Saturday, March 5, 2011

Memento Meal - Old School

Tonight's Memento Meal brought us back to the original premise - no theme, no gimmicks, just a great meal planned backwards. Okay, I suppose that's a gimmick... but it's the ORIGINAL gimmick.

Our hosts, Carolyn & David, kicked things off with a subtle and elegant Potato Leek Soup, topped with Creme Fraiche, Bacon and Parsley. It was flavorful and had a wonderful creamy mouthfeel, despite having a chicken stock (not cream) base.

The trio of toppings payed homage to our next dish...

Created by this month's guests, Lizzie and Jay, it was a sophisticated appetizer titled "Proscuitto filled with Happiness" - with happiness in this case being provided by pine nuts, goat cheese and arugula. The goat cheese and proscuitto were the stars, with pine nuts providing a little crunch and arugula lending a little spice.

Both the goat cheese and arugula mirrored the next dish...

Marcy & James followed with the salad course, inspired by a salad they enjoyed while in NYC. Mixing arugula, endive and other greens, tossed with shallots and a delicious vinegar dressing, the salad provided a beautiful base for amazing fritters of panko breaded goat cheese that Marcy and James fried a la minute. As my fork broke into the little pillows of cheese, it's melted goodness became a second dressing for the salad, balancing the bite of the vinegar and spice of the greens.

And that fritter was a hint at what was to come next...

Beginning a second act of sorts (as noted by Memento founder, Jason), the first entree was created by Dan & I. Titled "Bombay Bar Crawl", the plates featured a generous heap of homemade curry mustard, with a homemade Indian duck sausage corn dog nestled into it. This was our first time making sausage from scratch, and although we had a few minor struggles, they turned out great. We seasoned the meat with garlic, ginger, salt and fresh garam masala (made by toasting cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, cumin seed, corainder, grated nutmeg, and black peppercorns). Unfortunately, the mustard flavor in the mustard masked all the curry powder I included - something I worried about and then forgot to check - but that didn't stop the corn dogs from being a hit. I made sure to save an extra jar of the mustard for our group's resident condiment expert - Marcy (aka Condiment Girl).

The spices used in our dish, the protein, as well as the bar food nature of it, were all inspired by the next dish...

Our inspiration came from the second entree, concocted by Anna & Jason: Middle Eastern Lamb Sliders with mini gerkins and homemade fingerling potato chips (in purple and yellow). The sliders featured a delicious aioli, lettuce and tomato, and sat atop homemade brioche buns. My favorite dish of the night, it was also clearly the main dish - providing the most bulk (in a very good way). Their dish also featured a unique technique for making potato chips that I'm eager to try out. The fingerling potatoes were sliced paper thin, brushed with olive oil, placed on a plate and microwaved. They turned out perfectly crispy, perfectly browned, and perfectly flat (which gives this technique a leg up over deep frying in terms of presentation possibilities, in my mind).

The simple, classic nature of their burger and chips transitioned perfectly to the final dish...

As a tribute to his father (who passed away on this date), Gerald & Diana's dessert course finished the meal with beautifully executed comfort, and plenty of booze. Our plate featured two homemade cookies of chocolate chips, cocao nibs and hazelnuts, perched next to homemade vanilla bean ice cream, and a dish of homemade chocolate syrup. But before we dug in, we raised our pint glasses of Guinness, dropped in a shot of Bailey's and Jameson, and chugged our Irish Immigrant Car Bombs in honor of the late Mr. Sexton.

Bringing Memento back to it's roots was a great experience, and something I expect others will repeat in the future. It reminded us all of how well the premise - planning a meal backwards - can create a unique story with food, with each course introducing the next in it's own way. Sometimes we aim to create balance with the next dish (as in the subtle soup setting the stage for the bold proscuitto & goat cheese). Sometimes it's the repetition of a technique (such as the fritters and the corn dogs). Sometimes it's flavors (like the Indian and Middle Eastern spices). And sometimes it's echoing a concept, like elevated comfort foods. Tonight's unique story took us from a simple and elegant soup to a bold, down-home dessert - with twists and turns along the way, and around the globe.

And around the globe will be taking center stage in the next round of Memento. Marcy & James gave us a preview of what they have in store - a night honoring the ancestry of their daughter Penelope. With bloodlines from Germany, Ireland, Italy, French Canada, Luxumburg and Spain, they will be assigning each of us a different country to represent in our course. Taking one for the team, they'll be doing Luxumburg themselves. Dan & I have the salad course, and have our fingers crossed for Italy or Spain... and not Ireland, where I recall salad wasn't exactly exciting.

Homemade Mustard
3 Tbspn yellow mustard seeds
2 1/2 Tbspn brown mustard seeds
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced (about 2 Tbspn)
3/4 tspn salt
Additional spices to taste

In a non-reactive bowl, combine all ingredients and refrigerate overnight, covered. Transfer the mixture to a blender and process until mustard has obtained the desired texture and thickness. It will be very thin at first, then thicken as the mustard seeds become ground and the mustard begins to emulsify.

(Based on Emerille Lagasse's recipe on

Homemade Indian Duck Sausage
2 lbs duck meat, boned and trimmed of skin
1 lb pork shoulder
1 lb pork backfat
2 cloves garlic
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
2 Tbpsn kosher salt
4 Tbspn Garam Masala (recipe follows)

Cut the duck, pork and backfat into pieces your grinder will be able to handle. Add garlic, ginger, salt and Garam Masala to meat and cover. Refrigerate overnight. Grind meat/fat mixture together on course setting. Hand mix the ground meat to ensure consistency. Take a small sample and pan fry to taste for seasoning, adjusting accordingly. Stuff meat into casings, tie and store.

(Adapted from this recipe, courtesy Beerotter)

Garam Masala
1 large cinnamon stick, coursely chopped
1 Tbspn whole cumin seeds
2 Tbspn coriander seeds
1 tspn cardamom pods
1/2 tspn whole cloves
1 tspn fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 Tbspn black peppercorn

Roast each spice individually in a cast iron or heavy metal pan on the stop top, until you smell the aroma of the spice. They should each take about a minute each in a hot pan, but the nutmeg will roast very briefly and the peppercorn should be roasted last and quickly. Cool the spices and gride coursely (for use in sausage) or finely for use in traditional recipes.

(From Blue Ribbon Cooking School's Introduction to Indian Cooking)

Microwave Potato Chips
(From Jason) Slice potatoes very thin. Coat them lightly in olive oil. Since I was doing so many, I poured plenty of oil in a wide flat serving dish and got a bunch of them coated all at once. Place them on a plate but don't let them touch unless you want them to bond together in crunchy goodness. I microwaved them on high for 3 minutes, turning them over half way through. You may have to experiment with the time and turning and plate. One plate fried them much faster than another.

I tossed them in a little bit of salt and pepper, but you could do anything you wanted. Did someone mention truffle oil?

Happy chipping!

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