Bewildered and bedeviled by baking, broiling, biking, barbecuing, beverages, or braising?
Have no fear! Food Biker is on the case.
This week: What to make for a upcoming date night at home.
Dear Food Biker,
I’m having food angst! I’ve recently started dating a chef and he’s coming over on Friday night for dinner and I have no idea what to make!! I was at his house last weekend and he actually had appetizers: Oysters (seriously, oysters–at home!), bread with brie, and this bacon, garlic, onion spread that was amazing. Now I feel like everything I make is crap. I want to impress without looking like I’m trying too hard. Any quick and easy (non-pasta) recipes you’d like to offer up?
Dating a Chef
Huge props for your date for the oysters. Believe it or not, having them at home is actually much cheaper and easier than most people realize. I often serve them at home when I have guests, and it’s fun and interactive–but more on that in another post!
The least amount of pressure for any kind of entertaining is “make one, buy one”. No one will have an issue if you set out a simple, beautiful appetizer plate of antipasti. Get thee to the market and pick up a few different kinds of olives, one cheese (I suggest a chevre, as it’s light and pairs nicely with olives), and some roasted red peppers. Add a few crackers or slices of baguette and you’re done.
Don’t want to do that? Okay, then, here are two more super-easy, delicious appetizers.
- Buy a small round of brie and a good baguette. Slice the brie and baguette, place the cheese onto the bread slices. Drizzle with honey. Broil until bubbly and golden. Heaven on earth.
- Most markets carry some kind of reasonably decent prosciutto. Buy a package of it, then head over to the cheese case and buy some gorgonzola. Finally, find a package of dried figs. Cut the figs in half, stuff with a small piece of the cheese, then wrap with a slice of the prosciutto. (This is great because you can do it the night before. If you do, cover the serving plate tightly with plastic wrap, and store in the chill-chest. Take them out about 1/2 hour before serving so that they come up to room temperature.)
Now, that’s the “buy one”, and we’re on to the “make one”. First and foremost, never assume that everything you make is crap and that every chef you encounter expects a gourmet meal. Anyone who knows that I went to culinary school assumes that I expect a Châteauneuf-du-Pape served with Beef Wellington, but it’s simply not true. Chefs know that cooking is an act of generosity. And, most decent human beings will appreciate the fact that you’re inviting them into your home to serve them a home-cooked meal. So, don’t feel self-conscious for a moment. Chefs are often more understanding about preparing food for someone else than would be your average dinner guest. And besides, when you thinking about food 24/7, it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the ride for a change!
Okay, so what to make? First and most important: Do not learn a new recipe for Friday night. Ask yourself: What is the best thing I make for myself? Is it a recipe a relative passed on to me? Is it a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich? Whatever it is that you love to cook for yourself, make it for your chef-friend. Add a simple green salad, a bottle of wine, and a smile and I guarantee you will have a happy guest. (If you and your guest don’t drink alcohol, a nice option is Italian lemon soda. It’s clean, crisp, and not too sweet.)
Okay, so say your favorite is, oh, Quisp cereal and you don’t want to go that route. Well, I’d go with stew (or chili). One-pot meals are forgiving, easy to make, and can be made ahead of time and reheated when guests arrive. The basics behind any stew are pretty much the same, whether meat- or vegetarian-based.
- Finely chop up one onion, one carrot, and one piece of celery. Don’t have all three? Just go with the onion.
- In a large pot, set over medium heat, heat up two tablespoons of olive oil.
- Add the veggies and a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally, cooking until veggies are soft.
- If using meat, you can go with either chicken or beef. If so, cut up your meat into evenly-sized cubes, and, after the veggies are soft, add the meat cubes to the pot. Cook over medium heat until the meat has browned. (Note: If you want to go vegetarian, then use hearty, solid root vegetables in place of the meat. A good combo would be turnips, winter squash, and mushrooms. You could also include a hearty grain such as quinoa or bulgur.)
- Once the meat (or veggies) have browned, sprinkle them with two tablespoons of flour. Stir to coat everything with the flour. (Don’t panic–this is going to look weird and sludgy, but that’s okay.)
- Cook for about two more minutes, stirring the sludgy mixture.
- Next, add three cups of either chicken broth, vegetable broth, or beef broth. (I like the Kitchen Basics brand.)
- Set this over low heat, stir occasionally, and in about 1/2 hour, you’re going to have stew. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
But again, do not stress about racing to learn a new recipe for Friday night: Chefs are super-grateful when anyone cooks for them, even if it turns out to be a bowl of Quisp.
Have a culinary, beverage, or a motorcycle related question of your own, dear reader? Submit your questions to [email protected], and let us know where it is you’re from!
Disclaimer: Questions may be edited slightly for content, anonymity, grammar, spelling, clarification, and who knows what else. I might not be able to respond to all submissions, so please forgive me. It’s nothing personal.
Trust me guys; I’ll be the first to say that I don’t know everything. For everything else, there’s always Google, Cook’s Illustrated, The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, Encyclopedia Britannica, and World Book.
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