Monday, June 16, 2008

Home cooking. (not mine).

A. invited us to dinner last night. It was the shining spot at the end of a long week, a bright point that I fixed my gaze on through two airplane flights and four nights in a (very nice) hotel and too many half-hearted restaurant/catered meals and three days of lectures and workshops and a few very sad airport/airline meals and at least two very bad bagels. I have never walked through the front door of my apartment with such a spring in my step, knowing that in a few hours we would be sitting down to a dinner made by one of the best cooks I know. I gave my suitcase a little twirl as I rolled it into my room; I managed to stop myself from having a little snack. It is something familiar, the short drive downtown, the frantic search for parking, getting keyed into a small elevator that takes you nine stories up and into the airy space that is A.'s living/dining/kitchen area. There is a lovely cake under a glass dome, a tray of salmon collars next to the stove; a few cold salads are laid out on the buffet table. But two of the guests are late, and I curl up with a few issues of Bon Appetit before dinner begins. At last, a knock at the door, a flurry of greetings in the hall, and it is time to eat.

We start with a salad of roasted marinated peppers and zucchini twined with curls of arugula, soft and sweet and bitter all at once. There is an orzo salad tossed with fresh basil and dried cranberries and bits of goat cheese, flavors and textures contrasting with one another. I take a piece of bread, set it aside. The hot dishes are coming out from the kitchen now. There is pappardelle - A. frequently serves pappardelle with whatever ingredients seem good to her that day - tossed with lumps of King crab, sweet and tender. Salmon collars are simply seasoned with salt and pepper, seared on the stove, and then broiled in the oven. The flesh is so fatty and rich that it melts as you eat it, and I keep going back for more. I wipe my plate with pieces of bread, mopping up the juices from the salad of bell peppers and zucchini, the bits of crab meat that fell off the pappardelle. (Uncouth of me, I suppose, but it is so good I don't want to waste a bit, although I am chastised by my mother for not picking the salmon collars clean enough).

Finally, there are T-bone steaks, so luscious that even though they are past medium and very nearly well-done, the meat is still rich and flavorful, and like the salmon simply seasoned with salt and pepper. I am full, but there is still dessert, after the table has been cleared and the leftovers divided amongst us guests. (I pack a box of orzo salad, topped with some of the peppers; it will make a fine lunch tomorrow). A. has made a lovely cake, (from Giada, whose recipes she likes), with pine nuts and almonds and dried apricots, which sink to the bottom and form a chewy crust, the rumpled golden top dusted with powdered sugar. I quarter a handful of strawberries, one of my occasional tasks whenever I come to dinner, and toss them with blueberries and raspberries and a slosh of Amaretto; each slice of cake is served with a heap of the berries. As always everything was perfect, produced with seemingly no effort at all. The kitchen is shining and nearly spotless; unlike me, A. leaves no trace behind as she cooks. (There is still time for me to learn).

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