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Birthday dinner!

Crab cakes and lettuce on white dinner plates.

Crab cake on a Boston lettuce leaf with organic watercress and chipotle mayo

Birthdays are always very special in our house. I am happy to cook a magnificent meal of the celebrated’s choice, served at the dining room table with china, crystal and sterling. However, this year, my oldest son requested a surprise. Dinner was to be of my choosing, so here’s what I made:

A cheese board with a variety of cheeses, dried apricots and walnuts

First course:
Crab cake on a bed of Boston lettuce and organic watercress with chipotle mayonnaise (search this blog for the recipe)

Main course:
Center cut pork chop with a grape and tarragon sauce (a Food and Wine recipe)
Homemade gnocchi with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (a Food and Wine recipe) – this was divine!
Roasted asparagus with olive oil and fresh mint (my simple recipe)

Vanilla pots with fresh strawberries (a Mark Bittman recipe)

Food and Wine's pork chop, gnocchi and roasted asparagus on a white plate.

Our evening was just great – a special time for just us to catch up on each others lives, watch funny You Tube videos together and of course it ended with viewing the return of Mad Men.

You know, it’s always wonderful to do a special dinner for just your family. When the kids were young, we used to do this every Sunday night. My husband insisted on this tradition, saying that we often entertained our friends specially and why shouldn’t we do it just for us. It gave us a time to regroup before starting the week and taught the boys how to behave at an elegant dinner. The conversation was slower and more interesting, providing a time for all of us to unwind. I hope you do this with your family, creating wonderful stories and memories along the way.

One dish meals

I was just thinking how much I love one dish meals for weeknights. What could be simpler? You’ve got your carbohydrates, vegetables and proteins all in one. You can serve it in a lovely flat soup bowl and hopefully the recipe will only cause one or two pots to be dirtied, so clean up is a breeze as well. The Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Chicken Sausage recipe in my last entry is a good example but there are so many. Gnocchi with Shrimp and Snowpeas, Veal Stew with Rosemary and Lemon on Polenta, Orecchiette with Shrimp and Broccoli Rabe, all listed earlier here are other great ones. Think of the many combinations you can make – use your imagination. Combine things you love and you won’t go wrong. Remember to relax, have fun, and pour love into it!Farfalle with lamb sausage and escarole.

Farfalle with lamb sausage and escarole.

What to do?

Gnocchi with shrimp and snow peas in a white bowl.
I had a craving for some gnocchi. The weather is getting cooler and gnocchi is so warm and comforting  – yummy. So that’s what I wanted for dinner and I knew we should have fish – too much meat already this week. So I ask my husband what he feels like eating and he says, “Well shrimp is always good.” He loves shrimp

Hmmmm, I ‘m thinking, Shrimp and gnocchi? I was intending something more like salmon with gnocchi as a side dish. And then I have these snowpeas that need to be used. So here’s what I did.

Everyone LOVED  it!

I hope you like it too.

1 tbs. olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 large leeks, white and very light green parts only, thoroughly washed and cleaned (slice in half lengthwise and wash all layers, then thinly slice half circles
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1 Thai red chili pepper minced with seeds
½ large red pepper cut in thin long strips and then cut in half again, OR: use the 3 tops left over from your stuffed peppers
¼ cup dry vermouth
12 oz. snowpeas, cleaned
11/2 lb. large shrimp, peeled & deveined with tails left on
1 lb. gnocchi
2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Set a large pot of salted water on to boil for the gnocchi. Use coarse sea salt for the water.

Warm the olive oil on low heat, add leeks and garlic, cover and sweat for 10 – 12  minutes. The onion and garlic will get sweet and soft, stir every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t brown. Raise heat to medium and add vermouth and let bubble for 1 – 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and red pepper and let cook for 10 more minutes while you wash your shrimp (3 times), dry and salt and pepper one side. Add cleaned snow peas and sauté for 3 – 5 minutes, then add shrimp  and toss and cook until just done and they have turned pink, about 3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste Meanwhile, cook your gnocchi in the boiling water, drain. Combine with shrimp mixture, garnish with chopped parsley.

Now I know the next night I want to make my version of a Mark Bittman recipe of  pasta with a Tuscan duck sauce, but the duck takes 1.5 hours to cook so I decide to buy the duck and cook it tonight while I’m cooking this dinner and it’s easy. You just need to plan it.

Trim all the visible fat from 3 duck legs and thighs. Wash and pat dry. Put them skin side down in a non-stick skillet and  turn heat to medium. When they start to sizzle, cover and turn heat to low for 60 -65 minutes, or until skin is crisp. Check every so often to make sure they are not burning. When skin is crisp, turn over and cook, covered for another 20 – 25 minutes or so, until very tender. Remove duck, cool and refrigerate. Scrape cooled duck fat into another container and refrigerate.