It’s January and I’m having a party for me!

By now everyone is tired, broke and partied out and along comes my birthday, a week after New Years.  No one’s really revved cup for a party except me, and it’s one of the few days of the year when I’m keen to cook myself a really big meal.

A few years back I began a tradition of making my favourite fish stew, bouillabaisse for my birthday.  This year, in addition to making this wonderful dish,  I decided to bake myself an amazing cake.

I started on the soup the on Sunday for Monday dinner.  This soup tastes best if the base is made at day or two in advance.  This allows for the flavours to mellow before the addition of the seafood.  To change things up this year, I combined ingredients of bouillabaisse and cioppino.  Cioppino is a similar fish stew  that I had for the first time several years ago, on a visit to San Francisco where the soup originated.  The basic difference between the two stews are bouillabaisse is French and cioppino is  Italian.

The ingredients of both are somewhat similar depending of course on your choice of recipes. Bouillabaisse is said to have a white base as most recipes start with leeks or fennel and onions, while cioppino is tomato based. A good amount of white wine is used in either recipe but I have also seen the use of red wine.  Traditionally, potato and saffron are used in bouillabaisse and there are more herbs in cioppino.

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For this year’s dinner I opted to use both the leeks and fennel as a base in addition to the tomatoes. I am not crazy about the including potatoes in the soup, I feel it makes it too heavy with the already rich variety of seafood.  I included all the fresh herbs from the cioppino recipe and added saffron, chilli flakes and orange zest from the Joy of Cooking‘s bouillabaisse recipe.  This broth was the most hearty and flavourful that I have made so far,  the mellowed heat from the chilli made it a perfect soup for a cold night.

The cake was inspired by my love for anything that is hazelnut flavoured, from everyone’s favourite Nutella to Frangelico liqueur to Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  The genoise, or sponge cake was made from roasted hazelnuts ground with flour. I filled and covered the four cake layers with a very light and extremely buttery Italian meringue buttercream and folded in Nutella.  The entire cake was then coated with a shiny cocoa glaze and decorated with more Nutella.

Bouillabaise or any fish stew is very hearthy and a wine with good acidity is a great match.  I chose a full-bodied burgundy as you can see in the slideshow photo.  A Sauvignon Blanc or even a California Chardonnay would also be a good pairing.

I am always satisfied and pleased with myself when I make this soup, it’s really not very hard to do but it’s a little time-consuming.  The cake was, in a word, awesome – very hazel nutty but not too dense or too rich.  A great birthday meal to end a great day.

What is your favourite birthday meal?  I would be very interested in hearing your stories.  In the meantime, happy eating!

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