Monday, May 9, 2011

a birthday affair & tarte tatin to share

I love having my birthday on Cinco de Mayo.

Although my special day wasn't full with mariachis or margaritas, I had a lovely evening full of fine wine and local fare.

I was treated with a special 5-course menu and wine pairing dinner at Ellerbe's Fine Foods (known for their Louisiana-influenced dishes and locally-sourced ingredients).

We sat on the patio with rustic, paint-stripped wooden chairs, blue and white linen napkins, and milk bottles dotted with single pink flowers. Our first course was oh-so-simple and full of bright flavors:

Louisiana Blue Lump Crabmeat with
Texas Citrus, Tarragon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The unique aspect of this dish was the orange powder dusted atop the crab.

The culprit? Dehydrated grapefruit rind that was turned into a sweet powder.

For our next course, I was full of bliss to sample this rustic salad with local roasted beets (I'm one of those crazies who adores obscure veggies like beets, brussels sprouts and celery root).

Roasted B&G Farm Beets with Local Honey, DMC Goat Ricotta,
Cox Farm Arugula, Bee Pollen and Pralined Millican Pecans

The fourth of the five courses was my favorite. It appeared rich and heavy, but was oh-so-light and full of flavor-- I almost licked the poor bowl.

Tomato Braised Lamb Shoulder with a Warm Israeli Couscous Salad,
Latte Da Feta, Curry Vinaigrette and Texas Citrus Powder

After a delicious birthday evening, I whisked off to Austin for the weekend to further celebrate my sweet 26 and also pay homage to my hip mother for Mother's Day.

I was graced with some lovely gifts from friends and family-- some of my favorites (this shouldn't surprise you), were meant to perch right in my pantry.

[Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, French Lavender,
Meyer Lemon Peel, Cardamom Pods, Wild Capers with Sea Salt]

After basking in the glow of an assortment of thoughtful gifts, my Austin girlfriends and I assembled to sip bubbling rosé and snack on a simple cheese platter before an evening out on the town.

Our assembly-only platter included Drunken-Goat Cheese with a Red Wine-Soaked Rind, Walnut Cheddar and Gruyere with Greek Green Olives and Rosemary Focaccia Crackers all from Whole Foods Austin.

For dinner, we took a quick taxi to the east side for funky, French bistro-inspired fare from Justine's Brasserie. We began with potent French 75's with champagne and gin for our pre-dinner cheers.

Dinner was simple and delicious: Escargot with Garlic Butter, Beef Tartare, Mussels and Frites, Snapper with Haricot Verts and Chilled Shrimp Salad with Tarragon & Cucumbers finished with a few bites of Apple Tarte Tatin with coffee.

After an eventful evening full with Moscow Mule's, a Russian big band and swing dancers, I was ready for a quiet Sunday with my parents to celebrate Mother's Day.

My mom had beautiful tomatoes, fresh herbs and Wild Alaskan Halibut on hand so I planned a menu around that. She also has a definite sweet tooth so a made-from scratch dessert was a must. Our menu included:

Grilled Halibut with a Tarragon Pea Puree, Grilled Asparagus,
Brown Rice Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Tomato Salad with Vinegar

While sipping a glass of chardonnay, I prepped components for dinner including a room temperature tomato salad with sea salt, fresh-cracked black pepper and champagne vinegar.

While my dad started the charcoal grill, I dressed fresh asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper then delicately seasoned the halibut filets with the same dressings.

To accompany the grilled fish, I made a healthy and vibrant sauce of green peas, vegetable stock, lemon rind and fresh tarragon. For a side dish: toasted rice pilaf with pine nuts.

While I finished my sauce and rice, my Dad set out for the grill (the man is an expert griller--although he denies it). The halibut was cooked to perfection boasting its buttery layers and the asparagus was al dente with gorgeous charred flavor from the grill.

All three of us finished this dish with pleasure-- the only naughty inclusions were from a swirl of heavy cream to finish the pea sauce. I was then on to dessert...

My mom loves fruity desserts-- strawberry shortcake was the natural choice especially since this is peak season for fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Shortcake with Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

While I prepped dinner, I measured my biscuit ingredients, washed and sliced strawberries and had my cold cream chilling and ready in a bowl.

When I was ready to make the biscuits, I preheated my own to 400 degrees and started on these flaky delights:

Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

yields approximately 12 biscuits

2 cups AP flour
2 T sugar, plus an additional 2 T to mix with cinnamon
1 T baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
12 T cold unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c cold heavy cream, plus an additional 2 cups to whip
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 T water, for egg wash
1 T cinnamon
1 pint strawberries, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together flour, 2 T sugar, baking powder and kosher salt together in a large bowl. With hands, mix in dice cold butter and combine with dry mixture until pea-shaped butter chunks remain. Add beaten eggs and 1/2 c heavy cream. Combine quickly with hands until a dough forms.

Transfer dough ball to a floured board. Top with more flour then press down to a 1/2 inch thick square, working quickly to keep butter chilled. Slice into 12 biscuit squares (as shown), then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet with a spatula. Brush lightly with the egg wash then finish with a sprinkling of cinnamon and remaining sugar.

Bake approximately 15 minutes until biscuits are lightly browned, yet moist and tender. While biscuits are baking, whip 2 cups whipping cream with vanilla until soft peaks are formed. Serve in between hot biscuits with sliced strawberries.

Enjoy this not-t00-sweet confection with some fine decaf coffee or a chilled glass of crisp, white wine.

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