Thursday, January 28, 2010

Epic Birthday

Another birthday come and gone, but I am still young and vivacious enough to regret that birthdays don’t happen more than once a year…especially because this year, I went all out. It was either go big or go home, and I’ll be honest, this classy feast extraordinaire nearly burst the budget, but hey, it’s my birthday!
Luckily, I only had a voice lesson to attend on Tuesday, so the rest of the day could be properly dedicated to meal preparation. Throughout day I got comments like, “Mmmm, whatcha making?”, “When are you eating?”, and my personal favorite: “So did you decide to drop out of classes and just cook?!” No, but that would be a dream come true.
Just to give you an outline of what was on the menu, here is what we were looking at:
Appetizer: Bruschetta with a Poached Egg, Wilted Arugula and Truffle Oil
Main Course: Blackened Beef Tenderloin Roast
Sides: Gratin Savoyard and Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse with Orange Peel
10 AM Tuesday morning I was up and already whisking eggs and melting chocolate in my make-shift double boiler. The mousse needed time to set, so I had to start early. All the while, my mini fridge was bulging with ingredients: crisp asparagus, fresh parmesan cheese, beef tenderloin all staring me down, all teasing me before dinner. But I trudged on, determined to make this meal absolutely perfect.
*Side Note: Since there were so many recipes, I am going to just put two down now. If there is an interest for the others let me know!
The mousse was from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, although I did substitute and change a few things. The internet mousse recipes warned against using raw eggs, but I warn you against NOT using them. [Yet another reason to not trust the internet!] They would have you using unflavored gelatin and whipping cream, but both of these are unnecessary to create the most decadent, rich chocolate mousse I have ever tasted [others agreed, as well]. Granted, I was a little disappointed at the consistency. It wasn’t light and fluffy by any means, but rest assured, that didn’t keep me from licking my plate clean. When you make this recipe, dish out small portions, for a small portion packs a powerful chocolate punch. Dress with a dollop of whipped cream topping, an orange slice and curled peel.
What I gained from making this was how to make unsweetened chocolate semi-sweet, create a double boiler and the dire importance of having an electric beater. I substituted vanilla extract for the coffee, but only put in 2 T, not 4 T; also put in orange juice for the orange liqueur, but would recommend the liqueur if you want to be able to taste the orange flavor at all. I was unsure of what “instant sugar” was, so I just used regular sugar, which could have had something to do with the odd consistency. It might also have been that I assumed beating with a whisk was pretty comparable to an electric beater – haha.
Here is the original recipe:
Chocolate Mousse
4 egg yolks
¾ c instant sugar [very finely granulated]
¼ c orange liqueur
A pan of not-quite-simmering water
A basin [bowl, sink] of cold water
6 oz/ 6 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
4 T strong coffee
6 oz/ 1-½ sticks of softened unsalted butter
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 T granulated sugar
1. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back on itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.
2. Beat in orange liqueur.
3. Then set mixing bowl over the not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3-4 min until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger.
4. Then beat over cold water for 3-4 min until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.
5. Melt the chocolate with coffee over hot water in double boiler. *If you ever have to make baking chocolate sweeter just add 1 T sugar per every oz. or square of chocolate.
6. Remove from heat and beat in butter a bit at a time, make smooth cream.
7. Beat chocolate into egg yolks and sugar.
8. In separate bowl, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
9. Stir ¼ of egg whites into chocolate/egg mixture.
10. Fold in the rest. *A note on folding: do it slowly, the egg whites give the mousse volume. Add about ½ c at a time, use a spatula, cut down the middle of the bowl and scoop mixture from the bottom and fold over the top of the egg whites. Try not to break the egg whites up too much.
11. Chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
12. Then I added a dollop of whipped cream topping, a slice of orange and a curled orange peel just to dress things up!

Makes about 5 cups. NOMS: 10
This appetizer was adapted from a Food Network show. It was a perfectly light, yet filling appetizer. Since we got off to a late start for dinner that night, it was necessary to have something to occupy the stomach. This was just the thing! Poaching eggs is a very strange process. If you ask me, I would have called it “ghosting an egg” because as it sits in simmering water it takes on a ghost-like, wispy white sheet-looking appearance, as can be seen in the pictures. Liked a little child, I stood above it, poking and prodding it as it cooked, but beware – you can break it! Don’t be afraid of a runny yoke; that is what holds the excellent flavor in your egg. If it drips onto the plate, do not waste it! Just sop it up with your bread. Also, a note on truffle oil: it will be your newest culinary addiction. It makes all the difference to use truffle oil. But make sure when you are buying truffle oil you don’t buy oil just infused with truffle flavoring. Check the ingredients, ask a worker. Our guy had a little piece of floating mushroom in it as well, so we knew it was legit.
Bruschetta with a Poached Egg, Wilted Arugula and Truffle Oil
½ loaf of French Bread, i.e. Baguette
4 T olive oil
2-3 cups arugula
1 clove garlic, minced
4-5 eggs
1 t vinegar
1 c parsley, chopped
1 lemon to make 1 T lemon zest and 2 T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Truffle oil
Salt and pepper
1. Diagonally slice bread about ½ inch thick. Brush with olive oil [about 2 T]. Toast on frying pan or grill. Place slice on plate.
2. In skillet, heat olive oil. Add arugula, wilt for about 4 minutes. Take off heat. Arrange on bread.
3. In small bowl put chopped parsley and minced garlic. Add lemon zest and juice.
4. In large saucepan, heat about 1 quart of water. Add vinegar. Heat to simmering, but NOT boiling.
5. Break egg into small bowl. Dip bowl into water, allowing hot water to enter bowl. Then gently slide the egg into the simmering water. Let it simmer for about 5 min, until egg white is set and the yolk is encapsulated, and won’t run until bitten into. *This is the quick and dirty poaching process.
6. Remove egg with slotted spoon very gently, so not to break it.
7. Lay egg on bed of arugula and bread. Then add parsley mixture, drizzle truffle oil over the whole thing. Then light salt and pepper it.
8. So tasty!

Makes about 5 bruschettas. NOMS: 9.8
When the food was finally plated, it was nearly 9:30pm. Yes, this dinner was a bit time consuming, especially when sharing a kitchen, but the effort and the wait were worth it by dinnertime. My plate boasted two beautifully cooked, medium-rare pieces of meat, a heap of steaming gratin Savoyard [potatoes with Swiss cheese and beef broth] and a splash of green asparagus bundles wrapped in crispy prosciutto. It took epic proportions of strength and restraint to sit in front of this layout and take pictures before devouring it all. Be thankful for my sacrifice!

But when the hour came to eat, my taste buds blissfully welcomed an especially red bit of tenderloin into my mouth and rejoiced as it melted like butter on my tongue. Chewing was barely necessary, and seemed almost sacrilegious because the steak was so tender and juicy. A light layer of salt, pepper and cumin seasoning produced a full-on flavorful steak. The cheesy potatoes were a nice compliment to the steak, and the asparagus was regal enough of a vegetable to match the menu, and I was quite pleased with the harmonious turnout of tastes.
Oh man, talking about all this is making me hungry again! Let it suffice to say that this dinner left nothing to be desired, except that I want to have it at least once a month for the rest of my life. Haha, that should have been my birthday candle wish…


  1. That sounds like a great way to start the year! Can you tell us what goes into your thought process when you decide to put dishes together for a meal? How do YOU decide which side dishes go best?

  2. At this dinner it was all centered around the tenderloin and my favorites. The potatoes were beef broth based, so as to mix well with the meaty tastes, according to cookbooks and other experts. Although, I have to disagree with "the experts", as I think a cream based potato dish would have gone equally as well with this. Asparagus lends itself well to good cuts of meat, and the seasoning on them took a few accented flavors from the bruschetta, like parmesan cheese. For the dessert I was going for something light and cold, to relieve the pallet -- ended up a chocolate explosion, but it wasn't necessarily unwelcomed. Nothing was seasoned too strongly; salt and pepper were the key players in this dinner. I wanted the natural flavor of each to come out and be the main memory of the meal.

  3. Can you tell us how you plan out your meals for the week? Day to day - do you use color, texture, temperature, sweet vs. spicey? Does it matter what you ate the day before? Or at lunch? What about seasons? Are you cooking differently now because it's cold outside? I think coming up with menu's is one of the hardest parts of cooking - especially when it's only for a "party of one".