When our first grandchild was a year old, she and her parents visited us in Aspen. While Melissa and Stephen probably saw this as a vacation and relief from 24/7 parenting, I viewed their visit as an opportunity to introduce sweet Emma to our friends. I planned a party. To be truthful, I planned two parties, back-to-back, inviting forty guests to each.
Just the thought of that is now cringe-worthy.
Last week-end Melissa’s family came to Cambria to celebrate her 50th birthday, a definite make whoopee moment. The Central California coast is wine country, offering memorable dining experiences. To honor this special birthday, I envisioned an elegant evening at her favorite local restaurant with my additional make whoopee add-ons.
Readers, you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?
“No, Mom,” she said, quietly. “I want filets, roasted potatoes, green beans and salad. At home.”
All sorts of Buts in response to her request danced in my brain. This is a cottage not equipped for a party. The oven has only one rack. I don’t have fine china, champagne flutes or sterling silver nor a tablecloth and matching napkins. No ice cube maker. Small fridge. Could I even cobble together a matching set of dinnerware for 5? Yes, I answered myself, I’ve learned to grow where I’m planted. I can make this happen.
Luckily her birthday coincided with our bimonthly journey through David Lebovitz’s “My Paris Kitchen”. This week’s recipe choice, Steak with Mustard Butter and French Fries, would be good prep for the requested meal.(The recipe is below.)
Nothing says bistro classic like entrecôte (rib-eye) and pommes frites (french fries). That I could pull this together in my kitchen needing only a cast-iron grill pan purchased at Cambria Hardware and a grocery market cookie sheet seems amazing.
A flavor-packed, top-of-the-stove steak in the winter or if you have no outdoor grill, seals my bond with David. His french fries are baked in the oven but taste like the real deal. Magical. Not traveling in France this year? Open a bottle of good red wine, toss a warm baguette on the table with this classic duo à la Lebovitz and pretend.
It took two barnstorming trips through Michael’s craft store and Target for me to crank into party mode. After settling on a pink plastic tablecloth and big silver tinsel birthday banner, the decor started to pull, Gulp! Gulp!, together.
I bought 50 roses but had no container. Scrounging around the garage, I discovered a huge fish bowl, hosed it down, scrubbed it mightily and, voila, perfect. The champagne would need ice and a bucket. Three bags of ice solved one problem and a huge popcorn bowl hidden on a top cabinet shelf, another. The light over the table was unreliable, it blinked. God bless duct tape. The filets fit beautifully in my newly purchased grill pan. Since the one-rack oven was engaged, I created roasted potatoes in my slow cooker. The dinnerware didn’t match. We re-washed some forks.
The birthday cake. Since Melissa was born in Tallahassee I baked the classic southern Hummingbird Cake (recipe is below). Because they now live in the Eastern Sierras, the white frosting replicated those mountains. Admittedly, it took several guesses and clues for them to figure out that frosting/mountain thing.
My family has returned to Bishop. The birthday, well celebrated. The decorations, however, are still hanging, the pink plastic cloth, still in place. Whatever the reason, all this silly stuff seems good company and makes me happy. I can’t think of one reason to take it down.
STEAK with MUSTARD BUTTER by David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen
Two 8-ounce rib-eye steaks
1/2 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt, sea salt, or Kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil or clarified butter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
1. Pat the steaks dry and rub them with the salt, chipotle powder, and cilantro or parsley. Refrigerate the steaks, uncovered, for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
2. To make the mustard butter, mash together the butter with the mustard powder and the Dijon. Form it into two mounds and chill on a plastic wrap–lined plate.
3. Heat a little oil or clarified butter in a grill pan or cast-iron skillet and cook the steaks over high heat, being sure to get a good sear on each side. For rare steaks, cook 5 to 7 minutes total on both sides, or aller-retour (“to go and return”).
4. Remove the steaks from the pan and put on plates. Top each steak with a knob of the mustard butter and some ground black pepper and serve with a big pile of frites.
Author Notes: To make this bistro classic in my kitchen, I use a cast-iron skillet or grill pan that I get really hot, and then I sear the steak on both sides. David Lebovitz
NOTE: We cannot publish David’s recipes unless they are already on the Internet. If you want the recipe for Pommes Frites, find it on page 219 of My Paris Kitchen or e-mail me.
HUMMINGBIRD CAKE, Southern Living Magazine
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4 large)
1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple (do not drain)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed and softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 Tbsp. milk
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake chopped pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
2. Stir together flour and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Mix in 3 lightly beaten eggs and next 4 ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
4. Sprinkle 1 cup toasted pecans into a greased and floured 14-cup Bundt pan. Pour or spoon batter carefully over pecans.
5. Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
6. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 2 hours).
7. Prepare Glaze: Process cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 Tbsp. milk in a food processor until well blended. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time, processing until smooth. Immediately pour glaze over cooled cake, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup toasted pecans.
TIP: I used a 10-cup bundt pan and filled it 2/3 full. With the remaining batter, I baked muffins.
COOK-the-BOOK FRIDAYS is an international, on-line group cooking its way through David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. To see what we’re cooking or to join the group, go here.