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GOURMANDISE

Edible Oscars
Forget all the hype about who's going to take top honors at the 70th annual Academy Awards ceremony Monday night. The real interest to foodies is the Governors Ball that will follow in the Shrine Exposition Center.

Famed Spago chef/restaurateur Wolfgang Puck is in charge of the banquet, which will be attended by tout Hollywood. Some of the figures are astounding: 1,600 guests, 142 custom-made Italian mosaic tables, a wait staff of more than 350.

But the thing that really got our attention was one of the appetizers: Would you believe Smoked Salmon on Oscar Shaped Matzoh? Yes, that's what we said, and it boggles the mind. Do they shape the matzoh before or after baking?

Compared to this appetizer, the entree is pretty ho-hum: Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast with Wild Mushroom Risotto.

But Puck will stage a big comeback with dessert, namely white chocolate art deco movie palaces, guarded at the four corners by miniature gold-powdered chocolate Oscar statuettes and lighted by miniature blinking klieg lights.

When guests lift the roof they will find pre-cut strawberry layer cake for four.

Does this menu rate a special-effects award or what? Compared to this, "Titanic" is nothing!

But is it worth $1 million?

By now you probably know about the big bucks awarded last month to the 38th Pillsbury Bakeoff winner. The contest now concentrates on "quick and easy" foods, sad to say. Oh, for the glory days of winners like the Tunnel of Fudge Cake. (The Orange Kiss-Me Cake wasn't so bad, either.)

The sum of $1 million went to Ellie Matthews of Seattle. She made up this chicken concoction, which utilizes El Paso salsa:

SALSA COUSCOUS CHICKEN

3 cups cooked couscous or rice

1 tablespoon oil

1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 chicken thighs, skin removed

1 cup chunky salsa

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons dried currants

1 tablespoon honey

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
While couscous is cooking, heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add almonds; cook 1 to 2 minutes until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Add garlic to skillet; cook and stir 30 seconds. Add chicken; cook 4 to 5 minutes or until browned, turning once.

Combine salsa and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl; mix well. Add to chicken. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook 20 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear, stirring occasionally. Stir in almonds.

Serve chicken mixture over couscous. Makes 4 servings.

Good winter, bad icewine

And now for the bad news. This year, local icewine production will be way down. Donald Ziraldo, president of the Canadian Inniskillen firm across the river, a company well-known for this sweet after-dinner wine, is blaming the shortage on the lack for freezing weather (because grapes must be frozen solid before they are harvested), the huge number of starlings feeding on the grapes and lateness in harvesting.

"The quality will be there, but so few grapes," Ziraldo said. He estimates the crop to be 25 percent of last year's.

Expect higher prices.

Elvis forever

And speaking of show biz, let us be the first to tell you about the "I Love Elvis Cookbook." It was compiled by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen, published by Courage Books and contains recipes for famous blue suede faves like Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches and Elvis' Favorite Barbecue Pizza. Most of the recipes are for down-home country-style eats, and the book has plenty of Elvis photographs.

Contests

Wanna meet Bill Cosby? Wanna have your name in lights on Times Square? Simple -- just enter the Jell-O Smile Contest.

All you need to do is write an essay of 75 words or less about how your favorite flavor of Jell-O gelatin, pudding or no-bake dessert makes you "smile more." Entries must be received by April 15. Those fabulous awards may follow.

For complete rules, send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope to Jell-O Contest Rules, P.O. Box 35982, Los Angeles, Calif. 90035-0982.

On the other hand, you may have set your taste buds on finer things. The Adam Mickiewicz Library, 612 Fillmore Ave., is sponsoring a homemade Polish Sausage contest during its Dyngus Day celebration April 13. The sausages will be judged by a panel of celebrity judges.

Entry deadline is March 27. For information, call Andy Golebiowski at 851-4138 (days) or 896-5172 (evenings).

Culinary quote

"The word 'gourmet' has been run into the ground. Anybody's cousin who drinks wine with his meals, or who substitutes broccoli for potatoes, considers himself a gourmet. It's become a dreaded word in the American language."

-- Will Rogers