Spring Break Brings Out Fancier Dinners!

Over the course of this not terribly “springy” Spring Break for me, Will has come to the conclusion that perhaps being an “Independent Scholar” might be something I should pursue.  

Really, it’s not that I wasn’t working as hard this week as during my regular teaching week.  It’s just that I was able to be flexible about when I graded and edited—evenings and weekend hours—rather than teaching during prime cooking hours!  After over two months of arranging for the simplest and fastest preparations for dinners to accommodate both of us not being home until 7:45pm, this week of having a semi-elegant dinner each night was a slice of civilization that we’re loath to forego.

Lest you think we indulge in luxury, I should note that in pure monetary terms, our dinners this week were not more expensive than what most people consume each weeknight.  In fact, it’s much cheaper than most dinners.  It’s not clear what is more responsible—frugality or just lack of energy—but we have never been in the habit of dining out mid-week, even at fairly low-budget places.  We faithfully pack our weekday lunches from leftovers, and we eat in for our weeknight dinners.  (In fact, it’s startling how much one can “save” by not going out to a mediocre restaurant.)

No, the big difference is having a little time right before dinner to get a bit more creative, to think about what we want to consume rather than just boiling some water for frozen ravioli.

Monday, we had Asparagus Risotto with Truffle Oil.  A friend of mine had a dish like this at a restaurant in Evanston and then I came home and promptly recreated it. 

Follow directions for cooking risotto (here’s a link to a post on mushroom risotto if you want a primer), using white wine.  Then, 5 minutes before the risotto is ready, dump in half a bunch of asparagus (yes, tough ends removed and the rest cut into 1-inch pieces) and stir until cooked but still crisp.  Add in your butter, grated Parmesan, and the last few tablespoons of broth to reach a creamy consistency.  Ladle a scoop into a pasta bowl and then drizzle truffle oil along the sides of the bowl and top with some more grated Parmesan.  Serve with a quick insalata caprese.

Tuesday, we had Pan-Seared Scallops with Sautéed Mushroom and Buttered Breadcrumbs.  I remember reading a recipe on this years ago, but this dish is essentially mine now.

Lightly brown some panko in butter so that you have crispy buttered breadcrumbs, then remove from heat.  Sauté mushroom slices with shallots in olive oil and melted butter, add some wine, and then fresh thyme leaves, salt, and pepper.  Keep this warm while you sear scallops in a combination of melted butter and olive oil until brown on the outside and still tender on the inside.  (Don’t overcook the scallops!)  Place everything on a plate and then drizzle the hot butter mixture over the top and sprinkle parsley for some color.

Wednesday we had Potato Pancakes with Dill Smoked Salmon and Herbed Cream Sauce.  Since we had some potato pancakes in the freezer, I came up with this idea.  I’m definitely making this again!

Pretty much, this dish requires practically no preparation—other than having the right products around.  It’s almost all assembly.  Pan-heat pre-made (your own or purchased) potato pancakes in some canola oil and arrange on plates.  Slice a generous chunk of your favorite smoked salmon on top.  (I used hot-smoked dill salmon here.)  Stir together sour cream or crème fraiche with some mixed dried herbs (like an Italian mix or my personal favorite, Persaillotte—French mixture of dried parsley, shallots, and garlic) and put a small spoonful on top.  Accompanied here with a side salad of organic pea shoots, Roma tomato, and Persian cucumber (pictured at top of post), this was just an elegant little mid-week dinner that people would pay much (much!) more for at a restaurant.  Fortunately, our Costco purchases of high-end products (that we then individually pack and freeze) make this a a very inexpensive--but gourmet--dinner.

Now if only the whole independent scholar thing were possible…


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