Cooking with Friends

My daughter challenged me to write a blog post every day using a topic she chooses.

Tonight our friend Jenn and her son Phillip came over for dinner and hanging out. Phil hung out with Marci all evening and they talked about Destiny II and who knows what else while Ann, Jenn, and I cooked dinner and drank margaritas. Let’s stop for a minute and deconstruct this. Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, we did the following:

  • Listened to Irish music (specifically, this Spotify Playlist)
  • Drank Margaritas
  • Cooked a Middle Eastern dish

So, it was a very global take on St. Patrick’s Day. Anyway, the dish we made was Brown Rice Bowl with Lentils, Caramelized Onions & Fried Egg. This is a dish we’ve made once before and it was a big hit. Of course, none of us really read through the recipe before we started because we were all so busy gabbing. So I used water to cook the Lentils in the Instant Pot and to cook the rice in the Zojirushi instead of chicken broth. And after cooking and starting to caramelize the onions, I decided to just dump the lentils and rice into the (very large) pan and do a little fried rice type thing for a few minutes while adding chicken broth. The end result was delicious.

This is from a year ago when we last made this. In fact, this is the next morning when I used the leftovers to make breakfast.

Normally when I cook, I try to stick as close to the recipe as possible. Usually it’s because I know that if I do, it will come out well and taste great. With some recipes, I have learned over the years to branch out and have some fun with it. But when I cook with friends, recipes often go out the window and we just have fun with it.

One time, I was cooking with a friend of mine (and for some reason I cannot remember right now who it was, it was more than 20 years ago at this point). I was making homemade pizza, spinning my own dough (what a showoff!) and making my own sauce (I made both a red sauce and basil pesto). We were getting punchy I joked, “I know! I’ll do a pesto sauce, feta cheese, and apple slices!”) She looked at me and said, “Do it!” And I did and it was incredible.

About seven years ago (or so) out friends Jamie, Sean, and Amy came to spend Boxing day plus a few more days with us (it was just after we moved into the house we live in now.) I said that I would cook my favorite dish, Chicken Marsala. This is a dish that I have to try every time I find a restaurant that serves it. I also have a thing about Marsala wine and that translates into an obsession to Zabaglione Gelato (which I have made for friends in the five minutes we had a working ice cream maker many years ago, but I digress.) Anyway, we went shopping and I was able to get everything I needed: chicken, pancetta, mushrooms, and so forth. But Rhode Island has (had?) stupid blue laws and because it was a Sunday, we were unable to find any open liquor stores (grocery stores in Rhode Island are not allowed to carry any alcohol) to get marsala wine. Well, this is a problem since the dish kind of has marsala in its name.

Jamie said that his aunt was a chef and he called her to ask her if there were any viable substitutions we could make. She said that grape juice and some extra sugar (or something like that) would do the trick and so we decided to give that a shot. The only problem? The only grape juice we could find was purple. In the end, it ended up tasting… well, it wasn’t marsala, but it tasted pretty good. Except the chicken was purple! It was the chromatic opposite of green eggs and ham!

My last anecdote was from a few years back. Jenn brought her friend Garen over thinking that Garen and I would cook brunch for all of us. Ann and Jenn thought this would be a lot of fun (I am sure because they would drink mimosas while Garen and I did all the work.) I was very nervous about this because Garen is a Johnson & Wales trained chef and I am a guy who goofs around with recipes. I thought, what on Earth could I possibly bring to this meal? Well, after we went shopping at Whole Foods, we returned home and made two amazing frittatas. I learned a great deal from him and we had a blast cooking together.

I love cooking but cooking with friends is my favorite thing. The house we moved out of 7 years ago to come here was not an open plan house. The kitchen was out in the former breezeway and far away from everyone else. Anytime we had friends over, I would be all by myself way out in the kitchen. In this house, the kitchen and dining room are a huge open room and friends are right there hanging out and having fun while we are all working together (or even if I am flying solo and they are just hanging out with us) and that is a vast improvement over the previous house. If I could, I’d cook for friends all the time, not just once in a while. So, come on by!

A Good Cuppa

This is the first cup of coffee where I do not feel the need to add sweetener. I’ve been using Sucralose or Aspartame for years but I’ve also been drinking Keurig-brewed coffees. For too long, I’ve been fine with that. The coffee had superficial flavorings (scents, really) that made them somewhat interesting and I never really thought much about it. However, lately, something shifted inside me and I decided that so-so coffee was no longer good enough.

I first tried coffee for real after college when I was working at my first job in the computer center at Dartmouth College. It was your standard Bunn affair, standard office coffee made from old grounds in a giant filter in industrial quantities. It was ok and I made it better by adding a packet of Swiss Miss to it. I wanted better (and there were no coffee houses in the area yet) and I couldn’t afford a coffee machine, so I got a plastic drip thingy for my mug. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various coffee machines (I still miss the Capresso combination drip coffee maker and espresso machine that we got as a wedding present) with varying results. When my mother-in-law moved in with us, we got the Keurig so she could make herself coffee (she was too old and frail to do anything more complicated than that) and we made do. If I wanted something stronger or better tasting, I would head out to Starbucks (yes, I actually like Starbucks coffee) or Brewed Awakenings, where you can get personal French Press coffee at your table. My wife doesn’t put sweetener in her coffee and is always on me to break the habit. But every time I try it, I just can’t do it and give up before too long.

Out with the old…

Yesterday, I bought a Chemex and some of their square, brown paper filters and began experimenting. The first cup was good. Certainly better tasting than anything the Keurig ever made, but I knew it could be better. So today, I did some googling and found http://Ineedcoffee.com and followed the instructions I found there for using a scale and weighing things more precisely. With a 17:1 water-to-coffee ratio, I ended up with this amazing cup of coffee. And I tried some without sweetener and it tasted good. It was interesting and had some flavor notes I had never detected before. I didn’t feel the need to put sweetener in. Just some half and half and that was it (I did try a sip black but I think cream brings out some flavors and takes the edge off the coffee).

Ignore the sriracha in the background…

Maybe using a Chemex, scale, thermometer, and kettle to make my coffee makes me a hipster. But I got into it long after it was cool so I doubt it. All I know is that I needed my coffee to be better. And now it is.