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What We Eat When We Eat Alone Part 13

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A woman told us of a meal she cooked for her girlfriend when they were first getting together. It included oysters and a big steak-they're both Texans-but also contained a little surprise, because the one cooking had done some undercover work beforehand. Talking to the mother of her intended girlfriend, she found out what her favorite foods were, then made one of them as well-shrimp remoulade. It made a lasting-an effective-impression that she had taken that extra step to surprise her lover with her secret knowledge of a favorite dish.

Food is used not only to woo someone into bed but into one's life as a new friend, with the possibility of becoming a lover, or not. The food we offer might well lead to marriage, which shows how powerful cooking for another can be.

"The dish that made me marry my husband," reports one woman, "was his mole poblano, and the fact that he spent days making it. When I got to his house, there was something in the air I had never smelled before. It was utterly amazing!

"But," she adds, "it was also a high-pressure meal. What if I hadn't liked it? I don't know what would have happened. But I did like it. And now he makes his moles in far less time."

This story was told over a dinner with five Minnesotan women I had met while on a book tour. In answer to my question, what would you cook if you wanted to seduce someone, the youngest woman, a pretty blond publicist about twenty-five years old, shrugged and said that she'd have to make her spaghetti with red sauce because that was all she knew how to cook.



"But," her companions chimed in, "cooking anything for someone says that you care!" And the sign of a caring person is no small matter.

A friend of ours was in a professional relationship with a woman for a period of time. When it was clear that part of their relationship should be over so that it might blossom in other ways, he invited her to dinner. But this wasn't merely dinner. It was a meal that invited her into his life.

"I made my usual pasta puttanesca," he explained, "but I served it on a large platter. And I cooked a whole pound of spaghetti, which is way too much for two people, but I wanted there to be this feeling of plenty."

Another special touch came with the tomatoes. "There were red and yellow tomatoes, but instead of dicing them up as I usually do, I cut them into fans and lay them around the pasta."

The beautiful presentation, the generous platter that would necessitate the lifting and serving of the pasta, made me think of the Bowerbird arraying his colored stones to attract his mate with the promise of a beautifully furnished home. This meal was a gift, an offering. (And it did work.) Cooking together also has a seductive power. Maybe it's the nerves, the excitement combined with the chances of colliding into each other while stirring the risotto or opening the oysters. And there's the challenge of doing something together that's slightly tricky, like rolling out long sheets of pasta or shaping ravioli.

"We'd make fajitas!" sparked one of the Minnesotans.

Fajitas? I was thinking of foods a little less prosaic than fajitas, but then she added, "All that chopping and mixing would be fun to do with someone," and I saw her point. You could make fried egg sandwiches and it would be fun.

"Fondue," suggested another woman at the table, her choice for a seductive dish. Curious, because fondue is one of those few dishes that involves cooking and eating at the same time.

"The dipping of the bread, the small amounts," she elaborated, "we'd feed each other bites of the cheese and wine-soaked bread."

"Our first date was a cooking date," Eric says. He's telling me about getting together with the woman he eventually married. "We made a Spanish dish, a lasagna of sorts. It was so complicated. She was nervous-she cut herself twice. We probably should have made something simpler. It took so long to make that we were exhausted by the time we sat down to eat."

The first meal I made for Patrick when I knew we'd be spending the night together was a picnic. We met in Phoenix, where neither of us lived, because we were going to hear Ram Da.s.s speak. To be outside in the warm desert air by a pool in winter seemed so luxurious that it never occurred to me to look for a restaurant. Instead, I made a number of small dishes to enjoy poolside-a lentil salad, a very green tabbouleh with tons of parsley and scallions, and roasted peppers with saffron and olive oil. Patrick politely declined all three. Legumes, onions-even in the form of scallions-and peppers, were the three foods that completely undid him, which, of course, I didn't know, so my menu was a flop.

The first food he offered me wasn't exactly seductive either, but it showed me a caring man. At that time I was thinking about marriage, and my mind was already made up about Patrick. He met me at the Little Rock airport with a take-out pizza. My first. The smell of the warm yeasty bread and the melted cheese filled his Astro van as we drove off into the night. The pizza was there in case I got hungry during the long drive to his studio-home in the woods. I was touched that he had even considered that I might be hungry and provided for that possibility.

The second offering came a few days later, on the morning of my departure. I awakened in the pre-dawn darkness to the sight and smell of a plate of slithery fried okra. This was not a food to get or keep me in bed, but I thought that it was a bold and curious move on Patrick's part. The way I saw it, he wanted me to become acquainted with "his" food. So having fried okra for breakfast was also a way of becoming more deeply acquainted with him. Have we ever fried okra in almost twenty years of marriage? Maybe once. But we've been known to order it at truck stops, mostly out of sentiment.

When we met, as is no doubt true with many couples, we didn't know each other's foodscape at all. He was a vegetarian. I wanted to stop being one. He was an artist and a Southerner; I was a cook and a Yankee. But over the years we've blended many of our tastes. We've also flipped food priorities. He is no longer a vegetarian while I regard my forays into carnivorous foods as nearly complete. When I asked him what he'd cook for me now, he gave me a menu that was oddly but truly ours.

"I'd have a bottle of Veuve Cliquot," he began. "And I'd wear an ap.r.o.n with bold stripes, something kind of French looking, not some dorky woman's ap.r.o.n or a farmers market ap.r.o.n. I would have prepared homemade pimento cheese, and I'd make panini out of that, cut it up into little wedges for the appetizer to have with the champagne. I would explain the Southern tradition of pimento cheese, and I'd read a poem where a man is behind a woman in traffic. He sees her b.u.mper sticker and it's offensive to him. So he gets out of his car and goes to her window, but then he finds her very attractive. They wonder if they can ever be friends. I'd write my version of that poem and read it.

"Then I'd open a Ridge Zinfandel, and I'd cook roasted potatoes with salt and grill lamb chops and cook some collards. In summer I'd cook yellow squash on the grill while grilling the chops. That would be dinner.

"Afterward I'd have a salad of limestone lettuce, and then I'd have fancy chocolates and coffee. And I'd read another poem that I'd write for the occasion."

He even suggested having lots of candles, though he doesn't care about candlelight for himself. But he knows that women like candles.

"And music," he adds. "Some impressionistic cla.s.sical music. Debussy. Poulenc, but not the choral music. Ravel, but not the Bolero, of course. Maybe some chamber music. I'd have to give it some thought."

This would be a quirky and utterly enjoyable meal, and we would share it with pleasure. I would be amused at the pimento cheese and champagne combination, but know that however unusual, it would be good. We would enjoy every swallow of the Ridge until it was gone. I would smile at his poems, and he'd skip the chocolate. The coffee wouldn't be decaf. It would be a long and delicious evening.

And this means a lot because sometimes food can go sideways when couples do, and it's one way you can tell that things maybe aren't so good at home. When my first husband and I were drifting apart, our cooking for one another was one of the signposts that said the nurture had gone out of our relationship.

"Your food is so subtle," he would say, clearly meaning bland. Then, after asking if I'd mind, he'd dice up a few jalapenos to throw over my goat cheese souffle or roast chicken.

"And your food is inedible," I thought to myself. I was unable to get down even a mouthful without choking on all those chiles. Every pain-laden bite produced tears.

At a certain point it was clear that we could no longer feed each other. And then, we were no longer a couple, but two single people out in the world once more. In our new lives we were each cooking solo meals, eventually planning a menu or two that might seduce another to join our worlds, and eventually, that happened. Best, we became good friends again. Today we cook and eat together every so often, but when we do, we thoroughly enjoy what have quite clearly become over time, our true culinary differences. Although living in New Mexico has toughened my tolerance for the burn of chiles, my food is still subtle and he still throws chiles on everything. I sputter and cough, and we laugh through it all.

Pimento Cheese Enough for four big panini "Mother would take blocks of American cheese, jars of Miracle Whip, and cans of pimentos, sit under the post oaks and grind them together with a clamp-on-the-table meat grinder." That's how pimento cheese was made in Patrick's family.

This version started out pretty much the way Patrick's mother's did, with pimentos and mayonnaise but Cheddar and Jack rather than American cheese. Then, feeling the pimentos were not as tasty as they once might have been, we switched to thick, jarred Spanish peppers and bolstered the mix with smoked paprika, along with plenty of pepper and a little mustard. The resulting cheese, in our a.s.sessment, can be addicting, whether on a cracker or in a sandwich.

8 OUNCES AGED CHEDDAR CHEESE, YELLOW, OR WHITE AND YELLOW MIXED.

13 CUP DICED SPANISH PEPPERS OR 1 (4-OUNCE) JAR OF PIMENTOS 2 TABLESPOONS MAYONNAISE, MORE OR LESS.

2 TEASPOONS MUSTARD.

1 TEASPOON SWEET OR HOT SMOKED PAPRIKA.

FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER-LOTS 1 SLICED SCALLION.

Grate the cheese on the coa.r.s.e holes of a grater or run it through a meat grinder if you still have one. Stir in the peppers, mayonnaise, mustard, and paprika, tasting and adjusting as you go. Finally season with plenty of freshly ground pepper and add the scallion.

Pimento Cheese Panino "Really it's just a grilled cheese sandwich. Warm grilled sandwiches taste so much better than cold cheese on bread." That's Patrick's a.s.sessment of this delicious panino.

PIMENTO CHEESE.

TWO LONG SLICES OF BREAD, SUCH AS SOURDOUGH OR COUNTRY FRENCH BREAD.

OLIVE OIL OR b.u.t.tER.

Sandwich the cheese between two slices of bread. Brush with olive oil, then grill in a panini maker until the cheese is melted and soft. Slice diagonally into long fingers, put on a plate, and serve as an appetizer for two or lunch for one.

How to Make Pimento Cheese Pimento cheese did not exist in my Yankee family, so at a recent Mardi Gras party full of Southerners, I asked each of them, "How do you make pimento cheese?"

Not surprisingly there were as many answers as people asked. Variations abounded on the cheese/pimento/mayonnaise theme: Yellow Cheddar, white Cheddar, both, or American cheese. Pimentos out of a jar or raw bell peppers. Onions, scallions, or no alliums at all. Mustard in addition to mayonnaise-or not. In place of mayonnaise, one woman used cream cheese thinned with milk. Another added diced jalapenos, perhaps a nod to her new home in the Southwest.

Scallops with Slivered Asparagus and Lemony Wine Sauce Once the asparagus are peeled and sliced, this seductive little entree comes together in just a few minutes. You'll be cooking the asparagus in one pot and the scallops in a pan, then making a pan sauce and bringing them together, but it's not so complicated to do this. It's even less so if one person does the asparagus, the other the scallops. Just talk to each other to get the timing right.

Three golden-crusted sea scallops per person should be enough-they're rich and filling.

12 OUNCES ASPARAGUS.

6 LARGE SEA SCALLOPS.

SALT AND PEPPER.

2 TABLESPOONS b.u.t.tER, IN ALL.

1 FAT SCALLION, THE WHITE PART WITH A LITTLE GREEN, FINELY CHOPPED.

1 TABLESPOON CHOPPED PARSLEY OR CHERVIL.

GRATED ZEST OF 1 (MEYER) LEMON, PLUS JUICE.

SPLASH OF WHITE WINE.

1. If the asparagus is thick, peel the stalks. Don't bother doing that with thin asparagus. Slice them diagonally up to the tips. (If you're doing this well in advance, put the asparagus in a bowl, cover with a damp towel, and refrigerate until you're ready to cook.) Peel off the opaque muscle of the scallops, if any is evident, and discard.

2. When ready to cook, put up to 8 cups of water to boil for the asparagus. Add salt, then the asparagus and boil until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain them just before they're ready as they'll continue cooking in their heat, then return them to the pan and toss with a little of the b.u.t.ter and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

3. Simultaneously, melt a tablespoon of the b.u.t.ter in a skillet. When the foam subsides, add the scallops. Cook over medium-high heat until golden on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and cook the second side. When done, have one of you divide the asparagus between two warm plates, then nestle the scallops on top.

4. Add the remaining b.u.t.ter, scallion, herbs, and lemon zest to the pan, allow the b.u.t.ter to melt and foam, then add the splash of wine and a squeeze of lemon and let it all sputter and boil. After about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, add a little pepper, and spoon the sauce over the scallops and asparagus. Serve with crusty bread to capture the juices.

Winter Squash Risotto with Parsley and Sage For two, with some left over This risotto doesn't use cooked squash, as many recipes do, but asks you, or two of you, to take the solid, thick end of a small b.u.t.ternut squash and cut it into fine little cubes. It's a little more involved, which is great if you're cooking together, and yields a pretty risotto with small, melting bits of squash among the grains of rice. Risotto is very filling, however, so plan on eating just a little followed by a salad. Any that's left over can be reheated later or turned into risotto cakes.

1 SMALL b.u.t.tERNUT SQUASH, ABOUT 1 POUND.

5 CUPS CHICKEN BROTH, VEGETABLE STOCK, OR WATER.

1 TABLESPOON EACH b.u.t.tER AND OLIVE OIL.

12 SMALL ONION, FINELY DICED 1 TABLESPOON CHOPPED FRESH SAGE LEAVES.

2 TEASPOONS CHOPPED PARSLEY LEAVES.

SALT.

1 CUP ARBORIO RICE.

14 CUP WHITE WINE CHUNK OF PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE, FINELY GRATED TO MAKE 23 CUP 1. Cut off the solid stem end of the squash, then peel it. Cut into slabs, then strips, then crosswise to make small cubes. A cup is plenty. The rest of the squash can be cooked another time. Bring the broth to a simmer and keep it over low heat on the stove.

2. Heat the b.u.t.ter and oil in a wide soup pot. Add the onion and the squash, give them a stir, and then add half the herbs and 12 teaspoon of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, then add the rice and stir once again and cook until it begins to look translucent, about 3 minutes. Pour in the wine.

3. When the rice has absorbed the wine, add 112 cups of the heated stock and simmer gently, while stirring, until it has been absorbed. Then begin adding the rest of the liquid, a half-cup or so at a time, until all has been absorbed and both the squash and the rice are cooked. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

4. Stir in most of the cheese and the remaining fresh herbs, then serve the risotto in warm bowls and scatter the remaining cheese over the top.

b.u.t.ternut Squash for One, Two Ways (or what to do with the leftover squash) Take the round end of the squash that's left over from your risotto, slice it in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Steam it over simmering water until it's very soft when you press it with your fingers, about 25 minutes. Put the squash on a plate, put some olive oil or b.u.t.ter in its cavity, and season with salt and pepper.

Or, scoop the cooked flesh into a bowl. Mash it with a fork, adding b.u.t.ter or olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and, if you are ambitious, some chopped herb-again, sage and parsley would be good (and even better if you cook them briefly in the b.u.t.ter or oil first). You could scatter toasted breadcrumbs over the squash or stir in some grated cheese, such as Fontina, fresh mozzarella, or grated Parmesan. This could be a side dish, or even your entire meal.

Warm Marsala Custard 4 small custards, 2 for dinner, and 2 for breakfast The timing might be a little tricky, but you can hold the warmth in these custards for about an hour by keeping them in their hot water bath once they come out of the oven. But even if they don't get to the table warm, there's something about custard that hasn't been refrigerated that's incomparably exquisite, rather than merely good. There's Marsala in this custard, enough to leave your guest, spoon poised, head tilted, and eyes asking, what is it?

1 CUP HALF-AND-HALF.

3 TABLESPOONS SUGAR.

3 EGG YOLKS.

13 CUP MARSALA 1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bring a kettle of water to a boil for the water bath.

2. Heat the half-and-half with the sugar in a small pan, stirring to dissolve it. While it's heating, whisk the yolks in a bowl.

3. Gradually pour the hot liquid into the yolks while stirring, but not too vigorously. You want to avoid raising a raft of bubbles. Finally, stir in the Marsala.

4. Pour the custard through a strainer into a measuring cup. Sc.r.a.pe off any excess bubbles with a spoon, then pour into four small (12-cup) ramekins. Set in a baking dish and pour in heated water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Lay a sheet of foil over the custards and bake in the center of the oven until mostly set but still slightly quivery in the center, about 25 minutes. Remove and let stand in the water bath where they will finish cooking.

Shortbread This is a simple shortbread that you can make a day or two before your dinner. It won't go bad, though it might get eaten. Make it by hand or with a mixer.

12 CUP SOFT b.u.t.tER 14 CUP SUGAR TINY PINCH OF SALT.

1 CUP FLOUR.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Beat the soft b.u.t.ter with the sugar and salt until smooth and well blended. Gradually work in the flour-I end up using my hands-until perfectly blended, then press it into a 9-inch pie tin. Resist going up the sides of the pan more than a quarter of an inch or so, or the shortbread will be too thin.

3. Take a fork, dip it in flour, and press the tines against the rim of the pastry to make a decorative design, dipping it again into flour if needed so that it won't stick. Bake until pale gold, about 25 minutes.

4. While the shortbread is still warm, use a knife to cut it into wedges, then let it cool.

Wine Jelly (after peggy knickerbocker's marsala jelee) I use Asti Spumate and other sparkling wines to make a quivery wine jelly.

This will give you just enough for dinner plus a little to have the next day.

It couldn't be simpler to make, but you do need to allow time for the jelly to set, so start it early in the day or make it the day before.

14 CUP COLD WATER 1 PACKAGE PLAIN GELATIN.

12 CUP BOILING WATER 13 CUP SUGAR 1 CUP ASTI SPUMATE OR OTHER SPARKLING WINE.

2 TABLESPOONS FRESH LEMON JUICE.

1. Use a bowl large enough to hold at least 3 cups. Put the cold water in the bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it; let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Pour the boiling water over the gelatin, add the sugar, and stir to dissolve so that there are no strands or bits of gelatin visible. Add the wine and lemon juice.

3. Pour the mixture into a pretty gla.s.s dish or just leave it in the bowl. Refrigerate until set.

4. Slice through the jelly with a knife to break it up. Serve it in wine gla.s.ses or clear juice gla.s.ses. This is a dish where you want to see the light bouncing off all the glistening cubes and chunks of golden jelly. Since you'll no doubt have extra wine, pour a little over the top or into a gla.s.s. Serve with something crisp, like shortbread or another cookie.

Salted Almonds Makes 1 cup These crunchy almonds are pretty irresistible, but if you can keep your hands off them after you've had a reasonable amount, they'll keep for weeks in a covered container.

Blanched, peeled almonds will emerge from the oven smooth and golden. With the skins left on, they're earthier, but both are very good.

1 CUP WHOLE ALMONDS.

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What We Eat When We Eat Alone Part 13 summary

You're reading What We Eat When We Eat Alone. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Deborah Madison, Patrick McFarlin. Already has 215 views.

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