Monday, February 22, 2010

Bob's Bday World Tour

For Bob's birthday weekend, I had to outdo my indoor camping trip adventure and a LOST weekend. We had originally been looking at planning a Europe trip this spring that needed to be postponed, but I figured I would bring the cities we were going to visit to the birthday boy instead! I split the apartment up into sections and decorated each area as needed to represent London, Paris, Amsterdam and Venice. Note: a real trip to Europe is still an essential trip that needs to happen - there are still many places I haven't been and Bob is ever closer to sending in his passport application.

I made a card with the US passport photo on the front and room for stamps on the inside. At each area of the house I left a stamp and inkpad that we would use to fill out his card as we moved along.

After feeling guilty for kicking him out of the house for a few hours, I let him back in via the back door for the first stop: Our Master Bedroom a.k.a. Foggy London Town.

I used our giant TV box from our new bedroom TV for the wall art including this Big Ben - let me tell you something, that cardboard is thick and the glossy outside of the box does not easily cut through. Was glad I set aside a full hour for the art projects! I painted it black and made a clock face and clouds. All of our British-based DVDs and English Literature (can I call Harry Potter "literature?) were also strewn about the room and The Clash was blaring from my iPod dock as we entered. 

Bob's gift was a messenger bag from the Gap, an Eddie Bauer umbrella and some toasty socks to get him through the travels. 

The second stop was Venice. Now, this was not actually on our list of cities to hit in our trip to Europe, but I couldn't resist turning the long hallway into a gondolier-led journey. Luckily, the sheets on our guest beds are blue (okay, a bit more gray and black than blue, so I pretended it was night!) so I laid them out the length of the hallway. The cats had a lot of fun with this while I waited for Bob to get home! Another TV box creation hung on the wall - a gondolier and our "ride". My laptop was hidden in the guest bathroom so I hit play as we started the walk so we could listen to an Italian Diva from the Sopranos soundtrack. Originally I thought I would need to buy some music off of iTunes for the various areas but once I started thinking about my collection I realized I had them covered. 
 Next up was Amsterdam. While the mind could wander to some questionable activities in this area of the house, if you know me at all you know its clean living all the way. I focused on two of the Netherlands most notable outputs: tulips and van Gogh. This came with the promise to go the Art Institute sometime soon!
 The next area was Belgium - at this point in the evening we were just flying over it, getting a sneak peek at what would come later on in the night: Stella Artois, Belgian chocolates and In Bruges!

First up though was dinner - in this case, we headed to France. The counter was stacked with french books and movies and the soundtrack to 8 Women was playing through the TV. The world's worst drawing of the Eiffel Tower (although Bob argues it was accurate) accompanied the display. 

Attempting to make the table a bit more "Romantic French Bistro" I added a tablecloth (actually a sheet) and a small vase of roses (actually some nearly dead tulips that got darker and opened up more). 

Here's the meal rundown:

Gougeres were first up - these were so incredibly easy and I had enough left over dough to stick in the fridge and bake up a couple days later.

Makes about 28

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Large pinch of coarse salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
3 1/2 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (1 cup), plus more for sprinkling
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.  Scrape the dough into a bowl; let cool for 1 minute. Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. Add the cheese and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip and pipe tablespoon-size mounds onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven until piping hot.


When making the choux pastry, it is important to be sure that each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next. Don’t worry if the batter separates and looks curdled at first. Keep beating, and it will come together nicely. 

French Bistro Salad with Warm Goat Cheese Croutons
2 servings

Basic Vinaigrette (recipe follows) 
3 cups Ready Pac Parisian bagged salad mix 
2 (1/4-inch) slices baguette 
1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 
2 (1/4-inch thick) slices Goat Cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare Basic Vinaigrette. Toss greens with vinaigrette and divide evenly between 2 bowls. Lightly brush each side of each baguette slice with oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted. Top with cheese slices; return to oven and bake for another 5 minutes. Place a crouton on top of each salad and serve immediately. 

Basic Vinaigrette: Whisk together 1-1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp. red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard and 1/8 tsp. sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Asparagus with Mushroom Cream Sauce
4 servings

20 fat asparagus spears (1 to 1½ pounds)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, trimmed, washed, and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dry (fino) sherry
Chopped chives for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, break off the woody bottom sections of the asparagus and peel the spears up to the flower buds. Put the butter and oil in a skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When the butter melts, add the mushrooms, shallots, and salt and pepper to taste and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and it has begun to evaporate, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and boil, stirring occasionally, until mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, salt the boiling water and blanch the asparagus for about 5 minutes, or until bright green and just about tender. Drain and keep warm.When the mushroom mixture is creamy but not soupy, stir in the sherry. Cook for another minute, then spoon over the asparagus. Garnish with the chives and serve.

Finally, I was planning on making
Steak au Poivre, but my limited access to stores prevented me from picking up Cognac in time. Instead, I cooked the steaks with pepper and salt on each side and used the Mushroom cream sauce for the steak as well.
Uncork a nice French Red and Bon Appetit!

It was a very nice evening and got us excited to eventually plan that real trip to EU together. The question is, what do I do for his birthday next year??

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing gift idea! I love that you did a different theme in each room instead of one large collage. I did a trip similar to this in 2008, and you've just inspired me to *finally* pull out all of the stuff I collected and finally make my memory wall. Thanks for a great post!