Meal Two: Ionut, birthday edition

Last week, I was bestowed a particularly delightful honor — to cook for a longtime friend on his birthday. However, with great honor comes great responsibility. I spent a lot of time stressing about Ionut’s birthday menu, particularly because he just may be Meals with MelRob’s number one fan, not to mention a professional blogger of his own, guyzeyez. I wanted to tantalize him with an appetizer, impress him with the main course, and finally seduce him with dessert. Did I succeed? Read on and you can decide for yourself.

The Menu:

White bean and asparagus dip (adapted from this recipe) with tortilla chips, using parsley in place of basil

Homemade bread bowls (adapted from this “Health Nut” recipe) – I used a margarine and soy milk wash to substitute the traditional egg wash

– Pure de Calabacin, i.e. zucchini and squash soup (complements of Morgan & York via Locavorious)

Pumpkin “Tiramisu” (from Chef Chloe’s blog) 

Breakdown:

As I write about this meal, I realize one of the tragic shortcomings about a blog attempting to share experiences centered around food, eating, and cooking: nothing can substitute the experience of taste or how it feels to be warmed from the inside out after eating a bowl of warm soup in the winter. Or the way fresh bread smells, melts in the mouth. Luckily, pictures of food (i.e.,”food porn”) seem to stimulate some important senses for viewers that tend to lend in the vicarious appreciation of meals cooked, consumed. Enjoy!

I'm going through a dip phase; no, not like dipping tobacco. Can you blame me?

Some great things about making dips:

1) Dips are the easiest to make if you have a food processor. Often, you can create a sophisticated dip in under ten minutes by throwing raw or mostly raw ingredients in a food processor. 

2) Liberate yourself from recipes! I rarely measure my ingredients when making a dip and often substitute or add some of my own flare. My fall-back additions tend to be (more) garlic, dijon mustard, various vinegars (like balsamic and red wine), and nutritional yeast. I didn’t have any basil and substituted parsley in the White Bean and Asparagus dip, still comprising a delicious dip. The flexibility dips offer provides an easy way for new cooks to experiment and bend the “rules” outlined in recipes, potentially boosting one’s self esteem in the kitchen. What else matters, anyway?

3) Impress your friends. I try to all the time via dips and have had pretty successful results. I also use dips to trick people into eating more veggies and/or to try new veggies (or nutritional yeast). Don’t tell my friends, please. 

Stirring the soup, pre-blending.

Blending soups using an immersion blender or standard blender renders even cream-less soups creamy, with rich flavor in every spoonful that will leave dinner guests in awe of the simple complexity.

Soup is s[o]uper and blended soup is great, see the above caption, but please don’t burn yourself or otherwise cause bodily or emotional harm to yourself or others in the process. The zucchini and summer squash used were complements of my frozen CSA, as was the asparagus used in the dip. THX, LOCAVORIOUS!

Don't forget to garnish, unless you want guests to forget your meal. #harshtruths

Some notes on the bread bowls:

1) I am a very novice bread baker and making these made me very nervous, but no one could tell! I literally googled any questions and concerns I had regarding the dough consistency and the bread flourished. I used a pizza stone on which to bake the bread, but it’s not necessary. 

2) I found out by the last bread bowl that capturing the bowl shape is dependent on letting the final rise occur inside a bowl. Go figure. 

Words cannot describe.

Layers: vanilla cake with an espresso and amaretto soak, pumpkin creme, and whipped chocolate tofu topping.

I want to eat this right now.

“Tiramisu” notes:

1) I’ve never had “real” tiramisu, but I don’t think this is an approximate. Still, it was a fantastically moist cake and the espresso-amaretto soak really shined through and I would dare to add more next time. The three hours it took to make this were ABSOLUTELY worth it. 

2) The whipped topping I made was too runny and I would not turn to tofu again for this base. Soy can have a weird aftertaste that is not covered or complementary in the sweet realm of desserts, though I love tofu sour “creams”.

Thoughts on Intimacy: 

Alan, Ionut, and Megan, about to enjoy their Meal with MelRob. Note bread bowls of varying bowl form, and, actual bowl.

As I stressed over cooking the perfect birthday meal for Ionut, I jotted down ideas that included soup, bread bowls, and asparagus, though I couldn’t initially pinpoint why these sounded like excellent ideas for Ionut’s dinner. It warmed my heart to remember later that Ionut loves asparagus and appreciates a good soup. Ionut reminded me that bread bowls are a big thing in Romania (from where his family originates). I couldn’t recall the moments in which I mapped out these dietary preferences or heard him list these items as favorites; yet, I made these connections on some level, knowing his taste in a intimate way that rendered this meal a product of years of friendship as well as a foundation on which to generate new intimacies among friends.

After the fourth spill at this meal, I felt momentarily disheartened.

Birthday Boy

Photo credit to Ionut’s iPhone and cool filter application that I don’t understand, but now want.

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