Cooking for Date Night, Naughty ‘n Nice
Whipped cream for dinner, because Saturday night, with any luck at all, means date night. Date night – at least around our house – is at least as likely to mean a raid on the wine cellar and a bag of tricks from the farmer’s market as a babysitter and a night out on the town, because we live in a sleepy wine country town where most of the bars shutter their doors around the same time my kids shut their eyes and one comes to appreciate the somewhat arbitrary nature of the line between going out and staying in. On this particular Saturday night, however, we were staying in for a reason: My wife had just opened the doors to her awesome new dance school. If you’ve ever watched anyone open their own business (much less done it yourself), I think you’ll agree that there aren’t many better reasons to celebrate; and, if you like to eat (much less to cook), then surely you’ll agree that big celebrations and great meals flatter one another like familiar lovers, simultaneously habitual and new, relaxed and exciting, and, more often than not, about as much fun as one can have legally – in other words, both naughty and nice, and why you, too, should occasionally serve whipped cream, laced with vodka, lemon and salt for dinner (per usual, the recipe is at the end).
For years, a celebratory date-night-at-home would have meant half a day prepping for some elaborate dish but, increasingly, I find my tastes, both in the cooking and the eating, reposed more toward the simple than the complex. In any case, on the Saturday in question, the choice was made for me, because between my wife’s open house and supervising munchkins, I barely had time for a quick sketch of a dinner: Something based on the palate of the season; something quick and easy; and something very adult, a little naughty even – this was, after all, to be a date night. And, in an ideal world, something suited to Champagne, for all the obvious reasons.
The farmer’s market really rocks this time of year, what with the tomatoes and peppers awakening from their cool-summer slumber, the wild salmon running, the various bins quite literally overflowing with the greens of beets, squash-blossom yellows, purple peppers and the dirt of freshly dug tubers. I grabbed a dozen eggs from the good folks Wyeth Acres (purveyors of good vegetables and even better meats, and who will deliver to your door if you ask them nicely), thinking that breakfast-for-dinner might be just the ticket: Eggs and Champagne are a classic combination, require very little prep, and remain a perennial house favorite. Add a loaf of Full Circle sourdough for toast points and some hours-old Yukon Golds from Foggy River Farms for a satisfying carbo-load and I figured I was done. Still and all, it wasn’t quite enough – after all, this was a celebration, a date night – because I wanted to dress up my country breakfast in a suave dinner jacket.
One of my all-time favorite recipes to steal from, particularly for special occasions, is Louis Outhier‘s fabulous Caviar Eggs, popularized (and I believe still served) by Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his eponymous NYC restaurant. However, I didn’t want to deal with the egg shells (Chef would have you use the shells for service – great presentation/major ass-pain), and I wanted to use the potatoes, so I figured I’d make potato gallettes, top them with creamy scrambled eggs, and garnish it all with Outhier’s outrageously decadent Salty Vodka Whipped Cream. A dollop of caviar on top – with its shot of dark color, bright, salty tang, and ability to shine with Champagne – would have been perfect but, for all the cosmopolitan development of our little wine country town, nobody had caviar. The horror! I should have thought of using some smoked salmon instead, for the same reasons, and serving it with a pink Champagne, but I was late and I suppose not entirely game-on; in the event, it wasn’t half-bad without the fish, although to be sure it would have been better with. I’ll get around to posting the full recipe (scrambled eggs are a chapter unto themselves – so simple, so good when done properly, and yet so frequently butchered in the kitchen), but for now, here’s my adaptation of Outhier’s topping. It is outrageously good and could just as easily be used on top of fresh berries for dessert as with eggs or caviar.
Salty Vodka Whipped Cream (adapted from L Outhier)
- Whip a half cup of heavy cream until stiff
- Whisk in a tablespoon of good Vodka and a large pinch of salt – maybe as much as half a teaspoon. It should taste savory, not sweet.
- Optional, and depending what you’re serving it over (e.g., impeccable with caviar, but skip the cayenne for berries), whisk in 1-2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (Meyers, if possible), a pinch of cayenne, and – if you want a little color – some very finely minced lemon zest.
Naughty and nice.