April Dinner Club

Given the fact that today is the last day in May, I think its time I fill you all in on April’s Dinner club. April was a difficult theme to choose. We wanted something that was seasonal and reflective of Spring. Early Spring can be a weird time seasonally because all the Winter produce is no longer as good and no one wants to eat heavy meals anymore yet the Summer produce isn’t ready to be eaten yet. Perhaps that’s why Easter candy  is one of the first things I think of when trying to come up with a Spring theme ingredient! We did all finally agree on the theme ingredient mint.

We were chosen to cook the main course this month and mint is not an herb that I find myself using very often; I loved being forced to use it in a recipe that  was not a salad or a dessert. Immediately, lamb came to mind as a good protein to go with mint however I’ll admit lamb intimidates me. I made braised lamb for Christmas this year and I killed it; it was so dry that I think it resembled jerky more than the braised lamb I was going for. After that incident, I haven’t attempted lamb again. I tried to look up other recipes involving mint but kept coming back to lamb.

After finally giving in to the lamb I needed to find a recipe that cooked the lamb in a relatively short period of time, due to the fact that dinner club in progressive, I’d only have about 30 minutes to get everything together. I came upon a recipe for lamb that was marinated and grilled. It got excellent reviews online and seemed very simple, sold. The bonus was that dinner club was scheduled for the week following Easter and I scored a nice cut of lamb on super sale!

This recipe turned out better than I ever could have imagined. Not only was the lamb perfectly medium rare but the marinade had made the meat incredibly tender and flavorful. We devoured the entire thing and all agreed that, it had been the best dinner club to date. The marinade contained some Asian flavors which I’m convinced made the dish especially good. This is the first recipe I made from my new Jacques Pepin cookbook that Eric bought me for Christmas and it was the perfect choice.

Like I said, this dish was beyond easy but be sure to marinate it the day before. Prep all the ingredients including cutting the string mesh from the lamb roast. I had double the amount of meat so I doubled the marinade. Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and then pour it over the lamb in a large freezer bag.

Turn the bag a few times in the fridge.

The following day, sear the lamb on a hot grill for about 7 minutes per side and then bring it inside to finish in the oven. The recipe calls for the oven to be 170 degrees. I was skeptical at first thinking it was not hot enough, but as I do with all first time recipes, I followed it. I was right, 170 is not hot enough to get the meat cooking more and I ended up turning the oven up to 250 degrees and cooking it another 15 minutes. By then, the lamb was perfectly medium rare.

**Do not cook lamb more than medium, ideally you want it rare to medium rare otherwise the flavor gets weird and its incredibly dry. The exception to this is of course when braising lamb, that can be cooked longer and is delicious but grilling the lamb or lamb chops you want to cook rare-medium rare.**

Here it is in its glory:

While the lamb was cooking, I cooked down the marinade in a small saucepan and poured it over the lamb when it went into the oven. It was SO GOOD!

We all wanted to lick our plates. I served two sides, green beans with crispy shallots and fresh mint.

I also braised carrots and brussel sprouts and tossed them with balsamic vinegar.

These were also a hit. The only thing I had leftovers of was the green beans. The mint was fresh and light in all the dishes, a great theme ingredient.

I won’t leave out the other courses! However, we forgot to take any pictures of those at all this month, sorry! The first course was an amazing Asian spring roll with shrimp and stuffed with rice noodles and mint. They were beautiful, fresh and light; a perfect starter. They were accompanied by strawberry mojitos.

The third course was a chocolate and mint trifle with chocolate shavings on top. It was cool and sweet, not to mention pretty. Chocolate is always a great way to end a meal.

So there you have it, the quick overview of April’s Dinner Club! Now, on to May and hopefully some warmer weather again.

Dinner Club – March

As promised last week, I’m finally (after battling it out with a case of bronchitis) back to regale you with our March Dinner Club experience which was also our St. Patrick’s Day celebration. When choosing the date for this month’s club, we all noticed that St. Patrick’s Day was on a Saturday and that all of our schedules were free so naturally we choose that to be the date of our club and we choose traditional Irish fare as the theme. Eric and I ended up with the dessert course this time, if you remember last month we had the appetizer course, read more about that here.

Being of Irish heritage and having visited Ireland were definitely an advantage for this theme, however dessert was probably the most difficult course to research. Go ahead and Google it, not one major dessert will appear, if you’re even able to find one that is definitively Irish. In the end I did find a lot of apple cakes, recipes that combined Guinness and chocolate (not unlike the Stout Cake I made last week) and many that contained Irish Whiskey. I found one that was from an Irish restaurant and was for a white bread pudding with a caramel whiskey sauce. This recipe was different than most of the other and I liked that it deviated from the popular Bailey’s Irish Creme, or Guinness and chocolate ingredients. It also stated that this recipe “was the best thing you’ll ever taste in your life” if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will.

Start the recipe by soaking the raisins in whiskey and set that aside until the very end.

Remove the crusts from the white bread (I just used white sandwich bread, nothing fancy) and lightly brush with melted butter.

Toast one side under the broiler until it just begins to brown.

Remove from the oven and, once cooled, cut into cubes.

While prepping the bread cubes, combine the milk and heavy cream in a medium size sauce pan. Cut a vanilla bean lengthwise and use a knife to scrape out all the black seeds into the cream mixture. Put the vanilla pod into the cream and slowly bring to a boil, watch it carefully so that it doesn’t boil over.

Once it boils, immediately remove the pot from the heat (to avoid scalding the milk). Take out the vanilla pod and chill until cooled, about an hour.

Once the cream mixture is cool, whisk together the eggs and sugar.

Add in the cream mixture. Stir in the bread cubes and raisins and let the whole thing sit for about 15 minutes.

Pour the whole mixture into a buttered baking dish and dot more butter.

Sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees until set, about an hour.

While that’s baking, make the caramel whiskey sauce.

Melt and sugar and water over medium heat stirring slowly until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Boil the mixture without stirring for about 30 minutes, until it just starts to caramelize (a hint of golden color).

While that’s caramelizing, warm the heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat.

Once the caramel is ready, add butter and whipping cream. Stir over medium heat until smooth, 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool. Now you can store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Once its time to serve, add in the whiskey and more cream until the sauce reaches the consistency you want.

Drizzle sauce over a big piece of bread pudding.

I was told it tasted like Cinnamon Toast Crunch on a Saturday morning, as a child. And everyone had seconds on dessert. All in all, the bread pudding was a great success! Not to mention, it was pretty easy. We have some sauce left over and Eric just asked if I would make another batch to “finish up” the sauce.

Here is the link to the recipe I found online.

Irish Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce

Since we started this post with dessert first, I guess I’ll go back and tell you about the first two courses. We began at the first house with some home made Irish Soda bread and Irish Rarebit. Yep, I know what you’re thinking, “Do you mean rabbit? Did you eat rabbit?” Nope. That’s what I thought when they first said what they were serving, too. But in fact, there is no rabbit to be found in this dish, nor does it look like a rabbit. Wikipedia only had an explanation for Welsh Rarebit but it states:

Welsh rarebit is a dish made with a savoury sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients and served hot over toast. The names of the dish originate from 18th century Great Britain.Welsh rarebit is typically made with Cheddar cheese, in contrast to the Continental European fondue which classically depends on Swiss cheeses.

The Irish rarebit includes Guinness and cheese in the sauce. We all forgot cameras so I’ll pull one from the internet so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

Rarebit Recipe

After some rarebit and beers, we moved on to the second house and the main course.

We enjoyed some delicious Shepards Pie. Again, photo stolen from Pinterest because we forgot to take pictures.

Individual shepards pie

Finishing with the bread pudding was perfect. We all felt happy and comfy, just like you should after eating an Irish meal because it’s probably windy and rainy outside the window.

Thanks again to all our dinner club couples for putting in a wonderful effort to making great dishes. Can’t wait for April!

Dinner Club – February

A few weeks ago, we participated in our very first evening of dinner club and I can’t wait until next month’s already! We had so much fun with our friends and eating good food. I wish every night was dinner club!

Back in January, we were given the idea to start a dinner club from our friends we visited in Colorado, see that post here. They told us about their dinner club and I immediately told them we were stealing the idea. The “rules” of the club are to get 3 couples who live fairly close to one another. The evening is progressive, which means you eat each course at a different house and move from house to house throughout the evening. To add on to the progressive fun, we also chose a theme ingredient that had to be used in each dish.

Since we were getting together in the month of February, we all agreed on the theme ingredient of chocolate and then chose courses out of a hat. Eric and I chose the appetizer course, which meant we were kicking off the entire chocolaty evening, no pressure.

I had no clue where to start. First, I rarely make appetizers. I’m not sure why, but finding an appetizer that wasn’t too sweet and contained chocolate was a little daunting. After doing some searching online, I found a recipe for roasted parsnip soup that contained white chocolate and was topped with cocoa dusted croutons. It was perfect in every way, and it looked fairly simple; bonus!

Since the soup was rather simple and I didn’t have the burden of making a main course or dessert, I chose to have some fun and whipped up some chocolate butter (which we first ate at the Hershey Hotel and it was amazing!) for the bread and the chocolate drizzled popcorn that you saw in this post from last week. The popcorn would be the perfect precursor to the soup; we could eat it with drinks while everyone arrived.

To make the soup, start by roasting the parsnips in the oven after coating with olive oil, salt and pepper.

After the parsnips are roasted, saute the onion in melted butter.

Add chicken stock and a vanilla bean sliced lengthwise with the seeds scraped out and into the stock. You can find whole vanilla beans with the regular spices at the grocery store, however they are very expensive so be prepared to pay about $7 for 2 beans. (It’s totally worth it, I assure you.)

Add the roasted parsnips to the stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer until the parsnips are tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the white chocolate chips and remove the vanilla bean pod.

Using an immersion blender or a regular blender in batches, blend until the soup is smooth.

Squeeze fresh lemon juice into the soup and keep warm.

To make the croutons, slice some country bread. Drizzle with olive oil and then gently sift cocoa powder on one side of the bread.

Place in the oven at 400 degrees, just until crispy. Slice into cubes.

Garnish the soup with fresh dill, the croutons and a lemon wedge.

The soup was really good. At first I wasn’t sure about it, I’m not a big fan of vanilla or sweet flavors in my savory meals but this was a perfect balance so that it wasn’t actually very sweet at all. The lemon and dill really brought out the flavors of the soup and along with a slice of bread and chocolate butter, it was the perfect start to our evening.

Next we moved on to the second and main course and the second house. Here we were served a salad that boasted a home made chocolate balsamic vinaigrette. It was so delicious!

And next, we ate short ribs topped with dark chocolate an served over fresh pasta. It was out of this world delicious. The dark chocolate added such a nice sweet and subtle flavor to the dish.

These dishes were paired with a chocolate bread that had a swirl of chocolaty goodness through it. This was home made without a recipe so you’ll just have to look at the picture and wish you were there.

Following dinner, we moved on to the third and final house for dessert. Dessert was a decadent and beautiful chocolate and whiskey bunt cake served with ice cream and strawberries. We also enjoyed chocolate martinis!

Here’s a tutorial from our dessert couple about making the bundt cake. (Wasn’t it stellar of them to write me up a little blog post?!):

The following is the Brobst recipe for Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake, with help from Epicurious:

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process) plus 3 tablespoons for dusting pan
  • 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup American whiskey (the original called for American, I used Jameson.)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Special equipment: a 10-inch bundt pan (3 1/4 inches deep; 3-qt capacity)
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Garnish: confectioners’ sugar for dusting


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Butter bundt pan well, then dust with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, knocking out excess.
Heat coffee, whiskey, butter, and remaining cup cocoa powder in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, whisking, until butter is melted.

Remove from heat, then add sugar and whisk until dissolved, about 1 minute.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool 5 minutes.

While chocolate mixture cools, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together eggs and vanilla in a small bowl, then whisk into cooled chocolate mixture until combined well.

Add chocolate to flour mixture and whisk until just combined (batter will be thin and bubbly).

Pour batter into bundt pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

Loosen cake from pan using tip of a dinner knife, then invert rack over pan and turn cake out onto rack.

Enjoy with fresh berries and French Vanilla Ice Cream!

We had so much fun and our next club will be meeting on St. Patrick’s day. I’m sure you can only guess the possibilities for a theme for that dinner! I have to say thanks to our Colorado friends for this awesome dinner club idea and thanks to our fellow dinner club couples who have been so much fun and such great sports through our first dinner club. Food truly does bring people together!

Here is the menu from our evening and each item is a link to the recipe.

First Course:

Chocolate Popcorn

Chocolate Butter

Roasted Parsnip and Vanilla Chocolate Soup

Second Course:

Fresh Greens Salad w/ Chocolate Balsamic Vinaigrette

Short Ribs Tagliatelle

Third Course:

Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake

Popcorn + Chocolate = YUM

This weekend I made one of the best snacks ever. We were preparing dishes for our very first dinner club (you’ll find out more about that in the next post) and wanted something to start the evening off that people could munch on casually upon arriving. Since discovering how to make popcorn on the stove, read about that here, I’ve been on a bit of a popcorn kick. I needed to incorporate chocolate into the snack in some way and chose to make a popcorn drizzled in white and dark chocolate. This means, salty and sweet and buttery all together, yum.

To start, I cooked the popcorn on the stove. For that recipe, click here. Dump the popcorn out on to a baking sheet lined with tin foil or parchment paper. Top with 1/2 cup of melted butter and salt well. Keep tasting it to make sure it’s salty and buttery enough.

This was the first time I’ve ever used the microwave to melt chocolate instead of a double boiler. I wanted this to be a quick and easy snack and have always heard that the microwave is a good way to melt it, just never tried it. For the chocolate, I chose a semisweet chocolate bar, it was already half used and this was a great way to use the rest of it up. I also wanted a darker chocolate because I was using white chocolate with it which is very sweet. I thought dark chocolate would balance it better.

For the white chocolate, I used chocolate chips I had leftover in the pantry.

I made a wonderful discovery on the back of the white chocolate chip bag, melting directions for the microwave! Always read the back of the chocolate chip bag. There is a lot of useful information there.

After melting both chocolates in the microwave, I used a fork to stir and made sure the chocolate was thin enough to drizzle.

Shake the fork back and forth gently over the tray of popcorn to drizzle it on. First I drizzled the dark chocolate and then the white chocolate.

Allow the sheet of popcorn to sit on the counter until the chocolate sets. You can pop it into the fridge to speed it up.

Break up the popcorn and toss in a bowl to serve.

This was such an easy and delicious snack. I can’t tell you how much everyone raved about it and really it took about 20 minutes and used all ingredients I had in my pantry already. This is my new “gourmet” snack recipe, trust me, it will impress all your friends when you tell them you actually made it!