American


Hey look! I’m going to write about food! Specifically delicious food, that we got to eat while sipping on some delicious tea! I had cookbook club at my house in November and because it was so close to thanksgiving, we wanted to do something light and dainty. So I found this cookbook at the Frederick Library. Oh how I love dainty afternoons at my house.

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I got out all of the pressed pretty linens, doilies, and Alayne and Julie brought their fine china and tea cups.

But before we got to sit down all happy and ready to chow, we had to cook! So go check out shots from that!

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Well haven’t I been a most delinquent CBC blogger! And everyone can give me smack because I am usually so bossy for everyone elses posts! So we have cookbook club this Sunday! Indian food! But for now, let’s check out some southern food! This was Renee’s last cookbook club gathering as a resident of MD. (Don’t worry folks- she will be back in 2 years from TX! *Fingers crossed!*). And it was very fitting that this cookbook, the one that started it all, is what finished her tenure for now. The Lee Brothers – Simple Fresh Southern.

We started with strawberry wine coolers. Oh yes. They were deeelicious. Sweet and refreshing.

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And we got to snack on this pimento cheese spread. Alayne made it in advance. It so so flavorful, salty and addictive. YUM.

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Joanne pulled out her authentic southern grits and got started on them early. (so they would have a proper amount of time to cook!)

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I got started on my parsley sauce for the skirt steak. Lots of parsley and garlic and a good amount of red wine vinegar which brought alot to the recipe. Ah but this picture is Joanne’s additions to the grits. Creme Fraiche and herbs?

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Renee was making a corn soup and so we used some fresh cobs and proceeded to mash and “milk” the kernels.

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And what’s this??? A beautiful raspberry three layered chocolate cake!!! Joanne and Alayne are the best!! They made it for Maria, Renee and myself. The birthday girls for the month of August and September! Oh it was delicious – that raspberry buttercream was to die for.

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Here was that creamy corn soup. So satisfying, such pure corn flavor.

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Here was the one side for dinner, (in addition to the grits), roasted zucchini with bits of bacon?? (Am I imagining ladies?) Or maybe they were breadcrumbs!

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And here was my entree, of which I was super proud. Nice cut of steak from Wegmans… Finn grilled it up on the grill for me (awesome) and the parsley sauce was so flavorful and perfectly complimentary to the rich slices of beef.

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Lastly, we had more dessert! And this one was perfectly southern and delicious. Buttermilk pudding cakes with bourboned peaches and whipped cream. Perfect way to use those in season peaches!

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Here’s the skirt steak recipe… I am definitely going to make this again!

Ingredients:
2 lbs skirt steak
3 teaspoons salt
1 bunch parsley, flat leaf
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red chile flakes
1/3 red wine vinegar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil

Directions:
1. Season the steaks on both sides with 2 teaspoons of salt, and set them aside.
2. Stuff the parsley into the bowl of a food processor, and add the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, the garlic, and chile flakes. Pulse several times, pausing to push toward the blade any parsley that sticks to the side of the processor bowl, until the parsley is thoroughly chopped. With the processor running, add the vinegar in a thin stream, followed by the olive oil; process until the mixture is just shy of smooth (it should be slightly toothsome). You should have about 1 1/3 cups of parsley sauce. Reserve in a small bowl.
3. Pat the steaks with paper towels to absorb any moisture on their surface on both sides with the black pepper. Pour the canola oil into a 12 inch skillet or saute pan set over high heat, tilting the pan around as it heats until the entire bottom is coated with a thin sheen of oil. When the oil begins to smoke, add the steaks in batches, taking care not to crowd them in the pan, and sear them until each side is nicely browned, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and tent them loosely with aluminum foil. Let them rest for 5 minutes.
4. Slice the steaks across the grain into 1/4 inch wide slices. Divide the slices among 4 plates, and spoon the parsley sauce liberally over them. Serve immediately.

Oh, delicious, beautifully ripened summer vegetables. You make me weak in the knees just thinking about the abundance of sweet deliciousness that you provide during the too short season of summer in Baltimore. I love vegetables, specifically locally grown seasonal vegetables. Can you tell? I also looooove summer. So, imagine my delight when I happened to fall in line as CBC host during the month of July, when two of my favorite things were in full swing. I knew for a fact that we would be going vegetarian (a lifestyle I currently practice, except for the occasional indulgence at CBC) and I found the perfect book to bring out the best in all things vegetable: Plenty – Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. It seriously delivered and even the most hardcore of the carnivores left the table completely satisfied. So, enough talk, let’s get to it! First up, a pretty summer table:

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And a few indulgent photos highlighting some of the goods:
Maria’s fixins for her desserts (more on that later)
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Garlic galore…

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Oooooh!  Zucchini!
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Okay, enough shenanigans.  Back to business!  Our first course of the night was prepared by Renee.  She chose to make the Quesadillas for the appetizer and they were INCREDIBLE.   The quesadillas were stuffed with a creamy black bean paste, sour cream, and a beautiful salsa that included fresh tomatoes (YUM!) and avocados.  The quesadillas were then grilled to perfection and devoured by all.

Here’s pic of that gorgeous salsa:

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And here are those tasty quesdillas.  My mouth is watering just looking at this picture.
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Next up was a Garlic Soup and Harissa prepared by Joanne.  This soup received mixed reviews.  Those who could handle a lifetime supply of garlic in one bowl of soup were in heaven.  It did have great flavor, but after a few spoonfuls, I definitely found the flavor to be a bit overpowering for my taste buds.  Not to mention that my kitchen and most of my clothing smelled like garlic for about a month after this was made.  So, a small word of advice if you decide to make it:  Cook it outside on the grill, or else you will smell like garlic indefinitely.  Here’s a pic of all of that garlic from above and onions sautéing:
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And here is the final product:  Gorgeous!

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Next up was Elizabeth’s Cucumber Salad with Smashed Garlic and Ginger.  I think the title describes the ingredients quite sufficiently, but it doesn’t even come close to describing the power punch of flavor this salad packed.  The onions were marinated in the dressing for over an hour and the sweetness of the onions and ginger mixed beautifully with the tangyness of the dressing.  Beautifully balanced if you ask me!
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Finally we made it to the main course.  As a vegetarian, you tend to eat a lot of pasta.  Mainly because it’s quick and easy, but also because you can pretty much throw everything but the kitchen sink in and it will still taste awesome.  To add a little carb load to our dinner, I decided to make the Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad.  I know, I know, it says salad in the title, but I promise it served it’s purpose as a main course.   The sauce was a sweet basil pesto and the zucchini wowed with flavor after being fried and then marinated in red wine vinegar.   It was a tasty as it looks.
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And finally we made it to dessert.  Maria prepared the Pear Crostini, which consisted of grilled pears, goat cheese, and sour dough bread.  They were very tasty, athough, I think we all agreed that a drizzle of chocolate would have added the perfect amount of indulgence to finish out the evening.
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Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad (Serves 4)

Ingredients:
2/3 c sunflower oil
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3/4 c frozen edamame
2 cups of basil leaves, shredded coarsely
1/4 c parsley leaves
1/3 c olive oil
salt and black pepper
9 oz stozzapreti or penne
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tbsp small capers
7 oz buffalo mozzarella, torn by hand into chunks

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Heat the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Fry the zucchini slices in a few batches, making sure you don’t crowd them, for 3 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides; turn them over once only.  As they are cooked, transfer to a colander to drain.  Tip the zucchini slices into a bowl, pour over the vinegar and stir, then set aside.

Blanche the edemame for 3 minutes in boiling water; drain, refresh under running cold water and set aside to dry.

Combine half the basil, all of the parsley and the olive oil in a food processor, adding a bit of salt and pepper.  Blitz to a smooth sauce.

Cook the paste until al dente; drain and rinse under a stream of cold water. Return to the pain in which it was cooked.

Poor the zucchini and their juices over the pasta.  Add the edamame, basil sauce, lemon zest, capers and mozzarella.  Stir gently together, then taste and season with plenty of salt and pepper.  Before serving, stir in the remaining basil.

I have been putting off writing this blog post for over a month now. It might be because of procrastination, it might be because I am hungry and trying to lose weight and this food looks so good, or it might be because if I write this post that means that my CBC days are almost over.

I started the Charm City Cookbook Club, as it is now known, almost 4 years ago to make friends, cook, eat, and expand my cookbook collection. The CBC has become much more than I ever thought it would. I have made friends and grown relationships to a level that I didn’t think possible. Of the original members Alayne is the only one left, but added or departed we have some amazing women that have cooked with us. I am moving to Houston in September and I hope to make another meeting or two in the next year when I come back to visit but I will be reading this blog and sometimes cooking along with all the great food. Keep it up ladies! P7101380

July was my last month of hosting. So sad. I love my Baltimore kitchen and will miss the great light, huge sink, and island table that have made cooking there enjoyable. For my last meeting I picked Ad Hoc at Home. It seemed fitting to do a homey book to celebrate. We have cooked out of almost all of Thomas Keller’s books, The French Laundry being the most notable. This book did not disappoint.

During the last 4 years there have been a lot of changes. The cutest being the addition of Miss Colette….she is one lucky baby to get to eat this food. P7101387

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Our first dish was made by Alayne who like Maria in the soup to come used wonderful local produce and made Tomato and Mozzarella Salad. The kitchen started to smell amazing when she began cutting the tomatoes.

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and here it is. It tasted as amazing as it looks.

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Next Maria cheated a little but to our benefit and made her Sun Gold Tomato Gazpacho ahead. This was the best Gazpacho I have ever had. And Colette drank a whole cup of it!

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To serve with the salad as an appetizer Julie cooked little Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs. I could have eaten the who tray. They were light but rich and a great match to the salad.

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The main course was fun. I made a Leek Bread Pudding that was to die for and Robby’s could not stop eating at 12:00 that night. To go with that I made Marinated Skirt Steak, not just with beef but with beef and buffalo that I got from the farmer’s market. http://www.gunpowderbison.com/

You can see the difference in the color of the meat above. Our favorite turned out to be the buffalo. It was more flavorful and more tender.

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To end this great meal Joanne made Peaches & Cream. Another perfect use of local fresh produce. The cream took a bit of work but Joanne is amazing and turned out the perfect desert.

Thank you all, I will miss you so much.

Being part of Charm City Cookbook Club gives me courage to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. Like mail order shaved pressed fish roe from Italy for a French Laundry blini recipe, or shred a mess of oxtail a la Mario Batali, or have a gaggle of girl chefs over to cook dinner in my small, not very well equipped kitchen on a cold Friday night in April.

I put my hostess anxiety aside last week, grabbed a copy of Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite,” (Hyperion, 2010) and headed to the kitchen with Julie, Alayne, Joanne, Renee, and Elizabeth to cook up a mess of fun. It was my first time hosting and I was excited.
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First up was Joanne, who made Lamb and Bulgur Kibbe, little nuggets of ground lamb, onions, bulgur and spices that were broiled in the oven and served with chopped tomatoes, cucumber and onions, garlic yogurt sauce, and homemade sumac scented pita. She hit this dish out of the park. My kitchen has never smelled so good. In fact, the scent roused the boy child from the basement, and he pilfered kibbe from the tray when he thought we weren’t looking. He even stuffed a few in his pockets for good measure.

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Elizabeth had the questionable honor of making salad, a task that can be somewhat overlooked and thankless. This salad of tender greens with herbs and hazelnuts was neither. It was so delicious and easy — just baby greens, toasted hazelnuts, and a simple nut oil, salt and vinegar dressing. Clark calls it “Hello, Salad.” We all loved it.
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A brief aside: Like at all Charm City Cookbook Club gatherings, there was sparkling wine and dancing.
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Okay so next up was Julie who wins the night’s award for most ambitious and difficult to pronounce dish. She made spaetzle, a European egg noodle whose name means “little sparrow.”
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Making these little dumplings take a few extra hands and a cool little spaetzle maker, which Julie purchased just for the occasion, that cuts and drops the dough into a pot of salted boiling water.
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After she fished the cooked dumplings out of the water, Julie mixed them with carmelized red onion, sautéed Swiss chard and Emmentaler cheese and baked it all in the oven until it was warm and bubbly and delicious.
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But I am getting ahead of myself. Sort of. Because there are still other components on the plate that we need to talk about. Like the roasted balsamic carrots and roasted spiced cauliflower with almonds that Alayne fired up in my vintage 80s oven.
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I usually hate cooked carrots, but these were delicious. And the cauliflower had a lovely warmth and nuttiness to it.

And speaking of nuttiness ….
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And
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Now where were we? Oh yes, the main course: Crisp Chicken Schnitzel with Lemony Spring Herb Salad. It’s a simple dish: A panfried panko crusted chicken breast on some greens with a lemon anchovy dressing, but it came out really well and it tasted like spring.
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Thanks to Joanne and Julie for manning the saute pan while I was God knows where doing God knows what.

And here’s dinner:
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Now, perhaps you would think that with so much good food and delicious wine on the table that no one would even dare think about dessert. Well buddy, you are wrong. Not only did we think about dessert, Renee was planning on making TWO desserts: A gooey honey butter cake and Fudgy Brownies with Chile and Sea Salt. Alas, the yeast dough that formed the based of the butter cake failed to rise to the occasion even after multiple attempts and so we had to soldier on with only one dessert, a la mode of course.
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The chile and sea salt gave the brownies a nice flavor, although they would have been delicious without them, too.

Thanks to all for a great night of cooking and friendship, for tolerating my vintage 80s kitchen and my overly energetic family and yellow Lab, and for inviting me to become part of the best, most fun, most vibrant group of girl chefs ever to hit Charm City.
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P.S. by Someone new says she wants to join, but I think we should put her off for about 10 years…
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I decided that I wanted to give us a challenge for the March cookbook club so I chose to work with Thomas Keller’s French Laundry for this month. I gave people a heads up that this wasn’t going to be easy but that it was going to be delicious, boy was I right on both counts.

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CBC started at 3:30 and I wanted to give people a bit of encouragement so I welcomed everyone as Keller does at the restaurant with the salmon cornets.

I borrowed the cornet molds from my new friend Megan (thanks Megan) and set to work at about 1:30. These were really quite tasty but the cornet in and of itself was a lot of work (note the theme of the day). You basically had to stand in front of the oven for an hour while they cooked, burning your fingers every 5 minutes or so as you flipped and rolled the hot dough around the cornet mold. Let me tell you, I was sweating when I finished the 11, count-em 11 cornets I had made at the end of that hour.DSC_0060

Luckily, filled with the crème fraiche and minced and rinsed red onion  “french onion dip” (that’s what it tasted like) and the lovely, lemon and chive salmon tartare, followed by a bubbly sip of cava, they melted in your mouth. To the ladies of CBC!!! Cheers

We set to work with a vengance after that. Maria’s blini were first and she had her work cut out for her, boil those potatoes for a good 45 minutes, peel them while they were hot, OUCH…

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then she had to quickly press this through the tamis that Julie provided. There was nothing “quick” about it and playing with a hot potato, sounds like a game doesn’t it? We ended up getting out my food mill, grinding up that damned potato in there while Maria pushed it through the tamis. Check out our system:
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Ok so this blogpost could go on forever but I think I’m going to do a show and tell of the basic beautiful recipes and leave the details of each of them to the other girls.

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So, Maria’s blini were very different. Usually blini are made with flour. This was kind of like a mashed potato pancake. She had apparently spent her entire Friday night making a “tomato coulis” which was 3lbs of tomatoes reduced to about 1/4 cup. They were beautiful, tasty and well presented with the shaved tuna roe sprinkled on top.
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Next up, Julie’s beautiful “Caesar Salads” which she prepared ahead of time and plated at my house. The composed salad had the dressing on the bottom under a baguette crouton, topped with a light, creamy parmesan custard, a parmesan crisp, some shredded romaine tossed with the anchovy salad dressing and topped with parmesan shavings. On the side you can see the balsamic reduction that was a beautiful contrast to the lightness of the custard. MMMMmmmmmm.
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It’s a bit un-traditional but it was ready so we decided to do Elizabeth’s cheese course which was called Corsu Vecchiu with Spiced Carrot Salad and Golden Raisin Puree. She substituted Manchego for the Corsu Vecchiu as she coudn’t find the former, but Keller states that it is a semi-hard sheeps cheese from Spain so we felt this fit the bill. It was utterly delicious, crunchy spicy carrot, sweet puree and the tartness of the cheese all went together very well, though we did find the dried pulverized carrot to be not more than a bit of decoration and probably not worth the effort.
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Renee’s pasta course Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto ended up being sweet potato ravioli as we paused too long in the rolling/drying phase of the program and were unable to make the agnolotti. These melted in your mouth, bacony, proscuittoy, sweet delights. She took the rest of the batter home to make on Monday night 😦 Ah well…..

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I chose to make the Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce. I had to start by making mussels in a white wine broth, not using the mussels but using 1 cup of the broth for my sauce. I did that at about 1pm right before I mixed the cornets up, let me tell you, those mussels were quite tasty on monday night for dinner.
The parsnips needed to boil in cream and be pressed through that tamis again (we ended up using the Maria method again for that). Boy that sweet parsnipy cream was tasty, I ended up adding it to a corn chowder later in the week. Always leftover extra parts with Keller.
Once the saffron vanilla cream mussel reduction was done, the parsnips were piped onto the plate, the orange spinach was fried, squeezed and balled on top of that, it was time to make the fish.
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Note, I am not the worlds best fish fryer. I ended up using rockfish for most of it because the black sea bass was tiny, and I did end up undercooking some of the larger pieces of fish (sorry peeps) but all in all, it was a beautiful, time consuming, deliciously creamy dish.

And here it is:
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Last but definitely not least was Alayne’s tasty Lemon Saboyan Tart with Pine Nut crust and Honeyed Mascarpone Cream. The tart was beautifully browned, tart yet sweet. It was reminiscent of the one I make from Dannenberg’s “Paris: Boulangerie Patisserie” with a much richer crust.
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We didn’t finish up until about 10pm on Sunday night so you can see that it was an intense, wonderful evening spent. Thanks to everyone for pitching in with the dishes as we would not have had enough cooking or serving dishes for everything. We used every single dish towel I possess. Looking forward to Friday night at Maria’s house…..

This month was very fun for me, why?? Cause it was at my house AND we got to look at ourselves in the March edition of Baltimore Magazine!!! Check out the online article right here! So I chose this cookbook because someone I know is obsessed with Claire Robinson… She loves cooking french food, has a funny little french bulldog and spends her Sunday afternoons drinking beer and watching golf. I wonder who has that obsession?? So I was in the bookstore one day and laid my eyes upon this cookbook and Claire’s. I must admit I do enjoy some Food network cookbooks in my collection (Ina & Tyler) so looking at her recipes made me equally happy. And lucky for me, that certain someone bought both books for me for Valentine’s Day!!!

So last Saturday night was a busy one! We had seven of us (six of the crew + 1 special guest!) But wow were these recipes good. Like 90% of them! And we had a nice cocktail too, a clementine one that Beth so graciously prepared for us!

So Alayne had appetizer and chose a asparagus pesto over polenta. In my mind this sounded like a really tasty recipe, but when we got to eating it, it left a little something to be desired! Look at these beautiful skinny asparagii (??) from Trader Joe’s.

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We blanched the asparagus and threw it in the food processor with parmesan cheese and pine nuts.

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Then we made the polenta and spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

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Since I don’t have circle cookie cutters, we improvised! Hearts it was! I mean its still the month of Valentine’s day!

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Isn’t Alayne’s heart just darling?? And heres the finished product. The pesto had a bright interesting taste (the lemon zest helped with that too), but the polenta was too mushy for my palate. I don’t remember what the recipe said we could do to doctor up the polenta. But in our discussions we thought they could have used a trip to the broiler or a deep frying!

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Maria, our newest overachiever, made these drinking snacks in advance, aka cheese straws! Boy oh boy were they salty. I loved em!

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Then Renee got to her soup, potato with leeks soup, to be exact. Sauteed some leeks and bacon and then boiled the potatoes, heated up some chicken stock, brought out the immersion blender, and….

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Voila! I really liked this soup, because we did not add that many potatoes, it had a lightness to it. And the cheddar cheese and marscapone (no sour cream in da house!) additions were great.

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Then Joanne got to her salad. Ever since I saw this recipe in the book I knew I wanted to eat it. Because Joanne loves me so much and knows I love strawberries she went with it! Strawberries, arugula, fennel and almonds. The dressing used was kinda crazy – just reduced vinegar and boy did that stink up the kitchen! But it was only for a little while so it was all good.

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Beautiful! And the wine we paired with it was awesome too, a french one that had notes of anise in it that I picked up from Viniferous so it really paired great with the salad. Bob the owner of that store is just great and I am so glad two important parts of this meal came from local shops! (also the catfish from the Common Market!)

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Then we got to entree time. Maria made the brussel sprout gratin and that was probably the best decision of the night. This gratin was insanely good.

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Lovely sprouts and shredded mozzerella cheese from Wegmans.

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After she made the bechamel, it went right on top of the sprouts.

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And after broiling for a while, we topped it with hazelnuts! Isn’t her pink dish just the bees knees??? I can’t wait til I have a kitchen and dining room of my own so I can fill it with lovely serving ware such as that!

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And here was the entree composed. I made the blackened catfish – see more details on my blog how I put that together! I think the two recipes went very well together, mostly because both tasted so darn good! I am totally making both recipes again, like totally. 😛

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Lastly for dessert, Julie made two dishes! First one was pretty cool – a chai spiced chocolate mixture to put onto smores!

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Yummm chocolate…

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We used the broiler on my stove for the very first time! (who knew its in the drawer underneath the oven where I keep some of my pans…)

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And Julie also made a prosecco jelly and topped it with fresh whipped cream. Oh my word this was good. I still have some leftover and plan on eating it on Saturday night with Beffy, Kelly and Laurita!

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All in all, even some may view Food network chefs as “hokey” I think Claire did a good job with this cookbook. The whole five ingredient thing did work pretty well, but I’m sure I’m going to use the ‘extras’ she lists on  the side of each recipe. Can’t wait for next month – French Laundry at Joanne’s house and I have the composed cheese course!

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