April: A Poker Party

Poker Dinner Book

This very simple and homey menu attracted me for a variety of reasons.  One reason is very practical, I am always needing ideas for feeding my family and no one can complain about a simple chicken, pasta and salad dinner.  The second reason for picking this menu is because of the dessert.  Many years ago my husband and I escaped to San Francisco for a couple of nights without the girls.  While we were there we had dinner at Cafe Zoetrope.  Cafe Zoetrope is one of the Coppola Family’s restaurants and we had a wonderful meal at this European style Italian cafe.  The dessert was especially memorable. We shared a Tartufo, which is a zabaglione cream center covered with chocolate gelato and rolled in chopped hazelnuts.  Food is always a fun way to celebrate and reflect on memorable moments in our life and this Poker Party menu, I felt, might resurrect that meal at Cafe Zoetrope because of its Italian theme and similar dessert.

I have to admit, the “poker” part of the theme did not really enthuse me that much, until I started making my Ebay Design Collection which you will find below.  However, I am always game for a fun theme, so in between our salad and main course we played a few rounds of poker.  That is what I love about making these menus, it allows our family to make the time to come together and have a good ol’fashioned family night of food and games.

Here is the menu:

Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper


Miniature Tartufi

Wine:  Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco ’88


Wine & Breadsticks

There were two highlights from this menu:  the wine and the tartufi.  Finding the Orvieto wine was a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort.  As you can see from the picture above, I also added a bottle of the Coppola Chardonnay to celebrate our memory of our meal at Cafe Zoetrope.  My research for the the suggested menu wine, the Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco, turned up nothing other than the Sant’ Andrea is a 12th century church in Orvieto, Umbria in central Italy.  So, perhaps that wine maker is no longer in business or only sells wine in Italy.  Orvieto, however, is a wine growing region in central Italy that primarily grows grapes for white wine.  The grapes they grow are “Grechetto and Trebbiano, which is sold under the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) Orvieto and Orvieto Classico,” (from the Wiki page on the Orvieto wine region).

I purchased my Orvieto Classico at our local market, The Nugget, for about $8.99 a bottle–very affordable.  They only offered one Orvieto and I thought it was excellent.  Apparently the wine grown in Orvieto used to be sweet wines, but today they are mainly dry, as was the one we purchased.  It was an excellent and very enjoyable light white wine.  In comparison to the Coppola Chardonnay, it looked like our Orvieto was almost effervescent, as we had bubbles in our glass.

According to Wine Sercher, the wines from the Orvieto region are decreasing in popularity in the United States.  From my observations, the Pinot Grigio is a much more popular Italian wine.  I, however, much preferred the Orvieto over the Pinot Grigios I have had. This is an excellent summer wine served chilled.  You can find some tasting notes on the La Carria, Orvieto Classico, 2014 at this web page.  I highly recommend trying this delicious and affordable wine.  If you try it, I would love to know what you think of the wines from Orvieto.

First Course:  Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper and Garlic Butter Breadsticks

Salad & Breadsticks

The arugula salad cannot be any simpler or easier.  This is a good standard Italian Restaurant oil and vinegar type salad.  The only ingredients are the ones listed in its course name, plus a leaf lettuce like red leaf lettuce, and the dressing of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper.  Simple.  I did not toss my salad, rather I made individual salads so my leftovers would not wilt.  I washed all the lettuce, dried it in a spinner and stored it in fresh clean zip lock bags.  I sliced the yellow peppers, and shredded the carrot and stored those in separate plastic containers.  That way it is easy to make this salad again and again throughout the week and you can have all the ingredients for this salad prepared a day in advance of making your menu.  I love easy salads, however, it was so simple and easy that I can’t say it was a standout, but it was certainly nice and a pleasant way to start our meal.

The breadsticks keep showing up in each photo.  They were really good and an integral part of this menu.  The strong garlic flavor was a nice complement to the simple salad and during the main course they sopped up the sauce from the chicken.  Although this menu recommends breadsticks, no recipe was given, so I made a recipe from a bread machine book called More Bread Machine Magic.  Keep an eye on your bread enthusiasts!  If you let them, they will eat these till their stomach expands. These were soft and garlicky so you can understand why they are dangerous.

I made my breadstick dough, cut it into it shapes, placed them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, and froze them about one week prior to making this menu.  Just take them out the day of your meal and pop them in the oven after they rise.  Remember if you are one cook, like me, then in order to properly execute these menus timing is very important.  Once you get the timing down, these menus can come together very easily. So take every opportunity to make as much as possible in advance.

The Main Course:  Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

The chicken cacciatora was extremely disappointing.  It was flavorless and I didn’t like the way chicken cooked in the sauce.  If  you want a chicken caccciatore meal, then make a different one, skip this recipe.  Some recipes are worth making again if they have potential, make a few tweaks here and there to the seasonings, but this was just wrong.  After I made this I looked at the reviews on Epicurious and they seem to have the same opinion.

In the Volume VI compendium on the page for the chicken cacciatora there is also a recipe for a Chicken Club on Brioche Toast.  This is a much better recipe and would be a fine replacement for this family meal.  Or you can just use this menu, but make your own favorite recipes in place of the Gourmet recipes.  Not everything is going to be a hit, sometimes you get misses and this recipe is one of them.

The Dessert:  Miniature Tartufi

Tartufi in Foil cups

The tartufi were delicious, but get ready to get messy!  Put an apron on and maybe use gloves because your hands will smell like ice cream all day after making these.  The texture of these little ice cream truffles is outstanding:  crunch from the chocolate sprinkles and toasted almonds, dense and creamy from the homemade chocolate ice cream, with just a touch of chewy from the cherry inside.  When you take a bite and see the bright cherry inside against the dark chocolate, they also look beautiful.  As a consumer of these treats, they are ideal.  As the creator of these, they have their challenge.

If you decide to take on the challenge, then start making these one to two weeks in advance.  On one day I made the custard for the ice cream.  The next day I made the custard into ice cream, and I then transferred that into a container for the freezer.  The ice cream can stay in the freezer for a few days and when you have time you can start to tackle making these into little truffles.  The recipe only makes 12 tartufi, so I doubled the recipe and had plenty of ice cream for 24 tartufi and lots for just enjoying a bowl of homemade chocolate ice cream.

In making the ice cream into the little tartufi, my advice is to work quickly and in small batches. The ice cream really hardened in my freezer so you need to have it soften a little before you make it into the little balls.  I used a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop.  Pressing the cherry into half the batch is not that easy.  Use both thumbs and apply even pressure.  And remember to work fast.  Let those sit in the freezer for a a while, then once those are firm, take them out and press them together.  Let those sit for a while to harden again before doing the last step.

Once your tiny ice cream balls are frozen, then get the almonds and chocolate coating ready.  The recipe says to use shaved chocolate, but I made it easy on myself and I used dark chocolate sprinkles along with the chopped almonds.  Take the chocolate balls out of the freezer and let them sit for two minutes.  Then, working quickly roll and press in the coating.  Place in the foil cups and freeze until you are ready to serve.  The finished product can stay in the freezer for many days.

The biggest challenge to these is all the shaping of a very messy melty product.  I think you could bypass the shaping and make something like this dessert in a loaf pan with layers of chocolate ice cream and chopped cherries, then coat the outside of the ice cream loaf with the nuts and sprinkles.  Slice to serve.  They wouldn’t be as cute, nor would they be easy finger food for your guests, but for the cook, that would be far easier!

A Poker Party:  A Design Collection

Have I mentioned that I love Ebay?  You never know what you are going to find.  I thought this collection was going to be boring:  a poker table and some black and white plates.  But then I did a search on Ebay for “antique poker tables.”  Once I found a poker table from a saloon from the 1870s I knew exactly the design direction that needed to be taken for this menu.  The menu already had a cinematic connotation for me (the dessert reminding me of the cafe owned by Francis Ford Coppola), plus the menu has an Italian flair, so when I found that poker table, I couldn’t help but think of Spaghetti Westerns–one of my favorite film genres.   Have a look at my Ebay Poker Party Collection and let me know what some of your favorite items are in the collection.

This is another menu that has a great opportunity for some fantastic ambiance music to get you in the poker/western/Italian mood.  I love cooking with some great music on the stereo and a little wine in my glass!  For this menu, be sure to put on a Spaghetti Western playlist on Spotify or just bring up some great Ennio Morricone soundtracks on You Tube.  Here are a couple of “must watch” clips to also set the mood:



Not everything is going to be great, but cooking is an adventure.   So even if the food isn’t amazing, look at all the benefits of going through the “trouble” of making a family meal:

  • Everyone has a wonderful reason to gather together;
  • You can always watch a fun movie that fits the theme of your menu-food and movies are always a great combination;
  • Learn a new game or play an old family favorite
  • As the cook, you probably learned some new skills.  I know I did from working with the ice cream.  Also, you can use these family meals to work on your menu timing so when you have guests over you will be more prepared and calm as you serve your meal.
  • Remember, For a Few Dollars More sometimes you just need to cut your losses and just go out.  Here we are this month revisiting Cafe Zoetrope:Coppola lunch

Be inspired through good food!


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