Category Archives: Thursday night dinners

Life is a buffet

When I was a kid, my family rarely went out to dinner. We almost always ate at home. Even if my parents didn’t cook, we would get takeout instead of going somewhere.

On the rare occasion that we would go to dinner, we would wind up at Royal Fork, the local buffet restaurant. My older brother and I loved Royal Fork because we got to eat “American” food that our Filipino parents rarely or never made–things we only saw on TV.

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Shabu-shabu doo!

Thursday night dinners at my friend Ellen’s house are alive and well. I just haven’t had time to write about any of them! So this post is going to be about a dinner we had in January.

Ellen loves shabu-shabu, the Japanese version of hot pot, which basically involves cooking thinly sliced vegetables and meat in a bubbling pot of broth right at your table. Then you dip the cooked meats and vegetables in ponzu or sesame sauce and eat everything with rice.

When all the meat and veggies are cooked, Ellen likes to throw in some noodles in the end. I’ve personally never understood how she still has room to eat this, but the broth is super flavorful and makes for extra good noodles.

Shabu-shabu is a Thursday night staple and is particularly good during winter (although with Seattle’s temperate climate you can eat it all year long). We were all set to do it when Ellen got the call that her pregnant sister was going into labor.

Lynn stepped in and said she would host the dinner, which was great. There was just one problem. None of us had done shabu-shabu without Ellen. We are a resourceful group of ladies though and decided to press on.

Lynn and I went to Uwajimaya to buy thinly sliced beef, green onions, Napa cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, enokitake mushrooms and tofu.

Gathering the vegetables was easy enough, but buying the meat was a little more challenging. How much thinly sliced beef to buy for five people? We consulted with the butcher and wound up getting four packages of meat since the Thursday night group is a bunch of hearty eaters.

Both Lynn and I had almost a nervous breakdown in Uwajimaya’s noodle aisle. As you might imagine, the Asian grocery store had hundreds of varieties of noodles, and we couldn’t find the ones that Ellen had put on her list. We talked to several Uwajimaya employees, but we still couldn’t figure it out so we decided to forego the noodles.

At Lynn’s house, we got everything ready to go into the pot.

Shabu-shabu ingredients

And then we got to cooking. I think the strongest appeal of shabu-shabu is that it’s pretty hard to mess it up.

Shabu-shabu pot and meat

Mahnaz suggested that we put some of the meat directly on the heat source for the shabu-shabu pot to essentially grill it. This is something Ellen never does, but we tried it, and it was delicious.

Shabu-shabu pot

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Thursday night dinner: Polish edition

The Thursday night girls had so much at the inaugural Polish holiday dinner at Lynn’s house last year, that we decided to do it once again in 2009 (and possibly make it an annual tradition). As you can see in the photo above, that means we had plenty of pierogi, kielbasa and haluski.

Lynn got herself an early Christmas present and bought some new Wusthof knives, which she used to cut the cabbage for the haluski. (Congrats, Lynn, you have real knives and now are officially an adult.)

Because we needed veggies, Tara brought some homemade pickled carrots and cauliflower.

And Mahnaz stirfried some green beans, which added lovely color to our plates.

I brought an assortment of desserts from Bakery Noveau in West Seattle: pear tarts, praline cake and chocolate cake.

Since Jill’s in-laws were in town, we thought she couldn’t make it, but she was able to stop by and pose by the Christmas tree.

Michelle brought us all slipper socks, which we all wore by the virtual fireplace as we sang along to “Last Christmas” by Wham!

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When Ellen is away, penne is in play

I will eat just about anything and have few food hang-ups. So I find people’s food dislikes and “food rules” fascinating. For example, my friend Ellen, the fabulous host of the Thursday “Girl’s Night” dinners, doesn’t like any kind of short pasta. To Ellen, pasta means noodles, and noodles only. To each her own, but what this means is that Ellen, who loves comfort food, doesn’t partake in the ultimate comfort food–macaroni and cheese. This is totally baffling to me!

Ellen was out of town this past Thursday, but all of us still gathered for Thursday night dinner. Since Ellen wasn’t going to be there, Michelle decided to make penne with cheese and ham for our entree. It was delicious and the perfect thing to tuck into on a cold autumn night.

Pasta and cheese

Tara made two great side dishes: stuffed mushrooms and a cold carrot salad.

Stuffed mushrooms

Carrot salad

I had the pleasure of preparing dessert this week, and I chose to make a pear and ginger crisp. The recipe called for chopped up crystallized ginger in the topping, which added a nice spiciness and aroma to the dish.

Pear and ginger crisp

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Stop what you’re doing and make this chocolate cake RIGHT NOW (it’s that good)

Photo by Patricia Heal

Photo by Patricia Heal


A few weeks ago, my friend Lynn made chocolate stout layer cake for dessert for Thursday night dinner at Ellen’s. I must admit that I was skeptical. Sure, I know that certain stout beers have a dark chocolate flavor, so a pairing of beer and chocolate isn’t that out there. But still, I was afraid that the malt flavor would overwhelm the chocolate in a cake.

Boy, was I wrong.

The cake Lynn made was easily one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever had. (And I have eaten a lot of cake.) It was rich but not too dense and the beer perfectly accentuated the chocolate. Too often frosting is an afterthought, but this time it was an essential element of the cake.

Also, this cake was incredibly moist. So moist that I saved a piece from Thursday night dinner, and when I ate it on Sunday (yes, three days later), it was still as moist as when it was first made!

If you’re looking to be the star of the next potluck you attend or to curry favor with your favorite chocolate lover, look no further than this cake. Click here now to get the amazing recipe.

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“But it’s breakfast for supper. Your favorite, Paulie.”

I didn’t need to watch Juno to know that having breakfast for dinner kicks butt.

My Thursday night dinner crew shares the sentiment, and in June, we had a potato and leek frittata, waffles, bacon, sausage, fruit salad and mimosas in honor of our friend Jill’s birthday.

Who needs cake when you've got a birthday frittata?

Who needs cake when you've got a birthday frittata?

Tara brought her circus waffle maker, which produces waffles in the shape of a lion, elephant, circus tent and clown (shudder).

Tara brought her circus waffle maker, which produces waffles in the shape of a lion, elephant, circus tent and clown (shudder).

Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions.

All together now: mmmm...bacon.

All together now: mmmm...bacon.

A balanced breakfast.

A balanced breakfast.

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Figs, pigs and lions

My friend Tara and her husband H. recently purchased their first home, and they graciously hosted this past Thursday’s Girl’s Night dinner at their new digs.

We started the night with some cheese, figs and meat treats from Salumi. I bought them at the Metropolitan Market in West Seattle, which has a robust selection of Italian cured meats. We tried four varieties: sopressata, mole salami, mollinari hot salami and finnochiona salami.

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We had pan-seared pork loin for our main course and an interesting side dish–roasted baby carrots with black olives and garlic.

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I didn’t think I would enjoy these three flavors together, but the sweetness of the carrots and saltiness of the olives complemented each other, and the garlic wasn’t overpowering.

In remembrance of the “lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, Lynn made a commemorative cocktail. It consisted of light rum, bitters, lemon juice, grenadine and powdered sugar. According to the recipe, it was called the “White Lion,” which was very confusing because the drink is actually pink.

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Mahnaz made a pudding dessert with bananas and vanilla wafers from Trader Joe’s, which she claims are far superior to the classic NILLA Wafers. I call for a blind taste test! And plenty of milk.

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Oh yes, it’s ladies night

So the Thursday morning after the Top Chef Masters finale, I was a little bummed because Hubert Keller lost, but I wasn’t down for too long because I had dinner at my friend Ellen’s house to look forward to. As I wrote a few months ago, every Thursday Ellen hosts a “Girls Night” at her home.

Ellen is a fabulous cook and host. She usually prepares an entree and then the rest of us sign up to bring salad, bread, wine or dessert. Along with Ellen, my weekly dining companions are Mahnaz, Tara, Jill, Lynn and Michelle. Although it’s “Girls Night,” men are welcome so Ellen’s husband, Jeff, is also at the table and other spouses make frequent appearances. Half of us are new moms so there are also a few babies in the mix as well as Jeff and Ellen’s dachsund, Chaplin.

This past Thursday, we celebrated the return of Project Runway with an all-appetizers menu.

Jill made garam masala deviled eggs and ham tartines.

Garam masala deviled eggs

Ham tartines

Tara brought a fancy cheese plate and a not-so-fancy, but delicious, sweet dip for strawberries made with cream cheese and marshmallow fluff.

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Strawberries and dip

Ellen prepared Italian meatballs and Jamaican chicken bites.

Meat balls

Jamaican chicken bites

Mahnaz roasted an assortment of vegetables dusted with curry powder.

Roasted vegetables

And I attempted to recreate a Tom Douglas appetizer I had tasted at an event. It was a thin slice of granny smith apple topped with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill. I couldn’t find any creme fraiche at the grocery store so I used sour cream instead. They turned out surprisingly well!

Apples with salmon and dill

Lynn rounded out things with amazing chocolate and peanut butter brownie bites.

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Tara and Mahnaz dressed up for Project Runway viewing and looked fierce. (I wore sweats.)

Tara and Mahnaz

The lone male that evening was Ellen’s baby boy, Jonah.

Ellen and Jonah

The food was awesome, the company divine. And Project Runway? I enjoyed the All-Stars edition much more than the season 6 premiere, although there was way too much Santino for my taste. Season 6 has way too many designers to keep track of, and I thought the challenge of creating an outfit for a “red carpet event” was pretty dull.

Speaking of fashion, who designed the outfit for the lead singer in this video? If your client says, “I’d like a floor length jacket that looks like a brick wall,” you should say no.

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Part 4: It’s my birthday so I’ll eat what I want to

Every Thursday is “Girl’s Night” at my friend Ellen’s house. Ellen usually cooks, but tonight our friend Mahnaz made Indian food for dinner. She had taken a class on Indian cooking and wanted to test her skills. Here’s what was on the menu.

Chicken tikka masala
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Dal made with red lentils
dal

Raita with cucumber and tomato and naan
raita-and-naan

Since it was my birthday, I brought dessert, which was a rainbow cake from Kauai Family Restaurant. The flavors are guava, passion fruit and mango. (For those keeping score, this was the third piece of cake I had today!)
rainbow-cake

This delicious dinner was a great end to a food-packed day. Happy birthday to me!

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