An educational dinner

26 Jan

Two of my friends came over for an excellent vegetarian dinner last night. We made two dishes from Bon Appetit magazine (my first to make from that publication), and they complimented each other nicely. We made a quinoa and musroom risotto and spinach salad with kumquats and almonds.

One of the friends, fortunately, is a good cook. (And, she waits at my favorite restaurant in the world, Eastside Cafe in Austin!) A vegetarian from a young age, she’s been cooking for herself since she was 10. Needless to say, she’s good at making things up on the spot and just knowing which ingredients compliment each other well and what proportions to add to a dish, etc. That kind of improvisation is not a strength of mine, but I’m quickly learning, by making many different recipes and learning a little from each one.

Due to her tips while we cooked (I played soux chef, and she ended up doing the sauteing for the risotto), I learned a little of the chemistry behind what happens when you sautee mushrooms. The oil/fat in the pan, coupled with heat, cooks and flavors the outside of the mushrooms, while liquid added after sauteing steams the inside of the mushrooms. This is why, when you make a dish that has cooked mushrooms in it, you almost always sautee them first by themselves or with some aromatics (onions, shallots, garlic, etc.) and then add everything else to the pan/pot afterwards.

It was also educational to cook with someone who’s not a stickler about measurements and step-by-step directions, as I am. I first was exposed to cooking by occasionally (though not attentively) watching my mom and then attempting to cook with Brandon. However, much of my own skill has been self-taught through the past few years of practice by following recipe after recipe, sometimes with a cooking partner, but increasingly by myself. I make frequent mistakes, especially when venturing into new territory, but of course, this is the best way to learn. Now, I am slowly learning to take the knowledge I’ve accumulated and put it to use by making up recipes as I go, based on desire and an idea of how ingredients act together. Last night’s dinner has inspired me to traverse this new path in cooking with a little more confidence.

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