Ben’s Birthday Dinner

It was Ben’s birthday last week and as we were going to Weymouth for the weekend of his actual birthday, I decided to cook him a nice meal the Saturday before. I knew exactly what I wanted to make, something I’d been wanting to create ever since Ben became vegetarian 6 years ago…seitan! I found a recipe I liked the sound of and planned to adapt it slightly to fit in with our tastes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find vital wheat gluten in any shop in the entire county of Hampshire so had to order it online from Veggiestuff.com – I ordered some geletin-free Haribo sweets from there for Christmas and was very impressed with the service.

I placed the order Tuesday night and waited and waited and waited…and waited, for it to come. Saturday (the day of the dinner) I was up with the larks, obsessively checking out the window for the postman. At about 11am I saw him striding down the road in the rain in all his fluorescent glory and ran down the stairs to wait. Finally he arrived at our door and I watched as a letter, two flyers and a Domino’s leaflet dropped through the letterbox and onto the mat. No boxes or packages or anything remotely resembling vital wheat gluten. Hmm. On to Plan B!

Plan B was similar to Plan A but not nearly as exciting or innovative 😦 I decided to make a red onion pie to go with the already  planned accompaniments of purple sprouting broccoli and dauphinoise potatoes. I was planning to make the seitan into a roulade, stuffed with onions and mushrooms a la the Post Punk Kitchen one so I figured a pie wouldn’t be far off, just less ‘meaty.’ I chose to start the meal with a selection of bruchetta and finish with the ultimate dessert – chocolate brownie ice cream sundaes.

The end result was, if I do say so myself, pretty impressive!

First up was the bruchetta. These were so easy to make and turned out delightfully! I sliced up a fresh baguette and popped it under the grill to crisp up for a few minutes. I slathered on some pungent green pesto and topped half with sliced black olives and the other half with chopped onion, garlic and fresh tomatoes.

A lovely start to the meal!

Our main course came together very nicely and I was pleased that I had done most of the preparation beforehand and only had to put the finishing touches on after we finished our starter.

The pie started off as a block of chilled shortcrust dough before becoming this:

And then this!

I filled the pie with a mixture of herby caramelised onions, finely chopped mushrooms and quorn mince with a sprinkling of parmesan. I cooked the onions and mushrooms slowly and sauteed the mince in the pan and then let it simmer so it was all infused with the flavours of the herbs and earthy mushrooms. It looks dry in the photos but it was actually very moist and didn’t need a sauce to accompany it.

My dauphinoise potatoes were amazing, beyond all comprehension! I feel I have finally mastered the art of this cheesy wonder dish. Despite not being able to locate a mandolin to slice the potatoes as I was originally planning (see Dauphinoise Potatoes fail post) I very carefully sliced them really thinly and layered them up with a few grated cloves of garlic and seasoning. I then slowly heated up a 500ml tub of double cream (really low cal, this dish) with a knob of garlic butter and poured it all over the potatoes, covering them in a blanket of garlicy, creamy amazingness. The dish went into the oven on a very low heat and finally emerged, an hour or so later, looking like this:

I could tell it was going to be good!

Seriously, look at this.

The potatoes were cooked all the way through and there was no, I repeat NO curdling! The cream had developed into a thick, oozing sauce that held the potatoes together easily and would have lent itself well to a proper restaurant-style ‘stack’ of gratin, had I been so inclined.

I carefully cut out a very restrained portion for Ben and arranged it beautifully on a square (read: posh) plate alongside a slice of pie and some purple sprouting broccoli. He was very pleased with the result and so was I 🙂

One more potato close-up…ohhhh it was golden.

To be honest the potatoes rather rudely out-performed the pie and ended up being the highlight of the meal, very different from the usual afterthought status of the average potato side dish.

I think dauphinoise are the spoilt, pampered rich kid of the potato world. If they were a dog they’d probably be a Chihuahua – languishing in a monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag with a diamond studded collar and a personal butler called Jeeves.

This was definitely my best cheesy-potatoes-and-pie combination and we both cleared our plates easily. No seconds though as we had a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, chocolate brownies, chocolate sauce and whipped cream waiting for us! The perfect ending to a fabulous meal.

Happy Birthday Ben! 🙂

(The vital wheat gluten has now arrived and is waiting to be whipped up into something stunning very soon!)

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