Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dinner Club - Almost Alsace

Dinner. Dinner with friends. Dinner with friends and you're talking. And that's how dinner club started - with booze, I mean. You see, about two years ago a few friends and I were out drinking (Pegu Club, I believe) when the idea of each of the four of us (and our s.o.s) hosting a rotating dinner party was bandied about - and dinner club was born. And since then, every month and a half or two months, a great night of dinner and booze takes place. The guys do most, if not all, of the cooking.

Dinner club is great fun - each of us trying to outdo one another with our meals. The planning and procuring process that goes into each dinner can be quite extensive. Whether it's running to Whole Foods, the green market, the butcher, the baker or the boozer, a lot of thought goes into each dinner. One of our dinners was actually a market dinner, each of us shopping for and preparing one course; that one was at chez johnder (as he has the biggest and best kitchen) and was documented by special guest Miami Danny on his blog. Danny was lucky - there aren't many special guests. One night the host actually set up a barbecue right in his kitchen; we all enjoyed the Korean bbq that evening. At another dinner, we had 5 or 6 separate pasta courses - can you say carbo-load...that one was written about in Saveur magazine.

Dinner club at chez weinoo happens about once every four to six months, and this past Saturday night, it was my turn. For the main course, I had been thinking about and wanting to make a certain dish for a long time - and it's a dish that should be eaten in cooler weather, so the timing was just right. Many other courses had to be planned as well - hors d'oeuvres, first course, dessert, booze, etc.

The star of the show was choucroute garni, an Alsatian dish which is sauerkraut cooked with onions, white wine, spices and various and copious amounts of pork products. What better place to shop for the ingredients than at this classic NY institution, opened in 1937...

Schaller & Weber is great - it's like stepping into another world; the senses of smell and sight are overwhelmed - I mean just take a look at one of their display cases...

Here are the raw materials I picked up for the choucroute, which is all about the shopping, since I'm not exactly butchering and curing my own hogs...we've got bacon, smoked butt, salt pork, kielbasa, knackwurst, franfurters, bratwurst, weisswurst and sauerkraut. As Alice always says, start with good ingredients, prepare them properly and don't fuck them up (well, maybe she didn't say it quite like that).

Of course, you always want to start with something that appears healthy, so for a first course we had a fennel and tomato soup. Sweat fennel, onions, potatoes, garlic and plum tomatoes for about 10 minutes. Add 2 quarts good homemade chicken stock. Simmer an hour or so. Puree. Reheat - taste for seasonings. A tablespoonful or 2 of Pernod is good. Serve in hot bowls thusly...

Next up, the main. I poached the sausages separately, only because my largest cooking utensil wasn't big enough for it all - and because I like these sausages best when they're heated gently - basically they're my own dirty-water dogs, and everything was served on two large platters...

To go with the choucroute, we had a vegetable, roasted...

and we had some Sam Kinsey home-made rye bread...notice the Kinsey arm, that's not a sleeve!

We put quite a dent in those piles of meat (and the pork-shoulder hash I made the next morning for breakfast was good too).

My tip of the day has included the one about not cooking something for a fancy-schmancy dinner party that you haven't cooked before - but for dinner club, we all make exceptions. And there have been some monumental mistakes; both my Venetian dessert and bread pudding are still talked and laughed about to this day. Marshmallows that we were unable to cut without electric hand tools. And a few others along the way.

So just to make sure we'd have something to laugh about, I set out to make a lemon custard tart - tart making is something I haven't done in many years. And while it wasn't a total disaster (as it was actually edible), it needs work; as soon as the deep cut on my finger heals, from when I was trying to remove the damn tart from the tart pan, I'm giving it another try. That's why to make sure I'd have something to serve when and if the tart failed, there was also vanilla ice cream as well as these Pierre Hermé Korovas; chocolate sablés topped with fleur de sel...

A nice end to a great evening with good friends. And of course, looking forward to the next 3 dinner clubs, when all I have to do is eat - and drink.


  1. Great post! Dinner clubs are great, but notoriously difficult to keep going. That shouldn't be a problem with that crew though.

    "Not a sleeve," LMROTFL

  2. Your serrated knife is too damn sharp! I'm just starting to regenerate a little feeling in the tip of my right thumb.
    Looks like a fine time was had by all. One of these times I'm going to beg an invite.... maybe if I come back from Italy with truffles????

  3. Oh, there ain't no maybe there...bring 'em on.

    That MAC bread knife is something to be respectful of. But I cut my damn finger on the removable tart pan bottom, so anything can happen.

  4. You bastard! I am so hungry right now I could eat Kinsey's arm! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!! The dude's forearm looks like a wild boar's ass! And I mean that in the most delectable, boar-ass-eating-Bourdain kind of way. I mean throw some kosher salt on it and start gnawing!
    I really loved this post. I feel honored to have eaten with you freaks! And judging from my experience, I'll bet the wine and drinks were perfect. Details?

  5. Oh, it's on Weinstein!

    Just as soon as I finish digesting that dinner.

  6. Brody - it turned out that we only drank wine with the soup course - a 2007 Müller-Thurgau, which had lovely notes of burnt orange peel (at least that's what it said on the bottle) and which I thought would go nicely with the fennel in the did, and according to one guest, was a "restaurant-style" pairing.

    For the rest of the meal we drank various beers - some Belgian ales, some German stuff and all worked well with the pork.

    And I think it's Bourdain's buddy, the fat guy, who eats boar's ass.

    Kinsey - bring it.

    Doc - we're trying!

  7. Speaking of a boar's ass, I think that would pair nicely with a spicy red from the Rhone, perhaps a Cote Rotie.

  8. I stand corrected it was not boar's ass Bourdain ate in Namibia but uncleaned warthog rectum, which looks nothing like Kinsey's arm. And I believe the villagers paired it with a delightful bucket of fermented spittle.

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