Dinner Club – February 2013

SBE 065February 2013 Dinner Club

Our February dinner club was held at Tiffany’s.  Her theme of choice was romance movies.  She asked all the participants to taylor their portion of the meal around their favorite romance movie.  If you haven’t read my blog about Dinner Club and how it works, check it out.  Since Tiffany was hosting, she had the entree.  Her movie was “Love Actually” and she chose to do penne in a red vodka cream sauce.  It goes without saying that the menu was amazing so keep reading.

Dinner Club Romance Media
Dinner Club Romance Media

Dinner Club Themes, Menu and Media

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Tiffany – “Love Actually” – Entree – You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce

Tracy – “Gidget Goes to Rome” – Appetizer –  Three Way Bruchetta

Kelly – “Mama Mia” – Side – Mediterranean Orzo, Feta, and Tomato Salad With Marjoram Vinaigrette

Jeni – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – Beverage – Champagne Bar

Stephanie – “Four Weddings and a Funeral” – Salad – Winterfruit Salad

Trisha – “Downton Abbey” – Dessert – Lemon Bar Cake Cookies

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Yes, I’m fully aware that Downton Abbey is not a movie, but a television miniseries on PBS.  I was reminded over and over again that evening by multiple people, but in my defense, I love it as if it were a movie and I don’t always run with the pack, therefore making it perfectly acceptable and after all, it’s Dinner Club, so all is forgiven.

Bruchetta Three Ways

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What’s better than having bruchetta three ways?  When your lover makes fresh french rolls the morning of Dinner Club day and you get to spoil all the girls with it!  Who needs store bought with that kind of man at home!


1 french baggette, preferably made by your lover, cut into half inch slices on the bias

1 T Olive Oil

1 clove garlic halved

Directions:  preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  Place baggette slices on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and rub with halved garlic.  Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes watching closely so they don’t burn.  Remove from oven and arrange on a tray.  Serve with three sauces.  You can make these as you see them below or come up with  your own.  Personally, the tomato and the goat cheese are my favorite and they are really great together.

Tomato Topping:

2 diced roma tomatoes, seeds discarded

1 bunch fresh basil leaf, chiffonade

1 t. balsamic vinegar

freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:  Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and gently mix.  Serve on toasted baguette slices.

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Goat Cheese and Onion Topping:

1 8oz pkg of goat cheese

1/4 C. of thick sour cream

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T. finely chopped chives

1/2 t. garlic powder

Directions:  Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix until blended and smooth.  Serve on toasted baguette slices.

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Drunken Fig Jam courtesy Epicurious.com

2 lemons

4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)

4 cups sugar

3/4 cup brandy or Cognac

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons (yellow part only) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips (about 3 tablespoons).

Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to crush large fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce adapted by Food Network

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1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

1 cup vodka

1 cup chicken stock

1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)

Coarse salt and pepper

16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate

1/2 cup heavy cream

20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Crusty bread, for passing

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Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

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While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Pass pasta with crusty bread.

Orzo, Feta, and Tomato Salad With Marjoram Vinaigrette adapted from Bon Appetit

SBE 107


1 pound orzo

1/4 C. fresh lemon juice

6 t finely chopped fresh marjoram

4 t Dijon mustard

1 t grated lemon peel

1/2 C. olive oil

1 1/2 C. crumbled feta cheese

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 C. pitted Kalamata olives, quartered

24 oz. cherry tomatoes, stemmed, halved

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Cook orzo in a pot of boiling, salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occassionally.  Drain.  Rinse pasta under cold water until cool.  Drain well.  Transfer pasta to larger bowl.

Whisk lemon juice, 5 t. marjoram, mustard and lemon peel in a small bowl.  Whisk in olive oil.  Set aside 2 T. vinaigrette.  Add remaining vinaigrette, cheese, onions and olives to orzo; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cover and let stand 2 hours to allow flavors to develop.  Toss tomatoes with reserved vinaigrette.  Toss into salad and add remaining marjoram.  Serve cold.

Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppyseed Dressing

SBE 104


1/2 C. white sugar

1/2 C. lemon juice

2 t. diced onion

1 t. Dijon-style prepared mustard

1/2 t. salt

2/3 C. vegetable oil

1 t. poppy seeds

1 head butter leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese

1 C. cashews

1/4 C. dried cranberries

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced

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In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, lemon juice, onion, mustard, and salt. Process until well blended. With machine still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream until mixture is thick and smooth. Add poppy seeds, and process just a few seconds more to mix.

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In a large serving bowl, toss together the romaine lettuce, shredded Swiss cheese, cashews, dried cranberries, apple, and pear. Pour dressing over salad just before serving, and toss to coat.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Champagne Bar

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This is such a wonderful idea.  If you have a number of guests over, grab a few bottles of your favorite champagne, mixers and your gorgeous glassware and have a ball mixing up your favorite champagne cocktails.  Don’t forget the must have cute napkins and drink stirrers.  With a champagne bar, everyone makes their own special version!

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1 1/2 oz. orange vodka

1 1/2 oz. lemon juice

1 1/2 oz. orange juice

2 bar spoons Apricot preserves



Combine ingredients in a martini shaker with ice and serve chilled in your favorite glassware!  Too many of these and we would have really had breakfast at Tiffany’s!

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As you can see, our champagne bar had the following ingredients, but you can use virtually anything.  Be creative and taylor your bar to a specific holiday or celebration.  Here are some other ingredients you may wish to use to stock your champagne bar:

Peach puree

Mango puree

Orange Juice

Lemon Juice

sugar cubes


Triple Sec

Simple syrup

Raspberry puree

Strawberries, raspberries, cut pineapple and marischino cherries for garnish

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Downton Abbey Lemon Bar Cake Cookies

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Makes 18 to 20

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 9 x 13 glass Pyrex.


2 C. all-purpose flour

½ C. powdered sugar

1 C. butter (you can mix ½ cup butter and ½ cup shortening as an alternative to all butter)

1 tsp. grated Meyer lemon peel

Dash salt

Mix ingredients together with your hands until crumbly and press into the greased 9×13 Pyrex dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let cool before adding filling.

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4 eggs

1 C. all-purpose flour

1 ¼ C. granulated sugar

1 t. baking powder

Dash salt

¼ C. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 t. lemon peel

1 t. lemon extract (optional)

Add all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and beat with a wire whisk until combined.  Pour into 9×13 over cooled cookie base and put in oven at 350 for 25 minutes or until center is cooked through.  Remove from oven and cool on counter.

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1 C. powdered sugar

8 oz. cream cheese softened

¼ C. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix sugar and cream cheese until smooth.  Add lemon juice until desired consistency.  Pour over lemon bar cake.  Let icing set for about an hour before cutting lemon bars.    When you cut, they will look a bit rustic.

Serving Tip:  Serve inside large white paper muffin cups or on top of sweet little decorative doilies covering a cake stand.

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Sweet Potato Fries

Last Fall, my girlfriends and I took a trip to Whistler, B.C.  One of my favorite memories from that trip was the Yam Fries we had at Ric’s Grill.  The waitress brought them out and set them in the middle of the table and my friends, Kathy and Tracy and I just stared at them.  They were glorious.  They also came with a wonderful chipotle’ aioli sauce.  Here is my version:

Ingredients:  Sweet Potato Fries

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

Canola oil for frying

Salt and pepper

Directions:  Sweet Potato Fries

Place enough of the oil in a fry pan or deep fryer to cover potatoes.  Heat the oil to about 325 degrees.  Meanwhile, cut potatoes into fries lengthwise.  Make them all the same size so they cook evenly.  Carefully add the potatoes to the oil and fry for about 8 minutes, turning if necessary.  Turn off heat and scoop out potatoes with a heat proof utensil onto a tray lined with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let cool slightly and enjoy.  For crispier fries, you can cook them longer in the fryer.

Ingredients:  Chipotle Aioli

1 C. mayonnaise

1/4 C. Dijon mustard

2 T. white wine vinegar

1 T. canned chipotles, minced

Directions:  Chipotle Aioli

Mix all the above ingredients together well and serve with sweet potato fries.


A Handmade Sushi Dinner Party

My good friend Tracy hosted a handmade sushi dinner party this weekend for one of our Dinner Clubs.  A seafood and sushi lover myself, you can imagine the sheer delight at the thought of making our own sushi.  The sushi rolls were fun and easy to make and they were amazingly fresh and delicious.

Tracy had assembled a beautiful table adorned with cherry blossoms, white carnations and pale pink tealight candles.  At each place setting, there were sushi roll mats, chopsticks and little dishes for wasabi paste and pickled ginger. 
To prepare for the evening, she compiled a list of all the ingredients used to make our sushi rolls and divided it among the group.  Her list included shredded carrots, butter leaf lettuce, bell peppers (red, orange, yellow), sliced mango, cucumber, smoked salmon, cooked crab, cooked shrimp, tuna, teriaki tofu, pickled ginger, wasabi paste, soy sauce, black sesame seeds, lemons, Nori (wrapper made from seaweed), rice noodles, handroll wrappers and Sriracha sauce. 
To accompany our sushi rolls, she also prepared broiled Kalbi beef flank and yaki soba noodles.   The whole evening was a lot of fun, but one of the best ideas she gave me was to buy the sushi rice from a sushi restaurant.  You can do this by ordering a box of rice for each of your dinner guests.  
Crab, Avocado and Mango Roll
1 C. crab meat
1 T mayonaise
2 t lemon juice
1 t brown sugar
thin slices mango
thin slices avocado
Mix crab meat, manyonaise, lemon juice and brown sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.
To prepare your sushi roll, lay your sushi mat out flat in front of you.  Take a piece of Nori, shiny side down, and lay it flat on the mat.  Dip your fingertips in lemon water and take some of the sushi rice in your hand and flatten it to the center of your Nori making a flat, hoizontal  strip in the middle from one side to the other.  Gently lay pieces of avocado, crab mixture and mango slices hoizontally across your rice.  Take the side of the Nori and gently fold it over the mixture.  Using your rolling mat, roll the mat over the Nori forcing it to roll together.   Applying pressure, squeeze tightly until your sushi roll is compact.  After you have completed this step, put your sushi roll on a cutting board and using a very sharp knife, carefully cut off the excess on both ends.  Place your knife in the center of the roll and cut through.  Then repeat this step again with each section until you have the desired thickness of sushi roll, a little less than an inch.  Garnish with black sesame seeds.
Upon my arrival, Tracy asked me to put this sauce together.  This is a spicy chili sauce based off a recipe by Giada DeLaurentiis.  Including this sauce inside the roll or as a dip to spring rolls was a spicy delight!  This sauce is so good, I would dip pretty much anything in it!  The next day, I made crab cakes with this on the side.  I will warn you that if you can’t take the heat, then this sauce isn’t for you.  Look at the picture.  Now that is spicy hot!
Chili Mayonaise
1/2 C mayonaise
1 T. chili paste, like Sambal Olek
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. fish sauce (optional)
2 t. brown sugar
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and blend thoroughly.  Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a very this slice of lemon in a twist.  Serve with sushi rolls, spring rolls, crab cakes or at a fish fry.
Tracy’s choice of cocktail was a Green Tea Martini.  This is a refreshing mix of tea and citrus flavors which pairs nicely to sushi rolls.
Green Tea Martini
by Tracy Schaaf
6 oz lemon vodka
3 1/2 oz. Gran Marnier or other orange liqueur
7 C water
4 green tea bags
1 can frozen white grape juice concentrate
2 limes, cut into eighths
1 cup fine white sugar
Brew tea in teapot.  Add concentrate to tea.  Set aside to cool completely.  By using four tea bags, you will want the tea to be strong.  In a pitcher, combine vodka, gran marnier, and 12 ounces of the tea/juice mixture.  This will leave extra tea/juice for a second batch.  Stir.
Pour the sugar out on to a saucer.  Line the rim of a martini glass with the lime and turn it upside down onto the saucer to coat with the sugar.  Pour the green tea beverage into the glass and garnish with a wedge of lime.  Serve cold. 
Serves six.
                                                                                           One Cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. – Virgina Woolf
Special thanks to Tracy for the idea and the thoughtful presentation and to my fellow Dinner Club girls. 

Bananas Foster

Bananas Foster

Bananas Foster is a dessert made of bananas, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, dark rum and banana liqueur.  These ingredients are cooked down, ignited and poured over vanilla ice cream.  When the hot caramel-like sauce hits cold icecream, a small crisp caramel crust is created.  Originating from New Orleans, Louisiana in 1951 and named after Richard Foster, a crime commissioner, it remains a popular dessert today.
Enough about that.  I first had this somewhere around 2001 or 2002.  Tina, who had drawn the dessert card, brought it to Dinner Club at my house and I remember standing in my kitchen wondering what in the world is she making and what is she going to do with that lighter??  Confident in her culinary skill with bananas and recipe in hand she was waving it around and telling everyone how great it was and how much they were going to love it.   I admit to thinking my friend must’ve gone bizerk if she was igniting anything in my tiny, little, table-for-one kitchen, but she was right.  We all loved it.  I’m trying to remember exactly what the Dinner Club theme was that night, but it really doesn’t matter.  Whether you are cooking this dessert up in celebration of Mardi Gras or looking for a warm dessert to create a happy ending to a fall or winter meal, you will just have to try this.  Yes, I know.  There’s four tablespoons of butter.  Get over it.  We’re really cooking here!
Bananas Foster
4 T. butter
1/2 C. brown sugar
2 bananas sliced
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 T. banana liqueur
1/4 C. dark rum
In a skillet, add the butter and brown sugar over medium heat and stir often until butter is melted.  Add cinnamon and stir until combined.  Add bananas and cook until carmelized on both sides.  *Carefully remove pan from heat, add banana liqueur and rum and use a long lighter to ignite.  Return to the heat to burn off the alcohol.  Stir one last time and pour over vanilla ice cream.  Let set for a moment and serve.  Bananas Foster is such a special treat!
*Cook’s Tip:  Alcohol is extremely flammable.  Use caution when igniting your sauce. Be sure to hold the pan away from you and others and do not lean over it.  Now read the Cook’s Tip over again and take it seriously.  No goofing around.

Roasted Hazelnut Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

Roasted Hazelnut Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

This recipe was actually made for our December Dinner Club at Stephanie’s house.  These beautiful cookie bars were made by my friend and Dinner Club member, Kathy for our annual cookie exchange.  Immediately after dinner, we each bring to the table the “cookie” we secretly made for the exchange.  This is a time for ooohs and aaaahs.  When this cookie debuted, there was much excitement.  This is not the original recipe she used which is listed at http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/, but I used hazelnuts instead of almonds, two different extracts and more cinnamon. 
So, how does this recipe fit into February?  If you are looking to impress (as we all were when we saw these) your sweetie pie will  think you went to a ton of work making them.  Wrapped in cute little cupcake wrappers, they look like they just came from a bakery.  No kidding.  For February,  I suggest putting a little candy heart on top of each that says exactly how you feel about them.  It could be “BABY DOLL”, “I LOVE YOU” or “LETS BOOGIE”!

Roasted Hazelnut Chocolate Caramel Shortbread


1/2 C. roasted hazelnuts
1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 1/4 sticks of butter
1/2 C. light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Caramel:
2. C. chocolate chips
1 1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C. light corn syrup
1/4 C. water
3/4 stick of butter
1 C. heavy cream
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sea salt or flavored salt found in specialty stores


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Tracy & Stephanie
Dinner Club – December 2010
Shortbread:  Get out a 9×9 inch pan and cover bottom with parchment paper or foil inside the pan.  Butter the interior right on top of the parchment.  Using your cuisinart, process hazelnuts until fine.  In a separate bowl, whisk together ground hazelnuts, flour, salt and cinnamon and set aside.
In a mixer, beat butter, brown sugar and extracts together until light.  Add the flour mixture from above and work it in until a dough forms.  Remove dough from bowl and press it evenly into the bottom of a prepared pan.  Bake until golden, about 28 minutes.
Chocolate Caramel:  Place chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl.  In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water.  Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until mixture is thick.  Remove from heat and immediatly pour over chocolate.  Add butter, heavy cream and salt and stir until combined.  Return saucepan to heat and simmer, stirring until smooth.  Simmer about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour mixture over shortbread.  Cool overnight in refrigerator.
Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt.  To remove from pan, grab sides of parchment and carefully lift it from the pan.  Set on cool surface and use a hot knife blade to cut bars.  You can do this by dipping knife end in very hot water and wiping dry right before cutting.  These bars can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.


Cucumber Pomegranate Salad

Cucumber Pomegranate Salad
by Good Housekeeping
This salad was served at my November Dinner Club.  It was a hit.  If you  are looking for a healthy, refreshing and crisp salad with a seasonal flair, you need to try it.  It’s easy, wonderfully festive and looks absolutely beautiful.  This recipe is from Good Housekeeping.  Generally a winter salad when pomegranate is in season, you can also use this recipe in the summer and substitue blackberries or strawberries in place of the pomegranate seeds.
1 lemon, rind and juice, see directions
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
3 T. Champagne vinegar
2 fennel bulbs
1 seedless (English) cucumber
1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored, and very thinly sliced
1/2 C fresh pomegranate seeds
Peel 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel and squeeze 2 tablespoons lemon juice and add to a jar with tight fitting lid.  Add the following ingredients to the jar;  oil, vinegar, lemon peel, juice and salt and pepper to taste. Shake vigorously until blended. Dressing can be refrigerated up to 2 days.

Take the whole fennel bulb and fronds and remove about 2 tablespoons fennel fronds from fennel tops.  You will reserve this for garnish. Trim and core fennel and toss scraps.  Using a sharp knife, slice fennel very thin.  Add to a big salad bowl.  Using a vegetable peeler, take your cucumber and peel strips of cucumber skin lengthwise, then place on a cutting board and slice cucumber crosswise at an angle about 1/4 inch thick.  Add to salad bowl.  Slice apples into 1/4 inch dice and add to salad bowl. 
Shake dressing again and drizzle over top of salad.  Top with pomegranate seeds and fennel fronds. Sprinkle a little salt all over top and serve immediately.  If you need to take this salad somewhere, assemble ahead of time, but keep the dressing and the salt separate until ready to serve.  This salad is crisp and refreshing and best served cold.  Enjoy!

September Dinner Club – "Masquerade Theater"

September 2010 Dinner Club
“Masquerade Theater”
It’s been nine years this month that my girlfriends and I have been participating in Dinner Club.  I chose to host September.  I usually have October because I love Halloween, but this year I thought I would give October up and try another month.  The host gets to pick their own theme and the rest of us are adventurous and usually exhibit good sportsmanship, so we just go with it and see what the evening brings.  My theme, “Masquerade Theater” just came to me.  I’ll explain how it works.
I chose six genres; Action & Adventure, Romance, Horror, Drama, Comedy and Foreign.  I wrote them all on separate pieces of paper.  Then I wrote down all the components of the dinner: Appetizer, Entree, Salad, Side Dish, Beverage and Dessert.  Lastly, I wrote the names; Tina, Tracy, Jeni, Stephanie, Kathy and Trisha.  Since the hostess gets the entree, I left those out and had a friend draw my theme.  It came out, “romance”.  How fitting.  Therefore, I had the “Romantic Entree”.  The others were, Action & Adventure Appetizer by Stephanie, Salad of Horror by Tracy, Dramatic Side Dish by Kathy, Beverage of Comedy by Tina, and a Foreign Dessert by Jeni.  The goal was to make your contribution closely resemble that of the genre.  All of the pairings turned out good.  I thought the Salad of Horror would be the most difficult and the foreign dessert sounded like bliss.  My Dinner Club friends told me that out of all the Dinner Clubs we have been doing over the years, this was the most challenging and the most difficult.  We had met our match.  It thrilled me to hear that.  That was my goal!
I wrote up a menu based on the theme and the recipes they chose.  I created a program scroll keepsake that read as follows:
Appetizer by Stephanie
This riveting dish will put you on the edge of your seat! So moving, it’s almost 3D! Her choice was inspired by the active preparation of the ingredients and the adventure of putting it all together! Autumn Apple Appetizer Bites

Entrée by Trisha
Sicilian Meatballs with Homestyle Marinara  obtained from a Sicilian family that is rumored to have ties in the mob. Her choice was inspired by the romantic interlude that occurs in Walt Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.”


Salad by Tracy

Baby mozzarella, assorted baby heirloom cherry tomatoes, baby basil with dressing made from a 30 year aged balsamic vinegar. Her choice was inspired by the movie “Rosemary’s baby.”
Side Dish by Kathy
Pastry piped potatoes served in individual ramekins. Her choice was Inspired by the dramatically crafted presentation!
Beverage By Tina
Individualized bottles of wine adorned with comedic lables crafted by Tina herself and inspired by the character and personalities of her fellow Dinner Club members.

Dessert by Jeni
Three layer traditional German Chocolate Cake with cocoa filling and chocolate icing. This cake will whisk you back in time as the recipe was published in 1915 in a cookbook titled, “Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes” by John Hartenstein. Her choice was inspired by German chocolate.
Being that my Dinner Club was so close to Halloween, I was able to decorate with masquerade masks.  For a centerpiece that had a special “theater” effect, I found Shakesperian quotes on a website and printed them off the internet onto cream colored paper.  I carefully tore the edges, top and sides, and taped them to clear glass vases.  Place your tealight in the center and you have a glowing, theatrical effect that your guests can have fun reading. 
Our next Dinner Club is scheduled for November 13th.  Tina will be hosting and the theme is Russian.  I have the side dish!  Can’t wait!

December Dinner Club Menu

Oh by gosh, by golly
it’s time for mistletoe and holly.
Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents
the countryside covered with snow…

Oh by gosh, by jingle
It’s time for carols and Kris Kringle.
Overeating, merry greeting
from relatives you don’t know…

Now comes the big night,
to cover the tree with trim
You’ll hear voices like starlight,
singing a Yuletide hymn…

Oh by gosh, by golly
it’s time for mistletoe and holly.
Fancy ties and grandma’s pies
and folks stealing a kiss or two
and they whisper… “Merry Christmas to you!”
Frank Sinatra – The Rat Pack
It came down to a couple choices this year for what to do for December Dinner Club.  Usually we go to the Icon Grill as I mentioned in a previous post, however, it was decided by the group that the six of us would share an evening together at Stephanie’s house and recreate the Icon Grill Menu or get close. What’s more, is that we also were to have a cookie exchange.
I looked forward to this evening ever since the idea of it was tossed out as an option.  My portion was beverage this time.  With anticipation over the past several weeks, I shuffled through pages of Christmas cocktails and festive holiday drinks.  Afterall, Icon can make just about anything.  I know I was supposed to follow the rules and go with something “Icon”, but I put aside my proverbial Dinner Club rule book and decided to go on my own.  I chose the Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail.  To give credit where credit is due and despite my extensive search for the perfect drink, my sister sent this one to me, which I slightly changed and included below.  I also brought with me three bottles of wine; Layer Cake, Rosemont Shiraz, and an organic reisling, Naked, that is one of my favorite whites chilled very cold.
Turns out, the whole evening was better than Icon and just as good.  Like they say with age, after eight years of Dinner Club it just keeps getting better.
December Dinner Club Menu
Christmas Dinner Club Menu  – Friday, December 4, 2009
at Stephanie’s house
Hot Artichoke and Gruyere Spread
by Stephanie

Hot Artichoke and Gruyere Spread
14 ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 C Sour Cream
1 T. Mayonnaise
Dash cayenne pepper
1 C. grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Using a rubber spatula, fold out into greased, decorative, oven safe baking dish.  Place in over for 15 to 20 minutes checking often. The dip should appear bubbly, and golden brown.  Carefully remove from oven, arrange with sliced french bread or with crackers. 

Christmas Wreath Salad
by Tina
Christmas Wreath Salad

1/2 lb smoked chicken or turkey
1 C.craisins
1/2 C. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
4 oz. Oregon blue cheese crumbles
1 Granny Smith apple, diced medium
1 small, sweet red pepper, diced fine
2 T. fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
1/2 head romaine lettuce
1/2 head red leaf lettuce
rosemary sprigs
cherry tomatoes

For Pomegranate Vinaigrette:
¼ cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup raspberry vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled
1 egg white
1 ½ cups olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place shallot, egg, vinegar and pomegranate juice into a blender or food processor. Puree until the shallot is well chopped. While food processor is running, slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Cut each of the half heads of lettuce, cut into salad size pieces and rinse with cold water, drain and dry.  In a separate large bowl, combine lettuce with chicken, apples, craisins, and desired amount of prepared vinaigrette. Toss thoroughly.  To make the wreath shape, use a large, decorative shallow bowl or platter and place an inverted drinking glass in the center. Using your hands or tongs, firmly stack the salad around the glass.  You can use all the salad, stacking it as high as possible. Your last step is to add your nuts, blue cheese and diced red peppers to the top by carefully sprinkling them over.  Place the cherry tomatoes decoratively on top and slowly remove the glass.  Serve.

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Molasses 
by Tracy

Individual Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Molasses

Cilantro and Corn Mashed Potatoes
by Jeni

Cilantro and Corn Mashed Potatoes
1 lb of fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels – do not use canned
1 1/2 C. cream
8 cooked, peeled potatoes
1 clove peeled garlic, minced
2 T butter
Salt & Pepper
1/2 cup finely sliced cilantro

Prepare the corn as you normally would and set aside.  Place the potatoes in a large, glass bowl.  Add cream and butter and mash thoroughly*.  Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in corn and cilantro.  Place over hot water bath with lid to keep hot. 
* For a smoother texture, you can also use a food processor to cream the corn by placing 1/2 the corn, cream and melted butter and cream until smooth, adding back into the potato mixture.

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail
by Trisha
Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail
1/2 C. pomegranate juice
1 C. ginger ale
1 bottle champagne
4 C. crushed ice

pomegranate seeds (optional)

Mix together first three ingredients in a pitcher.  Pour in pretty glasses over ice.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds.  Share with friends and enjoy.

The Cookie exchange was also a lot of fun and saves a cookie baker a lot of time in the kitchen.  A cookie exchange is a good idea.  You bring home dozens of cookies that you don’t have to make yourself.  One way to share in a cookie exchange is to put tall the cookies out on trays on a big table covered with a festive tablecloth.  The guests make up their own box by selecting cookies of choice.  Another way is to  package them up yourself and offer each of your guests an invididually wrapped package of cookies. One of the best parts was to see the different packaging that was chosen to present them.  Wrappings ranged from boxes and cellophane to stockings and holiday craft covered jars.  What a great way to start the holiday season!  I know I will be wrapping presents and snitching cookies off the tray to have with my cup of holiday cheer!

The Dinner Club

– noun
1.  the art or science of good eating.
2.  a style of cooking or eating.

I am one of six women in a Dinner Club which has been delightfully charming me for the past eight years.  Our first dinner was held on Saturday, September 15, 2001.  That’s right.  The week of 9-11.  That reason alone should be compelling enough to keep up the Dinner Club tradition, but it is also the fullfillment it brings my heart and the unity of the group.  I would snatch up the credit if I could, but it was actually my girlfriend Tracy who came up with the idea and at the time, I needed an organized group to fill up the time in my life.  Without pause, I agreed to join. 

It is important to know a few things about Dinner Clubs.  I will give you the rules of engagement and I will toss in some scraps of dinner club ettiquette.  If you are already a part of a Dinner Club, then most of this will be familiar to you.  If you are about to embark on the Dinner Club journey or curious about how to begin, read on.

It was always “Dinner Club”.  No other fancy name, although a few were tossed around at the beginning, but it has and will always be just “Dinner Club” or DC for short.  Any dinner can be planned.  DC is like a symphony of several finely orchestrated components that come together creating a harmonious and very tasty evening.  With strong execution and a high performing team, it can result in an amazing experience.  But remember, it isn’t always perfect and you’ll have to be flexible and adapt to change quickly if you want to succeed.  You will start off wanting it to be Martha Stewart and when you fail, you have to remember that even she has a whole team of experts behind her.  And don’t be one of those people that starts off with grandiose ideas because I can tell you right now, that if you are one of those people, your dinner club won’t last because it will become too much work and your friends will get weary of the time and expense it takes to keep it up.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops in a Buerre Blanc Sauce by Tracy S.

My Experience and A Few Scraps

Plan ahead.  Pick people who will show up.  Sounds simple, but it is very important.  Half my DC doesn’t even like to cook all that much, but they love the socialization the group affords them.  They play their parts well, like professionals, but what brings them back isn’t the food, but the friendships they have built and strengthened along the way.  Also, know that their reasons for being there will change.  I started at a time when I was at a real low point in my life.  I needed them. That role has changed for all of us at one point or another throughout the years.  What I found out is that we all needed each other along the way and DC became a commitment, an investment of friendship and a support system.  We’ve made it through cancer, pregnancies, births, deaths, divorce, childcare, the single life, the married life, and everywhere in between. We became family. And just like allowing your uncle a place to sleep on your couch after the party, you just don’t let down your family.

Getting Started.  The set up goes like this.  Six people, six parts to play.  The host(ess) always has the entree or the main course.  The remaining five people draw one of the following cards:  appetizer, side dish, salad, beverage and dessert.  Don’t go trying to add people because it will disrupt the natural balance of the group.  I have heard of DCs in the upwards of 8 to 10 people and the more people you add, the more difficult it becomes.  People have the best of intentions, but keep it at a nice tight number for the best results.  We meet once a month and during the dinner conversation, we discuss what is next theme and who is hosting so we have a plan set for the next month.

Research and History. At first, we started off with theme dinners.  Cajun, Italian, Mexican, Morraccan, Indian, Thailand, Native American, Norweigan and Swedish to name a few.  These are fun because they’re challenging and you have to prepare by doing some some research.  For me, I usually use the internet and the cooking section of the library.  Bookstores and magazines are also great inspirators for ideas.  The expectation is that you first notify the hostess of the title of your dish ahead of time so they can create the menu.  Second, you show up at DC with your dish (or the ingredients to make it there), six copies of the recipe and recipe’s history or nutritional content.  Throughout the years, this practice morphed into sharing food preparation styles and artistic expression. 
To keep track of the recipes and menus throughout the year, I have compiled and organized all the recipes of past DCs in a very large notebook which I refer to several times a year.  This notebook also holds the information from cooking classes that I have taken and it delights me to reread them and the funny little notes I wrote in the margins.  Further, I started collecting cookbooks.  I love it when I can find one that is signed by the chef.

Expense:  DC can be expensive.  Whether you are purchasing a crown roast or beef tenderloin, or serveware for your dish, you can start spending some money.  It is always good to shop around and even better, get to know your local butcher.  I am often calling my local butcher for ideas on the best cuts of meat and what is on sale around the holidays.  When you get to know them and you respect them, they will treat you right.  Further, I am constantly amazed by how much I use that one plate I bought to serve the lettuce wraps or the springform pan for cheesecakes.  I remember buying six vintage glass sundae cups.  I drew the dessert card for the Morraccan theme and I ended up making a couscous pudding which I thought was disgusting and was very disappointed to learn that that the Morroccans don’t really eat dessert and certainly didn’t eat chocolate for dessert.  The dessert was terrible, but it sure looked great in those cups!  I’m sure the Morroccans have a lovely culture and are a very healthy society, but I don’t think I will be going there any time soon and if I do, you can bet that I will be bringing chocolate with me. 

Molten Chocolate Upside Down Cakes with Raspberry Sauce by Stephanie H.

Food Allergies or Preferences:  Remember, you are all sharing the responsibility for the meal, so don’t think the whole meal is on your shoulders.  Further, it is important to know your dinner guests allergies to foods or preferences.  For example, I know that one of us prefers white wine over red and if I ever get too concerned about the beverage, a couple choice red wine selections and a bottle of Grey Goose will do the trick.  I also know that others don’t appreciate seafood quite like I do.  So it is important to learn the palette of your guests, but be able to push them beyond their comfort limits.

Make enough, Bring enough, Eat enough.  Don’t be offended or annoyed by people who are late, people spilling food, or messes on your brand new table cloth.  Do be offended and annoyed by hair in the food, lazy preparation and dropouts.  Bring enough beverage for everyone to have a few and make enough food for each DC member.  Don’t complain about the menu or how someone prepared it.  Everyone is learning and everyone wants to have a good time.  We actually lost a member of the panel and that created quite a stir.  When you lose a member, there are ten more dying to be chosen for the coveted spot.  Choose someone who wants to be there and get buy in from the other DC members prior to inviting someone in to your group.  It is amazing how much attention this group gets and everyone seems to be talking about it days afterward.  Surprisingly, the people talking about it, aren’t even in the DC! 

Scraps & Memories: The most memorable DCs for me (and it’s debatable whether they were just really good or just really odd) was the Native American buffalo roast and the corresponding salad with real edible flowers, the crepes that Tina made, the cajun shrimp, the chocolate cake, the chocolate cheesecake, just about anything that was made out of a pork product and the mulled cider at Christmas. Most importantly, you will remember certain themes by what you made, but the best parts were sharing what you prepared and trying foods from different cultures. We moved on from theme dinners to restaurant selection and back to theme dinners.  I enjoy the Fall season into Christmas, so I usually get the month of October to host.  We also moved from drawing the dinner components to a rotating list, to volunteer, and then back again. There is one thing that never changes and that is our Christmas DC and gift exchange in December at the Icon Grill in downtown Seattle.  A repeatable menu favorite is the peppermint icecream sundae with a sugar cone filled with warm hot fudge with it’s pointed end buried in the icecream until lifted and swirled over the top, and the Christmas cookies with the do-it-yourself frosting, sprinkles, and toppings always follows the unfailingly delicious dinner.

I hope you have found some useful tips here for starting or continuing your own Dinner Club.  I would love to hear your experiences and ideas.

Pictures from Trisha’s Dinner Club – October 2009