Birthday weekend – dinner in

Adam took me out to a fabulous Italian restaurant on Friday night. The weather was amazing – we had a nice table outside, enjoying delicious food, some nice wine (+cocktails) and of course great company. The whole night reminded us of our honeymoon in Italy. We really felt like we were on vacation – and we were right here in Boston! Anyways, I’ll tell you guys all about that dinner in another post (full restaurant review coming up) but right now I wanted to post about the dinner I cooked for my family last night to celebrate my birthday. It was such a success and I was really proud of how far I’ve come in my cooking skills :)

Since we went out to an Italian dinner the night before, I thought it would be fun to celebrate my birthday with a dinner in (going out to restaurants on back to back nights I feel really undermines one of the dinners). I still wanted to make it special, so I created a 3-course (healthy) menu. On the menu:

– Course #1 – mixed greens salad with fresh strawberries, goat cheese, pecans, dried figs, and dried cranberries, tossed in a strawberry balsamic vinegar and basil olive oil.

– Course #2 – goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with cherry wine sauce, baked cauliflower, parmesan/gouda risotto

– Course #3 – cheesecake bars

Sounds good, right? I thought so… and thankfully my guests agreed πŸ˜€

We started with the salad. The above ingredients basically describe it all – there is no recipe, just throw them all together.

strawberry/goat cheese salad

salad closeup

The juicy strawberries work SO well with the tartness of the goat cheese, the sweetness of the dried fruit and the crunchiness of the pecans! I absolutely love this combination of flavors!! The star ingredients were the Old Town Oil strawberry balsamic vinegar and basil olive oil. If you’re ever in Chicago (or maybe you’re from there!), you should visit their little shop and stock up on the stuff. It truly transformed an already amazing salad to something out of this world (Innz, thanks again for these!). My dad, who’s not a salad guy at all said this was the best salad he’s ever had in his life and the second best is very very far behind it. I think he especially liked the dried figs. Glad I threw them in there at the last moment :)

old-town-oil-vinegar-oil bottles

Everyone had second helpings of the salad. The dinner started on a great note!

Oh yes, my dad also brought a great bottle of Amarone. Here I am with my first glass, still with my apron on. Ha, I look ridiculous.

me with a glass of wine

All right, let’s move on the second course… obviously the pork was the star ingredient here. I used this recipe for the goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with red wine balsamic cherry sauce (found the recipe through Tri to Cook… thanks, Shannon!). After making this goat cheese/date/pecan stuffed pork tenderloin I was no longer intimidated by stuffed pork. It really is not very hard to make and looks very impressive, if I do say so myself. I had the recipe featured tonight filed away for a little while, and I’m glad that this time it wasn’t just me and Adam that got to enjoy it. Everyone loved it! The pork was beyond tender and juicy. And goat cheese always has a special spot in my heart :) A few progress pics for good measure.

mixing the goat cheese, lemon and basil filling

roll the stuffing into the pork tenderloin and tie it up

sear the pork ternderloin on all sides

post baking and resting... sliced

See, it’s really quite simple! I also threw the cherry sauce together really quickly while slicing the pork. The sauce reduced a lot more than Kevin’s and Shannon’s did, but I liked the concentrated balsamic flavors. Part of the cooking happened while entertaining, so I forgot to snap a photo of the sauce alone. I do have the final product pic though:

pork with cherry/balsamic vinegar sauce

The cauliflower was baked basically the entire time I was in the kitchen. I tossed it in 2 teaspoons of EVOO + some S&P, threw it in the 400* oven (knowing that’s the temperature the pork will need to be cooked in) while searing the pork. Then after the pork came out of the oven, I reduced the temp to about 250* and it stayed in there while we were eating the salad and drinking wine. It was delicious. Nothing mind blowing, but a good way to get some veggies on the plate without competing with the flavors of the rest of the dishes.

baked cauliflower

As for the risotto, again I didn’t really use a recipe for it. I cooked 1 cup of arborio rice with some chicken and beef broth, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time, until it was absorbed by the rice, at which point I added more. I didn’t measure how much broth the rice took, but I’m guessing it was somewhereΒ  in the 4 cup range. At some point I tasted it, like the texture of it, and turned off the heat… added 1oz of shredded parmesan cheese and about 2.5 oz of small cubes of gouda. It was creamy, cheesy and very indulgent tasting. I learned the gouda trick from when I made this recipe, and I think it really makes risotto extra special. The guests were very happy with this side dish!

parmesan/gouda risotto

Second course all together:

2nd course

And my plate:

my plate of pork, risotto + cauliflower

Lastly, we had some dessert. I followed this recipe for honey yogurt cheesecake bars with cinnamon graham cracker crusts (originally found through The Daily Balance blog), substituting 1/2 maple syrup for 1/2 the honey. I often crave cheesecake but it’s too caloric to indulge in, so these cheesecake bars have been on my to-make list forever! SO glad I finally made them, because they were super creamy and rich. I can’t believe they were made with reduced fat cream cheese, non-fat yogurt and all natural sweeteners (honey + maple syrup). They’re practically health food πŸ˜‰ I’m happy we have a few more bars left for me to enjoy throughout the week :)

I want to do a separate post with progress pics on this, so here is just a sneak peak at what these looked like:

cheesecake bars

my portion

We enjoyed some Rose sparkling wine with dessert. What a great way to end a meal!

my rose sparkling wine

All the recipes were 100% winners. I hope you guys try them next time you have some company over. I’m sure your guests will be impressed, like mine were.

Thank you, dad and grandma, for coming over to celebrate my birthday! Mom, I’m sorry you had to miss it :( I’ll have to cook for you when you get back from Russia! πŸ˜€

How is your weekend going? Aren’t long weekends the best?!! :mrgreen:

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