The recent wave of well above normal temperatures has made this winter a bit of an anomaly. Of course, our luck (or lack thereof for all you skiers out there) will soon change. We will get snow and have days where we’re all but snowed in. Those days scream for a bowl of hearty beef stew or maybe cheesy, creamy mashed potatoes. Stick to your bones comfort food.
When given this assignment, I had the option of visiting restaurants or cooking from home, but I went with a hybrid option. Through a little e-mailing, I had a motley crew of cooks ready to roll.
For about three years, Bob Perye has lead a group of cooking misfits and food writers he affectionately calls The Rogue Estate. Just about every Monday evening, these guys (the members have changed through the years) get together and cook a meal usually centered around a theme. Chef’s nights are integral to the Rogue Estate’s mission. The Rogue Estate Blog and Chef’s Nights are as much an excuse to share a meal and a bottle with close friends as they are an opportunity to learn from others and share what I know about ingredients, techniques and other cultures,” says Perye.
The theme: comfort food. No restrictions.
Part of the joy in planning a dinner like this is the banter that starts between the participants once the theme is announced. A day or so into planning, we were already 10 e-mails deep with fascinating dish ideas and general menu planning discussion. Cheese? Check. Beef? Check. Seafood? Check. Lipitor? Check.
Not counting the abomination known as Filet-o-Fish, how often is seafood served with cheese? When Ian Malbon suggested shrimp gratin as a first course I was definitely skeptical. Malbon’s reasoning put me at ease, “This weekly exercise is a way for us to constantly be learning, from successes AND failures. As our palettes and experiences expand, we’re able to share this with family and an ever-growing circle of friends.” And afterwatching the careful preparation of the mornay sauce and the cheese choices – raclette and Dorothea Potato Chip Goat Cheese – I knew this shrimp would not suck.
Portioned into individual ramekins and topped with an herbed panko mixture and shredded raclette, the velvety cheese-laden mornay with achingly tender shrimp swimming throughout is a sinful union. The mild Dutch Dorothea cheese adds a layer of potatoey goodness that elevates this dish to an exceptional level. If it was proper to bathe and smell like mornay, I would be first in line.
Speaking of bathing in cheesiness is there a more glorious soup than cheese soup? What if we add a couple bottles of Michigan’s finest IPA? Jack Wynne’s course combines two of my favorite things: sharp cheese and hoppy beer.
There is more to beer cheese soup than simply beer and cheese. Wynne’s version had a subdued heat that shined on each successive spoonful of soup. The addition of two jalapenos kicked up the spice level. Jalapeno plays well with New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA. There’s something satisfying about heat clashing with bitterness, hitting complementary parts of the tongue, and creating a new taste sensation.
Two cheese heavy courses down and we’re ready for some beef! Perye’s contribution of beef burgundy is a classic choice. Hunks of beef cooked down to utter tenderness with lots of root vegetables and onions is a perfectly American combination taken from the most classical French cuisine. Perye says, “This is a very flexible and forgiving dish,” he continues, “And short of full out neglect, it’s tough to actually mess up.”
To prove this point, Perye added a star anise pod, a semi-exotic ingredient that was not called for in the original recipe. The star anise worked quite giving a certain Vietnamese flair to the overall heartiness. Even though it worked, star anise is not absolutely necessary to prepare this dish.
However, if serving beef burgundy, a proper side dish is needed. Malbon took the reigns and created smoked firecracker mashed potatoes. If you’re like me, your first inclination is to ladle spoonfuls of beef burgundy over a heap of potatoes. Your inclination would be correct. Smoky with a pleasant burn on the finish, firecracker mash is superb companion to beef burgundy.
Most people don’t smoke their mashed potatoes, but at The Rogue Estate they like to push the envelope. “Our central philosophy is if you haven’t done it with your own hands, you can’t write about it. We are a totally hands-on group. Toward that end, we are hoping to demystify the process of cooking,” says Wynne. In essence, these guys cook every Monday to not only eat and have fun, but they are cooking to learn and teach.
Being cooped up in your place while snow is pummeling the ground is not a bad thing. With a few ingredients, a little patience, and some hands-on fun, you could whip up a delicious meal. Actually, you might want to be snowed in after tasting these dishes.
More photos can be seen here.
Originally published in Real Detroit Weekly.