Archive | dinner clubs RSS feed for this section

gourmet dinner club: mexican

31 Mar

It’s funny to me that we’ve had so many gatherings of the Gourmet Dinner Club and this our first Mexican theme. We were definitely due to tackle the very popular Mexican cuisine. Rick Bayless – watch out! Lee, our host, did a great job of creating a Mexican evening that we all enjoyed. This time around, we let everyone know what we were bringing so that we knew all bases were covered. And boy were they covered.

This particular evening happened to fall during vegan lent and since I’m trying to do this right, this night was not an exception. So, even though I didn’t sample every dish (so hard!), I am doing a thorough write-up and made sure to get everyone’s thoughts.

The appetizers

Liza’s mom was our special guest for the evening and she brought one of my all-time favorite foods, securing her on my favorite people list forever, guacamole.

We won’t talk about how much of that bowl I ate. it was fantastic. Did you know that you should leave the avocado pit in the guacamole because it keeps it from browning? I always learn something new at the GDC.

Also on the appetizer table were sopes – made by Kari.

Aren’t they beautiful? They got rave reviews too. Some had shrimp on top and others had a black bean mixture along with Mexican cheese of course.

Lee had quite the array of beverages to help us wash down the guac and sopes, inlcuding Mexican Beer,water, juice and a  Mexican sangria that was super tasty. She served them in very small glasses which made it completely acceptable to have three.

After we were finished with our apps and I was finished telling my story about cooking at the Corner Table, it was time to move to the table.

The Main Meal

First up – vegan tortilla soup! Amanda is such a sweetheart and found a vegan version of this Mexican favorite. I found it to be super tasty and I didn’t miss the chicken at all.

I never knew that tortilla soup had pureed tortillas IN the soup. Is this a well known fact that I just was not privy to? The crunchy strips on top were my favorite part.

Mike, who always wins for presentation, had another home run with his Mexican Rice topped with edible flowers. He created his own recipe because he’s cool like that and it included  garlic, cumin, chili powder, mint (common in the Oaxaca region), tomatoes, stock and a good grating of cotjia cheese. What’s not to like?

I took the vegan route of course and made potato and kale enchiladas from Veganomicon. They were a bit time consuming to make, as I need to roast peppers, make two different sauces, cook the potato and kale and then assemble. I’m pretty sure I dirtied every dish in my house. It looked like a bomb went off. I served them with extra sauce, cilantro “cream” (tofu), and pumpkin seeds. I would definitely make them again, but on a weekend. They keep well and I think they would freeze well too.

Here’s a look at it all put together. You can also see the black beans that Lee was kind enough to make for me. Thanks Lee!

For the main course, Lee tackled Rick Bayless’s carne asada. It looked delicious.I had some of the sauce on my beans and it was tangy and sweet. Why was it sweet? Because it had prunes in it! Fun, right?


I love sweets so this was the hardest thing for me not to eat. Liza made tres leches cake using this recipe. There were lots of moans and groans of happiness around the table as people ate. It was an absolute hit. I think Mike tried to actually steal the leftovers at some point. Amanda who doesn’t normally like tres leches was smitten. I think she’s a convert.

No one ever leaves the GDC hungry and this evening was no exception. Despite not being able to eat many of the dishes, I was still stuffed when I left. I blame the guacamole.

As we were prepping dessert, Amanda and Mike were trying to figure out if they are related. I think the mystery is not yet solved, but how cool would that be? I can see the headline: Gourmet Dinner Club brings together long lost cousins.

It was another great evening of the GDC.

Do you have a favorite Mexican Recipe? Are there any above you’d like more detail on?

I’m not a Confident Cook

24 Mar

This post is written by Featured Contributor, Amanda.

People who know me would say that I’m a very motivated and positive person. But when it comes to cooking, I’m not a confident cook. Nevertheless, I’m determined not to let that stop me.

I’m not sure when I came to actually enjoy cooking. I can honestly tell you that I probably cooked an actual dish for the first time my senior year in college and I don’t think it was anything to brag about. Some sort of casserole or box mix for sure. Then came the Peace Corps where I only had a small kerosene stove, soybean oil, and a limited number of pots and utensils. Nevertheless, that was the first time in my life where I was totally on my own as far as food went. Luckily the wonderful family downstairs invited me into their home and subsequently their family and fed me dinner quite often during the week. I could only repay them by helping to prepare the food and by purchasing exciting new fruits and vegetables from the market. I also taught my Appa (sister) to make spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (whenever I could afford the imported cheese), no-bake cookies, and even popcorn. It’s true; they had never seen corn pop from the kernel. They thought I was a magician!

Upon returning to the U.S., I took it upon myself to continue this whole “cooking” thing that I had started in Bangladesh. A 4-burner stovetop, oven, and a sink with a faucet of drinkable water seemed like a dream come true.

Fast forward to 2007 when Jen asked me to join the GDC (Gourmet Dinner Club). I’m not sure what made her think I was worthy to join these ranks, but I accepted the offer. I spilled red pepper all over my black dress at the first dinner, broke down emotionally over German Chocolate Cake, and even threw in the towel on the French challenge and picked up a platter from “Pardon my French” instead of cooking anything. The GDC also serves as a source of new vocabulary for me as I just learned a new term this past weekend: charcuterie.

I try to turn my less-than-confident cooking nature into a “quirky” bit and I just cross my fingers that others find it somewhat cute and endearing. Unfortunately, I think people are starting to catch on. Perhaps my numerous questions are the give away.  I’m just not a confident cook. Here are some examples of real questions I have asked my more culinarily (I made this word up) endowed friends and relatives:

-What’s the difference between regular and quick oats? And which ones work in no-bake cookies?

-Why are red lentils called “red lentils” when they are in fact orange?

-Can I defrost something without pushing the defrost button on the microwave?

-How long do I have after a piece of chicken has defrosted before I have to throw it away?

-Can I freeze jalapeños?

-How do people typically cook poultry in order to then add it to soup or a baked dish?

-Why is unsweetened coconut so damn hard to find in your basic grocery store?

There have been many more embarrassing questions, but I’ve succeeded in blocking them from my memory…until I need the answer again.

I can proudly say that I’ve come a long way. I know there are many more mistakes on the horizon, but with each mistake comes a new realization and of course the successes keep increasing. Watch out “Cook’s Illustrated,” cover model here I come!

Do you have ever have cooking questions that you feel like everyone else already knows the answers to? Are there certain meals or dishes that have intimidated you?

Meal Swapping

10 Mar

Note: This post is by Featured Contributor, Liza.

So a few months ago there was an article in the Star Tribune about meal swapping here.

My good friend Heather Clark emailed me and said we should get a group together to do this.

I thought it was a great idea but had numerous questions.  My family tries to eat consciously.  We shop at the coop, we buy organic produce and dairy when possible, and most importantly my son has a peanut allergy.  Would I be a diva to ask the group to respect some of my food priorities?  Heather came up with the great idea of surveying everyone interested to see if our priorities aligned and they did!

There are seven of us in the group, most of us have small children or travel a lot for work which means having several meals ready to thaw in the freezer is awesome.  Basically we cook one dish for six people and get six meals in return.

We met for the first time in November to discuss how we should structure the group, how often we should meet, discussing menu ideas, spice tolerances, etc.  We settled on meeting every other month and agreed that about three weeks before a swap we would email our meal suggestion to the group so we would make sure we didn’t have seven pasta dishes or too many repeats.  I had suggested that we all purchase the same dishes to prepare our meals in so we wouldn’t have to keep track of whose containers were whose.

We agreed to meet in December and would be swapping soup and ½ dozen Christmas cookies.  Due to a snowstorm (shocker this winter right?) we were unable to meet but ended up dividing and conquering our deliveries and the goods received were great!

In February, on Super Bowl Sunday, we met again (well in advance of the game).  This time the menu included; Indian Curry, Empanadas, Egg Bake, Squash and Sage Ravioli, Meatballs, Stuffed Shells and Chicken Pesto Calzones.

So far it has been wildly successful!  We are all loving trying different dishes and having ready to thaw meals at our fingertips.  As we move into warmer months we have talked about having one person make something that is fresh and ready to eat like a pasta or tuna salad that we can consume right away just to add some variety.

So do any of you swap?  What are your favorite meals to make ahead and freeze?

I promise next time we meet as a group to snap a picture so you can see all of these lovely ladies.

gourmet dinner club: southern style

13 Feb

I have a confession. When Liza announced the that the theme for our next Gourmet Dinner Club was “the south”, I got a bit nervous. The few times I’ve been south, I haven’t had the best food (aside from the ribs at Rendezvous, of course) and when I think of southern food, I think of grease, pools of butter and all things fried. Not that any of these are bad, but just not my typical fare.

Well let me just say, after eating like we did at this dinner party, I’m a southern convert!

We had such a great meal and so much fun in the process.

One of the  points of the GDC is to try things you haven’t tried before and to venture out of your comfort zone. That is precisly why I chose to make hush puppies. I knew it would involve deep frying. This is something I’ve never actually done desipte the fact that we received a deep fryer as a wedding gift 8 years ago. I finally cracked open the box and gave it a go.

My nemisis

After enjoying a glass of the Souther Comfort Punch, I was ready to face it. (Note: Sweet Tea was also available)

I followed Paula Deen’s recipe (I consider her an authority on southern fare). The batter was a cinch to throw together.  And really, once I pulled up my big girl pants, the frying part was easy too.

I sprinkled them with salt right after they came out of the fryer (Liza’s suggestion) and they were quite tasty. I’ve never actually had a hush puppy before, but according to the experts in the room, these were spot on. Yay!

Our special guest, Liza’s neighbor Stephanie, brought another Paula Deen creation – similar to a hush puppy, but called Spicy Corn and Crab Puffs. These were also deep fried and I must say…awesome.  I loved the chunks of crab and veggies and they had the perfect amount of spice for my taste.

Also on the appetizer front, we had two different crab cakes. Because there can never be enough crab cakes.

Kari made hers following this recipe and served them with an avocado and yogurt dip. Lee used a recipe from guess who? Yep, Paula Deen. Apparently she has a reputation. Both were good, yet very different. I love all things crab.

Enjoying the pre-dinner appetizers.


After all of that, we weren’t even to the actual dinner!

Liza went all out for the main course. Pulled pork is one of my all-time favorties and this version was fantastic.

Liza’s husband, Rob, is also a fantastic cook and happens to be a pro pork shredder.

I also realized how much I like the Memphis style. That means you put coleslaw on top of your pork.  There is just something about the combination of the crunchy coleslaw and tender pork that creates the most amazing sandwich. She followed this recipe for the pork and this recipe for the slaw. Both were seriously awesome. (Liza did note that the recipe did not make nearly enough sauce as it claims.)


Amanda and Becky (our special out of town guest) made collard greens. When I think of collard greens, I think copious amounts of pork fat and cooked to death greens. These were just the opposite. Fresh and delicious and instead of pork? Raisins! I loved the combo of raisins and greens. They used this recipe.

Lee also brought succotash. That word just screams the south, doesn’t it? This dish had bacon. Mmm…bacon.

After all of that, we were all stuffed. However, we still had 3 desserts. Yes, 3!

Amanda and Becky were busy bees and also put together this Mississippi Mud Pie. Holy chocolatey and rich!

Michael also made a pie. A Buttermilk pie. This buttermilk pie using this pie crust recipe. Did  I mention he added fresh whipped cream spiked with Grand Marnier on top? He did. Then he added candied orange peels. Mike claims he’s not a baker. He lies. He’s an awesome baker. The buttermilk pie reminded me a lot of a ricotta cheesecake. It was awesome. Not to sweet and super creamy.

Mike also decided to whip up these Pecan Pralines. I think because he was worried we wouldn’t hit our caloric needs for the day. Or maybe just because it was the south, and they eat pralines there.

Can you believe all of that? It was such a fun and delicious evening. I am always amazed at the dinners this group is able to pull off.

Do you like Southern Food? What’s your favorite?

red potato and goat cheese napoleons

8 Feb

Apparently there is a romantic holiday around the corner. Have you heard? Have you bought your conversation hearts? I used to eat so many of the sweet tart hearts that my mouth would go raw. Thankfully, I’ve moved past that.

I’ve seen a lot of articles and food sites promoting romantic and special meals that you can make for this holiday. Many of them include steak or a special cut of meat. I do love a good steak (grass-fed, of course) and it is definitely something I reserve for a special occasion. And although I think Valentine’s Day is a bit silly, I love an excuse to make a fancy or special meal.  With that said, this recipe would fit the bill to be part of said fancy meal. It tastes fantastic and it looks pretty cool as well.

When we made these napoleons for our Meal of the Month crew last weekend, I kept thinking, “Man, these would go really well with a juicy steak.” And they would. The potato and goat cheese combination is a keeper. These just melt in your mouth. The dressing is no joke either. It adds a tang that wakes you up and makes you want to have another bite. We had plenty of leftover dressing which I used for salad dressing and it was delicious.

I cannot take credit for making these. Or for finding the recipe, for that matter. Brette wanted to make something for the dinner party and he went to his favorite chef and man crush, Bobby Flay. This recipe is in his “Grill It” cookbook. This book has yet to fail us. We’ve (and really I mean Brette) have made many winners from this grilling guide. This one will for sure be enjoyed again.

Red Potato and Goat Cheese Napoleons with Balsamic-Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 4

Adapted from Bobby Flay

Note: We made a few adjustments based on our experience. Most notably, the quantity of goat cheese and the cooking time on the potatoes.

You’ll need:

  • 4 large red potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup  olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese
  • Basil leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, optional (it does give it a nice fresh look)

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the potatoes in a pot of salted cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are almost done; tender, but still a little firm, about 20 minutes. Drain and let cool until you can handle them. Cut each potato into 1/2 inch thick slices.

While the potatoes do their thing, combine vinegar, garlic, mustard, basil and 1/2 cup of oil in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat grill or grill pan to high. Brush potato slices on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Grill with the lid on until light golden brown and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer potatoes to a flat surface. Make stacks with the following layers: potato, 1 teaspoon goat cheese, potato, 1 teaspoon goat cheese, ending with potato.

This next step we did in the oven because we brought them to a different house for serving. We placed the napoleons on a baking sheet and heated them in the oven for about 3 minutes, until the cheese melts. You can also do this on the grill or in a grill pan. Here’s how: Line the grill with foil and grill the stacks, covered, about 1 minute or until cheese starts to melt. When the cheese is almost melted, slide the stacks from the foil to the grate of the grill just to crisp the bottom, about 1 to 2 minutes more.

Drizzle the basil vinaigrette on and around the potatoes and top each Napoleon with some of the basis leaves and chives, if using.

Again, I think they would go lovely with a steak, but you could incorporate them into almost any meal where you are looking for a potato dish.

Are you making anything special for Valentine’s Day? Are you going out? Or is it just like any other night?

dinner – brought to you by the color red

1 Feb

So, I know I highlight my Gourmet Dinner Club pretty regularly. However, I’ve been neglecting to post about my other dinner club: meal of the month.

This group is made up of 4 of my college buddies (including Brette) and their wives, who are now close friends of mine too. We started this group so we always had a reason to get together….at least once a month or so. It has definitely worked! We also all love to eat good food. We’ve been doing this for at least 5 (ish) years. I can’t remember when we actually started. (Friends, can you help me out?) We are a pretty flexible group and it’s common for the host to invite additional guests. We’ve done all sorts of themes – the host gets to choose. During 2010, we did an Iron Chef theme where each month there was a secret ingredient and you couldn’t tell anyone what you were bringing. That was super fun. I always enjoyed it when more than one dessert showed up. There was the time, when we didn’t have ANY desserts. The horror! We all piled into a mini-van and went to Izzy’s. We’re problem solvers like that.

This past weekend, we were hosted at our pal’s Mark and Cat’s (along with their adorable children, Jack and Sophia). The theme was “Red” as a tribute to Jack’s favorite color. It also happens to be my favorite color. Bonus!

There were lots of creative “red” items on the menu.

BK and Carin made a roasted red pepper bruschetta – some with goat cheese and some with blue cheese – and it was drizzled with a basil olive oil. YUM!

I had pomegranate on the brain so a I made a new spin on a guacamole that included mango and pomegranate seeds. (I used this recipe) I served it with red jalapeno chips and regular corn tortilla chips. I liked it but thought it could use a little salt.

Brette made my favorite dish of the night (though they were all good). I’ll be doing a full post on this later this week, because you must make these. He followed a Bobby Flay recipe for Grilled Red Potato Napoleons. They were delightful. My mouth is watering a bit right now thinking about them.

And our hosts made a classic ‘red’ dish: Red Beans and Rice! I’ve never had red beans and rice before so I was so excited that they made it. They followed a this recipe from the Neely’s. I love rice and bean combos. Such a perfect meal.

Brette sported red for the evening (as did I).

Notice anything different about him?

Dessert consisted of Cherry Dilly Bars and a creamy strawberry pie. Can you believe it was my first Dilly Bar? I was always a cone gal. Dipped in sprinkles of course.

I think having a color for a theme is a great idea. You can get very creative with your food. Plus, it’s easy to decorate and you can coordinate your wardrobe!  We had a lovely evening and it a great reason to get caught up with friends I don’t see nearly as much as I’d like.

Gourmet Dinner Club is coming up next weekend so more fun will be had.

Have you had any great themed dinner parties lately? Do tell!

gourmet dinner club: dark and light

20 Dec

Our latest Gourmet Dinner Club was hosted by Michael, the newest member of the group. I knew he was a keeper from the beginning but he really out did himself as the host. The theme was dark and light in honor of the solstice.  When we arrived at his house the entire outside was dark except for these beautiful ice luminaries….that he made! I didn’t get a good photo of the ones outside, but guess what? There was one inside too!


I have never seen such a gorgeous centerpiece.


Michael is the new Martha. I mean really. He gave her a serious run for her money (insert prison joke here). The whole house was decorated beautifully for the holidays and he succeeded at creating a very special evening. In addition, the company was fantastic.


Shall we talk about the food? Talking about food is one of the things I love about this club. I can talk about it all night and not bore anyone (at least I don’t think I do). It’s so nice to have other food-obsessed folks in my life.

We started the evening with an appetizer by Lee inspired by her research on the Nordic solstice. The woman did her homework and I’d say she aced the test.


What you see here is a platter of goodness; smoked trout, pickled onions, herbed creme fraiche, olives, pita crackers, and homemade rye crackers. I think I ate my weight in rye crackers – they were so tasty. I also LOVED the pickled onions. I love most anything pickled. Including herring. When I brought that up everyone else gagged. Am I the only one who loves pickled herring? My dad always serves it when he and my mom entertain and growing up,  I always managed to snag a few with some townhouse crackers before being kicked out of the “adult evening”. My favorite salad bar always has them  – which is one of the reasons they are my favorite salad bar.

Enough about herring, back to the winter solstice evening.

For the main course, Michael made a roasted capon. I had heard of capon before but didn’t actually know what it was – other than some sort of poultry. It turns out it is a castrated rooster. Nice, right?  It’s a surgical procedure because their “stuff” is actually internal. Roosters that have this done tend to have more body fat and it is thought that the capon is more tender and juicy that a regular chicken. We found that thought to be correct. This was one of the juiciest birds I have eaten and it was full of flavor.


Michael followed this recipe for the lovely bird. The red and white onions really showcased the ‘dark and light’ theme along with the options of dark and light meat. :)


The man and his capon.

He was kind enough to send me home with the carcass which produced almost 3 quarts of stock. What a gift!

I was in charge of a vegetable. I decided to make a roasted vegetable gallette inspired by Eating for England’s recipe. My thought was to have dark roasted vegetables topped with a white goat cheese. It didn’t go exactly like I planned….starting with the crust.


Where is the rest of it?


It didn’t really come together well. I was so nervous that I had a major flop on my hands. A flop at the GDC? Gasp!


It was not a major flop. I did like the way it looked and it had the proper dark and light aspects.  The crust that I struggled with and cursed at was my favorite part. It was flecked with kalamata olives and a wonderful chewiness. I would definitely make the crust again – but need to work at my rolling skills! The filling was a different story. I strayed from the suggestions in the recipe based on the colors I was looking for and what spoke to me at the grocery store (squash, beets, eggplant and turnips). I should have ignored those voices. It just didn’t taste like I had hoped. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t awesome. Next time, I think I’ll follow the recipe a bit closer.

Time for dessert. Not just one, but two! Obviously we all need more desserts during the holidays.

Kari made a lime curd tart (light) with blackberries and blueberries (dark). I am a huge fan of any curd and this one did not dissapoint me.


You would like a close-up? Okay.

Then there was Liza’s chocolate souffle. This was her first time making a souffle and she was nervous. I don’t blame her – I’ve heard crazy stories about souffles.

Hoping and praying it’s doing its thing.

Not surprisingly, it turned out great.  The official name of the dish was a Dark Chocolate Orange Souffle with White Chocolate Chunk Whipped Cream (highlighting the dark and light theme) and I would highly suggest making it ASAP. If not for the souffle, for the White Chocolate Chunk Whipped Cream that goes with it. The table was swooning over this cream. I was sneaking it into my espresso. The chunks of white chocolate were hidden treasures in the boozy cream. I think I was drunk with happiness.

This would make a wonderful dessert for Christmas Eve or Valentines Day or for any special occasion where you’d like to impress someone.

Another successful adventure for the Gourmet Dinner Club. It is such a pleasure getting together with these folks. I’m already excited for the next gathering!

Have you been entertaining or being entertained this holiday season?


gourmet dinner club: brunch

19 Nov

I had the privilege of hosting the most recent gathering of the Gourmet Dinner Club. I have been wanting to do a brunch theme for quite some time so as soon as I realized it was my turn, brunch was announced! It turned out to be a perfect day for brunch. This is what it was like outside….

Weather like this screams to me to curl up with comforting food and good coffee. So we did.

Whomever is hosting can decide how they want to distribute the work and if there are any rules. I decided that this time around I would assign courses by picking names out of a hat. In addition to the main course that I would provide, my clubmates would bring the following courses: beverage (with nutrients and without), fruit, vegetable, meat and pastry. This was not a ‘light’ brunch.

Again this group amazes me. I love how we all take the theme and go all out with our dishes. This was one fantastic brunch!

My main course was inspired by a dish our friends, BK and Carin, made for a dinner party that had a corn theme (can you tell I love themed dinner parties?).

I made a savory corn waffle topped with a poached egg and chiptole hollandaise.

Going into it, I was not worried about the waffle or the egg. I got the waffle recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and since Deborah Madison is pretty full proof, I knew it would be spot on. The poached eggs were another no-brainer for me. They are my egg of choice and I’ve been poaching eggs since I could boil water.

The hollandaise on the other hand….well, that’s a different story. See, I’ve been convinced my whole life that I don’t like hollandaise but when it comes down to it, I’ve really never tried it. So, not only was I not sure what it was supposed to taste like, after reading various recips, the process of making it was daunting. I found some blender recipes, but it felt like cheating. With the GDC, the point is not short-cuts. It’s really quite the opposite. I decided if I was going to make a true hollandaise, I would let a French Master chef lead the way.

That’s right. I turned to Julia. The instructions were complete and it didn’t seem all that difficult. I just felt there was so much that could go wrong! The basic premise of a hollandaise is to whisk some egg yolks until light and creamy and then you slowly add in melted butter  (a lot of it) while whisking like a mad woman and all the time monitoring the heat. You also add lemon juice, salt and in my case, chipotle puree, but the key is the egg and the butter…and the heat. There was a lot of whisking that took place. In fact, to keep it in a nice thick form, you pretty much couldn’t stop whisking until you were ready to serve. Thank god for Liza who took over babying my sauce while I tended to my other components. She was a great whisker!

The result?

The waffle was tasty. It had chunks of corn kernels which I loved. The poached egg was perfect and runny. In my opinion, you could put a runny egg on anything and it would taste great. And the hollandaise? Well, those that like hollandaise and know what it should taste like, said it was great and I’ll take their word for it. I thought it was good, but I did decide that hollandaise just isn’t my thing. I’ll just stick with the egg.

Onto the other courses.


Lee was in charge of the beverages and unfortunately she couldn’t be there. However, she made sure her drinks were!

The one (or two) that I had was amazing. It was a ginger syrup/sparkling apple cider/proseco mix with a piece of crystallized ginger fizzing at the bottom. Holy hannah was it tasty. There was also a traditional mimosa and a non-alcoholic pomegranate/orange/cider number that also looked good, but to be fair, I was pretty focused on my ginger drink.


Liza debated a long time over which pastry to make and I’m so happy that she decided on cheese danish. It was so good! The recipe was from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and it was quite a time commitment….a 4-day time commitment to be exact. It also involved a lot of butter. Between her danish and my hollandaise, butter became it’s own food group.

Back to the danish. They were beautiful and so tasty. You could see the layers of pastry and I personally thought they were prettier than the photo in book. Way to go Liza!


Amanda was in charge of this course and not only was it appropriate for brunch, it was also seasonal! She made made stuffed acorn squash. What was it stuffed with? A mix of root vegetables spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg (?). It had sweetness from the squash and great warmth from the spices. I may have gnawed on the skin to get all the bits and pieces.


When I assigned the meat course, I of course was thinking of something in the pork family. I mean, who doesn’t like a good piece of bacon or sausage? Kari put her own interruptation on it and went down the “meat is protein and so is seafood” path. She opted for marinated seared scallops and shrimp. Those were tasty enough on their own, but the presentation made them even more amazing. Look at this platter she made for the background.

The red leaves are banana flowers and the green stalks are lemongrass. Isn’t it gorgeous?  And then there were these beauties…

The shrimp and scallops were delicious and the presentation made them even better.


So this was Michael’s second GDC. He made a huge splash at his first one with his tomato tarte tatin. The bar had been set high. Wouldn’t you know, he leaped over the bar?

This is a Prosecco and fruit terrine that he adapted from this recipe. To me, it was an updated and very swanky jello mold.  I have never been successful with gelatin of any kind (remember this?), so I was so impressed with this. It might give me the courage to try again. The prosecco gelatin was amazing and the layers of beautiful fruit tasted like they had been freshly picked. Check out these layers!

It was a great ending for the meal and I figure all that fruit will balance out all the butter. :)

I loved our brunch theme and was so impressed with what everyone came up with. It all managed to work well together and as usual, no one left hungry.

This group is pretty amazing and I’m so grateful that I have friends who can also spend hours talking about food. Thanks guys!

Do you have any favorite brunch dishes?

One year ago: cookbook discussion on reference books

Other Gourmet Dinner Club Recaps:



Chinese New Year

Pizza on the Farm

gourmet dinner club: amuse-bouche

24 Sep

Amuse what?

The theme for the latest gathering of my Gourmet Dinner Club was amuse-bouche. An amuse is a one-bite appetizer. That’s right. Just one bite. Every flavor must come through in that one bite.

This was a stressful one for me. I really wanted to come up with something on my own and not go with a recipe. I mean, it’s just one bite, right? Yep, just one bite. That’s the stressful part.

What we ended up with were lots of fabulous one bites. This group amazes me every time we get together. The food (and wine) is always wonderful, different and so much fun! My friend Kari was hosting and we got to enjoy her gorgeous backyard space.

I thought long and hard about what to make – running gives you lots of time to think about important things likes this. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the current Minnesota produce and create my one bite out of things I could source from the farmer’s market. I finally came up with an idea based on one of my favorite salads. In my mind it sounded delicious, but I’ve been burned by that before so there was no guarantee.

The base was a slice of honeycrisp apple (which I currently cannot get enough of). On top of that, I piped some blue cheese mashed potatoes (which were warm) and on top of that sat a chunk of smoked trout. Nestled below the trout was a tart dried cherry (from Seattle!) and I put another one right on top.

I must say, these were a big hit and they tasted just how I imagined them too. The sweet crisp apple against the creamy pungent blue cheese potatoes along with the smokiness of the trout and then the tart cherry….flavor fireworks going on in my mouth.

Next to my dish above is a lovely roasted tomato soup with crab that Kari made. Yes, it was a little more than one bite but we gave her a pass since it was so delicious. :) She used a variety of tomatoes all from her garden. Her tomatoes kick my tomatoes ass.

Aren’t they beautiful?

Let me give you the run down of all the other delectables that came to the table.

Shrimp and pea pods – showing that simple can be perfect.

East and west coast oysters – complete with two different dipping sauces. This was a such a treat! Liza had never experienced an oyster before….

She’s a believer now.

Lee on the other hand….not a believer. She avoided those slippery little suckers.

She did make me a believer of radishes with herbed butter. It’s so Ina Garten!

I love any bite that includes a crusty piece of bread. Here are two that are so simple and easy, but incredibly tasty.

On the left is hummus topped with an avocado slice and some cracked pepper. Can we have a moment of silence for the awesomeness of hummus?


If you haven’t tried making your own yet, please go do it right this minute. It will take you about 30 seconds. Need a recipe? I happen to have one here.

On the right side of this platter is crostini with goat cheese and cardamom grape jelly. Sounds a little weird, right? These babies disappeared quickly. It was such a unique flavor combo but they were super tasty. Kari found the jelly at the Mill City’s Farmer’s Market.

Amanda not only brought an amuse, but a baby!
He slept through the whole thing so Amanda was double fisting it with wine and the baby monitor. Her amuse was a spread consisting of prosciutto, cheese and some sriracha and cayenne for spice. I must admit I had to have a few plain crackers as a chaser as they had a definite kick! That Amanda loves her spice. Seriously.

Not to self: learn how to focus your camera. You’ll notice a few blurry photos in the mix today. I’m working on it. Really I am.

One of my favorites of the night was the Honey Parsnip Soup that Liza made.

Aren’t they adorable? Those are sweet potato crisps sticking out of them. I cannot wait to make a huge batch of this soup so that I can eat a big bowl – instead of just the shooter!

Liza was kind enough to share the recipe which she found here. Parsnips are in season right now so it’s the perfect time to make this. I’d also make a few extra sweet potato crisps for good measure.

Can we talk dessert?

We were lucky that we had two!

Kari made a classic fresh fig and gorgonzola bite.

It’s super easy and super impressive. Top a halved fig with some good gorgonzola and pop in a hot oven until melted. Yum.

Then along came Michael. Michael is new to the GDC and after his dessert, we will never let him go. First, let me introduce Michael.

Michael is even cuter when he’s in focus. He also brings creme fraiche. We like that about him.

Michael made a tomato tarte tatin. This was hard for my mind to get around – the whole tomato in a dessert thing. I know it’s a fruit, but to me tomatoes are savory. I like them sliced with salt, in soups, in salads, topped with mozzarella or on a sandwich. In a dessert? No way! My brain could not fathom this. However, after my ‘one bite’, my brain didn’t give a damn. It just wanted more.

Can you see the gooey, sticky goodness? It happens when you cook tomatoes with butter and sugar. Why have I not done this before?

Do you have extra tomatoes in your garden? Make this. Michael brought us all copies of the recipe and I found it online here.

Don’t like tomatoes? This might be one way that works for you. I really thought a fight might break out as we were snatching up the last bites. It can get kind of crazy at the GDC.

See? Shelby event wanted in on the action.

Fun times were had by all and Kari was an excellent host…who I do not have a photo of from the evening. Take my word for it. She’s beautiful and awesome and a fantastic chef.

***I realize I did not do a post about our Indian themed GDC from August so I’m going to have to recreate that one. I must create more time in my life to blog! :)

What have you been cooking up with your friends? Have any of you tried an amuse-bouche theme?

gourmet dinner club: tapas edition

29 Jun

This past weekend was another epic gathering of the Gourmet Dinner Club (GDC). The theme was tapas. In my opinion, there is nothing more wonderful than a tapas themed gathering. I love when you get to eat such a variety of bite-sized delectables all on one plate. Plus, it is a great way to keep the party casual and fun.

Tapas are the Spaniards version of appetizers. They were created as an attempt to keep flies out of beverages. The bartender would put a small plate on top of the glass with a little tasty morsel on top. To this day, if you happen to be at a bar in Spain and order a drink, likely the bartender will bring you a small plate of something (olives, tortilla, maybe some almonds). Going out for a drink and having a few tapas is a very common occurrence. It helps tide the Spaniards over until dinner which is usually at 10 p.m. or later.

Spanish (not Mexican) is my favorite type of food. If you know me or have read this blog, you know that Anne and I became best buds while studying in Spain. I love everything about Spain. I would like to be there right now. On a beach. Then I’d like to go have a drink and eat a few tapas.

Although I was not physically in Spain this weekend, this was a an awesome attempt at recreating it. Okay, so there was no beach. And, we did not speak in Spanish. We did, however, eat great food and drink some tasty Sangria.

The weather did not cooperate with our outdoor dining plans, but Natalie’s living and dinning room created a lovely atmosphere filled with lovely people. Here are a few of us….

Jen, Liza, Sangria

Natalie enjoying a tapa and some sangria

Amanda with a super yummy bite.

Let’s get to the food, shall we?

Jen and the Bell Pepper Salad

I’ve been wanting to make this salad for awhile. It’s a roasted bell pepper salad with a garlic dressing on top. It’s on the cover of a Tapas cookbook I own. In the end, I liked it, though we all felt it needed a bit more kick. I think next time I’d put more dressing on it and maybe a bit more garlic.

Gazpacho (and the cover of the Tapas cookbook.)

Natalie made a delicious gazpacho. This is such a perfect dish for these hot and humid days we’ve been having here in Minnesota. I don’t have Natalie’s recipe, but you can get to my go-to version here. As tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers come into season, this should be a summer staple.

Garbanzos and spinach soup

This picture does not do this dish justice. Amanda made a garbanzo and spinach soup that I really loved. She was worried that it was a bit bland, but I didn’t think so at all. Spain is not known for spicy food, but it’s a common misconception. They are more the clean, simple flavor types. This certainly fit the bill. I had the leftovers for lunch today and enjoyed every slurp.

Grilled shrimp and chorizo

Lee put together some fantastic shrimp and chorizo skewers. (For the record, this evening was a “special circumstance” for my vegetarian summer.)  Although, most of our food was completely centered around vegetables.

Mini zucchini fritatas with sour cream and salmon

Lee also made these cute little mini zucchini fritatas that she topped with a dollop of sour cream and a morsel of salmon. How cute are they? Note, the glass of Sangria. There was plenty of that to go around.

Apricot Mostarda with goat cheese

This was my second dish and one of my favorites of the evening (can I say that about my own dish?). Cooked dried apricots with some spices over a thin piece of baguette with a goat cheese shmear.  The recipe is from Mario Batali and it was suggested to me by dear friend, Willa, who is a fellow Spain fan. I’m including the recipe below because it is super easy, it keeps in the fridge for a month, and it is different enough that people will think you’re really cool if you make it. Plus, it was delicious.

The Flan

The perfect ending? The perfect flan. Liza tackled this culinary project like a pro. It was perfect! Temperamental oven be damned! It has been a long time since I’ve had flan and to be honest, I didn’t think I liked it. I like it now. Smooth melt in your mouth, but firm custard with that yummy burnt sugar crust. It ended the meal perfectly.

It was a truly splendid evening. I highly suggest having a tapas themed party or gathering this summer. Heck, it’s a great theme all year round. If you have any favorite tapas, I’d love to hear about them!

Below is the recipe for the Apricot Mostarda. It is definitely going into my regular rotation of dishes. I love the Gourmet Dinner Club because it makes me cook different things than I normally do. If I was throwing a tapas party at my house, I would make my staple: tortilla espanola. It’s my all time favorite. However, because this was the GDC, I needed to make something I hadn’t done before and I always like for it to be a bit different. This definitely fit the bill. Thanks to Lee and Natalie for the wonderful evening and allowing me to explore more than my usual.

Apricot Mostarda

from Mario Batali via Willa
Makes about 4 cups

Note: This is seriously delicious. We discussed it at great length at our GDC gathering. I  really liked it with the baguette and the goat cheese. The flavors played really nicely together, but also really let the apricots shine. We thought it would also be a tasty addition to a turkey (or tempeh) sandwich. It’s such a nice blend of sweet, spicy and savory all into one. The sweet hits you first, followed by a little heat, and then it is just plain yum.

4 cups (about 1 pound) dried apricots, thinly sliced
3/4 cup Simple Syrup (recipe below)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon oil

Combine the apricots, simple syrup, and wine in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to soften the apricots.

Transfer to a bowl and stir in the pepper flakes, mustard seeds, and oil. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving. (The mostarda can be refrigerated for up to 1 month).

Simple Syrup

Makes 3 1/2 cups

Note: This is great to have on hand during the summer months to make fun cocktails or mocktails. It adds some sweetness but no grainy sugar.

2 cups water
2 cups sugar

Stir the sugar and water together in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Pour the syrup into a bowl or other container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. (The syrup keeps for up to 1 month in the refrigerator.)

Buen Provecho!