Sunday, March 4, 2018

#13: An Indian Banquet

Our banquet table for the evening.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, this blog has risen! I had intended on keeping You Pick Two going because it’s a lot of fun to do, but as happens sometimes, work got in the way in 2017.  My job this past year entailed lots of domestic travel, which disrupted any planning for these dinners.  I spend a lot of time combing through my modest library of cookbooks, scanning online sites, and watching old episodes of my favorite cooking shows on Youtube searching for new recipes and inspiration.  I also must say I was surprised by how many of you out there that I ran into throughout this past year asked me, “hey what’s up with that dinner thing you guys do?”  So that was really nice to learn that some people do actually read and follow this. 

I was also worried that the online landscape, especially with regards to blogging, has changed so much since I last posted.  I wondered, do people still blog anymore?  Is it passe now?  Luckily, my site is still available and active.  Although I am going take a look at new platforms (suggestions anyone?).  

This was our first 100% millennial dinner!  It was interesting to see social media actively being used during the night.  Although I like Instagram, I find that I take the online thing too seriously sometimes.  So, it was nice watching them Snapchat while hanging out after dinner as we discussed and demonstrated our different typing abilities (there was a fierce debate over the superiority of the “asdf jkl;” method).  It got me thinking that sometimes those apps are really just supposed to be fun.  I struggle a bit with it since I feel like I was told my whole life to hide who I am, so my instinct is to be cautious about my online presence.  But maybe it’s time to let that stuff go…

From left: Hunter, Grant, Karie, Kate.

So who were the guests?  We met Kate and Karie through some mutual friends, who we unfortunately don’t get to see much anymore.  But that has allowed us to spend some time together and get to know them pretty well.  They are incredibly nice people who, in some funny way, have kind of become our millennial interpreters a bit.  They went to American University and have a big group of friends here that settled and found jobs after college.  They throw a fun holiday party.  They, like many of the millennial generation, are very knowledgeable about food and drink and have introduced me to some breweries and products here in DC that I really like.  In fact, they brought us a bunch of great beer as a hostess gift when they came for dinner.  For the surprise guests, they brought two of their guy friends, Grant and Hunter, who were a lot of fun.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a while really… plus it was really nice to hang out with adults and not talk jobs, politics, or anything super heavy.  Our conversations touched on the pros and cons of hooking with your pizza delivery person (still unresolved), how Goya products are made in New Jersey (who knew?), and what it feels like getting older (the big 3-0 is on all of their mutual horizons). 

Beef vindaloo.

For the food, I have been trying to have a dinner that featured Indian cuisine for a while now, but had a hard time focusing the menu since Indian cuisine is impressively varied by region and town.  I turned to two sources, Nigella (shocker) and someone I consider a great spokesperson for Indian cooking through her writing and cookbooks, Madhur Jaffrey.  Now, as a bit of a side note, I also was one of those people who bought an Instapot on cyber Monday this past year and, after being very skeptical initially, I have come to love it.  So, after learning how evangelical Karie is about the device at her holiday party, I knew I had to use it in some way for this dinner.  Fortunately, a lot of Indian cooking lends itself very nicely to pressure cooking.  I had intended to make lamb vindaloo, but no grocery store here in DC had any lamb shoulder roasts, all I could find were sliced blades from the shoulder that came from New Zealand.  No thanks. So instead I found a nice chuck roast (which admittedly is not very Hindu), but it was quite delicious.  Using Madhur’s recipe it was a cinch to make in the Instapot – which also served as the cooking vessel for the rice pilaf.   And this is really where the Instapot shines: cooking grains and legumes.  

The rice pilaf.

The appetizer was surprisingly easy to make and also quite delicious.  I have never used chickpea flour before, but I would make these fritters again anytime.  They were easy to assemble and after a quick pan fry in an inch or so of vegetable oil, quite good with a yogurt dipping sauce.

Aloo gobi and muttar paneer wait to be served.

I also did my best to make a menu that contained no cilantro.  I randomly saw online that one of the guests has that rare genetic thing where the leaves taste like soap or worse, so I pulled that out where I could and substituted parsley instead.   I also learned that you can use ground dried coriander and it doesn’t affect them the same way.  Which would have been tough since a lot of the Indian recipes I was looking at had ground coriander. 

Frying up the onion fritters.
The cocktail and dessert were something of a challenge.  The Indian desserts have had in my life on the whole just weren’t the most exciting.  So I looked and found this semolina cake with coconut added four ways, which sounded good.  Unfortunately the recipe was really off in their amounts and I think I overcooked the cake a bit.  The guests still liked it, but I was disappointed.  For the drink, we were pretty liberal on what could constitute an "Indian" cocktail.  Some research online and we ended with a pretty good drink.  Although in retrospect I would have added sparkling wine, rather than soda water, since it needed some acidity to cut through the guava.

Our cocktail for the evening.
Overall, it was a fun night, with good food, and we made some new friends – so glad to be doing these dinners again.


An Indian Banquet

January 27, 2018

Mumbai Mint Sparkler
Guava nectar, muddled mint, rye, club soda

Onion fritters
Besan (chickpea flour), onion, spices, fresh chile,
green chutney dipping sauce

Chicken with Green Chiles
Chicken breast, green chile, spices, spinach/mint sauce

Beef Vindaloo
 Chuck beef, garlic, ginger, cayenne, whole grain mustard, red wine vinegar, coconut milk

Muttar paneer
Paneer cheese, sweet peas, tomato puree

Aloo gobi
Cauliflower, potatoes, turmeric, mustard and cumin seeds

Rice pilaf
Gold basmati rice, cardamom, cinnamon, slivered almonds

Goan Baath Cake
Coconut (four ways), semolina, rosewater

Karie Kvandal
Kate McCoy
Grant Carlisle
Hunter Mason

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#11: Friday Night in Tunisia

Honeyed almond and orange cake for dessert.
Wow, I am REALLY behind on this one. It’s been a busy year and I am really happy to finally have some time to come back to this blog and to the food and people that make it meaningful to me. We kicked off the 2016 You Pick Two season in style with our event in February. As I have said previously, these events and this blog are all about bringing back the dinner party, but they are also exploring varied tastes and cuisines from around the world.  I used to watch a lot of shows dedicated to cooking and entertaining and while they seem to be in a state of retreat (does everything have to be a battle/throwdown/competition???), I still watch a few of them. And you can't talk dinner party and entertaining without mentioning Ina Garten.  One rule for entertaining she states over and over is that you should never try something new when hosting a dinner party. I hear that bit of advice from a lot of people actually. You Pick Two ignores that piece of advice. I cook a ton of food at these events that I have never done before - most work out great. I understand it can make people nervous, but there isn’t time to test out the dishes, so if something goes south then it makes a great story and I learned something. I also find that the recipes I get from the internet and from my collection of cookbooks have been pretty well tested and come together just fine.  Then again, I have been at this for a while.

Ground lamb and beef meatballs over stewed root vegetables.
For this event I turned to my favorite food writer, Nigella Lawson. Her book “Feast” focuses on just the kind of dinner parties that You Pick Two is all about. She includes starters, main courses, desserts, etc. with each one. It’s basically a cooking blueprint for the night. One feast that I always wanted to try was this Night in Tunisia one – partially because I loved the exoticism of it, but partially because I probably won’t ever make it to Tunisia and this is my attempt at understanding the country and its food history. So who did we invite?

We started with some new friends: Aaron and Youngkey. We are attending their wedding in early 2017 and I learned very early on that Aaron is a huge foodie. Not only does he know a lot about what is going on in the restaurant/chef scene, but he’s an excellent cook in his own right. He had us over for brunch where he whipped up homemade gravlax, assembled a waffle station, and made three kinds of quiche. He knows what he is doing, so to me it was an obvious choice to invite them. I also knew that I had to challenge myself and try something new – so the Tunisian feast idea made a lot of sense. Youngkey, or Yk, is his partner (fiance) and is currently a medical resident and works crazy hours. But I knew he had an adventurous palate and is willing to try different types of food.  Moreover, he is a fantastic planner and did what he had to do get them (and their Pick Two) set up and over for dinner. Like I said, they are relatively new friends of ours so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were really happy with who they brought.

The You Pick Two crew, selfie courtesy of Megan.
Megan and Philip are married with two kids and are long-standing friends of theirs, Aaron and Megan used to work together at a law firm (they are both attorneys by training, with Megan still practicing law). Kevin is also an attorney but we were thankful that the night’s conversation didn’t involve the law. Megan also has a really interesting second career in voiceovers/narration. She is the announcer for both the Webby awards and the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

One of the most interesting parts of the night was learning that not only is Philip a producer of TV and film, but he used to work on a lot of food shows while living in NYC – especially Bobby Flay shows. We talked a lot about current food programming and I was able to confirm something I always thought was true: on Iron Chef they know the ingredient ahead of time! However, they do actually make all those dishes in real time – something I didn’t know. I have also always been concerned what happens on these food competition shows in terms of waste, like what happens to all this stuff that is cooked? Philip assured me that all the food does in fact get eaten (there are enormous crews that film and make these shows). Philip left NYC to pursue his own film production business here in DC, which he says is a completely different market. I have no doubt he will succeed.

Harissa paste figured prominently in the cooking.
The food turned out great – everyone enjoyed it and, more importantly, the company and conversation. The brik appetizer was a revelation to me, I have never had that before. I used filo dough (which isn’t necessarily traditional) but what I found interesting is that you squeeze lemon over it after you bake it. Quite good. The brik recipe, from Jamie Oliver, can be found here:

The rest can be found in Nigella’s book, “Feast”. Enjoy!


Friday Night in Tunisia

February 6, 2016

Gentleman’s Fig
Fig infused vodka, bourbon, muddled blueberries, ginger ale

Tunisian Brik
Filo dough with mashed sweet potato, chile,
and spiced filling

Aromatic meatballs
Ground lamb and beef, onion, cinnamon, allspice

Root vegetable stew
Rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, tomato, rose harissa

Vegetable stock, cumin, coriander

Green lettuce and herb salad
Green leaf lettuce, flat leaf parsley,
lemon cumin vinaigrette

Honeyed almond and orange cake
Ground almond and poached orange cake,
honeyed fig topping

Aaron Schwid and Youngkey Chung
Megan Mann and Philip Operé