But --- This... this was no ordinary birthday party.
The birthday girl is a very dear friend, an excellent cook, and a consummate connoisseur of every manner of culinary delight.
Her passion and skill for cooking is a well known fact among her friends and for her birthday her husband (who totally earned major "hubby points" for this one) orchestrated an event that combined both her love of food and sharing tasty experiences with people that she loves.
The festivities took place in an upper room of the magnificently large, Giant Eagle Market District, a grocery store we affectionately call the "Taj MaEagle" due to it's impossible-to-miss size.
The room we met in functions as a demo kitchen where, several nights a week, a couple of the classically trained G.E. chefs lead cooking classes for people stationed throughout the rooms four, fully equipped cooking stations.
The chef typically stands in the front station with a television situated above his head; its camera is trained on the chef's hands to allow the class' participants a birds-eye-view of how the real deal gets things done.
This evening though, the head meister, Chef Luke, who I've mentioned and will no doubt continue to mention again and again, allowed Amanda, the star-birthday girl along with her group of hungry cronies, to take the Chef's station while the rest of us split up into teams to tackle our own, individual dishes.
Throughout the evening, every group made the following: hummus, tabouli, baba ghanoush, and baklava of which, each group made a slight variation (instead of walnuts, pistachios; instead of almonds the zest of two lemons).
These were all great and it was fun to compare the ever-so-slight differences between the textures and tastes of each "team's" items from group to group.
Now, to my knowledge, never before in my life have I ever had or tasted baba ghanoush. But, of all the things I tried that night, the "Noush," specifically the one my teammate made, was, hands down, my absolute favorite.
The recipe used said to put all the ingredients in a food processor but my group member did it all by hand. I just loved the difference it made in the texture!
Baba Ghanoush is a dish with a primary base of eggplants... it's sort of a similar idea to hummus but, instead of the chickpeas, its made with eggplant.
1/4 c. tahini
2 cloves roasted garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped and
S & P, to taste
Preparation: Place eggplant over an open heat source (grill or gas burner*). Rest until the skin begins to blister and flesh starts to soften. Transfer to a 350 degree oven and finish roasting for about 15-20 minutes until very tender. Remove eggplant from oven and let cool until able to handle. Peel off the skin and remove the stem. Place remaining flesh in a bowl. Mash eggplant with a fork than add tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. Stir parsley then season with salt and pepper.
[At this point, all the other groups put their's in a food processor and let it work on the ingredients until everything was completely smooth. But my man Jon just mashed ours to oblivion using the strength of his forearms and employing, for but a moment, his keen chef's eye --- please imagine a Tool Time, Tim Tayloresque, manly grunt session here... "Oh, Oh, oh..."]
Everybody else's Noush was pulverized and tasty but in ours, you could still see the seeds of the eggplant and I really liked that.
Serve with warm, lightly toasted pita and enjoy some for yourself.
I promise, yoush won't be disappointed.
This recipe came straight from the kitchen of the Giant Eagle Market District, straight from the gifted hands of my dear friend Luke.
Throughout the rest of the evening there were wine tastings, one white and one red, and at each of the cooking stations (there was a total of four if you're counting) we each tackled a different main dish, which was then shared, family style at the pinnacle of the evening.
The remainder of the menu included:
- Stuffed Crust Sicilian Pizza (think mozzarella, basil, artichokes, and tomatoes)
- Roasted Garlic and Spinach Ravioli stuffed with Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onions topped with a Peppadew pepper chutney
- Kalamata and Mushroom stuffed Lamb Chops with Tzaztiki (say that three times fast) and
- Chicken Paprikash (you would'a just had to'of been there)
I will say this, I obviously wasn't a huge partaker in the chicken of the "chicken paprikash" buuuuuuuut, I did dip myself out a couple of spoonfuls of this dish's stewy base and... do you want to know what happened?
I chomped down on a piece of bacon.
I tasted bacon for the first time in well over a year; a tiny bit of bacon that suddenly exploded on my tongue... the saltiness, the porkiness, the all-americanness of it all.
It didn't make me want to go out and gobble up a pig or anything, but the taste did immediately take me back to childhood breakfasts... sitting around a table in front of a bowl of cheese-loaded scrambled eggs, a basket stuffed with fluffy, white biscuits and a plate stacked with a couple of layers of crisp, brown, greasy bacon (my favorite pieces were actually the ones that were darn near blackened; I have since learned how terribly bad this is for you --- anything blackened is basically a straight up carcinogen being introduced into your system --- but the fact still remains: for me, for whatever reason, the charred, crumbley ones were the most desirable).
Once I came to from by bacon-induced-flashback I spent the rest of the evening taking in the shear volume of everything that had been created. There was good food, great friends, and wonderful conversation.
I felt amazingly blessed, incredibly full and grateful to have been a part of it.
The birthday girl, doing her thing.
I am sorry I don't have pictures of the final product. I'm afraid by that time I was too busy eating. Suffice it to say that each dish was a success, in both taste and aesthetic.
*If you, like me, don't have an open heat source, you can also broil the eggplant in the oven until the skin is blackened and crispy; you'll want to watch it just like anything else you broil though as things can go from crisp to "have-to-throw-it-away-crap" really, really fast.