Sunday, March 18, 2012

Potluck 2.0

On Saint Patrick's Day Leif and I were invited to participate in a showy cooking-centric dinner party that I have affectionately come to refer to as Potluck 2.0!  This wasn't a run of the mill casserole laden affair, but a thoughtful approach to connecting friends through food.  Our hosts Mike and Sally gathered an interesting set of guests and each couple was responsible for providing one course to make up our impressive meal. Bill started us off by preparing a memorable seared Ahi salad.  He educated us about purchasing saku blocks of sashimi grade fish to use at home.  Most of the finest Japanese restaurants use flash frozen fish and I found a nice online source to purchase fish in this form (Click HERE to check it out).   After searing his pristine fish in a well seasoned cast iron skillet, Bill served his dish with wines selected by their friend, Charlie Trotter's sommelier.  The pairings were obviously perfect!

I took my turn in the kitchen next.  Bill's Japanese inspired dish and pairings were subtle, elegant and refined.  I was happy to offer an aggressive counter balance to his memorable dish.  I turned my favorite Thai inspired  "Smackdown Dumplings" green for the occasion and let all of our guests take turns wrapping them.  Agata was a dumpling making natural and attributed her years of making perogi to her obvious dexterity! And because we don't know a famous chef's wine expert we paired our dish with Tiger beer.
Thai Inspired Dumplings
with Golden Garlic, Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce
Pea shoots, Sprouts, and Black Sesame
Makes about 40 Dumplings.

½ C water chestnuts
3 garlic cloves
1 lemongrass stalk, sliced
¾ lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb ground chicken breast
¼ lb ground chicken thigh
2T brown sugar
1t sherry vinegar
1t sesame chili oil
Salt and white pepper
1 egg
2T cornstarch
1 egg, slightly beaten
25 wonton or dumpling wrappers
Golden garlic (recipe follows)
Thai sweet and spicy sauce (recipe follows)
Soy sauce
Micro Greens, pea pods and black sesame seeds

Combine the water chestnuts, garlic and lemongrass in the bowl of a food processor and process until minced.  Add the shrimp and chicken and process until quite smooth. Add the sugar, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper and process until incorporated. While the machine is running add the egg and corn starch and process until combined.

Place 1 heaping teaspoon in the center of each wrapper.  Paint some egg on the edges of the wrapper to act as glue.  Carefully fold the wrapper half to snuggly encapsulate the filling. Take care to eliminate air bubbles before pinching  the ends together to make a classic wonton shape.  

Steam the dumplings in a bamboo steam lines with parchment for 8 minutes or until cooked through.  Place dumplings in a bowl and garnish with golden garlic, sweet and spicy sauce, soy sauce, micro greens, peapods, and black sesame.  Enjoy immediately.

Golden Garlic
½ C Garlic, roughly chopped.
½ C Canola Oil.

Combine the oil and garlic in a pan an put over medium heat.  Stir occasionally as oil begins to bubble.  When garlic turns just golden remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a clean container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Sweet and Spicy Sauce
2C Sugar
1 C White Vinegar
1t salt
2T Lee Kum Kee Chili Garlic Sauce

Combine 1 C of Sugar and the vinegar in a sauce pan.and bring to a boil.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved before adding the second cup of sugar.  Allow mixture to return to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium, add the salt and allow sauce to simmer for five minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the chili garlic sauce.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

While Bill and I were prepping our plates Lisa was quietly puttering behind us.  She diligently manned her pots and pans on the stove top and before I knew it  gorgeous bowls full of velvety asparagus soup littered the kitchen counters!  Lisa's soup was an exercise in seasonal sensibility and simplicity; I cannot pick a favorite dish of this night, but I'll admit that I've  thought about this soup several times in the wake of this party!
Next up?  Czech Chicken Paprika made by Bob and Liz.  Their recipe for this rich and homey dish is on the menu at their family resutarant.  Klas Restaurant opened in 1922 and is the oldest operating Czechoslovakian restaurant in the country!  Listening to these two talk about steamed bread dumplings, hearty organic rye bread, and crispy roast duck was infectious and tasting their chicken paprika proved they can put their money where their mouth is!  You can bet I will be taking the Elsmo Four to Klas as soon as possible!
5734 W Cermak Rd. 
Cicero, IL 60804
After slurping up the last of our Czech Chicken, the humorous and engaging, Thom took center stage and demonstrated how to capture the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day in a few bites.  He layered corned beef and brussels sprouts between layers of pastry and baked them in mini muffin tins.  It was a creative take on a tradtional Irish boiled dinner.
From there our hosts rounded out Thom's potatoes and Lisa's green beans with some outstanding grilled steaks and lamb chops.  Sally whacked off part of her finger while whipping  up a pretty insane mango, mint and jalapeno compote for the lamb chops.  After all no foodie fest is ever complete with out at least  little blood splatter!  We ended our delicous evening with Paul and Agata's perfect lemon cake and coffee.
Honestly this was a most creative and engaging way to spend and evening!  I hope Mike and Sally plan to do it again and my dumplings tasted good enough to keep me on the guest list!

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