Saturday, February 20, 2010

Memento Meal - Secret Ingredient Edition

Thanks to the pesky holidays and full schedules, we haven't had a Memento Meal in ages - not since the one we hosted back in September!

For the uninitiated, or in case you need a refresher, Memento Meal is a potluck dinner concept our friend Jason Phillips came up with, inspired by the film Memento starring Guy Pierce, which is planned backwards but eaten forwards. Here are the basics:

  • Each person or couple is assigned one of 6 courses - Appetizer 1, Appetizer 2, Salad, Entree 1, Entree 2, or Dessert.
  • The person/couple assigned Dessert decides what they'll make, then lets ONLY the person/couple making Entree 2 know what they're making.
  • The Entree 2 folks then use the dessert course as inspiration for their course, and let ONLY the people making Entree 1 know.
  • This is repeated until Appetizer 2 tells Appetizer 1 what they're making. Appetizer 1 remains a secret to everyone except the folks making it, and the Dessert course team doesn't know what anyone else is making.
  • The night of the meal, each course is prepared in as much secrecy as is possible, and revealed when brought to the table.
Our first round was at Anna and Jason's place, and introduced us all to the idea. It wasn't planned to be anything more than a one time potluck, but the group of people they brought together all gelled really well, pushed themselves to create outstanding dishes, and collectively agreed we needed to do it again. Now each round the people responsible for each course shifts by 1, so the dessert folks become the entree 2 folks, and so on. Since that first dinner, each round has introduced a new challenge - beginning with Jacqui & Gerald challenging us all to make Asparagus the star of our dishes, Carolyn & David making the Farmer's Market our primary shopping center, and then Dan & I assigning everyone a color along with their course, and asking that each course focus on that color AND be tropical.

Our group consists of food bloggers, foodies and food professionals with wide ranging experiences, interests and specialties. Some of us love structured nouveau cuisine, while others prefer rustic presentation. Kristin invariably educates us about a new ingredient, Gerald often features his own smoked meats, and I love to play around with molecular gastronomy. Each round, we all push ourselves to create something unique that challenges our skills and palates, and each time I find myself learning new things from the dishes Dan & I create, and from those everyone else does. And drink pairings have become something of a norm, too - with people breaking out some amazing wines, creating custom cocktails, and even finding great non-alcoholic beverages that complement courses. It's a lot of fun - and has even inspired a second Memento group to form!

Tonight was our fifth round, with Marcy & James hosting - and they added a new twist. Each course had to contain one secret ingredient that wasn't disclosed to anyone, not even the preceding course. So Dessert had a secret ingredient that even Entree 2 didn't know about, and so on. During the meal, we all tried to ascertain the secret ingredient in each course. Here's how it all played out:

Our hosts started us off with a delicious onion soup with arugula and homemade croutons paired with Prosecco. After lots of guessing and some clues, we figured out the secret ingredient was veal - broth and meat.

Next up, Carolyn, David and their kids treated us to apricot 5 ways - an apricot nectar drink, chopped apricot and mango with cream cheese and bee pollen on a water cracker, halved apricot with lamb sausage and goat cheddar cheese, halved apricot with goat cheese, thyme, and candied walnut, and bruschetta with goat cheese, apricot and something else I'm forgetting.

The secret ingredient was goat cheese, featured in the 3 dishes Carolyn & David created (the kids created the others!)

For our salad course, Jacqui & Gerald cooked outside the box in a number of ways, creating a 'salad' of corn, pomegranate seeds, frenched beans, and spiced walnuts in a bowl made of bacon, paired with yam fries and paprika mayo. And their secret ingredient, revealed after lots of guessing and hinted at by the toothpick stuck in the fries? Costco. Their entire course was food sourced at Costco - even the bacon.

Dan & I presented the 1st entree - individual pot pies of lamb, morel mushrooms and root veggies. Though we executed it together, Dan came up with the entire plan, including our secret ingredient: Maraschino Cherries and their juice (recipe below).

The penultimate course was courtesy of Anna & Jason: Roast Duck breast with a balsamic-raspberry reduction over herbed spaetzel, with carrots and leeks, grapes and orange on the side. And for their secret ingredient they melted down the locally made "Confection of the Fairies" - applets and cotlets - to add sweetness to the sauce. When revealed, the entire table roared in laughter, thanks to a shared experience and joke.

Last but not least, Kristin rounded out the meal with a hazelnut butter and jelly bread pudding with pumpkin butter cream sauce that was dense, delicious, and addicting (I couldn't get enough). It was also rich with flavor, and one stood out enough that someone did guess the secret ingredient: cardamom.

Once again the magic of Memento shined through, with several commonalities emerging throughout the meal. Nuts appeared in 4 of 6 courses, with walnuts in 3 of those. Baby animals (veal & lamb) showed up in 3 courses. And 2 secret ingredients were candied fruit. And overarching all of that, the meal was hearty, warm, and rustic - perfect for a crisp February night and to match the style of our gracious hosts, Marcy & James.

Next up is our final round in this rotation - with Kristin in control of the theme. Can't wait for the challenge!

Lamb, Morel, Root Vegetable and Maraschino Pot Pie
2 cups cake flour
1 tspn salt
2/3 cup butter
6-7 Tbspn cold water
4 Tbspn oil
2 pounds lamb necks
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium white onion, diced
4 large peeled carrots, diced
1 large turnip, diced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
6 ribs celery, diced
2 tspn fresh chopped rosemary
2 tspn fresh chopped thyme
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red wine
1 cup maraschino cherry juice
6 cups beef broth
2 Tbspn balsamic vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tspn allspice
2 tspn curry powder
1 star anise
1 cup chopped morel mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Cut in butter until pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 Tbpsn over part of the mixture. Gently toss with a fork. Push to the side of the bowl. Repeat until all flour mixture is moistened and dough can form a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the dough with your hands and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut to size of tops of casserole dishes. Place between layers of parchment paper and refrigerate.

In a medium roast pot, add oil and cook the stewed lamb until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove meat. Add more oil and add celery, garlic and onions, and slowly cook until caramelized. Season with curry powder and salt and pepper. Once mixture is cooked (about 10 minutes) add carrots, turnips and potatoes and mix for about 2 minutes. Add all your meat back into pan. Add rosemary and thyme. Deglaze the meat with red wine and cherry juice, then add your stock and vinegar. Add allspice, star anise, cinnamon, mushrooms, cherries, cover, and cook for 45 minutes on low to medium flame. Remove from heat. Remove neck bones and discard.

Fill casserole dishes with meat mixture. Cover top of each with a pastry dough round. Bake in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes until golden brown.

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