"Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else.
Dinner is the evening."
Dinner is the evening."
I can recall—back when we actually had hot weather in St. Louis—spending a sticky summer evening on a restaurant patio, sipping cocktails and being devoured by mosquitos, with my good friend Sallie. The conversation eventually turned, as it always does, to food and cooking, and Sallie mentioned that she puts a ridiculous amount of effort into what is one of the simplest and quickest meals you can make for yourself: a salad. She insists on using fresh ingredients prepared specifically for balanced flavors, nuts toasted or candied minutes earlier in her kitchen, and homemade dressing. She has sworn off the bottle (of pre-made dressing, that is). And ever since that night, the idea of kicking my dependence on store-bought dressings in lieu of making simple, fresh, tasty homemade dressings has been lingering in the back of my mind.
So when I asked Sallie if I could cook with her, I intended for her to teach me the basic principles of hand-made salad dressings and share some secret recipes, perhaps. But as it turns out, that wasn't what this evening was about.
Sallie wanted to make a dinner out of it, to make it more than just preparing and sampling salad dressings. And what made this dinner different than most occasions on which you get together for food with friends, is that Sallie let me help. As it turns out, the simple act of participation turns "dinner with friends" into "an evening with friends." In addition to teaching me how to make salad dressings (more on that in Part 2 of my dinner with Sallie), she shared her whole kitchen and her love of cooking with me. Which—not that I didn't already have the bug—is highly contagious. Instead of a quick and dirty recipe lesson, I got to spend an entire evening talking about food, hearing her stories about where she learned certain techniques or bought quirky gadgets, sharing tips and tricks with each other. It was about so much more than learning to be a Good cook; it was about the power of food to create bonding memories.
We spent three and a half hours that night (with the help of my boyfriend) preparing a beautiful three-course meal, drinking wine, and forgetting that anything existed outside of Sallie's kitchen.
Recipes from my dinner with Sallie:
Course 1: Baked Brie with Roasted Garlic on French Bread
Leave paper on bulb
Rub with olive oil
275° for 40-45 minutes
Let cool slightly
Pop roasted garlic cloves out of their skin
Place wedge of Brie in pie pan.
Bake at 275° for 7-8 minutes or until melted
Cut baguette into ½ inch thick slices. Guests spread roasted garlic on bread, top with melted brie. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
Course 2: Salad with Homemade Dressing
Toss field greens with paper-thin onions (to better control the strength of the onion’s balance with the other flavors), parsley, and grated fresh parmesan.
Add your toppings of choice. We added avocado and homemade whole wheat croutons with chilled asparagus on the side for nibbling.
Dressing:You'll have to wait for my next blog post to get this recipe!
Course 3: Cheese and Almond Stuffed Zucchini
3 med. Zucchini
2 T. olive oil or butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 t. salt
6 oz. chevre, cut into small cubes
1 ½ c. finely chopped almonds (toasted if you like*)
½ c. whole grain bread crumbs
2 c. grated parrano or smoked gouda
½ t. nutmeg
¼ t. all spice
Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and, using a soup spoon, scoop out the insides of the zucchini to leave a fillable outer shell. Save the inner pulp and chop it.
Sauté the onions in the oil until translucent. Add the salt and chopped zucchini pulp and continue to cook on medium heat until the zucchini is soft. Remove from heat, stir in chevre cubes and cover for several minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the almonds, bread crumbs, grated cheese, nutmeg and all spice. When the chevre has softened, thoroughly combine all ingredients.
Fill the zucchini shells and place them in an oiled 9x14 inch baking pan. Add ¼ inch of water. Tightly cover the pan so the zucchini shells will steam. Bake covered at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until the filling has browned a little.
*To toast almonds, spread on baking sheet. Cook at 250° and watch them until they’re light brown.
Wine: There were many bottles, but the favorite of the night was Straccali 2007 Chianti.