So how was your weekend? Mine was quite spectacular, I must admit. And was spent mainly making up for lost time and experiences…
My dear friend of ten years Tina became a mother for the first time roughly ten months ago. And while that was unquestionably the best and biggest thing to ever happen in her life (and the arrival of her and her boyfriend’s bundle of joy, little Lukas, being a defining moment in mine as well), I’m not afraid to say it has put some strains on our friendship.
My friend Tina and I. Tina, by the way, does most of the proof reading for this blog. You owe her thanks, she eats up most of my biggest goofs. Photo credit: @zwatz on Instagram
I mean, we’re both major foodies and wine lovers, and have over the course of the last many years had many nights of fine dining and great wining, usually no more than six months apart. For her, well for us, to suddenly have to go through nine months of pregnancy, picky eating habits and/or more or less constant nausea on her part, causing her to not really appreciate my cooking… Well, it hasn’t been easy! Throw in a complete abstinence from alcohol, not only for the duration of her pregnancy, but also the subsequent breastfeeding period, and you will see how a foodie will sooner or later (mainly sooner) grow upset with the situation.
There’s been money saved, for sure, as there hasn’t been the same extend of forking out cash for fine wines and specialty ingredients, but what good is a pocket full of cash if life has no soul, I ask you? In short, there’s been something missing for the past year and a half; that something being the opportunity for two friends to sit down and share a decent, perfectly decadent meal along with a few bottles of top shelf wines.
Finally, though, after some 20 months, this past Saturday became the day to make up for lost time. Little Lukas had grown up enough to allow mommy to head out for an evening of culinary fun while daddy took care of things at home. It was time for two foodie friends to get together and geek out over a home-cooked meal, and it was time for yours truly to show if he could still shine in the kitchen after a year or two of building up minor patches of rust around the edges.
What follows below is a brief description of the dishes consumed that evening, a few notes on what inspired them and a bit of history and nostalgia. Recipes and details will be made available as I find time to reflect, flip through my notes and write them up… Oh, and don’t worry, we’ll also have some reviews up of the rather exceptional wines we were treated to… I assure you that this all started as a relatively simple idea, but as with everything I do cooking-wise it spun a little out of control as the planning progressed.
Amuse-bouche: Pickled quail egg, Sriracha mayo, trout roe and Parma ham
A while back, Tina noticed my Chinese soup spoons laying around the kitchen and very bluntly asked me “When are you going to cook me something that can be eaten with those?”
I’m assuming she meant soup, but I thought of it as a challenge to come up with a single bite amuse-bouche that could be eaten off spoons. The end result was a single soft-boiled quail egg poached in apple cider vinegar floating on a bed of home-made Sriracha mayo and topped with trout roe, a half slice of Parm ham and the head of a baby asparagus. A decadent bite if ever I saw one, and a perfect mix between salty, sweet, sour, hot, fresh and deep meaty flavors. A great start to the evening if I dare say so myself.
Sole Walewska: Sole, stir fried lobster and black truffles with Pommes Duchesse and truffle/saffron sauce
Sole Walewska apparently was the favorite dish of Marie Walewska an, uhh, acquaintance of Napoleon Bonaparte. She must have been a lady with quite expensive taste because the dish essentially is sole, lobster and black truffles in a cream sauce made with fish stock and more truffles.
Tina, owing in large parts to my influences I’m sure, is a lady of equally expensive taste, so for my version I opted for the ultimate in decadence: Danish sole, Danish langoustine, black truffles – and a little bit of the finest Iranian saffron for extra kick and color. The resulting dish was absolutely ridiculously decadent, rich, creamy and tasty in an absurdly over the top kind of way. But you know, once you’ve forked out cash for soles and truffles, really, why stop? Besides, Tina had spent a good part of a year begging me to cook her something elaborate involving fresh fish.
I figured I’d stop her yapping by cooking her up the most elaborate and decadent fish dish I possibly could, and it worked out beautifully. So much so, actually, that I plan to have a recipe post up on it in the near future, y’know, should you ever feel the need to spend $100+ on a main course for two.
Gourmet cheese burger: Beef tartare on toast with Parmesan cheese, bitter baby greens, truffle mayo and tomato relish
I don’t eat a lot of red meat, but when I do, I like it, well, red. I like my steaks a little on the rare side, and by a little I mean a lot. Actually, from time to time, I’ve been known to eat my beef raw! For example in the shape of beef tartare, the original raw food consisting of the best quality lean beef money can buy chopped and mixed with raw egg yolk, minced shallots, minced capers, minced Cornichons, Worchestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. This may sound like quite a mouthful, and it is, but if you can stomach it, it’s also a perfect umami-laden flavor bomb of explosive beefiness and an almost primal snack of champions.
The beef tartare recipe I used was inspired by some of my culinary heroes over at gastromand.dk [Danish]. For this presentation, though, in an effort to heed Tina’s age-old request of cooking her a gourmet burger, I had turned regular beef tartare into a gourmet burger presentation by serving it up on a piece of toast topped with bitter greens and Parmesan cheese. Instead of the regular burger condiments, I served up sides of home-made truffle mayo and a chunky tomato relish. This may well have been my favorite dish of the evening.
Steak Bearnaise: Dry-aged Rib Eye steaks, chunky potatoes, Sauce Bearnaise and Parma ham-wrapped asparagus
I’ll admit it, cooking up Steak Bearnaise this late in the game was a little (cough) over the top. Never the less, I wanted Steak Bearnaise for my main course for one very specific reason.
The first thing I remember cooking that actually took some amount of skill was Sauce Bearnaise, the sauce that strikes fear into the heart of men. Bearnaise, essentially, is an emulsification of egg yolks and clarified butter made over a heat source to create a warm sauce. So it’s basically a lot like making a tarragon and vinegar-based mayonnaise with just one more added element that could go horribly wrong. It’s by no means the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not as scary as people would make you think (not to worry, we’ll show you the way soon!). Also, it’s THE single best sauce in the world, bar none, period! Oh, and it’s the perfect supplement for a well-aged, juicy steak cooked medium-rare.
The first time I cooked up Steak Bearnaise was actually in Tina’s old kitchen, where I made full use of all 10 square feet of kitchen space and both(!) burners as I tried to pretend that making Sauce Bearnaise while sporting a hangover and a slight buzz was the easiest thing in the world for a budding home cook. For some reason, despite surprisingly awesome first results, I never got around to making Bearnaise again, not for years, not until last weekend when I couldn’t put it off any longer.
Having not cooked Bearnaise in years, I’ll admit to having been a little nervous about this dish. No need, though, it turned out pretty much perfect. However, no matter how perfectly cooked, a half pound rib eye steak per person is too much this late in the game, even for me! What we did manage to put down, though, were quite a few bites of perfectly aged, perfectly marbled, buttery and meaty rib eye drenched in perfectly tangy and buttery Bearnaise.
It was delicious, rich, decadent and entirely over the top, and barely left room for…
Simple yet perfect decadence: Mojito sorbet, lime air, crystalized mint and gold leaf
I’ve got a confession to make: I’m not a huge dessert fan. I’ve always preferred real food. I’ve always had to struggle to come up with desserts, and maybe the extra effort explains why most dishes I’ve eventually been able to come up with have become classics in my group of friends, this one included.
I came up with my recipe for Mojito Sorbet some five years ago, I guess, and for what it’s worth, the dish itself could not be more simple: mint-infused simple syrup, fresh lime juice, lime zest, white rum and a tiny pinch of salt is churned into an airy sorbet and scooped into rum glasses, then served with your toppings of choice.
What matters here is to use the right ingredients in the proper proportions (more on that later) and topping it off with a bit of decadence. In the dish’s current iteration, the sorbet is topped with a light air (foam) flavored with lime zest and spiced rum and some crystalized mint leaves.
For an added touch of decadence, and given the special occasion, I sprinkled with a bit of gold leaf, because, well, let’s face it, we could all stand to eat a little more gold leaf, and there’s nothing quite like the look on a girl’s face when she’s allowed to consume one of the most precious metals known to man. It really is one of the most simple, yet possibly absolutely decadent, desserts known to man. And it just so happens to be Tina’s favorite dessert inspired by her favorite drink, so picking this dish to end the night was pretty much a no brainer.
It turned out to be a great pick, too, as the lightness and coolness of the sorbet fell perfectly upon the quite rich and heavy impressions of the previous dishes and helped lighten our moods and stomachs for an evening’s worth of food talk, wine drinking, geeking about and laughing at our own bad jokes, the details of which I’ll spare you here.
Well, there you go, now that wasn’t too over the top, was it? I hope you’ve enjoyed this little run down of what happens when one foodie long deprived of his abilities to do so, is allowed to spend an entire night catering to another foodie. Expect recipes, more back stories and reviews to start popping up some time later this week.
What is YOUR favorite decadent meal?