Sunday, March 18, 2018

Culinary Craftsmanship - Vernal Geekquinox 2018

For eight years now, Pete's extensive hospitality is pushed to its limits twice a year as he brings his nerdy friends together for a big dinner party. Since 2011, they have been strongly themed, often around popular culture.

This year he made one of his craftiest thematic decisions: he would base his dishes around the comprehensive collection of cooking contraptions, most of which only get trotted out for his twice-yearly shindig, and some of which have been languishing since their initial use.

With "Hardware" as his theme, Pete quickly tied the menu and other visual elements to the obscure 1990 cyberpunk movie of the same name.

The movie's 5.9 IMDb rating is probably pretty close to the mark, but it gets bonus points for giving roles to music legends Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead). Thankfully there were no traces of dystopia in the fantastic meal he put together, futuristic or otherwise.

The icons along the right side of the menu signify the various pieces of equipment used to construct this fabulous repast, from the more mundane (microwave, slow cooker and blender) to the more esoteric (sous vide rig, smoker, and pressure cooker). The enormous pot falls somewhere in between by my reckoning.

The meal opened with some spicy pappadums prepared in the microwave.  It felt a little strange eating them without a curry nearby, but they made a fantastic starter on their own.

They were soon joined by two warm dips served in his chafing dish, one of spinach artichoke and a red pepper garlic cheese variation, fortified with a shot of Frank's Red Hot!

Then, with a little help for dispensing, he blended a scratch-made mushroom soup and served it up piping hot. This was one of the richest, smoothest soups I have ever had, and even an attendee who is no fan of fungi was forced to confess how tasty it was.

While enjoying the soup, I chanced to glance again at the menu and asked Pete if I had slept through the cheese course. He leapt up and fetched a platter of cheeses he had smoked himself, including cheddar, mozzarella, brie and cambozola (a soft cheese with hints of blue mixed into it ). I'm glad I mentioned it, as they were absolutely amazing!

Following the cheese course, Pete went over to his largest pot, and extracted a steaming whole artichoke for each of us. We chatted while plucking the leaves, dipping them into melted butter and then scraping off the fleshy bits. The hearts were then devoured in similar fashion.

Photo: Earl J. Woods

This is not the kind of meal one eats in a rush, and it takes considerable time to get the various dishes sorted. No one was famished when the entree made it to the table a little after midnight (after all, such decadence is a primary component of our enjoyment of the evening, and no one is in a rush at any rate!).

A plate of asparagus risotto, accompanied by butter poached carrots (sous vide) and seared Brussels sprouts garnished a rack of rosemary lemon roasted lamb fresh off Pete's Big Green Egg barbecue/smoker.  It was amazing. Some people started on the meat with their forks and knives, but before too long, everyone was gnawing them off the bone to ensure none of it fell by the wayside.

The lamb was aromatic and savoury, a delight for the senses, and so tender a man with no teeth could have enjoyed it.

After clearing the table, we slowly migrated back to the living room, drinking and chatting until it was at last time for dessert (perhaps a little before 2:00 am): an amazing chocolate peanut butter cake.

Sadly, our zeal for this sweet end to a delightful meal meant that we neglected the whipped toasted cream Pete had prepared, but at least Audrey and I got to try some of it with the leftovers the next day! (It was just mas marvelous as you might imagine.)

Pete's precise planning and plentiful preparation precluded his needing to do quite as much work during the meal as he often does, gifting us with an unprecedented amount of access to our wonderful host. And as good as the food is, and as fascinating as the gadgetry is, it is always the people that make the meal most memorable, so this is nothing but a good thing.

Thanks again Pete!

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