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Monday, December 3, 2007

Cooking Club: Founders' Meeting 2007

We finally had an official Cooking Club meeting. The founders, Andrea and I, got together with our husbands and had an excellent dinner planned for the guys to taste-test. We had picked the menu weeks beforehand and had waited patiently before the four of us had some time to get together. This cooking club meeting was highly anticipated!

It was the perfect time of the year to visit Andrea's place, it was excellently decorated for the holidays already. Another newlywed, we had fun using many of her wedding gifts during the event. We dusted off our old chef hats (mine sustained some balsamic vinegar stains on the car ride over) and donned them for most of the night!

We specifically chose dishes that we knew our men would like (and of course we'd love). The menu for this evening was the following: Caprese Salad Stacks, Copy-Cat Recipe for Romano's Macaroni Grille Vodka Penne Rustica, and Martha Stewart's Chocolate Lava Cakes. Who could resist a menu like that? It was a challenging menu, which is the goal of the club: many hands make work light so let's try something difficult! We have support of each other to back us up in case of calamities. There are always calamities in any kitchen. :)

We immediately had to start making our own truffles for the Lava Cakes. These were made by melting heavy cream with semi-sweet chocolate to make a ganache, and then we froze it for 45 minutes (stirring every 15). Maybe it was the freezer, maybe it was Martha Stewart's recipe, (from her 2003 collection), but it took way longer to freeze these suckers. They did not roll easily because of this so our truffles were more like blobs. We figured this was OK, as a Lava Cake doesn't care what shape the lava comes in.

After those were underway, I started prepping the Caprese salad and Andrea worked on the pasta sauce. The salad was very easy to make and turned out as tasty as it was attractive. It had one of my favorite combinations in the Italian genre: fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomatoes. Can't go wrong with that!

The last time I went to Macaroni Grille with my mom, she always got the Penne Rustica and it was her favorite.

It's a creamy, flavorful sauce with penne pasta, prosciutto, shrimp, chicken with fresh herbs, spices and parmesean. Though we omitted the shrimp, our copy-cat recipe was a huge success and everyone loved this cooking club trial! I will definitely make this again.

The chocolate lava cake does not have the recipe posted below. It's out of the Martha Stewart 2003 book and honestly it didn't work out well for us. While the flavors tasted great, the truffles never set and the cake did not even come close to cooking all the way through even after sitting in the oven for extra time.

It may have been that we didn't have the correct "ring molds" (we just used my ramekins I had on hand) but when we tested the cakes, the tops had puffed up like a souffle but inside was a big, messy chocolatey batter. That didn't stop us from eating it with ice cream like a chocolate sauce with meringue chunks... but we did not get the result we were looking for. No thanks, Martha!

All in all, this was a wildly successful cooking club meeting and Andrea and I had a lot of fun. The boys had fun complaining that everything was taking too long and that we were trying to starve them (what, hadn't then been to a cooking club before?? if you start at 7pm,, you won't eat until 9:00 on a good day!)

They did, however, gobble up everything that we put in front of them. Andrea even made us some delicious cappucinos (she has an awesome espresso machine, by the way), cocktails and we played old-school Nintendo for the rest of the evening.

Well, that's the story. Now we just need to decide what we'll do at the NEXT cooking club!!!!! Here are the two of the three recipes that I'd like add to my recipe collection!

Stacked Caprese Salad

2-3 large beefsteak tomatoes
4 - 6 oz fresh mozzarella (i recommend 6 .. recipe called for 4 but I sorta ran out)
8 sprigs of fresh basil plus more for garnish
12 black olives, pitted and sliced (or use one small can of sliced black olives)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 4.

1. Slice the tomatoes so that you have 12 slices (3 per person)
2. Sliced the cheese so that you have 12 slices, same as above
3. Make four stacks starting with tomato on the bottom, followed by cheese, then olives, then basil sprigs. Top with another layer of tomato, cheese, olives, basil. The top layer will be tomato, then any leftover olives, and top with your last pieces of cheese.
4. Fire up your broiler and place these four stacks underneath.
5. While broiling, mix together olive oil and vinegar.
6. Broil for 4-6 minutes or until cheese is getting brown and everything is bubbly.
7. Remove from oven, plate stacks on serving plates, and spoon olive oil dressing over the top.
8. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and sprinkle salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Copy-Cat Recipe for Romano's Macaroni Grill Vodka Penne Rustica
(as seen on

Gratinata Sauce
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons marsala wine
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon chicken bullion
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Other Ingredients
1 lb penne rigate cooked
12 medium shrimp peeled and deveined
2 skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Prosciutto about 2 ounces thick-sliced, chopped

3 tablespoons grated parmesean cheese (i may have used more)
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

12 sliced pimientos (we forgot these but didn't miss them)
4 sprigs rosemary
1. Preheat bbq grill to high.

2. Prepare gratinata sauce by melting 3 tbls of butter over medium/low heat. Add garlic and sweat it for about 5 minutes. Be sure the garlic doesn't brown. Add the marsala wine and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce and whisk until smooth. Bring mixture to a simmer and keep it there for 10 minutes or until it's thick. Cover sauce and remove from heat.

3. Cook pasta following directions on the package (7-9 minutes in boiling water). You want the pasta tender, but not mush (al dente). We used whole wheat pasta and it was great. Strain pasta and set it aside when it's done.

4. Pound the thick end of your chicken breast a bit with a kitchen mallet to make them a uniform thickness. Rub chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. Spear the shrimp on skewers (6 per skewer should work fine), then rub them with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.Grill chicken for 5 to 6 minutes per side. Grill shrimp for 2 minutes per side. When chicken is done, slice each breast into strips.

5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Separate into 4 separate serving baking dishes or you can use a 9 inch glass or ceramic pie plate or 9x13 baking dish.

6. For four personal servings method: Load 3 cups of pasta into each baking dish. Add one quarter of the chicken, 3 shrimp, and 2 tbls of prosciutto onto each serving. Spoon 3/4 of a cup of gratinata sauce on each serving and toss to coat. Combine 3 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese with 1 1/2 tsp paprika, then sprinkle about 1 tbls of this mixture over the top of each serving.

For one large baking dish method (we did this): Load all pasta into the baking dish and add all chicken, shrimp and prosciutto. Pour sauce and toss to coat. Sprinkle all of cheese/paprika topping evenly over baking dish.

7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until tops begin to brown.

Optional garnish: Arrange 3 pimentos on the top of each serving, then jab a sprig of rosemary into the center an serve.

As Rachel Ray would say: YUMMO!

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