October 29, 2010 - 1:23 pm
Most of Gourmet Game Night is all about the food and recipes, serving ideas and planning tips. The “gourmet” part. I am a professional food writer, after all, and that arena is the core of my expertise. But it wouldn’t be Gourmet Game Night without the games, right?
We’ve all got a deck of cards (or 12) around the house, cribbage and Scrabble, probably an old Monopoly board and maybe some dice. But just as it’s always a treat to try new foods and recipe ideas, so is it also a lot of fun to try out new games along the way. In the course of doing all the hard work (!! holding games night dinner parties is hard work??) of research for this book, I procured myself some new games to add to the mix. We’re now fans of Settlers of Catan and were late-comers to Apples to Apples (LOVE that game!). In search of food-centric games I found out about Wasabi! and Celebrity Chef: The Game.
Many of these I found at the wonderful game-lovers destination in Seattle, Blue Highway Games at the top of Queen Anne Hill. In fact, if you read the introduction to my book (do people actually read those? I hope at least some do….) you’ll see that Blue Highway figured in the early gestation of the idea for the cookbook. Sure, maybe WE have converted our hall linen closet into the “game closet” but that doesn’t mean loads of other folks out there love to play unplugged board games the way we do. Blue Highway helped convince me otherwise!
So while it can be pretty easy to score a range of types of games at spots like Target or Wal-Mart or Barnes & Nobel, I’m pretty devoted to the independent game stores out there. As I describe in my book, and on this page with a listing of some such stores, they not only offer the extra expertise that comes with a niche focus, but they also can offer a number of “extras.” Like open samples of games that you can play in the store to try out before buying. Organized game nights were customers connect around playing tables for free-style or game-specific open play. Special events. And usually hundreds of games to choose from, with passionate game-players on staff to help you find just the right one.
For instance, on one trip to Blue Highway, I was talking with co-owner Scott Cooper about the fact that my husband played some serious Risk back in college, often all night long and nearly to sunrise. That kind of hard-core strategy game isn’t quite my cup of tea, nor are marathon gaming sessions. I’m more the cribbage/word game/party game type. He suggested we try Small World as a game that brings in some elements from both side of that game-loving equation. Honestly, we haven’t cracked it open to try yet, but with friends coming over tomorrow night to play games, I think I just figured out which game we’ll play!
That kind of deep understanding of game play and the range of products available to suit so many different interests is the prime reason I’m so keen on encouraging folks to seek out an independent game store when on the prowl for something new. I included a dozen or so in the book, also here on the blog. Nice thing about the blog, of course, is the opportunity to continually amend the list!
When my husband I made our trip to Santa Barbara earlier this year–part of the prize package he won in the KPLU poker tournament–ends up that the Hotel Santa Barbara where we stayed was just next door to a great little game store, Game Seeker. So I just added that to the list.
Do you have a favorite game store near you that’s a great destination for board games, party games and the like? Please let me know about it! I hope to make this list a reliable resource for game lovers looking for something new to tackle on their next game night.
I’ll report soon on our first run through Small World! And what we ate, of course….
October 5, 2010 - 12:42 pm
Round or flat? It’s a debate that dates back centuries. Or at least had, until folks realized that those schooners didn’t slip off the edge of the Earth when adventurers went exploring.
But it’s a debate that came back to life as I was brainstorming recipes for this book. I was thinking about including mini pizzas and baby biscuits among the game-friendly fare of the collection. Then I started to wonder if folks would have the ideal-sized little round cutters to use and how much trouble it would be to fiddle with cutting a bunch of circles and reshaping the dough to cut more….
Then it hit me.
Who says the edges have to be round? Why reinvent the wheel when the square is such an elegant and more congenial shape for the cook to deal with?
So I threw out that old convention that pizzas and biscuits have to be round. I rolled those respective doughs out to squared shapes and in a matter of a few swipes of a knife, you’ve got a few dozen squares ready to bake/fill/top as needed. Oh, and a favorite tool in my chaotic drawer of utensils is actually a pizza cutter. That rolling blade makes forming an even, clean cut through the dough a ton easier. Drawing a knife blade across can often tug or stretch the dough, while the rolling motion of the pizza cutter does so with no adverse side effects.
I kinda did the same round-to-square exercise with cheesecake. For one thing, a traditional large cheesecake doesn’t quite fit the game-friendly criteria, one slice is pretty big and dominates the smaller plates used for Game Night eats. And the idea of finessing a presentation of individual cheesecakes in mini round pans of some kind seemed more trouble than it might be worth. So I simply re-cast the cheese in a square cake pan, with a layer of filling topping a base of pressed-in cookie crumb crust. Bake, cool, cut into small squares. And there you have it.
Squares. It’s the shape of things to eat on game night!!
Mocha Cheesecake Bars
The ever-popular cheesecake makes an easy transition to game night, taking on a shallower square form that’s easy to cut into finger-friendly pieces. If you’re unable to find simple chocolate wafer cookies (the Nabisco brand wafers are a great choice), you can use graham crackers crumbs instead for the crust.
1 1/4 cups very fine chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (4 to 5 ounces cookies)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter and stir to evenly mix. Put the crumb mixture in a 9-inch square cake pan and press the crumbs evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until set, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.
Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over medium heat, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a microwave.) Take the top bowl from the heat and stir in the coffee liqueur and espresso powder. Set aside to cool.
Whip the cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well blended. Add the eggs and continue beating to make a smooth batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour the batter onto the cooled crust and spread it out evenly. Bake the cheesecake until set, 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Cut the cheesecake into 5 strips each direction, for 25 squares. Arrange them on a platter or tray and serve.
Makes 25 cheesecake bars
↑ can double all ingredients, making the cheesecake in 2 pans
↓ best not to halve; extra will keep well for a few days, covered and refrigerated
¤ can make the cheesecake up to 2 days ahead, cover, and refrigerate