A Birthday Meal
Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Dashi Jelly & Ikura
To start, a little chilled something based on a recipe from Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook, a book I always turn to when I want to make something special. The soft-set cauliflower cream is topped by a translucent layer of dashi jelly (made by infusing reduced chicken stock with bonito shavings and konbu kelp) in lieu of the gelled oyster juice used in the original recipe. The salty piscine intensity of the salmon roe (you could use beluga instead as called for in the book) somehow brings the mellow roundedness of the panna cotta into focus.
When I have the time, I love making these broad hand-cut noodles, which have a fabulous affinity with butter and cream based sauces. Something about kneading the mass of eggs and flour into a supple, silken dough is highly therapeutic, as is cutting the thinned sheets of pasta into long yellow ribbons, their slight irregularity an inevitable (which is not to say un-lovely) mark of the handmade.
This pasta dish is something W and I treat ourselves to when we are feeling self-indulgent. We thought it might be something the family would enjoy too. I am hardly the most organised person around. But the one thing I'm diligent about is replenishing the stash of assorted stocks I make and keep in the freezer - shellfish fumet is one such precious standby. When reduced to a syrupy shellfish essence, it becomes the ultimate finishing touch to bisques and crustacean-based risottos and pasta dishes. In this particular instance, the potent concentrate is flavoured with a touch of saffron and enriched with a little mascarpone, resulting in a velvet textured sauce that's warmly embraced by the porous weave of the flat egg noodles.
Another Thomas Keller recipe, this time a comforting slow-cooked dish from Bouchon. The lamb is seared before being braised in a rich veal stock. The vegetables that go into the cocotte with the meat in the beginning are discarded, spent and tired having given their best to the braising liquid and meat. To serve, each type of vegetable garnish (carrots, turnips, potatoes, spring onions, broad beans and peas) is cooked separately to the point of perfect doneness before being added to the stew. As Keller puts it, "It's an excellent way to turn a rustic stew into an elegant dish."
A beloved Gaston Lenôtre classic comprising of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse layers, from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (Hermé had started apprenticing at age 14 with the legendary Parisian pâtissier before quickly rising through the ranks). While not necessary, I dressed the cake up with a dark chocolate glaze before scattering on the meringue rods.