When Greg and I have the house to ourselves, we usually stay home and cook together. We both love it. We pour some wine and cook something easy but a little special, like shrimp scampi, which needs only a green salad to round out the meal.
When you make the salad, use two different kinds of greens if you can, add a handful of mesclun or arugula and toss in some almonds and dried fruit, if you like. I always make my own vinaigrette, which is far easier than you might think. Finally, I like to end the meal with something chocolaty — and Greg never complains. Here I suggest Chocolate Espresso Bars, which require a little advance planning (like baking them in the afternoon so they have time to cool).
These dinner ideas for two are simple and truly delicious making them perfect to eat curled up in front of the fire or by candlelight.
My Husband’s Shrimp Scampi
My husband makes this now and then, and I absolutely love it—and not just because I don’t have to cook. It’s fantastic with just the lightest coating of sauce on the shrimp and is an easy, super-quick meal that you can prepare at the end of even the busiest days. And we do! While you can dredge the shrimp in any kind of flour, if you can, use Wondra for dredging. It’s less likely to clump. This recipe was developed for four, but you can halve it, or cook it as is and enjoy some leftovers.
11/2 pounds shelled large shrimp
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (Wondra brand works well)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and toss with flour just to coat lightly. Shake off any excess.
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil until shimmering over medium heat and cook the garlic for about 30 seconds. Raise the heat, add the shrimp in an even layer, and cook for about 11/2 minutes. Turn the shrimp over and cook for another minute or just until the shrimp begin to turn opaque.
Add the wine, stock, and lemon juice and cook for about 1 minute. Swirl the butter into the sauce and cook until it melts and is incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve right away.
My Secrets to Great Vinaigrettes
Start with good oils and vinegars; they are always worth the money. This is not to say you have to invest in $40 bottles of aged balsamic vinegar or super-expensive imported olive oil, but if you take the time to find quality oils and vinegars with deep, true flavors, your vinaigrettes will reflect this care. When I use a nice, aged vinegar, its rich, mellow flavor often means I don’t need as much oil. While you might already invest in good olive oil, I think it’s equally essential to buy good vinegar. It’s fun, too, to experience the variation in flavors, acidity, and even viscosity.
When I make vinaigrettes, I dissolve the salt in the vinegar before whisking in the oil. I find that when the vinegar is seasoned with salt before you add the oil, it’s easier to taste the saltiness and determine if the dressing is properly seasoned.
Finally, after you dress the greens with the vinaigrette, season them with salt and freshly ground pepper. Many people forget this step and I find it really makes a difference in the overall flavor.
My Lemon Vinaigrette is always a popular choice, as well!
Chocolate Espresso Bars
It’s hard to argue with the flavor combination of chocolate and coffee, particularly when the two come together in these moist, fudgy bars. Take care not to over bake them or they won’t have the right texture. Use your favorite bittersweet or semisweet chocolate for the recipe, the best you can afford and which you would happily eat plain, straight from the wrapper. That’s my best advice when it comes to choosing chocolate for baking.
Makes 16 bars
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons instant espresso powder or granules
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray.
In the top of a double boiler set over simmering water, melt together the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth.
Meanwhile, dissolve the espresso in 3 tablespoons of boiling water. When the butter and chocolate melt, mix in the espresso and remove from the heat.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and on medium-high speed, beat together the eggs and sugar for about 8 minutes until pale and creamy and the mixture forms a ribbon when the paddle is lifted. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
Whisk together the flour and cocoa and add to the batter. Whisk until incorporated. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Transfer to the baking pan, smooth the surface, and bake for 25 to 28 minutes or until the edges just begin to set. The bars will seem underdone but don’t let them over bake.
Let the bars cool in the pan, set on a wire rack, and when cool, cut into squares and serve.
Cheers and enjoy your dinner for two!