Well after a busy week of cleaning and food prep, I finally had my paleo dinner club last night. We always start dinner club with a cocktail. Since it wouldn't be particularly paleo-friendly to make a cocktail with simple syrup, I went for something boozy and close to my currently bourbon-loving heart and made a twist on a Red Hook. A Red Hook is a Manhattan with one of my favorite liquors, Luxardo maraschino added. I took it a little further by subbing in Campari for about a third of the sweet vermouth to give the drink more bitterness and added a few dashes of orange and a dash of Angostura bitters.
With some alcohol in our bellies we eagerly moved on to the first course, a charcuterie plate served with Cava:
That's the bacon jam from Zenbelly on the bottom, country pate from my "meat up" at Stachowski's above it, Against All Grain's raisin & rosemary crackers, homemade pickled onions, and sliced red pear and cornichons. Incidentally, I ended up making the crackers with both the finer almond flour and the courser meal just to see what others thought and the overwhelming consensus (other than me) was that the crackers with the finer flour were better, and tasted more like "real" crackers. Good thing I made both!
Our second course was the Brazilian seafood stew I posted about a few weeks ago, served with a sauvignon blanc. I made a slight modification this time and added about a cup of shrimp stock I made from the shrimp shells and was satisfied that it gave it a slight additional depth of flavor that I thought it had been missing earlier. I always forget one thing every dinner club, no matter how detailed of a list I write out for myself. This time I forgot the plantains until I was about to serve the stew, but I didn't miss them as much as I expected.
Our third course was my favorite, confited pork belly using Thomas Keller's recipe from Ad Hoc (you can read up on how to do it here) served with the caramelized turnips I recipe tested earlier in the week, a fennel, radicchio & citrus salad and a garnacha that at $10/bottle was not only a great pairing, but a steal (thank you I.M. Wine for the recommendation)!
I've always said that it's nearly impossible to screw up pork belly (unless you don't remove the skin and cook it until it's hard as a rock), but if you want to impress your guests, I highly recommend this preparation. And, I'm not gonna' lie, I've made and eaten a lot of pork belly in my time so my recommendation should count for something. If you don't have enough lard...well, if you don't have enough lard you should make some, but you can also confit the belly in olive oil. I recommend brining first regardless of how you prepare it. It's a simple step, but so worthwhile. The result of the entire process was a belly that was melt in your mouth tender and falling apart (the word unctuous comes to mind) with a perfectly crispy later of fat on top.
For dessert, I knew I wanted to make the Maple Bacon Coconut Ice Cream from Apron Strings that someone made for the paleo potluck I went to, but that I missed out on because I was doing my Whole 30. What I needed to go with it was a paleo chocolate cake recipe that would taste the same as any cake containing gluten and processed white sugar, but I was struggling to find one that I thought would be a total success. Until Michelle at Nom Nom blogged about a Zenbelly pop-up dinner she went to, that led me to this No Joke Dark Chocolate Cake recipe. Success! From the cake to the whipped filling (I did use grassfed cream for this layer) to the bittersweet ganache this cake was delicious and tasted like the real thing. And, for a non-baker, was really quite easy to make. I ended up cooking the batter in 2 8" round pans and baking for about 20 minutes. I wish I had a better photo of the entire cake, but guests were clamoring for dessert so I only got this crappy shot:
And here's the final dish with the ice cream:
Incidentally, and I can't believe I am going to say this, I think I would have preferred the ice cream without the bacon. It offers a really nice contrast in flavor, but we all found the bacon a bit chewy. It may have been the particular bacon I used though so I encourage you to try it.
And that's a wrap on my first officially paleo dinner club. The feedback seemed positive and I have some great leftovers to eat tonight so I'm going to call that a win-win!