Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day dinner

Today is a special edition of my food blog, because I made an epic French-themed dinner last night for Dave for Valentine's Day.

Every year we stay in and I make some huge meal. Our first married Valentine's Day in 2006 was spaghetti carbonara and champagne from our wedding. In 2007, it was a Greek theme, with kabobs and a hummus platter. In 2008, I made crab cakes with remoulade sauce.

I decided to make all my dishes from Ina Garten's wonderful Barefoot in Paris. On the menu were:
  • Bleu Cheese Soufflé
  • Steak with Bearnaise Sauce
  • Île Flottante

First, I have to say that these dishes were probably too complicated to make them all in one night. Still, I had fun in the kitchen for over two hours making all the components and timing them so that they all came together at the same time. (And they did.)

Second, I must note that the French really like cooking with eggs. A LOT. For the above-listed items, I used almost a full dozen eggs, always divided into yolks and whites.

So, without further ado:

Act 1: The Soufflé

I have never made a soufflé before, so I figured I'd give this a whirl. It's not actually that complicated, just...weird.


First, you make this cheese sauce base for the souffle. There is very little flour in this dish - only three tablespoons. You cook the butter and flour on the stovetop, then add in some egg yolks and cheese. The recipe calls for both Roquefort and Parmesan. (You can tell this soufflé was tangy.)

At that point, you whip up some egg whites to make a meringue-like mixture, then fold it into the cheese sauce.

I used a French White Corningware 1 3/4 quart dish as what should have been a 2-quart soufflé dish - don't tell Ina.

You line the dish with butter and parmesan cheese and then pour in the mixture. After baking for 35 minutes, it looked gorgeous:


Of course, after you let it cool and cut it, it deflates a bit, but that's to be expected.

Act 2: The Steak

The steak was simple enough - Ina's favorite steak is ribeye, so that's what we got. You just load it up with salt and pepper and cook on a skillet or grill.

The bearnaise sauce was not that complicated either - it was probably the simplest egg-based thing I made last night. First, you make the vinegar base of white wine vinegar, minced shallots, and tarragon. Then you put that in a blender with some eggs yolks, then blend in a crapload of butter.

Then pour over steak in a delicious-looking manner:


Dave and I liked the steaks, but the ribeyes are a little fatty for us. (Especially combined with a sauce so fatty that it could probably kill a person with high cholesterol.) But overall this dish was Dave's favorite, and probably my second favorite.

Act 3: The Dessert

I have been eyeing this dessert for a while. Ina says that Île Flottante, meaning "floating island," is a popular dessert for French children.

The dessert is composed of four parts: meringues (the "islands"), vanilla cream sauce, caramel, and almond granola. With all these parts, this was the most difficult part of the meal to time correctly. Luckily, as Ina notes, everything can be made in advance and assembled immediately before serving.

The meringues were not hard, cookie-like meringues but more like the soft meringue that you commonly encounter atop lemon pies.

The caramel was just basic blending and heating of water, sugar, and vanilla. You let it cool and use some of it to mix with the almond slices for baking.

The cream sauce, or crème anglaise, was the most difficult part, because you had to heat the yolks without turning it into scrambled eggs. It turned out OK, but next time I would like to use Ina's suggestion of half a vanilla bean to really send the flavor over the top.

After making all these parts, you assemble and wow your husband:


I can't even look at this gorgeous picture without drooling.

So there you have it - a French dinner on Valentine's Day to send your loved one over the top - and across the Atlantic Ocean. (And send you immediately into a coma.)

1 comment:

rikb said...

You...are the total Queen of me. This sounds like an amazing meal.