Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sundays at 4

A group of friends - John, Bette, Rocco, Judy, Madame, and I get together occasionally to put together a themed dinner every couple of months or so. We do it at early on Sundays - appetizers, etc. at 4 and eat a little after 5.

The idea came out of a Fine Cooking contest - Fine Cooking wanted an original recipe using some prescribed ingredients. I created a recipe (a braise using lightly smoked beef dredged with porcini dust, roasted shallots served over polenta). I created the recipe, and then asked friends over to taste it. Took their comments, refined and tried again. We did this early on a Sunday evening - it was the only time we could all get together easily, and we didn't want the formality of a dinner party. This was all about tasting.

The group thought it would be a good idea to expand our cooking skills and repertoire in a safe environment - with each other, so we developed the concept of the "Sundays at 4". It is like a gourmet dining club with a few important differences: First we agreed to total up the cost of the dinner and split it immediately at the end of the evening; Second we would meet ahead of time and jointly choose a theme; Third the household responsible for the main course is also responsible for the wine - however the maximum amount that can be charged to the group is $20 per bottle even if the wine actually costs a lot more.

The format works well. One household responsible for appetizers, the host household responsible for the main course, the third household for the dessert. Sometimes we sneak in a cheese course, sometimes a soup course, it just depends.

We choose themes at the "planning parties" typically held a month or so ahead. Really the planning parties are an excuse to get together again! Sometimes we do them in a house, at others we will try a local restaurant to see what they are like.

Once we have a theme, we encourage each household to come up with something in that theme. Themes are typically country or regional styles. Because the goals are to improve our understanding of food, to learn or practice techniques and to experiment with flavors, the results are not assured. That doesn't matter so much - there is always McDonalds (TM) on the way home if things are too awful.

We have tried the following themes:

New England Food (Clam chowder, an indoor clambake, fruit pies)
Italian (multiple times)
Singaporean (not my most shining moment - too spicy and pungent!)

For me the learning has been wonderful. Discovering ingredients (guanciale in an Amatriciana, galangal in the Singaporean food.....). Discovering techniques (the clambake according to the America's Test Kitchen method Forcing myself to make pasta - rather poor at first, but improving with each attempt. Discovering that the ravioli attachment on the pasta machine and I will never be friends!

Each of us has gained new skills, new recipes, new appreciation of food with the best group of "foodie" friends I can imagine.

No comments: