Author Archives: Donata

Friday Night Dinner

I always look forward to Friday night; its arrival is inevitably welcome at the end of a long week, and as the day winds down, my focus shifts to the big question – what’s for dinner? If my husband and I don’t have plans, we usually opt for a low-key evening, either walking over to one of our favorite     local restaurants, or staying in and cooking something that one (or both) of us has been craving.

On a recent Friday, my husband was quick to respond when I inquired, “what do you feel like doing for dinner?” “Risotto,” he replied decisively. I love making (and eating) risotto, so I was definitely on board. It can take a little more effort than we might be able to commit during the work week, which makes it a great choice for a Friday night. Risotto requires some regular attention while it’s cooking, a perfect excuse to pour ourselves a couple of glasses of wine and catch up on the day’s events while we keep an eye on dinner.

As far as what should go into the risotto, I racked my brain – and my cookbooks – for some inspiration, and decided to try Italian sweet sausage and fennel. Diced fennel makes a great addition to risotto – it imparts a subtle, mellow flavor and retains some bite even when its cooked. And together with the sausage, it made a hearty and comforting dish – perfect for an early autumn night. The base for this risotto recipe comes from a great class I took at the Ashburton Cookery School in the UK a few years back. I always refer to this recipe when I’m making a risotto. It’s a great reference for the basic ingredients, quantities and technique.

Since I was feeling ambitious, I also made dessert – molten chocolate cake – courtesy of another recipe I picked up during my cooking course at Ashburton. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe; the toughest part is nailing the cooking time. It can vary by several minutes depending on your oven, so it may take some trial and error. Don’t worry if you miss the mark the first time around and overcook them a bit – the result will be more cake and less molten, but it will still taste great.

I hope these recipes give you and your other half some inspiration for a delicious start to your     weekend! Keep reading for the recipes…


A week with Maia & Pat

Meet Maia & PatMaia & Pat

Where do you live? Cincinnati, OH

How long? 1.5 years

Favorite foods? Maia – chocolate, Nutella, crusty French baguettes, full-fat Fage yogurt, strawberry ice cream, anything with coconut, lamb chops, veal cutlets, short ribs, duck breast and poached eggs (and I could think of more if I had time!); Pat – steak

How often do you eat together? We eat dinner together almost every night, and we usually eat brunch together on the weekends.

Who’s the cook at your house? Pat is the fried egg & grill expert. Maia takes care of everything else.

What’s your go-to meal(s)? We love lamb burgers with some baked sweet potato “fries” on the side – amazing. We’re both big fans of steak. We might have a filet mignon with a side of asparagus on the weekend, but on a weeknight we’ll go for a simpler version of that dish – like flank steak with a big salad. Lately, we’ve been making our version of a Greek salad almost every night, with tomatoes, cucumbers, sauteed bell peppers, and a generous slab of feta cheese on top (even better when it’s roasted in the oven!). Maia’s Bulgarian, so she’d call this a shopska salad, but Pat’s christened it the “Maia salad.”

What’s your ideal meal? Maia – it definitely involves lots of tasting and sharing, and some good friends. A tapas style spread with warm olives, a couple of good cheeses, some cured meats, grilled flank steak, roasted peppers, an arugula salad and some good crusty French bread would do it; Pat – steak.

How has your relationship influenced the way you eat? Maia – When I was living alone, it wasn’t uncommon for dinner to be made up of a couple of types of cheese, a couple of slices of that crusty baguette I’m obviously craving and a glass of red wine. In the last year and a half, we have had a grand total of one meatless dinner. And Pat limits his intake of refined carbs so the baguette is out too. We eat more meat than I did before, and probably more salads as well. We eat fewer sweets (not counting the ones I sneak in at the office), almost no bread, pastries, rice or potatoes, and almost never go out during the week. But we can blame our puppy for that last one – we hate to leave her alone at night after being at work all day; Pat – I eat significantly better than when I was by myself, and I find myself much more interested in food and trying a wider variety of foods.

What surprised you about each other’s eating habits after you moved in together? Maia – I had no idea that Pat was so disciplined!; Pat – I had no idea that Maia had such strong feelings about bread!

What are your guilty pleasures? Maia – I sneak in most of my “bad” eating at the office. If Pat didn’t see me eat those three Ferrero Rochers, they don’t count, right?; Pat – If I’m stressed, I can eat large quantities of food, and it isn’t always good for me. I can go through half a box of girl scout cookies if it’s a stressful time.

What’s one thing you can’t agree on? Maia – Pat is very disciplined. If something isn’t good for him, he won’t eat it – at all. I’m much more moderate – I like to eat everything and I don’t feel badly about it, but I do try to keep the proportions on the healthier side. (Pat agreed!)

Any dietary restrictions? If so, how does it impact your meals?  Maia – Pat avoids all the tasty starches: bread, rice, potatoes, anything with flour in it, etc. We pretty much don’t keep that stuff in the house and substitute with more vegetables, fruit and meat. Full disclosure though – I’ll indulge when we are out; Pat –  I agree, Maia is much more moderate than me and does a good job of trying to keep up with my diet. If I’m around it, I’ll eat it and she is pretty considerate about not putting “it” in front of me.

Let’s see what was on their table…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can find more profiles at A week with….the archivesIf you’d like to be featured on A Week With…, contact me here.

Spinach salad with dates & almonds

A few weeks ago, we had some friends over for dinner to celebrate my husband’s birthday. My favorite part of having friends over for dinner – besides the great company – is planning the menu. Whether it’s nibbles or a sit down dinner, I love pulling together a handful of dishes that will serve as the backdrop to a great night. For this occasion, we promptly turned to Jerusalem, a cookbook that has been getting a lot of love in our kitchen since my husband bought it for me as a Christmas present. Very simply stated, it’s a collection of recipes from the various cuisines that meet in its eponymous city, and it has inspired many a meal that we’ve cooked in 2013, including my husband’s birthday dinner. One of our favorite recipes from the book is a spinach salad with dates, topped with spiced toasted pita bread and almonds – sweet, spicy and crunchy. And it went down well with our friends too – clean plates all around and a few requests for the recipe too. If you’re looking for a unique salad (and I’m always looking for them), then give this recipe a spin.  

Spinach salad with dates and almonds

Serves 4

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced

3 ½ oz Medjool dates, pitted and quartered lengthwise

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

about 3 ½ oz pita bread (or 2 small pitas), roughly torn into 1 ½-inch pieces

½ cup whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped

2 tsp sumac

½ tsp crushed red pepper

5 oz baby spinach leaves

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


  1. Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bow. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the torn pita and the chopped almonds and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove the pita from the heat and mix in the sumac, crushed red pepper and a pinch or two of salt.
  3. When you’re ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

Featured Couple: Lee & Ashleigh

Meet our feature couple, Ashleigh and Lee, based in New York. They’ve been living together for 4 years. Ashleigh’s a teacher and Lee’s an architect, and in their spare time you’re likely to find them at their local CrossFit gym.

Ashleigh & Lee

Breakfast at Lee and Ashleigh's

Breakfast at Lee and Ashleigh’s

Steak dinner

A steak dinner at home

When it comes to food, they try to make sure that their healthy habits from the gym carry over to the kitchen. Ashleigh started experimenting with the “Paleo” diet a few years back (that’s a diet based on unprocessed foods like meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and nuts – no sugar, grains or dairy allowed), and Lee joined her to show his support. Since then, they’ve gone through phases they would describe as “really Paleo” and others that are less so, and either way, the philosophy informs their approach to a healthy diet. Continue reading

A week with Alex & Ben

Alex&BenMeet our latest couple, Ben & Alex

Where do you live? Washington, DC

How long? We just (officially) moved in together two months ago!

Favorite foods? Alex – anything with prosciutto, basil and cilantro; Ben – tacos or a good Margherita pizza

How often do you eat together? Five to six nights a week

Who’s the cook at your house? Alex

What’s your go-to meal(s)? Alex – I don’t have one; Ben – baked chicken, white rice and corn

What’s your ideal meal? Alex – something salty, with a protein and a veggie; Ben – my mother’s fried chicken, Alex’s dad’s pepperoni rolls, my grandmother’s collard greens, corn bread, my sister’s Texas sheet cake and my mother’s Carolina sweet tea (hopefully not all in one sitting!)

How has your relationship influenced the way you eat? Alex – I eat a lot more rice; Ben – I eat far more complex dishes and more Italian cuisine

What surprised you about each other’s eating habits after you moved in together? Ben – Alex never mixes her foods when eating.

What are your guilty pleasures? Alex – chips and raw cookie dough are my weakness; Ben – I love both salty and sweet which makes snacking quite an adventure since I need to satisfy both types of cravings. Oreo cookies and Lucky Charms never get old either.

What’s one thing you can’t agree on? Alex – Ben thinks I’m afraid of salt, and I think he goes overboard with it.

What’s the best meal you ever shared? Both – We loved everything about dinner at Volt Restaurant in Frederick, MD – the presentation, the service, the flavors. We liked it so much that  we’ve made it an annual event!

Let’s see what was on their table last week.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can find more profiles at A week with….the archivesIf you’d like to be featured on A Week With…, contact me here.

Welcome to the dinner for two!

Welcome to the dinner for two!

I created the dinner for two to chronicle the highs and lows of sharing and preparing meals with your other half. It’s a place to share stories, photos and recipes about the meals we eat with our partners, from the everyday to the exceptional.

Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear from you, so if you’d got questions, feedback or just want to say hello, you can contact me here.