Monday, July 18, 2011

A Dinner to Remember, Plus Things I Want to Forget...

I think we all have this problem that I continually find myself having. Gift finding and gift giving. I love giving people meaningful gifts or at least gifts that someone will actually enjoy and actually use, but for someone like your father or mother, after 22 years of giving them gifts multiple times in the year, it gets well hard...

I cannot for the life of me think of what to get my dad anymore, so for the past couple years, it's become a tradition to just cook an extravagant, coursed meal. Anyways, isn't a great meal shared between loved ones the greatest gift of all?

First, we started off with appetizers. I looked no further than Smitten Kitchen for inspiration. She makes the best things, and I can always trust her when she tells me that I have to make something. Everything has always reached expectations. These eggplant salad toasts and creamed mushroom toasts were excellent in every way. Easy, simple to prepare and delicious. The eggplant was deliciously smokey from the roasting and the feta added this nice bit of zippy tang. The creamed mushroom was decadent and awesomely creamy, we could not get enough of either!

Eggplant Salad Toasts
Yields: about 8 toasts
Original recipe here.

1 medium eggplant, about 3/4 lb., cut into 1/2" cubes
2 tbsn. olive oil, plus more for oiling baking sheet
1/4 tsp. salt
hfreshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 scallion, thinly sliced
8 1/2" thick slices of baguette, brushed with olive oil
1 small clove garlic, peeled and halved

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet, set aside. toss the eggplant, olive oil, salt and a generous amount of black pepper together in a medium bowl until evenly coated. Spread on the prepared baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, moving pieces around occasionally so they evenly brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and toss in the vinegar, feta and scallion. Broil or toast the baguette slices then rub them with a garlic clove, top with the warm eggplant salad and enjoy!

Creamed Mushrooms on Chive-Butter Toast
Yields: 4 servings
Original recipe here.

1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms
2 tbsn. unsalted butter, more for toast
1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped
2 tbsn. dry white wine or white vermouth
1/4 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
slices brioche or good white bread, crusts cut off if desired
1 tbsn. fresh chopped chives
coarse sea salt, for garnish

Clean any excess dirt from the mushrooms, then slice in half lengthwise and brush away any grit. Chop into 1/4" pieces. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the shallots and saute until very limp, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the wine, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook, for about 5 minutes more. Uncover the pot and continue cooking, siring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream, simmer until slightly thickened, 2 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toast the bread and spread with butter. Cut each slice diagonally and sprinkle lightly with chives. Top each toast with some of the mushroom mixture, sprinkle with additional chives, garnish with sea salt and enjoy!

For our main course, we decided to make lamb kabobs. Lamb isn't something we eat often, so when we eat it, you know it's a celebration! This lamb was easy to prepare, and although it is kind of a pain to heat up the grill to cook them, it's well worth the process. The stunner of this entree was definitely the couscous though. This couscous is something I will make over and over and over again because it's beyond simple and quick to prepare the and flavor is DIVINE. I wrote that in all caps because I was blown away by how delicious this couscous was! The sauce, simple though it looks, was really great too.

Lamb Kabobs with Couscous
Yields: 4 - 6 servings
Original recipe here.

For the kabobs:
lbs. top round lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsn. minced fresh rosemary leaves
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
good olive oil
1/4 cup dry red wine 
2 tbsn. red wine vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 - 3 small red onions
2 pints cherry tomatoes

For the sauce:
1/2 cup good chicken stock
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 tbsn. freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the couscous with pine nuts:
4 tbsn. unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped shallots (3 - 4 shallots)
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups couscous
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tbsn. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cut the lamb into 1 1/2" cubes - you should have about 20 cubes. Combine the garlic, rosemary, thyme, 1/4 cup olive oil, red wine, vinegar and 1 tsp. salt in a medium bowl. Add the lamb cubes, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for up to 2 days. Toss occasionally. Heat a grill with coals. Spread them out in one dense layer and brush the grill with oil. Cut the red onions in quarters and separate each quarter into 3 or 4 sections. Loosely thread 3 - 4 pieces of lamb onto the skewers, alternately with sections of the onion. Sprinkle both sides of the lamb with salt and pepper. Next, place the cherry tomatoes on the skewers, threading them through the stems of the tomatoes. Brush the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Place the lamb skewers on the hot grill and cook for 10 - 15 minutes, turning 2 - 3 times until the lamb is medium-rare. Approximately 5 minutes before the lamb is done, place the tomato skewers on the grill, turning once, until seared on the outside but still firm inside. For the sauce, bring the chicken stock, olive oil and lemon juice to a boil in a small pot. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until reduced by half. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper. 

To make the couscous, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallots and cook them over medium-low for 3 minutes until translucent. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, stir in the couscous, cover and set aside for 10 minutes. Add the pine nuts, currants and parsley and fluff with a fork to combine. Serve the couscous alongside the lamb and tomato skewers, with the sauce on the side. 

On to things I want to forget... these lemon souffles. We wanted a stunner, but something light to finish the meal, what better than a souffle right? That was the plan anyway. Souffles are pretty tricky, they require love, patience and care. In the midst of chaos in which we were preparing dinner, the souffle process kind of got pushed to the side and I shouldn't have been surprised with the results I was faced with. Out of the oven, they showed such promise, they actually rose!  

When we digged in... oy vey. Something had definitely gone awry. They weren't lemony enough, they weren't cooked through, and near the bottom they actually tasted kind of like scrambled eggs. No, no, no. Definitely not what we had planned on ending our fabulous dinner with at all. In the end we just enjoyed our fabulous homemade blueberry compote with some vanilla bean ice cream and all was well again.

Lemon Souffles
Yields: 6 servings
Original recipe here.

1 tbsn. unsalted butter, plus more, room temperature, for dishes
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for dishes
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
5 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tbsn. flour
3 tbsn. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsn. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup whole milk
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter 6 12-oz. souffle dishes, then dust with sugar. Whisk together the yolks, flour, zest and 2 tbsn. sugar. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Slowly pour the milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent yolks from cooking. Return mixture to the pan and whisk until thick like a pudding, about 1 - 2 minutes. Strain through a sieve and whisk in the butter and lemon juice. Beat whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup + 2 tbsn. sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture and gently fold in. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites using a rubber spatula. Fill each prepared souffle dish to the top and smooth. Run your thumb around the edges to remove batter from the rims. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until the souffles rise and are golden, about 16 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.  

Blueberry Compote
Yields: about 1 1/2 cups

2 cups blueberries
2 tbsn. sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, sugar, water, lemon zest and lemon juice. Heat over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until most of the blueberries have opened and the sauce has reduced. It should be the consistency of maple syrup.


  1. oh my goodness michelle.....this looks AMAZING!!! i'm sorry the lemon souffles didn't quite work sure LOOKS beautiful :)

  2. Beautiful, truly beautiful. Your Photos are beyond gorgeous! And that souffle recipe just looks DIVINE!

  3. Beautiful! Too bad the souffles didn't turn out very well but they look so good especially with the blueberry on top! Good the compote was so good :)

  4. I think the souffle looks stunning! Loving the way you styled it .. the sauce dripping. I wonder when can I make my soufle .. one of my fav sweet treat :)

  5. A beautiful 3 course meal. Indeed there certainly isn't anything more one can do, other than lay down a fabulous meal for your loved ones. The souffle really looks splendid, so too bad it didn't reach your expectations. I am sure, your family appreciates the thought and love that you put behind them