Saturday, August 7 was the big day.. And I kicked it off by sleeping in.. Which wasn’t really my plan, but after three days of almost non-stop cooking and after finishing of the last few sips of the bottles of wine used in the cooking the night before, I actually had a good, full nights sleep for the first time in like a week, so I felt I was entitled.
As I got up and got started on the day, there was a bit of tension in the air. A sort of nervousness if you will. After all, it’s not every day you get to pull off something like this and still, I wanted things to be absolutely perfect, my date deserved that after all, and with ten dishes, well, there were a lot of things that could potentially go wrong. While I knew Tina would be forgiving of my mistakes, I’m not sure I myself would. While Tina is probably my biggest fan, she’s only my second biggest critic (and I mean that in a loving and constructive manner), I – myself – am my own biggest critic and I knew I’d be a lot more harsh on me than she would, should anything go wrong.. Still, I was excited, it’s not every day you get to dress up and play rich and famous for a day while eating some of the finest ingredients the culinary world has to offer. In the company of a pretty blonde who just happens to be your best friend as well, none the less. So, it was with a mix of nervousness and anticipation that I got started on the chores of the day which included two dessert servings which had to be prepared at the last possible minute as well as some general preparations.
Funny thing this dessert business, by the way. It’s not something I usually eat, it’s not something I particularly enjoy, it’s not something that’s ever really interested me.. Yet, I seem to do a damn good job of making desserts. It may be because my lack of interest for the subject and the fact that neither Tina nor I are big dessert persons causes me to have to really think about the desserts I make for these kinds of dinners, I don’t know.. But for whatever reason I seem to do a banging job of them each time, creating both Tina’s favorite dessert, her favorite ice cream, even causing the non-dessert loving girl to have a spontaneous food orgasms over a pineapple dessert in the process.. I’ve no idea how it works, but it does work.. Yet that still doesn’t mean that having to taste desserts for flavor balance at 10 AM in the morning is a very interesting or pleasant activity. It may be for some other girls I know, but it certainly wasn’t for me.. But y’know, the things I do for the people I love.
Having struggled through eating dessert before breakfast and putting the final touches on anything, I kicked back and looked at my watch.. 1 PM. I’d actually managed to finish up two hours ahead of schedule, not bad. This gave me time to actually relax a bit, eat lunch, clean up after myself, set the table and get ready. With those activities out of the way, a shower and a change of clothes, I actually ended up with a full thirty minutes to spare in which to walk around and get even more nervous.
Tina was set to arrive at 5 PM, so at 4:58, I evacuated a bottle of Champagne (Cattier Premier Cru Brut) from the fridge, and at 5:02 Tina arrived, looking jaw-droppingly beautiful in a summer outfit showing her love for all things silky: tailor made silk skirt, a couple of overlapping lazed silk tops (of the StyleButler variety for those who are into those kinda things). She’d also wore (just for me, I suspect) a pair of black stilettos which she immediately kicked off with a “there, you’ve seen them” in a reference to the fact that I like to see her wearing stilettos much more than she likes wearing them. She’d even gone through the trouble of doing her hair up all fancy and pretty like which I, quite honestly (coz that’s how we roll), told her that she could’ve spared herself because I find her even prettier with her hair down. “I know, sweetie,” she simply told me, “but that way, it gets in the way when I have to lick the plates clean later.” – an argument I could hardly argue against.. And hey, don’t get me wrong, it looked great all done up.
Having thusly gawked at my little friend for a while, I showed her into the living room and went to open the Champagne. “You should take that outside!,” Tina immediately said. – “Why?,” I pouted, “I’m in control of things!” – But still doing what she said and taking both Tina and the bottle out onto the terrace where I proceeded to open the bottle with a huge pop and a release of pressure which sent the cork flying about five meters into the garden where it collided with an apple tree and ricocheted back. “Well, just as well that *I* decided not to open that indoors,” I exclaimed while Tina cocked her little head and looked at me with her “hate to say I told you so” smile from her shelf of overbearing smiles.. I then filled our Champagne flutes and we toasted to a good dinner without major injuries or ccck-ups. I then left my date to soak in the sun and entertain herself for a few minutes while I prepared the first dish of the evening. I then ushered her to the table and started plating up.
Dish 1: Terrine of Foie Gras on roasted rye with julienne of Granny Smith apple, baby greens and apple vinaigrette
Tina stated very firmly a few years back that one of the few things in the world she would plain not eat was liver – unless I served it for her, in which case she’d trust me and give it a shot. Keeping her to her word, I thought it reasonable to kick things off with a challenge/treat, not only serving her liver, but actually serving her one of the most luxurious preparations of liver known to man.
Terrine of Foie Gras is basically gently cooked seasoned fat liver of duck laced with a bit of Armagnac (French Cognac-style brandy). It’s a very fatty and rich kinda thing so I decided to serve it with some roasted whole grain rye bread to counter the mushy fatty feeling and a bit of acid to balance out the richness. Sharply acidic items such as vinegar and citrus juice has a way of killing the wine they’re served with and not wanting to do that to a fine Champagne, I chose to use green apples as an acidic element which, luckily, not only worked but proved a good combination over-all.
Did I make a liver convert out of Tina? I’m not too sure, but she most definitely enjoyed the dish as evident in the cutlery licking picture below. As did I, by the way, it was good in a very overpowering way so I’m glad I stuck to very small servings. I’d give it a shot again, though.
Dish 2: French Gougères with steamed lobster in home-made mayonnaise and dijon mustard
Lobster is the principal source of a long-standing argument between Tina and myself. Tina claims I’ve never served her lobster and I claim that I’ve served her Norway lobster which is a form of lobster and she’s just upset because she’s a spoiled brat who wants nothing but the best. To put an end to this argument once and for all, and to be able to move on to discussing more important issues (such as whether or not it’s okay to yell at your best friend for bringing you chocolates, or whether or not “Hey, I said some pretty nice things about your breasts, that should make up for me saying some bad stuff about your ass” is a valid excuse), I decided to serve Tina the real deal in two different preparations. The first of these being home-made, bite-sized semi-traditional French Gougères (cheese puffs) filled with a mixture of steamed lobster tail meat, home-made mayonnaise and a healthy scoop of Dijon mustard. The whole thing was a bit of a gamble, really. I knew lobster and mayonnaise would work, I suspected lobster and Comté cheese (found in the cheese puffs) would as well, and I was hoping the mustard would add bite and sharpness in contrast to the sweetness of the lobster and the texture of the baked goods.. But whether the whole thing thrown together would actually work, well, I was praying it would.. And luckily for me, my credibility and my position as Tina’s favorite cook, it all worked together beautifully, making my little dinner guest more than a little giddy and ecstatic.. Apparently lobster is her new favorite thing now.
Dish 3: Asian inspired King Crab ravioli in saffron infused lobster bisque with 25 year-old Cognac
This is a fine example of one of those dishes that started out rather simple only to derail completely into an elaborate, extravagant, pricy mess of somewhat interesting proportions. The simple base for this dish was that I had some lobster shells from the preparation of the dish before and saw no reason not to put them to good use to create a lobster bisque to serve as the next dish on the menu. However, plain lobster bisque just sounded ever so slightly boring and it wasn’t really on par with the general impression I was going with. So I thought things through for a while and for some reason came up with the concept of French/Italian fusion and a lobster/ravioli soup. Ravioli obviously needs a filling of some kind and since I’ve always wanted to try king crab, an idea formed in my mind. Lobster bisque with king crab ravioli! The Asian twist may sound a little weird but it came about owing to the fact that I always try to work Tina’s favorite ingredients of lime and chili into one of my dishes for a dinner such as this.. And well, since they were now already in the mix, it just seemed fitting to add spring onions, ginger, garlic and fish sauce and call it Asian/French/Italian fusion with a touch of decadence.. For extra show and to add to the over the top feeling of the dish, a healthy shot of my 25 year-old Gourry de Chadeville Cognac was added for a flaming twist and a few strands of saffron were added for color and prettiness.
The whole thing was served to a beaming Tina as the craziest f’ing thing, I’d ever composed and, quite possibly, the most expensive shellfish soup ever served on Danish ground. The verdict? Well, let’s just say that Tina was wearing her smile of fulfillment throughout eating the entire dish, only to look up and declare “You’re such a meanie!” – “But.. Why,” I demanded, “actually thinking myself a pretty nice guy for cooking her up such an elaborate and expensive dish. – “You cook me up such a nice dish,” she elaborated, “and then serve it up in a bowl that’s impossible for me to lick clean without making a mess of things!” – “Aww,” I replied, “fear not, pretty lady, I will help you!”, then got up, walked behind Tina’s chair, grabbed her stray locks of hair and pulled them gently away from her face, holding them in place and out of harm’s way. “Now, knock yourself out!” – “I can’t,” Tina objected. – “You can,” I shot back, “you have a six centimeter long tongue and that bowl is nowhere near six centimeters deep, and more importantly: you want to. Stop being such a girl!” What happened next is something I wish I’d had a picture off. With me holding her hair back and keeping an eye out for her pretty clothes and possible splatter, Tina simply stopped being such a girl, buried her head in the bowl and licked up the last remaining bits of bisque.. Rock n Roll, baby doll, I always wish I cared enough about you to hold your hair back if needed be, I just never expected it’d happen in this sort of manner.
Intermission: Pouring the white wine
Dish 4: Goat cheese and stinging nettles omelette with smoked salmon topped with Szechuan pepper on top of baby greens drizzled with Granny Smith apple vinaigrette
This might seem like a simple dish compared to the others so far, and indeed it pretty much was but there was reasoning behind the madness. I’d heard that the wine pictured above was an absolute epiphany and I most certainly didn’t want to overpower it to begin with, so I went simple with an egg based dish and then tired to spice it up as much as I possibly could.
In the midsts of everything, I completely forgot to get a good picture of the creation, so you’ll excuse me for posting this half-eaten version.. I’ll let it serve as a testament to how much I enjoyed this particular dish.
For Tina, this was another challenge as goat cheese was another one of those ingredients that she really didn’t want any part of. I’m not sure I entirely won her over, but I’m reasonably sure I didn’t appall her either. All in all, I think she found the taste to be a little pungent and overpowering but not in an entirely revolting manner. Well, that’s that tried, then, and I’m glad I’m able to try things out on her and she’ll give me an honest, constructive opinion, it helps me immensely in my work.
Dish 5: Extremely slow roasted Danish, free-range organic chicken and steamed white asparagus in a thick cream sauce served on top of French baguette fried in chicken infused browned butter
This was my take on a very traditional Danish dish which many Danes actually hold to be French. This dish grew from a very rare occurrence where I, Johan, actually for once – this past New Years EVe – got upset and appalled by my little friend’s behavior.. Not because she ended up smoking cigars, not because she ended up kissing back and forth with Zascha in a very provocative manner.. No simply because she ended up praising an extremely industrial and artificial chicken/asparagus white sauce dish.. And I damn well thought I raised her better than that! Delirious with fever as I was at the time (I was apparently suffering from a bad case of tonsillitis, but wouldn’t miss new years with Tina and Zascha for the world), I was still shocked and appalled and a little bit sad and hurt as well. A very small piece of my love and admiration for her died on that fateful night and while I didn’t slap her as I probably should have, I solemnly swore on the spot that I’d make hear eat those words and that I’d do it by making my own version of the dish which I knew would be a hundred times better even if I’d actually never made the dish before.
My quest to perfect the dish in question started with getting a proper chicken for the job. I found a beautiful, large, local, organic, free range kinda thing which had been raised to about twice the age at which chickens these days are so sadly cut down. Already here I was light years ahead of the New Years recipe which had used those disgusting pressed blocks of chicken meat that are made from sending chicken carcasses through a machine and pressing together the scraps of meat and connective tissue that results. But as we all know, getting proper ingredients is only the beginning. In a tribute to my culinary hero, Heston Blumenthal, the chicken was the brined in an 8% salt solution for six hours, rinsed, soaked for an hour in cold water which was changed every 15 minutes, scolded twice for 30 seconds in boiling water, then left to dry overnight in the fridge. The next morning, the bird was placed in a 65 degree oven and left there for about 10-12 hours until an internal temperature of 65 degrees was reached. The result was one juicy, tender and extremely flavorful chicken which after an hour’s rest was shredded and set aside. While the bird rested, a simple roux was made of chicken fat and plain flour. To this was added heavy cream, whole milk, a bit of liquid from the steamed asparagus and whatever roasting juices the bird gave up until a thick cream sauce was formed. Into this went the shredded chicken, some chopped up asparagus and a few grinds of black pepper.. And that’s it. Simple as could be, had it not been for the two days worth of preparation.
How then, did my home-made version compare to an industrial product? Well, in short: It really didn’t compare at all. “This is like a hundred times better than what we had that time,” Tina remarked. – “Only a hundred,” I asked. – “No.. Like.. 837.. Million.. I don’t know.. It doesn’t compare at all!,” Tina corrected herself.. And she’s right, y’know, I’m not one to usually give myself a lot of credit, even if I’m told I should.. But this experiment was awesome. The chicken flavor was so incredibly intense yet entirely natural, the chicken was as tender as the asparagus and the whole thing just came together nicely.. I, I don’t know.. It was good, that’s about all I can say. And I think I taught Tina a lesson or two about how chicken should taste and what kind of mouthfeel it should have.