts or for guests, what are some party don’ts?

MC: I think the one big mistake people make is that they get too fancy. I’m guilty myself. The Oscars are so glamorous, I tend to get overly excited and plan elaborate little appetizers that take all day to put together. I need to remind myself that what I’m actually hosting is a night in front of the TV. I have to resist the urge to cover all my desserts in edible glitter. It’s amazing looking, and so perfect for the Oscars, but I don’t think people actually want to eat glitter.

Q: The Academy Awards are so long. What’s the best way to pace the meal so no one gets full before the first award or leaves hungry at the end?

MC: We faced a similar pacing challenge at our Super Bowl party. We didn’t want people to fill up on chips and dip and not eat the barbecue and fried chicken we had planned for dinner. It’s easy to time food for the Super Bowl — you can bring out apps for the first half, dinner for halftime and dessert in the fourth quarter. But the Oscars aren’t as easy to track. If you’re a geek entertainer like I am, search “Oscars 2018 order of awards” online shortly before the show starts. The academy typically releases the run of show in advance, so you can plan your menu accordingly. Put some light appetizers out for the first third of the show, then more substantial food for the next third and finish off with dessert when there are just a few awards left.

Q: Can you think of three easy, crowd-pleasing cocktail recipes to serve during the event?

MC: Cocktails are great for an Oscar party because you can easily give them a movie-themed name: Puree frozen strawberries, lime juice and rum to taste and call the drink the Lady Bird, for example. Or make a clear punch out of white cranberry juice, white grape juice, lime soda and vodka, then add an ice ring (or ice in any shape) and call it Shape of Water Punch. Or make a spiced Mexican hot chocolate and call it Hot COCO. You get the idea.

Q: What’s your policy on asking guests to bring something if you’re hosting, or bringing something for the host if you’re a party guest?

MC: Most people are grateful when you tell them what you need. I’m always stumped when someone says, “Don’t bring anything,” because I would never show up empty-handed, so then I have to guess what they might like as a hostess gift. If you’re hosting and you want to simplify the process, you could tell everyone to bring a bottle of their favorite spirit, so you can mix different cocktails at the party. Just make sure you have some basic cocktail ingredients on hand (vermouth, bitters, assorted citrus, maybe some ginger beer and fresh ginger, grenadine). Even easier: Ask everyone to bring a bottle of rosé and hold an impromptu rosé tasting at the party. Guests can vote on their favorite, and you can announce the winner at the end of the night.

Q: Popcorn is a movie staple. How can readers kick it up a notch at home?

MC: We created a booklet of 50 flavored popcorns a few years ago, and we had so many ideas, we couldn’t fit them all into the magazine. A couple of my favorites:

Ranch popcorn: Melt half a stick of butter with a 1-ounce package of ranch seasoning mix. Toss that with 16 cups of hot popcorn and some chopped chives.

Mustard pretzel popcorn: Melt half a stick of butter and whisk with 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of sugar and ½ teaspoon of salt. Drizzle over 12 cups of hot popcorn and toss with 4 cups of mini pretzels.

French onion dip popcorn: Melt 6 tablespoons of butter with a 1-ounce package of onion soup mix. Toss with 16 cups of hot popcorn and a 6-ounce package of French-fried onions.

Q: What’s your favorite movie snack?

MC: Nachos! If there’s ever a time to break out a can or jar of orange cheese sauce, this is it. (I like the Tostitos version, Smooth & Cheesy Dip.) I put all my chips on a sheet pan, warm up the cheese dip and smother the chips with it. Then I add another cheese, like cotija or pepper jack, and throw the pan under the broiler. I usually throw some scallions on top when they’re done. Of course, you can go as high-brow as you want when you’re making nachos, but when others go high, I go low.

Cocktail: The Churchill

Inspired by ‘Darkest Hour’

1 ounce Scotch whisky (Churchill preferred Johnnie Walker)

1/2 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 ounce Cointreau

2 ounces champagne

Shake ingredients together with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe and top with chilled champagne.