date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

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Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

  1. This looks so scrumptious!

    I have had Manchego-stuffed dates, but never with celery. I bet it’s amazing! I have to try it.

    And with the coffee and chipotle pepper in the stew, it definitely makes me think of the Daring Kitchen challenge that I just finished up.

    • The celery adds a nice crunch, moisture, and saltiness. Definitely a winning combination! I’ll have to check out your Daring Kitchen challenge–I’m way behind on reading right now…

  2. Pingback: whoa, thanks! « humble feast

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