Mangia, but don't substitute the walnut oil

All I want to do with my life is buy beautiful dishes.
On Sunday night, my parents and I went to my sister Tanis' house-beautiful for dinner. Something to know about Tanis: you will love her. It's intrinsically wrong and against human nature to be anything but completely enamored, and you're a monster or a sociopath should you decide to go against the grain in that situation. I know that if I were reading this, I would simply decide right then and there that I hated this person and that was that, in some misguided attempt to stand out. You can't. Don't waste your time. Her hubby? Dashing, and can pull off Mandals (man-sandals). Her children? Cherubs with a penchant for yelling and dancing and kashi, in one case. Her kitchen? I puke in my mouth with extreme jealousy every time I visit.

Tan has been working with Quattro, an Italian restaurant native to Vancouver, since she spearheaded her PR company T2 Communications. Her dinner was inspired by the cookbook that she has been working on with the restaurant, due out in the fall of 2009.

Tanny, should you read this, know that your dinner was beautiful, nubile, and worthy of plate licking, from which I only refrained because I am twenty now, not two. Plus I'd have dripped on my dress and looked apprehensible and droll minus the irony. Had I been alone or with Chris (very few niceties left between us) I would've washed the plate with my tongue. I refrained at your home and only used my finger, and even then I felt unrefined, although blessedly full.

But, darling sister, what really stole me away (over and above the riesling you poured me two delicious, warming glasses of) was your dish ware. Not that I think you have a cupboard full of two-dollar salad bowls, but I was hunting around Army and Navy yesterday and I stumbled across the most impressive, beautiful collection of white porcelain! For six bucks, my Mom bought an enormous dish that looks like it could have come from... don't now, fancy dish places. Like Ikea! Or at least Bombay. SIX. DOLLARS. I had to exercise a lot of self control to resist buying myself a whole new shiny set of dishes. And then I remembered that I'm broke, so I didn't even need self-control anymore.

Something that's taking some getting used to is carrying my camera around.
This salad was a great balance to the rest of the meal, which was comprised of a italian-style jambalaya of octopus, squid, and shrimp, and an orange and mustard glazed salmon. The licorice-y flavor of the fennel is present, but doesn't call attention to itself unlike its annoying seed, anise. The citrus of the orange and lemon juice brought a little lightness to the afore mentioned jambalaya. Super delicious, super easy, even healthy.

Tanis' Salad of Fennel and Orange
Adapted from the not-yet-but-soon-to-be-published Mangia with Quattro: Family-Style Italian from the Heart.
2 fennel bulbs, sliced thin with a knife or mandoline.
1-3 oranges, quartered and sliced into bite-sized pieces. The range is just to taste. When i served myself I admittedly tried to scoop up more than my fair share of orange bits.
Toasted pine nuts, optional and if used, the amount is to your liking.
Toss all the ingredients together. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Dressing is simply
 some squeezed lemon juice and a few drizzles of olive oil, salt and pepper.

I brought dessert, so my bad behavior of the day previous became a crime of opportunity. My Mom was having a baby shower and explicitly told me not to make anything, as it was going to be pot-luck style, and should I make stuff she'd have too much food.
"Mom...I did something bad."
My Mom, sounding worried at work. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"I baked a walnut cake Mom. I'm sorry. I need to join Baker's Anonymous, for real this time."
It didn't get eaten at the shower, as there was a lot fo pot-luck veggie trays and an industrial Costco Carrot Cake, but Tanis is a much more deserving recipient than somebody's baby.

Warning to do with this recipe: I'm a bit stupid, and assume I can replace anything with anything and have a cake turn out ducky doo. And the cake was good- florally, foamy wine smells wafting around during the baking time, and the toasted walnuts sweet but never cloying- but the crumb was a teeny bit dry and tough, if I do say. I think the two biggest reasons for this was 1) My using one cup of whole wheat flour instead of just being a all-purpose/cake flour purist, and 2) Because I didn't have any walnut oil, I instead melted some butter and mixed it with some applesauce and just called it "instead of". And well...I might have over mixed it a bit.  It did taste good though. Yum yum yum yum.
Follow the recipe for best results. I know right? Strange advice.

French-Style Walnut Cake
Inspired by Orangette, Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic French
1/2 cup broken walnut
3 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Tiny pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Toast the walnut chunks in a dry saucepan over medium-low heat. Shake them around a bit, as I burnt my first batch. I'm sounding like quite a clod in this recipe.
Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and mix well, until liquid is lemon colored and fluffy. Add the walnut oil and wine and mix.
Generously grease a 9 inch cake pan, and if you have bad luck getting cakes out of pans as I do, cut a round of parchment out for the bottom and grease that too.
Mix the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the egg mixture and mix till just combined. Add toasted walnuts and fold in carefully. Learn from my mistakes: try not to over-mix.
Bake about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Sauce/Ganache/Brown Top Part
I made this up, and it's completely wrong, but it tasted real good.
A handful of chocolate chips (mine were left over from school, and I wanted to get rid of them)
1 Tbsp butter
1 2oz block of bittersweet chocolate
1 tsp orange zest
About 1/4 cup of milk or cream, to move along the sauce-y process.

Set up a double boiler on your stove, or a sauce pan with a 1/2 inch of water and a bowl sitting on top of it.
Bring the water to a simmer.
Without grace or practice, dump all your ingredients except the milk into the bowl. Let it get soft, and then begin mixing it around with a fork, adding bits of milk/cream as you need to to moisten.
This bit is "university-chic/cheap".

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