Happy Anniversary

Yesterday was a big day. For one thing, it was my first day of school. Hooray for school! I’m feeling more educated already.

However, yesterday was also my third wedding anniversary. Yes, three years ago this morning Rachel and I were jumping in a lake. Three years might not seem that long, but since we’d been dating for seven years before we got married, 2007 is in some senses our tenth anniversary, which seems like a biggish deal. Just like last year, we decided to have a nice dinner in rather than a nice dinner out, and so I turned to my fanciest cookbook, The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky.

(This is a really cool book, by the way. I picked it up for a song at a used bookstore in Northampton, and every recipe in it is guaranteed to impress the hell out of your guests. Last night was my second time making a recipe from the book: about a year ago I made the Braised Short Ribs of Beef with an Aromatic Barbecue Sauce. I’m kicking myself that there are no pictures of that meal, since the recipe is four damn pages long and people seemed to like it.)

We got another ridiculous haul of incredible tomatoes from Ledge Ends, so it was clear they’d be involved. I happened to flip the book open to:

Two-Tomato Coulis with Three Basils

Except here’s the thing: I couldn’t find purple basil, or basil flowers, but I did have a bag of fresh Ledge Ends green basil, so I just made:

Two-Tomato Coulis with One Rather Delicious Basil

Two-Tomato Coulis Two-Tomato Coulis

The recipe for this is pretty ludicrously simple. Just chuck a whole bunch of red cherry tomatoes in a blender, and puree the crap out of them. Then do the same with some yellow tomatoes, and put both purees in a bowl with some basil, white pepper, and kosher salt.

The recipe called for 2 pounds each of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, which is ridiculous, so as I was only trying to make two servings I used a pound each, and supplemented the cherry tomatoes with some fabulous heirloom globe tomatoes. I also left out the sugar because, uh, I forgot it, but it didn’t need any. Delicious, sweet, and garden-y.

This was by far the most visually striking thing I’ve ever prepared. So cool. When we started eating, we discovered that the colors stay separate even as you move them around a bit, so if I ever make this again I might go for swirlier patterns instead of just the yin-yang.

Fun With Spoons

When we were in Maine a few weeks ago, Rachel reminded me how much she loves lobster so it seemed clear that would be in the main course. Kunz and Kaminsky provided:

Lobster in Syrah Reduction with Aromatic Grits

Lobster in Red Wine Reduction with Aromatic Grits Lobster in Red Wine Reduction with Aromatic Grits

I mean, delicious, right? Not even too difficult to make.

The sauce is a piece of cake: sauté onions, garlic, shallots, carrots, and celery until soft, and then pour in a bottle of red wine. Reduce, strain out the vegetables, and reduce again until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in some butter at the end, and you’re good to go.

The grits were also easy and delicious. I couldn’t find the quick-cooking grits the recipe calls for, but a pretty standard 4:1 milk and water to cornmeal ratio produced what I wanted. A little nutmeg and white pepper and butter go in at the end.

Finally the lobster: the hardest part was buying them, since Whole Foods apparently doesn’t sell live lobsters any more. However, I was pleased to discover Captain’s Catch in North Providence, which does, and has a pretty good looking seafood selection. Once I got the doomed fellows home, they were blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes, shocked in ice water, and relieved of their shells. (I now have a Ziploc back full of lobster parts ready for the stockpot.) Five to ten minutes in a 350 degree oven (with butter, of course) finished the cooking.

‘Twas damn good, and we even had room left over for dessert:

Lemon-Basil Sorbet

I’d bookmarked this recipe for Lemon-basil vodka gimlets as they looked delicious and refreshing, and indeed they were, but the fact is I don’t drink anywhere near enough vodka to use up all that syrup. As soon as I tasted it, though, I said: sorbet. Now, the syrup is way too sweet to make a sorbet on its own (and yes, I went through the trouble of making a batch to find that out) but with the juice of about four lemons added to it, it because perfect. Light, tart, with a subtle herbitude.

Lemon-Basil Sorbet

So, that’s three years. Believe it or not, Rachel just gets better and better. Don’t think for a second I fail to realize how lucky I am to have a wife willing to support us while I quit my job and sleep in every morning go back to grad school. A plate of lobster and a song are the least I can do.

Our Third Anniversary Dinner

Happy Anniversary

Happy Anniversary!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Oh, dessert! Rachel made the flourless chocolate cake from the Williams-Sonoma dessert cookbook. It was chocolate-covered chocolate, and it was delicious.

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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.

Happy Anniversary!