It's me!! I'm finally back to tell you about my birthday dinner party!!
My birthday started last Wednesday with a gift from Emily … tickets to the Colbie Caillat concert. We had a great time! Then Friday morning, Ken had the FedEx deliver a green and brown box full of roses to me. Love when he does that!
There are some things in life that are so fulfilling that they are hard to put into words … things like close friends, good food, and the combination of both of those. Sharing my birthday with our close friends from Portland was a refreshing change of pace for our weekend and cooking with Cindy again was a continuation of the kitchen dance we used to do so often when we lived closer. She was enthusiastic about the Julie & Julia menu and I was so glad she was!
Are you curious about the menu? I used the core menu from the August 09 Bon Appetit Magazine, then added a couple of other things …
[disclosure: I tried to link to the recipes on the website, but kept getting error messages.]
Does that photo look familiar? Remember Julia's first day at the Cordon Bleu when she couldn't chop onions 'like the guys'? She went home to practice and when Paul came home and was assaulted by the sting of the onions' fragrance piled high on her cutting board, she said, "You should've seen how those men looked at me!" He didn't ask questions, just turned and left the kitchen! She kept practicing.
These onions were cut for the Pissaladiere described here in a bit … keep reading!
Appetizers: I added Gougeres to the menu. They are small cheese puffs (like a cream puff dough, only with cheese mixed in.) Traditionally, served with Champagne. And since we were celebrating a number of things, we offered toasts!
Pissaladiere Nicoise, which is a pizza-style savory tart made in a Pate Brisee, filled with sautéed onions, anchovies, and Nicoise olives (olives from Nice, France) was also an appetizer. I wasn't originally too keen on the anchovies, to tell you the truth, and I had never tasted that type of olive either, but it was a really great appetizer! A small piece was just right.
And Moules Marinieres … Emily just about had a coronary when she found out I was making these. She learned to like them when we visited Paris and begs me to make them. There's nothing that could be simpler to make, to be sure, and if this had been the entire meal, we would've been happy!
I had the Gougeres ready when Mark and Cindy arrived then we made the other two and munched lightly through the afternoon while we made the rest of the meal. That kept us all from starving and gave the guys something to do while they sat at the bar talking and watching us do the kitchen dance!
The entrée was Poulet Aux Herbes (Chicken with Herbs). The recipe called for a whole, cut-up chicken, but I used all chicken breasts on the bone because that's the meat most of us prefer. It was sautéed in butter (a la Julia!)
… and topped with a Hollandaise-type sauce.
Emily made Gratin Dauphinois which is a potato gratin, named after a child king who wouldn't eat any vegetables except potatoes cooked this way. Spoilt is what he was! This dish wasn't included in the original menu plan, but since my American meat-and-potatoes family was eating French food, I decided to add something to the meal that I knew they would like.
Cindy was so excited that Ratatouille was on the menu. A friend had recommended it to her as a palatable way to eat eggplant and since she has been moving all summer, she hadn't had the opportunity to make it yet. You've probably seen the movie, but let me assure you that even though they eat some weird stuff in France, rats are not part of this dish. I am pretty sure the French don't eat rats at all!! Rats probably don't even LIVE in France! AnyWhoo … Ratatouille is a fabulous combination of eggplant, zucchini, onion, green peppers, and tomatoes. It is seasoned with fresh parsley and garlic. You might expect it to taste like stewed vegetables and not be anything to write home about, but it is really far from just steamed vegetables! So worth trying!!
Mark and Cindy's kids are foodies, too! Her oldest who is 7 tasted his chicken and said, "I think this is the best chicken I have ever had!" And then, after he tasted the Ratatouille, he said, "Mom, I think the chef should teach you how to cook!!" I about died and we all cracked up. The Chef?! You have to understand that first of all, contrary to what some think, I am no chef!! And secondly, Cindy is a way better cook than me! And thirdly … SHE is the one who made the Ratatouille that her son was eating! It was too funny.
Then we had a simple green salad with vinaigrette and I added Crottins de Chevre, which is baguette topped with goat cheese, then broiled. It is tout a fait francais and so yummy!
A cheese course followed with three kinds of cheese and Cindy was again very happy! Mark ran a close second!
Are you thinking that we had too much food? You must understand that this is a traditional French meal. Perhaps not one that they have every single night in their homes, but they do typically eat in courses at most meals. And those courses can take up to an hour's time each. In fact, when you eat in a restaurant in France, your table is yours for the night … you don't feel rushed to finish because someone else is waiting for it. It is such a leisurely, wonderful way to enjoy food and friends without coming away rushed and stuffed.
We ended the meal with the Reine de Saba cake, which is a chocolate almond cake. I think I messed it up although I followed the recipe exactly. It recommended baking it 25 minutes, but it was too long. The cake came out dry and we were grateful to eat it while drinking coffee! That's the beauty of trying new things, I guess.
As the meal wrapped up late in the evening, suddenly gift bags showed up! Lots of them! Remember I told you about the present that came and was hidden in the garage? Well, it was the baseball purse!! I was so excited … Ben and Emily gave that to me. Aly gave me a French Onion Soup bowl … you know, those white ones that have the lion's heads for handles? Love it. They use those in cafes all over Paris for just that soup! Can't wait to make it!! There was a box of Godiva chocolates and another gift I got excited over was the glassybaby … Ken sure knows me well. Cindy was thoughtful in giving me Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, not knowing that I already have it! So she said I could exchange it for something else … Hmmm! Wonder what treasure of a book I'll find?!
I am such a blessed person to be able to enjoy friends, family, good food, and huge generosity.
I don't decorate my home for fall before my birthday even though I know it is technically IN the fall. Now it's over, the air has turned crisp, the leaves are turning colors, and it's almost time for my fall decorations to come out of hiding again! First … thanks to Mark and Cindy for driving up for my birthday, thanks to all my family for chipping in to prepare for the weekend, and here's to yet one more wonderful year of life!
(More photos will be on Facebook in a couple of days …)