Hard Peaks

by Marisa Olsen


Friday evening called for a special meal to celebrate a special occasion. Naturally, I spent hours deliberating, scheming and dreaming of a feast that would serve worthy of such an event. Needless to say, after deciding on fried risotto balls, steak frites with homemade béarnaise sauce, sautéed mushrooms, asparagus and chocolate soufflé, we were definitely able to revel in the flavors.
To start the evening off, we uncorked a 2006 Napa Valley Avalon Cabernet to let it breathe and then opened up a chilled Prosecco for immediate consumption. There is nothing like buzzed cooking to start an evening off. Now on to the food... Although I had selected a recipe for béarnaise and soufflé guidance (thank you, Gourmet), I was eager to do some experimentation with the meal. I rummaged through the fridge and found my leftover risotto. The wheels started turning; I vaguely remember hearing of a fried risotto dish (NB, 2007). It was one of those dishes that just deemed too time consuming to even think about since it required at least two days of prep. However, since I had the risotto at my mercy, I decided to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, I do not have a professional deep fryer, nor I have a deep fryer thermometer, but being half Jewish, I felt as if my homemade latke frying familiarity had provided me with basic frying proficiency and at least some level of comfort. As I reached for the canola oil, I desperately tried to remember the various heating points of different oils. I know with latkes we used vegetable oil, but I figured canola would be second best. One must make due, after all. After the oil started to lightly bubble, I rounded up the risotto with a small ice cream scoop and gently placed them in the pan. The balls sizzled and quickly browned. We let them cool off and experimented by dipping them in different dressing and sauces. Not bad, but not great. Personally, I found the balls to be too oily and I knew that with the proper equipment and a recipe (I believe Giada has one), I would one day be able to master the fried risotto ball. After our appetizer, we quickly began dovetailing with the other dishes. We thinly sliced potatoes and rubbed them with minced garlic and parsley and set them in the oven on 450d to crisp. After we had the fries going, I worked obsessively on making a perfect béarnaise sauce (success) and my better half buttered a skillet and browned our thick rib eyes to a perfect medium rare. In the meantime, we sautéed mushrooms in butter and boiled asparagus and then sautéed them in the leftover mushroom jus. The timing worked out perfectly and the meal was even better. The steaks were incredible. They were flawlessly cooked to our delight and the béarnaise was the perfect addition with the meat and fries. I made sure to squeeze in extra lemon into the sauce so there was a nice twang at the end of every bite. As I focused on replicating the perfect bite: steak glopped with béarnaise, fries and mushrooms, we guzzled down wine and oohed and ahhed over our masterpiece. After eating every morsel of delectable goodness, we attempted our next challenge of homemade soufflé. I had my first brush of identifying with Laura Ingalls Wilder when I realized that we did not have an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites. Clearly, I was not thinking straight when I settled on a soufflé as our dessert. But we took matters into our own hands and just like they did in the olden days, we frantically took turns whisking the whites. And to our surprise, soft, medium and hard (Ok, more medium) peaks were formed. What is even more amazing is that our chocolate soufflé rose. We were so proud by our exertion and even more amazed by the taste. Three days later, my forearm still hurts, but it was worth it. Needless to say, I'm a little "egged out," but I do look forward to making the dessert again, with the proper equipment, of course. I also hope to one day be back at my body’s appropriate set point, after consuming upwards of 100 grams of fat in one setting.