Monday, March 23, 2015

Mixology Party

We decided that it would be fun to have a party that was themed around cocktails and food. Often hard to do because the flavors can clash. However after much conspiring with cocktail meister extraordinaire, Chris Dempsey, we came up with a menu and an approach that would work. Next trick was to find victims (I mean guests) who could be forced to try the food and drinks. Yup, we managed that too. So now we had to do it.
Chris has a portable bar, so it made setup really easy.

Photograph Courtesy of Andrea Willis

Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer
The cocktails were Caribbean inspired

Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer
so the food had to be as well.

This is the escabeche that we served with the Ginger in the Islands cocktail

Photograph Courtesy of Jim Brewer

for which this is the recipe

The little numbers on the place cards were the initial seating positions. There were 14 people at 2 tables - 1 for 10 people and the "kids table" with 4 more. To make sure that the "kids" weren't left out, we wanted to make sure they were rotated into the grown-ups table. So, each place card had a number on the inside too. At the end of the course, the guests looked at the number on the inside of the card to see their next seat. Then adjourned to the bar where Chris made the next cocktail and talked about it. We scurried in the background clearing plates/making sure glasses were clean, etc. for the new seatings.

The napkins changed colors too - each course had one of the Jamaican flag colors.

The next course was a jerk pork dish - Usain Bolt's Aunt'a recipe no less. Served with red/yellow sweet potatoes and flour/corn dumplings.

For dessert we made lemon pots au creme - but with a slight twist. We infused some star anise into the dish as well, and served the dish with pernod in small liqueur glasses and a single ice cube to get the cloudiness.

Photograph Courtesy of Andrea Willis

The basic pots au creme recipe is here - . The difference being 5 star anise pieces and rum instead of brandy. The recipe was scaled up to use a US quart of cream.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jerk Pork

This dish is, apparently, Usain Bolt's favorite. It is adapted from Jamie Oliver's recipe which in turn is inspired By Usain Bolt's Aunt Lilly. It is unbelievably rich, but very tasty. I guess that the sprinter requires a lot of calories. By the time you have added dumplings and yams (well in our case sweet potatoes) you have a potentially very high Calorie course. Again this was done for a good sized group of people, so the amounts look huge. Starting with 10lbs Pork Belly. Fortunately we have a good connection (Ali Morgan at rare edibles in Dallas). She was able to source a big piece of Berkshire pork belly for us. So big that I will be using some of it to make bacon.

Ingredients (marinade)

16 green onions (trimmed, but both the white and green parts)
2 heads garlic
3 Habanero peppers
24 stalks of thyme - leaves only
8 fresh bay leaves - no stalks
2 t ground cloves
2 t ground all spice berries
1 t ground nutmeg
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Jamaican rum
2 T honey

Ingredients (bonus flavor)

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
12 whole allspice berries
1 habanero sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup water
1 t kosher salt

Ingredients (everything else)

10 lbs pork belly. Remove some of the exterior fat, but you do want to make sure that you leave plenty. Do remove the skin if the pork still has skin on.
6 large yellow onions sliced.
12 fresh bay leaves
6 lbs sweet potatoes (mixture of yellow and red) cubed into 3/4" cubes
8 oz AP flour
3 t baking powder
pinch salt
2 oz masa harina (corn flour, usually used for making tortillas)
1 cup water (for the dumplings)
2 oz unsalted butter
oil for frying (unmeasured, but generally shallow)

Method (marinade)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If it won't blend, add a little oil. 

Method (pork)

Cut the pork into 1 12" cubes. Cover with 1/2 of the marinade and leave to sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 300F. Oil a saute pan, heat the pan until you just see some wisps of smoke. and start to brown the pork. At these quantities, you will want to work in batches. It is important to get the meat browned. Better to do in 3 or 4 batches than to overcrowd. Place the browned meat into a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid. With the last batch of meat, add the onions to the pan and stir, scraping the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add a little salt at this stage. It helps the onions release some liquid which in turn deglazes the pan somewhat. Pick the meat pieces out and add them to the dutch oven. Continue to sweat the onions until they are soft. Add the rum and cook down. I suggest that you briefly turn the heat off, add the rum, and then turn it back on. You don't want the rum catching fire and spreading. When the rum is almost dry, add the remainder of the marinade. and 2 cups of water. Stir to combine.
Pour these contents over the browned meat in teh dutch oven. Stir well to combine. Cover and place in the oven for 3-4 hours. Check every now and again to make sure it has not dried out. It will release a lot of fat. Depending on your sensitivities, you may want to pour some of the fat off.
Meanwhile make the bonus flavoring by bringing the liquids to a boil, adding the flavorings, simmering for a few minutes and allowing to rest. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. The bonus flavorings are there to boost the flavor of the dish as it nears the end of the cooking time. This was not in the original recipe, but the long cooking time had dulled the flavors a bit, so this boosted it back up. Add the strained bonus flavors at about 30 minutes before serving
Also, about 30 minutes before serving remove the prok from the oven and crank up the heat to 400F, Bring the sweet potatoes to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain and dry. Heat the butter and a similar quantity of oil in an oven proof (not nonstick, and make sure the handle isn't plastic) saute pan. Transfer the sweet potatoes to the hot saute pan and place in the hot oven. They will take about 15-20 minutes to brown and cook through.
Make dumplings by combining the flour, masa harina, salt and baking powder together with the cup of water. You will have a sticky dough. Knead a few times, and form into a log about 1" in diameter. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Break off pieces of the dough about the size of a ping pong ball. Roll into a sphere and then flatten the ball into a disk. Boil the disks in the water for 12-15 minutes. They wil initially sink, but then float. I flip them over about 1/2 way through. They become nice and puffy.
Transfer the pork to a warmed dish - bringing as much or as little of the fat as you want. Do make sure you get the thick, tasty onions and other juices, though. Serve with the dumplings in the dish and the sweet potatoes handed separately.

Escabeche or Escoveitch

Or just pickled fish.
This is a large recipe that I haven't scaled back yet. It was a starter course for dinner for 14 people. And yes there were left overs. The fish was red snapper, procured from our local fish-monger - TJs on Oak Lawn in Dallas. I had the fishmonger fillet the fish and remove the skin and pin bones. A major time saver. The dish takes a long time to make - but is not particularly labor intensive. It has to rest, refrigerated at least overnight.


2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t granulated sugar (I think raw sugar might be more interesting)
1 cup juilenned carrot
1 cup julienned daikon (not traditionally Jamaican, but was a decent substitute for chayote
1 habanero pepper sliced thinly into rings
12 allspice berries
1 large yellow (sweet) onion sliced into thin rings
Neutral oil for frying the fish.  May need to clean the pan between batches
3 1/4 lbs red snapper fillets
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup (more or less) seasoned flour (salt and black pepper seasoning)


Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to the boil. Add the carrot, daikon, habanero, allspice and onion. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes and set aside over very low heat to keep warm.
Rinse the fish fillets in water to which the lime juice has been added. This helps remove some of the fishy flavors. Dry the fish, cut the fish into 3/4" pieces and dredge in the seasoned flour.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until it is shimmering. Shake excess flour off the fish, then fry the pieces until nicely browned and almost cooked through (a couple of minutes/side). If you have to work in batches, at some point the flour from previous batches will start to burn and get nasty. When that happens, pour off the browned flour and oil. Wipe the pan and re-oil/reheat.
Place the cooked fish in the container in which you wish to serve it, and pour the reserved pickled carrot and daikon over it. Make sure that the liquid covers all of the fish and the vegetables are sitting on top. Cover the dish with cling wrap and refrigerate at least overnight or up to 24 hours.
Serve garnished with a sprig or 2 of thyme.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

OTBN 2015

We hosted another "Open That Bottle Night" event on February 28. Same format as usual - we asked our friends to bring a bottle of wine, a story about it and a dish that paired with it. And as usual, the guests stepped up.
The 2015 OTBN Wines

David and Sandra demonstrated the "MollyDooker shake" and shared a delicious bottle of "Carnival of Love 2011" paired with Sandra's Salmon Creole. The wine is 100% Shiraz, hard to find and bottled with nitrogen - so it doesn't age fast. The shake releases the nitrogen and replaces some of it with air, so the wine aerates fairly quickly. Fascinating mixture of flavors - all the usual Shiraz spice, but some warm, almost chocolatey notes. Quite the experience

Stephanie and Fabian told a hilarious story about mislaying a bottle of Sbragia, calling the winery, getting a new bottle and then discovering the original in the car. That was certainly our gain, the 2009 Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding. Paired with stuffed baby bella mushrooms - delicious.

Fred and Sarah brough a 2012 21 Gable Spier pinotage served with lamb sosaties.  Lesson learned - none of us knew that the South African pintoage (except Fred and Sarah of course!) is a cross created from the Cinsaut grape and the Pinot Noir grape in 1925. Cinsaut was known as Hermitage in South Africa - hence the name. Sosaties (or Malay hebabs) are lamb kebabs marinated with curry powder, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, bay leaves, vinegar, milk.... Then skewered with pieces of dried apricot between. Lots of mouth excitement there.

Rebecca regaled us with hilarious stories of her times in Italy - and brought a 2012 Barbera D'Alba from Bruno Giacosa. Paired with dates stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in pancetta and drizzled with truffle oil. Another winner of a pairing.

We made Guacatuna - tuna salad using creamy avocados, sweet chili, green onions, and fresh seared/rare tuna. Served on grilled home made bread, and topped with crunchy sea salt. The recipe is here. Served with the very flinty/minerally 2002 Vina Gravenia from Rioja. The wine had been shown at the TexSom conference in Dallas 5 years ago, and tasted well then. So as our last case dwindles, it seemed appropriate to share it with friends.

Before the serious event got started, we had some NV Cremant de Bourgogne from Val de Mer, and to finish a bottle of the extremely well priced Costieres de Nimes Perrieres  - a Carignan, Grenache, Syrah blend from the very southern Rhone. Some chocolates (M&Ms! and dark chocolate/pomegranate balls) went nicely too.