“Which restaurant do you want to go to for your birthday celebration this year?”
Many of my close friends started asking me this question weeks before my birthday. My friends know me well, and they knew that my ideal birthday celebration would be all about good food…but they didn’t know me well enough to figure out that I had better plans for my special day. I couldn’t think of any restaurant in LA that would quite cut it, and I cringed at the thought of making my friends pay a lot of money for an extravagant meal in a stuffy environment. I’m extremely blessed to have wonderful and caring friends who have been by my side through my ups and downs, and I wanted to spend my birthday with them in a special and meaningful way. I love going out to restaurants for fine dining, but what I love more is cooking at home with friends and for friends. There’s nothing I enjoy more than cooking in the kitchen and sharing a nice meal with people I love. So I sent out an invitation to 12 of my closest friends in LA, and started brainstorming on ideas for my ultimate fantasy birthday menu. No gifts please, I instructed my friends, but instead bring your appetite, good spirits, and lots of champagne and wine!
My brain exploded with a multitude of fabulous culinary ideas, and I had a lot of fun writing and sketching my ideas down. For the whole entire week leading up to the big party, my hands were practically shaking from all of the excitement. I knew that there were a few basic dishes that I had to have, and I consulted my chef friend Haru about ordering these items from the best suppliers. I wanted to have an oyster bar that served two of my favorite types: Fanny Bay and Kumamoto. I wanted a seared foie gras dish, as I had a whole lobe of Rougié foie gras from Epicure Imports that was patiently waiting in the freezer. For the main entrée, I fluctuated between choices like lamb saddle, veal chop and flat iron steak, but in the end I decided to go grand and opted for a whole suckling pig. The rest depended on what I found at the Santa Monica Farmer’s market.
Going to the Wednesday morning SM Farmer’s market is one of my favorite Los Angeles activities. There are rows of food stalls with fresh seasonal produce and lots of specialty food items that cannot be found elsewhere. I found vibrant Green Zebra heirloom tomatoes and yellow wax beans, which inspired me to make a salad dish with burrata cheese and slices of jamon serrano.
One of my favorite vegetable stands, run by a Japanese farmer, was offering some adorable miniature eggplants. Small round green Petch Siam eggplants, frequently used in Thai cuisine, were calling out to me. In the box adjacent to them were even cuter small purple eggplants called Fairytale eggplants which I had never used before, but I had to get anyway.
Although I had many ideas about how to serve them, in the end I envisioned a simple appetizer of pan roasted eggplants with a balsamic sauce. I found some interesting Purple Ruffles Basil at the market to liven up the plating of this dish.
Beautiful purple Mission Figs were at the height of their season, and I found an abundance of them at the Farmer’s Market. Ah, they would go perfectly with the whole lobe of foie gras! Coupled with a port wine reduction, this would make for a decadent and delicious plate.
The seared foie gras dish would go perfectly after the salad and before the main course, but since the main course was going to be a whole roasted suckling pig, I realized that there needed to be a palate cleanser between the two dishes. I had a jar of wonderful yuzu purée that was just waiting to be consumed, so I decided to make a yuzu and rosemary granité. The bite of rosemary herb coupled with the citrus tang of yuzu was sure to cleanse any palate and refresh any taste bud!
I melted the yuzu purée in sugar and water in a pot and brought it to a boil, and just after taking it off the heat, I threw in a tea bag of freshly chopped rosemary leaves to let it steep in the mixture. This way the granité would have just enough of a hint of rosemary finish instead of an overpowering flavor. I saved some rosemary twigs for garnishing. This dish was prepared the night before to save some time on the busy big day.
I found a ton of beautiful vegetables to accompany the roasted pig. Small bright orange Nante carrots were super sweet when I sampled them at the stall. Small pee wee potatoes came in purple, red and yellow, and I bought a bunch of these for roasting. Beautiful baby spring onions came attached to their stalks and still covered in dirt, just picked fresh that morning. Purslane was at the end of their season, and I bought these as well, thinking that its distinct fresh citrus flavor would complement the heartiness of the main course.
Now what to do for dessert? I wanted to do a dessert that could be prepared the night before, to save time in the kitchen during the actual party. I figured that by the end of the meal, I would be quite tired and potentially quite drunk as well. Cake? Too boring. Cupcakes? Even more boring. Tiramisu? I already did that for a previous dinner. I found beautiful and plump strawberries at the market, and started getting excited about them. And then I ran into these tropical delights, and my heart skipped a beat. Passion fruit- perfect!
Passion fruit zabaglione, parfait, mousse, ice cream, cheesecake…I considered many options, but when I rummaged through my kitchen that evening, I came across an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a while, and he whispered to me very softly, “Use me…” My butane torch was calling out to me, and I knew then that the dessert for my birthday bash would be crème brûlée. It’s easily prepared the night before, and people get excited when they see it torched. I incorporated Madagascar vanilla beans into my passion fruit crème brûlée mixture, and prepared these in the oven the night before. After cooling them on a rack, they went into the fridge and waited until their grand debut.
For the strawberries that I bought, I opted to use them for a mini appetizer in the very beginning of the meal with the champagne toast. Strawberries dipped in sugar and freshly ground black peppercorns is absolutely delicious, and it goes extremely well with champagne.
For the end of the meal, I planned to do a cheese plate. I bought a bunch of beautiful cheeses at Epicure Imports, as well as some accompaniments for these cheeses. I also found some fresh jujubes at the farmer’s market, and decided to pair these with the cheeses as well. Finally, for the many chocolate lovers in the attending party, I bought an assortment of unusual flavored chocolates at Epicure Imports to do a chocolate tasting with a delicious dessert wine that I also bought there.
After a lot of tweaking and rearranging, the final birthday dinner menu was officially made on the morning of the party. The menus were printed, the wine and champagne glasses were cleaned, the silverware was polished, the dishes were stacked, the music CD’s were chosen, and I was ready to go.
Here’s the final menu:
1 Strawberries with sugar and black peppercorn
2 Kumamoto & Fanny Bay Oysters
3 Fairytale & Petch Siam Eggplants with Purple Ruffles Basil
4 Yellow Wax Beans, Green Zebra Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata, Jamon Serrano, Argan Oil dressing
5 Seared Foie Gras with Mission Figs and Port Wine reduction
6 Yuzu & Rosemary Granité
7 Roasted Suckling Pig with Pee Wee Potatoes, Nante Carrots, Baby Spring Onions, Purslane
8 Passion Fruit & Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
9 French Cheese Plate with Quince Paste, White Truffle Honey, Jujubes, Grapes
10 Chocolate tasting
The next blog entry will feature photos and details of the actual feast!
Random trivia: Did you know that jujubes have a sweet smell that is said to make teenagers fall in love? In the Himalayas, men carry jujube flower stems with them or put them in their hats to attract women.