Happy birthday to me! With a huge emphasis on the happy part. On November 10th, I turned a year older. (Yes, I’m a tad behind on my blogging. Soon I’ll be caught up.) And the day was definitely a celebration. First it was homemade French toast, “Luke style”, which basically means covered in powdered sugar. Then a lunchtime escape to a little café we’ve been dying to try that boasts the best grilled cheese on the planet (the secret was basil and honey). And a grand finale surprise dinner cooked by Luke. With no grill, no ketchup, and no sliced bread. No joke.
He’s cooked for me a couple times before. The first time, it was ribs and unintentionally raw potatoes. The second time it was Polish chicken breasts partially made by his mom. And all the times that followed included either charcoal or maple syrup. But this time, he planned a real meal from scratch so I could hang up my apron and enjoy what he gets to experience every week.
Actually, we ended up cooking together, because with all the birthday excitement, we didn’t start until the clock was rounding double digits, and we were both on the brink of eating our own hands. So instead of making him fumble for hours over a foreign recipe while our stomachs growled in agony, he agreed to let me help. After all, cooking together is much more romantic than being served.
And because there were two of us in the kitchen, there will be two of us writing this post. (Just one of the blessings of being a writer married to a writer.) So, it started the day before my birthday.
LUKE: Ok, I knew I wanted to make something romantic so I ruled out BBQ ribs and hot pockets. And since Cooking Light seems to be the theme, why not follow suit? On the website, I found a bunch of 20-minute recipes. Not bad. So there I sat in my cube at work with a stack of 30 printouts. What to do next? “Hey, Travis!” I consulted another member of the male species to grunt through the decision making process.
“BBQ fish sandwich? Seriously Luke? Chili on chicken? Nothing more romantic than midnight gas.” Then I saw it. “Oh, what about this funky noodle pesto thing? Rachel loves Italian, and she loves pesto.” Needless to say, funky noodle pesto thing was the winner.
The next evening, when we got home from work, Luke poured me a drink, positioned me in front of the TV, and headed to the store for supplies. I begged him to let me go along, because he’s about as familiar with the ins and outs of the grocery store as I am with his video games. But he was stubborn. Finally, I got him to settle on a hand-drawn map of Kroger with call outs for the ingredients, and out the door he went.
LUKE: There I was in the grocery store with my list: Basil. Asparagus. Gnocchi. Pine nuts. I was alone and I was afraid. “Okay, first I’m just going to calm down and start by getting basil in the produce section like Rachel said. I’ll be fine.” Five minutes later I was at the customer service desk. “Customer needs assistance in produce.” Twelve minutes later, still no customer assistance. And Kroger’s flower lady was no help because produce “wasn’t her section.” Come on lady. It’s green. It’s leafy. Can’t you just pretend it’s a flower? Finally, I was helped by a “produce” employee, who replaced my dignity with a plastic box of Basil leaves.
Now for the Gnocchi. Note to self: find out pronunciation of ingredients before asking people where to find them. Note to self #2: don’t ever ask a male employee to help you find anything that starts with “gn.” The only thing I got from him was, “It’s made of potato? Then it’s probably with the frozen vegetables.” Lucky guess. I found my second ingredient.
Next, I was on the hunt for shrimp. And I found it. Olive oil, Got it. I was on a roll. Pine nuts. Crap. So I was off to meet my third employee of the night. This time, a crabby old Russian stocking shelves. He quickly pointed out the pine nuts right behind me. And guess what was right above the them? Gnocchi. Not frozen, but in an air-sealed package, which is exactly was I was supposed to get. Note to self #3: read directions carefully.
After about 45 minutes, the nightmare was over. But it was all worth it after seeing Rachel’s face when I came home with more than a frozen pizza.
Quite some time later, he returned, baked up one of my favorite appetizers, spanakopita, and surprised me with my real gift: a brand new record player, which made its entrance playing an old Christmas album. I screamed, forgot all about my spanakopita (which is pretty impressive), and hovered over the beautiful player, lid propped up, crackling record spinning inside. It sent us into a different era. So with spirits flying high in Christmas land, we got back to our spinach pies and the birthday meal was revealed. And I was beyond impressed.
We started by boiling the gnocchi and chopping the shrimp and asparagus. Gnocchi, by the way, is egg-shaped pasta made out of potato. Very yummy. When they were done, we spooned them out and added the asparagus and shrimp. Asparagus first, in our case, because Luke bought frozen, already cooked shrimp. So we just added them during the last minute of cooking.
Luke: While we were waiting, I scrambled to recreate a salad I learned how to make at a Publix sample stand in Miami. I still remember that moment at the cash register as I placed dried cranberries, pears, blue cheese crumbles, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette on the conveyor belt. What was I doing? What had I become? Well, I knew sacrificing my manhood would pay off, because this was one salad Rachel wouldn’t forget.
Next, we started on the pesto. I love love love pesto, and I’ve never made it from scratch, so I was really excited about this step. It was so simple to make, and so much better than the overpriced premade stuff from the store. You just blend it all up in a food processor. Luke did most of this part. I think he liked using the machine. The smells were awesome – garlic, basil, toasted pine nuts. Which, of course, we were toasting at the last second. And…we burned the first batch because we weren’t paying attention. But nothing could put a damper on that night, especially as I watched Luke attentively squeeze juice from a lemon into a teeny little teaspoon.
Luke: At that point, anything left of my manhood that wasn’t lost at that Publix in Miami was squeezed into a spoon.
We tossed everything together, heated up some Texas toast, and Luke finished the salads. And by finished, I mean piling them a mile high and drenching them with lots of dressing. Even if it was a girly salad, he definitely made it like a man.
Luke: I’m a man!
So hopefully, you’ve made it through this post without barfing on your keyboard from our blatant cuteness. But hey, we’ve only been married a little over a year, so we have an excuse. By the way, the food was delicious. So quick, yet so fancy. The pesto was great. I’m already thinking of other ways to use it. And all the flavors came together so nicely in this dish, and paired perfectly with Lucy’s, errr, Luke’s salad.
Luke: I sat there, very impressed with myself as Rachel thanked me over and over again and gushed about how good it was. Right then I knew exactly how she feels every single week. Note to self #4: Do this more often.
Gnocchi w/ Shrimp, Asparagus and Pesto
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 cups)
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 cups)
Cookbook note: Gnocchi, small Italian dumplings made with potatoes, are a hearty alternative to pasta.
2 quarts plus 1 tablespoon water, divided
1 (16-ounce) package vacuum-packed gnocchi (such as Vigo)
4 cups (1-inch) slices asparagus (about 1 pound)
1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 cup basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons preshredded Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
4 teaspoons extravirgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add gnocchi to pan; cook 4 minutes or until done (gnocchi will rise to surface). Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon; place in a large bowl. Add asparagus and shrimp to pan; cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Drain. Add shrimp mixture to gnocchi.
Combine remaining 1 tablespoon water, basil, and next 4 ingredients (through garlic) in a food processor; process until smooth, scraping sides. Drizzle oil through food chute with food processor on; process until well blended. Add salt and basil mixture to shrimp mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately.
Nutritional Information: Calories: 355 (24% from fat), Fat: 9.3g (sat 1.6g,mono 4.5g,poly 2.5g), Protein: 26.5g, Carbohydrate: 42.7g, Fiber: 3g, Cholesterol: 170mg, Iron: 5.7mg, Sodium: 894mg, Calcium: 108mg.
Source: Cooking Light, July 2007
Luke’s Girly Salad
Yield: 2 servings (Serving size: a lot)
Okay, what you’re gonna wanna do first is start with a half a cup of…wait, that’s not how it works with my salad.
Balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Mix it up until it starts spilling onto the table.
Source: Sample lady from Publix Grocery Store, 2008.