On a recent trip, I found myself alone in a darksome wood, driving for miles under cover of pre-dawn darkness. The road meandered and snaked, unspooling like a cat’s ball of yarn. It was lonesome, but not lonely. Quiet, calming, sleepy, yet coursing with adrenaline, a soft, insistent thudding underneath the ribs keeping the time. The moon, even as morning hours progressed, shone high beam-bright, Night resolutely ignoring daybreak.
Seldom am I away from the din of cities, home and work pushing me back and forth between crowded spaces. Being alone comes with its own noise, however.
A while back I wrote about dining by myself and many of you responded with your experiences. Some of you applauded the activity and others wondered if they had the stomach for it – your thoughts have stayed with me…
This has been a particularly travel-heavy year and eating out on my own is becoming increasingly more routine. It’s ever easier, but admittedly, it has exhausting and trying moments. Food is about community, family, and sharing, and a party-of-one-dinner lacks in companionship. I do still try to pick interesting and popular restaurants that are easy to slip into as a single diner, but now there’s a bit more exploration: each new city, each new seat at the bar, each new dish provides space for thought.
Those thoughts have of late focused on eating alone at home. It is now a treat to do so, and, on occasion, I avoid having lunch at my desk or standing in the kitchen. This steak and mashed potato meal (cocktail included!) is a treat. Approach its preparation and consumption as if you’re a guest.
SALTED WHITE CHOCOLATE, LAVENDER, AND HONEY MOUSSE
Notes: When buying white chocolate, read the ingredients list and be sure it contains cocoa butter. Many brands omit it, and the quality of the dessert suffers.
This recipe is clearly not for 1, but leftovers keep for about 5 days.
1 (0.25-ounce) packet powdered plain gelatin
½ cup lukewarm water
3 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup fresh lavender (or 3 tablespoons dried lavender buds), plus additional for garnish
1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped out, pod reserved
10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped*
Maldon salt, for garnish
- Stir gelatin and water together in small bowl and allow to stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Bring 1 cup cream, honey, lavender, vanilla bean pod, and a pinch of salt to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and steep 15 minutes. Strain and discard solids.
- Return cream to pot and bring to a simmer once again. Add the vanilla bean seeds and white chocolate. Stir until smooth.
- Transfer mixture to bowl, cover with plastic, pressing down on surface. Refrigerate about 30 minutes until firm.
- Whip the mousse to soften and lighten. In a separate bowl, whisk (or whip with electric mixer) remaining 2 cups cream until soft peaks form. Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the mousse, then, fold in the rest with a rubber spatula. Serve in bowls or cups and garnish with lavender and Maldon salt.
I don’t have much of a recipe for this one, but some guidelines that will hopefully help you:
- Pat the steak dry with paper towels.
- Season it generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat about 2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and be sure the oil is beginning to smoke: the skillet needs to be raging hot in order to get a proper sear on the meat.
- Cook the meat to your desired doneness – I like mine bloody, so I go for 4 to 6 minutes on each side. The more you cook, the more familiar you will become with steak – you’ll be able to touch it with a fingertip and tell how done it is. In the meantime, an instant-read thermometer is helpful.
- Allow the meat to rest at least 5 minutes before eating.
- Always cut against the grain.
When it comes to mashed potatoes, I like a russet potato. Peel and cut about 1 pound into 1-inch cubes and bring to a boil over high heat, starting with cold water and 1 tablespoon salt. If you start with boiling water, the potatoes will cook from the outside in and they’ll blow out. DON’T DO IT!
- Cook the potatoes until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot over the heat. Allow them to dry out for a few minutes. Mash them or put them through a ricer or food mill, then stir in melted butter and warm heavy cream (warm butter and cream will incorporate much more easily into your mash, and you won’t have to reheat them). Add as much butter and cream as you like, then season with salt, and sprinkle with chopped chives if desired.