Dinner for one

There are all forms of entertaining.  Of course there are the big parties, dinners and events.  There are also smaller and more intimate settings when you have another couple over or it’s a special dinner just for the two of you. You plan, you do the shopping, the preparation and then hope everyone oohs and ahhs.  It’s validation for the work and time you put into it and you go to sleep thinking everything was worth all the effort.  But have you ever thought of putting that same effort into a dinner for one?

What do people do when they eat alone?  I know when I was single and just starting out, dinner usually consisted of a bowl of cereal or a bag of popcorn.  I never thought of making an effort for myself.  I’m going to assume that a lot of single people have the same way of looking at things as I do.  We just do whatever is the easiest.

Tonight however, I changed my mind about things.  My husband was going to play cards with the guys and I was going to be alone for the evening.  In the past I would have eaten something I could just grab.   Not that there is anything wrong with a bowl of cereal or grabbing what ever is in the refrigerator at the moment, but I decided with the lifestyle changes we are making in our home I should make the effort and do the same for myself as I would anyone else that would be eating dinner in my home.  I was going to make myself a real dinner.

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I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit that sounded so good, but my husband wasn’t as excited about this meal as I was.  It calls for adding lobster to pasta.  What was I thinking?  Doing something with it other than boil it and dip it in butter?  It was the perfect opportunity to try this…and I’m so glad I did!   Not only was this very tasty, it was also relatively easy.  The lobster was still tender and sweet with a nice spicy complement from the pasta and sauce.

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You could of course do this meal for your guests and still get the oohs and ahhs.  They won’t know how easy it was or that most of it could be done in advance.  Or you could wait until that one night when you’re sitting all alone and don’t want a bag of popcorn for dinner.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your own company.  It’s worth the oohs and ahhs you’re going to give yourself.

 

Changes in Life

Life Changes.   None of us want them because I think we all hate change.  If it’s a good life change, we’ll take it begrudgingly, but if it’s something that’s scary or undesirable, we avoid it like the plague.  Perhaps that is why so many of us cling to what we know and what is comfortable.

I am one of those people.  I get comfortable and want to stay with what I know.  Even if it makes me unhappy.  I sit and think how different life could be if I would just try something new, but it’s scary so I stay where I am.  Sometimes, however, you get a kick in the butt that forces you to make that change and you go with your heels dug in…. and then you realize that it was something you should have done so much sooner.   Yes, that’s me.  Kicking and fighting and holding on to the door jam until my knuckles turn blue.  And that is where the story begins.

To start with, I feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything.  It’s only been a couple of months but when you stop doing what you love, it can seem like forever.  I stopped for several reasons.  It was a time of drudgery and unhappiness and I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything that gave me pleasure.  I was trying to figure out life’s destiny due in part to the untimely death of my brother, due in part to the fact I didn’t want to get up and do what I had done for the last sixteen years….mortgages.  Life wasn’t fun anymore.

My bosses talked to me…they were worried.  My friends and family talked to me.  I talked to myself.  I decided after several conversations and long bouts of thinking that I was going to make a HUGE change and leave my “I knew where I was going everyday” job.  I was going to concentrate on my blog and so the next change was to redo everything to make it more exciting and fun to look at. I went to a food writing seminar and hung out with chefs and other foodie writers and thought I was super cool.  But then I added in food safety courses and menus and decided to take on the catering business.  At this point I am sure my husband thought I had lost my mind and for the first few days I was almost in agreement with him.  But as time wore on and I was doing what I loved and I didn’t have the stress of my job any longer…I realized this was a dream come true and yes, why hadn’t I done this years ago?

But just as you think everything is going right with the world,  along comes another change that slaps you upside the head and wakes you up.  Out of state and only one day into our mini vacation, my husband has a heart attack.  Luckily for both of us, with fortuitous timing and excellent care, everything turned out well with no damage to the heart.  But what a wake up call for both of us!

We had to take a look at our lifestyle, our way of eating and what we were eating.  It was time for another change.  We realized how lucky we were to receive this “second chance” and made the choice to eat smaller portions, heart healthy meals, exercise and even cut down on the wine that we love to enjoy.  Some of it has been easy, and some of it has been a kicking and screaming change.

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One of the fun things is discovering foods that are good for you and still amazingly good to eat.  The day of the heart attack we had eaten that morning at the bed and breakfast we were staying at and they had been so nice to share their granola recipe with me that I had enjoyed with my yogurt.  It was one of the first things I made for my husband to make a change to his breakfast.

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Sometimes changes are good and sometimes not so good.  But it’s all about how we deal with them and how we embrace that change.  I for one am loving life right now and hope that it keeps being as exciting as it’s been the last couple of months.  And I hope you stick with me…together we’ll embrace the storm.

 

 

Changes

As with most things, we need to change and grow in order to improve.  Exciting things are happening and my blog is part of it.  I will be delving into the foodie world of catering and we are working on changing this site.  Please be patient and hang in there with me while “construction” is going on.  I will be back soon with a brand new look!

I can’t wait to share it with everyone!  Thank you for hanging in there with me while we change!

A Memory

For most of us there is something that will trigger a memory.  it might be a song, a smell or even a place.  For me, it is a block of butter and a piece of toast.

We grew up on margarine.  At least my mom, my brothers and I did. It was cheaper than butter and growing up poor, my mom did what she could to control what was spent.  However, when it came to my dad, the expenditure of butter was not negotiated. My mom thought once she could fool him and put margarine on his toast.  That never, and I mean never,  happened again.

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I remember him slicing his block of butter, not from the side like most people cut it, but skimming his knife along the top as though it was a priceless commodity. .One day I asked if I could try it.  My mom and my brothers looked up like I was about to commit a crime, but my dad beamed with pride and agreed to let me try it.  I was watching a man share his pot of gold as he shaved the butter from the top with the same care as a man who was shaving his face for the very first time.  He laid the thin slices on my toast and we watched it melt into the crags.  Taking that first bite;  tasting the buttery richness that I had never experienced before, I smiled at my dad and realized we had just shared something that would always be special between only the two of us.  It was almost like he knew I understood the importance of what I had just experienced.

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I’m grown up now and my dad is no longer with us.  There is never a time, however, when I don’t come across a solid block of butter, hold it in my hand and I’m immediately back in our little kitchen. Who would have thought that one simple gesture would start me on a culinary trek of tasteful discoveries?  Unlike, my dad, I don’t use butter like it’s a treasure to be doled out sparingly.  I use butter with gusto and add a bit into everything I do.  Maybe it’s the richness it adds to my recipes, or maybe it’s just a small thank you to my dad for showing me that sometimes you just need to splurge for the sake of enjoyment.

So a toast to my dad, well,  with a piece of toast!  And of course I can’t forget that little slice of butter.

 

 

 

An Interview with Jamie Young of Thirty 7 North Restaurant

Despite it’s location in a rather affluent area of Virginia Beach, Thirty 7 North Restaurant and Bar is an unassuming and relaxed place to go for dinner or to meet friends for an after work drink.  Located at 2105 West Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach and known for it’s elegant farm to table American Cuisine, it’s a casual on the water restaurant headed up by executive chef, Jamie Young.

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Jamie is a fresh new face to us, but not to the culinary world.  A graduate of Johnson and Wales, he moved to this area in 2012 to be with his sister who was in the military.  He was immediately hired on as the sous chef with Thirty 7 North and the rest is history.

I had the pleasure of talking to Jamie not too long ago, to discuss his passionate commitment of what he does best, serving up delicious and beautiful plates of incredibly good tasting food.

What is your philosophy on food and how do you come up with your menus?

It’s all about going back to the basics.  Keep it local, create new ideas but remembering to keep it simple.

How do you come up with the menus?  What is it that you are trying to create for the public?

It’s a team effort.  We put ideas together on what is fresh and what can come from what we grow or the local farms.  We want to create a healthy and simple – again back to the basics- menu.  I want to stay away from additives and go back to braising, grilling and roasting.

What tip would you have for the home cook that would really get them the “wow” factor?

It’s all about the attention to detail.  Create texture in food, make sure the plates are wiped.  The little things matter.

Have you ever cooked for anyone famous?  If so, who was it and what did you prepare?

Everyone is famous here!  Actually, when I worked in Charlotte,  I prepared Bananas Foster Pancake for Rosario Dawson, who is a female actress.  She liked breakfast.  And Michael Jordan came in several times, but there was never anything special he asked for.

What is your favorite local food  to cook with?  What is one of your signature dishes you like to use it in?

Rockfish.  My favorite is with wilted kale, roasted pumpkins from Stoney’s and a spiced butter sauce.

What is your favorite kitchen gadget you love to use?

My Vitamix.  It’s great for creating sauces and purees.  You can get different textures with it.

Jamie is about as relaxed and friendly as anyone I know, but don’t get me wrong.  He is a whirlwind of activity having just completed the Iron Chef competition, where dishes like bacon jam on cornbread and Geechi boy grits with braised goat were served.  He is also working with Jim White on nutritional fitness and is hoping to bring healthy menus together for the community.

Listed below is one of his recommendations, “House Pasta with Charred Yuzu Salsa”,  for the home cook to try.  If you can’t or don’t want to try and make it yourself, make reservations with Thirty 7 North by calling 757-412-0203.  I bet if you asked Jamie, he would make it for you!

 

 

 

 

Scallops, Mushrooms, and Scallions

Last weekend I was getting ready to go out to breakfast with my husband and in the background was a show on PBS that I was semi listening to.  Did you ever have one of those moments when suddenly what you aren’t paying attention to suddenly becomes your entire focal point?  Lydia Bastianich was pointing a finger at me and telling me I should pay attention because it was the dinner I had waited for.  Ok,, she didn’t really call out my name but it was a dinner I could have waited for.  I could have literally licked the TV screen.  She had put together a dish of mushrooms and scallions and scallops with a beautifully caramelized crust to them and it had my name written all over it.

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Later that morning, we were out eating breakfast and I’m telling my husband about this dish.  He had the same reaction I did.   Conveniently, the bookstore was right next to where we were  (I know it was fate) and we ran over.  On the spot we bought her new cookbook, “Lydia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking”.  Not only did it have this recipe, but several others I will try soon.  It’s a great addition to your cookbook collection.

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One thing I do want to note on this recipe is that you want dry scallops.  You have to ask for them when you go to the market.  Typically you get the scallops that have sat in some chemical brine and they are slimy and won’t caramelize well.  It’s definitely worth the extra effort and your scallops taste so much better because they haven’t absorbed that chemical brine.

I also added brown rice to this recipe as a starch base.  You don’t need it, but it did add a little substance to the meal.  I just placed a large spoonful under the mushrooms before serving.

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I will definitely make this again.  The mushroom combination hit a home run with the garlic and butter flavors hanging on discretely to every mushroom.  The crunch of the scallion was a nice sharp bite in comparison to the sweet softness of the scallop.

The next time someone yells at you from the TV to pay attention, do it.  This really hit a 4 star YUM rating on my palate.  You need to try this!

 

Lobster and Corn Arancini

Clearly I am not in control of my life any longer.  Between work, the trips, my food writing class, the boot camp exercise class (that I might add is about to kill me),  and the house and all it involves, I cannot find any time to do any thing.  It’s a sad state of affairs, when I have to schedule time to complete the one thing I love to do…this blog.

This past weekend was one of the first in many that I have been able to devote a couple of hours to myself, so I decided to finalize a couple of ideas I’ve been working on.  It was me and my kitchen, alone at last.  Me and my kitchen along with cheese, rice, lobster and corn.  It can’t get any more romantic than that….just don’t tell my husband I said so.

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I love Arancini. You know them; they’re those cute little cheesy rice balls.  I can’t seem to ever have enough of them and a while back I got this obscure idea to add lobster to the recipe.  And what goes better with lobster than corn?

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With the combination of flavors, all the ingredients made for a very tasty dinner.  What I loved was the sweetness of the lobster and corn combined with the creaminess of the cheese and rice but it all had the crunch from the outside crust.  Yes, my friends, an Arancini affair had begun.  I even invited my husband to come along for the taste train of love, of which I believe he thoroughly enjoyed, given that he ate four of them.

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Make a date with your kitchen and try these cheesy rice balls.  You’ll love them as much as I did, with or without the husband involved.  Just don’t tell him I said so.

Star rating is a huge YUM!

Public House Field Trip

There is always that one place you can go to grab a quick bite and maybe a drink…or vice versa.  That place that everyone knows your name.

The other day, for my “Expressions of Food” class, we met at a restaurant named Public House.  Public House, located off Colley Ave in Norfolk, VA,  is a dark but homey atmosphere where I felt everyone was going to shout out my name when I walked in.  It was as though I had walked in to an American spin-off of an English Pub, although I’ve never actually been to one.

We had a rather large group, but our waiter, Matt,  made us all feel as though we were sitting alone.  I was very impressed with the speed and personal service that was given.  Public House is well-known for their Bacon and Egg Cocktail, having been featured in the national Huffington Post, however, I just ordered my usual champagne and cranberry Poinsettia to start the meal off.  It was a beautiful mixture of the two components, the champagne being bubbly and crisp and the cranberry adding just enough tartness to make it refreshing.

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For my meal I ordered the club sandwich which was pretty standard as far as club sandwiches go.  They were quite accommodating when I asked not to have cheddar included in the layers of cheese and meat offerings, but fell a little short when I requested to have it all between 2 slices of bread and not three.  I’m honestly not quite sure if only two slices would have supported everything that was jam-packed into the sandwich, so I made due and took the extra layer out myself.  I do wish I had been more courageous in trying something else after seeing everyone else’s plates, but I have to say that my sandwich was up in the top five for club’s that I have eaten in the past.  Rather than fries, my plate had a side of sliced apples which was a very fresh respite from the heaviness of the bread, meat and cheese.  I did try my neighbor’s fries which I have to say were quite good and the amount served on the plate was far too many for one person.

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Considering the large group we had, it went well and all the food brought to the table was in a very timely manner.  No one had to wait on theirs and from what I could tell all the orders were as requested, without having to send anything back.  Kudos to our Waiter Matt, for getting everything correct!

I highly recommend Public House if you’re in the Norfolk area.  I’ve decided to go back after reading several of their reviews and order the Blue collar Mac and Cheese.  Just from the comments I’ve read, I’m already drooling, thinking of a tangy blue cheese sauce over the macaroni.  I cannot wait to revisit.

Maybe next time they’ll even call out my name when I walk in!

 

The Best Meatloaf

Meatloaf.  We all have our favorites.  The funny thing is our favorite is typically the one we make ourselves.  If someone makes a meatloaf, it’s always the best and you can’t tell them any different.  I have to include myself in that segment of the population.  My husband and I each have our own meatloaf recipe and of course we each think ours, individually,  is the best.

Until last night that is.  We have thrown away our respective recipes and we now have the best meatloaf recipe.  Ev-VER-rrrrr!  Well, in our own humble opinion, that is.

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Meatloaf is as subjective a topic as a macaroni and cheese recipe.  We all have that recipe that our mom made, one that has passed down through the generations, or even one that we have created ourselves based on what we like and don’t like to add in.  There is not one recipe that is exactly the same as someone else’s.  Meatloaf is a personal odyssey of originality and taste, a symphony of meats, cheeses and vegetables.  That is why we all love it and we all love the one we make ourselves.

This particular recipe, adapted from a show I saw on the Food Network, was in a category of the best eaten comfort foods. The meatloaf had been selected by Ina Garten  from Tavern 1770..  Since it was meatloaf it seemed almost mandatory that I make my own personal stamp on it, and so I did.

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Although my husband thoroughly coated his with a layer of ketchup, we both agreed that this was the best we had ever made or had.  I will, however, have to be understanding of the fact you may not agree with our opinion..  You may not even want to try this recipe because you might still hold on to the fact that yours is the best….and perhaps it is.  But I would challenge you to give this a try….just for something different.  It’s full of flavor, moist and hearty all at the same time. And,  I can assure you, that while you may not think it’s the “best” in your home,  you will still want to keep it as a really good back-up.

Be forewarned, the next time someone asks me if I have a good recipe for meatloaf, I am going to say yes.  Yes, I actually do have the best meatloaf recipe.

 

A Toast Addiction

I watched a cooking show the other day.  There is nothing extraordinary about that, and in the opinion of my husband I probably watch them more than I should.  It was a show I had never seen before, and honestly I can’t even tell you the name of it.  What I can tell you is that after that show I acted like a pregnant woman out of control, on a quest to satisfy an overwhelming craving.  It was a craving for toast…..oh, but not just any toast.

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It was toast browned in a skillet with a mixture of maple syrup and butter. It was toast that was caramelized until it had a sugary, crunchy coating and then topped with a slice of creamy, yet savory cheese.  It was more than toast and I wanted to try it.

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I am not usually a maple syrup on anything kind of person.  Not even as a child did I like French toast or pancakes smothered in that syrupy sticky sweetness.  I do like the taste of maple syrup, but more in the one little bite kind of candy you get when you go back to New Hampshire or Vermont for a visit.

For some reason, however, this had really caught my eye.  For the next week I thought of nothing else and so finally over the weekend I decided I was actually going to make it.

I wish I hadn’t.  I was like a drug addict on crack I loved it so much.  I made it three times and went through a whole loaf of bread and a round of brie.  I did have a little help eating it all, but quite honestly,  if I didn’t have to share, I probably wouldn’t have.  It was just that good.

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I curse you and thank you Amy Thielen of the Food Channel.  I am now an official Maple Bread lover,  or otherwise known as a toast addict . My disclaimer is,  I cannot be responsible for you once you try this.  I will, however, welcome you with open arms to my support group.

It really is that good.

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