Friday, 7 September 2012


Following the start of yesterday's Food and Culture Colloquium, my food ventures continued as I grocery shopped and began preparations for the first multi-course group dinner of the academic year coming from my house on Mulberry. An annual dinner meeting for our Paving the Way Ambassadors, this year's menu included: mixed greens with berries, toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese; baked vegetables; Italian herb chicken with long grain and wild rice; mint lemonade granita; and dark chocolate salted caramel bacon brownies.

As alluded to above, dinner prep began on Wednesday evening. And as most great meals start off, I kicked things off by frying five slices of bacon, the only alteration to my adapted recipe for dark chocolate salted caramel bacon brownies (second half of this blog post). Keeping an eye on the bacon, I also got medium heat on a small pot before putting on top of it a metal bowl and two sticks of unsalted butter. I then gathered my ingredients for the granita, and took the leaves off half a bunch (about a handful) of mint sprigs. Using my mezzaluna knife (though a traditional chef's knife would work just as well), I chopped the mint leaves to release some of their flavour and water. All of this went into a metal bowl; over the mint leaves I poured about 1.5 L (a little over half the large jug pictured above) lemonade and stirred everything together with one tablespoon of granulated sugar. This mixture went into the freezer to chill for half an hour; essentially, you're steeping the leaves in the lemonade.

By this point, the bacon was finished and so I got them onto some paper towel to cool before eventually chopping them finely. In addition, the butter had melted and so I lowered the heat and put in my 10 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips to melt. As this was going, I gathered the rest of my ingredients for the brownies and got a smaller pot on the stove (medium heat) which contained 1/4 c water, 1 c granulated sugar and 2 tbsp light corn syrup. This was as a good a time as any to start preheating the oven to 350°F, before returning my attention to the granita. But first, I measured 1/2 c heavy cream and took out the sour cream and sea salt just in case my soon-to-be caramel was ready earlier than expected.

Now back to the granita, I carefully poured out the contents of the metal bowl through a sieve which was held over a glass dish (it's okay if bits of mint fall into the liquid mix).

By this point (or earlier... be sure to keep an eye on the small point of boiling sugar), the sugar rapidly began boiling and turned a brownish colour; voilà, the caramel base. Off the heat, I added and quickly stirred in the heavy cream; once it calmed down, I added the sour cream and a teaspoon or so of sel gris (regular table salt would work, though you may need a touch more). When the caramel is smooth and velvety, give it a taste just to make sure it's salt enough. Don't worry about it being too salty as it will soon be mixed in with the brownie base. 

With the caramel as complete as it could be at this point, I went back to the brownie base (make sure you're paying attention to the chocolate especially because you don't want it to burn). After turning off the heat, I added my sugars and stirred everything together until everything was thoroughly combined (it may look a little grainy).

Turning my attention back to the granita, I added the zest of one of lemon and then segmented (remove the skin that protects each lemon segment) the lemon, breaking it apart to create a sort of pulp. After one final stir, this went back into the freezer to freeze overnight. I'll note at this time that, while this could be made just a few hours before your dinner, there's greater assurance it will freeze properly if you get the mixture into the freezer the night before, if not earlier. Plus, the required prep work on the evening of the actual dinner wouldn't give me enough time to fiddle around with paying much attention to the granita.

By now, the aforementioned base should be cool enough to add some of the scrambled eggs (3/5); I whisked everything quickly (but try not to overbeat) so the eggs don't scramble from any residual heat. To this, I added a teaspoon of regular table salt and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Once combined, I added the rest of the eggs, followed by the remaining dry ingredients. With the combined brownie mix poured into a round baking dish, I poured in all but 2 tbsp salted caramel (to the caramel I swirled in, I added about 4/5 of the chopped bacon) and used a butter knife to swirl in the caramel. This then went into the oven for about 30 minutes; in the meantime, it was clean-up time. After time had elapsed, I turned off the heat and left the brownies in the oven for about 10 more minutes. To complete the brownies, I mixed the rest of the chopped bacon into the reserved caramel and poured (actually more like sprinkled in small globs) this over them.

After work, then, I prepped the rest of the meal, beginning by preparing my boxed rice according to its instructions while getting a pan heated with about 5 oz chopped walnuts (take the walnuts off the heat after they've toasted to a slightly darker colour, and certainly before they burn!). In addition, I preheated my oven to 350°F as I started prepping my garlic, onion, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots. As these were finished, I added them to oven safe glass dishes with salt, ground black pepper, dried Italian herbs and olive oil. These went into the oven uncovered for about 25-30 minutes, and then carefully covered with tin foil for an addition 10-15 minutes. In the future, I will never bake eggplant with olive oil (it soaks up the liquid like a sponge) and will bake the veg covered with a touch of water from the start to steam cook them.

With the veg prepped, I sliced into strips 5 chicken breasts and seasoned them with salt, ground black pepper, dried Italian herbs and olive oil and got these onto a baking sheet and into the oven, as well, and left these to bake for about 25-30 minutes.

By this point, the Paving the Way Ambassadors began to arrive and two things were left undone. First, I needed to prepare and present the ingredients for the salad--toasted walnuts, crumbled goat cheese with herbs, quartered strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.

The second thing was to prep the granita. I took the granita out of the freezer and using a strong fork, scraped the granita so it looked like shaved ice. Once completed, I returned this to the freezer until it was time to serve dessert; the granita itself was served in a small cocktail glass with a fresh mint leaf.

Shortly after our dinner meeting ended, it was time for Denison's opening convocation and the official kickoff of our campus-wide theme, "Creativity & Courage." As a foodie, it seemed quite fitting that our special guests came from the Sesame Street Workshop and included, of all muppets, Cookie Monster! (Perhaps I should have done a better job at conceiving a cookie-based dessert...) For more photos from both our dinner and the opening convocation, click here.

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