Category: Secret Supper/Underground Restaurant

“Doesn’t Everyone Spend Saturday and Sunday Nights in the Kitchen?”: The Deadpan Entree Smackdown

We on the Deadpan/Ithaca FamilyStyles Team – you know, that ruggedly good-looking bunch – always love a little bit of competition. You can usually find us going to war with Bananagrams, settling Catan with all the imperial zeal of Cortez or Columbus himself, or quizzing each other on random yet seemingly important information (think real-life Sporcle): name as many pokemon as you can! List the members of the nightshade family! Extoll the virtues of kosher salt! You get the idea.

So, it was only natural that when it came down to figuring out an entree for our first Deadpan event, we decided to compete for it, with a facebook event, scorecards, and of course, hours upon hours in the kitchen. Once again taking advantage of Hilary’s generosity and five-burner Electrolux stove, we went to work.

Max Hull is a photoshop god

I’d say each one of us totally and completely brought it. Pictures and results after the jump!

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Butternut Squash Polenta and Other Mayhems: Deadpan Restaurant’s Opening Nights

So much has happened in the last few weeks. Amin is now gallivanting in Dresden, and Judy has proven a valuable addition to our kitchen cohort. We at Deadpan Restaurant had our opening debut a few weeks ago, and then a repeat event this past weekend. It was, in a word, insane. Five dishes, 12 guests per event, hours upon hours in the kitchen, and I don’t think I’ll ever look a pot of polenta in the eye again.

Let’s talk about the menu. Since we’re new at this whole restaurant thing, we haven’t really figured out how to simultaneously serve a secret supper and photodocument it, so bear with us on the pictures!

We started with a red wine oxtail and beef tongue stew, served as chilled, jelly hemispheres, with a layer of homemade Momofuku pickles on a toasted baguette round.

Probably the most challenging dish of the evening, our tongue-and-tail amuse bouche was cast in a mold designed and cut by Amin. Pretty cool, huh? We value the use of all parts of the animals we eat, and wanted our guests to do the same. To our surprise and delight, nobody tried to escape the event while we described this dish, and everyone cleaned their plate! On a side note, those pickles are so addictive and delicious – definitely at the top of my these-are-so-easy-to-make-i’ll-never-buy-them-again list.

For our starter, we served the dish that has been our pride, joy, and near-undoing for the last several months: pork belly with butternut squash polenta. Cured for two days in a mix of brown sugar, sea salt, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and black pepper, and then braised for upwards of three hours in a pot of chicken stock and Delirium Tremens (famed as the best beer in the world), this local pork from Autumn’s Harvest Farm is tender, buttery, and melts in your mouth. The butternut squash polenta is cooked on the stovetop and then baked (or is it fried?) on cast iron with a lot of butter. We made our sauce out of a reduction of the braising liquid and some Cornell Orchards cider. This isn’t actually the pork belly we served, but an earlier incarnation that looks mostly alike:

We also served some cider mulled with the same spice mix that we cured the belly with. Still with us, even through the bad flash photography? Our other three dishes, after the jump…

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A Southern Spread at Rambling Restaurant: Pulled Pork, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Squirty Cream!

With an American-themed meal at our last Rambling Restaurant, we just had to do a dessert featuring the never-ending source of birthday party fun for all ages:  shakeable whipped cream in a sleek metal canister. They have it over here in the UK, except they call it…squirty cream. I thought that it might be just an affectionate nickname, but nope.  It even says so on the packaging.

Hilarious. Say hello to the squirty cream and a slice of sweet potato pie.  But wait, dessert first? Nothing wrong with that, but let’s rewind a bit to cover this Southern-inspired feast from the beginning. Sadly, I failed to take photos of the slices of warm cornbread with chunks of sweet corn and a dusting of paprika. You’ll just have to imagine them stacked in cute little baskets and served with pretty rounds of colorful green, red, and yellow jalapeno-chile butter.

Next up, shared ramekins of creamy mac & cheese with a crunchy cheddar and ciabatta breadcrumb topping, served up baked, browned, and bubbling.

The main course was a stomach stuffing plate of pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce on freshly baked rolls, dirty rice (made satisfyingly, mouthwateringly dirty with chicken livers sauteed in the trinity of green pepper, celery, and onion), and a light lemony cole slaw.

We had an extreme overabundance of pulled pork, which is never a bad thing, although this picture’s a bit extreme. WARNING: GRATUITOUS PULLED PORK PICTURE AHEAD.

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A Rambling Aphrodisiac Dinner, Complete With Searing Loins and Gin & Tonic Jelly

Hooray! It’s time for another Rambling Restaurant Singles Night featuring an aphrodisiac dinner, so you know things are bound to get hot.  Particularly when you have five people in a veryverycozy kitchen and have fresh bread baking in the oven, a giant vat of soup bubbling on the stove, and ten large pork loins popping and fizzing boiling oil all over the place.

Really. Hot. Temperatures. Luckily, there was also a dining room full of really hot people (yes yes, as in extremely attractive) all mixing and mingling on the other side of the curtain.  To get their taste buds primed and hearts racing, we served four courses featuring ingredients thought to have aphrodisiac qualities.  Of course, both dessert courses featured what is inarguably the most guaranteed aphrodisiac of them all – a large quantity of alcohol. Which is how we started the night as well, with glasses of passionfruit, raspberry and rosebud fizz.

Each cocktail came with a little tag marked with a suit denoting where to sit for your first table, along with some silly icebreaker questions inside to spark conversation or incite passionate debate.  Our eleven brave men and eleven brave women scattered amongst four tables to wait for these shiny happy braids of dough…

…to toast to perfection into these lovely browned plaits with a soft and fluffy white interior.

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Salt, Pepper and Reckless Abandon: A Lovely Evening At A Brand New London Supper Club

Salt, pepper, and reckless abandon? Sounds just like my kind of evening.

The adorable setting above, complete with handmade British napkin, comes courtesy of Lex of LexEat, the kitchen mistress of a brand new London underground restaurant. I love underground restaurants/ secret suppers because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s a bit of the surprising and unexpected from the culinary and creative mind of someone who cares enough to prepare a whole meal, or rather, a whole dining experience for you and your new friends for the evening.  This secret supper from a few weeks ago was a secret supper done right, an excellent meal with great company and all sorts of additional little touches to make a fantastic evening.

A perfect example is this lovely little plate below. Not only is it pretty, but it’s accompanied by an charmingly handwritten menu and even more importantly, topped with homemade orange pepper tortelli.

Casual yet well-designed, carefully thought out yet seemingly effortless – that’s pretty much how the whole night went.  We sat next to some great people and chatted food, games, and travel over multiple bottles of wine.

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Sugar and Spice is Nice at the Rambling Restaurant

Bright colors are nice too.

At the last Rambling Restaurant of 2009, we served a trio of richly colored dips – chickpea hummous, beetroot hummous, and carrot cumin dip. So pretty in pink.

For maximum dippability, we prepared straight-out-of-a-hot-oven-and-onto-the-grill flatbreads. Take Moro flatbread recipe (recipe below), multiply by 15 (eek!) and you have a lot of steaming hot fresh bread  in your future. Also a lot of rolling pin action. Stop whining, it’s good for the arm muscles.

I know making your own bread for a meal sounds thoroughly unrealistic, but this pita-like bread only needs about 20 minutes to sit. This means you can take about five minutes to make the dough, let it sit while you chop vegetables or prepare something else, and have WOW-YOU’RE-AMAZING homemade bread to accompany your meal. Even if it’s only yourself you’re impressing, it’s totally worth it. Especially when you fold it over and stuff it with sauteed spinach and halloumi cheese and roasted eggplant and other such delights.

We followed up the onslaught of foldable starch and pretty bowls of mush with a Turmeric Lime Chili Chicken over a Roasted Eggplant, Pomegranate Seed, Scallion, Parsley, Mint, Tomato Fattoush with a dollop of Cumin Yogurt Sauce. It’s a lot of ingredients that somehow all work in symbiotic grace to produce a happy mouthful of amazing.

But a discussion of odd-sounding ingredients that don’t really seem like they’d work together but actually will blow your mind would not be complete without Chef foodrambler’s dessert: Orange Blossom Almond Polenta Cake with Coriander Syrup.  You might not think you like coriander, but I DARE you not to like this cake. I like this cake so much I am actually going to make it right now for a Christmas Eve Day Brunch.  I also like you enough to show you this pretty picture which does no justice to the rich, moist, exotically sweet and just a touch of spicy cake perfection.

Garnish with a twist of orange, a sprig of cilantro, and a spoonful of honeyed syrup with dots of coriander seeds.  Staring at this picture makes me very happy that this cake is only several hours in my future.  For those of you gluten-free people out there (sis Irene Bean is testing out a potential gluten allergy),  this cake is made with polenta and not flour. Woohoo!

Now go find yourself some cake too. Happy holidays!

Moro Flatbread

What You Need:

1 cup flour
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp dried yeast
a bit less than 1/2 a cup lukewarm water
1 tbsp olive oil

NOTE: this amount makes about four small-plate size flatbreads, enough for one very very hungry carb fiend like me, or two normal people. Multiply appropriately depending on your eating party’s level of carbophilia.

What You Do:

1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl and activate the yeast in the water, if necessary.

2. Slowly pour the water and yeast into the flour and incorporate by hand. Once all the liquid has been mixed in, punch the dough around for a few minutes. If it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour. Add the oil and keep kneading until you have a single ball of dough with a relatively smooth texture and a bit shiny with oil.

3. Let sit, covered with a damp tea towel, for about 20 minutes.

4. Pull off small balls, larger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball, and roll them out to your desired thickness onto a sturdy floured surface. A good rolling pin is handy here, but floured wine bottles work just as well.  We decided to go super-thin at Rambling Restaurant, but I like the thick and fluffy kind too.

5. Once the dough has been rolled out, you can either put them on a lightly floured baking tray or a lightly oiled pan. At RR, we decided to do both – stick it in a hot oven until they puff up and lose their wet doughy sheen, then finish off on a griddle pan for some tasty brownedness. Either way is delicious.

6.  Cook until puffy, browned, and yearning to jump into your mouth. Dip in something tasty and pat yourself on the back for having produced your very own homemade bread. That is, if your hands aren’t busy tearing apart your creation and stuffing it in your mouth.

like you enough to leave you with a picture so you can start drooling yourself.

Rambling Restaurant Fun, Part One: Summer Rolls and Phenomenal Pork

I’m in the midst of a serious cooking week. Wednesday and Thursday were both Rambling Restaurant nights at our secret location in Camden Town. Tomorrow is our London Thanksgiving party that started as a few friends and has somehow mushroomed to over 20 people and we still didn’t manage to fit everyone we wanted to invite! (Don’t worry though, we’re having a holiday party too and you’re all invited:) Sunday is another Rambling Restaurant, then I fly home to Boston to cook family Thanksgiving. Whew! I’m tired just typing that. Well, actually the soreness in my arms is from all the peeling, chopping, kneading, and rolling I’ve been doing tonight to make three pies and brine two turkeys. Yeeowwwch.

Tonight’s been a primarily solo affair (with Chris’s help on the awkward pouring-brine-into-a-plastic-bag-full-of-raw-turkey action), but luckily the Rambling Restaurants are always fun shared cooking evenings  full of laughter, chatter, catchup on recent nightly activities, dirty jokes, a broken glass or two (or three) and ample glasses of wine to fuel the cooking creativity. Over the last few nights, Chef foodrambler, Michelle, our newest member Sarah and I have served nine different dishes to over forty people. I’ll start with Wednesday’s meal, a classic and relaxing Rambling Restaurant event compared to the hustle and bustle of the next evening’s wine tasting.

Wednesday we served vegetarian Vietnamese summer rolls as a starter – lightly sauced cellophane noodles and an assortment of fresh veggies (carrots, scallions, cucumber, water chestnuts, cilantro) rolled tight in thin rice paper wrappers.  After dipping my fingers in hot water to soften about forty pancakes from their original hardened state, I had some crazyass prune fingers, let me tell you.

Dipped into a sauce of fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, soy, garlic, scallions, chili and whatever else I put in that I can’t remember,  these bright little bites of freshness are a very happy way to start any meal. But it doesn’t get much better when it’s followed by an insanely good slow-roasted pork shoulder  – rubbed with spices and then whacked into the oven for about nine hours till it falls apart at the poke of a fork into the tenderest shreds of meat.  Mmmmmmmm….way to go foodrambler.

Scored into about centimeter thick strips with a sharp knife, the outer skin becomes the most amazing fatty, crispy, crunchy crackling that is frighteningly addictive. Served on cabbage and egg noodles with a pour of meaty gravy, this dish is pretty much unstoppable. We ended Wednesday night with an apple crumble with cream and a sprinkling of bittersweet caramel dust.  Unfortunately,  I always forget to take pictures of dessert. But don’t worry, I’ve got loads of pictures of the FoodRambler’s amazing canape creations from Thursday, coming up next!

Oh and while I’m posting Rambling Restaurant photos…

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a rambling feast of strangers at the treehouse gallery in regent’s park

theodore zeldin leading the feast of strangers

this last weekend i spent one of the most beautiful saturdays i can remember in a truly magical place – the treehouse gallery at regent’s park in london. this dreamy fantasy land, filled with the tallest of towering structures and the humblest of tree stump seats, played host to an open gathering of food and conversation called the feast of strangers. over 150 people showed up to share a meal and some of their most intimate thoughts at this community event organized by limina, a social enterprise dedicated to ‘creating transition spaces and events between the rural and urban’ through journeys, workshops, and other events.

synnove, ed, and the wonderful other people of limina were kind enough to invite rambling restaurant to prepare a feast for the feast. food for 150 in the middle of a park with no electricity? luckily, there’s nothing we like more than a challenge. after a 5am wholesale produce market trip, an evening carrot-chopping get-together,  a late night focaccia-making and wine-drinking party, and a morning put-everything-together-right-before-mealtime activity, we managed to put together a lovely spread of food for the park wanderers. here michelle puts together the information table for the food, all up for grabs by donation.

michelle and the rambling feast

the meal consisted of several dips and salads, a harissa lamb, and a truly massive amount of focaccia bread. here’s the roasted carrot and caraway dip topped with feta cheese, fresh mint, and a teepee seating structure:

roast carrot dip and treehouse installation

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the unexpected illumination of the rambling banqueteers

rambling banqueteers at the fifth plinth

following up on the last post about the oubliette arthouse and the fifth plinth, here’s the second half of our eating-as-performance installation: the unexpected illumination of the rambling banqueteers.  squeeeezed into the tiny above entryway were 11 intrepid diners facing a confused array of passers-by and a toasty warm mealtime surrounded by spotlights and burning candles. however, as reward for their bravery and endurance, these banqueteers were rewarded with quite the serious spread.

regard exhibit a: the whole salmon.

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rambling restaurant madness: past photos and future fun

`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’

exciting news from the crew at rambling restaurant! we’re hosting a mad hatter’s rambling tea party and the unexpected illumination of rambling banqueteers at the newly acquired oxford street location of the oubliette arthouse this friday.  i’ll play the white queen, foodrambler will the red queen, michelle shall personify the mad hatter, and miss milly will be behind the wheels of steel as alice, the wonderland visitor herself.  it will be madness. i am excited.

in honor of the upcoming whirlwind of cooking, eating, drinking, and dancing activity, i’ve got a few photos of past rambling restaurant dishes to share.

from rambling restaurant a few weeks ago: a roasted vegetable torte with zucchini, yellow and orange peppers, eggplant, and parmesan cheese. a staple at our san francisco apartment.

roasted vegetable torte

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