Middle Eastern Meat-Free Dinner

I have always wanted to have every single one of my friends come over and enjoy a night of cooking with me, but that’s rarely the case because half of them are vegetarians and Rachael Ray basically creates only carnivorous recipes. Tonight, though, this meal is vegetarian friendly for once….and it falls on a night where all my veggie friends are busy. Oh, well. Nicolette and I will still enjoy this menu of Garlic and Red Pepper Pita Chips with Green Olive Hummus, Vegetable and Couscous Stacks, and Blackberry Napoleons. Let’s get cooking!

I love the days when I wake up and head straight to Trader Joe’s because it’s the only time the store is ever calm. This was the first time ever that one of the employees was not holding an “END OF LINE” sign while weaving around the store trying to follow the snakey line. I could move my cart freely without receiving the evil eye, and I waited in line 5 minutes tops. Wednesday mornings definitely are the best days to go to Trader Joe’s.

This trip was honestly somewhat relaxing…until I made my way to Fairway. Picture yourself at a zoo during feeding time, and all the animals somehow broke free of their enclosures…that’s what walking into Fairway is like. This place gives me a bigger headache than Trader Joe’s ever has, and everything is always so expensive! I was jumping for joy when I finally made it out of the store and made my way home.

Fast forward to tonight. Thank goodness my class let out an hour early because I was STARVING. I arrived at home and Nicolette came over shortly after.

We started out by making the pita chips. I had never made homemade pita chips before, and they were surprisingly super easy to make! I just cut up some pita bread, smothered the slices with evoo, garlic & red pepper flakes and baked them for 10 minutes. We served them with some hummus mixed with olives and red pepper flakes which leads us to the first moment of truth of the night.

3..2..1.. SO GOOD! Although extra hot and spicy, it was the type of hot where you can’t stop eating! Perfect appetizer for tonight’s main course.img_4342

Nicolette basically chopped everything up because I was so scatterbrained over by the stove. Also, the couscous recipe was mainly chopping and letting things bake for 15 minutes. When it came time to create the stack, the instructions told us to use a can and stuff the ingredients inside to make a perfectly shaped tower of food, but it was impossible to remove the bottom of the can. I knew my stack probably weren’t going to turn out pretty without the can as a guide, but I tried my best.

To assemble the tower I started out with roasted eggplant, then added roasted zucchini, couscous, roasted red pepper, red onion, mozzarella, basil & tomato. My stack turned out to look like a sad hill instead of a rising tower of food. A for effort I guess.

Time for the second moment of truth… 3..2..1..not too shabby. This mountain of food just seemed to be an odd combination, it wasn’t extremely flavorful, but that’s because I forgot to add parmesan to the couscous. I could definitely tell that this combination was on the healthy food spectrum so I felt pretty good while eating it. I should’ve given myself a bigger plate though, as the couscous fell off the mountain and onto the table. Nicolette cleaned up after me though, she’s like my mom.img_4344

Now to cook the best part of the meal: dessert. This one took a little longer because we had to let the blackberries marinate in sugar for 20 minutes. While the berries sat, we prepared the wonton wrappers for baking…and this is where everything starts to go bad. I put some butter in the microwave to melt and it starts to spark! I don’t even know why — I made sure I took off all the packaging before I nuked it. I guess my microwave just hates butter. Next, I pulled out my package of brown sugar. I understand that brown sugar is packed together, but mine was packed together solid as a rock. I think that if I threw the lump to the ground it would not have broken. So my question is: does brown sugar go bad? We had to forcibly break a tiny piece off of the rock, and grate it over the wonton wrappers. Talk about a struggle.

It finally came time to assemble this delectable treat. We layered blackberries and whipped cream in between each wrapper and dug in. 3..2..1..Hands down the best Rachael Ray dessert ever!! Everything about this dessert was delicious. I could have it every day, and that’s saying a lot because I’m not much of a sweets person. This dish was super messy though, and I nearly got filling all down my white shirt.img_4343

Ashley came home right as we were cleaning up and she scarfed down the pita chips. At least one vegetarian was able to enjoy part of tonight’s masterpiece.

Time for the ratings! Garlic and Red Pepper Pita Chips with Green Olive Hummus receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Hands down best hummus and best pita chips I have ever had. Hummus usually freaks me out, but this may have started a new hummus obsession for me. Also, I’ll be making pita chips all the time now that I know how easy they are to make! Next, the Vegetable and Couscous Stacks receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. This recipe was a perfect case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” It might not have looked pretty, but it felt pretty good in my stomach. This is a leftover I’ll be excited to heat up for the next week. Finally the Blackberry Napoleons receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. It’s going to be very hard to top this dessert. Even though it isn’t summer, I feel like this is the perfect summer treat. From now on whenever I’m craving sweets, I’m definitely going to make this.

Is it weird to say that tonight’s meal had me considering joining the veggie-only side?…Yes that is very weird…I could never be a vegetarian. I love meat too much. Although eating some all-veggie meals sometimes is A-okay with me! Great food, great night.

Until Next week!

-Mary Honkus

First Night Feast

There’s a first time for everything, and tonight is full of firsts. It’s funny that this whole menu is titled “First Night Feast” honestly, because it’s the first time i’m ever cooking veal (woohoo) and it’s the first date night evoo! Yep, you read that right, a guy is cooking with me instead of all my gal pals. Luckily, this is the perfect menu for a date night. We’re making: Pasta al Forno, Veal Involtini with Pancetta on a Bed of Spinach, and Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce. Let’s get cooking!

As with every cooking adventure, this one starts at the grocery store. I knew I wouldn’t have any time on Sunday to shop, so I headed to Trader Joe’s at 4pm Saturday afternoon – of course I decided to go at the busiest hour. I was able to pick up almost everything except the meat, and a few random items. So all in all I wasn’t too disappointed with Trader Joe’s today (surprisingly).

Next I headed to Fairway where I stood in line at the deli counter for a good 15 minutes before I was served. I’m a very impatient person so waiting there felt like an eternity. Finally, I was helped but when I said “one thick 3 ounce slice of prosciutto please” to the deli man, he looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t think my request was too odd, but his mind was blown. He had to have 3 other deli guys help him slice the meat. I later found out he was a new guy..sorry new guy.

Anyways, fast forward to today (Sunday). Andrew came over bearing gifts of wine and amaretto (all for cooking of course). We started out how I start every week with chopping. Me, being an asshole, gave him the onion to chop. I got my karma pretty quickly, though because the onion was so strong it made me cry from across the counter.

We both seemed to have a habit of dropping things tonight, he dropped some onions and I dropped my garlic…I don’t know what the issue was, but besides that mishap, prep went off without a hitch.

We made the pasta dish first since it had to bake, then we moved on to the veal. These were veal roll ups – I know so fancy – we stuffed the veal with parsley, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, then covered the veal with pancetta and fried them. Andrew took care of the frying, and I was honestly very impressed with how he handled it for someone who rarely cooks and is always ordering seamless.

We finished off cooking dinner by cooking some spinach in wine. Now of course, it’s all about the plating so we attempted to make our plates look like a professional restaurant… you can see by the picture that we tried our best.

After what was actually 30 minutes for once (YAY!) it was time for the moment of truth…but I had to explain to Andrew what the moment of truth was. We both tried the pasta dish together first. 3..2..1..Not too bad! This baked pasta reminded me a lot of the carbonara I made a couple months ago. Both dishes tasted the same except this one was baked.

Next came the moment of truth for the Veal. 3..2..1…now this was DELISH! the cheese melted so perfectly and all the flavors blended together. I felt like I was at a real Italian restaurant. I honestly never thought I’d be able to make something like this. Glad the first time I made veal turned out to be amazing.

Once we were done eating, Andrew went straight over to the sink and started washing dishes. Personally, I was speechless. Anyone that knows me knows that I HATE doing the dishes, and I didn’t even ask him to do them! I gotta keep this guy around for a while.

We had a nice little system where he washed and I dried. It was great.

Once we cleaned up it was time to make the dessert. This was super simple. We pretty much just melted some chocolate chips, poured in some amaretto, then dumped it over peaches and ice cream. VOILA!

We decided to share a small bowl of this, so we sat on the couch and tried not to drip any chocolate sauce or ice cream anywhere. I was extra careful since I was wearing a white sweater, but Andrew on the other hand was not so careful. He should’ve been wearing a bib for how much he dripped onto himself. I just couldn’t help but laugh at him…I know asshole moment number 2 for me tonight: I laugh at other people’s misfortune; but no worries, he forgave me.

Now time for the rating. Both of us were pretty much on the same page with all the dishes. Pasta al Forno receives ♥♥♥ (3) hearts. I compared this earlier to the carbonara, and honestly, the carbonara was 10x better than this. This one was a little burnt, and contrary to what everyone says, pasta is not easy to cook. So when you throw together 2 people who’s fortes are not pasta making, you get a dish that is only 3 hearts. Next the Veal Involtini with Pancetta on Bed of Spinach receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. This was just all around delicious. The cheese was melted perfectly, the crisp pancetta added an extra zap of flavor, and the veal was cooked to perfection. I could not find anything wrong with this, except that it probably could’ve looked prettier. Finally, the Pears with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts as well. I was not expecting much from this dessert simply because of Rachael Ray’s history of desserts, but I was pleasantly surprised. I even said to Andrew “Don’t expect much from dessert.” but he loved it too, even though he did get it all over himself.

Well, a night of firsts turned out to be great. I’ve always wanted to have a cooking date with someone, and I don’t think it could’ve turned out better. I’ve said it so many times before but I’ll say it again. It doesn’t matter who you cook with – friends, family, a date, whatever – cooking with someone always brings you closer to the other person. Nothing is better than knowing and feeling that.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus