Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Post: Remember, Remember...

A while back I asked my friend and fellow SOS'er Nick to write a guest blog post about the awesome jacket potato bar party he hosted for Guy Fawkes Day. To give you a sense of timing, the Guy Fawkes rhyme goes as follows:
Remember, remember the 5th of November
gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
should ever be forgot.
So, I've been excited to read this post for a while. I'm sad that I couldn't make it to the event, but now at least there are only a few more months until the next Guy Fawkes Day! Here's Nick with more.

Here is one from the archives... except that it was never written, until now! A source of fortnightly mild interrogation from Calli, the subject of this blog post has finally matured to the point that we can crack the seal and enjoy the perfectly (overly?) aged material. This introduction is a touch superfluous, but it's my way of skirting the issue of apologizing to Calli for taking SO long to do a guest post for Calli's Crossing. Without further ado...

To avoid confusing all of us Americans, we used the American 
term "Baked Potato Bar" on all official signage

The Jacket Potato Bar is an ancient Anglo-Saxon rite of passage into middle-age hood. As an adolescent and young adult, one can only handle the concept of individual or perhaps a duo of toppings. The adventurous British soul might even have ventured into a three topping jacket potato, but he was often shunned by his peers and forced to live a solitary life off in the Dales somewhere. There was an archaeological dig that uncovered all this. This is history here, people. I live in England. Wouldn't I know? Look it up... but in one of those research-journal-only paid subscription search engines. Don't have access to those? Well then I suppose you'll just have to believe me.

Another ancient British tradition was annual Blowing-Up Parliament Day. That is, until Guy Fawkes took a triumphant stand on November 5th and said, "Nay! This tradition is barbaric and fiscally indefensible. Instead of rebuilding parliament every year, how about this imperialism thing, or we could decapitate a monarch!? And drinking to excess is good, too." Mr. Fawkes was a visionary that is still celebrated annually on November 5th with a ritual bonfire representing all those years of blowing up/burning down parliament and the lives lost to such a senseless tradition. Wait, I'm being told I may have some of the details wrong. But why else would British people celebrate Guy Fawkes Day annually? Ah well, my memory sometimes fails me. Look that up, too.

Burning an effigy in "honor" of Guy Fawkes' brave stand

Now you see why I chose the ritual Jacket Potato Bar (JPB) to celebrate such a momentous day in British history, in addition to my march forward in my 30s. As this is a DIY style blog, perhaps I should discuss the makings of a good jacket potato bar. One that announces to the world that I've arrived squarely out of young adulthood into... whatever the early to mid-thirties are called. And no, it wasn’t my birthday, I’m holding this story together with tape and chewing gum here people. The village that it took to raise me would be proud.

So back to the JPB. You’re welcome to make it as small or as large as you feel comfortable with. It turns out, no matter whether or not you put out certain... let's say "coordinated ingredients," you're going to have people that take it as a challenge to fit every.single.topping on the jacket potato. You know the type, they were the same ones that can't be trusted at a soda fountain. Cherry Coca-Spri-Monade Dew is not a thing. But don't let these people deter you. Put out whatever you feel like making and embrace the madness. You can eat 3 properly coordinated jacket potatoes and feel morally superior.

Jacket Potato Bar with all the trimmings

Here were the four styles of jacket potatoes I intended with the toppings for each. There is reuse of several ingredients throughout:

The Dirty Frenchman (Xenophobia be damned)
Brie! (Sacrebleu!)
Red wine sauteed onions and mushrooms
Lardons (really just bacon for fancy folk)

Vegetarian Chili
Shredded Adobo chicken
El queso cheddaro
El Sour Cream

The Posh Brit
Cranberry sauce
Proper Back Bacon
And that's it for that one. Brits can't tolerate more than 3 ingredients. We've been over this.

And last, but not least

'Merica!  #!@(& Yeah
Gosh darn bacon!
Gal dern cheddar cheese?
Fancy schmancy chives
Whatever the heck else you want!
* Comes with a side of freedom.

I'm not getting into recipes, here, but do note that something similar to this menu for 30 people will take you most of a day of cooking because it's a lot of stuff, and it's all made from scratch. You can take shortcuts, but won't be as earth shattering, so if that's what you're going for, just keep doing your thing. But here is an idea of how I planned my day.Hopefully this will give you an idea of how to set up for this type of party:
  • 8-9am: Wake up to God Save the Queen on your alarm clock, make breakfast, make tea, forget to drink most of tea because you're busy cooking
  • After breakfast (2-3 hours of work): Chop the bacon/lardons while it's raw to make the best bacon bits (aka American lardons), and then let the fat render and let the bacon deep fry in its own fat. Because I said so. Trust me.
  • While that's going, spice up and sauté off your chicken and let it cool. Shred the cooked chicken. Sweat some onions in the same pan and then add the chicken and simmer it in chicken stock spiked with lots of your favorite Tex-Mexican spices. Simmer... not boil!
  • After you start the chicken start your cranberry sauce (sugar, lemon zest, and cranberries, plus a few teaspoons of water to get it started).
  • While the chicken is cooking (about an hour): Chop and shred things that don't need to be warm: Cilantro, cheddar cheese, brie, chives. Take the chicken off the stove after an hour or so of simmering. (If you're smart and less of a procrastinator than me, you can do this stuff the day before.)
  • Sometime around noon-1pm: Find your tea. Microwave, drink one-third, forget again.
  • Early- to mid-afternoon: Start your chili, which, depending on the recipe you're using, should take 1-3 hours of prep/simmer time.
  • Mid-to-late afternoon: while the chili is simmering, prepare your red wine onions and mushrooms. This involves sautéing both items in butter with salt and pepper, and deglazing the pan with red wine and then adding fresh thyme and maybe a spoonful of whole grain mustard, but this can flavored any way you like it.
  • You probably have a break now, so tidy up and get ready for the party.
  • At least 2 hours before people show up: put on a big vat of mulled wine in the crock pot and make sure the beer is on ice.
  • 2 Hours before you want to serve the jacket potatoes: start the potatoes baking. I wrapped mine in foil and poked holes in them so they'd stay hot longer when they're put out on the bar. They take longer to cook this way, but it's worth it to buy you extra time with hot potatoes. Without the foil, it will take closer to an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Half an hour before party: Find your tea again, feel a little shameful for doing so, but microwave it yet again and proudly finish the cup. This is Yorkshire’s finest, here. No wounded soldiers.

One thing we had to work around was heading out to the celebration of Guy Fawkes for about an hour during the party… I couldn't miss it, after all he did for our host country. Everything had to be as close to ready to go when we got back as possible. British patriotism makes people hungry. We put out cheese and crackers and some dips and breads before people headed out to the Guy Fawkes festivities. That bought us some time on the other end of the outing, but I did still have to head back a little bit before everyone else to reheat items made earlier that day. I used a combo of pots and the microwave to make things go as quickly as possible.

Once everyone has eaten and is happy, tidy up a bit and enjoy the party!Put out the desserts when it feels right. I am fortunate to be surrounded by terrific bakers. My beautiful wife and the lovely and talented Sarah King provided the desserts. Sarah made us a FANTASTIC likeness of Guy Fawkes, in pie form! No one wanted to cut into it, though. It was too impressive.

Sarah King's pie in the likeness of Guy Fawkes.
Not en flambé  but perfect otherwise!

Later on in the evening, if you live within 2 blocks of a pub, make sure everyone gets an adult juice box full of 2 pints of beer. It’s one last element of Britishness you really must fit into the day. If you don’t live within 2 blocks of a pub, make sure to have plenty of British ale stocked.

All the guys with their adult juice boxes full of 2 pints of beer

And that’s all she wrote.  If you drink too much: good, that’s the most British thing you can do.  They’ll hardly notice you’re a Yank if you’re properly slurring that ghastly bastardization of the Queen’s English, know as ‘Merican, and we wouldn't have it any other way.  Health and Safety wanted me to tell you that.

Don't you love Nick? Not only is he hilarious, but is a fantastic chef and host. I can't wait until November for his Second Annual Jacket Potato Bar! Thanks for posting, Nick!

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