The Birthday Feast

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday.

I did not post a love-filled message of birthday joyfulness on his Facebook page. I did not shop in the ‘Husband’ section of Hallmark. In fact, I completely forgot to give him the card I did pick out for him. So what did I do? I cooked.

For his birthday, Ed decided he would like a home-cooked meal for which he would develop the menu. He spent several hours going through my cookbooks on Friday night and by Saturday morning he had settled on four courses — two from Eric Ripert’s Avec Eric (a recent Christmas gift) and two from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry (a perennial favorite, even if most recipes take the better part of a week to cook). Ripert and Keller (times two!) in the same evening? Can you think of a tastier meal? I’m not sure I can.

If you know anything about this dynamic duo, you know this meal involved a lot of steps. I mean, a LOT of steps. From start to finish, I began cooking at 4:30, we had our aperitif at 8:30 and the main course touched down on the dining room table just after Gwyenth’s opening monologue on SNL. It’s fortunate that dessert was leftover sorbet from our post-New Year’s brunch the week before (more on that in an upcoming post).

Eric Ripert kicked off the evening for us with a rather unconventional cocktail — the Oyster Sangrita. Yes, OYSTER. A zesty combination of citrus, tomato juice & tequila, this refreshing drink also includes a freshly shucked oyster at the bottom of the glass. We went with Wellfleets and PatrĂ³n Silver. I wasn’t adventurous enough to down the entire thing as a shot, but the oyster was a pleasant, if unusual, treat at the bottom of the glass.

Next up was Thomas Keller’s ‘Caesar Salad’ which is a composed dish consisting of Parmigiano-Reggiano custards with romaine lettuce, anchovy dressing and parmesan crisps. The trickiest part turned out to be dislodging the freshly-basked parmesan crisps from the parchment paper, but that was my fault for being the only person I know who doesn’t have a Silpat (as as recommended by the recipe). The custards took slightly longer to set than expected and you should definitely let them rest in the fridge for as long as possible before serving. They were quite tasty while still a bit warm, but definitely harder to remove from the molds. But perfectly molded custards or not, Ed declared this one of the best things he’s ever eaten and I cannot disagree.

Sticking with Mr. Keller, we moved on to ‘Linguine’ with White Clam Sauce and here I needed to get a bit creative. Despite his insistence that you can’t knead the pasta dough too much, Ed and I spent close to a combined 30 minutes at the task and it never achieved the desired ‘silky’ texture. Realizing that we were in risk of not actually finishing this meal while it was still Ed’s birthday, I chucked the yolk-laden dough and turned to the fabulous olive oil-based recipe featured in the October 2010 edition of Food & Wine. I am ultimately a bigger fan of raw oysters than I am of cooked clams (weird, I know), so I gave my clams to Ed, but the pasta & sauce were delicious and the presentation can’t be beat.

Then it was back to Eric’s world for Roasted Chicken with Za’atar Stuffing. I had never heard of za’atar before Ed brought this recipe to my attention and I was pleased when Whole Foods had it, as I doubted my ability to find the ground sumac required to make it myself. I had also never heard of cutting off a chicken’s wings and roasting the body on top of them, but I would be reluctant to roast a chicken any other way from now on. Crisp, juicy, flavorful, heavenly.

After a solid seven hours in the kitchen, major thanks to Ed for bringing me a dish of cranberry vanilla sorbet and a glass of Limoncello as I curled up on the couch. This is one of the simplest desserts out there, great to make in bulk and the flavor only gets better over time.

The only thing missing was a birthday candle. But that’s not how we roll.

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3 Responses to The Birthday Feast

  1. ChristineZ says:

    Thomas Keller’s pasta has soooo many yolks–I remember making it and using his recipe. And the result wasn’t worth the work, despite my huuuuuuuge love/admiration of Thomas Keller’s culinary genius.

    Your dinner sounds delicious! At least I am closer in distance these days–maybe a south wind will carry the wonderful smells over this way. :)

  2. jWf says:

    Mother and I have found an interesting alternative to Oyster Sangrita for those of your fans who pale at the thought of a dead mollusk (?) at the bottom of their glass: a half-cup of sardines splashed with grape kool-aid and a teaspoon of sterno provides a nice kick at most of our Senior Parties.

  3. Sharan says:

    If you owned a restaurant near me I wold eat there every night!

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