16 May 2005
What was I going to fix for dessert?
I had figured out the rest of the menu. I was going to go with my own version of Strings Cafe's Caribbean chicken, with lettuce, mandarin oranges, strawberries, avocado, chicken strips, toasted almonds, and a raspberry vinaigrette.
I also thought I'd make some breadsticks like they serve at the Olive Garden.
But I didn't know what to make for dessert. I could get some ice cream. Or maybe cookies. Or perhaps some sort of banana or strawberry whip with mashed fruit and Cool Whip.
Then it hit me. Of course! The answer was so obvious. I'd make Crème Brûlée.
Mary and Tricia were coming for lunch. Mary lives outside Seattle, Tricia lives in San Jose. Mary had flown to San Jose to see Tricia's son Austin in a performance Saturday night and the two of them decided that they would drive up to Davis and see me on Sunday.
Mary and Tricia are part of the former CompuServe Women's Issues forum. We've been friends for about 12-15 years now. 99% of our interaction is on line, since our group is spread out, essentially all over the world (if you count diane [sic] in England and Sian in Orkney). We come together periodically as a group, though we haven't done that now for a couple of years. But we also try not to pass up a chance to get together in smaller groups when someone is going to be in the area. Pat was supposed to come up from Burbank, but ended up having other things to do.
Thing is, that a few years back, we all met in Portland. In Portland we went out to dinner at a wonderful restaurant, Higgins. I don't remember what I ordered for dinner that night, but I know that many of us ordered Crème Brûlée for dessert and we all agreed it was the best we'd ever tasted.
Since then, because we tend to talk about things like this forever, we have been drooling over the Crème Brûlée at Higgins and promising to go back again some day.
So it was obvious that if Mary and Tricia were coming to lunch, I had to make Crème Brûlée for dessert.
I don't remember why I got a late start. It was one of those days when I knew I was going to do it, and I just kept putting off starting. I had searched the internet for recipes and finally found one that I liked. It was pretty simple--just cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla mixed in special ways and then poured into custard cups in a water bath (hot water poured around them) and baked for "30-35 minutes."
The recipe said to put it in a pan that was 3" deep so that you could fill the pan with water and that the water would rise up high enough on the custard cups. The only thing I could find that deep was a springform pan and, not thinking that perhaps a springform pan might not be watertight, I began filling it with the hot water, noticing that the water level didn't seem to be rising and then realizing that the counter was covered with water. Water that was threatening to spill over onto the Pergo.
Walt happened to be standing there and we both jumped for towels and sopped it up before it flooded the new floor. I found a pan that was more shallow than 3", but it looked like it would do. I put the custard cups in the oven and made some raspberry vinaigrette for the salad.
You were supposed to cook the custard until the middle was "jiggily." After 30 minutes, the middle was more than "jiggily," it was downright liquid. I decided to give it another 10 minutes. Ten minutes later, I decided it needed another 30 minutes. Thirty minutes later, I set the timer for another 30 minutes. All in all, the custards baked for more than 2 hours by the time I decided that if they weren't jiggily now, they never would be and removed them from the oven. By now it was also 1 a.m.
I put the custards in the refrigerator, nearly dropping a bottle of wine on them in the process. It would have been the perfect end to the project if, after all that time, I'd smashed them with a wine bottle, but I was able to catch it in time, as well as the package of french rolls that dropped onto my head while I was trying to catch the wine bottle.
The puppies hadn't awakened for their 11 p.m. feeding yet, and I was convinced I'd just get to sleep and they would wake up but, bless them, they slept through until 5:30 a.m.
In the morning, I got up and made the dough for bread sticks, baked them, and was just about to tear up the lettuce for the salad when Tricia and Mary showed up. It was so good to see them. It's been two years since I've seen Mary (my adopted "other daughter") and at least as long, if not longer, since I've seen Tricia.
We did hugs and admiration of the floor and cooing at the puppies and then I got the salad put together and everybody to the table. They loved the salad and while we were eating, I turned on the broiler to see if I could do that crusty sugary coating that makes plain custard "Crème Brûlée." I don't have one of those little kitchen torches where you can brown them individually and had to rely on the broiler to do the job. It's not as pretty as the torch would be, but it worked and I served the Crème Brûlée with nicely browned topping.
Then came the acid test--had I over cooked the custard? We dipped our spoons in, took the first taste and....my heavens was that good! It was perfect. Almost as good as Higgins'.
It was, in the end, worth all the work, all the catastrophies, all the waiting, all the worrying. The only bad part was that there wasn't enough for seconds. But I think that before I attempt to make it again, I'm going to go buy a kitchen torch--and start a lot earlier in the evening!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
The pupppies had their first trip outside today, when I was trying to