November 30, 2008

foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: a special meal of thanks

Thanksgiving is such a fantastic time of year---getting together with friends and family and reflecting on the many things we're thankful for. Like most folks, usually we eat until we've expanded our waists a few inches, sit on the couch for a few hours, and get back up to eat more.

This year, I wanted to do something a little different... to give thanks for what we have through our actions as well as our words. With so many food banks in need of support at this time of year (particularly given the current economic situation), Lav and I thought we would throw a small dinner party to raise some money for Northwest Harvest, a state-wide hunger relief agency here in Washington that supplies 18 million pounds of food annually to almost 300 partner food banks and meal programs.

The idea would be simple. We'd invite eight friends over for a formal dinner. Each person would make a contribution directly to Northwest Harvest in exchange for a five course thanksgiving meal, prepared and served by us. By doing this, the simple act of eating would be raising some much needed funds for a good cause.

We were lucky enough to have our idea selected as part of's "24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs" event this month. Our hope is that other folks out there who also enjoy cooking and hosting dinner parties might be interested in doing something similar in their own homes.

The evening started off with a few aperitifs---a "holiday spice" martini and sparkling wine scented with rosemary---with Paul serving as our visiting volunteer mixologist/server.

Rather than serving a traditional "thanksgiving" meal, we created a menu based on some of our favorite dishes this past year and dishes that would be seasonally appropriate, given what we were able to find at the Ballard farmers market. I'm also taking part in Urban Hennery's Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, so we wanted to try to make the meal with at least 90% local ingredients.

the menu
shaved fennel salad, apple, beet, parmesan, crouton
romanesco cauliflower, bagna càuda
riccioli, parsley pesto broth, totten inlet mussels
18-hour braised short rib, parsnip, jerusalem artichoke, chanterelle, sage
chocolate cake, molly moon vivace, lace cookie

For the first course, we wanted to start with something light and refreshing. We shaved a bulb of fennel and a few stalks of celery almost paper then, dressing them in a white balsamic vinaigrette. For a lightly sweet counterpoint, we added added matchsticks of fuji apple and thin slices of roasted beets. We then topped it off with shards of parmiggiano reggiano (a non-local, imported ingredient).

I wanted to add something decadent and rich to bridge the diners to the next courses, which would be much more robust and dense in flavor, so we added a toast point with caramelized shallot, bacon, swiss chard and gruyere... topped with a fried quail egg. Just a small bite of crunchy richness for a chilly evening.

The second course of roasted romanesco cauliflower was based on a delicious dish we had at Spinasse here in Seattle. The romanesco cauliflower itself is a sight to behold... you can get lost staring into its fractal patterns. I'm not sure why these fascinating vegetables aren't more popular in our everyday supermarkets.

It took me a little searching to finally locate the romanesco cauliflower (thanks to PCC markets, sourced from a local farm less than 30 miles away), but it was well worth it. We sliced it into wedges and pan-roasted them in a cast iron skillet with some olive oil, salt and pepper until the exterior was nicely caramelized and the interior was just a bit tender.

Earlier in the day, I made the bagna càuda by putting 8 tablespoons of olive oil in a small pot over very low heat. Into that, I added three anchovy filets and 4 cloves of garlic, sliced. As the olive oil slowly heated, the anchovy could be broken up and eventually dissolved into the oil while the garlic softened and permeated the oil with its flavor. Lastly, I added a few healthy pinches of red pepper flakes for a light heat. Once the romanesco cauliflower was cooked, we plated it with some toasted pine nuts and drizzled the bagna càuda all over it. The cauliflower gets a fantastic nutty flavor from the roasting, which matches well with the anchovy-garlic seasoning of the oil.

The third course is a riff on Union's spectacular cavatelli and mussels in a parsley pesto broth. Using the same parsley pesto recipe that I blogged about earlier, we had these fantastic fresh-made riccioli from the farmer's market and insanely fresh, plump Totten inlet mediterranean mussels from Taylor Shellfish.

I can't ever get tired of braised short ribs. This particular dish was special for a couple of reasons. First, we went with the 18-hour slow braising method (trying to keep a constant temperature of no more than 68 degrees C), which creates a meltingly tender texture without overcooking the meat. Second, we sourced the short ribs from two amazing local providers: Skagit River Ranch and Olsen Farms, whose cattle are grass-fed and pasture raised.

To finish, we made a simple chocolate cake and matched it with an almond lace cookie and my absolute favorite coffee ice cream: Molly Moon's Vivace Coffee (a local artisan ice cream shop in Wallingford).

But enough about all this food. The more important thing is that we were able to raise $860 for Northwest Harvest (after factoring in corporate matching and some Foodbuzz funds). Not a bad way to spend an evening!

A special thanks goes out to Leo Chen, an incredible photographer who volunteered his services for the night to take these beautiful pictures. His perspective and images tell the story of the evening in a way that my words simply cannot.

If you find this idea interesting and would like to learn more, please check out our separate blog for this ongoing project, fishes+loaves. There, you can find out more about the theory behind the project and see some pictures from a previous meal that took place earlier in November. This was our second attempt at this kind of a meal, and there will be more to come. If you'd like to get involved with a similarly structured meal for charity, we'd love to hear from you!


  1. What a lovely idea and a great way to raise money and awareness for charity!

    Those short ribs sound incredible!

  2. I can say from experience that the short ribs were beyond incredible. :-)

    Thanks again Jack and LaV for the amazing meal and a chance to be part of such a creative fundraiser.

  3. This is a great idea! I love the awareness and generosity it brings out in people - keep it going!

  4. Hi Jack!

    Rebecca forwarded your blog to me so that I could see the Fishes & Loaves entry. What a wonderful idea! Also: I'm definitely going to bake that chocolate cake as soon as possible!



  5. Looks gorgeous and your heart was in the right place raising money for a charity. Nice job!

  6. What a wonderful idea, great pictures, fabulous presentations. I'm glad to hear this was a success, I've thought about doing this before, you've given me encouragement.