Friday, December 17, 2010

Birthday Dinner Recap, or Two New Recipes

As I talked about in this post, I had a birthday dinner at my grandparents' house in Peoria on Saturday night.  J unfortunately had to stay in the Lou and study for finals, while keeping an eye on that mischievous Woods.  J and I celebrated together with friends on the night of my actual birthday with pizza.

I was lucky enough to be able to select the menu for the dinner and I knew immediately what I would request:  French Onion Soup, Caesar Salad and Steak--some of my grandpa's best recipes!  In fact, I am pretty sure this is what my mom or any of her seven siblings would have asked for for their birthday dinner too.  The recipes are that good!

I also got to pick out which china pattern we would have dinner on.  My grandma has several sets of beautiful china, including one she received from my grandpa's mother--I picked their wedding china for my birthday dinner!

First is French Onion Soup.  

There aren't a lot of ingredients, but they come together to make a really hearty and delicious soup for the winter or any time!

1/4 cup of butter
1 large onion sliced--use a mandolin if you have one but watch your fingers!
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 can beef broth
1 can beef consumme
1 1/2 cans of water (using the beef broth can)
1/2 cup white wine
splash of Madeira
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (palm's worth)
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Swiss, gruyere or parmesan cheese, grated
French bread, cut into rounds (twelve if baguette, six if a larger bread)

Kitchen Supplies:
Mandolin, preferred not required
Can opener
Cheese grater
Wine opener
Stock pot
Ovenproof soup bowls

Melt butter in stock pot over medium-low heat.  Add onions, celery and salt and reduce to low.  Cook slowly until onions caramelize and turn golden brown.

Add remaining ingredients through white pepper.  Cover and simmer for thirty minutes.   While simmering, toast bread rounds in a warm oven.  Spoon into ovenproof bowls and top with toasted bread rounds.  Cover with cheese and place under broiler for 2 minutes until cheese is melted and has started to turn golden.

Just to clarify: the soup bowl is a Christmas bowl.  The gold rimmed china is their wedding china.

Serves 6

Next up is my Grandpa's Caesar Salad. 

This time, we had to borrow anchovies from the neighbors because by that point the roads were getting bad and we didn't want to venture very far.  My grandma got the ingredients Papa needed to make the salad and continue getting things ready for dinner.  My aunt and I were sitting by the fire, reading our books, when we heard my Papa cry out "Mary, Mary, Mary!" (my grandma's name)  We all came running, concerned he had fallen, cut himself, or worse only to find she had given him balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar.  At that point he had already poured it in the dressing and we tried to make it work.  After letting it sit for fifteen minutes while we worked on the croutons we finally concluded the balsamic vinegar version was just awful.  We asked Papa to remake it using the red wine vinegar and he did, which we were very thankful for!  The second version came out great, just how we had remembered it!

1 large bunch romaine lettuce, washed and dried
1 can anchovies and juice
1 egg
1/2 lemon
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
Couple shakes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
Ground black pepper
Shot of yellow mustard
Parmesan cheese

For croutons:
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of butter, cut into two pats
Olive oil--enough to coat bottom of skillet
French bread (about 8-12 slices) cut into 1 inch squares

Kitchen Supplies:
Salad spinner--not required, but it does make the drying of romaine leaves easier!
Salad bowl

In wooden bowl, mix vinegar, oil, anchovies oil and one crushed anchovie, lemon juice, egg, mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and other herbs and spices.  Allow to sit.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add bread cubes, butter and garlic.  Stir frequently until croutons crisp up and turn golden brown.

Remove from heat.  Break up lettuce, add to dressing in the bowl and mix well.  If the dressing has separated while it was sitting there, give it a quick whisk to recombine.  Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and mix well.  Add croutons and if desired, additional anchovies.

I love anchovies so this recipe is a no brainer for me.  However, if you are not an anchovies fan, please at least try the croutons on your favorite salad.  You won't be sorry!

A bowl of the French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad would have been more than enough for dinner, but we also had steak and baked potatoes.  We topped it off with Italian wedding cake that a close friend who shared dinner with us had made and brought for us!

Overall, it was a great birthday dinner with some of my favorite people!

How did you celebrate your birthday this year, friends?

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