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Shaya

Birthday Dinner from French Laundry

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I wanted to do something special to mark my birthday this year. The actual day was two weeks ago but this weekend I have three couples coming over to extend the celebrations with me. I was originally going to serve a multi-course Italian menu, which is right up my alley and has become second nature over the past two or three years. Then for father's day we made an amazing meal featuring lobster - it was cut up still live, pan-roasted and flambeed with cognac. This got me thinking about changing my menu for the dinner. Here is the lobster dinner from the other night:

gallery_41870_2503_53631.jpg

Lobster is very popular in my neck of the woods, but it is most often served boiled, which leaves the meat tasty but tough. There is something about cooking lobster very gently that brings out the best in its texture. My husband and I first experienced this at the French Laundry, where we had it poached in butter. Even though we had both been eating lobster for all our lives, we realized we had never truly enjoyed it as much as we did that day. I would love to share this with a few close friends.

So I turned to my as-yet-unused copy of the French Laundry Cookbook and came up with a menu that I would like to serve for my birthday dinner. It is a bit ambitious, to be sure, but my husband will deal with dissecting the lobsters, which in itself is very time-consuming.

One of the guests is a friend who has cooked with me many times before. We produced a 15-dish tapas party in February, over the course of 2 days of cooking. She is ready to help me prep on the last day, and also to help plate. I have also thought of getting someone to come and do the dishes as we go along because I usually find myself rinsing dishes while tending to the following course. Any advice on this?

My kids are home from school this week so I don't have oodles of free time but I do have a few hours alone on Thursday and I have the next three evenings.

So here is my menu, and I would love any comments from people who have been through the process before. My biggest questions relate to what can I prep in advance to minimize work on the actual day/night. Thanks for all your input!

Canapes:

Gruyere Cheese Gougeres p. 48

- can I prepare the batter on Thursday and pipe and bake Saturday evening?

Bacon and Eggs p. 18

- eggs and brunoise can be poached well in advance

- beurre monte - how far in advance of service can I prep this (hours, minutes...)?

First Course

Fava Bean Agnolotti with Curry Emulsion p.80

- I made the agnolotti last night, they are cooling their heels in the freezer; I think I have to boil these last minute, but I can do that while people are milling about with canapes and cocktails

- how far in advance can I prepare the curry emulsion? Can I make it Thursday and reheat Saturday night or will it break and not heat up nicely?

Fish

"Macaroni and Cheese" Butter Poached Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth p.132

- lobster, lobster broth, coral oil will be prepped Thursday night

- Parmesan crisps can supposedly be held in a container for two days - has anyone had any success in doing this? The one time I made them they lost their luster after they cooled down

- beurre monte - same question as before, how far in advance can this be made?

- I plan to cook the orzo earlier in the day and hold it in the lobster broth until service (but probably in the fridge as the broth contains cream)

Cheese

Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete p.238 - brie will be whipped and refrigerated on Thursday

- port reduction also on Thursday

- when would the baguette toasts best be made...is Friday night ok?

- can I plate in advance and hold in the fridge?

Dessert

Lemon Sabayon Pinenut Tart with Honeyed Mascarpone p.294

- tart crust and filling will be made and baked Thursday, into the fridge until service

- can I make the mascarpone cream Thursday and hold it in the fridge?

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Happy Birthday Shaya.. I have not made any of the recipes you are speaking about but, I knows about the Beurre Monte.. Its really such a simple thing.. Dont worry about it.. Its adding a few drops of water and then melting butter into it creating an emulsion.. Just make it and the morning or day of.. If it breaks, fix it.. Its pretty simple..

In terms of the curry emulsion, if you have a hand blender, I think a few spins around would bring it back to normal..

In terms of when to make a toast for the Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete.. Just throw some toasts in the oven 10 minutes before.. I have played around with how to serve toasts and its always better moments before..

Good luck, happy birthday and lets see some photos!


Edited by Daniel (log)

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Shaya,

I cannot help you with the recipes as I've never cooked them before (and would be scared to), all I can say is: if you can YES please bring in a helper, someone who´s not a guest at the table, someone to do the little things for you, clear the table do the dishes whatever.. I think that will let you keep your sanity and enjoy the evening!!

Good luck and I can´t wait to see the results! (you could ask you helper to take the pics too.. you will probably be too busy :smile: )

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With that much forethought and prep work, I think you could easily pull off that menu by yourself, no help needed. You have already done the complicated stuff, mapping out the whole dinner in your head.

Remember that it is actually ok to have the guests wait for a little while for the next course. Talk a little, finish their wine etc. That happens even in three star restaurants.

You won't bee seen much in the dining room, but that can't be avoided.

(The most I've pulled off from TFL Cookbook is two courses in a single day, but then I started shopping ingredients mid day saturday and served saturday evening, with a simpler main course in between. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/26839885@N08/ for photos)

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with the gougeres, make the batter, pipe it and freeze it unbaked (any time before the event). you can bake them out of the freezer (maybe give them ten minutes at room temp). it won't work the same if you just refrigerate it and likely the flour will discolor if left in the fridge.

if your parmesan crisps lost their luster after cooling, then they weren't baked enough. there is a fine line between baking them enough for them to stay crisp and having them be a bit bitter from overbaking. just keep an eye on them and make sure you make them thin enough. they can be okay for a day or two, but you might want to keep them on some dessicant/limestone. in an airtight container wrapped with plastic wrap.

you might want to undercook the orzo a little as you're storing it and reheating it in a liquid (but with all the italian food you prepare, you already knew that :wink: ).

the baguette crisps can be made ahead and stored airtight. i don't think i'd assemble and refrigerate because you risk the crisps becoming sogs.

now that i think about all of this advice, i should probably take a look at the actual recipes, eh?

edited to add: by the way, i think you can do this without any problems. besides, don't you have two of the most capable and adorable prep cooks around?


Edited by alanamoana (log)

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Happy Birthday Shaya.. I have not made any of the recipes you are speaking about but, I knows about the Beurre Monte..  Its really such a simple thing.. Dont worry about it..  Its adding a few drops of water and then melting butter into it creating an emulsion.. Just make it and the morning or day of.. If it breaks, fix it.. Its pretty simple..

In terms of the curry emulsion, if you have a hand blender, I think a few spins around would bring it back to normal..

In terms of when to make a toast for the Whipped Brie de Meaux en Feuillete.. Just throw some toasts in the oven 10 minutes before.. I have played around with how to serve toasts and its always better moments before..

Good luck, happy birthday and lets see some photos!

Thanks Daniel. That's good advice from someone who's become a pro at cooking for entertaining purposes; I need a fair amount of beurre montee for this menu and it's something I haven't play with much before.

I'm aiming to have good photos to show you all, of course!

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Shaya,

I cannot help you with the recipes as I've never cooked them before (and would be scared to), all I can say is: if you can YES please bring in a helper, someone who´s not a guest at the table, someone to do the little things for you, clear the table do the dishes whatever.. I think that will let you keep your sanity and enjoy the evening!!

Good luck and I can´t wait to see the results! (you could ask you helper to take the pics too.. you will probably be too busy  :smile:  )

also, you might find pointers on those recipes in this blog French Laundry at Home, she´s been cooking everything from that book..

Thanks Chufi. I really would like to have a helper. I don't think I'm going to find anyone who will be able to watch the food while I eat, or even who will be able to plate with me, but just to have someone looking after dirty dishes would be a big help.

I saw the blog you are referring to, it is remarkable. I think I had it in the back of my mind when I came up with this menu.

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With that much forethought and prep work, I think you could easily pull off that menu by yourself, no help needed. You have already done the complicated stuff, mapping out the whole dinner in your head.

Remember that it is actually ok to have the guests wait for a little while for the next course. Talk a little, finish their wine etc. That happens even in three star restaurants.

You won't bee seen much in the dining room, but that can't be avoided.

(The most I've pulled off from TFL Cookbook is two courses in a single day, but then I started shopping ingredients mid day saturday and served saturday evening, with a simpler main course in between. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/26839885@N08/ for photos)

Those are gorgeous photos, Swede. thanks for the vote of confidence. I have to recognize that the guests can wait for their next course. My husband will be good about keeping them entertained and keeping their wine glasses full. I hope I can at least get to sit down and eat each course with the guests...

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with the gougeres, make the batter, pipe it and freeze it unbaked (any time before the event).  you can bake them out of the freezer (maybe give them ten minutes at room temp).  it won't work the same if you just refrigerate it and likely the flour will discolor if left in the fridge.

if your parmesan crisps lost their luster after cooling, then they weren't baked enough.  there is a fine line between baking them enough for them to stay crisp and having them be a bit bitter from overbaking.  just keep an eye on them and make sure you make them thin enough.  they can be okay for a day or two, but you might want to keep them on some dessicant/limestone.  in an airtight container wrapped with plastic wrap.

you might want to undercook the orzo a little as you're storing it and reheating it in a liquid (but with all the italian food you prepare, you already knew that  :wink: ).

the baguette crisps can be made ahead and stored airtight.  i don't think i'd assemble and refrigerate because you risk the crisps becoming sogs.

now that i think about all of this advice, i should probably take a look at the actual recipes, eh?

edited to add: by the way, i think you can do this without any problems.  besides, don't you have two of the most capable and adorable prep cooks around?

Thanks for all the advice. So you are sure that the gougeres will bake just fine from the freezer?

I'm good on the orzo front, it's the only component of the whole menu that I'm totally comfortable with, as you have guessed.

The parm crisps do make me nervous. I've experienced them bitter as well, and really did not enjoy them. I've almost thought of substituting the pommes maxims, but I'll make the crisps tomorrow and see how they hold up the following 2 days.

As for my sous chefs, they will be around to help mom with the prep, but they will be disappointed to learn they will not be at the table for the main event. :shock:

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So the house is empty for a few hours, and I'm ready to go. I have a long list, I'll see how much of it I can get through and will report back later. I had a moment of wondering whether the pinenuts should be toasted for the pine-nut crust, but I've rationalized that there is no need as they will get "toasted" so to speak when the crust gets baked.

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I am sorry forthe late reply. You may want to hold off marscapone cream until the day of. I baked a bunch of these for a church fancy dinner one time and the cream made in advance picked up an off smell and flavor in the fridge even though in an air tight container.

I have made these recipies before. Not all at once. The mac & cheese, gougeres and tart were on the same menu. Someone with you chops will handle it just fine.

I envy your guest they are in for a nice time.

Cheers!


**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

--------------------

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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I am sorry forthe late reply. You may want to hold off marscapone cream until the day of. I baked a bunch of these for a church fancy dinner one time and the cream made in advance picked up an off smell and flavor in the fridge even though in an air tight container.

I have made these recipies before. Not all at once. The mac & cheese, gougeres and tart were on the same menu. Someone with you chops will handle it just fine.

I envy your guest they are in for a nice time.

Cheers!

Oops. I just finished making the mascarpone cream and packed it away in the fridge. Thanks for the heads up, I'll makes sure to give it the taste test Sat morning just in case.

Have you tried to make the gougeres batter ahead of time and freeze it?

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I am sorry forthe late reply. You may want to hold off marscapone cream until the day of. I baked a bunch of these for a church fancy dinner one time and the cream made in advance picked up an off smell and flavor in the fridge even though in an air tight container.

I have made these recipies before. Not all at once. The mac & cheese, gougeres and tart were on the same menu. Someone with you chops will handle it just fine.

I envy your guest they are in for a nice time.

Cheers!

Oops. I just finished making the mascarpone cream and packed it away in the fridge. Thanks for the heads up, I'll makes sure to give it the taste test Sat morning just in case.

Have you tried to make the gougeres batter ahead of time and freeze it?

No I made these the morning of. Pure cowardess on my part, I am afriad to make too much ahead.


**************************************************

Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

--------------------

One summers evening drunk to hell, I sat there nearly lifeless…Warren

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Hey Swede, are you doing all of those items at home or do you cook for a living.

Very nice looking plates.

What was in the yogurt ravioli?


-------------------------

Water Boils Roughly

Cold Eggs Coagulating

Egg Salad On Rye

-------------------------

Gregg Robinson

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You can also bake the gougeres ahead of time and reheat

as far as the cheese course, i whipped the cheese ahead of time (earlier in the day) but did not refrigerate, you want it to be soft. If you do refrigerate, bring out and let soften a bit before plating

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You can also bake the gougeres ahead of time and reheat

as far as the cheese course, i whipped the cheese ahead of time (earlier in the day) but did not refrigerate, you want it to be soft.  If you do refrigerate, bring out and let soften a bit before plating

Thanks ErikaK. I thought of baking the gougeres ahead and reheating. I am wavering now on which make-ahead method would work better. I have the batter all made and waiting in the fridge until I feel comfortable one way or the other.

Good advice for the cheese. Did you have any trouble forming the quenelles? It seems to me it would be easier done if the cheese was chilled?

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Good advice for the cheese. Did you have any trouble forming the quenelles? It seems to me it would be easier done if the cheese was chilled?

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Hey Swede, are you doing all of those items at home or do you cook for a living.

Very nice looking plates.

What was in the yogurt ravioli?

Thanks for the compliment! I'm only an amateur (although I do have a little culinary school, basic cusine from LCB in London).

The yoghurt ravioli was only a technical experiment, not a complete dish. It is just plain yoghurt (reverse) spherified in alginate. Yoghurt and other dairy products have enough calcium to naturally spherify in alginate which is pretty cool.

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Yesterday was extremely productive. I spent a few hours doing some preparation during the day, and last night my husband and I worked on the lobsters, coral oil and lobster broth.

I also contacted our old babysitter (who is actually young, in her twenties...) and she is free to help me with service and dishewashing for the night of the party. She has been working as a waitress for the past 2 years, so I think she will work out really well. I am very happy about this development.

Here are some photos of the progress so far.

I started off working on the Lemon Sabayon Tart. The recipe was very straight forward and the lemon cream tasted amazing when it was done. I was grateful that I didn't have to whisk in quite as much butter as I had when I made Pierre Herme's Tarte au Citron! I also made the honeyed mascarpone cream but will monitor its freshness tomorrow, just in case...

Whisking butter into Sabayon

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Assembled Tart

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Browned Tart

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Next onto Brunoise for the bacon and eggs. Since I have no mandoline I did it all by hand, which was fairly easy, only time consuming.

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Here is the Brie being prepped to be whipped in the mixer:

gallery_41870_2503_49990.jpg

I also made the curry emulsion for the agnolotti, which is really smooth and silky, lovely. My only question is that I don't think there is enough of it to coat all the agnolotti. I made 72 and made 1.5 times the recipe for the sauce. I was going to divide the 72 between the guests and the waitress (8 each) but now I am thinking either I need to make another batch or serve fewer pieces per guest. Has anyone else run into this problem?

I made the batter for the gougere, it's still in the fridge, which I don't think is doing it any good. I baked off two last night and one puffed up nicely but one did not. I put them into an airtight container overnight, and this morning they were completely soggy. We have a lot of humidity where I live, so I think pre-baking and reheated is not a good idea. Today I may bring the batter up to room temperature, put it back into the mixer, pipe it and freeze as alanamoana originally suggested. I only hope they will puff up if baked from the freezer.

More to come on the lobster prep - what a gorgeous preparation Thomas Keller outlines. Even my husband, who has been dealing with dissecting lobster for much of his adult life, was impressed with the details of this process.


Edited by Shaya (log)

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"Macarone and Cheese" Prep

The master at work:

gallery_41870_2503_170936.jpg

Blanching the Lobsters - total of two minutes in a pot of water that has been boiled

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Claws then go in for five more minutes

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Glorious Lobster Meat - Bodies and Claws

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My husband bought two females and two males. One of the females had a glorious roe...although it took us awhile to figure it out. The are two slimy green parts to a lobster; one is the tomaley, the other, a darker green, is the roe. We had a perfect example hanging out of the tail of one of the females, but didn't realize it at first. I knew from a Julia Child episode from childhood that when the roe is "cooked" it turns from a nasty-green to a beautiful red. So I threw some of the green substance onto the frying pan and voila, it turned perfectly red.

The roe goes into a blender on low speed with some hot canola oil for 20 minutes (!) with the goal of producing a Coral Oil. Ideally the friction from the blender helps the green color convert to red. Since I don't have a blender I used the cuisinart and the hand immersion blender, but after 10 minutes I started to worry about the color, which just kept going darker and darker green.

Raw Roe

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So I put the oil and roe onto the pan for a few moments of heat, got my nice red color, and continued to process so that the color and flavor infused into the oil. The result: gorgeous red oil. I did not follow the French Laundry tradition of straining the oil 20 times, but I did strain it 6 or 7 times to get it as clear as possible.

Coral Oil

gallery_41870_2503_44603.jpg

And what about those knuckles, you might ask? Well by 11pm it was time for the cooks to have dinner, so we tested the beurre montee method and heated them up; had them alongside some tuna sashimi my husband had picked up at the seafood counter.

Dinner for the Cooks

gallery_41870_2503_201978.jpg

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Next I will take a moment to discuss the creamy lobster broth that is made from the bodies and legs.

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How did it all go? I'm dying to see some pictures  :smile:

I am so sorry to leave you egulleters hanging. Unbelievably our computer's hard drive went up in smoke on Monday morning. :wacko: It is at the repair shop now and hopefully they will be able to retrieve my files and I will be up and running with a full report this weekend.

Just to let you know briefly...the dinner was incredible, a big success and a lot of fun. I have lots of photos and descriptions, to be continued...

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I am happy to be back on cyberspace and have just uploaded the software I need so I can show some photos from the dinner. Thank you for your patience.

In all I spent about 7-8 hours in the kitchen that first day of prep, including two in the evening with my husband prepping the lobster. So far that makes 10 hours.

The following day (Friday) I was with the kids and got absolutely nothing done until after they were in bed, in all about 1 1/2 hours in the kitchen.

First I reduced some port down from two cups to 1/4 cup; this would become the drizzle on the plate with the whipped brie.

I also poached the quail eggs. It was an interesting exercise, trying to cut open the tops of those little guys, to make an opening large enough for the egg to slip out undamaged, but not so large as to lose some of the precious liquid egg. They were easy to poach, and after they rested in an ice bath I trimmed off the edges so they were nice and smooth.

Raw Quail Eggs

gallery_41870_2503_16616.jpg

Poached Untrimmed Quail Eggs

gallery_41870_2503_119573.jpg

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Saturday, the day of the party, I went to the farmer's market in search of some mache to serve alongside the whipped brie. Alas, mache season is long gone. I bought some pea shoots and some mesclun that was freshly picked and somewhat baby, once I picked through it. It would have to do. Sure enough when I tasted the pea shoots I realized they were over-mature, far too tough to serve, so I decided to go with the mesclun mix alone. I did spend a bit of time on this detail as I knew many of my guests would be awaiting a "salad" course after the line of rich, cheesy, creamy textures in the preceding courses.

I also picked up these gorgeous peonies from the market. I was very happy to find them. Not only are they gorgeous flowers, and my favorite color, but my Mom always had peonies in the house for my birthday since June is the perfect month for them.

gallery_41870_2503_95660.jpg

Later one of the guests would bring me this gorgeous collection of locally picked flowers.

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I then typed up a menu and made a copy to put at each place setting.

gallery_41870_2503_76065.jpg

I then made the Parmesan Crisps. They turned out perfectly, not bitter, nice and lacy and crispy. I followed Keller's instructions to the letter. The last time I made them, just by ad-libbing, they were far too thick and overcooked. It never ceased to amaze me, throughout this process, just how precise the directions are in this book.

Parmesan Crisps for "Macaroni and Cheese"

gallery_41870_2503_98499.jpg

With most of the cooking prep work out of the way, it was time for the all-important: send the kids over to grandma's for the night, and get the table set. Stemware and glassware had to be gathered, counted and polished - this is always my husband's domain.

As soon as my helper arrived, I had her help me with the beurre monte. She was enthralled with the process. I then checked on the curry emulsion that I had made two days earlier; it was perfect. I left it to my helper to tend to these two sauces for the night, and she really kept a close eye on them. I also walked her through the various pots and tupperwares - all of which I had labeled, and I had also mapped out the usage for each of my burners so she would know what to put where while we were eating. It was my goal to spend as much time with the guests as possible. And overall I was quite successful.

On with the meal!

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