Double Date Night: Cocktails, Carbonara and Creme Brûlée
No kids, two couples, tempting food and tasty cocktails can only mean one thing, double date night! The guests were Lauren and Troy. I've known them for over ten years. Lauren and I met when she started teaching Health at the middle school I taught 6th grade science.
She quickly realized who the “cool kids” were in school and introduced herself. Lauren’s peppy and energetic personality gained her access to our most "exclusive" teacher lunch group.
Ok, so we really weren't that cool and “exclusive” really meant we all had lunch at the same time. I still talk to all of the lunch bunch group and we get together a few times a year. As a matter of fact, Ramona P is part of our “exclusive” group. Check out our post,“How Ramona P. Got Me Blogging About Mac and Cheese.”
The lunch bunch group used to go to the occasional happy hour after work. I remember the happy hour Lauren brought her husband, Troy. He made quite the first impression with his great hair, big smile and effortless ensemble. We were in the presence of a real life Unlce Jessy of Full House!
These two are like peas in a pod. They have infectious smiles and they couldn't be any more welcoming. Lauren is a Jazzercise instructor/educator and Troy is an impeccable dresser/guidance counselor. I’ve never seen him look less than his best and I've stopped by their house on an early Sunday morning to go for a run with his wife. I don't know how he does it. The thought makes me exhausted. Then again, I can count on one hand how many times I am NOT in a sports bra during any given month. You’re welcome for the visual.
A few years ago, Michael and I went on an impromptu vacation to Vegas to meet up with Lauren and Troy. We ate, we drank and we went four wheeling in the desert. Four wheeling was amazing! Michael may try and argue why he lost, but he couldn't beat me in a desert race.
The real winner was Troy’s hair and outfit which stood up to the test of the dry desert air.
When Lauren and Troy happily accepted my invitation to do a blog post with us, I put on my big girl bra and got started on planning the evening.
The menu for "date night" was presented in courses. The focus for the evening was conversation with good friends. So, I developed a menu that could easily be prepped in advance and cooked quickly that night.
DATE NIGHT COURSES MENU:
- Blackberry sparkling wine cocktails served with a fresh fruit platter
- Sautéed spicy Tuscan kale
- Carbonara, a pancetta and egg pasta dish made with homemade pasta noodles and served with a side of crusty bread
- Coffee infused creme brûlée garnished with whipped cream, a fresh strawberry and cocoa nibs
If you remember in the post, “Football Sunday, It’s Game Time,” I mentioned how timelines are essential to party planning, no matter the size of the party. Double date night is a party of 4.
TIMELINE FOR DOUBLE DATE NIGHT:
- Grocery shopping and the liquor store
- Make the blackberry syrup for the cocktail
- Run up to Red Top Farm for the Tuscan Kale (Click here to read about my experience at Red Top Farm.)
- Make the custard for the creme brûlée
- Make the fresh pasta
PREPARATION TIP: Boxed pasta is completely acceptable for this dish. If you choose to go the boxed pasta route, you can certainly cook the pasta the day before you will use it. Rinse the pasta under cool water and drizzle with some olive oil before storing in the refrigerator. Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water for the carbonara recipe.
Saturday, Double Date Night:
- Make the Crusty Bread (If you have some bread stored in your freezer then leave it on the counter wrapped in a kitchen towel to thaw.)
- Clean the house
- Cut the fresh pasta
- Prepare the fruit platter
- Cut all the veggies and meat for the meal
PREPARATION TIP: Having all the ingredients for each dish measured, cut and placed in small bowls in advance will ensure smooth sailing come cooking time.
THE RECIPES AND PRESENTATION OF COURSES
COURSE 1:At 6:00 pm, Lauren and Troy arrived. We greeted them with cocktails and a simple fruit platter.
1 cup of frozen blackberries
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of lime juice
In a small sauce pan over high heat, combine the blackberries, sugar, and water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let the blackberries steep for about 1 hour.
Transfer the blackberry mixture to a blender or use an emersion blender to puree. Strain the blackberries through a mesh strainer over a bowl. Add the lime juice and stir to combine.
PREPARATION TIP:The blackberry sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the sauce for up to 3 months.
BLACKBERRY SPARKLING WINE:
Pick up a bottle of your favorite sparkling wine. We like the brand Blanc De Blancs.
Add 1-2 tablespoon of the blackberry syrup to each glass and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with a strawberry or blackberry.
BLACKBERRY ICED TEA:
For the non-drinkers at your party make a blackberry iced tea. Brew the iced tea following the directions of your favorite brand. Fill a 12 ounce cup with ice, 2-3 tablespoons of the blackberry syrup and top it off with some of the fresh brewed iced tea. Stir and garnish with a mint leaf.
COURSE 2: At 6:30 pm, Lauren and I headed to the stove to prepare the Tuscan kale. Total cooking time is 5-7 minutes, assuming you already prepped everything needed before the arrival of your guests.
Check out the post for the Red Top Farm:Tuscan Kale for this simple and delicious recipe.
COURSE 3: Around 7:20, we were back in the kitchen to prepare the main course. We started the pot of boiling water for the pasta. When the water for the pasta started to boil, I heated up the frying pan. Fresh pasta only takes 2-3 minutes cooking time.
If you've never had carbonara, find inspiration in this post to make the dish. I do recommend finding pancetta you can cut on your own or that is sold in large chunks.
The last time I was in Baltimore, we ate at an Italian market/restaurant called Dipasquale’s.They had portioned uncut pancetta. We bought a bunch and stored it in the freezer. It is hard to find pancetta that isn't diced so small it just evaporates in a dish. When you find the right pancetta, buy a bunch and store it in your freezer. If I come across other places to buy the perfect pancetta, I will let you know. You could always make the trip up to Pittsburgh and visit Parma for the best chunks of pancetta.(Click here for the post about our favorite places in Pittsburgh and Popcorn.)
This is an adaptation of Rachel Ray’s carbonara. I have made several different version and her way is the best way. I reduce the amount of garlic from 5-6 cloves to 1 clove of garlic. I am allergic to garlic, such a shame. I swell, become extremely thirsty, feel nauseous and the taste of garlic doesn't leave my mouth for about three days. Not Fun! However, feel free to keep the garlic as Rachel Ray intended.
1 pound of fresh pasta noodles, spaghetti or rigatoni, your choice
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 pound of pancetta, sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of a dry white wine
1/2 cup pasta water
2 large egg yolks, save the egg whites for breakfast or marshmallow frosting
1/2 cup of parmigiano regianno
Handful of parsley, chopped
This dish is quick moving. Make sure you read all the directions first before you begin. Timing is important.
In a large pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta until crisp like bacon, the time it takes will depend on the size of your chunks. Toss in the red pepper flakes and the garlic and cook for another minute. Try not to burn the garlic, unless you like the bitter taste of burnt garlic.
Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan.
Remember to bring a large pot of water to a boil before you heat up that frying pan. Boil the fresh pasta for 2-3 minutes. Before draining the pasta, remove a 1/2 cup of water and reserve to the side. Drain the pasta and toss it right into the pan with the pancetta.
PREPARATION TIP:If you happened to cook your boxed pasta the night before, pull the pasta from the fridge before you start to heat up your frying pan. Toss in the pasta and move around the pan until the pasta is wam.
In a small bowl, continuously whisk the yolks while slowly adding the hot pasta water. This is called tempering. This step will prevent the egg yolks from scrambling when you add them to the pasta.
Add the egg mixture, remove from heat and throw in the cheese. Toss the pasta around until the egg mixture has thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Garnish with the chopped parsley and extra cheese.
PREPARATION TIP:If you are using boxed noodles, cook the pasta according to the direction on the box. Plan the start time of cooking the pancetta and eggs with the cooking time of your boxed noodles. I would suggest heating up the frying pan when you have about 3-5 minutes left for cooking the noodles.
2 1/2 cups of unbleached flour or OO flour
4 tablespoons of cornstarch
4 egg yolks, keep those egg whites for breakfast or marshmallow frosting
1/4-1/2 cup of cold water
1/8 kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer. In the bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Add the four egg yolks and the olive oil and start the mixer on low. Slowly pour in the water as the mixer is running.
Don’t use all the water at one time. You are looking for the dough to stick together when pinched between your fingers. You can knead the dough in the mixer for a minute or two. Then transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough by hand.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or over night. Cut the dough into four pieces and run the dough through the pasta maker following the instructions for your model.
PREPARATION TIP: If you do not have a pasta cutter, you can roll the dough out by hand and cut the pasta into 1/16-1/8 of an inch strips. I would also suggest a drying rack for your pasta. If you want to make the pasta the day before, letting your pasta dry will ensure the noodles don't turn back into a lump of dough.
For this meal, I made a crusty bread using my dutch oven, click here for the recipe.
For those who have bread thawing on the counter, refresh the bread in a 350 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes.
COURSE 4: At 8:45, I served the creme brûlée. The sugar had already been caramelized around 4 pm that day. I just took it out of the fridge, added some whipped cream and cocoa nibs then served my guests.
COFFEE CREME BRULEE:
2 1/4 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup of vitamin D milk
3 heaping teaspoons of instant coffee
8 egg yolks, save the whites for breakfast or the marshmallow frosting recipe you can find on the BELL-VI-DEOS page.
3/4 cup of sugar, plus more for caramelizing
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place 6-4 ounce ramekins in a large cake pan.
In a large sauce pan, combine the cream, milk and instant coffee. Scald the cream over medium-high heat. You are looking for bubbles to start forming around the edges of the pan. Do not boil the cream.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. Slowly pour the hot cream over the egg yolks while whisking constantly. Again, you are tempering the eggs so they do not scramble. Whisk until all the cream has been incorporated and add the vanilla and salt.
Strain the egg and cream mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher or a liquid measuring cup. Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins.
Pour hot water into the baking pan to reach the tops of the custard in the ramekin. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and CAREFULLY place the pan in the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes and check for doneness. You are looking for the custard to jiggle like Jell-O. Add another few minutes to the time if needed.
Carefully remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil. Let the pan cool until you are able to remove the remekins to a cooling rack. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
When you are ready to brûlée these puppies, sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the custards. Use a kitchen torch to burn all of the sugar. Decorate each custard with whipped cream, a strawberry and cocoa nibs.
PREPARATION TIP:If you do not have a kitchen torch, preheat your boiler on high. Place the custard about two inches from the boiler. Don’t walk away! Close the oven door and when the sugar starts to melt and turn brown, remove the custards from the oven and turn off the broiler.
You can caramelize the sugar a few hours in advance. However, if you aren't going to use all 6 in one night, wait to caramelize the ones you will not eat. The sugar will become ooey, gooey and not in a good way.
Here are some bonus photos for your viewing pleasure!