Just about any mother with an empty nest will tell you that down-sizing dinner and keeping it interesting is one of the biggest challenges she faces. When I finally returned home after avoiding my newly empty nest for as long as my husband would permit, the first item on my agenda was dinner. Depression set in as I envisioned years of boring bagged salad and rotisserie chicken or baked fish looming in our future.
For 18 years, my ever-evolving tried-and-true dinner recipes have been intended for at least four. In more recent years, my athletic teenage son required hefty meals to meet his caloric demands as well as his finicky taste buds. My husband would rather not eat leftovers, so whipping up the favorites to eat over several days is really not an option; plus we really don’t need the heavier meals.
As I was shredding the chicken for our first night home, I realized it was time for an attitude readjustment. Instead of bemoaning our empty nest at every meal, I’ve decided to face the situation like a big girl and embrace the challenge of cooking real meals for two. Fortunately the first step to facing this challenge was sitting amongst my cookbooks practically untouched since I received it about ten years ago from aGw.
Flipping open the Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook, I was delighted to find several recipes meant only for two. Written by identical twins who had been boarders at St. Catherine’s School here in RVA, it is filled with Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford’s stories of their food experiences living and working as twin daughters, chefs, wives and new moms. While they are stars in the food galaxy, their recipes are thorough and uncomplicated.
Each recipe is prefaced with an anecdote and often a suggestion for accompaniments. With beautiful pictures of some of the published offerings, the cookbook provides a comprehensive base of recipes and menu suggestions that are suitable for most any couple, whether just married or recently pared down. It evens offers suggestions for how to cook some of the meals together, as well as a whole chapter called Dinners & Desserts in a Dash. Although the book was published eleven years ago, the recipes are classic enough to stand the test of time save for a few calling for then-trendy sun-dried tomatoes.
Freshly inspired by this well-designed book, I decided to try their Corn-Chip Crusted Halibut with Creamy Salsa and Cilantro (recipe below). The fish was easy to put together, though their recommendation for two 8 oz. fillets was more than plenty. For side dishes, they recommended Sweet Corn with Jalapeño and Butter Lettuce with Mango, Goat Cheese and Mighty Mint Vinaigrette. Since sweet corn is at its peak right now in these parts, the first recommendation was easy. The Butter Lettuce salad was more time-consuming than anticipated because I had not made the superb vinaigrette (recipe below) ahead of time. Peaches and feta would work beautifully in the salad as well this time of year.
The result was a meal fit for a king and queen. Creating a lovely meal and discovering we could celebrate our new status were two revelations we felt demanded a bit of the bubbly.
To our empty nesting posse, I challenge you to join me. Let’s try to create some nice dinners for two at least once a week. We’d love to share your pictures and recipes that even our friends with full nests can whip up for an in-home date night. We can’t wait to see what you concoct!
- 2 halibut fillet (4-6 oz. each)
- kosher salt
- ½ t ground cumin
- 2 T unsalted butter, melted
- 1 T fresh lime juice
- 2 handfuls corn chips, crushed
- ¾ cup premium-quality bottled salsa (not fresh)
- 3 T sour cream
- 2 T fresh cilantro leaves
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or Silpat pad and place halibut on it. Season both sides of fillets with kosher salt to taste and cumin. Combine the butter and lime juice and drizzle over the fillets. Top each fillet with a thick layer of corn chip crumbs. Cover fillets loosely with foil.
- Bake until fish is opaque in center about 18 minutes, removing foil after about 10 minutes.
- While fish is baking, whisk the salsa and sour cream together in a small saucepan over heat until just warmed, about 2-3 minutes.
- Place fillets on individual plates, top with creamy salsa and garnish with cilantro.
- ¾ c olive oil
- ½ c firmly packed fresh mint leaves
- ¼ c white wine vinegar
- 1 T plus 1 t Dijon mustard
- 1 T plus 1 t honey
- ¼ t kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Combine olive oil and mint in a blender and process until puréed, about 15 seconds. Add vinegar, mustard, honey, kosher salt and pepper and blend until just incorporated. Do not over blend. Refrigerate covered for up to a week.
- Would be great with fruit or on lamb.