A time for feasting: part 3

It’s been a month now (to the day, actually), since my Valentine’s Party, but I had a few more photos to post of the actual courses. I’ll link to the recipe for the Zinfandel Short Ribs I used for the main course, but since I didn’t change the recipe much, I didn’t want to post my own recipe.

Appetizer: Shrimp tortellini with capers and lemon cream sauce.

I’m in love with lemon cream sauce. I first had it over in Tulsa while having a grand time with girl friends during their yearly shopping spree trip – in which we do more talking and eating out than hard-core shopping. Since then, I’ve been on a quest to re-create my own lemon cream sauce. Down in my apartment for dinner one day, I managed to create a pretty good lemon cream sauce, though it was more of a Sherry lemon cream sauce. I attempted to re-create my creation for the Valentine’s Meal….It turned out well, but not as amazingly good at my first time.

Shrimp Tortellini Appetizer

Shrimp Tortellini Appetizer

The second course was the soup course. I made a Roasted Garlic Soup for this course. I love roasted garlic soup. There is something so wondrous to me about taking sharp garlic and turning it into creamy soup.

Garlic Soup

Garlic Soup

After the soup came the salad. My friend Elizabeth actually put the whole salad together. I loved the look of this course – the green of the arugula, the red of the blood orange, and the white of the goat cheese croutons. Oh my! We topped it off with some pine nuts and a simple Cider Vinaigrette for a light finish.

The main

Arugula, Blood Orange Salad

Arugula, Blood Orange Salad

The main course was Zinfandel Short Ribs over Polenta. I put some ricotta in the polenta for creaminess.

Zinfandel Short Ribs

Zinfandel Short Ribs

By then we were pretty full on food, but we also had a cheese plate. For dessert we had chocolate mousse with chocolate covered strawberries. I ate my chocolate mousse before I snapped a picture of it. 15.02.14_0021

So, there you have my pictures of our lovely time. Hope you enjoyed!

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And bread to strengthen man’s heart: A time for feasting, part 2

Let’s talk baguette.

How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the sound of the crust. Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great breads sound this way.” (Colette, Ratatouille, Pixar, 2007)

A couple years ago I purchased a grand cookbook. Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. I bought it, I poured over the pages, I even tried some of the recipes. But it was the bread recipes that eluded me while sparking my imagination. The recipes are insanely detailed, down to a how-to on how to make an at-home steam generator.

The process for Demi-Baguette starts the night before you want the baguette. This recipe takes time, patience, and just straight-up following directions. The night before, you make the poolish. This is a water, wheat, and yeast mixture that will give flavor to the dough. This sits for 12-15 hours and gets all bubbly and alive.

The next morning, the dough process starts. The three stages are mixing, fermentation, and proofing. The fermentation process involves stretching and folding every hour for three hours. That is what makes the recipe a recipe that can be made while doing other things, but isn’t conducive to being out of the house for longer than an hour.

After the fermentation, comes the proofing – carefully folding the dough into shapes and letting them sit for a while, then making them into their loaf shapes and letting them sit. And, see, this is where my thinking got off. Because I thought that proofing meant rising. I made these little baguette shapes and kept waiting for them to rise. And waiting. And waiting. And after the time was up and they were supposed to go in the oven, I was stumped. I was so worried that I had done all this work and for all that I was going to get flat loaves of unimpressive baguette. But I put them into the oven and let bygones be bygones. And took up stock in Kleenex. (Okay, that last part was just dramatic. I didn’t actually cry).

Now comes the one difference to the recipe I made. The at-home steam generator kit in the book calls for rocks, a chain, and a water blaster. I don’t have that stuff sitting around, nor did I want to put up rocks and chains and insert them into my oven. So I tried a different trick. I can’t tell you how it worked compared to Keller’s fascinating idea, but I thought it worked for a lazy, more normal person. While the oven was pre-heating, I put a large cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven to warm up. When I put the loaves in the oven, I put some ice into the cast iron pan, causing steam to rise up. I got this from a different baguette recipe that was much easier and shorter, but didn’t produce wonderful results. But I liked the cast iron idea.

So I put the loaves in, left the kitchen, and returned about 10 minutes later, turned the oven light on, peered in, and squealed with joy. (That part isn’t dramatic. I might have had tears in my eyes at this point, actually). There in the oven, a wonderful thing had happened. The loaves had risen up and puffed out and were starting to look authentic. I added some more ice cubes to the skillet to produce some more steam and danced around the kitchen for a bit.

And then about 10 minutes later, out of the oven I pulled some beauties. I made these a day early, so on Saturday, I actually put them in the oven a bit more to harden up the edge which had softened in the plastic bag I put them in over-night. And when I cut into them, they had those wonderful holes and that yeasty taste and that verse from Psalm 104 is completely true.

Baguette

Baguette

I’d just like to add that maybe man can’t live on bread alone, but I think I could live a pretty happy existence with baguette and Brie.

Disclaimer: I’m sorry I’m not sharing a recipe with you. My typical policy is that I will share recipes that I have changed from the original, but I don’t like to post other people’s recipes when I just followed them. I highly recommend Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. I have loved the recipes I have made from it. Disclaimer over.

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A time for feasting, part 1

The end of most Januarys the thought hits me: Oh Crud. Next month is February. Hearts, red, pink, chocolate, here we come. Singleness Awareness Day.

This time, when the thought crossed my mind about the impending doom of February, an idea was born. Forged from the desire to give my single friends a special time to make them feel appreciated instead of feeling sorry for ourselves. Forged also from my own desire to plan and cook an elaborate meal. Because I like doing that.

So I set out to tell my single friends to book the evening and started dreaming of a menu. I knew I wanted to do something fancy. I looked up a traditional French course meal to see how many courses there are and the order of them. I ended up not making things that could completely be described as French, nor did I serve them in exactly the order one is supposed to, but it’s my party and I’ll do what I want. :)

Disclaimer: In order to talk about the different parts, I am going to divide these posts into different themes. This post will be about planning the party, the menu, and how it all went. Other posts will include more specifics on the actual dishes and maybe some recipes. Disclaimer over.

My plan did involve some simplicity, actually. (If you feel like that is crazy by the end of this post, you may feel free to tell me that in the comments) I knew that if I was going to pull off a 6 course meal, I would have to not over-do one single part of it so that I could actually make all those courses.

The first thing websites said about French meals is that you always have baguette available during the entire meal. Since I have been wanting to try out Thomas Keller’s recipe from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, I used this as my opportunity.

I decided that instead of doing the courses in the same order the French do, I would do more of an American take on it. According to the websites I read, the French actually have the salad course after the main dish. Well, that just went against everything I’ve thought about for a long time. So the courses I chose upon were:

  1. Appetizer
  2. Soup
  3. Salad
  4. Entree/Meat/Main Dish
  5. Cheese Plate
  6. Dessert

The first thing I really settled on was the main dish. A while ago I pinned a recipe for Zinfandel Short Ribs over Polenta that I’ve been wanting to try a while. Wintery Stew-like dishes are always so comforting. The second dish I settled on was the salad. A while ago my friend made a salad for a French 5 course meal we did, and I have loved it ever since. It was an arugula salad with goat cheese croutons that I loved. I’ve made it several times since, but this time I decided to do a take on it. So, I made an Arugula, Blood Orange, Pine Nut Salad with small Goat Cheese Croutons. The third dish I knew I wanted to do was Chocolate Mousse with Chocolate Covered Strawberries for dessert. I messed around for a while between Creme Brûlée and Chocolate Mousse and settled on mousse since it was Valentine’s Day. And because I like to have reasons to make chocolate covered strawberries. I’m pretty sure they are my love language. I also decided pretty quickly on what soup I would like to make. I flipped through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and found her Garlic Soup recipe, which sounded good to me. I ended up making a completely different recipe, but looking at hers was what got me started down that road.

The most difficult course for me to figure out what the appetizer course. I knew that I just wanted to have a small appetizer to whet the appetite, but I had no idea what. And then, one day, I created something in my little apartment kitchen that was so delicious, I wanted to find a way to re-create it for the appetizer. I made a garlic, butter, lemon shrimp pasta that somehow turned out beautifully one day. But turning it into something that could be an appetizer was hard. Pasta noodles aren’t exactly easy to eat. I finally settled on using tortellini. I just put a few on the plate with the shrimp and we had a small appetizer. My friend Elizabeth helped with the cheese course as well as a trip to Whole Foods.

So that was the menu! I loved thinking through all the different components and trying to find things that would go together. I wanted to keep the different parts light so no one would feel bloated by the end.

Prepping the table

Prepping the table

As I was dreaming about courses, I also was thinking through the decorations. Since I wanted to be an event where each girl felt special, I thought it would be fun to give each girl a little bouquet of flowers. If I was going to give each girl flowers, I figured I might as well use them to decorate the table with. Although it was designed to be a fancy affair, I didn’t want the decor to be too fancy or stiff, so I incorporated some mason jars along with tan linen napkins and a blue tablecloth.

A table setting

A table setting

Just another angle

Just another angle

Take home strawberries

Take home strawberries

I spent about a month dreaming about and planning this time. I spent part of Friday and Saturday preparing for it. I woke up Saturday morning with a blazing headache, worried everything would fall through because it hurt to think. But God was gracious and slowly took the headache away as I started gaining strength to work on what I had so long planned for.

This is my headache face.

This is my headache face.

Then 4:45 came and my friend Elizabeth arrived and helped me with the finishing touches of everything. Then 5:45 hit and the other girls arrived and we sat down to a wonderful time with friends. I am so thankful for the chance to share with these girls. Cooking for people and having them into my (parent’s) home is another one of my love languages (besides chocolate covered strawberries), and it was truly an honor and a gift to me to be able to share with my friends. There was honesty and food, laughter, listening to music, and after it was all over they stayed and helped with the worst part of any party: the dishes.

Ruth, Dani, and Bridget

Ruth, Dani, and Bridget

Elizabeth and I

Elizabeth and I

So here’s to the best Valentine’s Day yet. And to many more in the future!

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The Giver: Book and Movie review

A warning for all of you reading this: There are spoilers contained in this review. If you have not read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry, I suggest you not read the rest of this. If you haven’t seen the movie, it may be okay for you to read on. It all depends on whether you like special things to be told about things you haven’t seen yet. I don’t like that, so, if it were me, and I hadn’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t read on. Either way, that’s the end of my warning.

Somehow I managed to not read The Giver in high school. I did not read it till last summer, actually. I struggled when I read it with how sad the book is, and a general dislike of dystopian novels, but I did find that I liked it. As I have thought back on it over the year, I have liked it even more. Reading it is, in and of itself, a thrilling experience. You desperately long to know what happens – and then the end comes and you are left wondering what happened.

I love how strong the theme of life is in the book. Lowry seems to draw in on how important it is to preserve life – even life that is not deemed as “fit” by the society. The parallels she draws between war and death in the memories and release to elsewhere in the community are striking. When I read it, I remember being enthralled by the descriptions. Somehow in her writing, Lowry is able to make you feel as though you are experiencing things for the very first time with Jonas. It opened my eyes to the wonder in the world around me – to the grandeur of color, the wonder of snow, the tragedy of war, and the blessedness of life. But, the haunting parts about the book, to me, were the descriptions of pain. Just as I felt wonder and awe with Jonas about colors, so I also I felt the pain alongside him. When he felt pain, he understood why the elders had initiated sameness. He questions whether life and love and emotions are worth all the pain. I understand this question. I’ve questioned it myself. During the reading of the book, I found myself emotionally reacting to the pain alongside Jonas. Tears flowed freely from my eyes as I felt the stabs of pain with him.

I think my first reaction to knowing there would be a movie was, “Oh, why do they have to mess another great book up?” I vaguely remember a conversation with someone about it, actually. I have an intense dislike for movies made from great books in which they do not live up to the book itself. There are notable and amazing exceptions to that dislike (Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe), but there are also many more that I have disliked. When I heard that the movie came out and that it got some good reviews from places I trust (I’m talking to you, World Magazine), I got more interested in seeing the movie.

Like any movie based off of a book, there were differences between the book and movie. I’ll admit they are there, but I don’t want to dwell on them. I walked out of the theater amazed by how well the movie matched the overall feeling and theme of the book. I was even more amazed that the movie seemed to go even farther than the book. The book has a wonderful emphasis on life and love; the movie has more of an emphasis on love. It is an emphasis that I think is a completely acceptable one. The movie actually shows the gospel in a powerful way. Two lines are said very close to each other in time in the movie in a powerful way – a way that can open up conversations for the gospel.

At the very end of the movie, there is a tense scene in which The Giver (played by Jeff Bridges) is trying to plead with the elders, specifically with the “lead elder” (played by Meryl Streep, though the role is not in the book), to stop the release of a young girl. They are arguing about memories and whether they should be returned to the people. The lead elder thinks it is a bad idea. The Giver thinks it is a good idea. He makes some statements about love – explaining what it is, how it feels, and why it is important, and then says, “With love comes faith and hope.” Faith, hope, and love….the greatest of these is love. Faith, hope, and love – where do those three exist but in Scripture – In whom do they exist if not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Without love you cannot have faith and hope, and love is the everlasting one of the three. The boldness of Hollywood to leave a line in like that astounded me.

But it doesn’t stop there, as far as the gospel goes. It cannot, in fact, stop there. Or, to be more precise, it cannot start there. After a few more lines of dialogue, the lead elder makes a powerful statement. She said, “But people are weak. And when people have the chance to chose, they will always chose wrong.”

Re-read that for me and let it sink in just a bit.

“When people have the chance to chose, they will always chose wrong.”

Yes, Meryl. Yes they will. Always.

And that is why we humans need Love personified. That is why we need faith and hope. Because we have none in and of ourselves. If we only have ourselves to look to, we are doomed. That is a truth that must be addressed to present the person of Jesus Christ to a world without true love – a world without faith and hope and love.

So I walked out of the theater loving this little, short movie. I can find fault with it. But a movie that can say two statements of truth so close together while showing the blessedness of life? That is something I can and will support. In fact, I supported it so much I asked my parents to read the book and go see the movie with me again.

I’m headed off to a Bible study in a few minutes in which we will look at the Heidelberg Catechism. The first question is an apt ending to wrap up what I have (poorly) tried to say in this post.

“What is your only comfort in life and death?”

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

May God’s comfort in the person of Christ be your hope this week.

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