As a simple appetizer, I made Muhammara. Instead of a perennial dip like spinach-artichoke or hummus, I chose the road less travelled which happens to run through Syria, the birthplace of this dip. It's primary constituents are roasted red peppers and walnuts with some cumin as the primary spice. The overall consistency is more like a thick paste, but it can be thinned down if need be. Not only is the dip easy, it's just different flavors that I think take your taste buds by surprise. So ditch the old dips and slip your chip into this tip and you'll be licking your lips.
I did not manage to take individual pictures of the main course and side items, but everything worth mentioning is on my plate (go figure). I like to run my parties as potlucks so I'm not left doing all of the cooking. This also prevents me from going overboard and preparing too much food for the occasion. So the main items to focus on are the burger and the cornbread. The pork burgers feature an apricot-chipotle mayonnaise that really livened up its flavor. The mayo has a sweetness balanced by a subtle, smokey heat that helps to counter the fattiness of the mayonnaise. If you prefer your pork well-done, be sure to not overcook it so that it becomes to dry. Not even mayonnaise can save it then.
These burgers met with critical acclaim, but the biggest smash of the main course was the cornbread. A little birdie gave me the idea, which I thought was absolutely genius: corn dog bread. Who doesn't love a corn dog? But who needs to go through the hassle of skewering and frying all those wieners when you can merely slip them into your favorite cornbread recipe? I love to keep everything a surprise, and this side item pretends to be normal cornbread until you cut into it. Then it's Crouching Hot Dog, Hidden Deliciousness comes to the forefront. I had to stop myself from eating the entire pan's-worth because it had all of my favorite elements of corn dogs, only in smaller pieces. I would definitely recommend this very simple twist on a fair food classic for pretty much any excuse you can find to make it. July 4th? Yes. Birthday? Sure. Monday? Why not?
Since the grill was already heated up, why not a grilled dessert. The great thing about fibrous fruits like pineapple and stonefruit is that they hold up well on a grill. Grill marks look great on almost everything, and they help to caramelize the sugars in the fruit. Plus warm pineapple puts cold pineapple to shame. On top of this great base is drizzled a diluted Nutella sauce, then dollops of a vanilla-infused mascarpone. You can also throw on some toasted hazelnuts to really finish it all off. Giada may not look it, but she knows her way around a dessert.
My favorite dessert, though, is this watermelon sorbet. I took Alton Brown's recipe and infused it with some Martha Stewart inspiration. While making the sorbet, I remembered some flavors she used on some fresh watermelon a few years back, so I dropped the vodka (I don't know why you'd really need it anyways since it would drop the melting temperature) and added some honey and a healthy dose of freshly grated ginger. The ginger kick helped give the watermelon a surprising bite so that it wasn't just sweet melon with more sugar then frozen. I attempted a nice display in a watermelon rind, but my scooping does need a little work. Presentation not withstanding, this sorbet was the runaway hit for our desserts without being too overbearing.
On a different note, cake class this week was how to make frosting flowers. Pictured above are a plain, simple swirl, a daffodil (my best was still not very realistic), a rose, a sunflower, and a hyacinth with leaves. My favorite were the hyacinth since they were the easiest to make, yet the most amazing to look at. The lesson learned for this class was you really need the right equipment (i.e. piping tips) to make just the right shapes for each of the flowers. The wrong size tip can make the difference of making a flower that looks like a nice representation of nature using frosting versus one that could be a flower placed on top of the cupcake. For those, like me, who care almost equally about flavor as about decoration, the cupcakes this week were from Shelly Kaldunski's book, Cupcakes. Half were gingerbread (with fresh ginger) and half were mocha, and all were topped with a vanilla-white chocolate buttercream. I thought they tasted good, and apparently my lab did too because they disappeared in less than 24 hours. Sweet.