Two Great Dinners in One Restful Weekend

Chris just finished a graduate class and we had a whole weekend with no plans. Amidst our catching up on our t.v. shows, watching two ‘Netflixed’ movies we’ve had for weeks, and general lazing about, we had sparks of culinary creativity that resulted in two fabulous dinners. Here goes.

Saturday morning I set out a whole chicken breast to defrost and began thinking about what to do with it. Later, while we were weeding out the herb garden, a large stem of the sage plant fell off. I was muttering words like “sage,” “chicken,” and “pancetta,” when Chris suggested butterflying and pounding the chicken breast then rolling it with the sage and pancetta. We were definitely on the same wavelength. I decided to do the side dish and leave the chicken to Chris. My dish would be “Fingerling Potato and Pancetta Hash.” I cut a bunch of fingerling potatoes of different colors (red, white, purple) into a small dice, then did the same with an onion and some pancetta. I tried my best to make all the pieces about the same size. I fried the pancetta down until it let out enough oil in which to cook the potatoes and onions and then let the heat work its magic. I stirred it often and let it cook for about ½ hour. Meanwhile, Chris worked on the chicken until it was nice and thin, then rolled it with sliced pancetta and sage leaves. He tied it so that it would stay together and browned it in a pan with oil. He placed it in a roasting pan with two tablespoons of water with a couple of sage leaves floating in it. Finally, we put it in a 350 oven for 20 minutes so that it would cook through. We sliced the chicken and spooned a bit of the sage water over it, serving it with the hash. It was fantastic. We both agreed that we had overcooked the chicken slightly, and would probably only put it in for 15 minutes next time. Otherwise, it was a really good meal and we had a great time making it. Our finished platter is pictured here.

Another thing I did on Saturday morning was make a marinade for a flank steak I had bought earlier in the week. I wanted the steak to marinate for awhile, so I planned to have the steak for Sunday night’s dinner. I based the marinade on my friend L’s recipe. L is a chef and she teaches cooking classes at the local market. She taught this marinade at a class I took, and I played around with it a bit based on what I had in the house. Basically, I mixed 2 tablespoons each of the following spices in a Ziploc bag: hot paprika, sweet paprika, cumin, chipotle chili powder and garlic powder. I added ¼ cup each of red wine vinegar and olive oil, then a couple of dashes of lemon juice and red pepper flakes. Finally, I threw in ½ cup of demerara sugar. We put the steak in the bag, mixed it up and let it sit in the fridge until Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, Chris heated up the grill. I knew the steak would be spicy, so figured on having it with coconut rice and grilled pineapple. I made the rice (see earlier entry) and Chris got his grill groove on. He seared the meat perfectly and cooked it medium rare. What a great balance of flavors! We had spice from the steak, sweetness from the rice, and acidity in the pineapple. We were so into it that we couldn’t even take a minute to find the camera, so we have no picture, but I’m sure we’ll be making this dinner again.



Saturday was prom night for Chris’s school. Although he decided not to chaperone, he promised his students he would come by for a bit to see them all dressed up. Then he promised me that if I went with him, we would have an all dressed up date night after the prom, so that’s what we did. Chris looked very distinguished in his black tuxedo with pewter tie. I went with a 20’s style ruffled navy blue dress with blue and white polka dot slides. The ‘kids’ all looked great and after greeting Chris politely introduced themselves to me as well. Several girls taking fashion courses made their gowns as their senior projects, and it was these that most impressed me. They were beautiful! But I digress…this is a food blog!

There’s a restaurant about a mile from our house that has been open since 1933 and is “famous” around these parts. It’s called
Cavey’s, and it’s actually two restaurants in one – the upstairs in Northern Italian, and the downstairs is Modern French. We’ve gone to the Italian part a couple of times for dinner and were never terribly impressed by it. It was good, but nothing to rave about. We’ve enjoyed ourselves more at their occasional wine tastings, where they offer five small plates with wine pairings, and some expert or other discusses the wines. It’s fun, tasty, informative, and at $25, relatively cheap. But again, I digress.

Cavey’s is more well known for the French restaurant, which often wins local “Best of” awards and is Zagat rated. So we decided to try it for this “special” night. A top selling point for us is that they use local, seasonal ingredients when possible. For instance, one of the specials on this particular night was a risotto with locally foraged wild mushrooms, ramps and spring peas. The ramps and peas were gathered from around the area, and our server told us they actually have a mushroom forager on staff. I was so happy to hear that, even though I despise mushrooms!

When we descended downstairs, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful and romantic décor. Dim lighting, flower arrangements, mirrors and gold velvet wallpaper transformed what must have once been a plain basement into an enchanting dining area. The maitre d’, Andre, introduced himself and led me by the hand to my table, pulling out my chair and placing my napkin on my lap. Throughout the evening, Andre served as our host and wine steward as well as our own private Cupid, liberally pouring champagne, encouraging us to dance between courses, and offering me pink roses with my box of leftovers. He really made our night.

Our server was also very good. She was attentive without being overbearing, made light conversation with us, and she was able to easily answer questions about the menu and the ingredients. One example is when I noticed a tiny purple flower mixed into my crab timbale. I was curious and asked her what it was, and she informed me that scallions flower at this time of year. When I put it in my mouth, it tasted exactly like a scallion! Who knew?

Our bus boy turned out to be a former student of mine. It’s probably cliché, but my how he’s grown. I taught him his freshman year, and there he was, 18 years old, trying to work his way into the restaurant industry. His professional demeanor and excellent French service were surprising to me, and again, made it a special evening.

Beyond the ambience and service, the food was exceptional. I started with the aforementioned crab timbale which was a good-size portion of crab meat flavored with a subtle spicy green curry and scallions. It was served with a salad of Asian greens tossed in a gorgeous lemongrass vinaigrette that I could have done shots of. Chris began with a perfectly seared foie gras that was served over toast points with a port sauce. I’m not a fan of foie, but Chris said it was awesome. For entrees, I enjoyed a seared duck breast that, although it was slightly overcooked (I had ordered it medium rare), was seasoned well and had nice crispy skin. The potatoes that accompanied it were mashed with olive oil and were very tasty. A nice sweet and sour reduction sauce rounded off both items. Chris had the lamb dish, a rack of lamb roasted perfectly to medium rare, with braised lamb raviolis, both of which were delicious.

We started with champagne, but a nice big red was in order for our entrees. We were looking at half bottles, and Andre suggested the Clos du Val, a Californian cabernet that very much enhanced the flavors in the food. He also encouraged us to linger after our entrees, bringing double espressos and making dessert suggestions. Our server listed off our choices and I decided to stay French and try the “bananas foster soufflé,” while Chris was craving gelato or sorbet but couldn’t decide, so the server brought a tasting bowl of different flavors. I was way too into my dessert to even ask him about the ice cream, and vice versa, so I’m sure his was good. Andre brought me this heaping souffle that was nicely browned. He broke into it with a serving spoon and, as I took the first bite, I realized it was the best soufflé I’d ever had. Melted dark chocolate swirled amidst the lightest, fluffiest banana-flavored yumminess. It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect French meal. We finished our desserts, took another spin on the dance floor, and left with leftovers and roses in tow. I highly recommend Cavey’s for a romantic date night. It’s definitely on the pricey side, but it was well worth it on all counts.
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