Take four women, add their respective husbands, mix in a four-course menu, sparkling conversation and expertly-paired wines, and what do you end up with? A fun local dinner club!
Jen Trujillo, Renee Evenstad, Anne Antonenko and Kerry Mahoney met years ago through the Junior League of Minneapolis (JLM), and just last fall decided to participate in the organization’s monthly dinner club. “We were looking for a way to socialize and connect with people outside our usual group,” explains Jen, “and it’s a guaranteed date night!”
The group currently meets on the first Saturday of every month and hosting duties rotate between the four households. Though the host is in charge of preparing the main course on the menu—typically taken from the JLM’s Always Superb: Recipes for Every Occassion cookbook—everyone contributes to the meal. “The host will make the entrée,” explains Jen, “and the rest of us split up the appetizer, soup/salad, side dish and dessert.” Additionally, custom wine pairings are selected for each course by The Wine Shop in Minnetonka.
This predetermined menu and pot-luck style presentation ensures an exquisite, coherent meal—without the stress of preparing one. “You’d never be able to cook [all the dishes] yourself,” opines Jen, “so breaking it up takes off the pressure, and you get to try recipes that you wouldn’t ordinarily make on your own.”
As with most things in life, however, not everything always goes as planned. A couple of months ago, a faulty grill starter threatened to derail their plans for filet mignon, but after an ad lib broiling, the group happily ended up with one of their tastiest meals to-date.
For those interested in forming their own dinner club, “just do it!” encourages Jen. “There’s no pressure, it’s casual and fun—and if something really disastrous happens,” she adds with a laugh, “you can always stop at the grocery store on the way over.”
Rosemary Pine Nut Bruschetta
Yields 24 servings
1 package herb bread machine mix
6 oz. can of tomato paste
3 Tbsp. pesto
Grated mozzarella cheese
Fresh rosemary leaves
Prepare the bread mix according to directions for making pizza dough in a bread machine. After the first rising of the dough, roll dough out on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 2-inch round cutter. Place rounds on an oiled baking sheet.
Combine tomato paste and pesto in a bowl; mix well. Spread over the dough rounds; sprinkle with mozzarella, rosemary and pine nuts. Bake at 400 degrees for 12–15 minutes.
Apple Stilton Soup
Yields 6 servings
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, pressed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of basil
2 bay leaves
6 cups of chicken stock
1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled Stilton cheese
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lightly whipped whipping cream
Crumbled Stilton cheese
Freshly cracked pepper
Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add apples, onions, shallots and garlic. Sauté until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Wrap thyme, basil and bay leaves in cheesecloth and add to apple mixture. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the apples and vegetables are thoroughly cooked through. Remove the herbs.
Stir Stilton cheese and cream into the apple mixture. Puree in food processor in batches. Stir in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Strain and return to saucepan. Reheat.
Ladle into soup bowls, drizzle with whipped cream and garnish with Stilton cheese and pepper.
Suggested drink pairing: Saracco Moscato D’Asti wine, $17.99
Yields 2-3 servings
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. ground ginger
¼ cup bourbon (optional)
1 pound salmon filet
Combine the brown sugar, honey and butter in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Stir in the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, ginger and bourbon.
Place the salmon skin-side down on heavy duty foil. Cut the foil to outline the fish, leaving enough to fold up and create an edge. Fold the edges of the foil up. Spread 1/2 of the glaze over the salmon.
Place the salmon on a grill rack over medium-high heat on a gas grill or 4–6 inches from medium-hot coals. Grill covered for 8 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily. Serve with the remaining glaze.
Suggested drink pairing: Lagler Gruner Veltiner wine, $22.99
Asparagus Risotto with Parmesan Cheese Cups
Yields 8 servings
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5 cups water
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
2 cups of chicken stock
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
FOR THE CHEESE CUPS, heat a 7-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese over the bottom of the skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides, turning once. Remove from the skillet and place over an inverted bowl, shaping into a cup. Repeat the process with the remaining cheese.
FOR THE RISOTTO, bring the water and a small amount of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add the asparagus and cook for 2–3 minutes or until tender-crisp and bright green. Remove the asparagus and plunge into an ice bath, reserving the water. Let stand until completely cool. Drain 8–10 spears and set aside. Remove the tops from the asparagus and set aside. Chop the remaining spears into ½-inch pieces.
Add the chicken stock to the reserved water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low.
Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallots and sauté. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 cup of the stock mixture. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.
Add the remaining stock mixture to the rice. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Repeat the process with 3 ½ cups of the remaining stock mixture. Add the chopped asparagus stalks.
Add ½ cup of the remaining mixture to the rice. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Repeat the process with the remaining stock mixture until all is used or the rice is tender to the bite, stirring in the asparagus tips before the last addition of the stock mixture. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese, salt and white pepper.
Spoon the risotto into the cheese cups. Garnish with reserved asparagus spears and additional Parmesan cheese.
Lemon Tart with Strawberries
Yields 8–10 servings
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sliced almonds
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ tsp. almond extract
3 to 5 Tbsp. cold water
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
¾ cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cups sliced strawberries
3 Tbsp. apricot jam
1 Tbsp. water
Fanned strawberries, blackberries, star fruit, sliced kiwi, candied cranberries or lemon twists
FOR THE CRUST, process the flour, almonds, sugar and salt in a food processor until mixed. Add the butter and process until crumbly. Add the almond extract. Add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture forms a ball. Chill, wrapped in plastic, for 1 hour.
Roll into 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch, removable-bottom tart pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Trim the edges. Freeze for 30 minutes. Bake at 425 degrees for 20–25 minutes or until crust begins to brown.
FOR THE TART, whisk the eggs and yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt together in a large saucepan. Add butter. Cook over medium-low heat for 8–10 minutes or until the filling thickens slightly, stirring constantly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until the filling sets. Cool on wire rack.
Arrange the strawberries in concentric circles over the baked pie filling. Whisk the apricot jam and water in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high until warm. Brush over the strawberries. Garnish with fanned fruit.
Suggested drink pairing: Westmalle Triple Belgian beer, $11.99
All recipes courtesy of Always Superb: Recipes for Every Occasion. To purchase a copy of this cookbook, visit jlminneapolis.org. Click on Fundraisers > Cookbook.