It’s hard to believe we’ve been married for two years, not because it means we’ve been together a long time, but because I can’t believe 2004 was two whole years ago. Damn.
Still, every anniversary is a milestone. Marrying Rachel two years ago was (if I may wax earnest for a maximum of one paragraph) the best thing I’ve ever done, and marking it is fit and proper. Two years is, of course, just a drop in the bucket compared both to how long we’ve actually been a couple (nine years!) and how long we plan to be married.
Last year we decided that we’d establish a tradition of not giving each other gifts for each anniversary. We get each other enough presents throughout the year. Instead we thought we’d go in together on a treat: a trip, something new for the house, something like that. For our first anniversary (paper!) we got a hotel in Boston and tickets to two Red Sox games. This year was cotton.
Cotton sucks as a gift theme. I was not buying my wife a Happy Anniversary t-shirt in preshrunk cotton. We decided to ditch our tradition (of one year) and just go out for a very nice dinner. And then, we thought, wouldn’t it be more frugal and (perhaps) more fun to make a very nice dinner? Yes, yes it would.
The plan was a meal in three courses: a salad as an antipasti, a primi, and a main course. I conceived of all three independently, so I’m not sure how well they held together as a cohesive unit, but I think it was pretty successful.
First, the salad!
“Deconstructed” salad of tomato gelée, red onion, and cucumber with lemon vinaigrette
The salad was “deconstructed” in the sense that I didn’t mix all the bits together. I guess you could also call it “untossed” or, possibly, “lazy.” We eat cucumber and tomato salads all summer long; I got the idea for the tomato gelée from our favorite restaurant, Gracie’s. At the end of last summer, I took all of the tomatoes we had lying around, chopped them and suspended them in a coffee filter in a strainer over a bowl and let it sit overnight. The resulting tomato water ended up in a container in the back of the freezer until now. I heated it to a simmer, stirred in a packet of gelatine, et voila! Tomato jello. Deliciously tomato-y, and texturally surprising.
Once I’d thought of the gelée, the idea of doing everything in cubes just seemed to make sense.
The vinaigrette was equal parts lemon juice and rice wine vinegar, and then olive oil and dried tarragon. A chiffonade of basil and a pinch of lemon zest finished it off. Light, unconventional, and yummy. Next!
Homemade basil pesto and goat cheese ravioli in roasted pepper and tomato sauce
Making pasta just looks fun, doesn’t it? And since Rachel has pretty much an unlimited capacity to eat pasta, it seemed like it would be foolish not to serve some.
Making the pasta dough took, I confess, two tries, and even on the second batch it was a bit too sticky to the extent that I couldn’t roll it as thin as I’d have liked. The resulting ravioli was a bit chewy, but still delicious.
The filling was just pesto (basil, pine nuts, parmigiano, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil) mixed with goat cheese. The whole ravioli assembly process was fraught with peril, but I was glad to have done it, and I plan to try again at the next opportunity. They apparently freeze really well.
The sauce was a straight food processor job: roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper. I just simmered it to warm it before spooning it onto plates and piling on the ravioli. Shaved parmigiano seemed the thing to do, and I, uh, had some basil and lemon zest left over.
Pan-seared duck breast with red wine and fig reduction, gingered carrots, and kale
Well, obviously the duck is the main event here. The carrots are basically Alton Brown’s recipe for carrots poached in ginger beer, but I was making that before I ever saw the carrots episode of Good Eats, so nyeah.
Duck has long been my nemesis. I love it in restaurants but it always ends up over- or under-done when I make it. I once, to my enduring shame, served dramatically overcooked (as in gray) duck breasts to Rachel’s ex-boss, a man of exceeding taste. This time, I’m pleased to say, it worked.
Flavor-wise, nothing too fancy, just a couple hours marinating in red wine, salt, and pepper. The cooking was a revelation for me. I patted the skin very dry, slashed it, laid it skin side down in a non-stick skillet, and cooked it over very low heat until most of the fat rendered out. (The fat was poured out to cook the kale in.) Then it was just a matter of peeking every minute or so to see if the skin looked brown enough, one flip to give it a minute or two on the other side, and done. I gave it a minute under the broiler just before serving to crisp the skin. Perfection.
The sauce was really simple, too. Chopped dried black mission figs in a cup of red wine, simmered for a good long while. Not long enough, since the sauce was a bit runnier than I planned, but it was damned tasty.
Oh, dessert! Rachel made the flourless chocolate cake from the Williams-Sonoma dessert cookbook. It was chocolate-covered chocolate, and it was delicious.
Anyway. The meal was delicious, the wine was spectacular, and Rachel is the best person in the whole world, and I’m the one married to her, so—again—nyeah.