Over the weekend I launched my long awaited Dinner Project. This is the first one and I look forward to planning them every few weeks. The whole premises is based on the idea of building a community that is intimate where self-consciousness, awkwardness and deprecating humor is left at the door and all gather around a table of food and network in a more uninhibited and unpretentious level. Such social nurturing is especially lacking in the art world and I was directly affected by this realizing I hadn’t made any meaningful or sustainable relationships and more often than not feeling super shy and uncomfortable. The hootiness and competitive air was enough to make me retract and stay solo.
The Dinner Project has a few “rules”. Basically, I invite 3 guests who then invited 1 friend each; I also invite a friend so there are 8 total, which is a perfect portion of people to cook and bake for. We enjoy ourselves eating, chatting, drinking, gossiping, what have you, then once the tables are cleared there is paper and materials for the guests to create an artwork. Pencils, pens, watercolor, food, ribbons, stamps and mags are provided for all to tinker with and once complete they are to be bound into a book with the menu and images of the food and guests. It is in essence a memory book of the happening that can be extended and shared with others. Eventually I’ll have a stack of these bound books and can thus be displayed somewhere. Also at the end of the night as guests leave there will be a box with an insert hole and a sign asking “How much was it worth?” Guests contribute however much they see fit in support of the project. Simple enough no?
Dinner Project I was perfect in everyway. I spent the previous day planning my menu and grocery shopping (which led to a ripped muscle of some sort on my shoulder from carrying all that food) and come Saturday I spent the day in the kitchen baking and cooking up a storm. Guests trickled in, wine bottles in hand, and filled the room with chatter. Eventually all sat at the table, enjoyed the food and talked mostly about art and food, a most pleasant combination.
Once the tables were cleared, paper was distributed and everyone got to work. I was amazed at how gungho each guest was, with their heads inches away from the table, the room silent with creative energy floating all around. I was even more impressed and grateful at how beautiful each artwork turned out, many of which documented the experience of the moment. Once done guests started to trickle out and left their contributions, which upon counting matched how much I spent on groceries to the dollar. It was true perfection in every way. Now for details.
For the recipes I scrouged through my magazines and bookmarks and contemplated between red snapper, flank steak and chicken breast as the meat course. I knew I wanted to focus on either couscous or quinoa for the rice dish and mixed vegetables for the sides. I was working with a few limitations, there was a vegan as well as some allergic to nuts and some fruits, and those who just didn’t favor raisins, mushrooms, and others. After a few more hours I came up with a menu.
For the appetizer I chose the whipped chickpea hummus recipe that incorporated spinach into the spread, picked up from 101cookbooks. It also included instructions for crostini rubbed in garlic that came out stronger than I expected. The spread was a bit dry and slightly textured but otherwise smooth. I like the incorporation of spinach into the mix although next time I’d like to make classic hummus without it. It was nutty, rich, garlicky, subtly salty and a bit tangy. Success. Recipe is here.
For the meat dish I chose Pan-seared steak pizzaiola which involved pan frying the meat. I wanted to avoid that because I only have 1 measly pan and didn’t want the meat to come out uneven. So I consulted the friendly hip butcher at Marlow & Daughters and he recommended pan searing then roasting a chunk of sirloin steak. I seared each side for a few minutes and at 350 degrees roasted it for 45 minutes. It was unoverwhelmingly pink on the inside and was a perfect medium for all. The sauce was super simple, a tomato based sauce with italian spices and fennel seeds. It was yummy trickled over the couscous as well. The meat was chewy but not an unbearable multi-chew chunk, juicy and hearty. Recipe is here.
For the rice dish I chose couscous with fennel and pine nuts and instead of mixing the nuts directly I put it in a bowl for guests to sprinkle. I’m obsessed with toasted pine nuts, it is so smooth and sexily nutty. So good. Fennel is also a new favorite, so bold and astringent but provocative when incorporated into soup and rice. Couscous is delightfully easy and quick, just boil broth and stir in couscous and remove from heat. As simple as that. I substituted veggie broth for the chicken broth which made it more bland which I fixed with plenty of sea salt. This is a new favorite and will use as a staple for many times to come. Recipe here.
I chose spring vegetables mix for the side dish, boiled carrots and turnips with peas rubbed in butter and herbs. It was simple and fresh, the pop of the peas coinciding the soft chew of the others, the buttery flavor was loud and the herbs a quiet supporter. Recipe here.
Now for my favorite part, dessert. I’ve never had traditional banana foster over ice cream before and found this recipe awhile ago just instinctively knowing it would be good. I’ve never really had bread pudding before either so it was a match made in heaven that was pure orgasm and bewilderment.
This was the first thing I made, knowing it would take longer than the rest of the menu, and good thing I did because there was a lot of wait time and totalled 3 hours in the making. I enjoyed every minute of it though, heating the super rich milky whipping cream and watching the challah bread soak up the pudding and dipping my fingers into a perfect caramel recipe. I was able to find ripe bananas at the store and their extra sweet softness blended very nicely sandwiched between pudding and bread. I don’t know what the waterbath does but I’m guessing it keeps the dish mushy rather than crisp.
The end result was a super indulgent, sweet, caramelized candy treat that would definitely get you sick if you had too much. It was pure comfort food that was satisfying for the taste buds and the heart of fools. Recipe is here.
Now I’d like to show you all the ingenious artwork everyone made.
An online art journal editor uses chocolate as her medium,
makes a geometric abstraction study,
and records bits and pieces of the conversation throughout the evening. Still life, abstraction, surrealist choppy text, what can this lady not do?
A photographer who documents the graffiti art scene records a black bean soup recipe, can’t wait to try it!
She also stamps her thumb to see if that cut shows through the ink. Kind of worked.
An all around art assistant extraordinaire uses Klimt as inspiration for this stream of imagery and text.
An artist incorporates scribbly text with beam of red specked lines,
and exquisitely folds some sort of polygramal hexagon tripoid?
A painter depicts the food gorging that was going on,
and reveals planar abstraction.
An art blogger hysterically recalls his experience prior to attending the dinner.
And lastly, your humble host doodles out of shame.
Can’t wait for Dinner Project II.