Okay, so I wasn't the primary chef this weekend...and we did our share of eating out. The fact remains that we cooked for my granddaddy, the primary father figure in my life, this weekend. He has been doing a chemo-at-home treatment this week and we thought it would be good to check in on them. We enjoy their company so much, anyway, that the visit is always a real treat for us.
On the way to their place, we stopped for dinner at Macaroni Grill. I hadn't been to a Macaroni Grill since I'd lived in Nashville & it was across the street from my workplace. I really enjoyed the rosemary bread and olive oil before the meal. The bread is just the right combination of chewy and soft. J wanted the combination appetizer because I wanted bruschetta and she wanted calamari. The calamari was good, if a tad overcooked, but the bruschetta left a great deal to be desired. I guess I am spoiled by mine. There was also fried mozzarella, which was much less rubbery, and therefore more appealing, than most I encounter. I would have been perfectly happy to have only the bread for our appetizer. The main course, though, was very good. I had chicken scallopine, jazzed up with artichoke hearts and sparked with plenty of lemon. J had bowtie pasta with garlic cream sauce, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and caramelized onions, also very tasty. Dessert was the peach Bellini I ordered with dinner...not as good as the ones at Bravo, but still plenty good.
J spent time in the kitchen Saturday morning, making a batch of French onion soup using her company's base and adding a bunch more onions, plus some thyme & tarragon. When planning dinner for my grandparents, she was aggravated with my constant reminders that they eat very plain, low-fat food. They have followed a heart-healthy diet since my grandfather had a valve replacement in 1986. Most of their dinners are plain baked chicken or poultry. J's way of showing love is to create lush meals for people. She is also a great lover of spices and salt. I talked her into pork chops baked with just a smidge of salt & pepper. She rebelled by adding paprika, when she really wanted to bread and fry them. I talked her into rice, when she wanted to make mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Knowing my grands' eating habits, I knew rice would be well-received. When I suggested rice, she said, "Rice??? How are you going to cook it???" Luckily, my grandmom already had some cooked...jasmine rice, boiled with sesame oil. It is inconceivable to my wife that plain rice can be wonderful. She also picked up a packet of green beans with slivered almonds to go with dinner. We hung out with my grands while they ate, then nipped out to The Winds for our own dinner. We love The Winds and my grandparents don't see what all the fuss is about. They tend more towards Bob Evans or Der Dutchman. Well, my grandmother loves Vietnamese & Chinese food, too, and my granddad likes them fine. But, they think The Winds is too expensive & too frilly.
We had our dinner out on the patio, served by one of our favorites, Carmen. Howard was there, too, and his service is always wonderful. The evening was warm and the candlelight lovely on the patio. We started with the bread basket and a small dish of olives. The olives at The Winds are delicious, marinated with citrus zest. The ciabatta in the bread basket was fabulous, so we bought a loaf for Father's Day dinner. I have been wanting to try soft-shell crabs for awhile. I don't like regular crab much...too sweet for me...but have heard softshells are delightful. I figured that The Winds was the best place to try something new & they were on the menu for small plates. J is horrified by the fact that you eat the shell, too, so she opted for the cheese service. I liked the crab, although when I thought about the fact that I was eating crab, I stumbled. I found the legs to be my favorite part. The crab was served on a bed of lime-spiked slaw and drizzled sparingly with crema fresca. I'm almost glad they were out of our much-adored Nueske's bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese because I would have ordered those instead of trying the crab.
The cheeses were great, of course. We tried Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar (made in Modesto & aged 18 months), Oakvale Farmstead Aged Gouda (made in London, Ohio, and fabulous), Pimentino (a semi-soft Italian goat cheese made in Murcia that has a paprika-rubbed rind), Pipe Dreams goat cheese (which I found to be delicious & J called "stinky toe cheese") and one of my favorite triple crèmes, Belletoile. These were served with meltingly soft quince paste and a Medjool date.
For our main course, we split the halibut with bouilli butter and Israeli couscous. Soup or salad comes with the main course, so I chose the Catalan garbanzo stew. J hated it on first taste, but I thought it was good. However, it was nothing to the fantastic halibut! I had meant to order it on green rice rather than couscous because I am normally horrifed by couscous. I am so glad I forgot! The couscous, unlike the usual kind I find, consisted of pearls the size of large tapioca and was wonderful. The fish was delicate and perfect. It was seasoned with saffron, orange, star anise, fennel, and garlic, yet it was not at all overwhelmed. In the bottom of the bowl was a tomato lemon broth that gently added flavor, as well. Wow! Great food! Dessert was superb, as always. The Winds makes some of the best cheesecake I've ever had and the flavor for the night was chocolate espresso. I was tempted by the strawberries with saba and black pepper, by the strawberry rhubarb shortcake, by the peach cherry pie, by their incomparable chocolate mousse (made with Scharffen Berger and Kahlua). However, the cheesecake won out and it was inutterably lovely. J had just planned to nib on whatever I chose, but then she saw that they had cannoli cake and there was nothing but to order it. She loved it. And I was glad I didn't have to split the cheesecake. If you're ever in Yellow Springs, Ohio, you must go to The Winds! www.windscafe.com is their website address.
Sunday morning, J got back into the kitchen and made some wonderful beef stroganoff. She had asked my granddad what he'd like for his Father's Day dinner & suggested a few things she had in mind. When she said, "Beef stroganoff" he said that it was like the lightbulb word. It was exactly what he wanted. While she cooked, I visited with my granddad & looked through my grandmom's 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking, glad I am not cooking my way through it in ANY amount of time. J saw a recipe for beef a la Lindstrom (Swedish meatballs) and decided that's what she's making next time we go down. My grands would also like me to make my chicken pot pie for them. We sat down to a noon dinner of beef stroganoff over egg noodles & corn before we cleaned up the kitchen & hit the road for home, leaving plenty of leftovers. I would post the stroganoff recipe, but J rarely cooks with a recipe.
Last night, we had a simple dinner of tacos, corn on the cob, and pineapple. I wish I had gotten fresh pineapple or even another brand of canned. The store brand I got was anemic and not even worth eating. The rest of dinner was good, though, and we retreated to the hot tub afterward with happy tummies.