Chopped Date Night

At the beginning of the year, John and I made a date-night bucket-list and have slowly been working our way through it- particularly over the summer. We have been visiting nearby towns, eateries, shops, playing Skipbo at Cafes, cooking together and all sorts of other things.

During his Master’s degree, and when I was a Hall Director, we would often finish our work around 10 pm in the evenings and would unwind by watching an episode of Chopped on Food Network. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a competition where the contestants have to make a stunning dish in a short period of time with 5 mystery ingredients they are given from a basket. The winner gets $10,000!) My sweet husband had the brilliant idea to add ‘Chopped Dinner Night’ to our date-night bucket list. Of course it did not involve the cash prize but it sounded like a fun idea nonetheless. A few weeks ago we finally got round to checking this one off the list and I just had to share it with you all.

The Brief:

John was in charge of dinner and I had to provide dessert. We each had 20 minutes in our local grocery store to pick 4 ‘mystery-basket’ ingredients for the other person. Then, we met in the middle of the store to reveal what we had picked. With basket ingredients in hand, and ideas churning, we had an additional 10 minutes to pick up any pantry items we needed to create our dish before returning home to cook.

The items I chose for John:

John's Ingredients

Capers, ground veal, fig preserves, and smoked Gouda

The items John chose for me:

My Ingredients

Raspberries, mascarpone, black pepper bacon, and Hot Tamales (hot cinnamon candy)

John had an extremely successful final dish. He used the capers and paired them with olives, artichoke hearts, basil and rosemary to make a delicious dressing over an arugula salad. The fig preserve was cooked down with some fresh mint and Serrano chilies, and then used as a glaze for small tender veal meatballs. Finally John shredded the smoked Gouda into seasoned smashed potatoes. All in all, it was outstanding! I was so impressed with my clever hubby’s mad Chopped skills!

John's Dish

I unfortunately had a bit of a disaster that changed the original direction of my dish but I was pretty pleased with some of the elements and the creativity! My idea was to boil down the candy to make a sugar cinnamon syrup to flavour whipped egg whites for meringue nests. I was then going to whip heavy cream with the mascarpone and raspberries to create a cream filling for the nests and top them off with cinnamon candied pepper bacon and melted dark chocolate swirls.

My Dish

Almost all of this went well and actually tasted pretty good except for the cream! I just bought a new Kitchen Aid mixer and was so excited to use it for whipping my cream.Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly my mixer can beat cream so when I went back to the machine, it had gone too far and curdled it! I tried making a chocolate cream to cover the clotted mess underneath and it ended up not looking as bad but it wasn’t what I had imagined in my head! Oh well! It tasted pretty good (esp the bacon) but John’s dish was definitely the winner! I can’t wait for our rematch!

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One Day We Flew Away

My poor husband is starting his PhD program and it is so difficult to witness the ridiculous expectation placed upon him by the professors. He is a very hard worker and takes his commitment to his education very seriously (which is of course why he is doing a PhD and why he ultimately wants to be a professor) so he is the kind of student that if you tell him to read three books by tomorrow, he will probably try to do it! Mostly it is challenging to see him struggle with trying to balance his life. My natural tendency is to want to help relieve his stress by giving him the time he needs to work so I find ways to entertain myself (which isn’t hard!).

We are a pretty mushy couple! Always cuddling, saying the kinds of sickly sweet things we would deny in public and even after more than 6 years of marriage, we love each other more deeply and passionately than ever. What we have found to be a big component of this success is spending time together that is meaningful and soulful. I can tell if we haven’t done this enough because we start to get snippy with each other and feel disconnected or distant. It really doesn’t take long for life to get in the way and create this separation. Worst of all, it can happen so gradually and easily go unnoticed that without an intervention I can almost imagine the chasm becoming so great one day that we could wake up and realize that our former intimacy is irretrievable. Having this forethought is not a bad thing. I believe the legitimate fear of this possibility keeps us from allowing the distance to last and thus are able to step in and re-evaluate our lifestyle when needed.

We had one of these moments this past weekend. John and I decided we needed some extended time together and decided to have a day out in Dallas. My family being Greek, and having lived in Cyprus when we first got married, we got tickets to the Greek Food Festival and then planned to kill some time in the Knox Street area until  time for dinner at Cafe Toulouse. The one rule was no ‘shop talk’ about work or studies and that complete freedom from our every day life was all we needed to begin spilling our thoughts about faith, our relationship, our past and future, within the first  30 miles out of Waco. The festival reminded us of our early days. We reminisced, giggled at the old man who kept commenting about how the Greeks invented everything as we looked around the exhibition room, enjoyed all the great quality food we had missed, and we found a renewed respect for Christian history as we toured the Orthodox church.

(Unfortunately we were having so much fun, I forgot to take any pictures so I have taken a few from their website www.greekfestivalofdallas.com to help you get an idea of all the fun things to see…

and  of course eat like Loukanika – Greek seasoned sausages, as well as real deal Gyro with Tzatziki, and Loukomades- fried balls of dough in cinnamon syrup!)

We then proceeded to Knox Street and played a couple of rounds of SKIP BO at Starbucks. We took a long walk on the Katy Trail making a new commitment about how we want  our date nights to be more intentional than just going out to eat and watching movies and TV episodes on Netflix. It was wonderful and we continued our conversation into dinner at Toulouse Cafe and Bar. During our delicious adventures through their Green Room Mussels (Jalapeño, Ginger, Shiitake Mushrooms, Champagne & Garlic)

and the unbelievable chocolate souffle (which was seriously about 7 cm above the top of the ramekin!)

(again we were too busy to actually stop and take photos as we were living in the moment so I have borrowed the ones from their website to help entice you to visit!  www.toulousecafeandbar.com)

we made some practical suggestion for ways to keep our romantic deep connection alive during the days when we can’t just fly away from life. Needless to say, it was a perfect day and we drove home that evening feeling so refreshed, all gooey eyed and at peace.