Friday, July 12, 2013

Apéritif Friday - With a Special Couple

Last week my adorable sister-in-law and her sweet fiancé paid us a visit to celebrate Independence Day.
They stayed with us for five days, and it was such a treat to have no schedule, no pressure to be anywhere at anytime, and a chance to get to know and understand each other better. Of course I know Jen and Pat, but hanging out at holiday get-togethers doesn't a strong relationship make. I could easily make excuses for this, arguing that we are at different points in our lives, a decade apart in age which is nearly a generation, live 45 miles away, which given Chicagoland traffic, is further then it seems, and this would all be true. But the fact remains that we have some work to do in terms of being closer sisters-in-law, and I'm happy to report that we are well on our way.

So with the kids still at camp, it was such a blast to have just the four of us together for an extended period of time. And this may sound selfish, but I was glad to not have to share our time with them among other family members. We had them all to ourselves.

What did we do? Ate. Chatted. Drank. Boated. Laughed. Swam. Played games. Repeat.

Pat and I made fun of two siblings who can't pronounce the word "astronomer." They say it the same way - "astromoner!" with added verve every time they try. Hilarious. Equally funny was the mysterious gorilla that appeared at their window one night before bed - Jen nearly packed it up and left. The older brother prankster lives on.
On the last day Jen learned a new phrase on Urban Dictionary. Clearly, she is appalled, but Pat is happy. Hmmmmm...
Despite growing up in a household that had about ten dinners in the rotation repertoire, Jen's palate certainly morphed over the years into a sophisticated, broad range of tastes. Which is, as you might guess, right up my alley.

We made campfire filets with horseradish twice baked potatoes and proscuitto wrapped asparagus one night.
All so good, and even better while watching boaters gearing up for July 4th festivities on the lake.
We prepare the filets the same as rib eyes, but Mr. Musky puts an aluminum cover on them when they are cooking over the campfire to help keep the heat in. They get a great char that way, and also cook to medium-rare perfection. For the potatoes, I drizzled three potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and baked them at 375 degrees for about an hour. Once they cooled a bit, I cut them in half lengthwise, scooped out the flesh into a bowl, then added about 1/2 stick of butter, a splash of heavy cream, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup monterey jack pepper cheese. After adding 2T of horseradish, I sprinkled in some garlic powder, salt and pepper and mixed it all together. I spooned the mixture back into the potato shells and baked them under the broiler until golden brown on top.

Jen and Pat made these chicken skewers another night, with a zippy, flavorful zucchini salad to accompany it.
Watching them cook together could be a reality TV show. Jen is definitely in charge, Pat is the Sous Chef, and they go at it when Pat is not reading Jen's mind and cooking the food exactly as she doesn't communicate.
We sat back and giggled to ourselves the entire time. Their dinner had a great spice in the chicken balanced by a refreshing vinaigrette on the vegetable dish, and the toasted pine nuts in the salad gave a satisfying crunch for texture. Best of all? We didn't cook, kicked back on the deck, and relaxed with Miller. Who tried his darndest to win Jen over all week, but the jury's still out on that one.
I finally had to step in and help out while they were, cooking dinner. Because an empty glass of wine is simply not acceptable.
 So I made Jen an apéritif, to Pat's grateful thanks, to simmer her down.
I juiced an orange, added a splash of mint simple syrup, a couple of ounces of vodka and topped it off with some club soda. Garnished it with an orange slice and a couple of mint leaves - Viola! A cool, refreshing summer drink.

We also enjoyed a true Wisconsin meal the night they arrived - bratwurst boiled in beer then charred to perfection over the charcoal grill, along with some awesome veal sausage that we order from Paulina Market. Topping off the brats, as always, were some caramelized onions and peppers.

Their final night we smoked a lamb roast on the new electric smoker (more to come on that gem in a future post) with a plethora of sides:  tzatziki with naan bread, pea pods and tomatoes sautéed in EVOO,  Greek salad with tomato, cucumber and feta and creamed spinach. If greens are good for a body, then we overachieved.
We opened my birthday present on lamb night - Stepping Stone Syrah - that Jen tasted while working in Napa - and it paired perfectly with the lamb. It is so good, I might just have to order myself some more.
Clearly, their presence happily distracted me and I did not photograph the ingredients or steps as I normally do. But that, my friends, is called being in the moment. And I soaked it up like a sponge with these family members all week. We laughed until we cried, talked about the exciting upcoming events in their lives, and anxiously awaited the news of the birth of Jen's best friend's baby girl, who was born on Tuesday and is healthy and beautiful.

I look forward to continuing to live vicariously through Jen and Pat. I don't want to go back for a replay in my own life, but I'll pull up a chair in the front row to watch theirs unfold. Mr. Musky and I will cheer their successes and be there to help them through the rough patches.

And be the first Auntie and Uncle in line when the babies start coming. I'm ready.

Enjoy your family!


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