Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dinner for the Folks

Thanks to everyone who voted in my "What Should I Make My Parents for Dinner?" poll.

The resounding winner was: Chicken cutlets. Reservations came in a distant second. I'm glad to see you've got some faith in my new cooking abilities.

My parents arrived at our apartment Monday morning. As usual, they were early -- so early, in fact, that I hadn't yet arrived home from my work shift and food shop at the co-op. I finally showed up lugging two big bags of groceries, including ingredients for the big dinner I had promised them.

After months of reading about my cooking, my parents wanted to actually witness my domestic transformation for themselves -- and taste my cooking.

I had prepared the menu in advance:

White bean puree with baguette
Arugula salad with cherry tomatoes and crunchy sprouts
Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts
Chicken Cutlets
Chocolate Mousse

Nothing so overwhelming I would get performance anxiety. In fact, I had already tested all of these dishes except for the Chocolate Mousse.

Since I had never hosted a dinner party before, it was intimidating enough cooking for six adults and two children. My parents are not gourmands and I felt confident they would be impressed with nearly anything their darling daughter prepared. But my brother, Steve, is an experienced cook who has strong opinions about food. I didn't want to disappoint him or his lovely wife, Francesca (what was I thinking cooking pasta for a real Italian?)

I cheated on the bean puree by defrosting the white beans and garlic I cooked last week. But when I tried to puree them in the food processor, I couldn't get it to turn on. My mom helped me transfer them to the blender, but the frozen bean block seemed jammed the blender.

My dad got the bright idea of using a potato masher to puree the beans.

"Don't panic. Improvise," he wisely advised.

Since my dad likes to be busy, I assigned him the job of chopping garlic for the pasta dish. It was a father-daughter bonding moment!

For my birthday on Friday, Dori gave me Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. How did she know it was just what I wanted? I left her a phone message detailing my b-day wish list! She also came through with a bar of Mast Brothers chocolate, which is worth the outrageous price tag (especially when it's a gift).

I relied on Bittman for my chocolate mousse recipe:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (or use chips)
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Bittman recommends using a double boiler or a small saucepan over low heat to melt the butter and chocolate together, but I cheated and used the microwave. Just before the chocolate finishes melting, remove it from the stove (or microwave) and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.

2. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a bowl and beat in the egg yolks with a whisk. Try not to nibble at it too much. Refrigerate.

3. Beat the egg whites with half the sugar until they hold stiff peaks but are not dry. Set aside. Beat the cream with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until it holds soft peaks.

4. Stir in a couple of spoonfuls of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit, then fold in the remaining whites thoroughly but gently. Fold in the cream and refrigerate until chilled. If you are in a hurry, divide the mousse among 6 cups, it will chill much faster. Serve within a day or two.

Top with Whipped Cream and shaved chocolate if you like (I like!).

"It will take forever by hand. You can beat from today 'til tomorrow and it won't work," said Mom as she watched me try to complete step 3. She took control and starting whipping with the hand blender. Still, it wore out her arm pretty fast.

"The cook book said this would be easy, but this is a pain in the ass!" I said.

"That's why I don't make stuff with peaks," my mom said.

Meanwhile, my dad urged Ruby to join me in the kitchen.

"Watch your mom, so you can learn how to cook and you won't have to start a blog about cooking when you grow up."

Ha ha.

Ruby watched closely as my mom instructed me on how to fold the chocolate (I don't even know how to fold clothes!).

Then, I got the inspired idea to serve the mousse in the champagne flutes we got from our wedding registry.

"Well, even if the rest of the meal is a disaster, at least you've got the dessert down," said my dad.

Just about then I realized that the one table cloth I have was too small for the dining room table once it's opened up to seat so many people. Also, I didn't have enough cloth napkins and chairs for everyone. Oh well. I took my dad's advice and improvised, rather than panicked.

The meal was prepped and the table was set by the time my brother and Francesca showed up, but I was still in serious denial about the chicken cutlets. I hadn't thought through how I was going to cook up so many in my small kitchen.

Luckily, my brother, a musician and high school English teacher who spent his post-college years working in various kitchens, is handy with a frying pan.

I felt like a little kid again having my big brother come in and save the day.

We knocked out the (perfectly tender) chicken cutlets just in time for Avo to walk in the door. I handed him a glass of wine and we all sat down to a lovely family meal.

And what do you know? It was delicious.

But tonight I'm making my parents take us out to dinner.


Muffy Sainte-Marie said...

you go, girl. i'm proud of you!! and i voted for the chicken cutlets...
; ) hope you had a great birthday! xoxo

Dori said...

You left me hanging! More details, please, about the dishes! Critiques from your guests/kids/husband? Sounds great! How'd you make the cutlets?

Undomesticated Me said...

Of course, Jesse wouldn't try anything, but everyone else loved it. I used "The Joy of Cooking" recipe for breaded chicken cutlets (p. 589).

I was pleased that the pasta was perfectly al dente; the chicken was tender; and the broccoli was not too crisp and not too soft. Just right! Oh, and the mousse was out of this world (I even made the whip cream by hand). Aren't you proud of me?

Dori said...

Very proud indeed!