It was Friday, my day off from work, and I awoke to a text announcement on my iPhone from my wife, wishing me a nice VD and also group-texted to our son in LA and our daughter in San Francisco.
How nice. I then texted to her similar wishes, and later that morning after a brief, relaxing breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and home fries at a local cafe, I began planning my day. Valentine’s Day. Hmm. I realized that I had actually copied a URL into my iPad with the complete instructions for a Menu: A French Valentine’s Day Dinner for Two which I found here.
Hmmm again. It was pretty involved. While the duck breast was fairly straightforward, the rest of the menu involved using skills I didn’t have completely mastered–or even attempted, for that matter.
Well, here is the menu:
Raw Oysters on the Half Shell
Magret à la D’Artagnan (Seared Duck Breast)
Pommes Duchesse (Piped Potatoes)
Herbed Haricots Verts
Several courses, you can see.
That was easy–just bought two Kumamoto and two Miyagi oysters raised on nearby oyster farms; learned enough that when consuming oysters raw, the smaller ones make more sense for bite-size hors d’hoeuvres–the large ones just make you gag like you’re eating a bowlful of snot which, let’s face it, turns people off. Those are best broiled or baked, but these little Kumamoto style are perfect with a bit of mignonette sauce or a drop of hot sauce.
Huh. Haven’t made these before, but it’s just flour and butter and cheese that are baked. Cheese puffs. Standard stuff; flour, butter, salt mixed with milk and egg…and gruyere cheese. They’re in the oven now, moving toward golden brown. Woo hoo, and when these are done, I’m off to Trader Joe’s for prosecco, turbinado sugar, and haricot Verts. Don’t worry, you’ll see why later.
Magret a la D’Artagnan
Duck breast sautéed till medium rare, though the trip this time will be the sauce calling for shallots, veal demiglace, and a French brandy called Armagnac which very likely will get substituted with a regular brandy depending on the cost of the bottle (tonight substituted with a cheapass brandy no one except homeless people buy because its cheap).
The D’Artagnan sauce can be prepared while the duck is resting from its several minutes in the skillet. The recipe says to let the duck rest though the sauce takes about twenty minutes to reduce properly–it also gets a flambé(nope, no dramatic flames tonight, alas) process so I’m mildly concerned about the duck getting cold, but the sauce should be warm. Turns out that wrapping the duck up in foil holds the heat in nicely (no surprise) and the sauce…the sauce: de-lucking-felicious. First time I used a savory sauce on duck breast, and there’s plenty left over which will go on the remaining Pommes duchesse for breakfast with eggs tomorrow.
Here’s the sauce!
Sliced thinly and the sauce drizzled on top.
Ha! These are baked potatoes mixed with butter, nutmeg, a tad of cream and egg yolk and then piped out into little cutesy, swirly mounds…then baked. I made these earlier in the day and put them in the fridge to bake in the oven at about the time the duck comes out of the skillet. The recipe said they would take 40-45 minutes to brown, which actually proved out to only about 30-35 minutes in my oven. No worries.
Wifey thought that the gougeres along with the Pommes duchesse was a bit of carb overkill; they both are similar looking in shape to one degree or another, though one is cheesy while the other…potato-ey. Still, both received the duck sauce mightily well.
While making the potato dish,the fun was figuring out how to attach the various elements of the bag, the proper size of ‘star’ to make them cute and looking textural. Never really done that before either. Their time in the refrigerator didn’t get in the way at all of successfully baking.
Herbed Haricots Verts
Boiled French green beans sautéed with butter, oil, and some herbs like chive and tarragon. Pretty dumbass recipe, though my last attempt at it earlier this week was a silly waste–under seasoned and undercooked. One shouldn’t get cocky.
And of course, this was my wife’s least favorite dish, despite being perfectly cooked. Wifey doesn’t like tarragon now, so it might make The List.
Hmm. I’ve made custard before, but this required a new tool…a butane culinary torch! WAAAAH-HOO! Open flames, searing custards…no wonder its guys who get into barbecue or grilling. It’s the attraction of the flames, plainly.
The instructions for the torch were long and involved, which involved loading actual butane into the device. Of course, I didn’t do it over the stove with an open flame, that would be crazy. (No, seriously, I sat at the dinner table and loaded it.)
These are very thin little cookies of egg white, sugar, and a tad of flour and salt to which are added some dry lavender flowers for an added fragrance. Mixing the batter was effortless, but removing them from the silicon sheet before they dried and cooled flat was difficult. Second batch I made smaller and on parchment paper, eschewing the advice to use an offset spatula. Useless. I just pulled out the Tuiles after 10 minutes and flipped the parchment sheet over and pried them out, laid them on an old, unused rolling pin to give them some curves before they cooled and that worked better.
They’re very cute, yes?
The entire dinner took, not counting shopping and running around looking for duck breast (three places didn’t have it in stock!) for about 130pm till perhaps 530 to prepare these several dishes. As usual, dessert is often needs being done first, which it was, followed by prepping all the other dishes which were done by 430 or so.
The final orchestration found I needed to put the Pommes duchesse into the oven about 20 minutes before I actually started on the D’Artagnan sauce, and the breast in the skillet about ten minutes before that. It’s all timing now.
…and I’m cooking. The Pommes duchesse are in the oven, I’ve seasoned the duck and put it in the skillet, and about ten minutes later I’ve pulled out the duck to rest and have started on the D’Artagnan sauce. It reduces nicely, the Pommes duchesse are out of the oven, and the haricot Verts are getting sautéed.
How delightful to have everything ready and warm at the same time.
Dinner is delicious. Absolute winner. Wife is over the top with mouth happiness, and of course she shared the plan for dinner with all her workmates…some 20 or more, so…NO PRESSURE, right?
I forgot the raw oysters till after the dinner, but they served as a nice palate cleanser. A few minutes later wifey demanded the creme brûlée so I pulled out the raygun thing and caramelized the tops. Woo. Delicious.