Dish five: French onion soup, rustic bread and Gruyere cheese.
French onion soup has become somewhat of a classic for me. It’s actually one of the most requested dishes that I do, and one that (till this day anyways) has earned me the most praise. Reaching for a stable dish and a requested classic for an evening such as this is a bit, well, it feels a bit like cheating and a bit unoriginal.
However, given the company, I feel kinda justified in including it on the menu. Because lord knows Tina has begged me to cook this dish on a lot of occasions.. And we’re talking a girl who knows how to beg here, and is well aware that she’s more than capable of winding me around her little finger.. We’re talking puppy dog eyes here, batting eye lashes, pouty lips, the whole shebang.. Enough to make any man weak in the knees. Anyways, I’ve managed to push off having to make the dish for ages now, telling her what a time consuming process it was, and promising I’d make it for a special occasion.. And well, what more of a special occasion than this?
Of course, this being a special occasion I wanted to try to make it just a little bit better than my every day French onion soup.. And as with anything I did, it quickly spun pretty wildly out of control. It all started on Thursday with a batch of home-made veal stock that had been simmering for about eight hours. The stock was chilled and the poured over some freshly roasted veal tails and vegetables, the slowly brought to a simmer and slowly reduced down for an entire day. Then strained and put back into the fridge overnight. On Friday, an entire kilo of onions was slowly sweated down for a few hours to a deep brown, concentrated, sweet mess, half a bottle of lightly oaked Chardonnay was introduced to the party and slowly reduced for another hour or so. Then the veal stock (or consomme or whatever it was at this point) was added along with some vegetable stock and other ingredients and the entire thing was left to blend for about an hour, before a healthy shot of 25 year old Cognac was added and left to cook just long enough for the alcohol to boil off and the flavors to blend. The resulting soup was scooped into ramekins, topped with a slice of day old rustic French baguette and some cave aged Swiss Gruyere cheese, then transported to Tina’s where it was broiled to perfection immediately before serving.
Again: A little over the top? Possibly! Friggin’ awesome? Hell yes! There’s really no rivaling the taste of slow food and elaborate reductions. The taste was powerful, almost overpowering, and I was pretty happy that I hadn’t made larger portions, because it was the kinda thing you’d really only want a little off at this point. But what little we had seemed to please the Tina, at any rate, she responded with another “Fantastic, plain and simple!” – I guess I got away with introducing a classic to the menu..
Dish six: The ultimate Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich: French Baguette, lightly smoked rare beef tenderloin, red onion marmalade and Gruyere cheese.
This dish sorta rose out of necessity. I felt the jump from a meat infused but still vegetable based soup to a really powerful meat dish would be a little too much, plus I needed a way for us to kill about a half hour while the sides for the main course cooked in the oven. I somehow got to thinking fast food and junk food which led me to thinking about some of the really horrible quick meals I’d had in the States.. And possible “gourmet” versions of these. Tiny gourmet burgers were considered, but didn’t seem overly exciting.. And then it dawned on me what if I took the often absurdly oversized, greasy and disgusting all-american Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich and turned it into something small, delicious and lean?
Sounded like fun to me.. So I cut and toasted little pieces of French Baguette, then topped them with thin slices of lightly smoked beef tenderloin cooked very rare and drizzled with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce, a sweet and tangy red onion marmalade and a healthy sprinkling of Gruyere cheese.. Then broiled them and served them up.. Simple, delicious, while maintaining the simplicity and ugly appearance of the original dish.
Good as they were, though, the real star of the show during this dish was the wine. Having covered both bubbles and a spicy, flavorful white, it was now time to move to red and to the star of the show, a 2004 Amarone Della Valpollicella Classico from Sartori Rino.
And.. Umm.. Wow.. Perfect food moment right there: We both sniffed the wine deeply, swirled the glass, sniffed again, then had a taste.. And just sorta sad there for God knows how long, looking at each other, smiles growing wider on our faces. Someone, I honestly don’t remember who, eventually broke the silence with a “Wow” which was immediately seconded by the other. It was Tina who first regained her composure and stated that “This is, without the shadow of a doubt the best wine I have EVER had in my entire life!” – I took one more small sip, thought about it for about five seconds and concurred: “Y’know, I’ll have to agree!” If I could take but one lasting memory away with me from this dinner, this would be it: Good food, even better company and an absolute knock-out of a wine to go along. I don’t know what else to say except.. Well, It was absolutely perfect, and at the risk of sounding mushy, a memory I will treasure for a long time to come, if not as long as I can remember.
But wait, there was more food to be had!
Dish seven: Osso Bucco “with a splash of Amarone”, Cranberry Gremolata, Pommes Anna, baked Jerusalem Artichoke mash with truffles, green beans and bacon.
Probably a bit of explaining is due here. We probably all know Osso Bucco, a classic Italian dish involving veal or beef shanks simmered for hours in a flavorful liquid.. But what about the splash of Amarone? Well.. Firstly, I’d originally bought a different bottle of Amarone to pair with the main course. And while it was by no means a bad bottle of wine, it wasn’t.. Well, it wasn’t what I’d use for my perfect dinner (and given the wine we ended up having, I’m glad I didn’t).. It basically had every attribute of a cheap Amarone. It was fruity, powerful but not really entirely in balance and not what you’d expect from such a high price point and the Amarone name. A good wine in many aspects, but not in this..
So there I was with a DKK 100 bottle of Amarone and a DKK 200 bottle of Amarone, wondering what the hell to do with the inferior alternative.. This dinner already being ridiculously over the top, I got to thinking of the old mantra of “don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink” and it all fell into place.. The “a splash of” part is an inside joke between Tina and I which refers to dumping an entire bottle of wine into a dish. So in essence, I made Osso Bucco and used an entire bottle of Amarone (along with more of my veal stock, some tomatoes and aromatic vegetables) as a braising liquid. I cooked it forever and topped it with chopped, dried cranberries, roasted pine nuts, parsley, raw garlic and orange zest, then served it alongside a small portion of Pommes Anna, bacon wrapped green beans and a bit of baked, mashed Jerusalem artichokes with a little shot of black truffle oil.
This all made up a serving which was probably a little too generous at this point in such a large menu.. But, eh.. There’s a lot of bone and connective tissue in veal shanks anyways, and despite lacking in size, both Tina and I eat quite healthy portions without giving two fucks about whether or not it looks good or is considered proper etiquette.. So eventually, and over the course of almost an hour, we both managed to finish all sides and most of the veal.. Good show!
Dish eight: Grilled pineapple, Habanero Syrup, lime, rum, mint and Pastis Custard.
I’ve known Tina for six years now, I know most of her likes and dislikes as well as her crazy little ways. I’ve seen her get pretty excited over some of the things I’ve made for her, and, given enough thought, I know just what to cook to make her feel appreciated and get excited about eating.. I have, however, never nailed a dish to her liking like I did with this one, nor have I ever seen anyone so excited about a dish as she was about this one (seriously!), and I’ve never EVER seen my lovable little friend so flustered and absolutely beside herself with pleasure.. Over eating.. A dessert..
Maybe it was the fact that I’ve always listened to what she’s had to said and tailored a dish based on that, maybe it’s because I included all her favorite ingredients, maybe it was the combination of flavors, maybe girls just plain like having dishes invented for them and dedicated to them.. I don’t know.. All I know is I thought that food orgasms were a joke but now I know better, because there’s really no other way to describe Tina’s reaction to first tasting this dish.. And if that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.. After the first few involuntary sounds and cries of “Oh!” and “Oh fuck, this is goooood!”, my co-eater was al soft smiles, soft sighs, incoherent mumblings of “yummy”, “mmm”, and the likes all around..
Really, I must have done something right because Tina is definitely not a dessert person, yet I had her reduced to a point where she was visibly impaired both in terms of speech, hearing and perception of the world around her.. She’d try to construct a sentence, get lost mid-way through and just trail off. You’d try to tell her something and she just plain wouldn’t register you were talking to her. She’d mutter incoherently or repeat herself or just say nothing for extended periods of time.. Really, all I managed to get out of her over the course of about twenty minutes was “wow”, “best thing you ever cooked me”, “perfect” and “is there any more? Please let there be more!” .. Like I said, I’ve been used to seeing her pretty excited over food, but this was absolutely ridiculous in an adorable and very satisfying way.
As a way of putting things into perspective, I made her favorite drink to go along, the Mojito. But not only that, I made it with 15 year old aged rum and topped it with Champagne rather than soda owing to the special occasion. I’m usually not able to put even a regular Mojito in front of Tina and have it sit there undisturbed, in fact it will usually be gone in record time. Yet, this time, once the plate hit the table, she became absolutely oblivious to the drink in front of her and barely registered to sip it maybe once or twice.. And as she put it herself, that really does say quite a lot about her fascination with the food.
As for me? Well, I quite enjoyed the dish as well, it was really good if I dare say so myself, but my fascination with the food was nothing compared to my fascination with watching Tina consume it, poking a little fun of all her involuntary little (and not so little) reactions and having a laugh as well as quite a sense of pride and accomplishment.. I have a feeling I’ll be cooking this dish again soon.
After consuming unmentionable amounts of dessert and after Tina having licked her plate clean, it was all pretty much over and everybody involved were pretty damn full and pretty damn pleased.. And they were in for a bit of a shock as well. I knew we’d started eating at around 5:30 PM and I knew it must’ve taken some time.. Yet we’d both been so busy enjoying the experience that we hadn’t had time to look at our watches or phones, so it came to as a total surprise to me when Tina informed med that the clock had just passed 11 PM and that we had been eating for a full five and a half hours..
Oh well, sometimes it’s okay to get a little caught up, enjoying life.. And sometimes it’s alright for two grown-ups in their late twenties to have a snowball fight after spending six hours playing sophisticated individuals.. Stay tuned for the aftermath!