Wow. I wonder if this all will be accepted by the Boards...
Cookin’ on the River 2002
The Pittsburgh Supper Club had a weekend event on September 19 through 21 at my vacation home located on the Cheat River near Morgantown, WV. Of twelve members, a total of 7 were able to attend for part or all of the weekend. Hurricane Isabel made for some anxious moments, but by Friday afternoon the rain had subsided and the remainder of the weekend was sunny, although a bit cooler than desired. Unfortunately, the quantity of rain caused many tributaries south of the lake house to raise the river water level and brought an ugly brown color and a good quantity of floating logs and other debris into view until Sunday. But it didn’t matter because what was really important was the company and the cooking!
On Friday night after a great dinner we had a canning demonstration. I made a simple pepper and tomato salsa and processed it in pint-size jars so that all who was there could have a jar to take home as a “souvenir”. Everyone was surprised at how very simple this method of preserving foods could be, and I hope that I may have inspired some of our members to try this on their own since I really do believe that it is becoming a lost technique.
While the salsa was processing, we had a kitchen utensil swap. I had attended a party several years ago and about 40 people participated in a Yankee Swap where, after unwrapping the gift that you chose, you had the option of swapping your chosen gift for any other that had been previously chosen. Of course, for a few of the “choice” gifts, it almost became a bloodbath as items went passing from person to person, and flying through the air in some instances as one person would try to protect her gift from the others (one woman locked herself in the powder room with her gift and refused to come out unless she could be assured that nobody else would take it from her!). We Supper Club members are so much more civilized! Everyone was instructed to bring a new or gently-used utensil that was no longer needed, and we took turns choosing. It was a lot of fun to see what was unwrapped, and all seemed to be quite pleased with they chose so there were no battles waged in the living room on this particular evening. And what was interesting was how a utensil could be not particularly wanted by one person, yet the one who chose it claimed to really need/want it. Or were we all just being polite, having known each other for only a year? hmmmmm? Future swaps will tell....
On Saturday, after breakfast, we prepared for a picnic. We drove about 15 minutes to Cooper’s Rock State Forest where we set out an incredible spread! After this mammoth midday meal, and a short meeting, we went on a 2 mile hike through beautifully forested and rocky areas. We returned to the lake house to begin preparing dinner. I gave a short technique demonstration on roasting bell peppers, which were then used in the dinner entrée. Later, while we had dessert, there was another swap, this one featured cookbooks. And, again, no “trades” were made; all were quite pleased with their choices! After everything was cleaned up, two of our members left and the remaining relaxed and talked the night away.
Sunday morning was, naturally, busy with cooking! We had breakfast and then, after the cooking mess was cleaned, some of us took a canoe ride since the river had cleared up and the current had slowed considerably. After this, we made lunch. By now, the number in our group had decreased so that only two of us were remaining to take a quick boat ride, dodging branches and logs along the way. The final guest left at 5pm, and I was sad to see the weekend end.
Our Club has been around, in its present form, for just a year now and it was so nice to be able to spend more than just a couple of hours together. We discovered that we all quite enjoy cooking together. Every meal was a team effort without chores having to be assigned—whoever was not cooking just took on the duties of dishwasher-stacking and pot-scrubbing. A few of the menu items were joint-efforts, some were prepared either entirely or partially ahead of time, and it all worked out quite well. We had a nice, long weekend to cook and relax and talk, talk, talk. Breakfast was prepared and eaten either dressed or still in pajamas, makeup and contact lenses unneeded, everyone just kicking back to enjoy this time getting to know each other.
THE MENUS and REVIEWS
Cavit Pinot Grigio 2002 (while preparing dinner)
Stone Villa Reisling 2002 (with dinner)
Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Artichokes, Lemon, and Goat Cheese (Cooking Light, April 2003 )
Rather than pounding the chicken then rolling up the filling inside as the recipe instructed, Meridee cut a “pocket” into the thickest part of the breast then spooned the filling inside and closed the opening with a toothpick. The chicken was then sautéed and baked per the recipe.
The fresh lemon and artichokes, combined with the goat cheese, was very flavorful
Perhaps because of the change in the stuffing method, there was about 1/3 of the filling leftover.
Warm Ikarian Potato Salad with Tomatoes, Onion, and Oregano (Eating Well, Summer 2002)
To lessen the amount of cooks in the kitchen, Jenni prepared all of the ingredients in advance and then, just before serving, warmed the potatoes in the microwave and added the other vegetables and dressing.
There was a great combination of flavors in this--the garden-fresh tomatoes, warm potatoes, and crunchy cucumbers-- was different and very good.
Perhaps less red onion could have been used since some thought that particular ingredient to be a bit overpowering.
Garlicky Tomato Tart (Cooking Light, July 1997)
The baking powder crust was prepared ahead and rolled and pressed into the pan (crust was more like biscuit dough and a bit sticky to work with). The rest of the recipe was prepared on site. Jonie used 1% milk instead of skim milk, and inadvertently left out the nonfat dry milk, but this seemed to have no impact on taste or how the tart cooked. She drained the diced tomatoes well before cooking and also blotted the sliced tomatoes (which were layered in the crust) well.
This was reviewed as excellent, and definitely a dish to make in the summer with fresh ingredients.
Lemon Poppyseed Bundt Cake (Cooking Light, Sept./Oct. 1992 )
This cake looked like it was bought in a bakery! Alison said that it was easy to put together and, just to be certain that it would be perfect for her Club, she made the great sacrifice of slicing a small piece to sample before she brought it. What a trooper!
Everyone really enjoyed this cake. It had a nice lemon flavor, with the mild crunch of poppyseed, and was very moist.
Swiss Fruit and Yogurt Muesli (Cooking Light 9/03)
This was assembled by Meridee while the muffins were baking. Most of us had never eaten any type of muesli before and were surprised at how much we liked it!
The muesli had a wonderful, fresh flavor – the apples contributed crunch and the yogurt a nice, smooth feel.
This was very filling and the 1-1/4 cup servings seemed to be too much (even without the accompanying muffins), perhaps the recipe could make three servings instead of two. (Vicci’s note: I made this for my husband and me and, because he eats more than I do, this amount was perfect for the two of us. I also made it with lowfat vanilla yogurt. I decreased the brown sugar to 1 tablespoon, but it was still sweet and the sugar could have been left out entirely.)
Blueberry Power Muffins (Cooking Light 7/03)
Nancy put these together on Saturday morning while the rest of us were yawning and drinking our much-needed coffee and tea, and said that it was quite easy to do even though she doesn’t bake often. It seemed to make very small muffins, though, with the directions to fill the muffin cups with only 2 tablespoons of batter. They were a good size since we also had muesli and smoothies, though.
These were very good, moist and light (even with the whole wheat flour and oatmeal in them)
Orange-Banana Smoothies (Cooking Light 9/03)
Again, these were quick to make for breakfast. Jenni doesn’t like bananas, so she made a batch with frozen raspberries instead, and also used nonfat vanilla yogurt instead of lowfat.
Everyone enjoyed these smoothies. Nancy suggested filling the glass with the banana mixture, then adding a “shot” of raspberry, which was heavenly!
Stone Villa Wine Cellars “Stonegria”
Jamaican Chicken, Rice, and Bean Salad (Eating Well, Sept./Oct. 1994)
Although Alison commented that this recipe is a bit labor-intensive with all of the vegetable chopping required, the results were well worth it.
This was rated as having an excellent taste.
The combination of chicken, black beans, roasted peppers, and dressing containing Pickapeppa Sauce (a Jamaican condiment containing, among other things, tomatoes, mangos, and raisins) was very interesting. Great to make ahead as it can be served warm or cold.
Grilled Corn Salad with Tomato & Basil (Cooking Light, July/August 96)
Nancy roasted the corn and removed it from the cob ahead of time. To lower the fat content, she sprayed the ears with cooking oil spray instead of brushing them with olive oil, and she also broiled the corn instead of grilling it. The tomato was not seeded.
All agreed that this was a light, flavorful summertime salad. The lime juice was a nice addition to the salad dressing, and the corn had a very good “roasted” flavor.
Pan Bagnat (Cooking Light 9/03)
Jonie prepared these on Friday night to let the flavors have a chance to meld (the recipe specifies making them 2-24 hours ahead of time. The rolls were not hollowed out per the recipe because they were a bit flatter than those specified. She used white wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar.
These sandwiches had a great combination of flavors, and the anchovies did not add the expected “fishy” taste.
Although a bit soggy in the middle, we decided that these did need time after preparation to develop the flavors. It ended up being about 19 hours from when they were made until the time that they were eaten, and that seemed to be a little too long.
Fresh Fruit with Tangy Dressing (Cooking Light, July 2002)
Patty pre-cut the fruit (except for the bananas) and made the dressing ahead of time, as well. The salad was then assembled at the picnic site, where the bananas were added.
Very good, unusual combination of avocado, melon, and bananas on lettuce.
Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze (Cooking Light, September 2003)
When Jonie bakes, we don’t expect her to follow the recipe to a “t” because she always has an idea or an ingredient to make it better. And this time was no exception! She used vanilla nonfat yogurt instead of plain lowfat, light rum instead of dark and added 1 teaspoon of banana extract to the batter as well. She forgot to sprinkle the coconut on top (most of which probably would have fallen off of the loaf anyway), and she baked it in an 8”x4” pan which necessitated a baking time of about 10 minutes longer. After baking, she used a cake tester to poke holes in the top of the still-warm bread and brushed the glaze over (after adding a little lime extract to the glaze). Her tip is to spray only the bottom of the loaf pan with cooking spray, then use a piece of parchment that is cut to fit the bottom, then spray the parchment. Do not spray the sides of the pan, as that prevents the batter from “climbing” up the sides of the pan and making a nice, rounded loaf. (I tried this, fully expecting to have to chip away at the sides of the pan to release the sides of the loaf, but it did not happen! And the bread looked bakery-perfect, too). The loaf froze wonderfully, even with the glaze.
We almost decimated the entire loaf at the picnic—it was so good! The coconut taste was great, and the lime glaze made this a heavenly dessert. Jenni the Banana Hater liked it, too, it was that good!
Subsequent tries to lighten this recipe further by a few of us during the week after were successful. We have been able to decrease the butter to 2 tablespoons and, with the addition of ½ teaspoon of coconut extract, decrease the coconut to ¼ cup. Also whole wheat flour was subbed for half of the all-purpose flour. Also, you need only make about half of the amount of glaze. This makes for a less sweet, less fat loaf with a little more fiber.
Alice White Shiraz 2000
Swedish Hill Marechal Foch 1999
Coldstream Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2001
Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Tortilla Chips (Cooking Light, September 2000)
Meridee used the entire 10-ounce package of frozen spinach rather than the 5 ounces called for, and she baked it in a loaf pan (extending the cooking time by 10 minutes).
This was an incredible dip (someone mentioned that it rated 12 stars on a scale of 1 to 10)!. It tasted very rich and cheesy, yet is low in fat. Okay, I admit that I actually hid my leftover portion in the back of the refrigerator so that no one would accidentally abscond with it!
Roasted Red Pepper Ratatouille ( Cooking Light, September 1996)
Several members brought the ingredients, and Jonie did the most of the chopping and all of the cooking. She said that she chopped the veggies smaller than specified, and added fresh basil rather than the dried that was called for in the recipe. She also just “eyeballed” the quantity instead of measuring and thinks that she used more veggies than the recipe directed (which is certainly acceptable!).
This was excellent served over the polenta (below). Everyone thought it had a nice, vegetable-filled taste. Perfect for late-summer when peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are in season.
Grilled Polenta (Cooking Light, September 1996)
Jonie prepared this a day ahead to give the polenta a chance to firm up. She used reduced-fat feta instead of the regular-fat cheese, and crumbled it as finely as she could but there were still a lot of chunks of the cheese in the cornmeal mixture. She also commented that, if she made this at her home and didn’t use her grill, it would be just as good browned in a skillet.
We all liked the chunks of feta! It contributed by adding a “burst” of flavor.
Most agreed that they would make this at home, either with or without the ratatouille.
Ziti with Tuscan Porcini Mushroom Sauce (Cooking Light, September 2000)
After having a bit of an adventure locating the porcini mushrooms in a local grocery store (hint—they’re in little bags in the produce section!), Alison said that this was a very easy and quick recipe.
The porcinis added wonderful mushroom flavor to the final dish. Definitely something that could be used as an entrée with a salad accompaniment.
Romaine Salad with Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette (Cooking Light, September 2001)
This was a very good, easy salad. Jenni prepared the dressing ahead of time.
All liked the salad, but some felt that it needed a “kick”. I remembered that I had made this several times, and upon looking at the recipe afterward, I realized that I had reduced the water to a couple of tablespoons from the ¾ cup water in the recipe when I prepared it. Hand written on the margin of the recipe in that particular issue I also commented that it needed more garlic and a bit more balsamic vinegar. If I had only taken the time to look this recipe up in the magazine instead of on the website, I could have passed those changes on. Sorry, Jenni! But the salad still was tasty!
Baked Cinnamon Pears with Yogurt Cheese (Mayo Clinic/ Williams Sonoma Cookbook)
Patty made this very interesting dessert. She used prune baby-food instead of the prune puree in the stuffing (which also contained chopped dates, raisins, brown sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon). The recipe directs you to peel and core the pears from the bottom, then stuff and place them, whole, in a baking dish. Since we wanted to offer smaller portions Patty halved the pears, then cored and stuffed them. She made the yogurt cheese ahead of time.
There were two definite opinions about this dessert, some liked it and others didn’t. The ones who liked it noted the taste and sweetness of the pears and of the filling complimented the tang of the yogurt cheese. The ones who were not wild about it said that it was a bit bland. Since there were two halves leftover, I sprinkled the pears with additional cinnamon and some nutmeg before reheating. This added some “punch” to the pears, but since I had enjoyed it in its original form I don’t know if it would have been enough to satisfy those who didn’t like this dessert.
Hazelnut-Anise Biscotti (Eating Well, September 1995)
Jenni discovered how frustrating it could be to “skin” hazelnuts! After toasting, she placed them in a towel and rubbed and rubbed, but the majority of the skins remained firmly on the nuts. She ended up chopping and using them in the biscotti anyway and none of us detected any bitterness (which is why the skins are removed).
These were very good, flavorful and crunchy.
The anise and hazelnuts complimented each other nicely, but to avoid the “hazelnut headache” almonds could be used instead.
(on to Part II for the rest-- and photos!)