Dinner for Two | Make It Special
A "Novel" Approach
Cookbooks can be like novels.
They have interesting characters (ingredients), interesting plots (methods) and sometimes interesting outcomes (results).
The reviews can also be interesting.
Most days I cook for just the two of us, but I still always consider it a special occasion. I am not a chef, not a gourmet cook, just a cook.
When cooking for several people, it is usually a buffet type service or else "family style", with serving dishes being passed and people taking their own selected amount of each individual offering.
When cooking for two, I skip the serving dishes and fill both plates in the kitchen before bringing them to the table.
Planning meals with color and a variety of textures helps to make them healthfully nutritious.
I try to make the plates look attractive. Cooking is creative; it should be a focused and enjoyable pleasure.
The only problem is that cooking also involves cleaning up, and that is not as much fun. So when I cook-- which is almost every day, I try to keep it simple, so there's not so much to clean up.
My husband often admires his dinner for a second or two and then says "Did you take a picture of this?"
He has been saying that for years, so I finally decided to do just that.
After getting a digital camera recently, I decided it might be fun to take pictures.
It could be a good way to monitor our food-- and also give me something to flip through when I needed dinner ideas, or planned a shopping list.
I'm still doing something photographically wrong as to the lighting-- but these were not really meant for publication, initially.
Now and then whole chickens are on sale. If buy a five pound roasting chicken for less than five dollars I can make it go a long way. This one was glazed with apricot jam and soy sauce. Inside there were chopped apples, celery, onion, garlic and herbs.
The first dinner used slices from one side of the breast and thigh. After that there was plenty left for two sandwiches, a stir-fry chicken and vegetable dish, and--of course, a hearty soup.
Five dollars worth of chicken provides for the main part of at least four meals. I sometimes do a similar thing with Cornish hens-- also when they are on sale
I try to have salmon at least once a week. My first choice is to find a center cut filet that is at least 3/4" thick, and of fairly equal thickness throughout the serving.
I place it in glass ovenware that has thick slices of onion and some olive oil in the bottom.
The onion rings serve as a rack to keep the fish from sticking to the pan. The piece of fish is placed on top of the onions, skin side down, sprinkled with olive oil or dabbed with butter, dusted with some dill, salt and pepper, (sometimes I use some lemon juice and or other seasonings).
The oven is set at a moderate temperature, and it takes about 20 minutes.
I test with a fork, to see if it "flakes". There are many other ways to cook fish. This one is easy, good and requires minimal cleanup.
I usually serve salmon with some kind of rice, pasta or grain and steamed fresh vegetable. Green ones go well with the color of salmon.
If it is on sale, I'll buy a big piece of salmon and use the cooked leftovers (planned overs) to toss in the green salad, or later to mix with celery and yogurt to make salmon-salad sandwiches.
Simple garnishes make food more appealing.
In fact, most plates look twice as appetizing when you do a little extra.
Adding a little color with an orange slice, a radish rose or a sprig of parsley can perk up a plate that might otherwise look bland.
We eat Mexican-style food fairly often. These dishes, though tasty and sometimes even a bit spicy, can be monochromatic in appearance.
In the examples shown, you can see that the top example is bland looking and disturbingly out of focus.
Adding a colorful garnish can sharpen up the look of the dish and somehow makes it taste even better. See my hints of using and keeping fresh parsley.
I usually have a fresh green salad with dinner. It's a good way to add vegetables, especially when the summer garden gets going. I used to use prepackaged salad greens, but have decided that the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages.
1. A variety of greens in one package. ( It makes an attractive-looking salad.)
2. The greens are pre-torn or chopped. (Less work.)
3. They are "pre-washed". (Again, less work-- but how does one really know.)
4. They are easy to keep in the refrigerator in their own little bag.
1. They may be wilted and "rusty ". Even if the package is dated as being fresh.
2. They may be rinsed in a dilute chlorine solution or fumigated with ozone.
3. Some of them actually recommend washing first (no work saved).
4. A modified atmosphere develops in the bags that helps the greens look fresher, because of a lack of oxygen (oxidation), but it can cause the development of off-odors and flavors. Volatile levels of compounds such as Ethanol and acetaldehyde increase after a few days.
5. And finally, some bagged greens have been recalled for serious contamination.
In addition to fresh greens, my salads usually include tomatoes, olives and a little cheese (Feta or Asagio). They also might have garbanzo beans, onion, artichoke hearts, avocado, or leftover (planned over) seafood bits.
I almost always use a homemade dressing of extra virgin olive oil and blood orange vinegar. Commercially prepared salad dressings can be the worst single thing we consume in their proportion of additives, preservatives and chemicals in our normal diet. I discussed distressing dressings in another hub linked here (click).
The quest for fresh.
As much as possible I try to use a variety of fresh foods, and there are a few ingredients I use often, such as those in my article about ingredients "beyond the basics", as seen here.
I still use some processed, and prepared foods, though fewer all the time. I think there are some good reasons for using and storing some packaged and canned foods, but finding fresher alternatives is always an ongoing quest.