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I want to start this post with a disclaimer: I know I’m spoiled. I admit that I have lived a life of privilege, in every sense of the world, and certainly when it comes to fine dining I’ve been lucky enough to regularly partake in some of the best around.  So please understand that when I report disappointment with my birthday celebration meal this year, I’m not complaining. Well, I am complaining but I’m doing it with full knowledge of how high I set the bar due to the many fantastic opportunities I’ve previously enjoyed, with which I now compare every experience.

So, lucky me, my husband took me to the Big Apple for lunch in a world class restaurant and then to a Broadway show. In a town known for great food and entertainment, I had my pick of any of the fantastic fine dining establishments in The City. Unfortunately, my selection fell just a bit short of fantastic and I found myself wishing I had chosen differently.

For lunch, I chose a return visit to Bouley, where many years ago we had indulged in one of the most decadent and delicious meals I could recall. Chef David Bouley is classically trained French chef and his New York restaurant has earned two Michelin stars. I remembered being pampered to the max, sent all kinds of extra taste treats from the kitchen, as well as parade of desserts unlike any I had ever seen at that time. As is the great tradition of top tiered French restaurants, the generosity of Restaurant Bouley was memorable. That meal, one of our first dining experiences of seriously high caliber, was a treasured memory I was hoping to repeat, forgetting that since that time I have dined in numerous 3 starred places in Paris, as well as countless French bistros and bistronomiques in France. So while the meal was pleasant, it wasn’t even close the gastronomic glory I remembered and hoped for.

Restaurant Bouley had changed address since our last visit here and we were curious to see how it had evolved. The restaurant itself is lovely, with a welcoming foyer of fresh apples and an entrance salon filled with fresh flowers and lovely furniture.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation and we enjoyed the ambiance of this space while waiting for our table. Sadly, when it came time to seat us, we were led through the gorgeous sunlit front room, where every table was occupied, to a smaller cave like room in the back. Although this room was richly painted and elegantly appointed, I somehow felt slighted and was reminded of some of the snottier restaurants in Paris where English speaking tourists are relegated to a dingier room near the kitchen or on a different floor. But this was my own country and I had made the reservation almost a month in advance and told them it was a special birthday celebration and we still found ourselves seated in the small, dark, back room with 3 tables of Japanese tourists and one couple dressed in jeans and plaid flannel.

We decided to make the best of it and enjoy the fact that we were seated side by side on a very comfortable couch where we both had a fine view of the room and all the food that was being delivered to every table.

Lunch began with an amuse of puree of pumpkin soup, topped with lardon and crème fresh.  This was deliciously smooth and perfectly spiced and raised our hopes for a top-notch meal.  Sadly, we were to be disappointed.  While every plate was beautifully presented and none of the dishes that followed were bad, they each lacked any kind of serious “yum” factor. The flavors were so subtle that in some dishes that the ingredients were only identifiable by the description on the menu.

A perfect example was my first course described as : Organic Local Green Asparagus with roasted pencil asparagus fresh garden herbs, basil dressing in a comte cloud. Having enjoyed a number of fantastic pieces of good aged comte cheese in France, I was disappointed to be unable to discern anything remotely similar on my tongue. The asparagus were perfect but the “comte cloud” mostly resembled cream, whipped to just shy of butter. Delicious, but no sharp bite of a good comte cheese, and no basil to be seen or tasted either.

Asparagus, comte cloud, basil

Sadly, my second course, Porcini Flan, Alaska live dungeness crab with black truffle dash, had not a note of truffle and the “flan” turned out to simply be a few tiny pieces of custardy egg floating in a porcini flavored broth. Loads of crab swimming in there as well, but the dish lacked the layers of flavor or texture needed to make it a standout.

Crab and Porcini Flan (w/ truffle?)

The other dishes we ate included:

Sea Trio (cod, tuna, hake)

Blackened Cod

Breast of Duck, perfectly cooked

Dover sole, slightly over cooked, in a barely discernable citrus sauce

Desserts were disappointing as well, especially with my memory of our last meal at Bouley, where dessert had been such a highlight including a special rice pudding (one of my favorites) for a birthday treat after three other complex and inventive sweets. This time, the “Chocolate Frivolous” made up of chocolate brulee, chocolate parfait, hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate walnut spice bread, white coffee ice cream, prune armagnac ice cream, sounded heavenly but each element was so heavy and over sweet I hit chocolate fatigue (not an easy state for me to reach!) in just a few bites. And the prune ice cream tasted bitter as could be and had a distinctive flavor of dirt! Not at all pleasant. The second dessert, Hot Caramelized Anjou Pear valrhona chocolate, biscuit Breton, hot toffee sauce, rosemary & Tahitian vanilla ice cream, was more successful, but the rosemary flavor in the ice cream was way too intense and distracting from the other flavors in the dessert.

Pear and Valrona chocolate tart w/ rosemary (?!) ice cream

Way too much chocolate, even for me!

My special birthday “treat” that arrived with a candle looked gorgeous but was a severe let down. Very thin slices of over-ripe pineapple were topped with a scoop of some kind of sorbet that was so incredibly tart it was literally inedible. It was a nice thought to have a candle and the Happy Birthday sentiment written in chocolate on the plate rim but c’mon! A little effort here?

Lovely to look at, terrible to taste

We ended our meal with expresso and a sad little mignardise tray that held a few tired little sweet bites including stale macarons and a decent chocolate ganache truffle. They brought us the bill and then asked if we’d like another expresso. We assumed a second was on the house since they’d already brought the bill but after accepting their offer; they whisked our bill away and added 2 more expressos ($5 each!!!) to our already hefty tab. So much for that remembered generosity.

A pretty sparse mignardise tray

My conclusion? After all the outrageously great dining that I’ve been blessed to indulge in when visiting France, I have realized that I’m bound to be disappointed eating expensive French food here in the US. For my subsequent visits to NYC I’ll be choosing from the countless other delicious cuisines available in that great restaurant town.

This month in the Daring Kitchen, the baking challenge was tied to the the cooking challenge and we were to make sweet edible containers but required to use a specific filling instead of the carte blanche of the savory challenge. The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote for mine your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com! You’ll see some amazing creative containers here!

Forgetting how busy this month would be with a houseful of guests for Passover and a weekend away in NYC to celebrate my birthday (stay tuned for my next post!) I foolishly thought I’d be whipping up multiple versions of sweet and salty cups to hold that delicious maple mousse. But even though I had numerous fab ideas, including toasted nut cups, bacon tuilles, and candied lemon peel baskets, reality took hold and I only executed one. But it was a great one! Gorgeous, lacy caramel baskets!

Many home cooks are totally intimidated by the idea of making their own caramel but a few tricks make it pretty fool proof every time and a good basic caramel is an elegant and impressive trick to have as part of your kitchen repertoire. It’s quite versatile and can be shaped or spun into cups and cages and fancy decorations or with the addition of cream and butter, it becomes a sublime sauce that keeps for weeks in the fridge. A quick zap in the microwave refreshes both a hard caramel and sauce, bringing it back to its liquid state, taking away the pressure to work quickly.

The trick to great caramel is a pinch of cream of tartar and patience. The sugar has to melt and simmer slowly until it reaches the correct temperature, but I don’t bother with thermometers.  Instead I simply watch carefully for the sugar syrup to turn the perfect deep amber color that tells me it’s ready and then I remove it immediately from the heat and pour it into a pyrex measuring cup. There, it stops cooking so there’s no danger of the sugar burning (which can happen quite quickly) the caramel begins to cool and thicken so I can work with it. The pyrex container can also easily be popped into the microwave for reheating when the caramel gets too thick to work with. 

This color is about 30 seconds shy of ready to take off the heat

Here’s the recipe for basic caramel:   

Combine in a heavy bottomed saucepan: 1C sugar, 1/3 C water, and 1/8 tsp cream of tartar. Place over medium/high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear. When bubbles begin to appear, turn heat down to medium and let simmer WITHOUT stirring until sugar turns a deep amber (caramel) color (8-10 minutes, 320°-350°) watching carefully and removing from the heat as soon as the desired color is reached. Pour directly into a pyrex measuring cup (be careful! This stuff is seriously hot!)

For the cups, simply cover small inverted bowls with non-stick aluminum foil (Reynolds makes an amazing product that NOTHING sticks to!) and when the caramel cools to the right thickness, use a spoon to drizzle the thickened caramel over the cups. Reheat as necessary if the caramel cools too much to work with. When completely cooled, remove from bowls and pull away the foil to leave beautiful, shiny caramel bowls.

Right before serving add the filling of your choice. The Daring bakers were asked to use this recipe which I combined with a dark chocolate mousse and topped with chantilly cream (pictures below!):

Maple Mousse
• 1 cup (240 ml/ 8 fluid oz.) pure maple syrup (not maple-flavored syrup)
• 4 large egg yolks
• 1 package (7g/1 tbsp.) unflavored gelatin
• 1 1/2 cups (360 ml. g/12 fluid oz) whipping cream (35% fat content)
1. Bring maple syrup to a boil then remove from heat.
2. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and pour a little bit of the maple syrup in while whisking (this is to temper your egg yolks so they don’t curdle).
3. Add warmed egg yolks to hot maple syrup until well mixed.
4. Measure 1/4 cup of whipping cream in a bowl and sprinkle it with the gelatine. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Place the bowl in a microwave for 45 seconds (microwave for 10 seconds at a time and check it in between) or place the bowl in a pan of barely simmering water, stir to ensure the gelatin has completely dissolved.
5. Whisk the gelatin/whipping cream mixture into the maple syrup mixture and set aside.
6. Whisk occasionally for approximately an hour or until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white.
7. Whip the remaining cream. Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the maple syrup mixture. Fold in the remaining cream and refrigerate for at least an hour.
8. Remove from the fridge and divide equally among your edible containers.

The caramel basket filled with dark chocolate and maple mousse and chantilly cream

And here are a few other desserts that I made that utilized the caramel:

Caramel Cage over Chocolate Bombe

Raspberry Brownie cake with Caramel Lace

It’s time for another post on the Daring Kitchen’s cook’s challenge and it was a fun one! Renata of Testado, Provado & Aprovado! was our Daring Cooks’ April 2011 hostess. Renata challenged us to think “outside the plate” and create our own edible containers! Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 17th to May 16th at http://thedaringkitchen.com! (If you do this, you better vote for mine!!)

We were encouraged to do as many as we liked and if I weren’t so obsessed with trying to stop that extra 5 lbs from taking over my poor old body, I would have gone crazy with creativity. Most of the edible containers that I envisioned involved deep fat frying to make something firm and crisp enough to hold a creamy and delicious filling. How about bacon baskets filled with creamy mac and cheese? Or fried potato cups filled with scallion cream cheese scrambled eggs? Maybe I’ll give these a try after I’ve really come to terms with my post-menopausal bod!

In an attempt to have just a bit of balance, my first go at the challenge were polenta cups filled with my home made chili.  Polenta is quick and easy to make and such versatile stuff, it’s a regular staple at my house. And of course, corn and beans together make for a complete and healthy protein so polenta paired with vegetarian chili is a naturally low-fat, super healthy meal. But personally, I’m not at that interested unless the chili is topped with plenty of sharp cheddar cheese and sour cream, which is probably why I can’t seem to keep those extra few lbs away!

To make polenta it’s 4-1, water to cornmeal. Bring the water to a gentle boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal and cook, whisking continuously, until thickened (about 3-5 minutes.) Stir in a bit of butter and whisk until melted. You can also stir in some whole kernels of corn if you want added texture. Pour the hot polenta into whatever molds you’re using.  I used a lightly oiled muffin tin and then pressed in oiled glasses to form the cups. They set up very firm in an hour or so and popped right out of the tins. The I just trimmed the tops and whallah! Beautiful, edible cups that canbe  filled with the chili recipe of your choice. My recipe is included at the bottom of this post

The polenta cooling in the muffin tins. The drinking glasses were the perfect size to make a the polenta cups!

The polenta cups were delcious filled with my homemade chili!

For my second edible container, I made parmesan cheese bowls and filled them with spring vegetable risotto. Parmesan bowls are easy to make but look great and add so much crunch and flavor to whatever you fill them with. Simply make 4 inch circles of shredded parmesan on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes, or until bubbly and beginning to be golden brown. Remove from the over and carefully drape them, while still hot, over small inverted bowls. Once they cool they will harden and crisp up. The trick is to use non-stick aluminum foil, both to line the baking sheet and to cover the bowls you use to drape the baked cheese over. Then the baked parmesan is easy to handle and will pop right off the bowls and are ready to hold your choice of delicious filling.

Crispy parmesan bowl waiting to be filled

I just love risotto because it satisfied my craving for a creamy carbo treat without the need for any actual cream and it’s incredibly versatile in terms of flavors. You can add meat or seafood for a whole meal in one dish or keep it simple and use it as a side dish. Chicken, beef or fish stock will enrich and influence the flavor as well as an acidic (wine, lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar.)The starch in the Arborio rice thickens the risotto and the aromatics (onions, garlic, shallots etc) provide great flavor. Some butter and/or cheese added at the end will put it over the top but it isn’t necessary if you’re really trying to curb your calories.

The parmesan bowl was fantastic filled with spring vegetable risotto

Edible containers are nothing new (think baked stuffed potatoes or soup in a bread bowl) but it is fun to stretch the imagination and imagine new and creative ways to eat your bowl. I encourage you to try this fun project and share about it here! And if you’re more disciplined about the fat and calorie counts than I am, you can always go for lettuce cups!

 RECIPE FOR MY VEGETARIAN CHILI (serves 6-8)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 dried chipotle peppers, reconstituted by simmering in 2 C water for 30 minutes, chop fine
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder                                                                                                                                                                                                           1 1/2 tsp  salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
3 cups cooked red kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, drained

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the first five ingredients and sauté the vegetables until softening but not browned ( about 10  minutes). Add the chopped chipotle, salt and spices and stir. Add the tomatoes and 2-3 cups of water and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the beans (and more water if necessary) and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve in polenta bowls with sharp cheddar and sour cream if desired. The chili will get spicier the second and third day. Enjoy!

Snowdrops in my garden

Spring has been a challenging time for me so far this year. After one of the worst winters in a long time, my patience with the April showers is extremely low and while there are a few tiny blooms sprouting in my garden, day after day of damp chilly weather is really getting me down. But even as I crave the balmy sunny days that I know are eventually coming, I’m dreading the return of warm weather clothing. This winter was not good to my waistline!

April is my birthday month and as I begin the decent on the other side of the big 5-0 hill (I’ll be 52 this year!) I’m being forced to come to terms with the fact that along with the well-earned wisdom I’m enjoying, this decade also ushers in all the fun and fabulous (NOT) bodily changes that happen to women of my age. For me, of course, the number one offender is weight gain. It seems that no matter how much I exercise and try to watch what I eat, my body simply wants to be 5-10 pounds heavier than I want it to be. One of the many joys of going through menopause. Not only has my metabolism slowed, my body is fighting like mad to hang onto every fat calorie available, trying to milk it for any drop of estrogen available. It’s the simple biology of female aging.

And so the struggle continues to accept myself the way Mother Nature intended me to be as opposed to miserably trying to force myself into the unnatural mold of our culturally defined standard of wafer thin beauty. In a world where nothing related to growing older is truly valued, it aint easy to swim against this particular tide, but I’m trying. As always, I’m looking for balance; something that’s never easy for someone with an addictive personality like mine! But as I’ve said before: Life is too short to not eat cake. I just shouldn’t  eat the whole cake!

So tell me: where do you struggle withyour weight and how do you deal with it?

The girls were coming home for the weekend so what better time to do the baker’s challenge than when I’d have some help eating up the sweet experiments. The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake. It was important to have help with the consuming, particularly since the recipe for this month made enough dough for not one, but two cakes! Of course I could have cut the recipe in half but what fun would that be when we were given free reign to experiment with fillings?

From the moment I read what the challenge was, I began to fantasize about the various flavor combinations I might try. I toyed with the idea of apples and cinnamon, dark chocolate chunks with toasted pecans, candied lemon peel and coconut. Oh yum, the possibilities were endless. I found myself awake at night trying to decide what I wanted to use for the two cakes. I must have changed my mind a zillion times it was so hard to land on just what I was in the mood for!

Last year's poppy hamentashen

The fact that the kids were coming home on Purim weekend helped me to decide the flavor for one of the cakes. In place of hamantashen, the usual Purim cookie, I’d stuff one of the coffeecakes with the traditional poppy seed filling that usually fills the hamentashen. For the second cake, I settled on white chocolate, toasted macadamia nuts, and dried cranberries.

Fortunately, I have plenty of experience with yeasted dough so I wasn’t at all intimidated by the recipe although having a layer of sweetened meringue inside was new to me. It made for a bit of a sticky mess when rolling and shaping the cakes, but added a delicious sweetness and moisture when it was absorbed into the dough as it baked. I had some ideas about flavoring the meringue as well (coffee flavored meringue with a chocolate and toasted almond filling crossed my mind) so if you decide to challenge yourself to make this recipe, remember that you can go wild with experimenting and adding layers of flavor! I could have easily baked (and eaten!) 8 or 9 different versions of this cake and I’m quite certain I’ll be returning to the basic recipe again because it made such a silky, sexy, easy to work with dough that produced a tender and versatile bread that would make fabulous sticky or cinnamon buns as well as savory filled loaves or pockets.

Both cakes turned out fabulously and we happily scarfed them down over the course of weekend making for another remorse filled Monday of deprivation but it was worth every bite! Here are the photos and the basic recipe:

I do hope you’ll try to make one of these cakes!

The dough after its first rising

  

The white chocolate, macadamia nut, cranberry ring before rising and baking
The baked white chocolate cranberry coffeecake dusted with powered sugar. Yum!
A slice of the white chocolate, macadamia nut, cranberry coffecake. So moist and delicious!
The baked poppyseed coffecake ring with lemon glaze. Sooo delicious
A lot of air in the poppyseed coffeecake but still yummy!

Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter
The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake

FILLED MERINGUE COFFEE CAKE

Ingredients
For the yeast coffee cake dough:

4 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dried yeast
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup water (doesn’t matter what temperature)
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature

For the meringue:

3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar

For the filling: Your choice! Be creative! I used:

1C white chocolate chips

¾ C toasted macadamia nuts

¾ C chopped dried sweetened cranberries

Directions:

Prepare the dough:  In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast. In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm and the butter is just melted.

With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.

Prepare your filling (roast and chop nuts, measure chocolate, etc)

My prepped white chocolate, toasted macadamia nuts, and dried cranberries

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.

Assemble the Coffee Cakes:

Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of your filling of choice evenly over the meringue (ex: half of the cinnamon-sugar followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate).

Now, roll up the dough jellyroll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the ring.

Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.

Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with confectioner’s sugar as well as cocoa powder if using chocolate in the filling. Or glaze with a complimentary flavored icing. These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.

Last Sunday was my honey’s birthday and yes, there were cards and gifts. Yes there were expressions of love and well wishes from family and friends. But more importantly, there was fabulous food! Nothing says celebration like indulging in ridiculously delicious fat and sugar laden treats and we definitely did that with a hit parade of many of his favorites spread out over the weekend.

Pastry from Le Petite France

After a home cooked meal on Friday of simple pan fried chicken thighs, a potato gratin, rich with cream and aged asiago cheese and Caesar salad we were off to a great start for the culinary celebration of the completion of another cycle around the sun for my sweetheart. Saturday morning, we headed to Le Petite France (http://www.lpfbakery.com/), for a pastry pig-out that would tide us over until our reservation that evening at our favorite restaurant: Max Dowmtown.

Max’s is the place to go for consistently fine, top quality and beautifully presented food, particularly meat. We started with their famous chopped salad, a delicious mélange of fresh chopped veggies with excellent gorgonzola cheese in a sweet and tangy sherry vinaigrette. Feeling virtuous for choosing a salad over the lobster raviolis for our first course, we didn’t hesitate to dig into the enormous portions of sizzling animal protein we ordered for our mains. Mine was a double thick cut, bone in pork chop, the crusty, peppery sear encasing moist and amazingly tender pale pink porkiness. The chop was served with haricot vert and a brioche, cheddar, and cranberry stuffing. Sautéed tart apples and a pork jus reduction rounded out the plate and the flavors all combined perfectly to make this a fantastic choice.

Max’s double thick pork chop (remember you can click on the pics to enlarge!)

The birthday boy ordered the Brandt rib eye (http://www.brandtbeef.com/); an incredible treat that we’ll order any time it’s available. Brandt beef is truly something special, especially flame charred on the outside and bloody rare all the way through. Topped with pan wilted watercress it was served with a sampler of house made sauces including classic béarnaise, thyme jus, blue cheese, cognac peppercorn, and house made A-1. We also ordered a heaping pile of crisp and flavorful sweet potato fries, just to gild the lily.

Outrageous Brandt ribeye and swet potato fries

We tucked into this feast of meaty goodness, trading bites of the beasts and trying all the sauces. While we finished most of the sides, we realized that if we wanted to have any room for dessert, we’d have to quit while there was still meat left on the plates and ask for doggie bag. Woof-woof!

For dessert we went with something billed as Granny Twitchell’s Secret Chocolate Cupcake. Apparently, Granny’s recipe is no longer a secret but Max’s pastry chef has her own version where she cuts a hole in the top of the dense chocolate cupcake and fills it with heath bar toffee crunch, chocolate and caramel sauce and then frosts the whole thing with an insane amount of chocolate butter cream. Unable to believe this didn’t come with ice cream, we specially ordered a scoop to cut the intensity of all that chocolate.

Outrageous chocolate birthday cupcake

Let me take this opportunity to do a little rant on a pet peeve of mine. What’s up with those teeny-tiny scoops of ice cream that fine restaurants serve with dessert? They always seem to use a melon baller as opposed to an ice cream scoop! Am I the only one who doesn’t want to run out of ice cream long before the accompanying sweet is gone? I’m sorry but if it fits on the spoon and can be eaten in one bite, that’s not a scoop of ice cream.

Phew! I feel better. And I suppose it’s just as well that the ice cream was so scant since that prevented us from scarfing down the whole gooey, choclatey mess. We added the remains to our already hefty take away package and stuffed as I was, in my mind I was already creating the next day’s fabulous birthday dinner made mostly from leftovers!

Sunday started with my famous French toast and then I really went to work in the kitchen. Recycling is good for the environment! Maybe not so good for the waistline, especially in this case, but how marvelous to make a new and delicious dinner and dessert culled mostly from previous days goodies.

Birthday breakfast of my famous cinnamon French toast with crisp bacon

For an appetizer, we had fresh sea scallops in a citrus beurre blanc. Then I sliced the leftover pork into my homemade barbeque sauce, topped it with sautéed onions and served it on fresh baked sesame seed hard rolls. With Friday night’s scalloped potatoes and re-crisped sweet potato fries, it was a great Sunday supper. I felt a little guilty with no green on the plate but quickly forgave myself knowing that we’d be eating more than our fair share of veggies during the week to pay penance for a weekend of eating high off the hog (pun intended!)

Our first course of scallops in citrus beurre blanc

Barbecued pork on homemade roll w/ scalloped poatoes and sweet potato fries

To finish off the weekend and the birthday celebration, I invented a new dessert by baking a fresh vanilla cupcake, and stuffing it with Granny’s leftover chocolate mess, toasted chopped pecans, and serving with 2 big scoops of Ben and Jerry’s pistachio ice cream! Creative use of leftovers is one of my favorite pastimes and I outdid myself this time, making the dinner at Max’s a birthday gift that kept on giving!

Recycled birthday cupcake

I had thought to write a pithy post about the weekend of fine food that celebrated my husband’s birthday, but all I can seem to focus on at the moment is how terrible I feel in the wake of all those calorie laden repasts. After giving free reign to my taste buds all weekend, I feel an enormous resistance to pulling myself back in. It’s Monday and I want nothing but to continue gorging on one gourmet treat after another, knowing that to do so would soon make real what at this point is only a crazy, imagined sense that I’m getting fat.

I know that I’m not alone in this struggle with food and fat. Learning to enjoy the bounty of all the fantastic food available, especially to those of us who love to cook and bake, while trying to avoid the physical ramifications of over indulging is an ongoing challenge for many of us. I haven’t yet landed on any easy answer but sometimes just sharing the journey can help.

There are answers, of course; just not easy ones. Exercise helps and balance is definitely the key. Everything in moderation, as they say. But moderation isn’t easy, at least not for me. If something is good, I want more of it. Preferably, right now. Like a good friend of mine says: I can get addicted to anything that makes me feel good now and bad later. So here I am admitting that the indulgences of this past weekend, while fabulous at the time, don’t feel so hot now but still, I want more!

Fortunately, all the leftovers were cleverly recycled and consumed yesterday (I will  post about this soon!) so the fridge is bare of anything truly tempting. I’m back on my weekday regimen of lean protein, veggies and whole grains but I just needed to register my feelings of protest. Thanks for reading and I’d love to know: how are you all doing with the war between food and fat?