FRIDAY NIGHT DATE NIGHT (AT HOME)
We live near a town that has a Main Street that has become somewhat bar-centric over the last few years. This is not to say you can’t get a bite to eat, but there are more Irish pub type places in a two block radius than I think necessary. Thirty years ago when TGIF still meant something (as in going out to eat or drink on a Friday night after a long week at work) it might have been fun to go out. Problem is we were so cash strapped back then that we rarely could afford a TGIF night. Now, when I occasionally drive through that town on a Friday night to pick Lynn up at the “other” train station because he has missed his regular train, I see scores of 20 and 30 year olds at these establishments well, partying. Sometimes I’m even envious.
Cooking fairly low budget family meals all week for us, sometimes I splurge on Fridays. I’ve tried over the years to have my own version of TGIF, picking up things that I know Lynn will like. (But in reality it doesn’t matter what I buy since he will eat anything I put in front of him.) Some favorites include smoked salmon, fresh linguine, fresh mozzarella or burrata, baguette, expensive fruit (like cherries) and lamb chops.
While I would like to go out, even if I spend $90 at the supermarket buying some of the aforementioned items, invariably that amount also buys me provisions for the weekend, too. These days I doubt anyone can eat out three plus meals for under $100. Some Fridays, if I’m too tired to maneuver the supermarket aisles, I try to conjure up a meal from whatever is left over in the fridge. Sometimes it works better than others.
I started keeping track of some Friday night meals which I think is a good source of menu ideas if you’re stuck, as I always am, with “what’s for dinner?”
Earlier in the week I had made a trip to Trader Joe’s and went a little cheese crazy. I picked up no less than five different kinds — Goat, Jarlsberg, Irish cheddar, Burrata and Ricotta. Since I already had leftover Monterey Jack and Vermont cheddar in the fridge, I decided adding the Jarlsberg to the mix would make a nice cheese fondue for dinner that night. Grating the three cheeses, I poured some white wine into the fondue pot, put in on the stove to warm up and threw the handfuls of cheese in stirring constantly to make the mixture very smooth. I opened a can of smoked oysters (our appetizer) and plated them with some lemon wedges. I warmed up some bread in the oven to dip in the cheese mixture. I washed some grapes, cut up two kiwis and plated them. Dinner was served.
For some reason Rachel had no one to hang out with and decided to join us for dinner. Originally, I thought I’d just throw some pasta together, ignoring my “Friday night date night” concept but once I realized she would be at the dinner table with us, I changed gears. Sometimes I even amaze myself at what’s in my refrigerator. I cleaned some artichokes and dropped them in a big pot of boiling water to cook thinking artichokes dipped in a lemony butter sauce would be our first course. Then I wrapped some slices of pancetta around a pork tenderloin and popped it in a very hot oven. In the meantime, I started making dough for Spätzle (flour, water, egg). I cleaned some portobello mushrooms stuffed them with a goat cheese, fresh parsley and red onion mixture. This would eventually go into the oven to cook, too. I had an avocado that was very ripe so sliced it up with a little red onion, added some cilantro and cherry tomatoes and it became a very nice salad. The pork eventually cooked, the Spätzle were dropped into boiling water, then drained and covered with butter and lots of paprika. Not bad for a pulled together Friday night meal!
Had the temperature not dropped from 75 degrees the day before to a cold and blustery 50 degrees, I would have picked up some fish, put it on the grill, made a veggie or carb and that would have been it. But because it was so chilly, I had to come up with a different plan. I remembered I still had half a roast chicken from dinner Tuesday that no one had eaten. I also remembered I had half a box of frozen puff pastry in the freezer. Could I possibly pull together a chicken pot pie? Lynn, as usual, got stuck at work which worked to my advantage since I went home and started to cook some potatoes, carrots and pick the meat off the chicken. I had taken the puff pastry out of the freezer that morning and started to roll it out. Once the potatoes and carrots were cooked, I took out a bag of frozen petite pois (little peas) and cooked them. Then I made a big pot of havarti dill cream sauce to which I added the chunks of chicken, cooked potatoes, carrots and peas, throwing in some fresh parsley, salt and pepper and sauteed shallots for good measure. I poured the whole mixture into a round corningware bowl and put the puff pastry on top. It cooked about 30 minutes and while not exactly really puffy (I figured the dough had been frozen too long), it browned up very nicely and made a hearty and warming dinner for a cold Friday night.
I was at a loss for ideas. Chicken? Steak? Hamburgers? Our grill was shot from the last storm (the wind carried it across the deck then dumped it very unceremoniously on the lawn) so I couldn’t pop something on the grill if I wanted to. Everytime I opened the refrigerator though, there was a container of ricotta that kept staring at me. I mean really staring at me. I thought I might make a pizza with the ricotta but I’d been making a lot of pizza lately, usually on Sundays as an appetizer before a more substantial Sunday meal. What about calzones? I don’t think I had ever attempted to make a calzone. So, Thursday night I made a quick batch of pizza dough and let it sit in the fridge. By Friday when I got home from work, I cut the dough into eight pieces and rolled them out as if I were making individual pies. I retrieved the ricotta from the fridge as well as a block of mozzarella. I started to think about other fillings and came across some leftover chicken with mushrooms. I made a quick marinara sauce and tossed the chicken in it. I also found a bag of baby spinach nearly on its way out so decided to make use of that too. The result? I ended up with three different fillings for the calzones that night. The aforementioned chicken and mushroom with marinara sauce with some mozzarella thrown in for good measure, spinach, mushroom and ricotta as well as plain ricotta and mozzarella. I popped them in a 550 degree oven, cooked them until they were lightly brown on top and made a quick arugula and red radish salad as a side dish. Not too much work for a Friday night and more than enough leftovers for Lynn to take to work as lunch on Saturday.