Sunday, May 23, 2010

End of an Era (maybe)

OFFAL IV was billed to be one of the last formal Thursday Club meals in the Man Cave. With an onslaught of life-changing occurrences blipping on our Thursday Club radar as of late (pregnancies, births, switching apartments, switching jobs, et al), it has been increasingly difficult to gather everyone to honor the cornerstone ideals of our Club - celebrating food, drinking Herculean proportions and being downright silly.

For a special meal like this one, it was great to see the all-offal menu (minus dessert thank G_d) combining some contemporary classics and a few of Teddy’s own creations. Mostly everyone showed up relatively on time and sober…..surprising. Chilled martinis and microbrews greeted one and all…far from surprising.

The table was set for seven:

- Chicken liver toasts

- Terrine of duck and asparagus, crispy duck tongues, dandelion & orange

- Calf's tongue with celeriac remoulade

- Sweetbreads with bacon, capers and lemon

- Bone marrow with oxtail marmalade

- Lemon tart

The starter was far more rustic than the oft-seen chicken liver pate. Going with the whole offal theme, the liver played the lead role with nice undertones of spices and aromatics. For a brief moment, the banter ceased and the sounds crunchy toast echoed throughout the Cave.

Predictably, by the time the first course was plated (approx 8:50pm), served, and demolished, the empties began to pile up, the volume got louder and the scene began resembling the slightly uncouth, albeit comforting Thursday Club.

The terrine dish was a work of art. Bright green baby asparagus spears studded each slice across the top and bottom. I’m not sure what parts of the duck went in (all but the quack no doubt), but each bite had different flavors and textures. The crispy duck tongues were an amazing addition. I could have really made a serious dent in the worlds’ duck population and polished off a hundred of those things. The bitter greens and citrus punch of the dressing and orange segments kept everything in balance.

Tongue appeared again in the next dish in the form of slow-cooked calf’s tongue. Each thin, tender slice was topped with a gelatin parsley cube. Yet another 'shake your head in disbelief' moment brought to us by Teddy.….why put a conventional sauce on top when you can add another texture to the plate? How obvious, right? The celeriac remoulade resembled cole slaw, and added a similar creamy, but bright flavor and the necessary crunch that the dish needed.

This next dish was probably the clear-cut favorite of the night. First of all, the plating not only looked great, but also proved functional as we got every component of the dish in every bite.

Starting from the bottom:

Pea puree – smooth and sweet.

Sweetbreads – hot out of a shallow fry. Perfectly crispy on the outside and moist inside. They would easily replace chicken nuggets in my diet if they were ever in my diet and gout wasn’t a major concern of mine

Bacon –salty, porky and crisp. A staple of any great dish.

Sauce – an emulsion of butter, white wine and capers.

Yup, imagine that combo for every single bite. Can’t say anymore about it, I’ve already drooled all over my laptop. Vile.

Trying our best to keep up with the demanding wine schedule, we were popping open roses, crisp whites, and bubbly Cavas at an alarming rate. The next dish needed a heavy red to stand up to it. Good thing we had 3 or 4 to do the trick.

The oxtail marmalade reminded me of an upscale sloppy joe. It’s pretty damn difficult to take something that has ‘sloppy’ in its name and polish it up, but it totally worked. Teddy used prune juice to add sweetness to the tender, braised meat. Unfortunately, most of my bone marrow escaped out of the bottom of the bone in liquid form. But that made my grilled toast that much happier when it was used to scoop up all of the rich gravy that formed in the bottom of my dish.

With a limited amount of space left in our stomachs and on the table, our dessert made its way downstairs (approx 12:50am). Sweet dessert wines and pretty much all remaining bottles were crammed onto the remaining table space not covered by bottles, ash trays, glasses (broken and non), Mike Phillips' wild gesturing, or J Boogie’s head. The sour lemon tart and accompanying raspberry sorbet was just what we all needed to spruce up our palates again after the five courses of unctuous assault.

This meal was truly one for the ages. Sitting in the dim of the Man Cave, a night of sinfully rich food and plentiful wine swirling ‘round my head, peering through the thickening curtains of smoke, laughing to the point of losing my breath listening to the same stories that all know the ending to - it all kind of hit me. After nearly 5 years of Thursday Club meals, the combination of all of this is really why we get together. Tonight, everything went exactly to plan.

Big ups to Chef Teddy and the Man Cave.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Man Cave Moves Upstairs...

After what seemed like an impossibly long hiatus during the Holiday Season, etc. the gang finally reconvened at Teddy's house for a meal that promised not to disappoint.  I arrived early & surprisingly sober for a meal that had my mouth watering ever since I got the menu email the day before.

Teddy moved us into the kitchen as the Man Cave has now turned into his home office.  No matter though as we were now much closer to the food & action on the stove. There was a cornucopia of alchohol flowing around as we waited eagerly for the first course.  My personal favourite was the growler of Rouge Deadguy ale which really didn't last long at all (boo!)

First course: Snails, parsley and bacon on duck fat toast.  Teddy powered up his panini press & churned out this excellent opening dish.  The smoked bacon was an excellent addition, but surprisingly not salty at all.  I had expected it to overpower the dish, but the flavor was extremely subtle.  The snails (w/tarragon & rosemary) were really tasty. Velvety, rich (thank God for duck fat!) & morish... Teddy knocked this one out of the park.

We moved right on to the second course; Duck and pork terrine with apricots and pistachios, English Cumberland sauce. Oh Lordy! I was so excited about this dish after seeing it on the menu. The terrine had pistachios, prunes & apricot & was wrapped in bacon (which Teddy called 'the stockings').  It was really dense & tasted awesome.  I thought that the Cumberland Sauce (port, citrus, honey, mustard & stock) was a bit on the sweet side, but it went right down my cakehole like the rest of the food.

We took a break here to compose ourselves & sign our DNR agreements. Skate, ragout of onion, peas and chives, fennel custard, caper crumbs. I was so glad that this course was on the light-side.  I could already feel my arteries constricting...  The pan seared skate (which was dusted with salt, pepper & flour) was light & fresh. The fennel custard (which, unfortunately, is impossible to see in this picture) was the first savory 'flan' that I've ever had.  I say Flan because that was the general consistency of it & boy was it good. Basically made from fennel seed & cream, I have no idea how Teddy came up with this idea, but I'm glad he did.  The peas were prepared with fish stock, cream & chives.  All in all, a light, buttery dish.  The caper crumbs added an awesome little crunch too.

The waft of beefy goodness leaking from the oven had us all begging for this course: Orange and ginger braised beef short ribs, quinoa with wild mushrooms, confit baby tomatoes.  The ribs literally fell apart at the slightest touch.  I didn't even need a knife for this dish.  The ginger & orange was a nice spicy/sweet touch & tangy as well.  The sauce was a bit on the oily side, but I'm not going to complain about that.  This was by far the heaviest dish of the menu, probably due to the truffle butter (I wish you guys could smell this!)

After another break & lots of drinking, we moved on to the last course: 'Manhattan Special' affogato, dark chocolate Marcona almonds.  Honestly, this was the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted since Mike P's Bacon Martini, Hence the lack of pictures.  I don't like floats in any way, shape or form, so this was NOT my cup of tea!  I did manage to pick out most of the coffee ice cream which was awesome.

I'm glad that the club is back in full swing & as a side note, Teddy & Serena had a baby girl today, so I'd like to give a huge high-five to them.  Baby Rome is going to be the best fed child in America!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

JC's Thursday Night Explosion

August 20th, 2009.

It's almost embarrassing how much time has passed since this date. It is February 21, 2010 today, and 6 months have passed to this day. But I could not let JC's Thursday Night be left without my attempt at a proper acknowledgement.

8/20/2009 was my first night at JC's home and prior to arriving he had warned us that we should be prepared for a very warm night as his A/C was not cooling off his home on this particularly hot summer day. What he did not tell us is that he was offering us showers of sweat with his wonderful meal. I recall that Teddy phrased it nicely: "It's like we walked into a lung!", while Adam mentioned that he at least now knew what it would be like to be cremated.

So drenched and drooling, JC began to show us how he does TNC.

Bacon Explosion & BBQ Sauce.

A meal former President Bill Clinton would thoroughly enjoy no doubt. I had yet to try this American terrine surrounded by a criss-cross of crispy, thick bacon. I had obviously heard about it, but did not realize just what exactly it was that I was missing out on. But now I understand the infatuation with this dish: your fork penetrates through the crisp piggy outside, then draws delicious juices from the porky moist inside... simple right? Simple or not, it is truly an amazing all American dish. I must say, it reminds me a little too much of the Superbowl for some reason, which I detest. But it is a great recipe for bacon lovers, and for those who want to venture exploring the extreme deliciousness of bacon and pork.

Macaroni & Cheese with Lobster and Truffle Infusion.

Even before this plate hit the table, we couldn't help but notice the truffle aroma lifting off of the gooey layers of pasta and cheese. Bite after bite, the taste of truffle and lobster consistently teased my palate and made me want more. This meal was paired with a wonderful sharp white pinot grigio that cut through the tasty bechamel that included cheddar, fontina and Parmesan. I also recall that this cool wine also made survival in JC's cheesy human stove possible. We were also all very happy with how the meal was baked under a perfect parsley, chive and breadcrumb crust.

Meatloaf with Millionaire Mash.

This wasn't just any meatloaf. Elk, veal and pork all made an appearance. And it wasn't any old mashed spuds. This was a version of Hester Blumenthal's mashed (Teddy explains that Hester studied cookery under the great Marco Pierre White, and and was responsible for a wonderful restaurant known as "Fat Duck"). As JC put it, he "did a bit of butter, then thought I should add some potato." But the real star was definitely the meatloaf. The celery in the meatloaf added a little crunch to the meaty goodness. But the moist meat was just so perfect... paired perfectly with the BBQ sauce. I wish I had a better photo, and perhaps one of the inside of this meatloaf. You just have to trust me: this was hands down the most delicious meatloaf I have EVER had, and JC should be damn proud.

Banana & Ginger Pudding.

JC made a big deal about not being happy with the pudding. He wanted it to be more "solid" and less floury, and perhaps it should have been a little more cooked. But I thought it was still delicious and the chocolate sauce over the pudding and the spice ginger and tender pieces of banana were quite tasty.

Despite my delay in acknowledging his wonderful meal, I suppose it says something about JC's skills in the kitchen that I still remember, 6 months later, how delicious it all was. As I sit here writing, I especially crave the meatloaf - oh, that perfect meatloaf. Perhaps I am hoping that JC does another night soon, although I know my own turn to host is long overdue. Hmmm, maybe I can just do JC's meatloaf for my turn to host... it is certainly a dish that could be the centerpiece, no, a masterpiece, to any dinner.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Trio of Holiday Meals

The holidays are a time for family gatherings, reflection, but most importantly, planting oneself at a table to nosh with those closest to you. I put together a trio of meals for my family and friends on the day after Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.....these are their stories.


November 27th

- Roasted Vegetable Soup
- Stuffed Tomato Provincal
- Whole Snapper with Sausage and Clams
- Mini Cranberry Tarts
- Assorted Cheeses

The soup included a tremendous dish from the day before actually - a combination of oven roasted squash, parsnip, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and maybe some others. The base for the Veg Version 2.0 was onion, garlic and mixed dried herbs followed by the leftover veggies. I added chicken stock, simmered, then blended until smooth. Amazing results if I do say so myself.

The tomato recipe was lifted from Jacque Pepin and Julia Child, but altered with a hefty bit of Manchego cheese and crispy pancetta in addition to the bread crumb and herb mixture. The sweet yet acidic tomato was the perfect vessel for the salty, cheesy topping. And luckily it kept it's structure and didn't turn into mush.....a holiday miracle!

The snapper course was cooked using a technique that I am becoming growingly fond of. All of the ingredients were thrown into a large foil packet and steamed. With all of the different ingredients involved (blanched fennel and fingerling potatoes, gigantic clams, browned kilbasa, olives, lemon, herbs to name a few), the fish absorbed a ton of flavor and the initial splash of white wine transformed into a sauce that left me pining for more.

A final cover of fresh orange zest pumped the flavor up even more. As you can tell, the fish fell apart into beautiful filets and made for easy clean up.

The dessert was again from leftover department....more from the forgotten side dish department to be honest. The tarts were made with cranberry sauce that never left the fridge on Thanksgiving Day. Oops. No worries, as they made a great bite size cap to the meal.

Everyone was stuffed, but there's always room for cheese and dessert beverages.

For Christmas Eve, I had my parents and brother traveling in from Buffalo to spend the extended Holiday weekend with me in Boston. With a monster meal in the works for Christmas Day, I thought it would be best to make a simple dinner that would warm everyone up and make sure we would eat on time (i'm slowly gaining a reputation for making meals that start too late and last too long - frowned upon in some circumstances). With a little assistance from my Dad's hunting buddies, I had a gorgeous venison backstrap to play the lead part in a Guinness Stew.

Mikey liked it.

Pretty basic prep - parsnips, carrots, bacon, Bambi, and Brew. Simple, but effective.

For dessert, instead of stuffing down more sweets (the afternoon was filled with multiple leftover trays of Christmas confections) I dropped by Cambridge's new specialty shop for some local cheeses.

Ewes Jersey - Cow's and Sheep's Milk
Townsend, VT

Humbolt Pie - Cow's Milk
Westin, VT

Lakes Edge Blue - Goat's Milk
Leister, VT

All Vermont, all delicious, and all a great variation of texture and taste. Just as we planned, a filling but not gut busting way to set up what turned out to be a long week of over consumption.

Christmas Dinner

- Smoked Salmon Rilletes
- Seafood Soup with Shrimp and Andouille
- Roast Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine-Black Cherry Sauce
- Parmesan Pave, Sauteed Spinach and Mushrooms
- Mint Chocolate Fudge Cheesecake

The starter was a pulled from a previous dish I made for Thursday Club (recipe), but like all replays it needed to be tweaked. Fresh dill replaced the parsley and this added a classic, but welcomed taste combo of salmon, lemon and dill.

The soup was made using my first homemade seafood stock. This included a few bags of Maine's finest from Cape Cod. The smell from the lobster stock alone was enough to rip off a hunk of bread and start dipping, but I held off long enough to finish off the tomato-based broth with sweet shrimp and spicy andouille. Strange as it sounds, the green onion garnish really added a necessary crunch and onion flavor to the shrimp and sausage studded broth.

We Johnson's agreed that this was truly a great soup.....good thing, being alone with these three all day could have ended up in a minor riot if I didn't deliver the goods.

The main course was also a standby of mine - pork tenderloin. It's no secret that I enjoy a bit of four-legged protein on my plate when I can (see blog posts - A Man and His Meats, The New Steak King, etc.), and a nice lean tenderloin fit the menu perfect for me. Simply coupled with a cheesy parmesan potato side and some greenage to make sure we were getting our daily vegetable intake and we were all set.

It didn't take too long to dispose of the lot. Clean plate bonuses all around!

Clearly, no day of gluttony is complete without a decadent dessert. In this case, a homemade (not by me thank goodness) cheesecake.

A mug of black coffee, a silky sliver of pie and a sink full of dishes was the perfect end to Christmas Day 2009.....and to all a good night.

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