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Big Ass Dinner 2016

June 6, 2016

For our second ‘Big Ass Dinner’ at the BAB, we definitely went Big-ger: more people, more courses and more projects to build and make for the dinner. We even had to create the ‘room’ for the dinner this time. We felt that we had a lot to celebrate, so bigger was in order. This is one of my longer posts- so you might want to grab a beverage.

We decided to host the meal on the now, mostly dry, second floor, that being the key reason for the celebration. We’ve often admired how the evening light makes the space glow.

Same area TODAY...

The meal was scheduled for the Spring, fingers crossed that the weather would cooperate so we can host a dinner in an unconditioned space. After polling this round of 11 guests on availability, we picked May 14, 2016. The evening ended up being on the cool side, much better than being too hot!

So the theme for this dinner was 



  • The key material of the BAB
  • An essential material in our careers
  • Something real or solid, not abstract- ie. Concrete friendships
  • A material that can be molded
  • A delicious signature St. Louis dessert

There were eight courses in all. Each small plate focused on the idea of something formed or molded. I started with a traditional meal structure of appetizer, vegetable, salad, fish, palate cleanser, meat, dessert and cheese, then started experimenting with recipes. I didn’t test everything. I don’t typically test recipes before cooking for a group. I follow the Julia rule: never apologize! But this time, with the introduction of molds into the complexity and the sheer number of courses, I decided it would be prudent to do a number of test runs. I’m glad I did because there were some total failures along the way. The idea of feeding people foods molded into shapes was really popular at a time when what the recipes tasted like was less of the focus. There were also some fun successes that took the form of other dinners with friends! Also, there are a number of silicone molds in terrific shapes that I discovered really only work for frozen solid things like ice, than for more soft foods. This menu was mostly a departure from my Julia and Jacques inspired meals, but I really enjoyed the experimentation.

Here’s the menu:

First: Country Pâté with Cognac Mustard Sauce, served with Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py 2014

Second: Mini Savory Cheesecakes on Butterhead Lettuce, served with Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py 2014

Third: Tomato Surprise, served with Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone 2014

Fourth: Creole Crab Mold. served with Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone 2014

Fifth: We ‘served’ the guests the take home gift

Sixth: Prosecco Gelée, served with Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut

Seventh: Timpani with Bacon Ragu. served with Langhe Nebbiolo 2013

Final: Frozen Honey Custard with Mix-ins, served with Pierre Ferrand Pineau des Charentes

2016-05-14_1 BigAssDinner

First Coarse

2016-05-14_2 BigAssDinner-NG

Tomato Surprise



Other parts of the meal preparations:

I’m much better at remembering to take photos of Tom in action, so I don’t have photos of my experiments, some of which were more successful than others. I likely would have ended up with my i-phone encased in cement, or rust stained or worse, so it is probably better that I missed that step.

For the center piece, I decided to be literal with the theme. Here’s what I learned about making something called Hypertufa (light weight concrete) pots:

  • As with some of the food recipes I’ve attempted, I’ve learned that Martha Stewart’s world is a amazing place for creative inspiration, but not strong on practical reality. There are a lot of crafty website that show how to make hypertufa. The Lowe’s site is pretty good. None give a lot of details, though.
  • Equal parts vermiculite, peat moss and cement mixed with the same measure of water. I used a gallon cheddar fish snack container recycled from our office’s bountiful treat stash. That made about a dozen 4-inch square pots. Also, eye protection, a dust mask and strong rubber gloves are de rigour. It is a pretty messy operation. Well, anything I do like this is messy, but we are lucky to have designated messy space.
  • The materials are handled just like making pasta- dry ingredients combined first, make a well in the center and slowly add the water into the well, mixing as you go. Hands, gloved, work the best. Sometimes it might take more or less water, depending on the dampness of the ingredients, the atmosphere or who knows what, just like pasta. They don’t mention that on most websites.
  • Clean up everything as soon as possible, and put a strainer in the drain.
  • It has to be cement, not concrete. Concrete is cement with aggregate mixed in, stones and sand. I thought we had bags of cement in the shop (doesn’t everyone keep a couple of bags of cement in your pantry?), so I didn’t buy any on the first run to the store. The store was closed by the time I started my first attempt and discovered the mistake, so I tried sifting the aggregate out of the mix, which proved to be very messy, tedious and a complete failure. There wasn’t enough cement in the mixture to get a strong set. I could have upped the amount of sifted concrete, but I went out and bought a bag of cement the next day instead.
  • Don’t go to the store to buy a bag of cement right after work. Unless, you’re more prudent than I am and are willing to get someone’s help. I picked up the bag to discover it was coated in cement dust from leaks in all of the other bags. The dust sticks to everything and is really hard to get out of the seams of a black ‘pleather’ jacket. Lesson learned.
  • Getting the pots out of the molds is much easier if you are willing to sacrifice the mold, but cutting the plastic or tearing the milk carton. I prepped the containers, milk cartons in this case, with some vegetable spray to ‘grease the pan’, which didn’t work as well as a buttered and floured baking pan. Many recipes call for tapping the container with a rubber mallet to loosen the pot. I discovered that introduced cracks into the not yet completely set pots. Tearing the paper carton away works very well.
  • The pots are set in 24 hours but take several weeks to cure completely. A cool thing I discovered is that the set pot can be easily carved, revealing the white vermiculite. I wasn’t looking to make carved forms this time, but I’ll definitely give that further exploration.
  • I used yogurt tubs to create the void in the pot. They released very easily after being coated with vegetable spray. But, after pressing them into the carton, they slowly, hydro-statically, floated out of the pot. I weighted them down with some plywood and heavy steel chunks, which we have plenty of. Some of the yogurt tubs shifted out of center. I’ll need to figure out a better way to deal with that next time. I made enough this time that I could cast off a few misshapen ones.
  • I’m happy with the final effect. They have a industrial, concrete look and are surprisingly light weight. Next time, I’ll try something much larger.
The bottom of the pot was scraped so it would sit flat on the table- you can see where the vermiculite is exposed

The bottom of the pot was scraped so it would sit flat on the table- you can see where the vermiculite is exposed

Crafty project #2 was rust printed napkins. Tom’s project for this event included using some steel pipes from the building. I thought a nice accompaniment would be to use some of the plentiful chunks of pipes to ‘print’ on the cloth dinner napkins. This was very simple, again very messy, but time consuming. There are many websites with instructions on rust printing or dyeing but here is what I learned:

  • I experimented with already rusty items, which works great. The window sash chain, in particular, makes a very interesting texture and is easily manipulated into unique patterns. I chose to do a simpler look for the dinner- a grid of circles. I found a pipe of the diameter that I liked, and cut it into ‘slices’. This made a clean, rust-less edge. I ended up soaking the pieces in a pan vinegar water for a couple weeks to get them rusty enough to leave a mark.
  • The fabric needs to stay damp during the duration of the printing. I left a spray bottle of half vinegar, half water on the work surface and would soak the fabric in the morning and again in the evening. If the fabric isn’t completely soaked each time, a rust ring will form at the perimeter of the moist portion of the fabric. It isn’t a bad look, but should be anticipate. If it is warm, the napkins will dry out faster. That can be slowed by tenting them with plastic, but the plastic will pick up some of the rust marks, so be careful if you reuse the plastic, either under or tenting the fabric.
  • Each napkin took a couple days to get the darkness of mark that I was after. Not all the rings marked consistently, some very dark, some more faint, but I was good with that variety within the structure of the grid pattern. In between each printing, I re-soaked the rings in the pan of vinegar water for a day to re-rust them. Given that I made only enough rings for one napkin and I needed to end up with a dozen napkins, I’m glad I started this project fairly early on in the planning stages.
  • After printing all of the napkins, they were air dried, then machined washed, on delicate in cold water, air dried and ironed. The vinegar not only aids in creating the rust, it helps to set the dye. Never the less, I don’t think I will be washing these with other things in the future.
  • Anything in or around the work surface will be splatter with rusty water, including clothing, and the rust will stain your skin. I found that rubber gloves protected my hands but made the handling of the rings clumsy, and added to the potential for misplaced drips.  If I rubbed vasoline into my cuticles, before handling the rings, it was easier to clean my hands afterward and didn’t seem to hinder the process.
  • This is another project that would be fun to try on a larger scale in the future.
Here's the test- sash chain around the perimeter and random bits in the middle

Here’s the test- sash chain around the perimeter and random bits in the middle

As noted in last year’s dinner post, is the level of planning it takes to pull this off. Tom likes to maintain the drama during the evening of the event and not focus on what goes into its creation. This meal is a ephemeral type of performance art. One of the things, this time, that I realized was unique to this dinner, was planning for the number of dishes, silverware and glassware to cover 8 courses for 11 people. I was OK with the courses having different settings, but I wanted them to be the same across each course. I did use this opportunity to add a few pieces (one set of dishes and one set of silverware) to my already pretty extensive collection of dinnerware, but I was pretty happy to have enough of what worked and looked right with each course.

Here's what the table setting looked like the night before the dinner guest arrived

Here’s what the table setting looked like the night before the dinner guest arrived, with herbs in the tufa pots, the rust printed napkins set with the menus at each place.

As in the past, this dinner was a blast to plan, prepare and serve. Thanks to all that participated in this memorable celebration!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    June 6, 2016 11:06 pm

    You are an inspiration.


  1. A Pipe Light | B. A. B.

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