Monday, July 31, 2006
ON FOOD: A Birthday Dinner for My Husband
Recently it was my husband’s birthday. We had counted on a very simple celebration and fortunately we did just that. Sometimes simple is hard to come by these days. I really had no idea what I was going to make. I had almost too much produce in the refrigerator. This is a ridiculous complaint but I have been feeling very disorganized as of late and options did not seem like what I needed. I needed focus.
It was also 90 degrees in our little apartment so roasting vegetables and meat was really out of the question. I knew I wanted a salad to go along with the meal. So in my mind that had to be a vegetable salad that was not too overpowering in its dressing. I feel that there are three kinds of salads: a simple salad of beautiful greens with a simple vinaigrette that is wonderful after a meal, an appetizer or meal salad with greens, vegetables and a protein or two, and finally a side salad. A side salad to me is not the kind you get in so many American restaurants, in addition to your huge meal, slathered in bottled dressing. To me, it really is the vegetable portion of your meal with a little bit of tang from vinegar, yogurt or lemon along with oil and seasonings. Tomatoes with basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of a good olive oil is an easy example of this, perfectly matching a good steak or grilled fish. Or even slices of cucumber with a refreshing yogurt dressing to go along with a nice spice crusted chicken. But I wanted a nice crunch with a twist of citrus.
Well, perhaps a fresh beet salad with jicama and sections of oranges? I sliced a portion of the beets after peeling them and getting my hands that wonderful red and bit into them. Nope, a carpaccio of fresh beets was not really working out. There simply was not enough crunch. So I readjusted the settings on my mandoline and put in another blade and made small julienne strips of the beets and jicama. Now we had crunch. Since I was not cooking the beets they had an extremely mild flavor. It would never stand up to a strong vinaigrette. And now my idea of oranges would not work because they would look ridiculous in segments mixed up with little matchsticks. But, I could make a dressing with the juice of the oranges. It really was perfect with a good olive oil but it needed just a little “something”. Well a tablespoon of crunchy Pomeroy mustard did the trick. Then I scattered a few leaves of fresh oregano on top so every few bites you would get this strong flavor from the herb but it would be mellowed by the orange juice in the vinaigrette. And I never had to turn the oven on.
But then it was time to turn the oven on. I did have a little cooking to do. Fortunately my husband took the boys for a walk in their stroller. And as he was leaving, I shouted down to him from our balcony to go around the corner and get them a quesadilla and let them eat it in the park. I thought we could have dinner alone; without toddlers being the center of attention; spilling and smearing food and squealing about something that was not perfect. He beamed up a huge smile and I could tell that a dinner with his wife would be the perfect birthday dinner. So that meant I had less than an hour to finish up the rest of the meal and tidy up the living area. Prosecco was already chilling!
Dessert. Birthday dessert. Well this year it would not be a cake. I have a sneaking feeling it won’t be cake for my husband for quite a while since we will have just come down from the sugar high resulting from the boys’ birthday cake just a few short weeks before. And you may know, I am not really a baker so I have not ventured into such lovely delicacies like almond cake and other non-birthday cake cakes. What my husband really likes is cream, fruit and cream. I could do fresh plums with cream and a chiffonade of mint, decidedly a little too simple. I am sure there is some spice that I could dust over the top and make it all a little more exotic but I had no idea about what spice so I had to forgo that idea. Then I remembered reading about a recipe with blueberries with marscopone and brown sugar on top that was put under the broiler to achieve that nice burnt sugar effect on a crème brulee. I peeled and sliced my 5 red plums and cooked them in a saucepan along with some sugar, mint and ginger until they released their juices and go nice and soft. I had bought a different brand of marscapone than I was used to and it was awful; grainy and not even a slight hint of sweetness from the cream. Needless to say I was very disappointed. What was I going to do now? Well, I had some cream cheese and some crème fraiche. Mix a bit together with some Muscovado sugar and now we are in business. I think I would like to make a custard version of this sometime as well but with raspberries.
The rib eye steaks had been resting at room temperature so that it would cook nice and evenly. This was my husband’s birthday and I thought he should have a little comfort in the tastes from home; his childhood home that is. His mom, and now dad who has taken over the cooking, always sprinkles paprika on their steak. Always. It is simple. I actually do not have any plain ole paprika in the house. But what I do have is smoked paprika that has a very heady smell and taste. In short, a little goes a long way. So I sprinkled salt, pepper and smoked paprika on both sides of the steaks and dotted them with butter.
Now it was time to add some heat. I flipped on the broiler and prepared a little version of a bruschetta. I wanted a little bit of delicious carbohydrates and had a great baguette that I had picked up that day. I had some pureed artichoke hearts and some crème fraiche. I mixed that all together along with a pinch of ground, dried thyme. Then I topped slices of the bread with a little bit of the mixture and put them under the broiler for a few minutes. Then I popped in the ramekins with the fruit, creams and sugar.
The boys came upstairs and we got them ready to be tucked into their cribs. Luckily I had done a really great job of tuckering them out that day with a little help from the heat so they drifted off into dreamland fairly quickly. I set the table, poured some Prosecco and I put the steaks in the broiler and they cooked up nice and quickly so they were nice and browned on top and slightly crispy in places while still being nice and pink in the center.
We enjoyed our little birthday date at our little table in our little apartment. The steaks I had bought were quite big so I did not finish mine and I was happy to squirrel it away for lunch the next day. We took our wine glasses out onto the deck and I put some candles into the ramekins, luckily they were long enough to be pushed all the way down to the bottom because the fruit and cream would never have been stiff enough to hold them upright on their own. It had finally cooled off from the day’s heat and we could enjoy the outdoors for a little while which is what summer is really all about.