Couples’ Night In: Brunch Edition

When I did the super-restricted diet last year, it was pretty impossible to go out to eat.  I thought I would lament the loss of that ritual, but it turned out that eating out quickly became very unappealing to me.  The expense, the not-knowing-what’s-in-my-food, the fact that I was now good enough at cooking to be able to make better versions of whatever-I-was-overpaying-for at home all added up to me being not that interested in going out for dinner.

This, however, put a major crimp in my social life.  It turns out that finding things to do with friends that doesn’t involve drinking or happy hours or going out to eat requires some creativity.  For awhile, we tried to do “activities,” like paddling on the lake or hiking on the weekends. But activities require time and a lot of planning and coordinating and effort.

And, so, Couples’ Nights were born.  About once a month, Mr. Little Fish and I get together with our friends K & M to make a homemade meal together.  We alternate houses so that no one is stuck hosting every single time, and we split the cost of groceries.  We usually pick a “theme” to the night and then pick out a couple recipes in advance.

Our first meal was bbq pork ribs with grilled brussel sprouts and mashed cauliflower.  For dessert, we had a flourless chocolate cake.  Our second couples’ night was pizza night, where we made whole wheat pizza crusts and cut a whole bunch of toppings for each person to decide what they wanted on their pizza.  Dessert was a blackberry pear grain-free crumble.

Our third Couples’ Night turned into Couples’ Sunday Brunch.  We decided to be ambitious and made a brunch inspired by the Steeping Room’s Gravlax and Latkes.  So we made giant potato latkes topped with creme fraiche, smoked salmon, and a warm berry compote with a grapefruit mint salad on the side. Oh and mimosas, of course.

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It turned out to be spectacular.  Mr. Little FIsh’s ever-eloquent review was, “Yummy yummy in my tummy,” which, from him, is truly the highest of praises.

The meal came out to less than $5 per person, whereas the same meal would have run us $11 pp not including tax, tip, or drinks at Steeping Room.  It took enough time that we ended up having smoothies to tide ourselves over, but that’s because we took teaching breaks where I would explain how and why things work the way they do in the kitchen to K & M, who are relatively new to cooking but are avid students.  I think we all left the meal feeling pretty inspired that day.  =)

Home-made Gravlax and Latkes with Warm Berry Compote
Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  
Serves 8

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Ingredients:

For the Latkes:                                                                       
2 lbs Russet potatoes, washed and peeled
2 medium white onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsps kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 large eggs
Coconut oil, for frying
Creme fraiche or sour cream
12-16 oz smoked salmon

For the berry compote:
1 bag frozen mixed berries
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
1 pinch salt
2 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees, line a baking sheet with foil, and put it in the oven until needed.  This is where you will store latkes as they are cooked so that they don’t get cold.
2.  Using the shredding blade on your food processor, shred the potatoes and onion.
3.  Transfer the mixture onto a cheese cloth, and wring/squeeze out as much water as possible.  You do this to aid the browning process, so you get crispy potatoes instead of wilted, steamed ones.
4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and eggs.  If this looks a little thick, don’t worry–it will thin out in with the moisture from the potatoes.  Stir in the wrung-out potato mixture until everything is evenly coated.
5.  Form the potato mixture into 8 balls, and set aside.
6.  In a small cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tbsps of coconut oil over medium heat until it shimmers.  Drop one of the potato balls into the skillet, and flatten it into a 5-inch diameter pancake with the back of a spoon.
7.  Cook the latke over medium heat about 3-5 minutes on each side, until edges are golden brown. (While my pan was still heating, the first couple latkes took a little longer, but by the end, the time was down to 3 minutes each side.)
8.  Transfer each latke to the baking sheet in the oven and repeat process with each of the remaining potato balls, adding more oil in between each ball so as not to burn.
9.  Around the 4 or 5 latke, start to make your berry compote.  In a large saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
10.  Cook for 2 minutes, then add the frozen berries, lemon juice, and salt.
11.  When the mixture returns to a boil, add the butter and swirl it around so it melts.  Lower the temperature to low.
12.  Get out the number of plates you will be serving, and put one latke on each one.  Top the latke with a dollop of creme fraiche, and lay out about 2 oz of smoked salmon on top of the creme.  Then, either spoon the berry mixture over the salmon, or bring the berries to the table for each person to serve themselves.  Serve with Mint Grapefruit Salad* on the side or eat by themselves!

*I made these modifications to reduce the sugar content on the salad: 1/3–>1/4 cup fresh mint; 1 tbsp sugar–>2 tsp sugar; and 3 tbsps honey–>2 tbsp honey.

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