Just over a month ago I prepared for my husband a very special birthday dinner. I wanted to pull out all the stops and prepare for him something unique, elegant, and above all wildly delicious. His birthday only comes once a year, after all!
I don't know about all of you, but in our home we rarely have a full menu - each course thoughtfully prepared as to how it will interact with the course preceding and following it. As you know, I am no chef, but I do have a love for delicious food, and I've acquired a reasonable knack for preparing it well.
Seared Sea Scallops with a Lemon Butter Sauce
Blood Orange Salad with Arugula, Figs, Parmesan & Almonds
Beef Wellington with Steamed Asparagus
We don't eat a lot of red meat these days - for one, it is the cost. Good quality meat can be quite expensive, and the cheap stuff is often not worth eating. Secondly, my husband and I have talked extensively about how our culture (compared with others) often consumes too much meat, which is unsustainable and promotes unhealthy farming techniques to keep up with the demand. The challenge to eat more vegetables has been surprisingly fun, and we've found that we honestly don't miss meat in most meals as long as they are filled with hearty ingredients (lentils are our best friend). All of that being said, this birthday dinner was a night to spare no expense and buy some of the finest, most beautiful meat I could find!
Being relatively new to the area, I hunted around and found a small local market and butchery called the Main Street Market. The butcher was absolutely wonderful - taking great care to prepare the fillet mignon cuts I had ordered. Everyone at the market knew about my order and seemed as excited as I was! I received some great cooking tips from one of the other meat vendors, and all they wished me great success with my birthday feast.
My brother and his wife had given us a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne, which we had been saving for a worthy occasion. This birthday certainly qualified, and the champagne, being Veuve Cliquot, did not disapoint. Instead of saving it for dessert, I decided it was far better paired with dinner. It complemented perfectly the pan seared scallops, and Blood Orange Arugula Salad.
I must tell you a bit about this salad. It is adapted from a recipe in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. The best meal that my husband and I have ever had was at Lucques - a small, romantic restaurant in Los Angeles. Suzanne Goin is a master of her craft, having worked for the highly esteemed Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Her cookbook is a work of art. Suzanne Goin writes at the beginning of this recipe, "Once you've gathered your perfect components, the only difficult part is arranging them on the plate. Thoughtfully weave the ingredients together, layering them into "hills and valleys," rather than piling them into a "mountain." Think of this as a tapestry, rather than a tossed salad." You can imagine the care that goes into each of her recipes and dishes.
I used a beautiful olive oil from Spain called Merula. It was rich and buttery and absolutely made the salad. If you do not have a good olive oil - please, pick one up for dishes such as this! The difference is worth it. I recomend our Nunez or Marques de Valdueza.
The Beef Wellington was delicious - the pastry was flaky, and the meat, tender. Between the meat and pastry is duxelle - a puree of mushrooms, butter and herbs. I wish I had taken the Beef Wellington out of the oven a few minutes earlier, as it would have been better if it was more rare. Despite that, the entree was thoroughly satisfying - comforting, rich and buttery.
The evening was finished off by homemade Tiramisu. Instead of using rum, I decided to try with bourbon, and it was spectacular. The flavors were perfectly balanced, and it was a wonderful finish to the meal. It was delightful to eat dinner in courses, taking the time to truly savor the nuances of each plate and the labor and love that went into preparing them. I think my husband had a wonderful time, and a fabulous birthday!