December 3, 2012

A Birthday Meal

Here's a belated happy birthday shout-out to my main squeeze! Ryan celebrated another trip around the sun just after Thanksgiving, and we did this one right. Instead of a night out at a fancy restaurant, he requested a homemade meal. And I knew exactly what to make. 

All I had to do was create our own version of this meal from Fast Boy on Vimeo. Homemade gnocchi, a perfect ribeye, and greens. The boiler maker beverages were recommended but not required. A lofty goal, but I was prepared.

Preparation is paramount.
Like any big meal, this one began with me cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom. Starting with a super-clean kitchen and having all the dishes put away meant that I could prep the kitchen properly. I set up stations and planned out the meal carefully, beginning very early in the day. I also had a loaf of bread in the oven, thanks to my new routine. 

Homemade multigrain bread. Wine in background.

Exhibit A: Homebrew Taste Test. 

Weeks ago, we set out making our first batch of beer together. An Amber Ale recipe, we knew it'd be done right around his b-day. 

The first sip left us somewhat unimpressed; thankfully, we were looking for inspiration from the video and a splash of bourbon turned this ho-hum-homebrew into a tasty, smooth cocktail. 

The jury's still out on just what went wrong, so our homebrew journey continues. We have another batch of grains waiting in the fridge; they're a stout recipe, perfect for Christmas, so we had better get on that double-time. 

Exhibit B: The Perfect Steak.

No small feat for this vegetarian to tackle, I set out to make my meat-eating man a perfectly cooked ribeye. I asked the butcher for a "special-occasion cut, for one" and he looked at me sideways. "Are you going to split it?" he inquired. "No," I answered non-chalantly, "I'm a vegetarian." 

In any case, I brought home .85 pounds of pasture-fed, hormone-free, humanely butchered beef and read this guide for fool-proof steak in the oven about thirty times.

The recipe worked wonderfully and also left my cast iron skillet perfectly seasoned. The verdict: "This is the best steak I have ever had in my life."

Exhibit C: Garden Fresh.

The garden played a role in the meal, too. I used rosemary and garlic to flavor the olive oil for the gnocchi; I added some purple sage at the last minute for an extra herbal kick. 

Ryan found a few figs on our tree (poor tree is confused about the seasons, much like the volunteer tomatoes that have sprung up in the garden), and I sliced them very thinly to toss atop a salad of garden lettuce. 

I made a quick balsamic-dijon vinaigrette and crumbled on some very fancy bleu cheese to round out all the flavors. 

Exhibit D: Potato Smashin!

Earlier in the day, I stopped in three different stores to find a potato ricer, which one woman described as, "a pretty high-end kitchen item" and I could probably "find it at Sur la Table." I giggled inside, thinking that gnocchi have been an Italian kitchen dish since the 16th century and it's not as if I were looking for some sort of device that would turn my potatoes into foam. I found a no-frills ricer, for about $8, at a big-box store next door.

The recipe for the gnocchi came from the man behind the Fast Boy gnocchi video. His name is Ezra, and he builds beautiful bicycles and cooks these amazing dinners. And he is battling cancer. And he writes this very real, gritty blog that makes me feel for him and wish him the best, even though the closest we'll ever get is me cooking a few of his recipes and being on the receiving side of all this inspiration.

So there's that.

The birthday dinner! 
The finished product looked like this. I love this photo despite the fact that my husband's head has gone missing. In the dark, on the left, there are steamed artichokes (too much effort to eat, not enough payoff). Then we have salads of home-grown lettuce and figs, with bleu cheese. Ryan's plate has roughly a pound of perfectly-cooked ribeye on it. Fin stands on high alert close by. Note my vegetarian entree: nothing. There's a glass of wine, a tiny Christmas tree, and the gnocchi. Which was a little too pillowy; I should've added just a touch more flour because while the flavor was incredible, the little gnocchi fell apart quite easily and kind of turned out more like mashed potatoes with butter and sage. 

The rest of the birthday weekend looked like this.

In true birthday spirit, we spent the better part of our Thanksgiving break putting up Christmas decorations. A special six-pack of St. Arnold's Celebration began the traditional outside light extravaganza; we start early, say cheers, and then teeter up on the ladder to put up our famously bright lights to herald in the season. Then we go to bed each night with a lingering fear of having attracted an airplane to land on our street. 

Ryan on the roof putting up lights; Pearlsnap the Bike; Fin modeling her Cone of Shame after a minor surgery.
As part of Ryan's birthday gift, I did a mini-makeover in our guest bedroom. I got some vintage maps, made some original art (thank you gold spray paint), and framed a couple of things that had meaning to us. The room was really taking shape, but one thing was missing. So over the weekend, I built a headboard for our guest room, using bead board from Ryan's grandparents' house that's probably around 100 years old. The bead board was salvaged from the house and divvied up among us family members. We all love the aqua and orange colors, and I decided they'd play a central part in our little guest room makeover.

I built the headboard for less than $6; the pieces for the frame (you can see three of them in the background) I found on the side of the road in a neighbor's bulk pick up pile. It's amazing what you'll do for free building materials; I picked up the five-foot pieces and carried them down the street in broad daylight, waving at the neighbors out walking their dogs. It was worth it.

And that's a wrap.