Great night, we had such fun with John’s colleagues and their spouses, Clark and Cindy Opdahl, Scott and Beth Hagel, and newly-former/much-missed-already colleague Tom Ting and his wife Erin. Or as Tom’s now known, TT, or Traitor Tom. Awww, poor Tom. I don’t work with him, but I know the only reason anyone’s giving him crap is because they’ll miss him so much. So good luck Tom, I have a feeling you’ll be seeing everyone often anyhow, even if you don’t want to!
I had planned to cook all day, because I almost spaced – how could I? – that I had planned a rare Saturday lunch with my girlfriends Mary Pappas and Kathie Radcliffe, two women who during my 12 years at Park Nicollet saw me through basically my entire adult life. They’ve seen it all: marriage, pregnancy, birth, divorce, marriage, miscarriages, the whole nine. DEAR friends – I wish you all to have friends like Mary and Kathie. Thank goodness that in the middle of par-boiling potatoes and mincing garlic I remembered my lunch plans. I rushed off to Kafe 421, sans makeup and with wildly curly hair (I don’t like doing that, going out sans makeup with wildly curly hair, but for good friends, I’ll do it…) in Dinkytown, and had a fantastic lunch. Not just the company was great, but also the food. Greek, baby, is there anything better? Hell to the no! (A Whitney Houston quote Suz pointed out to me, cracks me up.) The heart of Kafe 421 is Greek, but the menu is trans-Mediterranean. So yummy. We particularly loved fried polenta (and really, what’s not to love about FRIED polenta? Damn good, creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside; real healthy, I’m sure), a killer spanikopita, a turkey sandwich in a fresh, soft pita jazzed up with french-fried onions (fab, I’m telling you), and a silky squash soup. It was all amazing.
I made it home by 2:30 p.m. to continue pulling together dinner for tonight. Crispy oven-roasted potatoes with spicy aioli for an hors d’oeuvre. Broiled loin lamb chops (per the garlic/mint/olive oil smearing from last night); couscous with peppers, onions, raisins, olives, and garlic; and spinach – basically, spanikopita without the phyllo (baked, chopped spinach with dill, garlic, scallions, feta, egg). A Mediterranean-sort of day, I definitely made my daily quota for dark leafy greens. My goal was to make cream puffs for dessert, filled with whipped cream and drizzled with an insanely decadent chocolate syrup I whip up from time to time. And I did basically make that, but instead of individual puffs I spread the choux pastry in one large layer before baking (less fussy) and cut it into squares to serve. Worked great, I’ll definitely do that again. I also improvised on the whipped cream a bit, since I’d used the last of my vanilla extract in the insanely decadent chocolate sauce mentioned above. I instead grabbed some coconut extract, put a dab of that into the whip, and added some toasted coconut that I happened to have handy (that sounds dumb and potentially pretentious, having toasted coconut handy, but I had made and used some for Christmas cookies and had saved the extra assuming it would keep pretty well; it did). I love coconut, so to me it tasted great. Nathan helped make the night flow smoothly – he’s a great helper, clearing plates, serving dessert and coffee, so cute. He’s my little party boy. And John did beautiful party due-diligence, listening to me bark out seriously bitchy commands while rolling his eyes only occasionally, building a roaring fire, washing all my prep dishes – he even made the bed, and he never does that. He is a SAINT of a husband, and a good co-party-thrower. Cheers to Nathan and John!
Since it’s currently after midnight, I’ll post recipes tomorrow. I’d LOVE to take a lovely warm bath, light a few candles, sip a little more wine, but frankly, I’m too goddamn fucking tired (I LOVE to swear when I’m tired; in fact, I love to swear any goddamn time; like hypocrisy, it’s in the genes). Straight to goddamn bed for me…
Later: OK, I’ve posted recipes in the comments, below. Enjoy!
Couscous with Vegetables, Olives and Raisins
1-10 oz. box plain couscous
2 c. water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into matchstick pieces
½ sweet onion, sliced thinly into 1-inch pieces
3 oz. white mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. raisins (or golden raisins, or currants), softened by heating in a microwave, with 1 tsp. of water, for 30 seconds
¼ c. chopped scallions
¼ c. chopped Kalamata olives
salt and pepper
Bring water, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir in pepper, onion, and mushrooms and sauté until starting to wilt, about 8 minutes. Stir in raisins and garlic, sauté for 3 minutes. Stir in scallions and olives. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir sautéed vegetables into the hot, cooked couscous, tossing to break up clumps. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temp.
Optional stir-in ideas:
¼ toasted pine nuts
¼ c. chopped parsley
½ c. canned, drained chickpeas
¼ c. chopped fresh mint leaves
½ c. crumbled feta
Grilled (or Broiled) Loin Lamb Chops with Mint and Garlic
Loin lamb chops are meatier and less expensive than rib chops
Start the day before, or at least a few hours before. Or not, they’d be great even if they couldn’t sit for awhile.
½ c. fresh mint leaves
4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
12 pitted Kalamata olives
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ c. olive oil
8 loin lamb chops (usually about 1-inch thick)
In a food processor, combine all but the lamb chops. Puree thoroughly to create an oily paste. Spread paste all over each lamb chop. Wrap and chill overnight. Thirty minutes before cooking the chops, set them out at room temperature. Cook on a preheated grill, about 4 minutes per side for medium, or broil in a preheated oven (in my oven, the second-from-the-top rack), about 4 minutes per side for medium. Assuming the chops are around 1-inch thick. Cooking times will vary widely, so adjust accordingly based on thickness, cooking technique, and go ahead and test for doneness by pulling a chop off the heat and giving it a check.
Killer Chocolate Sauce
Makes about 2 cups
Good on everything! Especially as a poured icing for chocolate (or any) cake, or warm over ice cream or cream puffs. Stirred into hot milk to taste, it makes incredible cocoa.
½ c. sugar
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (worth buying good chocolate)
1 c. whipping cream
3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Combine all but vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring several times, cook for 5 minutes, stirring several times. Remove from heat, carefully stir in vanilla. Cool to just-warm before pouring over cake or serving over ice cream or cream puffs.
Can be cooled completely and reheated later. Keeps well for up to one week in the refrigerator.
That's so CUTE, Sullivan, he is such a doll. He's going to be a major foodie, I can tell - chocolate cake for breakfast, spaetzle and cabbage for dinner, and he's only four...
Yep, that's the sauce! Funny, sort of a combo of our two cakes - the Happy Cake and my birthday Better Than Sex Coconut Cake!
I'm so psyched you made the spaetzle and it was good - very cool, it makes me feel sort of helpful!
YUMMM, coconut. Would that by any chance be the chocolate sauce you put on my beloved Happy Cake? Sounds delicious, girlfriend!
Btw, made your Chicken and Spaetzle with Sage Butter last night for dinner--wonderful! Later on Sullivan (4 year old son, extremely picky eater!) said to me, "I was very pleased with my Spaetzle noodes and cabbage for dinner tonight!" (yes, he even ate raw red cabbage!) I'd say that was a victory, wouldn't you??