Tag Archives: romantic dinner

White-Bean, Zucchini, Tomato & Parmesan Salad for Grilling

Just in time for your Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day celebration! This quick, easy salad is packed full of flavor, healthy ingredients, and versatility. This will serve four as a side dish, and goes well with a simple grilled steak, salmon, or even chicken.  Originally inspired Martha Stewart’s  White-Bean Salad with Zucchini and Parmesan, I felt that adding one simple ingredient and a little more oil sent an already-delicious recipe over the top.  Perfect for people on South Beach Diet, or for anyone trying to eat healthier.

Admittedly, when I first read Martha’s version, I wasn’t sure how I’d like raw green beans and zucchini in a salad.  But, as the Iron Chef says: “with an open mind and empty stomach”, I recalled that I once had the pleasure of attending a cooking class offered by Chef Charlie Trotter, now known for his involvement in the raw food movement just before his book was published, Raw, (co-authored by Tim Turner). I’d also had the pleasure of dining at Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago  – and despite the big-ticket it came with – my socks were knocked off.

All of my doubts disappeared the first time I made Martha’s recipe, and as often is the case, I was inspired to make it even better.  This easy yet impressive recipe serves 4 as a side dish. I double-dog dare you to eat raw!

GATHER THIS:

  • 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2  pound zucchini (1 large), trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • about 3 ounces green beans, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal (2/3 cup)
  • 2 good, ripe plum tomatoes, seeded & diced
  • 2 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

DO THIS:

In a medium bowl, place cannellini beans, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, Parmesan, basil, lemon zest and juice, and oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.  I love this with grilled salmon or steak and a crusty Italian bread to soak up the extra dressing.

Note: The texture of the Parmesan in this dish makes all the difference.  I used Stella Parmesan, and crumbled it in my Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus for perfect tiny bites of cheese flavor.  Shavings or grates just aren’t the same – and, at the risk of sounding like a foodie snob, if you are the canned Parmesan type… this recipe probably isn’t for you 😉

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Filed under All Other Recipes, Budget Friendly, Grilling, Healthy Recipes, Italian-inspired, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1

Steve’s Off-the-Hook Seafood Linguine Alfredo

photo courtesy of T o n y at flickr.com

Need a comfort dish that’s gourmet enough for friends?  Look no further!  Make it as written by my foodie friend Steve, or with a few lightened-up modifications I suggest. You won’t be disappointed by either, and the best part? With all your seafood prepped, throw it together in 12 minutes!

Steve and I have known each other since high school and recently re-connected on Facebook.  He and his wife have a great appreciation for good food and wine – something, of course, near and dear to mine and my husband’s hearts.  While we still haven’t seen each other in person, we talk virtually about cooking; and about dishes that make our mutual network friends salivate.  When he posted about his “artery-clogging” comfort dish of Seafood Linguine Alfredo that he is famous for with family and guests,  I knew we would be foodie friends for a long time!

Steve was kind enough to share this recipe with me, knowing full well I would be reviewing it.  Now, readers… we all know that anything dubbed “alfredo” is not exactly in the diet books.  I figured it wasn’t going to be heart-healthy.  I saved making this one for my birthday treat, because I had plans to go back on to the South Beach Diet soon after making it.   What I wasn’t prepared for, was the proportion of the forbidden foods in his recipe (cream, butter, cheese).  Here is the original recipe, as he shared with me.

GATHER THIS:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Heavy cream (see below)
  • Butter (see below)
  • 1 lb uncooked, peeled & deveined shrimp
  • 1 lb bay scallops
  • 8 oz quality crab meat (no imitation)
  • 8 oz each Parmesan , Romano & Asiago cheeses
  • Salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste
  • 1 lb. linguine noodles

DO THIS:

Cook the linguine noodles per package instructions and to your desired tenderness.  As your noodles are boiling,  cook your shrimp over medium heat in a stick of butter (he uses a wok for this – brilliant!) and 2-3 tbsp of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, basil, and oregano.  When just about cooked, remove shrimp with slotted spoon into a medium bowl; set aside. Add again more butter, olive oil and seasonings.

Cook the bay scallops; when done, remove with slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the shrimp.  To pan or skillet –  again add another stick of butter, more olive oil and seasonings. Drain noodles.  Return noodles to pot, add in the cooked shrimp and scallops from the bowl.  Pour in the butter mixture, pour in the crab meat, pour in the heavy cream ( half a pint or so ).  Then, pour in all three grated cheeses, stir; add milk or cream until you have the right consistency. Serve immediately.

Steve and reader friends… this is a recipe for a bona fide food coma! While I have a true appreciation for all great food, wine, and the glory of  butter and cream – (remember, I’m married to a Frenchman) – I simply could not handle this recipe exactly the way in which he intended – others might.   The recipe itself is fantastic.  I just needed to lighten it up a bit to accommodate our own tastes.

I really wanted to remain loyal to the integrity of the recipe, to honor Steve’s claims that it is the best of the best.  So, I kept an open mind, even as I was preparing it.  I thought, “if I can fathom that an extra stick of butter will make this better, I will keep it in”.   For me, it just wasn’t necessary.  This recipe was decadent, even with a significant reduction in the amount of butter and cream.

My proportions were almost the same, with the exception of the butter and oil: I simply reduced the amount of each stick of butter by two-thirds (using approximately 3-4 tablespoons of butter in each panful), and only 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.  I also eliminated the “or so..” option of the heavy cream.  I used exactly one half-pint (small container) of heavy cream, and thinned with chicken stock a bit to acquire the desired saucy consistency.   The only other thing to note, is that since he didn’t specify the amount of (assumed) dried herbs to use, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of Italian seasoning blend for each batch of seafood that I sautéed.  Steve, if I did not get this right – I can edit!  The beauty of blogging.

So what’s the rating? This dish was delicious, no question.   Will I make it again?  Most definitely.  Especially because of the ease with which it came together.   Will I change anything? Yes, as follows:

  1. Reduce butter amounts as suggested above.
  2. Incorporate 1/4 cup white wine or 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice  into last step of tossing ingredients together to add a little brightness and thin the heaviness a bit.  Then I would garnish with a few thinly sliced lemons – it needs some color.  That being said, the general rule in presenting is that you shouldn’t garnish with an ingredient that hasn’t been used in the dish.
  3. Use sea scallops,  cartilage removed, cut into quarters or halves.  Sea scallops are more tender, sweeter – in general, a finer shellfish (albiet, more expensive). If you’re going to go all out with butter and cream, you may as well get the sea scallops…
  4. Reduce the amount of dried herbs used and add 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil in the last step. Garnish at the end with a sprig of basil for color.
  5. Use whole-wheat linguine pasta.  It is just as delicious, especially with this kind of recipe; and it will offset the less healthy ingredients giving you some nutritional value.
  6. Add some fresh chopped spinach to the last step – (Steve does this too) – the pasta will be hot enough to wilt the spinach and you will get a great nutritional addition to your meal.

All of my own personal recommendations aside,  Steve knows a good recipe – and that quality seafood is what it’s all about.  Regardless of how much cream or butter you use, the key to a great recipe is fresh ingredients. If you plan on going all out on a wonderful recipe such as this, don’t skimp by using imitation crabmeat or pre-cooked shrimp (the ultimate sin)!  Enjoy this with a nice, light mesclun salad of greens with a light vinaigrette and you won’t feel quite as guilty…  and to drink? I like a nice citrusy chardonnay or a young red pinot noir with this.

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Filed under Italian-inspired, Quick & Easy

Baked Shrimp with Tomato & Feta

What can I say?  Once again, Martha’s people inspiring me.   This is so easy, delicious, and a little outside of the box.  Throw it together in no time.   I usually change a few things in a recipe, but I had a hard time needing to fuss about this one. I just changed a few things that were minor – but  I’ve made it several times now, and never seem to change it much.  One thing I think is crucial to change, though, is to season the shrimp with salt and pepper before cooking.  There is salt in feta cheese, but the shrimp itself was a bit bland until I started to lightly season it before cooking.

For a family of four,

Gather This:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 thinly sliced scallions
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved – or about 6-8 plum tomatoes, cut into large dice
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined large frozen shrimp, thawed, tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • 4 ounces feta cheese

Do This:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees with rack set in upper third. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium. Add scallions, garlic, and Italian seasoning; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add tomatoes. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until no liquid remains in skillet, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add shrimp and mint to skillet. Stir to combine; transfer to an 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dish. Crumble feta over top.
  4. Bake until liquid is bubbling, cheese is beginning to brown, and shrimp in center of dish are opaque, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with a light side of whole-wheat pasta, tossed with olive oil and lemon; and sprinkled with additional chopped mint.  If you’re in phase one of South Beach – just use some cooked green beans or asparagus tossed with olive oil and lemon and garlic for a great side.

The only other change I can think of making is that I use an oven-proof, non-stick skillet so that I don’t have to fuss with transferring to another dish and consequently cleaning more.  🙂    Please, if you’re going to skip the mint – don’t bother with the recipe! It’s the make or break, in my opinion.  What a great way to start off a low-carb diet!  That being said, this dish would also benefit from some delicious vesuvio-style roasted potatoes… mmmm!

This is the original recipe from Martha’s site: Baked Shrimp with Tomato and Feta .   It’s one of many recipes from a magazine I love, Everyday Food (Martha Stewart).  I’ve gotten it for the last four years.  If you’re looking for easy recipes like this you need to fork out the $15 for the best collection. Beautiful photos that inspire you to cook.  Are you kidding?  For me, food is so visual.  That’s why I’m trying to improve my photo skills for this blog.   Get this great book here:

 Everyday Food Great Food Fast

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Filed under Culinary Chit Chat, Healthy Recipes, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1

Romantic Interlude: A Menu with Butternut Squash, Scallops, Asparagus, & Truffle

Romance was in the air, and we had a beautiful 1999 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne,  given to us in November by dear friends of ours, that needed to be made good use of.  My husband and I have had two failed attempts to go out for Valentine’s Day, due to sick kiddos and shortage of babysitters.  Alas, we resolved ourselves to celebrating at home, until such time as I am lucky enough to be served by someone else.

So, I surfed my usual recipe pages for something elegant and sophisticated, yet not to hard on the budget or difficult.  Scallops are a favorite shellfish for both of us; so I stumbled upon this recipe at the food network site:

Scallop and Truffle Mille-Feuille with Meyer Lemon Creme Fraiche and Truffle Vinaigrette

Names never scare me.  I knew that anything Emeril doctored up that I could barely pronounce had potential.  Sure, it called for truffles – and a couple of years ago I would have made the trip to Whole Foods to spend the $25.00 for the jar.  But I had some truffle oil in the cabinet which would do just fine for these tight-wad times of 2010.

For those of you unfamiliar, a truffle is a  delectable mushroom that is difficult to harvest, is grown in only a few places in the world, (mainly France) and therefore, costs about your monthly payment to your IRA.  Not to be confused with a chocolate truffle – which is a chocolatiers’ delicious sweet knockoff of the real thing.

This dish was superb. I changed quite a few things though, to make it easier, less expensive, and less time-consuming.

This is what I did differently:

1. I used regular lemons instead of Meyer lemons, because that’s all my store had.

2. I didn’t use any truffles. Instead, I very thinly sliced a few fresh baby portobellos (cremini mushrooms) for the presentation. Then, I used my black truffle oil to make the dressing and drizzled a little extra over the whole thing at the end.

3.  I didn’t buy puff pastry.  Instead, I happened to have some leftover phyllo dough sheets in my refrigerator from a recipe I had done over New Year’s.  Using a heart-shaped large cookie cutter, cut out a few stacks of heart-shaped dough, about 6 inches in diameter.  Then I quickly separated the heart phyllo sheets into stacks of two or three sheets on the baking sheet as per Emeril’s directions.   I brushed the tops of the hearts with a little butter melted in the microwave.  Then I baked them only for about 5 minutes or so. It’s a good thing I checked the baking hearts then, because phyllo is much thinner than puff pastry and I hadn’t accounted for that.  Lucky!  They were just golden and crispy.

4. I used tin foil in place of parchment paper for baking the heart stacks.

5.  I went on a wild goose chase to find Enoki mushrooms.  Normally, I would have prepared ahead of time, and found them easily at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  But this was a whim, so after visits to three major grocery stores within a square mile in twenty minutes – I finally found them at the fourth , a stinky Vietnamese market.  The shrooms were fresh. That’s all that mattered.  And it was the one ingredient I wasn’t willing to sacrifice – because it made the presentation.

6. No creme fraiche available at my local stores.  Instead, whole greek-style, plain yogurt was an equally delicious and a healthier substitute.

7. For the dressing, I used some of the fabulous champagne and white vinegar instead of store-bought champagne vinegar.  about a 2:1 ratio. You could use a dry white wine with good results.

Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini

We wanted a light dinner, but the scallop recipe just seemed a little too light – and while I was inspired by the dish’s sophistication,  I decided to do a soup for a first course so we wouldn’t be hungry afterward -as sometimes happens after a light and sophisticated meal.   In keeping with new commitment to health during Lent, I opted for a butternut squash soup from Giada DeLaurentis; she rarely lets me down, and I thought the texture would be creamy enough to satisfy my fat craving.

It originally was written to serve six as a first course, so I figured I could cut it in half and maybe still have a cup left for the kids to try the next day.  Besides, I was going the lazy way at the store – didn’t want an extra 15 minutes prep time cutting up squash –  and more than two bags of pre-cut butternut squash was just too expensive. When I got to the store, the only pre-cut squash was with a cinnamon sauce – but I could see from the bag, that  it was just a chunk of brown sugar that would melt upon heating.  So I just opened the bags and discarded the chunks of  cinnamon sugar and voila – I had pre-cut, unseasoned butternut squash for my recipe.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter – which is unusual for me, and it was PERFECT.  I’m not kidding you.   My husband said it was so fine, smooth, and velvety, and assumed it took a long time to make (it didn’t).   It was healthy and creamy, without an ounce of cream.  Unbelievable.  I was surprised by the ease with which this came together.    And, it could easily be a light supper, all on its own – perhaps even vegetarian, if vegetable stock were used instead of chicken stock.

A quick, traditional, French appetizer

Whenever I do a fancy dinner at home for the two of us, I like to do a very light appetizer or an amuse-bouche. We are lucky enough to have a new, authentic French (Basque-style) deli nearby, so we happened to have a wonderful country-style pate in the fridge. Then remembering that my mom had given me some small, vintage aspic cutters a long time ago, I was inspired to again incorporate the Valentine’s day theme.

I carmelized a few onions and added a little brown sugar to them to garnish the appetizer, and served the pate in the traditional way with some grainy Dijon mustard and toast points.

To round out the meal, my husband had also bought – in honor of our late celebration – some fabulous chocolate mousse and fresh pear pastries from the French guy at the deli.  It’s a good thing, because while I love to cook, I’m not one for making desserts.

When it was all said and done, this was a fabulous Valentine’s day celebration.  I wish I had taken photos of the beautiful dessert that DH had brought home for us, but I had been preparing our dinner for two hours, blogging simultaneously, and it was 9:30 pm by the time we got to dessert… so you’ll just have to imagine how pretty it was.

Here were the courses that I prepared, finished:

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Filed under Culinary Chit Chat, Healthy Recipes