In case you didn’t hear, Oprah aired her final show yesterday, and in honor of this momentous occasion, some of my friends and I decided to celebrate her twenty-five years of TV glory by cooking up a Harpo-themed potluck. The rules were simple: just bring something inspired by Oprah. It could be one of her favorite things, it could be from O magazine, or it could be some creatively tied-in item. The point was to reflect on Ms. Winfrey and all her good service.
I had some difficulty thinking of a dish at first (and only two hours before the potluck last night did I realize I should have made Chicken à la [Gayle] King). However, I did manage to come up with two ideas. First, I opted to make red velvet cupcakes. The reason was two-fold. First, Oprah once made a hullabaloo about the red velvet cake at local Los Angeles eatery Doughboys. The cupcakes would be an homage to that. Second, the recipe came from Ina Garten, and as you all know, Ina is one of my Favorite Things. How easy is that?
The second item I decided to make was O-recchiette with pepper-O-ni. I made it basically because of the presence of O’s, and also because I felt it was necessary to make a pasta dish. My reasoning: “You get a carb! And you get a carb! And YOU get a carb!!!” Listen, this is just the way my mind works. I apologize.
Photos of the cooking process (as well as the potluck) after the jump…
First up: cupcakes. I start with the usual suspects — flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt. So far, so good.
The recipe calls for me to sift the dry ingredients, but I instead opt to just whisk them together because I don’t want to wash my sifter. I HATE washing it. Even though it goes into the dishwasher, it’s so bulky that it takes up valuable real estate. Not cool, man. Not cool.
No, I did not have a bloody nose over the buttermilk. That’s food coloring.
I then add vanilla extract and vinegar into the mix. Wet ingredients are totally dunzo.
In a big bowl, I place some butter (which I chop up and microwave to soften. It was supposed to be at room temperature. Oops).
Some sugar enters the equation.
I woefully lack a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, but my $5 hand mixer creams the sugar and butter LIKE A BOSS.
Two eggs later, I have a lovely batter forming.
Next I add the dry and wet ingredients (alternating, natch) until I get this vibrantly red situation going on. We’re ready to go.
Surveying some of the mess.
I’m really a disaster.
Liners deployed. Muffin tins ready for service.
I don’t have a handy-dandy ice cream scoop like Ina does; so my portion control is wonky. I do my best to fill each cup with the appropriate amount of batter, but there are still some inconsistencies. Into the oven they go!
Oh look what I did. I cleaned a bowl!
Time to make frosting: I start with cream cheese and butter. Yum.
Awkward, messy blending.
And here comes the powdered sugar. Three and a half cups. Healthy!
I popped into a restaurant supply store earlier that day for the fun of it and emerged with this $2 spatula. Time to put it to use.
Meanwhile, the cupcakes are done and looking great.
Frosting is also done. Just gotta wait for the cupcakes to cool down.
While the cupcakes chill out, it’s time to move on to the pasta dish. Here’s one measured-out pound of orecchiette, which isn’t the most common pasta, but the restaurant supply place (Surfas) sells five pounds for $10, which is a pretty good deal.
Some chopped up pepperoni and garlic. This recipe is actually based off the very FIRST recipe I made from the Food Network: orecchiette with toasted breadcrumbs. It’s a Giada De Laurentiis creation and calls for proscuitto, but I made it with pepperoni once (it was all I had on hand), and it was delicious. Also, I add garlic (she doesn’t use it, shockingly).
While the pasta cooks, I sautée the pepperoni and garlic in about half a cup of olive oil. Sounds like a lot, but the oil serves as the sauce.
Next I add two thirds of a cup of seasoned breadcrumbs and some red pepper flakes. Frequent stirring ensues.
Once the breadcrumbs are toasted and the pasta al dente, I scoop the orecchiette from the pot (so as to get some pasta water to thicken the sauce) and place it in the pan.
I toss it all together (along with plenty of parmesan and pecorino) and top with a whole lot of parsley. That also gets mixed up in it.
Isn’t that purdy?
Check out that box. I found it at the restaurant supply store serendipitously.
Cupcakes are cooled off. Time to attack.
Ta-da! Sure it’s a bit messy, but Ina always says she likes things to look like they’re homemade.
Nom nom nom.
We’re ready to go!
And here we are at the potluck!
Osso bucco, in honor of the O.
Watermelon and feta salad, taken from the Oprah website, and couscous for the osso bucco.
We also have salmon in parchment. I forgot what the Oprah connection was, but I think it came from her site also.
The group assembles.
Moscow mules — Oprah’s favorite.
A toast to Oprah.
My dessert plate. There was also key lime pie a bit later (also one of Oprah’s favorite things apparently).
The Verdict: the pasta turned out great. It was a big hit at the table. Honestly, I’ve been making that recipe for years now and rarely has it ever not worked. It’s so easy and simple, and the best part is that it takes to improvisation very well (this comes from me, the guy who rarely veers away from a recipe).
As for the red velvet cupcakes, mine was totally delicious. Everyone seemed to love them also; although, before the dinner, I gave one cupcake to my friend Phamtastic, who sadly noted later that hers was dry. On the plus side, she did like the frosting (although, IndianJones later reported that she thought the cupcake as a whole “wasn’t very good”). I blame it all on the portion control issues.
Nevertheless, I was quite happy with my cupcake. I like my cream cheese frosting to be a bit more tangy; so perhaps I’ll use less powdered sugar next time. Or maybe I’ll just co-opt Anna Pump’s cream cheese frosting recipe, which incorporates orange zest too. We’ll see…
UPDATE: according to the Food Network website, people have had dryness issues with the cupcakes. The cooking time is 25-30 minutes, but everyone recommends checking at 20 (which is actually what I did, but a toothpick came out wet) or earlier.
Congrats on the run, Oprah!