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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?