Food is for sharing.
One of the hardest things about moving to Pittsburgh in stages has been my inability to entertain. Cooking for myself is fine — I do like food — but it’s so much more gratifying to do it for other people. My kitchen right now has only a few of my toys in it. I barely have furniture; it arrives with my wife AmyJo in less than a week.
Finally. On all counts. Especially the wife part. We actually like each other. It’s a little sick.
The process of cooking is almost soothing for me. The sweat, the knife nicks on my hands, the performance stress make a strange sheath for an activity in which I find a measure of serenity. It may be the most organized I get. What prep to do in what order, when to hit the heat or take something out of the fridge to get to room temperature, where to put everything in the meantime.
Driving through town on the way somewhere? Stop for a night. I’ll cook. I’ll take any excuse I can most of the time.
And I haven’t gotten to do it.
See, I have a friend. Say hello to Beth. I got to talking on Twitter a few weeks ago about how much I missed this. She offered up her kitchen.
We haven’t known each other since childhood or anything. I’ve only lived here three months and known her for one of them. And that’s now, not when she first opened her house to me.
And this is the crazy thing: Hers wasn’t the only offer I got of a kitchen, just the one that worked out. Pittsburgh’s like that.
Beth’s offer was gracious. And kind. I mean, I suppose she thought something like, “Hey, food.” But she didn’t even know for sure I could cook — just that I talked about it.
That night, she invited over a few friends and I made a tray of ziti with a homemade tomato sauce and a little dip/spread thing that was basically a puree of olive oil and roasted garlic, eggplant, fennel, red peppers and onion with a little fennel pollen at the end to bring out the sweetness a little more. Nothing fancy.
Damn, it felt good.
So last night we did it again. Little more elaborate this time. Tilapia enchiladas in a spinach and roasted poblano cream sauce preceded by mussels in beer with red peppers, shallots, garlic, saffron, ancho chile powder, red pepper flakes — and I think that’s it. I burned off some of the hair on my knuckles roasting the peppers — I didn’t have tongs — and the pan for searing the fish shot me with hot oil a couple times, but I have done far worse to myself.
Another new friend, Emily, made a sinful chocolate cream pie for dessert. Sinful. Impure thoughts. Honestly.
The enchilada recipe is a ripoff of a Rick Bayless recipe that uses chicken and corn tortillas instead of the flour ones I use in this. A few other differences, too, but it’s not like I can claim it as my own.
Mine kind of look like this:
I’m rather incapable of following precise recipes. It’s why I don’t bake. I combine flavors in my head the way I do with words. Organize the ingredients sort of the same way. I taste in advance with my brain. That’s how I know how to explain it.
But it was something that wouldn’t have happened without the donated kitchen. Beth shared. So I got to share, too.