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Date Night Dinner for 2

Date Night Dinner for 2

Weeks linger for an eternity it seems, and by the time Friday gets around to showing up everyone's exhausted. Yet Fridays signal the weekend, and surely something must be done to welcome two days of relative rest, right?

We set about to create a dinner that's easy and low stress, and this fits that bill, yet still feels special enough for a date night or a special occasion. This particular weekend is Valentine's day, and so we're going the extra mile to do some advance work and make it memorable. 

Cooking, for us, is a relaxing thing, but this is a meal where it definitely pays to do a bit of prep, so that date night can feel nothing but joyful. With a little planning, this meal will be a treat and the quantities below will make enough for lots of leftover options, so worth the extra effort. 

Prep the dips for the veggie board the day before if you can- if you don't get to them before, then focus on those first when you get home so you can set the board up and nibble while you prep the rest of the meal. The dips are quick and easy with a food processor or blender, and keep well, refrigerated, overnight. Choose one, or make all 4 if you're feeling fierce. Roast the beets before- 1-3 days ahead works just fine - and then the whole thing will come together in minutes. For the veggies on the board, think rainbow radishes, carrots, cucumbers, asparagus- anything that's in season, piled high.

The cake also begs to be made the day before, or up to 4 days ahead in fact. Store it tightly wrapped at room temperature, and allow the flavors and textures to meld and mature.

For the pilaf, it helps to make the wild rice ahead of time, as it will cook at a different rate than the Quinoa. Make it the day before, or skip it and just go with the Quinoa which takes only about 20 minutes (the rice will take 45). Below you'll find the recipe using rice that's been cooked already. The shrimp is a quick turn in the pan with a bit of garlic and splash of lemon, the butter adds great flavor, but you can substitute olive oil if you're feeling virtuous.

Speaking of olive oil, the olive oil cake is a classic from Bon Appetit which we've updated with cornmeal instead of almond flour, adding a nice toothsome crunch and a gorgeous yellow color- a perfect contrast to fresh fruit or some spiced whipped cream. 

Having done the prep before, you should pour your favorite drink and settle in to do some minimal chopping, stirring and mixing. You're well on your way to making something special of the evening - a three-course meal of dips and veggies, wild rice and quinoa pilaf with shrimp, and an absolutely stunning olive oil cake to top with fruit or whipped cream. Happy Weekend!

Dips and Veggies - 4 variations

For the Dips:

White Bean, Garlic & Basil:

    • 1 15 oz. can of Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    • 3-4 cloves garlic 
    • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
    • 1/2 t. salt
    • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
    • 12 large basil leaves 
    • 3 T. olive oil
    • Water to thin, if necessary
    1. With the food processor running, drop the cloves of garlic into the bowl to mince them fine (you can also do this in a mortar and pestle), then add the olive oil and basil leaves and continue to pulse, scraping the sides, until well chopped and combined.
    2. Add the beans, lemon juice and salt and pepper, and process until smooth and creamy.
    3. Taste and adjust salt and lemon, adding a little water if the dip seems too thick.

    Roasted Red Pepper & Feta:



      • 1 14 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, dried on a paper towel.
      • 1 medium clove garlic 
      • 2 oz. French feta cheese (or Greek if French is not available)
      • 1/4 t. salt
      • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
      • 1T. fresh lemon juice
      • 3 T. olive oil
      • 2 t. capers, drained
      • 2 T. Italian parsley, roughly chopped


      1. With the food processor running, drop the clove of garlic into the bowl to mince it fine (you can also do this in a mortar and pestle with some salt to form a paste), then add the olive oil and parsley leaves and continue to pulse, scraping the sides, until well chopped and combined.
      2. Add the roasted red peppers, capers, feta, lemon juice and salt and pepper, and process until smooth and creamy.
      3. Taste and adjust lemon and salt.
    Creamy Lemon Herb Dip:
      • 1 C. reduced-fat sour cream (full fat works too!)
      • 1/2 C. chopped dill
      • 1/2 C. chopped cilantro
      • 3 scallions, sliced
      • 1 t. grated lemon zest 
      • 1/4 t. salt
      • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
      • 2T. fresh lemon juice
      • 1/4 c. olive oil


        1. Pulse the cilantro, dill, scallions, lemon zest, salt and pepper in the food processor until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides.
        2. With the motor running, pour the olive oil and lemon juice through the feed tube and pulse until the mixture has the texture of pesto.
        3. Add the sour cream, pulse to combine, and refrigerate (if possible) to allow the flavors to combine. 
        4. Before serving, stir and taste to adjust the flavors with salt, pepper or some more lemon juice.

      Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Dip:



        • 6 medium sized beets (1.5 lbs) trimmed
        • 2 small cloves garlic, minced 
        • 1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced
        • 1 C. plain Greek yogurt
        • 3 T. olive oil
        • 1 1/2 T. maple syrup
        • 1 T. za'atar (available as a spice mix in grocery stores)
        • Salt & Pepper
        • 1/4 C. roasted pistachios, chopped 
        • 2 T. goat cheese, crumbled
        • 2 scallions sliced thinly


        1. Preheat the oven to 350°
        2. Drizzle each beet with a touch of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap each beet in a small piece of aluminum foil to make a closed package. 
        3. Place beet packages on a sheet pan in the center of the oven and roast for 45 minutes, then remove from oven and let them sit in their foil until cool.
        4. When beets have cooled enough to handle, open the packages and, using a paper towel, rub the skin off, then cut them into wedges and transfer to the food processor.
        5. Add the garlic, chili, and yogurt and pulse until blended.
        6. Add the olive oil, maple syrup and za'atar, and process until smooth and creamy.
        7. When serving, scatter the pistachios, goat cheese crumble and scallion on top.

      Grain Pilaf with Shrimp

      For the Pilaf:

      Wild Rice & Quinoa with Parsley, Scallions & Pistachios:

        • 1 T. canola oil
        • 1/2 C. onion, finely chopped 
        • 1/3 C. celery, finely chopped
        • 1/2 C. pistachios, chopped
        • 1 C. quinoa (red or white), rinsed & drained
        • 3 C. vegetable stock or broth
        • 1 C. wild rice, cooked
        • 2 scallions, sliced thin
        • 1 C. parsley leaves, chopped well
        • salt & pepper to taste
          1. Sauté the onion and celery in the canola oil for 5-6 minutes, until translucent. 
          2. Stir in the nuts and quinoa and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to coat with the oil and mix well.
          3. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 18 minutes.
          4. Stir in the wild rice, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until heated through.
          5. Off the heat, stir in the scallions, and parsley.
          6. Add the salt and pepper, to taste.

        For the Shrimp:

          • 1 lb. raw, peeled and deveined shrimp 
          • 8 T. (one stick) butter (you can use less if you'd like)
          • 2 garlic cloves, minced
          • 1/2 t. salt
          • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
          • 1/2 t. smoked paprika (or plain paprika, your choice) 
          • 1/2 t. oregano
          • 1/2 t. thyme
          • 1/2 lemon 


            1. Pat the shrimp dry on a paper towel. 
            2. In a medium bowl, combine the spices, salt and pepper and toss the shrimp to coat.
            3. In a large skillet, melt the butter, add the garlic and sauté over a medium heat until fragrant and just starting to brown.
            4. Add the shrimp and cook 2-3 minutes per side.
            5. Remove from the heat and squeeze the lemon over the warm shrimp, stir to mix well.
            6. Serve the shrimp on the pilaf with extra wedges on the side.

        Olive Oil Cake with Cornmeal

        Olive Oil Cake:

          • 1 1/4 c.s plus 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
          • 1 C. plus 2 T. sugar
          • 2 C. cake flour
          • 1/3 C. cornmeal
          • 2 t. baking powder
          • 1/2 t. baking soda
          • 1/2 t. kosher salt
          • 3 T. Amaretto, Grand Marnier, or other liqueur (or substitute orange water)
          • 1 T. finely grated lemon zest
          • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
          • 2 t. vanilla extract
          • 3 large eggs
          • 9" springform pan and parchment paper
          1. Preheat oven to 400°. 
          2. Drizzle the bottom and sides of the cake pan with olive oil, using your fingers to coat it.
          3. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, smooth it to eliminate air bubbles and coat parchment with more oil.
          4. Generously sprinkle the pan with sugar and tilt to coat in an even layer, then tap out the excess.
          5. Whisk the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl to combine and eliminate any lumps.
          6. Stir together the amaretto, lemon juice and vanilla in a small bowl.
          7. Using an electric mixer on high (whisk attachment if using a stand mixer), beat eggs, lemon zest and 1 c. plus 2 T. sugar in a large bowl until light, thick, smooth and pale- about 3-5 minutes.
          8. With the mixer still on high speed, gradually stream in 1 1/4 c. olive oil and beat until incorporated and mixture is even thicker.
          9. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 stages, alternating with the amaretto mixture in between, and beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
          10. Fold batter several times with a large rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottoms and sides of the bowl, then pour into prepared pan and sprinkle with more sugar.
          11. Place the cake in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 350°.
          12. Bake until top is golden brown, center is firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes.
          13. Poke holes all over top of cake with a toothpick or skewer and drizzle with remaining 2 T. olive oil, let it absorb.
          14. Run a knife around edges of cake and remove ring from pan.
          15. Slide cake onto rack and let cool completely. For the best flavor and texture, wrap cake in plastic and let it rest at room temperature.
          16. Serve with soft whipped cream, or fresh fruit and a sprinkle of confectioners sugar.

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