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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Funky Food Potluck Dinner

This may have been the most fun potluck dinner I've ever attended.

The Ranch Dip and Potato Chip Combo that Started Everything

You may recall last May I attended a dinner party co-hosted by Carl and our friend Andy. At that dinner I had a conversation with Duncan about a rumor I'd heard from someone he used to work with years ago that they would eat Ruffles potato chips dipped in ranch dressing as their preferred junk food at work.

That's Lisa Whalen Photographing Duncan's Food

Whoa, I thought to myself. That sounds equally delicious and unhealthy. Duncan told me that he'd found a way to make the ranch dip healthier by using lowfat yogurt instead of buttermilk. That got us to talking about funny food recipes, how I wanted to try his dip and chips and the next thing we knew the concept of a "Funky Food" dinner party was floating around the room.

Almost a year later we gathered together at Carl's house and our very first Funky Food Dinner officially kicked off!


Andy and his wife Lisa arrived loaded with recipes, ingredients and drinks! For starters they brought some of their homemade dark ale. Believe it or not I'd never tried beer before that night but I was feeling bold and daring so I asked Andy to pour me just a bit (about 1/4") into the cup above. I tried it. I didn't like it. But everyone else did it so it was just my alcohol hating taste buds that didn't care for the flavor.


Now this I loved. Andy made battered and deep fried stuffed olives.These were so good and pretty funky right?


In an effort to be more health conscious Duncan served his yogurt ranch dip with this gorgeous crudité he'd prepared.

I had to beg a potato chip from Carl's cupboard to try it on a chip. It was so good. I think I had three :)

Duncan brought us asparagus from Stockton, California's asparagus capital, where they were holding their annual, 3 day, Asparagus Festival the same weekend. It was soooooooooo fresh and delicious and combined with the ranch dip was a definite winning combination.


Andy and Lisa also made breaded and baked strips of hearts of palm (above) and cheese bites (below). I'd never had hearts of palm prepared this way. They were quite delicious.


Rebecca brought these little Meat Muffins. The base was made of ground meat that had been baked in a muffin tin and the tops were piped mashed potatoes with a sprig of fresh rosemary. So cute! She'd made them ahead and popped them back into the oven to reheat them right before dinner was served.


That's Rebecca, her husband Orbie and Duncan enjoying Carl's flat screen, kitchen tv. It's really cool, it can pull out from the wall and swivel so you can watch it from the bar, the dining room or while you're cooking in the kitchen.


Lisa and Andy put together this little number. It was bread, fried in butter, smothered beneath Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread. . .


Topped with strips of fried bacon. I had a bacon free piece. It was really good.


And this was Duncan's beer and tequila Funky-rita margarita. I'd never had a margarita before. I liked it! Well I liked it probably because you couldn't taste the alcohol. All I could taste was the sweetness of the limeade. If I didn't have to drive home that night I would have had a whole glass but that didn't seem advisable for someone who never drinks so I abstained after a sample sip.

Here's the recipe if you'd like to have a go at it:
Duncan's THE FUNKY-RITA (4 servings)
- 1 part, 2-oz. Minute Maid Lime-Aid
- 1 part, 2-oz. Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila
- 1 part, 2-oz. Corona Beer
- Shake with Ice
- Pour in Salt-Rimmed Margarita Glass
- Garnish with Lime

Duncan also made his Corned Beef Hash with Egg Breakfast Cupcakes. Here's a step by step photo tutorial.

Left: After adding the canned corned beef to some sauteed diced tomatoes, onions and garlic, he added chopped boiled potatoes for the hash.

Top Right: Take squares of bread, Duncan used wheat bread, and press them into a muffin tin to make small bread cups.

Middle Right: Fill the bread cups with the corned beef hash mixture.

Bottom Left: Topped with a raw egg in the final minutes of cooking. A few of the eggs broke and after baking I have to say they looked yummier with the yolk spread across the cupcake.

- Sauteed Garlic, Onions & Tomatoes
- Mixed in Corned Beef Hash
- Lined Cupcake Baking Tray with Slice of Wheat Bread
- Stuffed each Cupcake with the Corned Beef Hash mix
- Baked in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes
- Top each Cupcake with an Egg, and Bake for another 5 minutes

And that's Carl using a potato ricer to mash some potatoes for his Mashed Potato Tacos.


You can find the recipe with a photo tutorial over on The Flirty Guide. Carl discovered this recipe in Sam The Cooking Guy's "Just a Bunch of Recipes" Cookbook. They're in frequent rotation on his dinner menu at home because his family loves them. And I can see why, the one I had was yummy! I think they would be good in soft or crisp shells. I'll have to try them both ways just for fun.


Andy wasn't through cooking. He was whipping together this avocado and oyster baked fettucini pasta dish. It looked delicious. I didn't try it due to my being allergic to mollusks and being vegetarian but if I weren't allergic and vegetarian I would have tried it and I bet I would have loved it.

Photo by: Carl Mindling

The only person who didn't cook that night was our friend Orbie. Orbie was laid up by a leg injury. As proof he used crutches to walk around all night long. Good news though, he's on the road to recovery and will soon be good as new.


My dinner contribution was to make a Tater Tot Casserole from a recipe a colleague shared with me years ago when I worked at Nordstrom. But I didn't make just one, nooooooo I split the recipe and made two, one for meat eaters and one for vegetarians. For the meat Carl chauffeured me back to El Salchichero, the Santa Cruz charcuterie I blogged about a couple of months ago. There I purchased a half pound of humane certified, locally raised, grass fed, organic, ground beef.

To be honest it felt like so little meat I thought maybe I should get more but the casserole only called for 1 lb and I was splitting it so that was all I got.


Back at Carl's I grabbed his 10" All Clad frying pan (I have the same pan at home and love it) and fried up the beef adding just a little salt and pepper to season. The newsworthy thing about the beef was that when it was done cooking, there was no fat or water to drain out of the pan. I was so impressed I took a picture to show you. When hubby cooks ground beef purchased at Safeway there's always a bunch of liquid to drain off when he's done cooking. Something to consider, you're paying less per pound at Safeway but getting less meat for the same weight.


For the vegetarians in the house I used Lightlife's Gimme Lean Sausage as a meat substitute.  It comes in a plastic tube just like Jimmy Dean Sausage. You cut it out, slice it, and as I saute it I use a spatula to cut it down to the texture of ground beef. It really tastes like breakfast sausage and the mouth feel is spot on.


Next you use a whole bag and add a layer of frozen tater tots over the cooked meat. Mix one can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup with milk or water as per the soup instructions, and pour the soup mixture over the tater tots and cooked ground meat.


Bake in the oven at 375º for at least 30 minutes until the soup is bubbling, thickened and looks cooked along the sides of the casserole dish. If it's not quite there I'll bump the heat to 400º for a few more minutes until it looks like this. BTW, this dish reheats really well the next day.

I'm working on perfecting this into a substantial dish. I'll post a tutorial when I find the right ingredients and balance :)

After dinner we had a funky kitchen gadget contest. As host Carl decided to up the stakes by providing a Sur la Table gift card to the person who brought the funkiest gadget. And the winner was....

Duncan with his ultra sleek and sexy Voile Spaghetti Measure by Alessi. Such a cool little gadget. You can determine proper pasta portion size for one, two or five diners by sliding just enough spaghetti, fettucini or linguini into the appropriate ring.


After the contest we spent some time chatting and sitting around the fire pit in Carl's backyard and before we knew it, yup, it was time for dessert.


Rebecca made this way too fancy (we weren't worthy) Blood Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake. Guess what? It tasted as good as it looked! The polenta cake was moist but not too sweet. It was really, really good and turned out to be a perfect pairing with my final contribution of the night. . .

Fresh Banana, Banana Moon Pie Ice Cream!

I'd been wanting to make banana ice cream with Banana Moon Pie crumbles mixed in for almost a year! So I broke out my electric ice cream machine, used the fresh banana ice cream recipe from my favorite Ben and Jerry's recipe book and at the very end I stirred in some chopped up Banana Moon Pie. If anyone wants the recipe just post a comment. I photographed the entire process and can create a photo tutorial blog post with them if you're interested.

A Delightful End to Our Funky Food Dinner!

So if this looks like something you'd like to do just invite some fun loving foodie friends over and plan your own Funky Food dinner party. It doesn't have to be fancy, complicated or expensive. We had a great time before the party even happened just thinking and talking about it for months. It was funkytastic!

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