Stephen and I have our first guests for dinner. Lauren and Ben. Lauren and I were close in high school, but as adults, we’ve only stayed connected through “likes” and comments on Facebook and Instagram. I knew we would reconnect when I moved to Charlotte. It’s one of those friendships where you know you’ll pick up exactly where you left off. It’s easy and comfortable and fun.
Steve and I decided to do a sort-of 8-day cleanse. For us, in this instance, that means eating better, no drinking, and going to the gym regularly. Our dinner with Lauren and Ben is the first day after our “diet week” so we are SUPER excited, to say the least. Eat delicious food! Drink wine! Socialize! Yay! We’ve been planning and talking about this dinner all week.
We start with a simple platter of salami, cheese, crackers and olives. You can’t have a cold starter without a hot starter, so I experiment with something new out of the cookbook Mom made me for Christmas: zucchini tots.
They’re pretty simple. Just shred zucchini and cheddar cheese, then mix together with egg, breadcrumbs, chopped onion, and salt and pepper. Form into little football shapes and freeze until ready to eat. For a dipping sauce I make a homemade 1000 island dressing: ketchup, mayo, chopped pickles, srirachi, worcestshire, garlic powder, paprika, lemon juice, S&P.
It says to bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, but when I check, the tots don’t look too crispy, so I leave them in a bit longer. I might end up leaving them in for almost 40 minutes, and it’s totally worth it. They’re just right – nice and crispy on the outside. (Lauren makes a good point though – they taste more cheesy than zucchini-y. Next time I’ll have to use a bigger ratio of zucchini to cheese.)
For the entree, we’ll be using our favorite kitchen contraption – the Joule.
The Joule is used to sous vide. If you’ve never sous vide anything before, you’ve GOT to try this. Also, I warn you (because I can’t help myself), the following is basically an infomercial for this coolest device.
If you’re ever worried about over- or under-cooking something, you sous vide. It’s fail-safe. Take whatever you’re cooking – in this case boneless pork chops – and place in a large ziplock bag. To the bag, add olive oil, S&P, and any other spices you like. We decide to make a spice rub for the chops, then add garlic cloves and rosemary.
Using an app on your phone, decide how you want your meat cooked – it shows videos of exactly what the meat will look like when you cut into it, depending on the temperature you choose (it’s so cool).
The actual Joule is a long, white cylinder that clips onto the inside of a large pot of water. Once you’ve decided the temperature, select it on the app and watch as your Joule springs to life, heating the water.
When the water has reached the desired temperature, the app will notify you, and now it’s time to submerge the ziplock bag and its contents into the water. The beauty of the Joule is, you can’t overcook the meat. If it says cook for 45 minutes, that means it has to stay in the bath for at least 45 minutes. Whether you take it out at 45 minutes or two hours, the meat will be cooked exactly the same, because once it reaches that temperature, it stops cooking.
So as soon as YOU’RE ready, remove the meat from the bag – careful, it’s hot! – and sear both sides quickly before plating your dish. And voila! The juiciest, most tender and flavorful meat you’ve ever had! Well, maybe not ever had but probably that you’ve ever made (if you’re novices like us). It’s like magic.
Along with the pork chops, I make caramelized carrots (um, these are ridiculously good and it’s literally carrots with olive oil and salt). We also make a Caesar salad. I get the dressing recipe from Mom. It’s so creamy and yummy and actually healthy – just anchovy paste, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, S&P. Mix it all together (with an immersion blender if you have one!) and pour it on. Unbelievably tasty. (If you really want to simplify it, Steve says you can leave out the anchovy paste and it’s just as good.)
Dinner is a hit! Everything is delicious and the four of us are having a grand ol’ time (the four bottles of wine may have contributed).
We end the meal with dessert. My only dessert specialty is cookies, and I didn’t want to make a whole batch since Steve an I have been doing so well with our healthy eating, so we decide to buy a dessert instead. Steve swears by this carrot cake from a local grocery store, Publix. It’s not a whole cake; it’s a bar, so it’s not too big. Still, we make a promise to ourselves to freeze any leftovers so that we’re not tempted to eat the rest (some plan). Lauren also brings over homemade walnut brownies, so we have both for dessert. We eat like Kings tonight and have so much fun hanging out with Lauren and Ben – they’re such an awesome, down to earth couple.
It’s amazing and lucky to have an old friend at my new home. And Steve and I can’t wait to host again!