Special occasions are meant to be just that: special. So when your husband, who has the audacity to schedule his birthday the same week as Easter (you know, the very Easter in which you pretty much cooked and cleaned for four straight days), asks that you celebrate his birthday by "making a nice dinner," it takes every ounce of self-control to smile sweetly and say "I'd be happy to." A nice dinner, fortunately, doesn't mean you have to kill yourself. If I can't make dinner reservations for his birthday, I'll do the next best thing: I'll make dinner very, very easy.
My real strategy is to do what I can to elicit some assistance from the birthday boy himself. This will not be an easy feat, although my husband is a man of many talents. He can, for example, pick a wine to pair with both both roasted chicken and salmon (pinot noir, in case you're wondering). An avid Red Sox fan, he can tell you the score at the end of each inning of every game of the 1986 World Series and who played what position (although, I would highly advise against any mention of Game 6 and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named at First Base). He's also a mean painter and can paint all day with nary a drop on the floor or his clothes. Notwithstanding these skills, cooking, alas, is not among them.
Grilling, however, is not cooking. In the suburban male lexicon, grilling has its own exalted place. Just like getting out the power saw and taking down bushes and trees is not yard work, grilling is not cooking. It is a task that men relish because it channels their inner cave-man. An open fire upon which they place slabs of raw meat lets them hearken back to the days when they ran around in nothing but animal skins killing mastodons. Good times, good times. Of course, ever in touch with my inner cave-woman, all I had to do was put on a tight, low-cut shirt, lean in and breathlessly suggest that "we" (snicker) grill some steaks. No surprise there when he simply nodded vapidly and concurred.
Main course? Check.
And because "we" are now grilling steaks, one side dish is already preordained--baked potatoes. Next to steak (which hubby will cook) baked potatoes are the easiest thing in the world to make. Scrub a couple of potatoes. Wrap in foil. Pierce a few times with a fork. Toss into a 375 degree oven for about an hour. Serve with sour cream, butter, and chives if you have to be fancy about it.
Side Dish? Check.
Salad--OK we might have to exert a little energy here, because the best thing to pair with steak and potatoes is a good chopped salad finished with blue cheese dressing. Toss together the following--bite-sized romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, crumbled bacon, finely chopped scallions or chives, and thinly sliced mushrooms. Toss with blue cheese dressing, which you make as follows--blend together: 1/3 cup light or fat free sour cream (believe it or not, but fat free sour cream is not only edible, but it tastes halfway decent; when mixed with a strong stinky cheese like a blue cheese, you won't notice that it's not the high-testosterone stuff), 1/2 cup light mayonnaise, 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese, one clove of garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Vegetables. We had asparagus for Easter, but they're amazing this time of year, they pair beautifully with steak, and they're frightfully easy to make, so let's do it again. Of course, my arm is still stiff from making the hollandaise sauce, so instead we'll roast them with Parmesan. Wash asparagus and trim off the course ends. Place in a roasting pan and toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Cover the middle third generously with thin slices of good Parmesan-reggiano cheese. Roast for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
And since we have out our slab of Parmesan cheese, we might as well make an easy appetizer. Grate about 1/2 cup Parmesan into a shallow bowl of about 1/2 cup olive oil. You can now dip a really good crusty fresh bread into the olive oil, but--oh shoot, but we don't have any bread. HEY HONEY--can you do me a FAVOR? (More snickering).
What a bizarre coincidence. The only item left on our menu is dessert and hubby just happens to be on his way to a really good bakery buying that crusty bread. Have him purchase one Boston Cream Pie because, you know, he loves his Red Sox.
Nice, easy, birthday dinner? Check.