When you are in the kitchen, do you prefer cooking or baking?
I still remember the first meal I made for Rob’s family when we were dating. It was jambalaya, and though I’d made this countless times before, the rice wouldn’t cook. I began to sweat when we were past the dinner hour and his family was still graciously drinking wine and waiting.
Finally, about two hours after I was supposed to serve them, I plated the jambalaya, almost in tears. It tasted great–as long as you ignored the burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. I think Rob’s mom had to throw the pan away. Thankfully, marrying into the family was not contingent on my ability to serve a meal on time or make a meal without burning something.
This is the night I learned that measuring and sticking to a recipe can really matter. From that moment on, I always measured the ratio of rice to water, even if I’m still seasoning by the seat of my pants and changing the number of bell peppers or the protein in my jambalaya. I like cooking and baking, but am more in my element when I cook. Baking often relies on precise chemical reactions between ingredients and it requires attention to detail and the following of a recipe. Cooking means I can go wild and be inventive.
Last week in Virginia, I got to hang out with Jenna, a great friend and the writer at The Gleeful Gourmand. She is much more of a foodie than I am and knows much more about technical terms and processes in the kitchen. She loves to find great recipes and nail them, where I like to fudge recipes and sometimes fail greatly. So of course we decided to make something together with no recipe and no pressure to make it beautiful or perfect.
Like an episode of Chopped, I picked up a few ingredients (though much less weird than duck tongue or cinnamon bears) and brought them back to the kitchen. After her kids went to bed, we opened a bottle of wine, looked at what we had before us, and got cracking.
I bought ladyfingers on clearance, some dark chocolate, hazelnuts, strawberries and heavy whipping cream. Definitely some kind of tiramisu was on my mind. We decided to soak the ladyfingers in coffee liqueur, chocolate liqueur, and Chambord (a raspberry liqueur). Meanwhile we macerated the strawberries, which means that we chopped them and put sugar on top to break them down and release some juices.
We decided to make a ganache with the chocolate and also some chocolate whipping cream. Here’s where recipes would have been helpful. We had a few little hiccups and had to restart the chocolate, which became more of a sauce than ganache, but in the end, this whole thing was delicious and beautiful.
We called it Trifle-misu, because it was somewhere between a trifle and a tiramisu with the layers of ladyfingers, strawberries, cream, and chocolate. Toasted hazelnuts went on top. It was a hot mess as far as looks, but insanely decadent and delicious. Jenna has vowed to try this dessert again, but using recipes for parts that didn’t work out so well, like the ganache. I’ll be sure to share when she does!
It was really fun cooking with a friend, and despite our different tendencies as far as the process goes, we worked well together and had a great time. Then again, with that much chocolate and liqueur, there is no way we wouldn’t have had a great time.
When you are in the kitchen, do you find yourself sticking to a recipe or winging it? And have you ever tried to cook with a friend?
I’d love to hear your kitchen stories, be they nightmares or successes.