There's nothing better than cooking with friends to get back into the swing of being in the kitchen. When I was in college, I cooked fairly often with friends, but in recent years, it's a rare occasion that I have the opportunity to do so. Last weekend, I went up to Cris and Taylor's apartment in San Jose for a cooking extravaganza. When I got there, Cris had a number of cookbooks and magazines spread out on the kitchen table and was planning what to make for our dinner feast. After much discussion, the three of us finally settled on a menu:
• Pizza with chicken sausage, mozzerella, ricotta, and yellow tomatoes with an herb crust.
• Mixed greens salad with baked goat cheese.
• Risotto bianco with basil-spinach pesto.
• Flank steak with "brandied" mushrooms.
• Berries with amaretto whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
After a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up the items they didn't have on hand, we each took charge of various parts of the meal. Taylor got to work on the pizza by browning some chicken sausage, Cris started making the pesto, and I put the blackberries and strawberries in a bowl to mascerate with some Meyer lemon juice and honey. Nothing we cooked with was organic, although some of the produce had come from their local farmers' market. And, you know, while I might usually object to eating that way, I'm not about to start lecturing my friends about their eating habits. This was the very first time we'd ever cooked together, and they aren't familiar with my food philosophy. I know we'll cook together more in the future, and over time, I'll start talking more about why I eating organic and local is important to me. I don't expect to change anyone's mind, but maybe next time, I'll be the one doing the shopping and I can show them how much better tasting organic foods are.
I was also in charge of the steak and mushrooms, but since that needed the least amount of time to cook, I helped Cris with her risotto, since I've made risotto like a million times. She said it was nice to cook with someone who knew what she was doing, as the other friends she's cooked with are still only learning to cook. I thought it was pretty nice myself — the three of us did a sort of dance as we worked around each other, using each other's utensils, ingredients, and stove space.
My contribution was from Tyler Florence's latest cookbook and required little more than pan-grilling some steak (we opted for the cheaper flank), sauteeing whole crimini mushrooms, then making a brandy cream sauce. Since no one wanted to spend ten bucks for an entire bottle of brandy, I used red wine instead. Easy — and ridiculously delicious.
The pizza was done while we were still working on the main course, so we ate slices of pizza and drank glasses of white wine while we stirred and grilled and checked for doneness. Finally, we were ready to sit down for the meal. There was tons of food and lots of red wine. I was so full that I couldn't finish everything on my paste — and there was still dessert to go!
We sat around the living room for a while, digesting and playing a board game called "Kill Dr. Lucky." When we were finally ready for more food, Cris whipped some cream, I kept an eye on the melting chocolate in the microwave, and Taylor opened the bottle of raspberry wine that we'd gotten at Trader Joe's. The wine was surprising, because I'd had raspberry wine before but it didn't taste like this one did. It was like drinking a glass of liquified raspberry jam, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's definitely a wine I would buy again. Only Cris and I had the berries with cream and chocolate; Taylor opted for a Dreyer's ice cream bar instead.
It was an excellent way to spend an evening: cooking, eating, having good conversations with friends. I left with a tupperware of leftovers, plus a book and some graphic novels that Taylor wanted me to read. I definitely look forward to more adventures in cooking with these guys.