Sunday, February 9, 2014

Memento: We Love Chocolate!

Last night was the penultimate round of our current season of Memento - the cooking club Dan and I belong to.  David & Carolyn hosted this round with a theme appropriate to February: Chocolate!  The theme was in part decided or at least inspired by their kids, Logan and Zoe, who have been asking for a chocolate themed memento for years.

They started us off with trio of chocolate.  First, flatbread with a subtle but delicious white chocolate baba ganoush.  Next, a gluten free crostini with dark chocolate and fleur de sel - the first really intense taste of chocolate that gave my napkin a workout.  And last but not least, roasted carrots with chocolate balsamic vinegar dipping sauce (that now necessitates a trip to Pike Place Market to procure our own bottle.  

Next up, Lizzie and John delivered an silky smooth white chocolate parsnip soup with homemade dill oil and cocoa dusted macadamia nuts.  It was so good it may have converted some parsnip haters to fans.  It was one of my favorite items of the night. 

In honor of our sugar/alcohol/meat free January, Dan made a strawberry banana smoothie from homemade almond milk, chocolate/stevia egg white powder, libido enhancing maca powder, and chia seeds.  All served in a dark and white chocolate rimmed glass.

I paired that with an arugula and red butter lettuce salad with clementine and red grapefruit, homemade cocoa butter goat cheese, cocoa nibs (for crunch) and a homemade strawberry/white balsalmic "shrub" (sipping vinegar) & sunflower oil dressing.

Flying solo tonight due to a family medical situation, James served a creamy Brie cheese, chocolate and pear panini featuring local ingredients.  It was served with a little mâche greens and some crispy basil chips with Hawaiian sea salt I made last year and gave to he and Marcy.  It was a perfect serving size and the chocolate and Brie tasted so wonderful together, their creaminess balancing with the crunch of the pear and bread.

The second entree was the first to include meat, and it was done wonderfully.  Beef short ribs and Portabello mushrooms in a chocolate rosemary and tomato sauce.  Melt in your mouth goodness.  They were paired with horseradish mashed potatoes and sautéed carrots.

Finishing out our decadent chocolate meal was a white chocolate sphere hiding chocolate mousse and heart shaped Chez panisse Ginger snaps shaped like hearts, with poached pears.  I loved the cookies with the mousse - and scored a few extras.

As our final courses were enjoyed, snow was accumulating outside, so we wrapped up quickly to get people home safely.  Looking back, I see pears, balsalmic vinegar and root veggies (carrots, parsnips and potatoes) showing up repeatedly, weaving both adjacent and disparate courses together, sharing that responsibility with the chocolate, of course.  It made for an excellent night of food and friends.  And anything that could travel (sorry - no smoothie) was packed and sent home for Marcy to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

South St. Louis Deep Gooey Butter Cake

I recently mentioned a dish called South St. Louis Deep Gooey - our friend Ruth's specialty. I think the first time I got to try it was back in 2008, at our 'Heritage Potluck'. I've been hooked ever since, but never tried making my own. Although Ruth tried out the fancy version of the recipe during our Train Wreck Kitchen cookie party a couple weeks back, I really prefer the quicker incarnation. Ruth was out of town and having phone troubles, so I couldn't score the recipe - but tracked down a couple versions online, and merged them a bit - along with some advice from Ruth once I got a hold of her.

Part of our Christmas tradition with Dan's family is that everyone brings cookies and sweets to Christmas dinner, and we all get to try them after the gift exchange. Everyone is invariably stuffed, so most of the cookies get packed up and sent home. But those that did try the Deep Gooey seemed to really enjoy it (even though I forgot the dusting of powdered sugar on top). And I'm sure to be eating it for breakfast in the morning.

South St. Louis Deep Gooey
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 more eggs, beaten
1 16 oz box confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 300. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, melted butter and first 2 beaten eggs.

Stir to combine, until all the cake mix is moistened.

Spread mixture into the bottom of the baking dish in an even layer.

In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, vanilla and remaining 2 eggs until relatively smooth, starting on low and increasing to high.

Turn the mixer down to low and add the confectioners' sugar.

Beat until smooth (smoother than the picture below)

Pour over top of the cake mixture in the pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Cooking time varies, so keep an eye on the cake and remove it as soon as the top is golden brown.

Allow cake to cool completely. Dust with additional confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Memento: Southern

Tonight was Memento time again - our bi-monthly supper club potluck. This was the first time hosting the group for Linda & Nancy, at their beautiful home in West Seattle. Celebrating Linda's roots, the theme (revealed at the last Memento) was 'Southern', with two mandatory, classic Southern ingredients picked at random for each course.

Linda & Nancy started us off with their plate, celebrating Black Eyed Peas & Cheddar Cheese. They did so in the form of two deviled eggs and two fritters. The first egg was a smokey pimento cheese deviled egg with chorizo, and the second was a Sriracha deviled egg with pancetta. Alongside them on the plate were two black eyed pea fritters (Johnny cakes?) with porcetta. And of course there was a big punch bowl full of delicious Southern Comfort punch that Linda whipped up soon after Dan & I arrived. Everyone agreed that Linda's deviled eggs were the best they'd had.

Next up, Carolyn & David payed homage to Tomatoes & Cornmeal. Their inspiration came from comfort food - specifically their son Logan's favorite: tomato soup and grilled cheese. A delicious tomato bisque soup with a beautiful swirl of cream shared the plate with three cornbread cubes, one with a decadent topping of melted cheddar cheese - which makes me want to top every batch of cornbread I make in the future with cheddar cheese.

Another queue I'll be taking from this Memento is a square, rather than long rectangular table arrangement. It was wonderful to be able to talk with everyone around the table, and a peak under the tablecloth revealed it was simply two folding tables side-by-side. It also would increase tablespace for dishes for events like Thanksgiving.

Our third course was created by Lizzie to feature the seasonal flavors of Sweet Potato & Pumpkin. First was a green salad with red onion and goat cheese, using roasted sweet potatoes as a perfect replacement for croutons, and a little crunch courtesy of pumpkin seeds.

Alongside the green salad was a 4 oz mason jar filled with what's known in the South as a 'congealed' salad. Not the most appetizing name, but it's essentially a gelatin salad. This one was sweet potato, with a smoother texture courtesy of the sweet potato. It was topped with whipped cream and pecans. Despite the name, it turned out to be absolutely delicious, tasting like Thanksgiving.

Dan & I supplied the fourth course, inspired by Rice & Molasses. We stole a page from Marcy & James' playbook and merged Southern Italian food (specifically Sicily) with American Southern food, creating an Arancini di Riso.

Neither of us had heard of them before they became the dish du jour on the Halloween episode of Top Chef, and Dan quickly thought of using that as our rice component, then stuffing it with molasses baked beans.

Using Food Network's recipe as a jumping off point, we made and cooled a batch of simple risotto first, then combined it with parmesan and eggs and rolled it into balls. We pushed a little bit of red kidney beans (cooked with some vegetable stock and molasses) into the center and chilled them. Ultimately, they were rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried at 350 degrees F until golden brown.

Dan made a peach sauce with Sriracha (a happy accident that this ingredient popped up again) to top the arancini, which was very good. Spicy and sweet.

I also made an agar-agar aspic of collard greens & shiitake mushrooms with vegetable stock spiked with liquid smoke and soy sauce to take the place of pork products so commonly cooked with collards. I warmed it to 140 degrees F still in the silicon molds, submerged in our Sous Vide Supreme. Unlike gelatin, which melts when reheated, agar-agar never unsets. I unfortunately didn't get the collards completely encased, so my cubes fell apart a little, but I think still tasted good.

Dan also revived his cocktail from last year's Oscar's - a combination of ginger ale, bourbon, peach nectar, and campari.

Highlighting Peaches & Greens, Marcy & James served the penultimate course. An epic pork meatloaf topped with yummy peach chutney. It rested on a bed of collard greens. Although we repeated collards in our course (planned based on theirs), the two shared little in common. Where ours were cooked down, Marcy & James still had a crispness to them, and they didn't shy away from cooking them in some bacon.

Rounding things out, Anna & Jason put a Seattle-meets-the-South take on Buttermilk & Brown Sugar.

First came out cream and sugar, then cappuccino cups of Americano coffee. Although the South is more about tea than coffee (as Anna pointed out), going with an Americano seemed appropriately Southern, it it's own way. And Linda & Nancy had sweet tea on hand, of course.

Finally, they revealed mini bundt cakes of buttermilk pound cake filled with a cinnamon struesel - their wonderful Southern take on coffee cake - paired with roasted granny smith apples. The cake was designed to share, so everyone shuffled to sit next to their spouse, which proved very good timing.

Carolyn & David passed out the invitations to our next event, which they'll be hosting.

The invite for our February get-together, arrived in suitably Willy Wonka fashion, a la the golden ticket. The theme will simply be 'Chocolate' - which their kids ask for each time they're hosting. Dan & I should have a challenge, given we have the traditionally salad course.

The night also ended with a surprise gift for David, several months in the making. David loves skulls, doesn't drink, but adores those Crystal Skull vodka bottles. He has a small one, but Anna & Jason bought a big bottle and were gracious enough to drink it. They passed the bottle to me on Halloween, to let me get creative with it. I filled it with water and Glycerin(to make the water more viscous) and a few colors of Martha Stewart Glitterthen put it on a Multi-Color LED Light Base.