Dinner Club – February 2013

SBE 065February 2013 Dinner Club

Our February dinner club was held at Tiffany’s.  Her theme of choice was romance movies.  She asked all the participants to taylor their portion of the meal around their favorite romance movie.  If you haven’t read my blog about Dinner Club and how it works, check it out.  Since Tiffany was hosting, she had the entree.  Her movie was “Love Actually” and she chose to do penne in a red vodka cream sauce.  It goes without saying that the menu was amazing so keep reading.

Dinner Club Romance Media
Dinner Club Romance Media

Dinner Club Themes, Menu and Media

SBE 061

Tiffany – “Love Actually” – Entree – You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce

Tracy – “Gidget Goes to Rome” – Appetizer –  Three Way Bruchetta

Kelly – “Mama Mia” – Side – Mediterranean Orzo, Feta, and Tomato Salad With Marjoram Vinaigrette

Jeni – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – Beverage – Champagne Bar

Stephanie – “Four Weddings and a Funeral” – Salad – Winterfruit Salad

Trisha – “Downton Abbey” – Dessert – Lemon Bar Cake Cookies

SBE 085

Yes, I’m fully aware that Downton Abbey is not a movie, but a television miniseries on PBS.  I was reminded over and over again that evening by multiple people, but in my defense, I love it as if it were a movie and I don’t always run with the pack, therefore making it perfectly acceptable and after all, it’s Dinner Club, so all is forgiven.

Bruchetta Three Ways

SBE 082

What’s better than having bruchetta three ways?  When your lover makes fresh french rolls the morning of Dinner Club day and you get to spoil all the girls with it!  Who needs store bought with that kind of man at home!

Ingredients

1 french baggette, preferably made by your lover, cut into half inch slices on the bias

1 T Olive Oil

1 clove garlic halved

Directions:  preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  Place baggette slices on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and rub with halved garlic.  Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes watching closely so they don’t burn.  Remove from oven and arrange on a tray.  Serve with three sauces.  You can make these as you see them below or come up with  your own.  Personally, the tomato and the goat cheese are my favorite and they are really great together.

Tomato Topping:

2 diced roma tomatoes, seeds discarded

1 bunch fresh basil leaf, chiffonade

1 t. balsamic vinegar

freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:  Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and gently mix.  Serve on toasted baguette slices.

SBE 136

Goat Cheese and Onion Topping:

1 8oz pkg of goat cheese

1/4 C. of thick sour cream

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T. finely chopped chives

1/2 t. garlic powder

Directions:  Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix until blended and smooth.  Serve on toasted baguette slices.

SBE 055

Drunken Fig Jam courtesy Epicurious.com

2 lemons

4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)

4 cups sugar

3/4 cup brandy or Cognac

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons (yellow part only) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips (about 3 tablespoons).

Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to crush large fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Sauce adapted by Food Network

SBE 099

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

1 cup vodka

1 cup chicken stock

1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)

Coarse salt and pepper

16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate

1/2 cup heavy cream

20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Crusty bread, for passing

SBE 077

Directions

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

SBE 053

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Pass pasta with crusty bread.

Orzo, Feta, and Tomato Salad With Marjoram Vinaigrette adapted from Bon Appetit

SBE 107

Ingredients

1 pound orzo

1/4 C. fresh lemon juice

6 t finely chopped fresh marjoram

4 t Dijon mustard

1 t grated lemon peel

1/2 C. olive oil

1 1/2 C. crumbled feta cheese

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 C. pitted Kalamata olives, quartered

24 oz. cherry tomatoes, stemmed, halved

SBE 060

Directions

Cook orzo in a pot of boiling, salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occassionally.  Drain.  Rinse pasta under cold water until cool.  Drain well.  Transfer pasta to larger bowl.

Whisk lemon juice, 5 t. marjoram, mustard and lemon peel in a small bowl.  Whisk in olive oil.  Set aside 2 T. vinaigrette.  Add remaining vinaigrette, cheese, onions and olives to orzo; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cover and let stand 2 hours to allow flavors to develop.  Toss tomatoes with reserved vinaigrette.  Toss into salad and add remaining marjoram.  Serve cold.

Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppyseed Dressing

SBE 104

Ingredients

1/2 C. white sugar

1/2 C. lemon juice

2 t. diced onion

1 t. Dijon-style prepared mustard

1/2 t. salt

2/3 C. vegetable oil

1 t. poppy seeds

1 head butter leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese

1 C. cashews

1/4 C. dried cranberries

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced

SBE 103

Directions

In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, lemon juice, onion, mustard, and salt. Process until well blended. With machine still running, add oil in a slow, steady stream until mixture is thick and smooth. Add poppy seeds, and process just a few seconds more to mix.

SBE 056

In a large serving bowl, toss together the romaine lettuce, shredded Swiss cheese, cashews, dried cranberries, apple, and pear. Pour dressing over salad just before serving, and toss to coat.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Champagne Bar

SBE 093

This is such a wonderful idea.  If you have a number of guests over, grab a few bottles of your favorite champagne, mixers and your gorgeous glassware and have a ball mixing up your favorite champagne cocktails.  Don’t forget the must have cute napkins and drink stirrers.  With a champagne bar, everyone makes their own special version!

SBE 112

Ingredients

1 1/2 oz. orange vodka

1 1/2 oz. lemon juice

1 1/2 oz. orange juice

2 bar spoons Apricot preserves

Champagne

Directions

Combine ingredients in a martini shaker with ice and serve chilled in your favorite glassware!  Too many of these and we would have really had breakfast at Tiffany’s!

SBE 058

As you can see, our champagne bar had the following ingredients, but you can use virtually anything.  Be creative and taylor your bar to a specific holiday or celebration.  Here are some other ingredients you may wish to use to stock your champagne bar:

Peach puree

Mango puree

Orange Juice

Lemon Juice

sugar cubes

Bitters

Triple Sec

Simple syrup

Raspberry puree

Strawberries, raspberries, cut pineapple and marischino cherries for garnish

SBE 114

Downton Abbey Lemon Bar Cake Cookies

SBE 044

Makes 18 to 20

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 9 x 13 glass Pyrex.

Crust:

2 C. all-purpose flour

½ C. powdered sugar

1 C. butter (you can mix ½ cup butter and ½ cup shortening as an alternative to all butter)

1 tsp. grated Meyer lemon peel

Dash salt

Mix ingredients together with your hands until crumbly and press into the greased 9×13 Pyrex dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let cool before adding filling.

SBE 035

Filling:

4 eggs

1 C. all-purpose flour

1 ¼ C. granulated sugar

1 t. baking powder

Dash salt

¼ C. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 t. lemon peel

1 t. lemon extract (optional)

Add all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and beat with a wire whisk until combined.  Pour into 9×13 over cooled cookie base and put in oven at 350 for 25 minutes or until center is cooked through.  Remove from oven and cool on counter.

SBE 052

Icing:

1 C. powdered sugar

8 oz. cream cheese softened

¼ C. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix sugar and cream cheese until smooth.  Add lemon juice until desired consistency.  Pour over lemon bar cake.  Let icing set for about an hour before cutting lemon bars.    When you cut, they will look a bit rustic.

Serving Tip:  Serve inside large white paper muffin cups or on top of sweet little decorative doilies covering a cake stand.

SBE 024

Eggplant Strata with Basil and Marinara

This is soo good and my family adores it.  When dinner menus are discussed, it is often that I am asked to make the “eggplant thingy”.  I just had Dinner Club and my friend and her husband were going vegetarian for a few weeks as a personal challenge.  I thought that seemed like a good idea and when I got home, I dared my husband to go for two weeks without eating meat.  I found that it was really hard for me.  He did really good, but I failed miserably since my favorite lunch is the taco truck I go to near work.  In the end, we did okay.  We ate stir fry for a week and a few salads and the rustic pie.  I told my “vegetarian-for-a-few-weeks-girlfriend” that I had a great recipe for her.  Poor thing.  I bet she’s tired of stir fry.  Try this!

Ingredients

16 oz. of Marinara Sauce – Pick your favorite.

1 medium size eggplant, sliced into thin rounds about 1/4 inch thick

oil for frying

2 C. grated mozzarella cheese

2 cloves of garlic. slivered

4 ripe roma tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds

1 large handful of fresh basil, torn or chiffonade

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

If you are using a deep fryer, prepare the fryer now to 325 degrees.  If you are using oil on the stovetop, start heating your oil until 325 degrees or until you drop a piece of eggplant in and it bubbles.

When your oil is ready, add the slices of eggplant to the oil to begin frying.  You may need to do this in a few batches.  When they are golden brown, remove from the oil and lay on a paper towel lined tray.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Continue these steps until your eggplant slices are done cooking.  Turn off heat and let oil cool before handling.

Layering your strata:  Take an oven safe casserole dish or bakeware and place 3 T of the marinara sauce on the bottom of your dish and spread evenly.  Layer the cooked eggplant slices on top of the marinara.  Use enough eggplant to make one layer.  Then add a thin layer of marinara.  Add the garlic slices.  Add a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Add thinly sliced tomatoes.  Add another layer of marinara. Add the remaining eggplant slices.  Add the last layer of marinara, distribute basil over the top and add the final layer with mozzarella cheese.

Bake strata for 35 minutes or until cheese on top is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let sit to cool for 20 minutes before serving.  This dish is very hot coming out of the oven so please use caution.

Enjoy!

Potato and Spring Greens Rustic Pie

This recipe was inspired by the Irish baked pies.  I wasn’t too sure how this was going to turn out, but my family loved it and wanted me to add it to the Easter menu next Sunday.  I’m having the whole crew over for Easter dinner so I’m calling this a head start. Remember, this is “rustic”, so quantities are not exact and it doesn’t have to look perfect.  It will, however, taste great.  Make it as a side for ham, pork roast or flat iron steak.  I had it for breakfast!  The pastry is very light, it cuts easy and it is all around quite impressive.

Pastry Dough Ingredients

2 C. flour

12 T. very cold butter (no substitutes), cubed

1 t. salt

2 egg yolks

2 t. cold water

Directions for Pastry

Prepare the pastry dough by adding the flour, butter and salt to your food processor and pulse until pebbles form.  Add egg yolks and water and pulse again until combined.  Remove dough from the food processor and place on a sheet of wax paper.  Place a sheet of wax paper over the top of the dough and using a rolling pin, roll out until ¼ inch thin.  Turn it out into a pie dish and keep the ends hanging over so when you wrap it up, they come over part of the top of your pie.  If you want to make individual or “personal” pies, just separate the dough into equal portions before you roll it.  You can turn it out over ramekins or other cute little oven safe dishes.

Note:  This dough is also great for desserts so keep it on hand.

Ingredients for Filling

5 medium potatoes, any kind, cubed

1/4 C. milk

¼ C. cheese (gruyere, parmigiano reggiano, fontina)

1 T. Butter

1 T. Olive Oil

½ red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 hand sized bunches of chopped assorted greens, stems removed (spinach, broccoli raab, kale raab, swiss chard, mustard greens), also try some herbs!

Salt and pepper

1 egg, whisked

Directions for Filling

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Wash and cube your potatoes.  Heat a pot of enough water to cover potatoes to a boil.  Place potatoes in the pot with about 1 t. salt.  Cook until tender and remove from heat.  Drain water and place potatoes into a bowl suitable for mashing and mash them.  Add the milk and cheese(s) and stir until combined.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

In a skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil together.  Add onion and cook for three minutes.  Add the minced garlic and sauté for one more minute.  Stir in greens and cover for about five minutes stirring occasionally.  Finish with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

When the greens and onions are done, add them to the potato mixture and stir gently until combined.   Add all the contents to the pie plate and smooth to the sides.  Gently wrap the pastry up over the sides of the greens mixture.  Baste pastry with egg wash.  Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Note: You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate.  It’s also great as leftovers.

Enjoy!

 

Sweet Potato Fries

Last Fall, my girlfriends and I took a trip to Whistler, B.C.  One of my favorite memories from that trip was the Yam Fries we had at Ric’s Grill.  The waitress brought them out and set them in the middle of the table and my friends, Kathy and Tracy and I just stared at them.  They were glorious.  They also came with a wonderful chipotle’ aioli sauce.  Here is my version:

Ingredients:  Sweet Potato Fries

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled

Canola oil for frying

Salt and pepper

Directions:  Sweet Potato Fries

Place enough of the oil in a fry pan or deep fryer to cover potatoes.  Heat the oil to about 325 degrees.  Meanwhile, cut potatoes into fries lengthwise.  Make them all the same size so they cook evenly.  Carefully add the potatoes to the oil and fry for about 8 minutes, turning if necessary.  Turn off heat and scoop out potatoes with a heat proof utensil onto a tray lined with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let cool slightly and enjoy.  For crispier fries, you can cook them longer in the fryer.

Ingredients:  Chipotle Aioli

1 C. mayonnaise

1/4 C. Dijon mustard

2 T. white wine vinegar

1 T. canned chipotles, minced

Directions:  Chipotle Aioli

Mix all the above ingredients together well and serve with sweet potato fries.

Enjoy!

After Party Macaroni and Cheese

After the party guests leave or go home from a long weekend, I have a leftover mish mash of cheeses in my fridge.  Why not gather them together for a little cheese reunion and make something delicious?  Most cheeses you are going to use on a cheese tray are friendly enough to mingle with other cheeses.  They get along with eachother and blend well together when melted down in one dish.  Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food next to potatoes. Truth be told, I make this recipe, then I separate it out into smaller dishes or personalize them in ramekins and freeze until the right moment.  You bust out one of these and put it in the oven and you have instant comfort food that is not from a box.  Plus, your home smells amazing and clean up is simple.  Pair this dish with an ice cold glass of Pinot Grigio, take a deep breath and relax.

Ingredients

3 1/4 C. whole milk

3 T. butter

5 T. flour

10 oz. assorted cheese

1 T worchestershire Sauce

1 t. dry mustard

1 T. hot sauce of choice

1/2 t. salt

1 lb. macaroni or other small noodle

Topping Ingredients

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced thin

1/4 C. grated parmesean cheese

1/4 C. breadcrumbs

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Over high heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add noodles and cook until they have completed cooking or al dente.  Drain your noodles and set them aside.

Shred or crumble up the cheeses you intend on using in your dish and set aside.  Separately, warm the milk over low heat in a saucepan.

In a deep skillet, add butter and melt.  Immediately add flour and using a whisk, gently stir until butter and flour combine.  Cook over heat whisking for about five minutes.  The flour will start to turn brown.  Gently add warm milk whisking constantly.  Bring contents to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 4 minutes.

Using a heat safe spoon, stir in the grated cheese, followed by the worchestershire sauce, mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper.  The mixture will be thick.  Keep warm over low heat, but be careful not to burn.

Gently add the noodles to the sauce and stir to coat.  Poor contents into a prepared 9×13 dish.  Cover with sliced tomatoes, bread crumbs and parmesean cheese.

Place macaroni and cheese in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until bubbly and top is browned.

Sinfully Delicious!

Mexican Chop Salad

This is a quick and healthy weeknight salad.  I actually saw a beautiful picture of a Cobb salad in one of my cookbooks that inspired it.  On a quick break from work, I ran over to the store to grab a couple of ingredients and bought a pre-roasted rotisserie chicken.  When I returned home for the night, it didn’t take much to get this on the table.  It’s spicy and refreshing.  You can use the dressing featured here or your own.  This is a salad you will repeat.

 

Ingredients

1 medium head of romaine lettuce, chopped

1 C. chopped tomatoes

1 C. chopped red pepper

1 ½ C.  rotisserie chicken, chopped

2 avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into ½ inch squares

1 14 oz. can black beans

1 C. shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese

¼ cup chopped green onion (optional)

Dressing:

1 C. plain greek yogurt

4 T. half and half

1 T. chopped Chipotle Chilies in Adobe sauce

 

Directions

You’re going to need a wide, flat serving bowl to hold the salad.

Wash your lettuce and spin dry.  Lay a bed of lettuce on your serving bowl.  Starting in the middle of the bowl, lay down the chicken in a straight line.  Next to it, lay down your black beans.  Repeat this step with remaining ingredients.   For the best outcome, cut the white pithy part off the peppers so they are nice and vibrant and remember that those ingredients that have high contrast to each other should be next to one another.  For example, don’t put your red peppers and your tomatoes together because they are both red, etc.

To make the dressing, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until combined.  If you desire a thicker consistency, use less half and half.  If you desire a creamy consistency, use more half and half.

Enjoy!

Fiesta Rice

I just celebrated the birthday that I will be celebrating the rest of my life.  Thirty nine.  Okay, now let’s talk about food.
A couple weeks or so before my birthday, my friend and I were chatting about it and I told her that I was going to host an outdoor birthday dinner party.  “Im going to make the Tacos Al Pastor on my blog.”  Then I asked her, “What do you think I should make as a side to go with them?”  “Oh, I think you should make Spanish Rice.” she responded knowingly and went on to tell me all the good things she adds to hers.  “Corn, green peppers, onions.”  She’s the kind of friend who just has to look at you a certain way and you know everything she’s going to say.  We started adding ingredients taking turns in the conversation, our eyes getting bigger and bigger as if each ingredient that came to mind outdid the last.  The more we talked, the more excited we got about…rice.  Who get’s excited about rice?  Apparently we do.  And you’re about to.
If you want your birthday party to be what you expect it to be, you’ll have better luck throwing it yourself.  Well, unless another really good friend makes you dinner and orders your favorite cake.  That (and many other reasons are) what friends are for, right?  I had a great time putting together my own party though.  I bought lanterns to hang outside from our table umbrella, citronella candles, cute party plates and napkins that I got out of a sale bin, and decided on the theme.  I have to tell you, dinner was great, but the best part was the outdoor movie we enjoyed after the sun went down.  Upon inviting my guests, I asked them to bring a lawn chair and a very warm blanket.  We set up the laptop, speakers and video equipment on a table in the yard and aimed the movie projection at the back of the house where we have some very large windows.  We all sat in a row, snuggled up and watched one of my favorite movies.  I think it was one of the best birthday celebrations I ever had.  And it should be if I’m going to celebrate it for years to come, right?
I included the rice recipe.  Keeping with the birthday theme, I called it Fiesta Rice.  I also served chips (Juanita’s – which are my personal favorite!) and salsa, and a great summer crab salad.
Fiesta Rice
Ingredients
1 T butter
1 C. long grain white rice
1/2 C. chopped red pepper
1/2 C. chopped orange pepper
1/2 C. chopped white onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 C. Herdez Ranchero Sauce, Salsa or tomato sauce
1 1/2 C. water
1 small can green chilis
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained
Preparation
In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the rice.  Stir to coat.  Add the peppers, onions and garlic and  cook for five minutes until rice is lightly toasted and vegetables are softened.  Stir occassionally.  Add the Ranchero Sauce and water.  Cover skillet and bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce heat and simmer about 25 minutes until rice has absorbed the liquid and is done cooking.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the green chilis and black beans. Serve hot!

Grilled Indian Flat Bread, Naan

Grilled Indian Flatbread, Naan

This grilled Indian flatbread, called Naan, is very good and mops up all the succulent juices left over that remain on your plate.  I can’t stop eating it.  You can serve this up with any meal really and it would be a hit.  They are also a very good partner to wine when served as an appetizer (baby naan).  My dinner guests are always intrigued when you start grilling these up and it’s fun to watch their faces when they bite into them. 

Read through steps prior to making.  Makes 12 naan.
Naan
Ingredients
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 C. luke warm water
1/4 C. sugar
3 T. milk
1 egg, beaten
2 t. salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 C. bread flour
Directions
In a large bowl, include water and yeast.  Gently stir and let stand for about ten minutes, until frothy.  Add sugar, milk, beaten egg, salt, garlic and flour and knead with your hands until combined and you can wrap it in a ball.  Place ball in an oiled glass bowl and cover with a towel.  Set aside for about 1 hour to double in size. 
After an hour has elapsed, punch down dough and tear off small pieces to roll into ball shapes.  Place dough balls on greased cookie sheet and cover with towel for 40 minutes to rise.
Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten dough in to a flat round.  Grill flattened dough round on hot, prepared grill for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the back.   Serve warm.

Indian Spicy Vegetables

Indian Spicy Vegetables
A week ago, my family and I went to dinner with some friends at an Indian restaurant in town that I have passed several times as it is on my way to the trail where I run.  The bright yellow and red awning out front has always captured my curiosity and I remember thinking that we should “try it” one day.  The day had come.  A friend of my husbands who was working with him that day said to me that we should join him and his girlfriend for dinner there that night.  He knew the owner and told me how he chastised them and walked out one day because the food was “tasteless and watered down.”  “Where is the spices?” he asked them.  Turns out, there is a retirement community that has long lived across the street they explained.  The elderly residents come often to get lunches and early dinners.  Too much spice hurts their stomachs and they stop coming.  Who could blame them.
After we were settled at our table, the owner of the restaurant came over to talk with us.  He would laugh out loud in his accent, telling us the story of our dinner companion criticizing their food.  Apparently, the restaurant owner also had at one time a resturant in New York City and spoke of some famous celebrities that would occassionally stop in.  He explained that he would have his picture taken with them and hang them proudly on his wall.  He went on to say that his wife destroyed them all because the pictures were of actresses!  There were no celebrity pictures on the walls, however, the restaurant was packed. 
They had since made adjustments in the way they spiced the food because it was wonderful.  On this night, it was a Sikh religious holiday.  There were no menus.  There was a large buffet.  Im really not sure what belly dancers have to do with the religious holiday, but there she was all dressed in shimmering greens and golds.  She was as beautiful as she was talented.  With her music turned up, she performed numerous dances for the guests and the last, she used a sword.  Her feminity truly dominated despite the strength and masculinity of the sword with which she danced.  The entertainment was as good as the food.
Inspired to make Indian food at home, I did some research specifically to find a recipe close to something I ate that night.  There was a vegetable dish that was amazing and spicy!  This recipe is based off the Indian Spiced Vegetables recipe at www.epicurious.com, however, I admit to changing a significant portion of it.  These vegetables can be served as a main course or a side and serves 6.
Indian Spicy Vegetables
Ingredients
2 T. butter
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. tumeric
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cardamom
1/4 ground cloves
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. fresh ginger, grated
1 serrano chile, minced
1 C. water
1 T. sugar
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 green zucchini
1 yellow zucchini
3/4 C. mushrooms
3/4 C. baby carrots
1 C, sweet potato, peeled, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 t. salt
1 C. grape tomatoes
2 T fresh basil, chiffonade
2 t. lime juice
2 T. chopped cilantro
Directions
Put all the spices in a small bowl.  Combine garlic, ginger and chile pepper in another small bowl.  In a third small bowl, combine water, sugar and vinegar.  Set all three bowls aside.  
Melt butter in a large skillet or pot until hot.  Take your bowl of spices and add them to the butter, stirring for about a minute.  Add the bowl containing your garlic, ginger and chile pepper to the spices and cook for about another minute.  Add vegetables to pot.  Stir in vinegar mixture.  Cover vegetables with lid and cook for 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and basil.  Give it a little salt and cover again with lid.  Cook, covered for 10 more minutes.  Do not raise the lid until the time is up.  Remove lid and add lime juice and cilantro and serve.

Pomodori scottato con Basilico / Seared Tomatoes with Basil

Pomodori scottato con Basilico or Seared Tomatoes with Basil
I picked up some beautiful baby tomatoes at a local market.  I usually tuck some in my lunch bag and snack on them at work, but somehow I ended up with a surplus in the refrigerator and decided that searing them and garnishing them with basil was a good idea.  This recipe is colorful and really easy.  It’s healthy and a perfect side to your italian themed Valentine’s Day dinner!

Pomodori scottato con Basilico or Seared Tomatoes with Basil

Ingredients
1 t. olive oil
2 C. sweet baby tomatoes, rinsed and dry
1/2 C. chopped basil
salt and pepper

Directions
Add olive oil to a cast iron skillet over high heat (hot! but not smoking).  Carefully place tomatoes into skillet being careful not to splash the hot oil.  Cook in hot skillet until lightly seared, turning occassionally.  Remove prior to the tomatos bursting.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and chopped basil and serve while hot.  Enjoy!