So yesterday I told the tale of the Boy 's Valentine's Day plan to cook a meal for His Girl. And this led to the epic of bringing the Bialetti Mukka Express to the House. Because he wanted to more for her than just giver her something. He wanted to do something.
The Boy of the House is an excellent gift giver. When he was five and went to the mall he had fifteen dollars to spend on a present for me for Hanukkah and he insisted on picking it out himself. He went where grown men should fear to tred and bought me a ring. It was a silver interpretation of an amalfi swirl with an oval of abalone in the center being framed by the swirl. Most of these rings are trite, or the composition is off balance, and it would be one of the things that you love because your child gave it to you, but it wouldn't make the "wear it everyday" rotation.
Somehow he found the only silver cart ring in the known universe that was not only something that I would buy myself if I bought silver cart rings, it was perfectly proportioned on my freakishly long fingers and exactly my taste. So I found that I loved it in addition to it being given to me by my five year old. And then when I realized that it was MY taste and NOT his, I hugged him again and told him that he wasn't allowed to start dating until he was 126.
If he could do this at 5, I feared for his dating years. I still have the ring - the abalone separated from it about a year and a half ago and, yes I will actually take it to a jeweler to get it replaced. I've never seen another ring like it, though I'm sure it was mass produced. It's like he willed it into existence.
Oh yes, the Perfectly Normal Husband did indeed bring The Boy with him when he chose an engagement ring for me. A ring I might point out that I resisted as unnecessary, because I'm really hard to buy for. But I am the Boy's mother. So maybe it would be different when he really was old enough to date.
He made His Girl a bracelet when they started as a couple, (completely breaking the "when you're 126 rule"). He introduced her to Poppets because she is a Neil Gaiman fan, He bought her a one of a kind hand crafted modern necklace for her Bat Mitzvah, where we went to the store and the woman who runs it tried to show him "appropriate" (read "girly, delicate and pink") gifts. I told her to let him look on his own, that he had a pretty large budget and excellent taste and His Girl was not "girly" that way, she was "girly" in a completely different way.
He chose two necklaces both involving the color green - which he knew was the color of her birthstone, one was very modern and sculptural with mottled greens, blues and golds and the other was green tourmaline set in marcasite and antique. He decided to get both and give her one for her Bnai' Mitzvot and the other for her birthday which was several months away. And he knew the date off the top of his head. (He SO didn't get that from me.) When we attended the service for her - the present yet ungiven we saw her new tallit (prayer shawl) had a border on it that was handpainted with exactly the kind of mottling and texture as the necklace he had chosen for her, with all the same colors. Worn together the two pieces look for all the world like they had been made for the same artist.
I figured he had seen the tallit before he went shopping for her. No - he had no idea, he just picked something that he thought she would like, that he thought would look good on her.
He was just really, really right.
By the way Luda, the shop owner, now just shows him the new artists' work that came in.
It's a little scary.
For their first anniversary - which takes place in the middle of the 8 weeks at camp, he got her a Yellow Poppet because yellow is the color for 1 year. Who knew years had colors? How did he know years had colors? He ordered it two months in advance, packed it in his gear, and I found out later left it on her bunk when her group was out with a yellow flower.
So not only did she see it when the group returned from the hike, but so did all of her bunkmates.
No question who it was from - he owns the only Poppets at camp.
He's making life very difficult for the other male significant others around him.
The Perfectly Normal Husband says that between the Boy and Obama, the expectations for men in long term relationships is going to actually require some effort.
I suppose the men will have to adjust - or be happy that The Boy is a one girl kind of boy.
So now he brought his attention to what he wanted that wasn't a piece of jewelry, but was still a gift. He is a very intentional giver.
He doesn't do these things in a vacuum and he does ask for advice. He and I have discussed that at their age actual jewelry given by a boyfriend should be something that is her taste, but should have something about it that reminds her of him.
Because someday it will be in a jewelry box when she is older and she should be able to have fond memories of the boy and wear it occasionally and tell the stories of the two of them. They are each other's first significant other. He'll always have the Edgar Allen Poe book, she'll always have the necklaces. That's the way these things work. Come what may.
How The Boy went about Gifting a Meal
He brought out the cookbook and asked me to sit with him to answer questions. What was the most important thing to remember when cooking a complex meal like this?
"The most important thing is to serve it all at the right temperature."
"What are you doing?"
"I found the dessert I want to make. Here. Take a look."
Oh. He's really serious about this.
You see, even with all that background, I assumed he was going to make something fairly standard, like a london broil or chicken cutlets or something. He CAN cook, he's been learning bits and pieces at home. He's joined a few cooking clubs at school and at camp, but he was looking at peanut butter- chocolate mousse terrine. Completely from scratch, like melting your own damn chocolate.
"She likes peanut butter, and this looks tasty."
"OK. Read the recipe, make sure it looks like you can do everything it says or that you'll be willing to learn if you don't know the technique and set the rest of the menu."
This was when the discussion of cappuccino came up. I'll admit that I kept my counsel to myself because I was curious as to what he would come up with. He studied the book for a while and noticed that there was a Tiramisu Cheesecake as well - we marked that for home use later.
He picked the main course next - Tangy Citrus Chicken - he looked at it and saw that it was spicy, which she also likes but it looked like it had enough flavor and wasn't too spicy for him.
Then he got the next piece of coaching : When you've chosen the centerpiece of your meal, the next most important thing is to make sure all of the flavors that you choose to accompany it compliment each other.
And if you've chosen to make a meat meal - make sure that the dessert you pick is parve. Parve means neither meat nor dairy. You should be able to serve it with everything. We keep a form of kosher at the House, but when you cook for someone else who also keeps kosher, you use ALL the rules instead of House Rules. This won't make a lot of sense to some of the readers, but those of us who have to balance the whole religious discipline/real life balance will recognize that this is important - there is nothing less romantic than having to wonder whether or not you can actually eat what your sweetheart made you. The non-religious equivalent would be that you you can't boil the pasta in chicken broth for the Valentine's Pasta Primavera that you made for your vegetarian girlfriend.
He checked to make sure - the terrine was parve - yes - Desserts are Go.
His final menu was
- Tangy Citrus Chicken
- Glazed Sweet Potatos
- Spinach Leek Tart
- Peanut Butter Chocalate Mousse Terrine
- Virgin Mojitos
"Are you sure?"
Then he made a full list of all the needed ingredients and went through the cupboards to check off the things that we had. He created the shopping list of the things that needed to be fresh or things that we didn't have. He read all four recipes and we discussed the things that he would need to learn, and then we charted out how long each item would take to cook and what could be made in advance.
And this was when we realized the Terrine was going to take 3 days. And that we weren't completely sure what a terrine was - I had thought it was a kind of special pan and I wasn't too far off, but it ends up that it's the same a a loaf pan. Which we have plenty of.
The Boy was scheduled to be off from school on the Friday and Monday around V-Day so we planned the first leg of the Terrine for Friday. The final glaze goes on right before serving it so that would be done on Sunday.
When we post the recipes for the sweet potatoes and the tart, I'll talk some more about the general preparations but for now we'll move ahead with the recipe for dessert.
Peanut Butter - Chocolate Mousse Terrine by Susie Fishbein
INGREDIENTS FOR THE PEANUT BUTTER LAYER
2 cups of confectioners sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons jarred creamy peanut butter
8 oz of non-dairy cream cheese
3 tablespoons of parve whipping cream
2 large egg whites.
The first thing you have to do is line a 6 cup loaf pan with plastic wrap. So we had a loaf pan, but we had no idea if it was 6 cups because that's not the way we usually measure the things that go into it.
The obvious solution was to pour six cups of water into the pan and see if that made it mostly full. The Top of a Choco Poppet was about a smidge under the edge of the pan so if the Choco Poppet needed to tread water at 6 cups we were good and if it was only ruff deep we were going to have to compensate.
The above pic was at 4 cups - we were exactly right. It was 6 cups only the tip of his hood was above the waterline at the end. The volunteers dried themselves off after a brisk swim.
We did not use the same pan we had measured the water in so that we wouldn't have to wait for it to dry.
Now it was time to line the loaf pan with plastic wrap
The Boy worked on making the outside tension as even as possible and the Choco's helped weight down the corners on the inside until it was as flat as it could be.
Now it was time to start mixing stuff - originally The Boy was going to go shopping for the ingredients with me, but the impending blizzard made that impractical. When we saw the weather forecast, we made the decision to buy everything that might be needed, that could be obtained on the Tuesday before the snow started.
Here's a nasty little truth about desserts made with non-dairy substitutions. If you buy the wrong thing you will never, never be able to ditch the chemical taste if it's truly fake, or a slightly bitter or flat taste if you use vegan substitutes. Choosing good ingredients is always important, but way more so in a parve desert if you want it to taste like a crowning achievement instead of a poor man's compromise.
So since there were going to be two non-dairy elements to this layer - the quality, texture and aroma, as well as the taste of the peanut butter was paramount. Unsure, I picked up two different peanut butters, Skippy and an organic that I had liked for something else.
The Chocos set up the taste test and told The Boy to choose.
Skippy won. The texture and the aroma were both fuller.
The other advantage we had was a previous awareness of a non-dairy cream cheese that didn't suck and actually tastes and acts like cream cheese. Admittedly, it tastes and acts like low-fat cream cheese but that's still head and shoulders above the other options.
It's called "Better Than Cream Cheese" great for vegans and friends who are lactose intolerant.
Now I wish I had such kind things to say about the parve whipped cream. There is a rant on my part that goes with it along with several unkind things I have to say about helicopter parents, holier than thou kashrut warring co-religionists and powertripping rabbis. But this was about The Boy's Girl and not about me or my arguments with certain religious people. So I went and tried to find something that would meet the abstruse standard of the modern rabbinical world that didn't take like sweet, soupy, chemical, drek.
I pondered soy whipping cream but wasn't sure it would actually whip. Finally when push came to shove and impending snow doom threatened, I figured we would just have to improvise with aerosol canister whipping cream which the Boy would then let settle and deflate and become parve whipping cream again.
It was at least parve, hekshered and not too bad. But I would not go so far as to call it "good" on it's own.
Peanut Butter Layer
In a large bowl with the mixer at medium speed - you mix the sugar, peanut butter, parve cream cheese and the whipping cream.
So that's what The Boy and the Poppets did.
In a medium bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
"Have you ever separated eggs before?"
"Time to learn"
I taught him how to gently crack the egg in the center and twirl it so that the tapping against the edge of the bowl took the crack about 3/4 of the way around the egg. Gently separating the cracked halves of the shell you let the white start streaming out and use the shell halves as a kind of cup making sure the surface tension of the yolk isn't compromised. When enough of the white had drained that the yolk is safely in half the shell, you gently and slowly separate the two halves and then transfer the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves with the white draining off the edge of the shells until all that is being transferred is the yolk and all the whites are in the target bowl. Then you put the yolk in a sealable container because you are going to use them later. I did the first one as an example and he did all of the separated eggs that followed after.
Here is the Boy separating his first egg and the Chocos supplying color commentary.
Using a whisk he whipped the eggs into soft peaks. This was aslo the first time he had done that, and he was surprised at how stiff the whites got. It takes a while - he would have called it at two different points before it was actually the right texture.
Now he had to fold the egg whites into the peanut butter mixture. This is the part that really makes it a mousse. It's important.
There was a time between the 1970s and the beginnings of the Food Channel where people lost track of how to cook and certain cooking terms. A lot of people think that "folding" is stirring really slowly. It's not. Stirring breaks things down and integrates them into something like a mousse in a really different way. Sometime around 2002, I was reading how Betty Crocker was simplifying some of it's recipe language and "fold" was one of the words they were getting rid of in their blueberry muffin mix.
Poor Boy, sometimes it's really rough to have me as a mother - but I promise you as of this weekend he does know how to fold egg whites into a batter. His risen waffles are going to be amazing someday.
In order to fold the egg whites in you use a soft spatula or flattened spoon and scoop your beaten egg whites into the center of your larger bowl.
You run the spatula around the edge of the bowl, going down under the egg whites so it's like slowly stirring on a diagonal.
When you hit the halfway point you continue the diagonal stirring movement bringing the mixture up and over the eggwhite creating a fold of the mixture over the eggwhites and bringing the spoon down on the other side of the edge repeating the process and moving a little further down the side until you've slowly gone the whole circumference of the bowl.
Since the up and over part is the most important one after you've found the most comfortable way to keep up the folding motion and turning the bowl you'll probably be holding the bowl in some variation like this.
When the egg whites are thoroughly folded in they will look like this:
Now that was a lot of words, when what was really happening was a lot of show and tell. Maybe some of the words are wrong or don't make sense.
I found a video that does it the way we do - Here it is.
And the Food Channel became really popular so maybe everyone knows about things like folding and blanching again.
Now we take the mixture and put it into the lined loaf pan-
The recipe says:
With the pan in front of you, horizontally tilt the pan to a 45 degree angle. Spoon the mousse into it, the mousse will from a 45 degree angle with the pan. Place the pan into the freezer propping it up to keep the angle.
What really happened is that we tried this, since we had two people.
I held the pan at the angle and he poured in the peanut butter mousse. But it didn't work out well logistically and what we did instead was pour in the batter trying to avoid one side and then tilting the pan to the forty five degree angle or whatever angle it ended up being that didn't spill over the side. Then we had to find a way for it to stay in that angle in the freezer. We tried a bunch of stuff, but finally we were able to use an empty prescription pill bottle. That worked. We shut the freezer door, our personal three stooges homage over.
This is your mousse. This is your mousse on drug bottles. Any Questions?
No we did not get any pics of this step. The Poppets were laughing to hard to hold the camera.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CHOCOLATE LAYER
8 oz of good quality semisweet chocolate chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of instant coffee
2 1/2 teaspoons of water, room temperature
3 egg yolks
1 cup of parve whipping cream
As you can see the Coffee Poppets came along to find the least offensive instant coffee available. The Chocos convinced them that instant coffee is a great ingredient, and no one was asking them to drink it so they should lighten up. The agreed to lighten up in exchange for some of the finished product.
Then they could decide about this whole "ingredient" thing for themselves.
Melt the chocolate in top of a double boiler or in a pan set over a pot of simmering water. Stir until smooth.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Dissolve the coffee in the water into a small bowl whisk the egg yolks into the coffee.
The mixture will look like this.
Add the mixture into the warm chocolate and stir until smooth - beat the cream until soft peaks form.
A word on this. As you recall we're not using real cream, were using fake cream, and we're using fake cream that has been whipped in a whipping can. But there's no way to measure the volume of the whipping cream prior to it being whipped and we need a full cup as a starting point. So we had to spray out the whipped stuff, wait for it to "unwhip" and then pour it into the Kitchenaid and whip it again.
Dude. A Kitchenaid on high with a whisk attachment can give you fresh whipped cream in 3 minutes. In 4-5 you get butter. He started the cream the same time the chocolate was removed from the heat - all in all it took 15 minutes to get that stuff up to something resembling "soft peaks" . I want a better parve whipping cream dammit.
Gently fold the cream into the chocolate until fully incorporated.
Darn tootin' you fold it in "gently"! It took you a whole lot of time to get it fluffy, you don't want to squish it flat with aggressive folding.
Set the peanut butter mousse flat in front of you. Spoon the chocolate mousse over the frozen peanut butter mousse.
Smooth the top.
Cover the pan.
The Choco poppets found new recipes in the Ghirardelli Wrappers. I sense Mississippi Mud Bars in our future.
Now the previous layers took place over two days. You have to make the glaze shortly before you serve it. The Boy made the Glaze on Sunday between dinner and dessert.
INGREDIENTS FOR GLAZE
2/3 of a cup of parve whipping creme ( this thankfully killed off the can. It tasted great in the finished dish but I'll be happy if I never have to use it this way again)
6 tablespoons of Margarine
5 oz semisweet chocolate
Heat the cream and margarine in a medium saucepan over a low heat until the cream simmers and the margarine is melted.
In order to make the margarine as smooth as possible I taught the boy to stir constantly while melting it in order to keep it from separating into oils and when it was fully melted add and stir in the cream, then wait for the simmer. This prevents the dreaded texture difference that you can sometimes tell in a parve desert that's used margarine.
Turn off the heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until the mixture is smooth
Let cool until thickened, but still able to be poured.
If making in advance place in an airtight container with lid but do not refrigerate or it will be too thick to pour and spread.
You have to remove the terrine form the freezer 15 minutes before serving it. Invert it onto a cake platter:
Note the cool diagonal presentation . . . . . Ooooh . . . . . . Ahhhhhhh . . . . . .
Pour the glaze over the mousse and smooth. The Boy opted for a kind of abstract art thing.
When we packed it up after dinner we poured the rest of the glaze over it for a full on candy coating effect.
The final product served with a drizzle of caramel sauce.
The peanut butter mousse tastes like a sophisticated Reese's peanut butter cup filling. The Chocolate mousse is not sweet at all and acts as a counter and a heavier base for the PB Mousse. The Glaze is awesomely delicious and I will probably make it solo to go over other things.
The yield is 8-10 servings and quite frankly it's very rich so I think we're really looking at something more like 10 -12.
He prepared it two days in advance and it was more than fine. When we made the cappuccino we used a soy based milk to keep it parve. Silk is pretty good.
So to celebrate V-day the Boy
- Spent three days making a dessert
- Learned how to separate eggs
- Learned how to whisk egg whites into soft peaks
- Learned how to properly melt chocolate in a double boiler
- Learned the proper method for folding things into a mixture
- Learned the proper method for melting margarine for a baking recipe
- Learned that even with two people it is very hard to hold a loaf pan at a 45 degree angle and pour out mousse.
Coffee Poppets learned that instant coffee deserves to exist if it helps make chocolate mousse.
- that when The Boy wants to plan something special, I should assume it will not be simple.
- to cut smaller slices when serving this terrine.
- that at the end of it all when we were doing the clean up, he thought all of the work for whole thing was worth it because His Girl likes peanut butter.
And then I tried not to be a sappy mom when I saw him smile thinking about giving it to her.
- I learned that I couldn't quite manage that, and did the silly tearing up thing that moms sometimes do because they are overwhelmed with love for their kid. But I did manage to not get caught.
I suppose now I'll find out if he ever really reads the blog.
The Choco Poppets retired to rest, and then the Pumpkin Spice Poppets came in the next day to help because the plan called for the Glazed Sweet Potatoes to be made in advance.
Sweet Potatoes remind them of Pumpkins - they are SO there.