A Summer Birthday Bistro Style

Next week is my birthday. Traditionally, we’ve gone to the same wonderful Italian Restaurant for dinner. The food is delicious. While not a “fancy” place, we’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere, the service and the people. Unfortunately, our little place closed a few years back. So much for traditions.

Hubby knew I have a weakness for French Food. We hadn’t been to a good French Bistro in years, so two years ago he surprised me with dinner at a very small, very intimate French Restaurant. This quaint bistro is in a renovated bungalow with seating for no more than 30 guests total. As you can imagine, the service was over the top. If it weren’t for the fact that you could see the other patrons, it was like having a private dinner party with your own wait staff. While the meal was to-die-for (one of the top ten in the nation), I truly missed my little casual Italian Supper Club. Besides, I’ve reached an age when getting all dressed up for a nice meal requires more effort than necessary. I adore the idea of a gourmet meal that I can eat in my pajamas.

The following year, I cooked my own Italian Supper Club Extravaganza. The best thing about making your own birthday supper is that you get exactly what you want, prepared exactly as you like it. The fact that you can show up in your pajamas is just an added bonus. (Confession time – I did not wear pajamas. We had a multi-course supper with family where I served up all my favorite Italian dishes).

This year, I’m doing my own thing again – more of my favorite foods made with a little love and a lot of flair. Since it will be a small, intimate affair, I might just turn our back patio into a street-side cafe. I will admit, I tossed around the idea of adding a few more recipes to create a full six-course supper, only because the idea of a four-course meal was making the traditionalist in me a little nuts. Three, that’s typical when dining out. Six, that’s a simple yet elegant affair. Twelve is definitely first class – as in Titanic. I’ve even created menus with as many as twenty-one courses, but that’s just plain nuts.

Bistro Style Birthday Menu
First Course
Crab & Cucumber Canapés
Second Course
Filet Mignon with Brandy Cream & Peppercorns
Asparagi all’agro (Asparagus with Lemon and Olive Oil)
Third Course
Compressed Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese
Fourth Course
Mousse au Chocolat


First Course – Seafood Appetizer

Crab and Cucumber Canapes

Crab & Cucumber Canapés
1 lb. fresh lump crab meat, picked over for shell fragments
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1 shallot, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Sea salt, to taste
1 English cucumber
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Dill or fennel flowers for garnish (optional)

In a bowl, stir together the crabmeat, mayonnaise, celery, chives, shallot, lemon juice and salt.

Slice the cucumber thinly on the diagonal. Place a dollop of the crab mixture on top of each cucumber slice, sprinkle with the paprika and garnish with flowers. Arrange on a platter and serve immediately.


Second Course – Steak and Asparagus

Filet Mignon with Brandy Cream and Peppercorns
6 Filet Mignon 3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons of ketchup
3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
5 drops of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of green peppercorns
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup of brandy
1/2 cup of whipping cream
Salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and green peppercorns. Set aside until ready to use.

Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add Filet Mignon Steaks and sear for about 2 minutes on each side. (If necessary, work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan).

Remove steaks and set aside. Cover with an inverted metal bowl or tent to keep warm.

Add brandy and deglaze skillet by stirring the bottom of the pan. Add ketchup-mustard mixture and cream, mix well.

Return steaks to the skillet. Season with a pinch of salt and continue to cook until medium-rare, about 6 to 8 minutes, turning once midway through.

Plate Filet Mignon Steaks individually and spoon pan sauce over steaks just before serving.

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asparagus cooker
Asparagus Steamer

Asparagi all’agro (Asparagus with Lemon and Olive Oil)
Asparagus
2 bunches of asparagus
1 Pinch Salt
Lemon wedges or slices

Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing
1/2 cup best quality olive oil
Freshly squeezed juice of one medium lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Garlic Cloves, minced

In a four-cup measuring cup, whisk together all the ingredients for the Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing. Set aside until ready to use.

Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. If using the thicker variety of asparagus, peel each spear starting from just below the tips all the way down the spear. Tie all the asparagus spears together into a bunch with some butcher’s string.

Place bundled asparagus, tips pointing up, into the basket of the asparagus steamer and set aside.

Add enough water to asparagus steamer to bring level to about 1 1/2 inches. Add a generous pinch of sea salt or Kosher Salt. Place cooker over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Carefully lower basket into asparagus steamer and cover.

Steam the asparagus for about 5 minutes or so, until just tender. Remove the basket from the steamer, and let the asparagus drain on a plate on the counter.

Arrange asparagus on a serving platter, layering if necessary. Whisk the dressing one more time to blend, pour over asparagus. Garnish with lemon wedges or slices and serve warm.


Third Course – Refreshing Salad

water-melon-salad

Compressed Watermelon and Tomato Salad
1 small seedless watermelon
16 small tomatoes, assorted colors
3 oz Goat Cheese, crumbled
4 Basil Leaves, cut into narrow strips
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper
Sea Salt to taste

Cut one end off the watermelon. (You want to begin working with a watermelon that has a flat; even end). Discard end slice or nibble on it while you work.

Cut round disk from remaining watermelon about 1 inch thick. Remove rind. Using a small shot glass, cut 8 circles from watermelon.

Place circles into a vacuum seal bag. Seal according to manufacturer’s directions.

Cut second round disk from watermelon.  Again, cut 8 small circles from watermelon disk and seal in a vacuum seal bag.

Place vacuum sealed bags into the freezer for at least 3 hours. (Note: if bag is not gently compressing watermelon, place a pie tin on top of bag. Place a bag of frozen vegetables on pie tin to compress watermelon).

Once compressed; remove from freezer and let thaw. Keep chilled in refrigerator. You want the melon crisp-cold but not frozen.

When ready to serve, slice small tomatoes (grape size) in half. Stack fresh basil and roll tightly, creating a cigar-shape. Cut basil width-wise to shred into very narrow strips.

Place four watermelon circles on the center of four well-chilled salad plates.

Place tomato halves around watermelon in a pretty arrangement.

Sprinkle each plate with a little goat cheese. Scatter basil around plate..

Drizzle each salad with a little balsamic vinegar. Season with fresh pepper and a pinch of salt. Serve and enjoy.


Fourth Course – Dessert

chocolate_mousse_in_minutes_1980x1320-117905-1

Mousse au Chocolat
8 ounces good quality semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, at room temperature
whipped cream (optional)

Note: Of all my Mousse recipes, this is by far the simplest – two ingredients, with the option of adding a third. It is straightforward and unassuming. Just remember to use a gentle hand and enjoy its simple perfection.

Slowly melt the chocolate in a double boiler. The top of the double boiler should be just above the water and the water should be at a simmer, not boiling.

Separate the egg yolks and whites into two large clean bowls. Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

Allow the chocolate to cool just slightly then stir the melted chocolate into the egg yolks, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth.

Stir one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and mix until thoroughly blended. Using a sharp-edged spatula, carefully fold the rest of the egg whites into the mixture.

Spoon the mousse into individual parfait glasses, chill and serve with whipped cream if you wish.

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What do you like for your birthday? Dining out? Dining in? Let’s chat a moment . . .

Author: Rosemarie's Kitchen

I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and avid home cook.I believe in eating healthy whenever possible, while still managing to indulge in life's pleasures.

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