Whipping up a little bistro style menu (whatever that means), sounds more like a threat than a friendly list of delicious food items, when I gather the family to make my announcement:
“Tonight, I will make a restaurant-quality meal, and you will see me do it! It will be crazy and tasty and everything you could possibly imagine and NOT imagine at the same time! (I’m waving my arms wildly now, while Nate and Alex watch me with caution, wondering if they should call family members who are doctors to ask, “off the record,” if this is normal behavior.) We’re gonna’ sit at the bar, here—the kitchen island—and I’ll do just like they do in the restaurants: I’LL SERVE ROLLS—HERBED ROLLS—FRESH OUT OF THE OVEN. THEN, YOU’LL GET A SALAD WITH PEARS AND CANDIED WALNUTS—I’M GONNA CANDY THE HECK OUT OF THOSE WALNUTS. AFTER A WHILE—MAYBE QUITE A WHILE—WHO KNOWS—I’M MAKING A CHICKEN MARSALA WITH HOMEMADE PASTA AND I’M USING THE FULL AMOUNT OF BUTTER AND OIL THAT NORMALLY GOES INTO A CHICKEN MARSALA. FOR DESSERT, WE’RE HAVING BREAD PUDDING!”
Nate: Wouldn’t bread pudding be a little heavy at the end? Could we just have peppermint ice cream for dessert?
Me: OKAY! BUT I MIGHT MAKE SOME BROWNIES TO GO WITH THE ICE CREAM. I JUST MIGHT!!!
Then, I pumped my fist in the air and ran to the grocery store to get all of the ingredients, but I was super exhausted by the time I got home.
“Okay,” I said to Nate and Alex. I will NOT make homemade pasta, but I will make everything else.”
Nate: Thank goodness. I think making homemade pasta would have been just the one thing that would push you over the edge—just a smidge.
To make this meal, I started at around 3 p.m. (Pacific Time) and ended at about 8 p.m. (Greenwich Mean Time).
I started with the brownies. The recipe I used is from this blog. Here is the link: Easter Bunny Parade Brownies
Then, I candied the walnuts. Nate and Alex took a walk outside, so there was no one to supervise me, and I nearly caught the pan on fire, but don’t tell Nate and Alex. (Based on several Internet searches, I discovered that candied walnuts are simple to make. Just place 1 cup of walnuts into a medium-sized pan, along with one tablespoon of butter, and ¼ cup of granulated sugar. Heat and stir constantly until the sugar dissolves. Transfer everything to wax paper and separate them out to harden/cool down.)
Next, Nate and Alex sat at the kitchen island and helped themselves to Ritz crackers and a leftover cheeseball, which was not on the menu, but oh, well. I was playing a very complicated role as a head chef/owner of a restaurant + a server, + a customer, so I decided I needed a drink. I put on my most unprofessional server’s hat and asked Nate (my customer) to get up from the barstool and pour me a glass of wine. And, I had the audacity to ask him which wine selections we had in the house—and to open the wine for me because I’m not very good at opening wine.
Here were the wine selections for the evening: ¼ of a bottle of red wine that had been left in the refrigerator for some reason (and for how long? I don’t know), followed by a 2017 red of some kind with a twist top. Both were delicious, though room-temperature red wine is better.
Once properly fueled with wine, I was able to get started on the rolls:
½ cup of sourdough starter
1 ¼ cup of lukewarm water
3 cups of flour
2-3 tablespoons of Italian herb mix (dried)
1 tsp of salt
Method: Whisk together the sourdough starter and water in a bowl. Combine the flour, herbs, and salt in another bowl. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix them gently with your hands. Let the mixture rest in a covered bowl for several hours. (I did this part shortly after lunch. Three to four hours later, I stretched the dough a little bit and then covered it back up.) Preheat the oven to 450. Shape the dough into balls and bake for 15 minutes. Serve with good quality olive oil, salt, and pepper.
With the rolls out of the oven, I could serve them, screaming hot, without any warning, except to say: We’ll eat these “rustic style,” by pulling them apart with our bare hands while steam peels away the first layer of skin from our fingers.
Did I clear the Ritz crackers dishes first? No! I told Nate and Alex to move everything out of the way, and then I made excuses for my rude behavior like this one: It’s my first day.
I also just started eating rolls with “the customers” because the rolls were really, really good. So puffy, so lovely, so herby, and sourghdoughy.
Basically, we really stuffed ourselves with rolls. A professional server would give the customers a little more time between courses, but I just did this: “Are you done eating rolls? Good. Here is a salad.”
The salad consisted of a bed of arugula, the candied walnuts, some sliced pears, feta cheese, and a simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a little bit of fresh garlic. Still wearing my professional server’s hat, I ate the salad with my customers and exclaimed, “And this, folks, is what a salad tastes like!”
(It was scrumptious. Five hundred thousand stars good.)
After a little more wine, I remembered to take away the bread and salad plates and just dump them in the sink so that I could make the chicken marsala. It also occurred to me that I should tell the customers how long the wait would be between courses. (I told them maybe 30 minutes, but it was probably more like an hour. However, Nate and Alex didn’t complain because they needed some time to digest the cheese ball they’d eaten, along with Ritz crackers, several rolls, and a salad.)
–Pound four boneless, skinless chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap.
–Mix ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp of dried oregano and ¼ cup of flour.
–Place the chicken and flour mixture into a large plastic baggie and shake well to coat the chicken.
–Boil some fettuccine pasta (half a box) in salted water—about 12 minutes or so. Drain/keep warm.
–Heat 4 tablespoons of butter in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet.
–Add a tablespoon of minced shallots and a teaspoon fresh garlic.
–Cook the chicken breasts in the oil/butter mixture to brown. Finish them off in a 450 oven for about 8 minutes.
–Add ¾ cup of good, dry marsala wine to the butter/oil mixture that the chicken was in.
–Add one cup of sliced baby portabella mushrooms.
–Let the sauce thicken.
Make a separate sauce for the fettuccini:
–Mix 1 tablespoon of butter + 1 tablespoon of olive oil + 1 tablespoon of flour in a large skillet. Add in ½ cup of marsala wine + minced shallots (tablespoon) + a tsp of minced fresh garlic. –Add the pasta to the pan and coat the strands with the sauce.
Serve the chicken over the pasta. Pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Sprinkle fresh parsley on top.
Halfway through cooking, I alerted my dinner guests that the trash was getting rather full and stinky and that I’d need help taking the garbage out. Again, not very professional of me, but I couldn’t just let my guests sit at the table with garbage that was stinking—and I thought I should let them know about this issue.
When it was time to finally eat, I told everyone to move from the bar to the dining room—and also to set the table.Results: The meal was tasty—exactly what we’d expect from a restaurant, though the service was lacking a bit and I did force dessert on everyone—even though they were stuffed.
Me: Next, we have dessert.
Nate and Alex: Umm, I don’t think I have room.
Me: Here’s dessert!
Also, I used just about every dish in the house, so there was a lot to clean up, but the customers were good sports and helped me load the dishwasher. I can’t wait to carry out my next threat/menu. I think I WILL make Caribbean style shrimp and black beans, and I WILL deep fry some yucca, if I can get my sourdough-burnt hands on some.
In Other News: Here’s my review of wine-in-a-can for Daily Drunk literary magazine. Enjoy: House Wine Limited Edition Rosé Bubbles in a Can.
Your Turn: What is your favorite restaurant meal to make at home?