Special of the day: Eat, Drink and Be Merry! A Cooking Club to Love

15 Feb Special of the day: Eat, Drink and Be Merry! A Cooking Club to Love

Exceptionally good food starts with quality ingredients, and the same can be said for dinner parties made memorable by the joie de vivre the invited guests bring to the table.

                Designing a dinner group composed of friends who love to cook and also appreciate a nice glass of wine with food, my pal Jamie Doan founded our Eat, Drink and Be Merry cooking club last year, shortly after watching “Julia and Julia” again.

                By challenging the group to do as the French do, or to honor Julia Child, in their recipe planning, Jamie made our debut dinner truly tres magnifique!  People pulled out all the stops, even flying cheese in from France and babysitting Boeuf Bourguignon for hours, setting up a tough act to follow, for sure.

Making a rule about following the theme when choosing recipes has helped us compose multi-course meals that work well together and minimize the work for any one person. The hostess typically selects the theme and sends an email out, setting in motion the menu-planning machine.

One by one, people offer ideas on what they plan to bring. Six members means each person picks: appetizer, salad or soup, bread, side dish, entrée or lastly, dessert to do, and also brings a bottle of wine to go with the course.

Because we all share a love of cooking (or wine or merriment), a lot of thought and effort typically goes into what we make for the meal, which really makes a difference, I think.

It doesn’t hurt that Jamie’s boyfriend Mark owns Wines by Wednesday and is always happy to help us with pairing wine with whatever we all have decided to create for the cooking club.

What amazes me the most about this group is that time and time again, everything comes together so very seamlessly. “It’s a good mix,” Jamie said, referring to the friends she has gathered.

And I must say, we do a good job of living up to our motto to “Eat, Drink and Be Merry”.

Why not start a cooking club of your own sometime soon?

                This week’s Special of the day: Eat, Drink and Be Merry with recipes from our latest “Stuff It” dinner party:

Belgian Endive Stuffed with Dilled Cream Cheese, Bacon and Scallions, Italian White Bean, Pancetta and Tortellini Soup,
 Spinach, Pine Nut, Feta Stuffed Focaccia with Basil-Arugula Pesto, 
Roasted Stuffed Onions,
Crab-Stuffed Salmon and
Almond Dacquoise with Chocolate Buttercream Filling

Happy cooking!

Belgian Endive Stuffed with Dilled Cream Cheese, Bacon and Scallions

Belgian Endive Stuffed with Dilled Cream Cheese, Bacon and Scallions
Recipe by Sydne George
(serves 6)
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
3 scallions, sliced thinly
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dill
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
2.25-ounce package slivered almonds, toasted
2 heads Belgian endive, trimmed and separated into individual leaves
Using electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, bacon, scallions, cream, dill and salt.
Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes.
Transfer dilled cream cheese to plastic baggie and seal.
Cut a corner out of one end of the bag, making sure the opening is about ¼ inch wide.
Squeeze dilled cream cheese mixture into endive leaves.
Sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Tortellini Soup

Italian White Bean, Pancetta and Tortellini Soup
adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis
(Serves 4 to 6)
3 T olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, chopped
1 mediun onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 15-oz can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 c. arugula, washed
6 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 9-oz package cheese tortellini, fresh or frozen
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
In a large, heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onion, carrot and garlic. Cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, arugula, and broth.
Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini and cook 5 minutes for fresh, and 8 minutes for frozen, or just until tender. Season with pepper and serve.

Stuffed Foccacia

Spinach, Pine Nut, Feta Stuffed Focaccia with Basil-Arugula Pesto
From www.food.com
(Focaccia is recipe #183059 and pesto is recipe #183224)
    1. 1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast
    2. ½ cup warm water
    3. 3 cups warm water
    4. 1 tablespoon kosher salt
    5. 2 tablespoons olive oil
    6. 6 -8 cups flour
    7. olive oil, for brushing
    1. olive oil
    2. 3 garlic cloves
    3. 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, packed
    4. 18; cup mint leaves, chopped
    5. 1 cup pine nuts, toasted
    6. kosher salt
    7. red pepper flakes
    8. 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Stir together the yeast and 1/2 cup of warm water in the large bowl of an electric stand mixer.
  2. Set aside and let stand for 5-10 min until the yeast is bubbly.
  3. To the yeast mixture add the remaining 3 cups of warm water, salt and olive oil.
  4. Slowly add the flour one cup at a time and mix with the dough hook until the dough is soft and not too sticky. **You may not need all of the flour.**.
  5. Knead by hand or mix on medium speed for 10 min, or until the dough is no longer sticky.
  6. Set aside to rise for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.
  7. Preheat the oven to 425º or grill.
  8. Start the spinach filling while dough is rising.
  9. Saute the garlic in some olive oil in a large saute pan.
  10. Add the spinach leaves and saute until wilted.
  11. Take off the heat and add the mint and toasted pine nuts.
  12. Salt and add red pepper flakes to taste.
  13. When slightly cooled, fold in the crumbled feta.
  14. Punch down the dough, then shape into a rectangle in a well oiled half sheet baking pan.
  15. Dimple with your finger tips and brush with olive oil.
  16. Set aside for 15 min or so.
  17. Place the dough filled sheet pan on the rack of a grill or in the oven and cover with the lid for a few min, just long enough to have the dough slightly rise and firm up – about 5 min or so.
  18. Spread the pesto lengthwise across one half of the dough, leaving a one inch border.
  19. Spread the spinach mixture over the pesto.
  20. Cover with the grill lid and cook for a few more min, until the dough is firm enough for you to lift up the non-pesto half and fold over the filled half – 3-5 minute.
  21. Press the edges together with a fork to keep the filling inside while cooking.
  22. Brush with olive oil.
  23. Move the pan to the side of the grill and continue to bake over indirect heat until it is golden and done – about 7-10 minute.
  24. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 min or so before cutting and serving.
Arugula-Basil Pesto
    1. 1 bunch arugula leaves ( 1 cup)
    2. 1 bunch basil leaves ( 1 cup)
    3. 6 garlic cloves
    4. ½ cup olive oil
    5. 2 tablespoons pine nuts ( or slivered almonds)
    6. 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, finely grated
    7. 1 lemons, juice of
    8. kosher salt, to taste
    9. 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  1. In a food processor or blender, chop the arugula, basil, and garlic cloves.
  2. Slowly add the olive oil to create a loose paste.
  3. Add the pine nuts or almonds and the Parmesan cheese and blend again.
  4. Add the lemon juice and red pepper flakes and salt to taste, blend to combine.
  5. Pour mixture into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. Putting a layer of olive oil seems to help also.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Roasted Stuffed Onions
yield: Makes 10 stuffed onions
active time: 2 hr
total time: 3 1/2 hr
  • 10 medium red and yellow onions (4 lb)
  • 1 lb sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces
  • 3 celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 15 oz baby spinach, trimmed and coarsely chopped (14 cups)
  • 1 (9-inch) round loaf country-style bread (1 1/4 lb), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (10 cups), lightly toasted
  • 2 cups salted roasted cashews (10 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups turkey giblet stock
Make onion shells: Cut a 1/2-inch-thick slice from tops of onions, discarding tops, and trim just enough from bottoms for onions to stand upright. Scoop out all but outer 2 or 3 layers from each using a small ice cream scoop or spoon (don’t worry if you make a hole in the bottom), reserving scooped-out onion and onion shells separately.
Make stuffing: Coarsely chop enough scooped-out onion to measure 3 cups.
Cook bacon in 2 batches in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp, about 10 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, reserving about 1/3 cup fat in skillet.
Add chopped onion, celery, salt, and pepper to skillet and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in spinach, bread, cashews, butter, 1 cup stock, and bacon, then cool completely.
Roast onions: Preheat oven to 425°F.
Arrange onion shells, open sides up, in a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking pan, then add 1/2cup water and cover pan tightly with foil. Roast onions in middle of oven until tender but not falling apart, 25 to 30 minutes.
Stuff and bake onions: Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Transfer shells to a work surface and pour off water in pan. Fill shells with stuffing, mounding it, and return to pan. Reserve 5 to 7 cups stuffing for turkey cavity, then put remaining stuffing in a buttered shallow 3 1/2-quart baking dish and drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup stock. Bake stuffed onions and stuffing in dish in middle of oven, uncovered, until heated through, about 25 minutes.

Roasted Stuffed Onions and Salmon Stuffed with Crab

Crab-Stuffed Salmon
Submitted by pshirley at mealsmatter.org
1/2 cup mayonnaise 1 tablespoon diced capers 1 lemon juiced 1 tablespoon minced dill 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon salt
Combine ingredients and mix well.
2 shallots, minced 6 oz Mascarpone or goat cheese 4 tablespoons Lemon Dill & Capers sauce 1 pound crab meat 4 salmon filets butter, melted salt and pepper to taste
In a mixing bowl, combine the shallots, cheese, Lemon Dill & Capers sauce and crab meat. Slice each salmon filet down the center to butterfly the filet. Spoon a generous amount of crab filling onto 1 side of folded out filet. Fold other side of filet to close. Place filets in baking dish and brush a little melted butter on top of stuffed salmons. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place in a 375 degrees F oven for about 15-20 minutes.


Almond Dacquoise,
(from the Kitchenaid Cookbook)
6 ounces blanched almonds, ground
1 cup powdered sugar
1 and 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
6 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Chocolate Buttercream Filling (below)
1. Combine almonds, powdered sugar and cornstarch; set aside.
2. Place egg whites in bowl of electric stand mixer. Turn to medium-high and whip until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar and continue whipping until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, beating until stiff peaks form. Reduce to low and quickly add almond mixture, mixing just until blended.
3. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large (1/2 inch) plain tip, pipe mixture onto greased and floured baking sheets to form 3 (8-inch) circles. Bake at 250 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove from baking sheets and cool on aluminum foil. Fill and frost with Chocolate Buttercream Filling.
Chocolate Buttercream Filling
2 egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
2 squares (1 ounce each) semisweet chocolate, melted
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
Place egg yolks in bowl of electric stand mixer. Turn to medium-high and whip 2 minutes. Stop and scrape bowl.
Reduce speed to medium and gradually add powdered sugar, chocolate, butter, and vanilla; continue beating until fluffy, about 5 minutes. 

                Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at sydnegeorge@hotmail.com . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.

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