Home Cooking: Special dinners at home inspired by eating out (column)
March 21, 2018
This week I'm in Florida, spending my birthday week at a friend's condo on the beach. Although this is one of my favorite places on earth, it's not my kitchen. Nevertheless, as a means to thank my hosts, George and Helen Weaver, I always invite them to a small dinner party.
When you're traveling, and have a special event to celebrate, such as a birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas, your first thought might be to make reservations at a restaurant. Summit County is blessed to offer excellent options for every dining palate and budget.
But after a week of dining out, if you crave a home-cooked meal to celebrate your special day, I'd like you to stay home and cook. The obstacles you might face — an unfamiliar kitchen, limited pots and pans — can leave you wondering what is possible. Well, I'm here to help. I cooked my dinner menu with one medium stock pot, a large frying pan and a baking sheet.
That's it, three pans. And a blender (you could also use a food processor).
Here's the birthday dinner menu I shared with my friends: It was simple, elegant and enjoyed by all because we were relaxed. There were no crowds to make us feel rushed, so dinner lasted for hours, with jovial conversation and finished with chocolate cake and ice cream picked up at the grocery store.
Birthday Dinner away from Home Menu
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• Avocado and broccolini soup garnished with jumbo shrimp and red pepper pesto
• Steak sauteed with browned butter and rosemary
• Roasted green beans
• Baked potatoes
The beauty of the menu is it's built around whole foods that are easily interchangeable to meet any dietary choices. For instance, substitute chicken or a fish filet for the main course, using the same preparation method. Same goes for the vegetable; roasting any vegetables brings out their natural sweetness, turning reluctant vegetable eaters into enthusiastic diners. In fact, if you have vegetarian guests, offer two or three roasted vegetables to add variety. And finally the yukon potato can be substituted with a sweet potato for your paleo guests. Also note, while I cooked dinner for four, this menu is easily adapted for fewer or more guests.
Here's the order in which I prepared the dinner, so you can follow along when you make your variation of this dinner.
Preheat the oven to 400F
Potatoes: Wash the baking potatoes (one for each guest) and while the potatoes are still wet, sprinkle them liberally with salt. Place the potatoes in the oven to bake for about an hour or until they are easily squeezed.
Soup: While the potatoes bake, fill a medium stock pot about halfway with water, add a generous pinch of salt, bring to a boil, add on bunch of broccolini and cook until bright green and just tender. Remove the broccolini from the pot, but keep the water.
As the broccolini cools on a plate, toss your uncooked shrimp into the same stock pot and allow them to cook until bright pink. The reason for using the same cooking water is that you are creating a flavorful stock which will be the base for the soup. Remove the shrimp, keep the water (now stock). Place the shrimp on a plate and allow to chill in the refrigerator.
Into a blender add: the broccolini, the meat of one avocado, two cups of the cooking water (stock) from the stock pot, salt and pepper to taste and garlic powder (cayenne powder to taste). Blend until smooth, taste and adjust the seasonings. Chill for at least an hour.
Vegetables: About 20 minutes before the potatoes are done: wash the vegetables, generously sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them on the baking sheet. Roast them in the oven with the potatoes for 15-20 minutes checking mid-way to give them a shake and to make sure they don't burn. Browning is recommended, it's a sign that they are caramelizing, which is where their true flavor shines through.
Meat: While the vegetables and potatoes roast, pat dry the steaks, chicken or fish of your choice (one per guest), liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper. Meanwhile add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to the frying pan heating on the stove (the olive oil will help the butter not to burn under the high heat), add two sprigs of rosemary to the pan.
The rosemary (you can also use thyme) creates a gorgeous aroma that perfumes the meat. Add the meat and allow each side to sear. Turn after two to three minutes, and continue to cook until the meat reaches the desired degree of doneness. At this point, the vegetables and potatoes should also be thoroughly cooked and you can plate your meal.
Pour the chilled soup into each soup bowl. Garnish with the chilled shrimp and a dollop of store-bought red pepper pesto. Serve the chilled soup as your first course (while the meat rests) then serve the main course. Finish with a store bought sweet of your choice, or create one of your own.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, on the night after this wonderful dinner, I joined Helen and George Weaver and friends, for a dinner out. We were thrilled with an Omakase (chef's menu) prepared by Chef Yoshi at Masamune restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. This 10-course tasting menu is one of the most memorable meals I've ever enjoyed.
So, be inspired by culinary professionals in Summit County's many wonderful restaurants and inspire your friends and families as you cook for them.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths.
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