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Cooking Club

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

Cooking Club: Asian-Fusion

consumed on 9/9/05

It was finally my rotation to host the Cooking Club and pick a theme. I kept vacillating between Asian and French—two of my favorite cuisines, until it hit me… why not do both? I know purists hate the term “fusion”, but how can blending the best qualities of two cuisines ever be a bad thing? For my theme I wanted to focus on French preparations with Asian flavors.

We started out the evening with R’s incredible and usual cucumber-ginger sake drinks. The most accurate word I can use to describe this bright and tasty drink is “refreshing”. Accompanying the drinks were light and savory crab tartlets with lemongrass, recipe courtesy of Ming Tsai.

For the main course I made my favorite fish recipe: Grilled Halibut with Cilantro-Lime Butter. The fish is marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil and then it’s sauced with a beurre blanc spiked with ginger and cilantro. Common sense tells me I should be proper and modest about my own cooking, but this fish was SOOO good. I would actually choose this fish over bacon. Seriously. It’s that good. Although, I can’t take all the credit—the halibut I bought from Mutual Fish was incredible and impeccably fresh. (I heart Mutual Fish in a big way.)

The sides dishes consisted of K’s Arugula Salad with Lemongrass Vinaigrette & Goat Cheese and M’s Crazy Coconut Noodle Toss. The noodles were a little crazy—and by crazy I mean rich. They were delicious but appeared to be soaked in coconut milk; I could only handle a few bites. The arugula salad was surprisingly flavorful considering the simplicity of the ingredients. I absolutely loved the sweet and lemony vinaigrette. It was a perfect paring with the peppery arugula and tangy goat cheese. I’m not even a goat cheese fan, but this recipe is definitely going into my collection.

For dessert, B brought a Ginger Cake with Cardamom Cream (another Ming Tsai recipe). First of all, I’d like to say that gingerbread should absolutely be a year-round food; why has it been relegated to just the holidays? This cake was fantastic—tender, rich and studded with chunks of candied ginger. The paired topping of cardamom whipped cream elevated it to heavenly status.

Check out the whole menu with recipes at Culinary Fool’s site: cns!1pYNGy2haD1h_titL1O7uNXQ!1206.entry

Monday, August 15th, 2005

Cooking Club: Tapas to Meze

consumed on 7/21/05

The latest Cooking Club was hosted by Culinary Fool and she chose the theme “Tapas to Meze”. She had recently purchased a book called From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the Mediterranean by Joanne Weir and thought it would be a fun theme—the idea being to leisurely graze over a meal consisting of small plates.

Normally we divide up the dinner so that someone does appetizers, someone brings salad, someone makes the main course, etc., but this time everyone was assigned a region from the Mediterranean. I was in charge of the Levant. I had also bought a copy of From Tapas to Meze, so I was leafing through my section when I came across a recipe titled “Baked Stuffed Eggplant to Make a Priest Faint”. How could I not make this dish?

Here’s what we ended up with:

Spain: Gazpacho
A pureed tomato soup with all the fixin’s: beautiful croutons, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, onions and peppers.

North Africa: Bisteeya
A typical Moroccan appetizer that consists of ground chicken (or more traditionally, pigeon) stuffed inside a pocket of phyllo dough and topped with powdered sugar. Very unusual and very tasty.

The Levant: Baked Stuffed Eggplant to Make a Priest Faint
My eggplant dish was stuffed with onions, tomatoes, currents and lots of “dessert” spices like allspice and cinnamon. My only complaint was that it seemed a touch undercooked and just a bit sweet (honey was called for, but I would omit this next time). Considering this was a completely vegetarian dish, it was pretty damn good.

Italy: Homemade Mozzarella with Basil and Tomatoes
The homemade mozzarella didn’t turn out quite how M wanted it to, but she planned ahead and had also bought some absolutely gorgeous goat cheese mozzarella from a farmers’ market. It was layered with perfectly ripe tomatoes and fresh, tender basil.

Southern France: Gnocchi with Roquefort Cream
This dish absolutely blew me away. Growing up Italian (or at least 1/4 Italian), we always made the Christmas gnocchi with potatoes. Apparently, in France, it’s made from milk, butter, flour and eggs—like a cream puff dough. The result was impossibly light and airy gnocchi, smothered in rich, salty and pungent Roquefort cream. I can’t wait to try this dish out on my mom!

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

Cooking Club: Greek!

The theme for this month’s cooking club meeting was Greek. I love Greek food, but for some reason I don’t eat or cook it very often, so I was really excited.

This month I was in charge of appetizers so I made cumin sticks and dolmas. The cumin sticks were great, but the dolmas were not so great. The dolma flavor was outstanding—they were packed with onions, pine nuts, currants, parsley, dill and mint, but the rice was WAY overcooked and mushy. The recipe I used called for an hour of cooking time, which seemed like a lot, and I guess it was. Ooops.

I also brought Ouzo to drink with the appetizers. Whenever I say “Ouzo”, people cringe and think it’s such a rot-gut drink, but it’s REALLY delicious on lots of ice with just a splash of water. I mean the Europeans drink Pernod and Pastis and this is basically the same thing.

After appetizers we got to eat LAMB. I’ve been craving lamb a lot lately and this one was delicious. It was a leg of lamb stuffed with copious amounts of garlic and herbs and grilled to perfection. I honestly couldn’t stop eating it. It was served with a lemony avgloemono sauce, creamy tzatziki and perfectly fried and puffed pita breads.

The accompanying Khoriátiki Saláta, was seriously the best Greek salad I’ve EVER eaten. It was packed with tomatoes, cucumber, onion, banana peppers, black olives, feta, capers and hard-boiled eggs. I don’t know exactly why it was so incredible, aside from the fact that it was made with love and fresh banana peppers from B’s garden. I have to plant some of those… they’re beautiful tasting peppers.

For dessert M made Fanouropita, which is a dense olive oil cake. It was almost like a bread… not too sweet, but topped with a light dusting of powdered sugar. I’m not sure if anyone else liked this, but I really went nuts for it. I want to make one, slice it, toast it and eat it for breakfast.

Friday, April 8th, 2005

Cooking Club: New Orleans

A while back, Culinary Fool asked me if I’d be interested in joining her cooking club. I’ve never belonged to a cooking group but the idea has always appealed to me, so I was excited about the opportunity.

The chosen theme was New Orleans and I was in charge of dessert. I had been dying for an excuse to make the bread pudding that my uncle made at Thanksgiving. The sauce has bourbon in it, so I figured that gave it some New Orleans flair.

The night started off with Ramos Gin Fizzes and Crawfish Profiteroles with Citrus Butter Sauce. The drink was very unusual, but also very good. It was frothy and thick, like whipped milk, but also light at the same time. The profiteroles were perfect—I hate it when profiteroles get stale and chewy, but these were tender and delicate. The crawfish filling and citrus sauce were pungent and wonderful.

Our first course was a “New Orleans-style Italian Salad”. It was an unusual salad with lots of crazy pickled ingredients, but it was good and oddly refreshing. The main course was Pan-Sautéed Catfish with Cajun Crawfish Butter and it blew me away. The catfish was perfectly cooked with a light, yet crisp crust and the crawfish butter was to die for. I could have eaten it like a soup, except that it was ridiculously rich. The accompanying side dishes were Dirty Rice and Maquechoux, which was a really great corn salad.

By the time we finished dinner, I was so full that I didn’t think I could eat anymore… but bread pudding called. I had made the bread puddings ahead of time in individual ramekins, so all I had to do was warm them in the oven and prepare the bourbon sauce. I really liked the puddings, but I think I added a bit too much bourbon—or I didn’t let the alcohol cook off enough.

It was a great evening and all the cooking club members were hilarious. They had some great stories and I can’t recall laughing that hard in recent memory. And I can’t wait for the next cooking club, which is going to be Greek themed!