It was my boyfriend’s big day on Tuesday. I won’t say how old he is because he would probably lock me out of the house, but suffice it to say it was a milestone birthday. We celebrated with two birthday dinners: an intimate dinner for him and I on his actual birthday and then again with some friends the day after his birthday.
Dinner 1 I ended up cooking a very traditional French dinner: Steak-frites and crème brulée. Like many men, his preferred food is steak so I didn’t even bother asking what he wanted to eat on his birthday. It wasn’t quite the same as eating in a bistro as I threw in some of my own little unique twists such as using milk chocolate in the crème brulée and various herbs and spices on the fries as well as baking them in the oven rather than deep-frying them.
For 2 people
For the fries
1 kilo (2 lbs) Russet potatoes, thoroughly scrubbed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F (205 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/2″ thin strips. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with all the remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour onto baking sheet and spread out fries so they are in a single layer and not too crowded together.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes, then flip the fries and bake for another 15 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. Watch fries to ensure they do not brown too quickly and burn!
For the steak
5 tablespoons butter
2 beef steaks (I used entrecôte. If in the States some good options are porterhouse, sirloin, rib eye, shell or if you’re feeling like a baller, filet mignon)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 an onion, very finely minced
1 tablespoon water, cider or red wine
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onions. Meanwhile, generously season one side of the steaks with salt and pepper. Add the steaks, seasoned side down and season the other side with salt and pepper. Sear for 1 minute on each side. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, turning the steaks every other minute, until you see little pearls of blood come to the surface, about 3 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the steak and your preferred result – I always go for à point or medium rare by French standards, which is rare by American standards.
Remove the steaks and place them on warmed plates to rest. Do not cut immediately or you will lose all the juicy goodness! While steaks are resting, over medium heat, deglaze the pan with the water (or cider or wine) and swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Sautée for about 2-3 minutes. Drizzle these pan juices over the meat and serve at once with fries.
Milk Chocolate Crème Brulée
170 grams (6 ounces) milk chocolate, very finely chopped
475 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
4 egg yolks
55 grams (1/4 cup) sugar (for sprinkling)
Preheat the oven to 400 F (205 C). Melt the chocolate with the cream in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Bring to a boil and remove from heat immediately. Put aside to cool.
In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks until well-mixed. Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, add it to the eggs, mixing well. If you noticed any bits of cooked eggs, strain the chocolate through a sieve. Divide the chocolate and egg mixture evenly among 4 individual sized ramekins or similar baking dishes. Fold a dish towel and place on the bottom of a large casserole dish. Put the ramekins in the casserole dish and pour cold water into the casserole dish until the water reaches halfway up the ramekin dishes.
Bake the chocolate creams approximately 10-15 minutes or until a thin skin forms on top. Remove the ramekins from the casserole dish and place in the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour, and up to 8 hours.
Remove the chocolate creams from the fridge and divide the sugar evenly amongst the 4 dishes, sprinkling the on top of the creams. To caramelize the top of the cream you can use 2 methods. The first method is to use a miniature blow torch, holding the flame several inches away from the top of the creams, stopping when the sugar is bubbling and brown. The second method is to use the broiler of your oven. Heat the broiler. Meanwhile, fill the bottom 1/3 of a casserole dish with ice water. Place the creams in the ice water. Now place the entire dish under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until the sugar is brown and bubbling. After it has cooled for a few minutes you will see a crisp, caramelized layer form.
Caramelizing the crèmes
Dinner 2 My family is Italian (hence my deep-rooted love of food) and our two main culinary traditions are handmade ravioli on Christmas day and Pasta alla Carbonara for birthdays. As Toby is practically part of the family now I thought I’d include him in the tradition. For dinner we had Pasta alla Carbonara with Lemony Butter Peas and Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce for Dessert.
McCarter Family Pasta alla CarbonaraRecipe courtesy of Tort and Jess McCarter
1 lb. of pancetta, thick sliced, cut into rough cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs + 6 yolks, whisked
200-300 grams (2-3 cups) parmesan cheese (1 cup for cooking, the rest for serving)
1/2 kilo (1 lb.) spaghetti
Heaps of black pepper
Scramble eggs and whisk in 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Put aside to let sit during the whole cooking process. Adding egg to cheese early helps temper eggs so your sauce won’t break later.
Bring salted water to a boil in a very large pot. Once at a rolling boil, cook your spaghetti according to directions on packet. Meanwhile, while water is coming to a boil, start the pancetta cooking in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions roughly 5 minutes in and the garlic 10 mins in. Keep cooking till the meat begins to sear a bit, really working all the fat out and yielding a slightly crunchy cube. You will have to stir almost constantly the last 5 minutes to get the color and prevent sticking.
Once you have the spaghetti cooked and drained, add it back into the cooking pot after lightly oiling or buttering the cooking pot. Briskly incorporate the meat, moving quickly so things stay warm and incorporated. Finally, slowly pour the egg and cheese mixture in, again, working the pasta around with two pasta forks or similar device, rapidly moving all the ingredients together. You have to get the eggs in fast while everything is hot and keep it moving so the pasta is coated and the eggs cooks slightly.
Serve with heaps of black pepper and parmesan cheese and optional red pepper for those who can handle the heat!
Cream-Filled Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce
Makes 30-35 medium-sized puffs
150 grams ( 1 1/3 cup) flour
250 ml (1 cup) water
3/4 teaspoon salt (go lighter on salt is using salted butter)
100 grams butter
55 grams (1/4 cup )sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). In a saucepan over medium heat melt the water, salt and butter together, stirring regularly. When the mixture has just come to a boil remove the pan from the heat. Add the flour to the pan immediately and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Beat for about 30 seconds or until the mixture is smooth and is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Return the pan to the stove and cook over low heat for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Once the mixture has cooled slightly, beat in 2 eggs. Once the first eggs are incorporated, repeat this process with one egg at a time until all of the eggs are incorporated. The dough should be shiny and soft enough to hang from the spoon and fall.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Load a pastry piping gun with some of the dough and swirl circles of dough about the size of dollar coins and about 1″ high. The dough rounds should be at least 1 inches apart as the balls will puff up. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the balls are all gloriously puffed up and golden brown. Let the profiteroles cool before you add any filling or topping.
For pastry cream
500 ml (2 cups plus 1 tablespoon) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
6 egg yolks
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
30 grams (1/4 cup) flour
In a sauce pan over medium heat bring the milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the milk has boiled, immediately remove from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar for a few minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk the flour into the egg and sugar mixture. Now slowly pour milk into this mixture while whisking. Continue whisking until the cream is smooth and without lumps.
Return the mixture to the pan and put back on the stove over medium heat. Bring the cream to a boil, whisking continuously. After the mixture has come to a boil continue cooking the cream for about 2 minutes. The cream should be thickening up but not be too thick that you can’t easily get the whisk though it. Remove from the cream from the heat, transfer to a bowl, cover and let cool.
Once the cream has cooled down to almost room temperature, you may fill a piping bag and start filling the profiteroles (this is my favorite part!).
For chocolate sauce
300 grams (12 ounces) dark or semisweet chocolate
230 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
2 tablespoons cognac (optional – I substituted apple brandy once)
Melt the chocolate and cream together in a saucepan over low heat, whisking constantly to prevent burning or sticking. Once the cream and chocolate are well incorporated, remove from heat and add cognac. Serve while warm!