31 August 2009

Just Ask

I'm going to try very hard to keep this post from sounding like a your-mother-told-you-so speech. But really, she probably did tell you this already, at least mine did.

Just ask. That's it, my advice for the week. The reward was a fabulous meal shared with fantastic company.

Nathan and Leah came over for dinner on Saturday, something that used to scare me given their farmer, foodie and wine-knowing status, but it is nothing more than a fantastic treat. In preparation, I made a trip to the farmer's market. I bought a few veggies, keeping in mind what Nathan would be bringing from his own farm and then set out to buy some locally-raised lamb. The gals at the booth were offering samples of their delicious lamb. I tried. I liked.

Then, I asked about the marinade. I watched one of the women write it down for another customer. Parsley, cilantro, cumin, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Easy enough. Then I asked her how long, and she said the recipe called for 30 minutes, but she had the best results with three hours. Well, what a great tip, especially given she makes the recipe weekly, and she wants something that highlights her meat at its best. I would take her advice.

Later that afternoon I headed down the street to pick up a bottle of wine and thought about dessert on my walk. I wanted to grill a couple of peaches, but I needed to do something with them to complete the dish. Because of a few dietary restrictions with my crowd, I couldn't incorporate gluten or refined sugar into my dessert. I thought some rosemary whipped cream would be delicious with them. Then, after thinking it through in my head, I realized I wasn't sure how to impart the rosemary flavor (via some kind of steeping method) without killing my chances of getting the cream to whip. So, I stopped by Mint Tea, a cafe down the street, to ask the cook in the kitchen how he'd go about doing this. I knew he'd know more about milk proteins than I did, and I was right. He said heating the cream would probably kill my chances of getting a nice fluffy result. So he suggested I steep the herb in just a small amount of cream, only bringing it up to about 120 degrees. So that's what I did. After grilling the peaches, I topped them with a dollop of the rosemary whipped cream, a sprinkle of rosemary for garnish and then a drizzle of honey. It was pretty darn tasty.

The dinner turned into one of those where we just had bowls and platters filled with salads, grilled squash, eggplant, lamb and potatoes that we passed around the table. It was fun, relaxed, delicious and too simple to feel stuffy. What a perfect night. So perfect, in fact, I didn't stop to take a picture until the whole thing was over. I had a mountain of dishes, but I didn't care. Doing them gave me time to reflect on how much fun the evening was.

Asking how to prepare something doesn't make you a bad cook. It makes you a smart cook. There are very few -- if any -- dishes and cooking methods that haven't been tried before. Let someone else's experience and knowledge lighten your load. And, most of us are happy to share. Ask the butcher how to cook the meat. Or your friend who makes delicious pies for her crust recipe. And your neighbor whose husband loves to garden, ask what she does with all those tomatoes he grows.

I hope you find a way to make the best of what's left of the summer season. Its ripe bounty, outstanding weather and playful attitude don't last forever.

And if you're not sure what to do, just ask.


Ann said...

Also very journalist-y of you!

Amy said...

Yes, completely losing all sense of asking embarrassing questions. Most of the time this is great. Sometimes, it can be a bit awkward.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your amazing dinner and your thoughtful prose. As for the rosemary infused whipped cream, it was a triumph! It was a subtle yet perfect pairing with the sweet, juicy grilled peaches. Each dish was seasonal, prepared with minimal intervention and tasted fresh, light and sooo flavorful!

We had a wonderful time in the kitchen and dining room with you, Seth and Jasper!

PS - I agree with your comment about good cooks asking for advice - it's essential, because there's always something new to learn in the kitchen - even if you're Giada, Cat, Mario, Anthony, Jacques or Julia! :)

We look forward to hosting you next time on the farm! Happy cooking!