Cooking For My Parents’ Anniversary
If your family is anything like mine, Food, Love, and Family are so tightly intertwined that it might as well be the Holy Trinity. It wasn’t always that way for me though. As a young child all too eager to worship at the temple of Ronald McDonald, my mom’s home-cooked meals felt like my mini version of hell, if hell meant being strapped to a chair and force-fed healthy food for an hour.
Later in life, I realized this was my mom’s nurturing way of showing her love and affection for her children. In my teens, my initial disdain for mom’s bowls of chicken soup that she boiled for countless hours morphed into a fondness. I started looking forward to her famous crab and mango salad. If I was especially lucky and mom dished out her kare kare, a traditional Filipino dish of boiled oxtail and vegetables covered in a viscous peanut sauce, I would polish off half a dozen bowls as easily as I eat half a dozen oysters. And seeing my mom smile from watching her son scarf down bowls of her cooking was immensely satisfying.
While my mom brought the family together at home, my dad brought the family together in restaurants. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve heading to Paparazzi, formerly my family’s favorite Italian joint, to gorge on prosciutto-laden pizzas after church. My dad’s well-experienced palate was the one that initially guided me (and often still does) through esoteric Japanese menus. I progressed from California rolls to sushi; from simple maguro and sake to more esoteric fish like sayori and shima-aji; my love of ankimo, ikura, and uni came from him. Food brought the family together and with the food came lots and lots of love.
With my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary in early January, my sisters and I decided to congratulate as well as show our love and appreciation to my parents with a home-cooked meal. We spent some time brainstorming a menu that would be comforting yet a step up from standard home-cooked fare. Here’s what we served.
Poached Egg over a bed of Maitake, Brown, and Chanterelle Mushrooms
Both my parents are egg-lovers, so we wanted their first dish to feature eggs. Mushrooms were sautéed with some salt and pepper, and we made sure to use minimal oil to avoid clogging them with oil. The caramelized flavor from the mushrooms rhymed with the poached egg, and a last minute sprinkling of thyme and tarragon imparted a nice bright kick.
Seared Scallops over Parsnip Puree drizzled with Brown Butter
My mom is a legendary scallop cook in our family and deservedly so. Hers are outstanding. Like any good husband, my dad often declares hers are The Best. I decided to both challenge my mother’s crown and play to her likes by serving her favorite bivalve cooked just the way she likes it. A few tablespoons of clarified butter and olive oil were heated on a ripping hot cast-iron skillet. I then made triple-sure my scallops were completely dry before searing, as moisture results in steam being released and a caramelized cap not forming. They were seared on each side for about a minute and a half, resulting in a nice sear with the insides barely cooked and creamy. The parsnip puree was simple enough, with boiled parsnips pureed into submission with an immersion blender till they resembled the texture of silken mashed potatoes. Just before serving, we drizzled the scallops with some browned butter.
For their main course, my older sister wisely suggested to make Bollito Misto. The name translates to the unceremonious “mixed boiled meats”, and the dish is exactly what the name suggests: calf tongue, brisket, and various sausages were simmered for hours in a homemade browned chicken stock with some potatoes and vegetables.
It was my first time cooking calf tongue, and the experience of having to boil then peel off the outer membrane (taste buds and all!) was simultaneously grotesque and fun. We served the Bollito Misto with four accompaniments: pickled garlic, a green sauce made from parsley, a citrus cranberry sauce, and a tasty red sauce (bagnet ross) made from tomatoes that tasted more like bacon than tomatoes.
And while the dish resembles something close to prison food, with paltry scraps of tongue, sausage, and brisket, I have to say they were pretty darn tasty– especially the tongue, which my dad had three servings of! Imagine the essence of meat –beefy, hearty, salty, and rich– concentrated into a few tender bites, and you’ve got a close approximation of Bollito Misto.
Especially fun was watching my parents pair the meats with the various sauces. At one point, it seemed like my mom had strategically maneuvered the red sauce to her end of the table, intent on keeping it dead-set in front of her for the rest of the meal. True to character, my dad methodically rotated amongst the various sauces with every bite of meat.
After the main course, we did a little presentation comically chronicling my parents’ thirty years of marriage. Making my parents laugh is always satisfying, and the presentation inevitably ended in a big group family hug.
Dessert came in the form of Earl Grey Macarons with Hazelnut Gelato. Prior to making these macarons, I’d never really baked before, save for some brownies about a year ago.
Reading Food, je t’aime’s Earl Grey Salted Caramel Macaron post inspired me and led to a quick email exchange between me and my sister (the consummate baker in the family) in mid-December:
Daniel: thinking of making macaroons from scratch. am i crazy? thanks.
Char: Yes, you are. What instructions are you using? David Lebovitz has some good reflections on the difficulty of making macarons on his blog.
Thankfully, despite the inherent difficulty in making these fickle pastries, my macarons turned out to be a relative success: delicate, light-as-air outer shells with slightly chewy insides. Of course, they fall short of the otherworldly macarons at Ladureé in Paris or the excellent ones at Paulette in Beverly Hills, but they’d certainly compete favorably with the ones served at say, Bottega Louie (minus their blindingly bright food coloring).
In my obsession with getting the shells done just right though, I somehow forgot to buy ingredients for the macaron filling! So as a last minute fix, we ended up filling the shells with hazelnut ice cream, similar to what some ice cream joints in LA do. And of course, we couldn’t resist being cheesy and making a giant merinque heart with some of the remaining macaron batter.
As dinner came to a close, I could tell my parents were pleased. My mom was sitting next to my dad, and their faces radiated content and happiness. It was evident they were proud of their children. My parents have dined in Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world and to hear them say they truly enjoyed our humble home-cooked meal really felt like an accomplishment.
Making a parent feel genuinely loved and appreciated is truly one of the most rewarding feelings in the world and merely seeing their smiles made all our efforts worth it.