Dinner for two (and two)

I have a dear friend who had surgery and I wanted to send a dinner to her.  I went with an old favorite and made two sets of two servings.  One for her and her husband and one for us.  This is another one of those super easy, super popular dinners – easy enough for a weeknight and delicious enough for company.  I was going to make zucchini fritters but decided a vegetable gratin would be healthier (and travel better for delivery to my friend.)

Chicken with Pesto and Sundried Tomatoes

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 per serving)
  • Pesto (prepared or homemade)
  • Minced sundried tomatoes in a jar (packed in olive oil)
  • Pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.  Place chicken breasts between 2 sheets of wax paper and pound to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Top each breast with approximately 1 TB of pesto and 2 tsps of sundried tomatoes and then roll up.  Place rolled chicken breasts in a ceramic or glass baking dish and bake 35 – 40 minutes until chicken is cooked through.  I baste them with pan juice about 5 minutes before done (it gives them a nice color.)  If you want to dress them up more, sprinkle with pine nuts.  Serve or let cool and freeze.

Zucchini Gratin

  • 2 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • Parmesan cheese
In a glass baking dish start with a layer of thinly sliced zucchini.  Top with tomato slices and red onion slices.  Drizzle with olive oil, rosemary and oregano (you can substitute whatever herbs you prefer).  Repeat and add grated Parmesan cheese on top layer.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until zucchini is tender.

Comfort food

It is cold and raw here.  Amazing that the weather has changed so suddenly – at the beginning of last week we had the air conditioning on because it was so sticky and by the end of the week, we had switched on the heat.  Samantha has a bit of a cold and we’re all feeling a bit lazy.  I wanted something different and looked through my files for inspiration.  This sounded easy and good.  I paired it with one of my favorite comfort foods – rosemary polenta.

Roast chicken with vegetables

  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 2 bone-in chicken breast halves with skin
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp minced rosemary
  • 1 tsp minced thyme
  • 2 TB minced basil
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 tsp caused red pepper
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 450.  Spread shallots, carrot and celery on bottom of a ceramic baking dish.  Rub chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place chicken breasts skin side up on top of the vegetables.  Top with the herbs (reserve half the basil for tomatoes).  Roast for 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest.  NOTE: The vegetables were delicious – they cooked under the chicken and soaked up some of the juice.  Next time I would double or triple them.

Heat 1 TB olive oil in a small skillet and add garlic.  Cook until just golden.  Add tomatoes, red pepper and vinegar.  Cook until tomatoes are soft.  Season with salt and pepper and 1 TB basil.  Serve with chicken.

The chicken was really moist and had great flavor.  This is a dish you could serve for company but it’s so easy, it makes a great family dinner too.

Rosemary polenta

  • 2 TB butter
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp minced rosemary
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 4 TB grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter and olive oil.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes and rosemary and saute for 1 minute.  Add milk and chicken stock and boil.  Add cornmeal and whisk, stirring over low heat.  Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Sunday dinner!

Sunday dinner!

Company dinner

We had friends over for dinner last night.  We had been meaning to get together and finally got it on the books as a result of a Words with Friends word.  I scored the word Coquilles and got a ton of points.  Martha responded that she hadn’t had Coquilles St. Jacques for ages.  That cinched it – we scheduled dinner and I made Coquilles St. Jacques as the first course.  For the entree – slow roasted beef tenderloin with oven roasted asparagus.  For dessert, strawberries with balsamic vinegar.  If it sounds weird, go ahead and try it anyway – they were out of this world!  Here are the recipes:

Coquilles St. Jacques (serves 4 as appetizer)

  • 3 TB butter
  • olive oil
  • 1TB flour
  • 1/3 cup of seafood stock
  • 1/2 cup of half and half
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 – 6 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Cognac
  • 1/3 cup panko
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 6 scallops, rinsed, dried and cut in quarters

Preheat oven to 400.

Melt 1 TB butter over medium heat and whisk in flour, stirring constantly.  Slowly add seafood stock, whisking as you go.  Then add half and half and curry powder.  Stir over low heat.  Cream sauce should be thick but if it gets too thick, add more liquid (either seafood stock or half and half.)

(You can either do the next step concurrently with the first step if you are pressed for time like I was or do them separately.)  Melt remaining TB of butter and about 1 TB olive oil in another pan.  Saute shallots over medium heat until soft – about 3 minutes.  Add sliced mushrooms and cook  for about 8 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add Cognac and increase heat so the alcohol cooks off.  Reduce heat and combine with cream sauce.  Add scallops to mixture, stir well to combine and divide among gratin dishes.

Mix panko, parsley and cheese in a small bowl and pour in about 1 TB of olive oil.  Sprinkle mixture evenly on top of gratins and bake for 20 minutes until bubbly.  Serve hot.

Beef Tenderloin 

We always used to cook tenderloin at high heat until we discovered this slow-roasted technique.  Meat is moist and tender.

  • 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • coarsely ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 275.  Brush filet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Check temperature – when a thermometer registers 125, your meat is rare.  If you want medium rare, cook to 135.  Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil.  Let rest for about 20 minutes and then carve and serve with sauce of your choice.  Our friends wanted to know how the beef had been cooked – it is so consistently rare throughout, they thought we had cooked it sous vide.

Mustard Horseradish sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 3 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 TB whole-grain mustard
  • 1 TB horseradish
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Whisk together to combine.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.


  • Asparagus (tough ends broken off)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh grated parmesan cheese

While salmon rests, turn oven up to 450.  Spread asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook about 5 minutes until tender.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Balsamic strawberries

  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 5 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • sprinkle fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients.  Let sit in a glass bowl covered.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Not for the faint of heart!

I thought it would be fun to try something new tonight and I wanted something that would make leftovers.  I decided on a stuffed flank steak based on a recipe I found in a magazine.  Let me just tell you that this was not the easiest thing in the world.

The premise of stuffed flank steak is simple – you take the nice flat steak (made flatter by the fact that you have “butterflied” it open) and spread stuff on it and then you roll it up.  I have made chocolate peanut butter pinwheel cookies at Christmas for years and made a Buche de Noel cake many times.  Both of those require rolling and in my experience, rolling sounds easier when described than it is in practice.  The flank steak proved to be no exception.  In fact, the first effort was such a mess that I took it apart, took the filling out, washed and dried the meat and started over with smaller amounts of stuffing.  Next time (and there will be a next time after a sufficient recovery period), I will know to start smaller.  Here is what I would do next time (it did taste good):

Stuffed flank steak

  • 1 flank steak (about 2 pounds), butterflied (slice the steak in half horizontally to about an inch from the edge and spread flat) I would recommend covering it with plastic wrap and pounding it a little to get it flatter and a little more even.  I didn’t do that this time but will next time.  I might even ask my friend at the butcher to do the butterflying for me.
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, rinsed and dried
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1 TB fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1/3 lb sliced Provolone cheese
  • 1 cup baby spinach

Puree peppers, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, shallot, garlic and thyme in a food processor until smooth.  Set aside.

Spread steak open and season with salt and pepper.  Spread with sliced Provolone cheese, spinach and pepper puree in that order.  (I started with more of all of these ingredients and could not get the steak to roll.  Next time I’ll start with smaller quantities and I think I’ll put some plastic wrap over it after the cheese and spinach and flatten with a rolling pin before I cover with the red pepper puree.  Plastic wrap or parchment paper under the steak would also make the rolling easier.)

Starting with the short end, roll the steak as tightly as you can.  Tie at 1 inch intervals with kitchen string and brush with more olive oil.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.  Cook at 450 for about 40 minutes and remove from oven.  Check temperature with a thermometer – ours was 140 which was higher than I would like.  120 would be better.  If underdone, you can cover with aluminum foil for a few minutes to bring up the temperature.  I served it with 1/2 baked sweet potato each.  Here is a picture (I thought about taking a picture of the mess but wasn’t in the mood.)

You can see that the one piece is pretty short on filling.  That is part of having it uneven and not being a great roller.  It is advertised as being a good company dinner but I definitely need more practice before trying it on company.  This is one of those where the ingredients are fairly simple, the taste is good but it would definitely be stressful trying to pull this together for company without at least one trial run.

Entertaining with ease

There are several different ways to entertain friends.  When we get together with some of our friends, the food is the entertainment so cooking together and spending several hours in the kitchen makes the evening fun.  (Our New Year’s Eve tapas event last year was a perfect example as was our Thai feast two weeks ago.  In both cases, we cooked some things, ate them, cooked some more and had a ball.)  If that is not your objective and you want to sit and relax with friends, the key to success is to do as much as possible ahead of time.

We’ve invited a couple over for dinner tonight.  I’m making fresh Vietnamese spring rolls followed by grilled Porterhouse steaks over arugula (steak Florentine) and a cranberry apple cake.  I found the cake recipe in one of my Barefoot Contessa books and it sounded seasonally appropriate.  The Vietnamese spring rolls come from our cooking class and I’ve blogged the steak Florentine before.  The cake just came out of the oven – see picture below, I just cooked the shrimp so I can make the spring rolls and the only thing to do while our guests is here will be to put the steaks on the grill.

The spring rolls sound more intimidating than they are.  The wrappers can be found in an Asian market.  Here is a picture.

They are made of rice flour, tapioca starch, water and salt.  You soak them in warm water and then fill them.  Working with them takes some getting used to as the wrappers are flimsy.  Once the wrapper is wet, you spread out the circle gently.  Then I’ll top each wrapper with a romaine lettuce leaf, some bean sprouts, a few cooked shrimp, a couple of mint leaves and basil leaves and then roll them up.  Once rolled, I’ll put them in the fridge with a damp paper towel on top of them.  My brother-in-law puts flank steak inside his – you could also use cooked scallops, crabmeat for the protein and shredded carrots or thinly sliced red pepper would be good additions for crunch and flavor.  These are excellent dipped in sweet chili sauce or duck sauce.  The sauce we learned in our cooking glass is made by mashing garlic and spicy Thai pepper in a mortar and pestle and then adding rice vinegar, lime juice, sugar and chopped peanuts.  Either way these are delicious – possibly a little bit summery given that it is snowing in our area.

My husband is a big help when we entertain.  He is setting the table now.  When our friends arrive, we will be able to enjoy their company without stressing about dinner.  If you stress when you have company look for recipes you are comfortable making, be sure that of the appetizer, entree, side dish and dessert at least two are completely finished before your company is scheduled to arrive (if that means buying them rather than making them, that’s fine) and that you have as much of the preparation such as choosing serving dishes, setting table, etc. done in advance as possible.