Guest Chick Monday: Cat Schield

Settle in for a story from a Chick of the Frozen North.  Cat Schield lives in Minnesota with  her daughter and their Burmese cat.  Winner of the Romance Writers of America 2010 Golden Heart® for series contemporary romance, when she’s not writing sexy, romantic stories for Harlequin Desire, she can be found sailing with friends on the St. Croix River or more exotic locales like the Caribbean and Europe.

And she has a book released this month, who-hoo!  Meddling With a Millionaire was given FOUR STARS by Romantic Times.  You can read more about Cat here.

Group Fun

Once upon a time there were four friends–two of them married–who decided it would be fun to get together and use the married couple’s pasta maker.  Now, this was not one of those machines where you put in the ingredients and out comes the pasta.  No, this was the sort where you crank the dough through over and over until you get to the perfect thickness.

We had so much fun that we decided it should be an every other month event.  Right away, we settled on the theme of cooking different ethnic foods.  And, ten years later, we’ve cooked our way around the world a couple of times.

Usually we start around two in the afternoon and make an appetizer.  We look for beer or wine from the country to accompany the meal.  Some of the ingredients have proven impossible to find, others times we’ve lucked out at specialty grocery stores.

We try and pick time intensive meals that we wouldn’t ever prepare on our own.  It’s fun to share the work even as we bump elbows in the kitchen.  As the years have gone on, we’ve each fallen into a specialty.  Rose likes to chop.  Kevin keeps track of the protein.  Diane is fabulous picking out the recipes.  Me, I like to measure ingredients and keep track of what we’re working on since often we’re doing three recipes at a time.

Along the way we’ve had successes and failures.  But no matter what we prepared, we always had a great time in the process.

The most memorable, for me was also our most time intensive.  My neighbors at the time were really into Italian cooking so I invited them to participate.  Jan devised the menu and provided the recipes.  We showed up with the ingredients.  It took six of us four hours to prepare everything, but was it delicious.

We started with an almond soup.  The main course was a tortellini pie.  And for dessert we had a flourless chocolate torte.  We had a different wine with each course and I’m pretty sure it was the best meal I’ve ever made.  And because of the community effort that went into the preparation, it remains in my mind the perfect dinner party.  I’ve included a recipe for the chocolate torta.

Torta Barozzi
1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted
2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp cocoa (not Dutch process)
1-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
3 to 4 tbsp all purpose unbleached flour (organic stone-ground preferred)
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
3-1/2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
4 large eggs, separated
5-1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
½ oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1-1/2 tbsp instant expresso coffee granules, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
1-1/2 tsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp cocoa
½ tbsp confectioner’s sugar

Working ahead:  The Barozzi can be baked ahead and has admirable keeping qualities.  It may be slightly better tasting in the first 24 hours after baking, but the cake keeps all its flavors when tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator up to 3 days.  It freezes well 2 months.  Serve at room temperature.

Making Almond Powder:  Combine the almonds 2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar and 3 tbsp cocoa in food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process until the almonds are a fine powder.

Blend the Batter:  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch spring form pan with 1 tbsp of butter.  Cut a circle of parchment paper to cover the bottom of the pan.  Butter the paper with ½ tbsp butter and line the pan with it, butter side up.  Use the 3 to 4 tbsps flour to coat the entire interior of the spring form pan, shaking out any excess.

Preheat the oven to 375 and set the rack in the center of the oven.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed 8 to 10 minutes, or until almost white and very fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl during the beating.

Still at medium speed, beat in the peanut butter.  Then beat in the egg yolks two at a time until smooth.  Reduce the speed to medium-low and beat in the melted chocolates, the dissolved coffee, rum and vanilla.  Then use a big spatula to fold in the almond powder by hand, keeping the batter light.

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Lighten the chocolate batter by folding a quarter of the whites into it.  Then fold in the rest, keeping the mixture light, but without leaving any streaks.

Baking:  Turn the batter into the baking pan, gently smoothing the top.  Bake 30 minutes.  Then reduce the oven heat to 325 and baked another 15 to 20 or until a tester inserted i the center of the cake comes out with only a few small flecks.  The cake will have puffed about two thirds of the way up the sides of the pan.

Cool the cake 10 minutes in the pan set on a rack.  The cake will settle slightly but will remain level.  Spread a kitchen towel on a large plate and turn the cake out onto it.  Peel off the parchment and cool the cake completely.  Then place a round cake plate on top of the cake, and holding the two plates together, flip them over so the torta is right side up.

Serving:  Just before serving, sift the tbsp of cocoa over the ca.  Then top if with a sifting of confectioner’s sugar.  Serve the Barozzi at room temperature.

Thank you Chicks for inviting me into your kitchen.  If anyone would like to share their own stories of group cooking experiences, I’d love to hear them.