A Delicious Spring Dinner

Since moving back from Florida, I have hosted Mother’s Day dinner for my sister and her family, and my mom and dad.  I enjoy cooking and having everyone at my house, and I especially enjoy watching the kids play.  It’s an easy way for us to spend the day together without the worry of the kids misbehaving in a restaurant.  Every year it has gotten better and easier.

I have to admit though, this year I was a little stressed over what to cook. Usually, I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head, recipes I have seen online, in a magazine, or on a cooking show that I want to try, but this year I had nothing.  Part of the problem was that I had decided ahead of time that I wanted to make some sort of no fuss, make ahead meal. That leaves very few options, except for your standard filet or roast, which we had just had on Easter, some sort of casserole, or burgers and dogs, which my mom and my sister kept suggesting to make it “easy” on me.

Although I appreciated that they wanted me to have a carefree day, I had a problem with burgers and dogs.  I didn’t want to serve a Wednesday night dinner for a holiday dinner. Not that we always have burgers on Wednesdays, or that Mother’s Day is technically a holiday (is it?), but you get what I mean.  I wanted a dinner that I would order at a restaurant.  So, I spent the better part of last week searching for inspiration online. Surprisingly, I  came up with nothing.  So I abandoned the idea of a make-ahead dinner and instead took my inspiration from Wegmans, which is a food store for those of you not familiar with the name.  Wegmans does what all supermarkets should do.  They offer free samples.  Not free samples, like “Here, want to try these new granola bars?”  Though they do that too.  I’m talking, would you like to try some of our grilled scallops, blackened tuna, grilled chicken, sushi, cake, prime rib with one of our dipping sauces, cheese spreads….I could go on forever.  Their free samples inspire me to try new dishes and ingredients, like kumato tomatoes, that I might otherwise pass by.  Marketing genius! And if free food samples (and instructions on how to make those samples) weren’t enough, food shopping got even better when they opened a liquor store inside my Wegmans. That’s right, free samples of wine.  Awesome!

I created a menu that consisted of scallops with a side of asparagus risotto, garlic cheese bread and grilled chicken for those non-seafood eaters (my dad) and an assortment of appetizers.  Here’s the break down, scallops, shrimp cocktail, kumato tomato salad with buffalo mozzarella, basil and Novello olive oil, cheese spreads, including the spread used on the toasted bread and the dressing that I marinated the chicken in, all Wegmans.

The asparagus risotto (minus the crab meat) was inspired by a dish that I once had at a restaurant called Tomato’s.  If my dad liked seafood, I would have made mine with crab meat too, but I wanted a side that would satisfy everyone, and I think it was just as tasty without the crab meat.  Risotto is easy, but time consuming.  It requires a lot of attention and stirring time (thanks, mom, though I think she regretted volunteering for that job).  I tried to research ways to precook it, and there are some helpful hints on the web, but in the end I thought it would just be better if I made it that day.  I’m glad I did, because when I tried to eat it the next night, it wasn’t even close to being as delicious as it was when I served it the first time.

For dessert, Bananas Foster, inspired by Brennan’s in New Orleans, where I was lucky enough to once enjoy brunch.  In fact, the recipe I used was straight off their website.  As an extra bonus, I served it over Ben & Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun ice cream. It was delicious. Banana’s Foster doesn’t just remind me of Brennan’s though, it also reminds me of a steakhouse in Naples where my family once dined (parents and sister included), back when there were only two children between my sister and I.  We laugh now when we think of that restaurant because our children had no business being there, it was pretty fancy and our children not so well behaved, but boy, was that Banana’s Foster good!

So if you’re looking for a delicious and easy dinner, here are the recipes.

Grilled Lemon and Garlic Chicken
This one is pretty easy.  I marinated the chicken, in the refrigerator, in Wegmans Lemon and Garlic Marinade for about four hours and then grilled it on medium until the juices ran clear. This took approximately 11 minutes, but will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken you are grilling.  Use a meat thermometer if you are unsure.  Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165.

Scallops
Pat scallops dry and lay flat on a plate.  Salt and pepper both sides generously.  Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Once the pan is nice and hot, add scallops and cook 2-3 minutes per side until opaque and firm.  Try not to overcook them!

Asparagus Risotto
adapted from a recipe found on epicurious.com
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
5-6 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of  salted water to boil.  Cook asparagus pieces for two minutes in the water, drain and immediately rinse under cold water. This stops the cooking process. Drain asparagus well and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring chicken broth to simmer in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to low to keep the broth hot. You will use this broth to cook the risotto.  In a larger saucepan, heat olive oil.  Sauté onions in the pan until translucent.  Add rice and stir 2 minutes.  Add wine and cook until the liquid evaporates.  (If you don’t have wine just use chicken stock.) Once the wine is evaporated, add the heated chicken broth, one cup at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue cooking the rice (and adding the broth) until it is creamy and tender, but slightly al dente.  This can take anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes. Once the rice is cooked, add the asparagus and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Bananas Foster
from http://www.brennansneworleans.com
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
¼ cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

**I did not use banana liqueur.  I simply omitted it because I could not find it in Wegmans and didn’t have time to go searching in other liquor stores.  I also could not get my bananas foster to flambe.  I’m not sure why, but again, there are several discussions about this online if you’re interested.  Either way, it was still delicious and super easy.


 

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