Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Meal that was Sweet from Beginning to End!

By Xani and Erin

I bet you loyal readers (all three of you!) are wondering what happened to all the cooking posts we used to do. Lately Black Coffee and a Donut has become more of a travel food blog, with both of us reporting on our dining experiences in different cities. But we always come back to our roots, so here it is, a good, old-fashioned, Sunday Dinner Post. Enjoy!

Last Sunday it was Xani's choice for the menu, and she had several requests. First, she wanted veal, in some form, for the main dish. Second, she wanted to make this Brussels sprouts recipe from Gourmet Magazine which was highly recommended on another of our favorite food blogs, The Amateur Gourmet. Everything else was fair game, to be determined by what BCD parents had picked up at the store that day, or what was available in the pantry. The final menu turned out to be:

  • Champagne cocktails
  • Homemade Asian bar mix (from Food and Wine Magazine)
  • Oysters on the Half Shell
  • Veal chops with sage
  • Ssam Bar Brussels Sprouts
  • Roasted Barley Pilaf
  • Cheesecake brulee!

During the day there was prep work to be done: Mom prepared the pilaf using both regular barley and some roasted barley she and BCD Dad picked up at the Asian market, H-Mart. Roasted barley is traditionally used to make teas and beers, but after fighting about it for a while we decided it might make an interesting addition to our usual (We think its from James Beard?) pilaf recipe, which calls for lots of butter, chopped onions and mushrooms, and chicken stock.

Xani prepped most of the Brussels sprouts ingredients, including trimming and halving the sprouts, and making the dressing from fish sauce, water, sugar, a couple sliced Thai red chilies, mint leaves and chopped cilantro STEMS (what a great way to use up all those leftover cilantro stems!) Later Erin prepared another unusual part of this dish-- the toasted Rice Krispies (well, we used store brand... we're so classy) with Japanese 7-spice powder. And, of course, we just happened to have some Japanese 7-spice powder sitting in the pantry. NORMAL!

When evening rolled around, it was time to get to the real cooking. But first (all together now), COCKTAILS!

BCD Dad picked up sugar cubes at the store so we could drink classic champagne cocktails. The recipe is simple: place a cube in each champagne flute, add a few dashes of angostura bitters, and fill with sparkling wine. This is a great drink to order at a fancy restaurant, to serve at a cocktail party, or to sip while one hand is reaching for freshly-shucked oysters (thanks BCD Dad!) and the other is searing veal chops-- its an all-purpose drink, really.

As we sipped drinks, nibbled snack mix, and slurped oysters, the rest of the meal came together. While Dad seared off the sage-rubbed veal chops, then finished them in the oven, we reheated the already-cooked pilaf and got to work on finishing the sprouts.

The sprouts roasted in a hot oven until the outer leaves were dark and crispy. We almost had a disaster here-- the recipe said to roast them for 40 minutes. We checked them after 20 and they were definitely dark and crispy, another 20 and they would have been charcoal. So we yanked them out of the oven early and began assembling the rest of the dish. We now realize that here, we made a potentially TRAGIC omission-- we forgot the butter! In all the commotion of getting the sprouts out of the oven before they were incinerated, we regretfully forgot we were supposed to toss them with butter! It is a testament to how good this dish was that it still tasted great even without the butter. Instead we tossed them with the dressing, and began plating the meal.

Each plate got a chop, a serving of pilaf, and a serving of sprouts topped with the spiced rice krispies (maybe we should called them "spiced krispies"?) and garnished with chopped cilantro leaves and scallions.

Everything on the plate was great! The veal was absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked (we thought it was interesting that the suggested cooking temps for medium-rare veal ranged from 150-170. This is a lot hotter than medium-rare beef, which we cook to the nice round temp of 123. We settled on about 155 for the veal and it was dead-on) and you could really taste the sage. Barley pilaf was rich, delicious, comfort food, as usual, but the addition of the roasted barley gave it a new toasty, nutty flavor, and added another dimension to the texture. We liked it but will also continue to make this recipe with just standard barley. The Brussels sprouts were great-- the flavor combinations, while a little unexpected, were so delicious. The salty/sweet/sour from the fish sauce, a little bit of heat from the chilies, and crunch and spice from the spiced krispies. Just awesome. We will definitely make this dish again, and we will be saving our cilantro stems in anticipation!

Now, after that amazing meal, normally we would wrap up the meal with a little ice cream. But not this night. Oh no. This night we went ALL OUT! Mom and Dad picked up a mini-cheesecake at the store earlier that day, then Dad sent a text to Xani letting her know she needed to bring her kitchen-sized blow-torch with her when she came home for dinner. Perhaps you see where this is going...we were going to attempt the Cheesecake Brulee from 1776!

This recipe/technique turned out to be pretty simple considering the fabulous results. We just sprinkled regular granulated sugar over the top of the cheesecake, then lit the torch and held it over the sugar until it caramelized, and then let it cool while we brewed up some good strong coffee.

How delicious does this look?! OMG. It was awesome... just as good as the 1776 version, and in a more reasonable portion size. Also, it was really fun to play with the torch. However, Xani complained that her kitchen torch was not powerful enough, and she and Dad discussed the possibility of getting a plumbers torch to use for next time. We would also recommend keeping the cheesecake very cold (and maybe even putting it in the freezer for a few minutes) before torching. But, we cannot say enough about this dessert... so much pay off with very little effort! This recipe may be making an appearance at a future cocktail party in mini-form-- OMG!

Erin, Xani and Gellie enjoying a cup of joe

It was great to have the family all together to celebrate one of our most treasured traditions: eating. Okay okay, being all together is pretty great too. Stay tuned for BCD Dad's upcoming birthday dinner, and you know what that means! LOBSTER!

Happy eating,

X & E


  1. I love that first picture of the champagne cocktails - very Food and Wine! And I love that Gellie loves coffee and cheesecake brulee, just like US!

  2. As one of your regular readers, I can say that I was missing the cooking posts. I am all over those spiced krispies y'all!
    Now that you are reaching the blog stage- of hey is anyone out there? If you are not doing it already I recommend adding a stat counter to your page. I use but a number of peeps I know use a similar google tool. This will give you an idea of how many hits your site is getting (oh the lurkers, the lurkers) even if only 3 (and come on ladies- it's at least 5 or 6!) people leave comments on a regular basis.

  3. That dinner looked incredible. Brings back memeories.I used to live in Baltimore. Wish we had that pie shop back then in Federal Hill.


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