Sunday, December 03, 2006


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 11 - Party Food

I know, I know. It has been a while since I last participated in a Weekend Cookbook Challenge (WCC), but for WCC #9 I spent so much time deciding what dish from my homeland to make that I missed the deadline, and for WCC #10 I didn't have a kitchen gadget that I hadn't used quite a bit, so I didn't even "qualify" for that one.

This is actually my second attempt to type this post because as I was doing it last night, in an effort to meet the deadline as we ate the "Party Food", my angelheart Eric knocked a stack of cookbooks off a chair ledge and they landed on the power strip! So, everything went down, and, of course, the server does not "emergency save" documents as does Windows. It was well after 10pm then, and I just decided I'd try again as soon as I got up this morning.

So, I've given away the theme to WCC #11 already: Party Food. Isn't every meal an invitation to party for us foodies? My angelheart Eric and I often host little dinner parties, wine tasting parties, and big events parties (mostly New Year's Eve), so I really wasn't sure how to tackle this month's theme. I just decided on something simple, for most of us are still full from feasting at Thanksgiving meals. The small party number went from five to three (including the hosts!). It was to be seen as a catch up over finger food, and it ended up being quite a lot to eat for 3, and we ate quite a bit of it over the course of a couple of hours. I made two types of dip, Bagna Cauda (from The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook) and Muhamarra (from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food), Zucchini Frittata (it was meant to be zucchini fritters, but the batter kept sticking to the frying pan; the recipe is mostly modeled after one from Claudia Roden's fabulous Arabesque), and Brandy Creme Brulee (there is almost no need to cite a reference as I could have done this with my eyes closed, but the inspiration to add brandy came from Debbie Puente's Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee that my darling friend Lily gave to me almost two years ago). My angelheart Eric made Chicken Pieces Marinated in a Light Satay - his own recipe.

When I first moved to the U.S., my angelheart and I often had dinners with friends in Beverly Hills at The Stinking Rose, a garlic-themed restaurant. It is a high energy restaurant (on account of its lively staff and individually-themed rooms) with great food that is made consistently well (usually if I like something a lot the first time, I order it time and again). I always made sure there was bagna cauda (hot bath) on the table. I could have used Tamasin Day-Lewis' recipe from Tamasin's Weekend Food, but I wanted to recapture something from my early days in the U.S., and it has been a really long time since my angelheart and I were last at The Stinking Rose.

Bagna Cauda
(from Andrea Froncilla and Jennifer Jeffrey's The Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook)

2 1/2 cups garlic cloves, skins intact (about 3 heads of garlic)
2 cups olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter (56.5g), cut into bits
6 anchovy fillets in olive oil (the recipe calls for a whole 2oz can)

1) Preheat oven to 275 deg. f. (135 deg. c.).
2) Put garlic cloves into a baking dish (either cermaic or heavy glass is suggested, but it worked well in our pink(!) stoneware LeCreuset baking dish).
3) Pour olive oil over garlic.
4) Sprinkle butter over garlic.
5) Lay anchovy fillets in a single layer on top.
6) Cover with aluminium foil and bake until clovers are easily squishable (preferably dense and limp - approximately 1 1/2 hours).
7) To serve: Use a spoon to slot out one clove and use the back of the spoon to press out the garlic onto a slice of baguette or focaccia.

Muhammara is a walnut and pomegranate relish that is made in Turkey and Syria. Each component adds incredible depth to an all-too-simple accompaniment: the walnuts provide the nubbly texture, the pomegranate syrup gives the tart-yet-sweet high notes, while the cumin adds the smokey low-note. Served with cripsy pita bread, which we toasted in the oven after cutting into chips and sprinkling over a combination of kosher salt and flaky smoked Manuka honey sea salt.

(From Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

1 1/4 cups shelled walnuts (or walnut pieces, if you can get them)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 slice whole-wheat bread, crusts removed, lightly toasted
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
1 teaspoon coarsley ground red-pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I love that hit of smokiness that wafts up when milling cumin seeds with the pestle)
2 teaspoons sugar
salt, to taste

1) Blend all ingredients to a rough paste in a food processor.

That could not get any easier, and it is worth trying because it is an unusually sweet "dip" that had my angelheart Eric and the divine poetess Suzanne guessing the ingredients.

The Turkish Zucchini Fritters (kabak mucveri) a la Claudia Roden did not work out because I didn't know what a finely chopped zucchini should look like (not the same as an onion, surely) and because we do not have a non-stick pan. So, we made a frittata-like dish out of it, and it worked out fine. It was an innocuous creamy background filler for the rest of the goodies.

Zucchini Frittata
(Inspired by Claudia Roden's Kabak Mucveri from Arabesque)

1 large onion, coarsley chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or sunflower oil)
1 pound zucchini, finely chopped (2 medium sized zucchini)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
black pepper, to taste
3 sprigs mint, chopped
2 sprigs dill (or 3, if you prefer, but I don't), chopped
7oz feta cheese, mashed with a fork (I used a Bulgarian feta because I had Silvena Rowe's Feasts on my mind when shopping...)

1) Fry onion in the oil over medium heat until soft and lightly colored.
2) Add zucchini and saute until soft.
3) Preheat oven to 325 deg. f. (about 165 deg. c.).
4) In a bowl, beat eggs with flour until well blended.
5) Add pepper and chopped herbs to egg mixture and mix well.
6) Fold mashed feta into egg and herb mixture with the onions and zucchini.
7) This is where I divurge from Claudia's path: Film bottom of frying pan with oil, pour in mixture and cook for 7 minutes.
8) Cook in oven until cooked on top and golden brown at the sides.

The chicken pieces not only provided us with something quite substantial but a different flavor note. I think the success behind good finger food is a range of textures and flavours. Eric liked putting Muhammara on the chicken fingers for a multi-dimensional flavour sensation :-)

Chicken Pieces in a Light Satay
(My angelheart Eric's own recipe)

2/3 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons satay paste
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
juice of one lime
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1 medium serrano chilis, chopped (ribs removed if you don't want the heat)
1 handful basil, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
pinch of salt
1/4 cup water
2 pounds chicken pieces (about 24 drumettes)

1) Combine all but water in a food procssor.
2) Pour mixture out into a big bowl and stir in the water.
3) Add chicken to marinade and leave in refrigerator for four hours but preferably overnight.
4) Preheat oven to 300 deg. f. (about 150 deg. c.).
5) Bring chicken pieces to room temperature before laying them out on a baking sheet.
6) Cook in oven until chicken cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Creme Brulee is one of the first desserts I ever tried to make because of its simple yet elegant composition. When I finally (i.e. slowly) realized that what was beneath the burnt sugar was basically a custard, I turned to making creme brulee myself. The "Party Food" version, keeping with the theme of small and easy to eat, includes 1/4 cup brandy (for 6 creme brulees, mind you). My angelheart Eric and the divine poetess Suzanne loved it; I thought it was a little heavy-handed. Too much alcohol, in my view, overpowers the elegance of this dessert. Next time I will use less booze (not something you will hear me say too often), and maybe amaretto instead.

Brandy Creme Brulee
(inspired by Debbie Puente's Elegantly Easy Creme Crulee, and she suggests cognac instead of brandy, but we didn't have any on hand)

7 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sugar per ramekin, for the brulee

1) Preheat oven to 300 deg. f. (150 deg. c.).
2) In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until mixture is thick and pale yellow.
3) Combine cream and brandy, then add to egg mixture with vanilla and whisk until well blended.
4) Strain into a bowl, skimming off foam.
5) Divide mixture among six ramekins or custard cups.
6) Put ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, and fill vessel up with hot water until it comes halfway up the ramekins (this is a bain marie and what it does it to moderate the temperature of the yolks so they do not one ones a scambled egg brulee for dessert).
7) Bake until set around the edges but still loose in the center - 40 to 50 mintues.
8) Take ramekins out of bain marie and chill for at least two hours or up to two days.
9) When ready to serve, sprinkle approximately one tablespoon of sugar over the surface of the custard and blast with a kitchen torch. If you do not have a kitchen torch, put under a broiler until the sugar has melted.

Everything was easy to make and is enough to feed six...

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Shaun, wow it all looks so wonderful! I can't wait to try the Muhammara! So glad to see you back at WCC again.
Hi Shaun! The food looks really good, especially the brulee which is one o fmy favourite desserts! I ate out Friday night and had Poached Plum Brulee which had curdled - not a good look or taste! Still, the shortbread biscuits that accompanyed it were good!
I bet you're spoilt for choice with your new Tamasin books - perhaps we should have a tart blog cook-off?
Freya x
Shaun, what a fantastic menu full of wonderful flavours! I especially would love to try the Muhammara.
What a delicious menu! I particularly crave the Bagna Cauda and the creme brulee.

Thanks for sharing.
Sara - Thanks for hosting WCC; it is such a great blog event. Muhamarra is really a very different dip because its flavor profile is multi-dimensional.

Freya, love - The creme brulee custard was smooth as silk and the top caramelized top cracked crisply, just as any creme brulee should. I'm sorry to hear that you ordered one that was substandard - I really hate cold, curdled eggs; there is really nothing appealing about them. I find quite often now that I'm disenchanted when I eat out. Half the time I'd rather be at home figuring out how to make good meals myself. A tart blog cook-off sounds fun. We could even make it Tamasin-specific, at least for the two of us, because I'd be interested to know which one you'd select to make.

Haalo - Considering what I have read on your blog, I think you might like muhamarra. It was the surprise element at our little party because no one had heard of it and no one expected these ingredients to blend so well. The balance is really very good, and serving it with salty pita chips was just over-the-top divine.

Ruth - I took photos of the garlic pressed onto slices of baguette so readers could have a good impression of the bagna cauda but the lighting was all wrong. I can honestly vouch for the dish. Though a little oily, the aromas are fabulous and the bagna cauda itself is very satisfying. Thanks for stopping by!
I'd definately be interested in a Tamasin tart cook-off. When would you like to start and are we going to be book specific or just any of her tarts?
Freya x
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who can't get people to come to parties! I have to say that the chicken and the Muhammara really push all the right buttons with me. Freya will cook it for me with some encouragement. If not, I'll cancel her Food Company trip next month.
Paul - You know, you could make the chicken and Muhammara yourself...Well, if you can get into the kitchen. I understand why you might need to ask Freya to cook. Both are relatively easy to make and are great compliments to each other. I will have muhammara out on the next party table (Christmas night). Happy holidays.
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