Saturday Asado

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As we approached the weekend, unsure of the weather, we set aside everything we weren’t sure about and focused on bringing what we consider the best of Supper Club to the forefront: community, conversation, and experience. We kind of turned the clubhouse inside out, opening the enclosed patio to guests and moving the kitchen to the south patio. 

And then we just crossed our fingers that the wind would blow the right way.

The patio sits above a very swollen Armell’s Creek as it winds its way through the manicured golf course. Its banks are a tangle of last years’ cattails making room for spring’s new grass. The smell of sunshine and rain is carried up the hill on a breeze that would become a gale of snow the next day.  Given the unpredictability of spring, we really lucked out on weather.

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The screened-in porch was strung with lights and sedum, creating a whimsical feel of being somewhere else.  You have to understand this about Colstrip; we have literally grown up in the dining establishments that are here.  The décor and the feel of each restaurant, including the clubhouse, are damn near ingrained in us.  So part of Underground’s goal is to transport our guests.  And it is amazing what a few twinkle lights and linens will do.  Tables were layered with swaths of brightly colored fabrics and decorated with hand-painted gourds and Andean dolls that were indicative of the flavors about to be presented. 

As guests arrived, they scattered their belongings on the tables, poured themselves a drink, and then could wander back to where we had built a makeshift kitchen buoyed by cinderblocks.  An old tool box was used to bake root vegetables and lick-barrels scavenged off of the prairie held the embers for the evening’s theme: Seven Fires.  Inspired by Francis Mallman (the Argentinean fox) we wanted to build a menu that showcased not only the flavors of the South American continent, but also the different applications of cooking with fire.  In his aptly titled cookbook Seven Fires, Mallman describes the attributes of fires, embers, coals and ash, outlining seven ways to use fire for outdoor cooking.  The beauty of this book, and of the menu we created, was that there isn’t a dependence on marinating or heavy handed seasoning to celebrate the food.  There is, quite simply: the meat, the vegetable, and the heat.  From here we didn’t plate the food.  We simply built unplanned platters as the food came off the grill: biased sliced meats, pierced eggplants, smashed root vegetables, and torn peppers.  (A big shout out to Lisa and Kevin Brook of MM Beef Company for the London broils.)

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But just for fun, and because both Ashley and I are hard-pressed to stop at simple, we added a few elements that took these platters up a level.  Each platter was adorned with edible flowers and seed sprouts from Swanky Roots, a hydroponics playground just outside of Billings.  When I stopped in to stock up for the event, Ronna kept bringing me different sprouts to try and these really added a layer of snappy, bright freshness to the platters.  We strove to source South American cheeses, but this proved nearly impossible, so we relied on Central American queso to crumble over the platters and goat cheese to bring a creaminess to everything, particularly the burnt tomatoes, which was my go-to the next day. (It’s always interesting to see what we pull out to nibble on the next day during clean up.) 

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On the table, we put out a number of sauces and salsas for the guests to play with.  We really wanted people to be able to build their own bites and play with different levels of heat.  There was a honey gremolatta, a salsa lucia, a chimichurri, and a Peruvian green sauce that really stopped people mid-bite, having them wave us over, “wait wait, what is this?”  (That is my favorite part, watching people’s eyes widen as they question and savor what is happening in their mouth.)

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There are a few quintessential South American foods that we had to ensure were a part of the table.  After visiting with Clint at Yellowstone Cellars & Winery, he insisted that we include Aji de Gallina (a traditional Chicken Stew) that he had enjoyed on a trip.  We made this stew handheld by using it as the filling for empanadas that were baked off in a wood fired oven.  Using The Billings Seafood Guys’ product we had on hand, we seared some shrimp lollipops, put them in mason jars and scattered them around like bouquets.

 Another dish that kept reappearing in our research: Causa de Langostino.  It was one of those dishes that when you read the recipe, it is so “out there” but so prevalent, that you have to try it, and we are glad we did! Potatoes are yellowed with the ever present aji pepper, then used to build a tower of avocado and Chilean Langostine we found at Seafoods of the World.  We finished this appetizer with a Baja sauce and tobiko.  I’m still perplexed how this worked, but man, it was delicious. A Peruvian guest pointed out that traditionally, the dish showcases yellow potatoes which are native to the region. I think it would be really cool to get our hands on some South American potato varieties and explore the nuances of each potato.

Empanadas, Blood Orange Salsa, Tacu Tacu with Peruvian Green Sauce, Causa de Langostino

Empanadas, Blood Orange Salsa, Tacu Tacu with Peruvian Green Sauce, Causa de Langostino

 But you know what really makes these events?  Ashley and I make eye contact in this frenzy of sauces flying and shit burning and dishes piling up, and we smile at each other and say simultaneously: “The Conversation.”  The sound of people, their murmurs, their laughter, their excitement upon seeing each other, the muting that happens as things get serious, the barbs as someone loses at corn hole, the handshakes and the backslaps, the sharing of experiences, remembering trips… there is a song that is created in the sound of people being together that is truly musical, and honestly, I think we could put out zesta crackers and salami and Busch lites and people would still sing this song.  We are just so honored to have found ourselves in a position to orchestrate these evenings and cannot wait to witness the next one.

The Roots

Gathered around a table in a dining room that hadn’t seen more than two adults at a time since the birth of “family”, a group of women held their heads in their hands, giggling deservedly over half finished wine glasses and plates that needed clearing.

Just like that, Supper Club was born.  We were a group of young mothers, in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  A blessed night out consisted of burgers and hot wings at the Moose Lodge, our young children secured in café highchairs (those wood ones, that no amount of hot water and concentrated cleaner can take the stick off of) our older children toddling around with even older children.  There was almost an air of desperation as we hungrily caught each other up on our home-life antics, our insecurities as new parents, our witty perceptions of small town life, and our daily frustrations.  But we needed more, these conversations constantly interrupted and the evenings slipping by so quickly.

I don’t hold a lot of memories, anyone that knows me knows that about me.  However, I do remember the first night. We rolled sushi at Ashley’s.  We had all had sushi, like twice.  Enough to know we liked it.  Enough to know we wanted to explore more, but… the nearest sushi joint was over a hundred miles away.  To plan a night out for real sushi would require the coordinating of children, vehicles, babysitters, rides, grandparents, husbands and especially, because you can’t go to the big city without them, additional stops.  It just wasn’t feasible (although we would eventually figure out how to get to the big city together, without children or husbands, for an entire night.

So anyways, that first night there were maybe five or six of us, gathered around Ashley’s black countertop, prepping and slicing and chopping ingredients, each of us offering up our limited experience, and when that wasn’t enough, offering up quickly researched information from google.  In the end we created a California roll, a spicy tuna, and a tempura shrimp roll. 

 I think, I can’t remember.  I do remember creating an eel sauce. From 5 ingredients that don’t exist on our store shelves, but can be built from 9 substitution ingredients blended together.  It was a lightbulb moment for me, as a cook and as an eater… we might be in the middle of nowhere, we might not be able to access every ingredient, but we can research and mimic flavors.  This moment sent us on a journey to try things we could only read about, or, if we were lucky, we had tried once and could only recollect.  

Over the years, we would gather once a month, taking turns hosting in our own kitchens, men and children banished from the events.  The hostess would pick the theme for the evening.  The theme could range from ethnic, to ingredient, to cooking method.  We would all put on a little more make up than usual, maybe even real pants.  The table expanded over the year, and then eventually dwindled to a group of regulars.  Those of us that were professionals by day could go a bit unfiltered in the comfort of our small group, those of us that couldn’t escape our children or homes could vent about that.  We saw each other through loss and celebrated our achievements.  We hotly debated society’s many issues, and then giggled uproariously about life’s basest hilarities (penises, farts, and breastfeeding, in case you didn’t know.)  And at the center of it all, was the shared experience of exploring the world on our plates.

People have moved away or pulled away.  There hasn’t been a Supper Club in years.  But I don’t think that it’s not needed.  I think all of us that were so privileged to sit at those tables still long for that camaraderie, and I think fostering that sense of camaraderie will be at the core of Underground Supper Club.  

As we move forward, I want to bring you along for the ride.  Bear witness, if you will, observe, watch, read as we create these experiences for you.  Come back here for tips on hosting, tidbits from behind the scenes, recipe and cooking tips, and our experiences as we navigate what Underground Supper Club will become.

In the middle of nowhere.

Creating what we can only read about. 

– Adrienne