I had a dinner party this weekend! I love dinner parties, because they are generally parties that consist of dinner. That is a very good thing. My apartment is a bit cramped for 8 people, and I only actually own 5 chairs, but we managed to make it happen. And guess what? IT WAS A MURDER MYSTERY DINNER PARTY. Oh yes. Mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and cake. We had a grand ole time. The murder was set in New Orleans, so we all got to try our hand at having a horrible southern accent. I played the part of Cayenne Pepper, a successful chef with a dark secret. Yep. I wasn’t the murderer, but not for lack of trying.
Anyway, the subject of this post is prepping for a dinner party. Do you find the thought of cooking food for a large number of people alarming? Calm your tits, we’re going to put those fears to rest.
This dinner party had four components: Pulled pork sammies, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, and flourless chocolate almond torte. I was going to go in theme and make some Jambalaya, but my friend Alok is “dangerously allergic to shellfish”. Way to make it all about you, Alok, jeeze. So we had pork instead. Anyway, the subject of this post is only going to focus on the pulled pork and the torte, because otherwise it would be way too long, but I’ll tell you how to time budget the different dishes so that you can pull it off if you choose to do so.
Chocolate Almond Flourless Torte
Adapted from the Food Network
- 10 ounces good bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine (margarine? GTFO), at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1/3 cup finely ground almonds (done in a food processor)
- 2 tablespoons cognac or dark rum
- Confectioners sugar, for sprinkling
- Whipped cream, optional
- Fresh raspberries, optional
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees and grease well a 9-inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot, not boiling water. When the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and leave it over the hot water to cool slowly.
- Meanwhile in a large bowl, beat the butter with 1/4 cup of the sugar until the mixture is fluffy and almost white. Add egg yolks and beat for 1 minute. Add the almonds and cognac and beat 2 minutes more.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until light and foamy while gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Continue beating the whites until they are stiff and shiny.
- Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. Fold in 1/4 of this chocolate mixture into the egg whites; then gradually fold the egg whites back into the rest of the chocolate mixture, taking care not to deflate the batter.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out covered with a thick, moist, not wet, and crumby coating. Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes in the pan.
- Loosen the edges with a knife and carefully turn the cake out onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper. Sprinkle with the confectioners sugar. Serve at room temperature or chilled with whipped cream and raspberries on the side.
The Simplest Pulled Pork in the Land
- Pork butt or shoulder (recipe calls for two pounds, but really just get as much up in there as you want. Sometimes I use two 3 pound cuts at once)
- 2 Liter bottle of Root Beer or Dr. Pepper (I like Dr. Pepper a lot!)
- Big ole bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (I favor Sweet Baby Ray’s)
- Hamburger buns
- Put the pork in the slow cooker. Cut off some of the fat if you’re ABSOLUTELY INSANE.
- Pour on that soda. Maybe about half the bottle.
- Cook on low for 6-8 hours. The meat is done when it’s falling apart.
- Pour off MOST of the soda. You don’t want it to be totally dry, because a lot of the fat is floating around in the sexy liquid.
- Shred pork. It should fall apart so easily that you’re really sort of stirring it instead of actively shredding it. If it’s holding together and difficult to shred, it’s not done cooking yet.
- Add BBQ sauce, as much as you’d like.
- Serve on buns and feast. Eat with cole slaw, for sure.
1. Time budget like a champ.
Whenever I host a dinner party, I make a mini-schedule alongside my shopping list. I list out what I’m going to be making, and the approximate time needed for each thing. In my head, I can then split that into the active prep and cook time (time when I’ll need to be chopping, stirring, or otherwise paying attention) and passive cook time (when something is baking, for example, when I can do other things), but feel free to write that out as well, if it helps you.
For this food assemblage: In the morning, bake the cake – active time about 1 hour, if you’re sleepy and going slowly and having some coffee like I was. Budget in about 7 hours passive time for the pulled pork, with it finishing right around the time the dinner is supposed to start. Depending on your schedule, you can do the pork first, but I had plans in the afternoon so I did the cake first and then got the pork going, so I’ll proceed in that order. Once the cake and the pork are out of the way, all you have to do is make the mac and cheese about an hour before the party, and then throw together the cole slaw quickly while the mac is in the oven. I always make cole slaw the same way: pre-packaged broccoli slaw, plus about 3 cups of thinly sliced red cabbage, 3 green onions, diced, and about a half a jar of Marie’s Coleslaw Dressing. That shit is so good, I would rarely consider making the dressing myself. Anyway, the hardest part of that is chopping the green onions and the cabbage, which takes about 5 minutes. Easy-peasy.
Party at 7 PM
Cake in the oven at 11 AM
Pulled pork slow cooking for 7 hours starting at 12
Mac and Cheese started at 6 PM, in the oven by 6:30 PM
Coleslaw thrown together at 6:30, takes about 5 minutes.
There! That doesn’t look so hard. Only really about an hour and a half of active work, which is sort of hard to believe. Anyway. Onward to the food.
2. Get your cake business in order.
Hell yeah. This cake is amazing, and has the bonus of being flourless if you have a GF pal. You don’t miss the flour, though, because the almonds more than make up for its absence. This is a recipe similar to my friend Laura’s recipe for Torta da mandolle, which I’ve heard her say for years but I swore it was spelled something like “Tort de la mondelé” because I’m an idiot and don’t know any italian whatsoever. But I digress. The cake is kickass.
There’s really not a whole not of stuff in this cake: chocolate, almonds, cognac (notice how I used an airplane bottle of Captain Morgans – I never claimed to be classy), butter, eggs, sugar, cream, and raspberries. “But Emma”, you might be asking, “what about the salt?” The answer to that is that my sleepy ass assumed that there was salt, and put it in this picture. Guess what? There’s no salt. So say hi to Lil Morton, she’s just along for the ride. Don’t put salt in this cake, ok? Don’t.
Anyway, the recipe makes up for its simple ingredients by requiring a rather large amount of bowls and other things. A food processor, springform pan (like for cheesecake), electric mixer (handheld is fine, and is actually preferable for this recipe) and a double boiler are really a must. I’ll touch on the double boiler later, if you are confused. It’s that little saucepan/shallow bowl combo there on the far right.
3. Preheat the oven to 300 and line your pan.
Take the bottom of the springform pan, and trace around it with a marker on your trusty parchment paper. Cut just inside of the line so the liner will fit in the pan – before you place the liner in the reassembled pan, take a paper towel and some crisco (vegetable shortening) or butter and wipe it around the inside of the pan walls – it will keep the cake from sticking. These two steps are the secret to a cake that always comes easily out of the pan.
4. Chop your chocolate.
Good chocolate is pretty key for this recipe, since there’s not a lot dressing up the flavors otherwise. I used 2.5 bars of bittersweet Ghirardelli, which holy shit is a difficult word to spell. Dice the chocolate up into fairly small pieces, so it will melt easily. Fun fact! Chocolate dust will get all over your hands and melt instantly in this step.
5. Put that shit in a double boiler.
Okay, so what is a double boiler? It’s just a shallow pot with a rim that fits right inside a saucepan, generally used for melting things. They are generally sold for a particular pan by a particular brand, so that they fit perfectly together. You put a little less than an inch of water in the pot (pictured below), and put the bowl (the boiler) on top. It shouldn’t float – if it does, there’s too much water. Put the chocolate right into the bowl. When you heat this guy on the stove, it will create a nice uniform heat that’s insulated from the direct heat of the stove, so that the chocolate won’t burn or otherwise overheat as it melts. Try to prevent the water from reaching a boil – it will dislodge the boiler and generally become a pain in the ass.
Now stir! Stir that bitch! It’s magic! It’s so fun! Yay!
WOOO!!! As soon as it’s almost all melted (a few more minutes after the stage pictured above), turn off the heat – residual heat will melt it the rest of the way. When it’s smooth and beautiful, double check to make sure the heat is off and leave it to cool slowly.
6. Grind your almonds.
In the food processor. If you read my previous post, hopefully I convinced you that you need one of these. I love my lil guy. Grind the almonds as far as they’ll go – you want them to be a floury-sort of substance.
7. Separate the eggs.
They make little tools for this, I think, but the easiest way is just to crack the egg into your hand and open your fingers slightly to let the white pass through into a bowl, and then put the yolk in another bowl. That’s how Giada de-la-giant-headstress does it on TV. Picture of separated eggs below because Baking! Farm Fresh! Morning Light! Pintrest!
8. Beat your egg yolks and then add the chocolate.
This is where it gets tricky if you only have a stand mixer with one bowl – don’t get me wrong, I love my stand mixer, but in a recipe with multiple egg-beatings (gasp!), you need to use the mixer with more than one bowl, and it’s a huge pain. A hand mixer would be better in this instance, but I made do by holding an incorrectly sized bowl up to the mixer and listening to the mixing paddle whack into the side of the bowl, highlighting my inadequacies as a human being. Either way, you want to save your real stand mixer bowl for the egg whites, since they have to whip for a long time (encore gasp! so much egg violence). Mix your egg yolks with the butter and half the sugar. It will look like Big Bird took a dump in your bowl. You will adjust to this quickly.
Then, add the chocolate. In case it’s still a little hot, add just a little bit in at a time, stirring constantly. This is called tempering – you’re bringing the egg mixture slowly up in temperature, so the eggs don’t become shocked and give you cooked eggs. I doubt this would happen here, due to the presence of the butter, but it’s something to consider. No one wants nasty scrambled egg cake.
9. Traumatize your egg whites.
In your good stand mixer bowl (or whatever other bowl if you have a hand mixer), add your egg whites. Turn the mixer on high, a setting I almost never get to use and thus find terribly exciting. I feel like Lord Helmet going into Ludicrous Speed.
Whip those babies into white, fluffy, glossy, unicorn peaks. As they’re whipping up, slowly add the other half of the sugar (1/4 cup). When you’re done, they should look like this:
10. Fold your shit together.
Take 1/4 of the chocolate/egg mixture, and add it to the egg whites. Using a spatula and NOT THE MIXER, gently fold the chocolate in. This means you gently scoop the bottom, and put in on the top, and repeat, gently, until it’s fairly well mixed. You’re tying to avoid the egg whites collapsing, since we just made them all fluffy. You don’t need to mix it 100% perfectly, but try to get the chocolate distributed in the egg whites. Don’t fret, they will de-fluff a little, which can’t be avoided. Just don’t murder the shit out of them while mixing.
Then, add the chocolate/eggwhites BACK into the rest of the chocolate/egg yolk mixture, and continue folding until fairly well mixed. There will still be some swirls of chocolate or egg white, but don’t worry about it.
11. Put the batter into the pan, and bake.
Pour it into your prepared pan, and smooth with a spatula.
Bake for about 30 minutes, and check it by inserting a toothpick into the center. I find it usually needs about 10 more minutes – the toothpick should come out with a moist crumb coating, but NOT a wet, goopy coating. I stop when it looks like this:
Remove the cake and let it rest for 30 minutes before removing from the pan. It will deflate as it cools.
Pop the bottom out of the pan, and then upend the cake gently onto a plate. Peel off the parchment paper, and allow to rest until the party. Dust with confectioners sugar, dot with raspberries, and whip your cream in the mixer until fluffy. Then serve away! Super tasty and pretty.
12. When the cake is in the oven, prep your pork.
This shit will take less than 5 minutes. It’s the easiest thing in the world. I swear on my cat, you cannot mess this up.
This is everything you need. I use a slow cooker, but you can use the oven if you don’t have a slow cooker – just look up an oven recipe. It’ll take a little less cooking time, probably more like 5 hours.
13. Open the pork and put it in the crockpot.
Add about an inch or two of Dr. Pepper, Coke, or Root Beer. Yes, soda, do it, don’t ask questions. Cover the crock pot and set it to cook on low for 7 hours. Wait, what just happened? Did you just finish getting the pork ready to cook? Oh, look. You did. And it took about 30 seconds.
14. Leave that shit alone for 7 hours.
Come back. It will look like this. Write me fanmail.
15. Drain off the liquid, shred, and sauce.
Drain off almost all the liquid, but leave a little to keep the meat nice and juicy. Shred the pork by glancing at it harshly (or, I guess, stirring it with a spoon or fork). If there was a bone, make sure to remove it. Some times there’s a bit of extra fat that I take out, if it’s still solid. If the pork doesn’t shred when you stir it, it might not be quite cooked yet. Maybe give it a poke before you drain the liquid if you’re not sure. It should be crazy tender.
Add barbecue sauce of your choice. I like Sweet Baby Rays. Oh look, it’s finished. What happened? Why are people swamping the stage and throwing their undergarments at your face? Oh, right, because you just made that. Yup.
Serve on rolls with the coleslaw I mentioned above. Don’t forget the cake that you slaved over, it was about 10000 times harder to make then this crazy simple pork.
You’re welcome, monsters! See you next week.