Sunday, August 16, 2009

Open House

open house invite fig. a: invitation

Sometime back in late June, we were part of a crack team of entertainers that had been enlisted to throw a summer bash commemorating a year in the Catskills. And, oh, what a year! In just 12 months, the M.H. Merchant Stone House had been restored, refurbished, and revitalized, local friendships had been cultivated, and roots (both literal and figurative) had been sunk deep in the ground. Not surprisingly, given this flurry of activity, The Caretakers were in a celebrating mood. We were thrilled to be invited to the festivities, and seriously honored to be asked to help represent.

So, bright and early, one fine Friday morning, we packed the AEB Mobile Unit full of barbecue gear and hit the road. We'd proposed a homestyle barbecue spread for the festivities, and The Caretakers liked our vision. The proposed menu looked something like this:

2 x 10-12 lb pork shoulders, applewood-smoked and pulled
Down East Baked Beans
Smokehouse Potato Salad
Tidewater Cole slaw
Poor man's caviar
Sweet tea
White Chocolate Cake & Strawberries

If many of these selections look familiar, there's a reason for that.

The next day, Saturday, was Party Day. When we'd arrived the day before, we'd hit the ground running, so a lot of our prep was already taken care of. On our last visit, Michelle and I had gathered a whole bunch of apple wood from the yard, so we had plenty of sweet-smelling fuel too.

fruitwood fig. b: fruitwood 4 smoking

When I fired up the barbecue, it was still overcast, and threatening rain, and with all the rain they'd had over the last 4-5 weeks, the forest out back was bright, bright green.

greenery fig. c: green forest, blue smoke

One of the last things we prepped was the sweet tea. We made a lot of tea, but it sure didn't look like it because the dispenser we were using could have held enough for the whole Russian Army.

iced tea fig. d: sweet tea

With all the prep work done, all the arrangements taken care of, it was time to wash up and make ourselves presentable for our guests.

v fig. e: bathtime

About an hour before the guests showed up, with the shoulders still smoking away, I made a sign to advertise some of our offerings.

bbq fig. f: what'll you have?

I spent hours tending the barbecue, but with my beers, my ballcap, my baseball glove and baseball, and my barbecue, not to mention the two most perfect shoulders I've ever seen, I was pretty much in hog heaven. Plus, I had a nice turntable to keep me company. These Caretakers had seriously thought of everything.

turntable fig. g: bbq hi-fi

Minutes before the action got underway, with the shoulders nearing the moment of truth, Michelle and I took the time to have commemorative portraits taken.

m & a fig. h: m & a

How did things turn out? The party was a huge hit, and, miracle of miracles, even though we'd had a number of downpours that very day, one of which was torrential, the skies cleared up right as the guests began to appear, the sun began to shine, and the evening was a perfect summer evening, with hundreds of fireflies dancing in the meadow, and thousands of stars in the sky. Our barbecue menu went over big--that combination of fruitwood and slow & low cooking made for the most succulent pulled pork and some sensationally smoky ribs--and we ended up making exactly the right amount of food: just enough to keep the midnight snackers occupied. But the real stars were the M.H. Merchant Stone House, its grounds, and its Caretakers. Everything was perfect, and--the true test!--the party soon took on a life of its own. Many of the guests had driven 2-3 hours from New York City and New Jersey to attend, and everyone seemed positively thrilled that they'd made the excursion.

A lot of people had heard that "a famous pastry chef" was part of the catering team, so there's no question that Michelle's dessert was eagerly anticipated. This being essentially a barbecue meal, she'd decided to go with a dessert that was more homespun. She'd settled on a simple, even foolproof, white cake whose tanginess (from the combination of buttermilk and white chocolate) makes for an ideal complement to fresh strawberries, and which she'd recently made a central part of her raspberry/pistachio dessert at Laloux. Strawberries were good and plentiful at the time, and Michelle envisioned following up the barbecue with something of a small-scale strawberry social. Now, if you live in Quebec, you might have noticed that the fraises d'automne are available now--if you've never tried them before, they're amazing, oftentimes even better than our summer strawberries, and this cake really lets them shine.

quebec strawberries fig. i: quebec strawberries

White Chocolate Cake with Strawberries

2 c. flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz white chocolate, melted
1 1/2 sticks butter, soft
1 1/2 C sugar
4 yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 C buttermilk
4 egg whites
1/4 C sugar

fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered
lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Toss your strawberries with sugar and lemon juice to taste. Allow them to macerate while you make the cake.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Set aside. Cream the butter and first count of sugar together until light and fluffy. Add yolks one at a time, and scrape down the sides. Mix well. Add vanilla and melted white chocolate. Add buttermilk and dry ingredients alternately in 4 batches, ending with buttermilk. Set aside. Make a meringue with the whites and last count of sugar. Fold into the cake batter. Pour into a half-sheet pan (12” x 17”) lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Bake 15-20 min. Unmold when still warm.

Dress with some of your strawberries and enjoy.

[based on a recipe from Sherry Yard’s Desserts by the Yard]

The next day we celebrated the success of our celebration at a local swimming hole.

water baby fig. j: water baby

And later that day we paid what's become a mandatory visit to Clare and Carl's on our way back to Montreal.

texas red hots fig. k: clare & carl's

A half an hour later, on the other side of Plattsburgh, and with those ominous clouds now gone, we put the finishing touches on the weekend with a cone at another favorite of ours, Harrigan's Soft Ice Cream.

harrigans soft ice cream fig. l: harrigan's

Clare & Carl's, 4727 State Route 9, Plattsburgh, (518) 561-1163

Harrigan's Soft Ice Cream, 1247 State Route 3, West Plattsburgh, (518) 561-8110


p.s. This post dedicated to the memory of Chico, who had the best personality, and the softest paws.

chico fig. m: sleepytime


Maureen said...

I think all your blog entries deserve comment - if only to say how much pleasure they give. The pork shoulder sounds fabulous. When we still had a smoker (when we lived in the 'burbs) slow cooked ribs were a summer specialty, along with Soeur Berthe's coleslaw and 4th of July potato salad. Your menu makes me salivate!

Unknown said...

I gave the strawberry cake a try this week after promptings from my boyfriend for strawberry shortcake (his favorite). Words cannot describe how YUMMY it turned out. I should also mention that it was delicious despite the fact that I had to bake it in 2 small cake pans in 2 separate batches in our convection toaster oven (!!) because our regular oven was out of commission. Now that's a good cake recipe!!!

aj kinik said...

Somehow never saw these comments come in...

Hi, Maureen,
Thanks so much for the feedback. Tell me more about Soeur Berthe's coleslaw...

Hi, Sara,
glad you liked the cake recipe--love your ingenuity

thanks for writing!