Weeknight Dinner Recap: Volume XX

Welcome to the twentieth edition of Weeknight Dinner Recap! Wow! Twenty weeks of awesome, delicious, crave-worthy, and entirely gluten free dinners from our kitchen! It’s actually been a lot more than twenty weeks, but there have been twenty of these recaps. Just to clarify. We have been cooking gluten free meals for years, silly!

For this time around, we are injecting a little bit of goodness into our first meal of the week, and giving back to an important charity. Plus making an amazing dinner in the process! A joyful time all around.

And, you guys, I finally ordered our holiday cards, and my fingers are crossed constantly hoping they arrive in time to be sent before the end of the month. I didn’t order the happy new year version! Update: I learned they were shipped and delivered. Now it’s my turn to get them out into the mail in time...!🤭

Also, Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate! We are a multi-holiday household so Chanukah cheer is in full force, and our wheels are turning getting ready for Christmas as well. I love December and am embracing every moment of holiday fun. But first, I need to finish buying gifts. And I ran out of ribbon. And I said I’d bake a bunch of cookies. So, uh, we are just a little busy!

Nevertheless, this time of year is packed regardless of your gift buying process or how many cookies you will eventually eat. What matters most is spending time with family and friends, singing along to your favorite tunes (oh I have been!), and pausing to reflect on the year overall. It was kind of crazy, but on a personal note, a really great one and I feel lucky to be able to have had a lot of fun in 2017. But! It’s not New Year’s Eve yet! Don’t get out the confetti (Yippee!). It’s Chanukah and Christmas time so let’s enjoy it. And get back to the food, shall we?

Full Recap begins after the jump!  

 Mushroom and pea risotto, lactose free. 

Mushroom and pea risotto, lactose free. 

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Sunday: When a friend reached out through Instagram to not only send us a few very kind words about our food, but to request a special recipe, I was beyond excited. And a bit honored and humbled. She let me know that her son, only a few months old, has dairy and soy allergies and was interested to see what we could “cook up” with those restrictions since she was nursing and had to avoid them, in addition to our usual gluten free requirement.

Of course, I told her, we would be happy to make something to suit her needs! We aim to please around here; not just to make you hungry, but to share how easy it is to create great meals no matter the dietary restrictions. Every meal we make is always gluten free, but often they are also dairy free. So when tasked with a recipe request for gluten/dairy/soy free, I knew we could handle it!

Our choice to make risotto was a no-brainer as I knew that it would be feasible to make without certain ingredients, and would still yield a delicious, amazing dinner. Seth and I researched a bit and decided on a recipe from Tyler Florence for mushroom risotto. Who doesn’t love that? Well, some may hate it so I ran the dish by my friend first just to be safe. She agreed whole heartedly and said she couldn’t wait to see the final product.

For this dish we used three kinds of mushrooms, plus peas to give the bowl a little color amidst all of the mushrooms and Earth tones. We used lactose-free ghee for cooking, and followed the recipe as written. Since we made this dairy free, we left out the Parmesan, and it was just as creamy and delicious as usual. However, to be transparent, we did add some Parmesan to our individual portions. I have been told that the harder the cheese, the less the lactose! Do not quote me, but I’ve heard this fact (?) a few times. Either way, cheese or not, it was one heck of a great meal. 

And here’s the sweet spot: my friend loved the dish! She runs a non-profit, Bundles of Joy in New York, which provides newborns and their families with “bundles” filled with many of life’s earliest necessities. It is a wonderful organization and I hope you check it out. Seth and I made a donation to Bundles of Joy in addition to the dinner we featured on our account.  And my friend graciously shared the risotto on their social media site as well. ‘Tis the season of giving and sharing. 

It felt good to “do good” and we were so thrilled to help out through our cooking. Please contact me if you would like this risotto recipe or more information about this wonderful charity. 

 Lamb and zucchini burgers with arugula salad. 

Lamb and zucchini burgers with arugula salad. 

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Monday:  A highlight from our summer cooking were turkey and zucchini burgers for which I stumbled upon the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, a classic cookbook that I (finally!!) purchased.

The flavors in these beauties was so rich and good that we talked about making them again throughout the entire summer, finally made them again in early fall, and then in the last week, I pretty much begged to have them for a dinner this week. I guess it’s not really begging if you’re the one to decide what’s for dinner. But Seth and I determine the final menu together so if one of us really isn’t in the mood for a certain dish or flavor, it usually doesn’t make the cut. Thankfully, we both agreed that it was time for these, once again!

Much to our surprise, when grocery shopping for the week, we did not find ground turkey, a main component of the burger, and decided to switch it up, live large, and replace the turkey with lamb! We are living it up this week! While the price increase wasn’t too extreme, we knew it would be an extreme upgrade in flavor (although the turkey ones were excellent) and we couldn’t wait to make this alternate version. All other ingredients remained the same. 

So, when Monday night rolled around (how quick it shows up after Sunday), and it was time for our lamb and zucchini burgers, I was salivating even before we began cooking! Size-wise, these are somewhat slider-ish in size, although you could easily make them a little larger or smaller depending on number of guests or if you’re in the mood for a true “burger.” I like them on the petite side as it’s fun to have a few on your plate along with everything else to eat. In our case, this would be salad! 

We paired our lamb and zucchini burgers with a take on a classic Greek salad using arugula for the greens, plus chopped tomatoes, and feta. Dressing was kept light with a little lemon juice and olive oil. Perfect to balance out the feta and enough flavor so that you’re not just having dry greens. This is my new favorite way to have salads as a key element of dinner. We are working on our health, folks, and balance is important! I can’t resist a delicious burger, so we make sure greens fill up the other side of our plates! And I could never give up feta. I’m sorry. But not. I just love it. 

In general, I must admit these burgers made with lamb instead of turkey were all the more heavenly than the original (and we loved the original). Amazing flavor, texture, and just all around goodness, I love the decadent aspect of using lamb. They just tasted so freaking good. While the turkey may be a tad healthier (maybe?), I would recommend using lamb for a richer flavor and a burger that you won’t want to share. Luckily, this recipe makes a lot of these, so there’s no need! ;) 

 Eggplant Parmesan with homemade tomato sauce.

Eggplant Parmesan with homemade tomato sauce.

 So. Much. Cheese. 

So. Much. Cheese. 

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Tuesday:  OK. Eggplant is healthy. Cheese, less so. But put them together into this massive, vegetarian feast of a baked eggplant Parmesan and all of your cares, about health or otherwise, will melt away under the layers and layers of cheese, fresh tomatoes, crispy eggplant, and more cheese. Who’s hungry?

The first time we made this dish, months ago now, we found the recipe, by Alex Guarnaschelli, online when I randomly decided that eggplant Parmesan would be a great dinner idea. How did I think of it? We may never know as I had previously never been much of an eggplant fan. However, this dish really revved up the eggplant train in our house as we’ve been using it far more frequently ever since. And thoroughly enjoying it! Hooray eggplant!

While the original version/recipe is purely homemade tomato sauce, layers of fried eggplant slices, and a lot of mozzarella and Parmesan, the first time we made it we kicked it up a notch by adding ground beef to the tomato sauce. Absurdly delicious and quite filling, we opted to keep it simpler and a smidge healthier this time around by sticking to the recipe itself, leaving out the meat. Still delicious and decadent, but I’d say quite less “heavy” as you will most definitely want, and be able to consume, seconds.  

Having been a fan of Alex Guarnaschelli’s for a while through seeing her cook on The Food Network (she is an Iron Chef), I was happy to know this eggplant Parmesan is a recipe included in her latest book, The Home Cook, which is filled with amazing-sounding dishes of a wide variety from Italian classics to meals with an Asian influence. I love that the book is a mix of her own favorites as well as recipes from her parents so that there is a dish in it for everyone (it’s not just Italian food). And every single one sounds so darn yummy! I’m looking forward to making a lot more from this one. 

Just a couple notes on this fantastic dinner before we move on to tomorrow: this meal will serve at least ten people. No joke. We used Aleia’s gluten free Italian breadcrumbs to coat the eggplant slices, and they worked perfectly. We followed the recipe as written, including making the tomato sauce, and added extra Parmesan just because, and were thrilled with the giant, delicious outcome. This fed us for days, including lunches and another entire dinner, so you could definitely make this for a crowd and not worry at all. Everyone will feast and no one will go hungry. :)

 Fish tacos with cabbage slaw,  crema, and avocado.

Fish tacos with cabbage slaw,  crema, and avocado.

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Wednesday:  Upon planning the week’s dinners, I was flipping through Dinner, as usual, and realized it had been a while since we had made fish, coinciding perfectly with the fact that we had never made fish tacos. I know! Who are we? Considering how deep our taco love runs, and our semi-frequent inclusion of seafood on our meal plans, it was only natural that the time had come for fish tacos (combining forces!) to grace our dinner table. And these were a great first version!

While the recipe discussed fried fish tacos (so awesome), it actually calls for broiling the fish with a light seasoning instead, creating a very easy, and ultra quick, dinner preparation. We followed the instructions, making the cabbage slaw, the yummy crema, and adding in a mashed avocado because I cannot consume tacos without it. Same for you? Good. Keep reading!

This was one of the first times we had made a meal that, while delicious, felt out of place for the time of year. And we immediately knew how it could be improved (personal choices here, the recipe itself is great). I think fish tacos may deserve a special place in the warmer months (eaten outside on street corner or a lawn), or eaten at a local favorite restaurant that does them so well, regardless of the temps outside.

And while I love the corn tortillas we use for most of our tacos, I have to say I think the flavor of them was too “big” (read: corn) for the light fish flavor and accompanying fillings. Next time, I think we will use our other favorite from Siete Family Foods that are made of cassava flour and oh-so-good (and a much lighter flavor).  I recommend them if you haven’t yet! This brand also makes addictively delicious tortilla chips. :)

So, did we have a successful fish taco dinner? Yes. But I think there is room for improvement, namely in the world of taco shell selection, and perhaps in fish flavoring. I’m all for a great, broiled healthier fish taco, but I think next time we may batter up the filets and leave the broiled and grilled versions to the experts: AKA the restaurant we love that’s up the street from our apartment. ;) 

 Roasted sausages and cauliflower with cumin seeds and pine nuts.

Roasted sausages and cauliflower with cumin seeds and pine nuts.

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Thursday:  Have you noticed a mild trend this week? Dare, I say, a slightly healthier, more vegetable-focused trend? Well, if you did, then you’re right. And if you didn’t, maybe our version of healthier/lighter isn’t actually that accurate. But for us, it is! And so this week did, in fact, feel a lot different than weeks prior, concluding with this awesome, multi-color cauliflower and sausages sheet pan dinner that seriously hit the spot. 

I think “sheet pan dinner” is an accurate term due to the fact that this entire meal was prepared on two sheet pans and had barely any prep work!  Such a simple way to prepare food that ultimately delivers a flavor-packed plate.

We found the recipe in Dinner, and low and behold, it’s another winner! I have encouraged numerous friends to buy this cookbook and all of them have done so, none with a single regret! I think you need to buy it, too. It’s just that good. It’s the only cookbook that I strictly return to every Sunday while setting the meal plan as I know we will always find a great dish to include. So that’s saying something! :)

What I loved most about this meal in particular was the addition of cumin seeds when roasting the cauliflower (in addition to olive oil, salt, and pepper). The flavor that these seeds add is amazing and something I would not have considered including otherwise had we not selected this recipe. It’s my new go-to for preparing cauliflower as it makes the flavor far more unique, in my opinion.

The dipping sauce is a simple Greek yogurt, mashed garlic, salt, and pepper which is fantastic for this purpose and this specific roasted veggie (recipe called for plain yogurt but alas we only had Greek). Majorly good. Plus, we decided on roasting the pine nuts along with the cauliflower which made those (pine nuts) come out rather delicious as well. Yum!! 

The protein piece of dinner were the Italian sausages which roasted on a separate pan on the rack above the cauliflower in the oven. We turned on the broiler for the last few minutes to get them a little crispy - my favorite! To encourage a healthier tone, I definitely think we may use chicken sausage next time, since the type itself won’t really have an outcome on the overall dish (love sausage but we try to be mindful of fat content sometimes!). Essentially, this is a pick—your-favorite-meat-to-roast with this awesome cauliflower sort of meal. A fantastic match! You could make it tonight! ;)

 That mushroom risotto was unbelievable. 

That mushroom risotto was unbelievable. 

 Another great holiday cocktail: the espresso martini! Head to the bar at The Bancroft for a great one. 

Another great holiday cocktail: the espresso martini! Head to the bar at The Bancroft for a great one. 

Friday: It’s the last full weekend before Christmas! And Hanukkah is lighting the nights; we are in full holiday mode. This weekend included some delicious meals, major progress on our holiday shopping, and another round of meal plans and groceries. Plus a fantastic football game! Did you watch? I couldn’t believe the ending! I also decided to scrub down our kitchen since a little deep-clean before all of my baking plans begin wasn’t the worst idea. ;)

I am so excited for our Christmas break and to relax with our families. We will be cooking all next week (through December 21), but then it will be a little sporadic through the end of the month. It’s time to put our feet up and enjoy! Wait, who am I kidding? We will probably be cooking. And baking. Just tune in over on Instagram to see what’s what! And happy holidays! :)

Cheers!

Eat well, 

Mollie

 Galloping toward Christmas... 

Galloping toward Christmas... 

 She loves this hat, I promise.

She loves this hat, I promise.

 The next day! She practically asked us to put it on her by getting it from her toy bin. See? She doesn’t completely hate it! 🤗 

The next day! She practically asked us to put it on her by getting it from her toy bin. See? She doesn’t completely hate it! 🤗