Springtime Dinner

Back to food!

We’ve been out of the house a lot for showings, and a lot of them happen during the dinner hour. Or, we don’t want to mess up (smell up) the house with cooking for a showing first thing in the morning. It’s a treat to eat out, but after a while, it’s disorienting not to be in the kitchen, and I realize after being away from cooking for a while how much it centers me and grounds me. I’ve breaded and baked chicken breasts in every house we’ve lived in, and there’s something about that ritual that, while a bit boring and basic, just helps me remember that we have a lot of the same rituals wherever we live. I miss cooking when I’m away from it for too long, so it feels like a treat to get back to it, especially when my husband has more time to entertain the kids and empty the dishwasher in his time between jobs.

We had the opportunity to host dinner for a lovely couple of people who have been a huge part of our life in Minnesota. We have so much to thank them for, and dinner seemed like a simple token of thanks. We really enjoyed our time with them, and we hope they’ll visit us in Texas if the Minnesota winters threaten to freeze them! For once, I didn’t plan everything out days in advance, but went with what sounded good that day.

We started with Bibb Salad with Green Goddess dressing (from Barefoot Contessa at Home). I substituted cucumbers for tomatoes in the salad, because tomatoes are just depressing right now. I didn’t have garlic (oops) and the store was out of anchovy paste, so the dressing might have been a little bit more bland than might otherwise have been, but it still tasted fresh and tangy, and was the perfect dressing for the greens. One of our guests even drizzled it on his asparagus with the main course, and I think my husband was tempted to add it to his salmon. It would have worked!

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King salmon, a seasonal spring treat, is here, and it was even on sale, so I bought a huge, beautiful filet of it, and drizzled with grapeseed oil. I placed some lemon slices and fresh dill on top and sprinkled the whole thing with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. I baked the whole thing on parchment for easy clean-up, and it was the easiest main course ever. I didn’t snap a photo of it, because it wasn’t a part of the Contessa project, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was gorgeous.

On the side, I served herbed new potatoes (from Barefoot in Paris), which were perfect because they didn’t take up any space in the oven and required virtually no hands-on attention. And, they tasted amazing. I also served some steamed asparagus, and blue cheese coleslaw (from Barefoot Contessa at Home). The blue cheese coleslaw didn’t necessarily go with the rest of our menu, but one of our guests is nuts for blue cheese and coleslaw, and the combination of the two together made him positively giddy. He was happy to take the leftovers home for the next day.

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Dessert was a strawberry tart from Barefoot in Paris. This might be my favorite fruit tart so far. I made it into one big tart instead of four individual tarts, because we don’t have small tart pans, and I think my husband will cry if I make one more trip to the Nordic Ware factory (more on that later). To blind bake the crust, I used some lentils that have been hanging out in our pantry forever, as in, I don’t remember the last time I went to the store where I bought them. Unfortunately, some of them spilled out of the tart shell into the oven, and so our guests were greated with the scent of oven-toasted lentils as they came in the door, but nobody complained. And, the lentils did a beautiful job with the crust. I’ve finally figured out the secret to pastry cream, too. Ina’s directions always call for starting out with low heat, usually for 5-10 minutes. I always end up patiently stirring the custard over low heat for 30+ minutes, saying “two tears in a bucket” to myself under my breath, and finally blasting the thing up to high, and it’s done in less than 5 minutes. This time, I started the heat closer to medium high, and it was done in the prescribed 5-10 minutes. Hooray!

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And hey look, I did take a quick shot of the salmon, as leftovers on the salad the next day.

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