Some friends invited me up to their house for the day yesterday. I'd been up there the week before, and the husband and wife couple each had their family visiting. Her family is from Finland, and his is from Canada, of Russian background. They both speak English, Finnish and Estonian. She speaks Swedish and some German; he speaks Russian and some French and Japanese. They've been here six years. We had a wonderful time last week, playing card games and eating chocolate and talking about a common obsession: food.
They asked me a few days afterward to come back up and cook with them on their day off. I was under the impression (due to the term with) that other people would be cooking other things and we'd all kind of contribute. She asked me what I'd like to cook and what I needed, and she'd buy the ingredients.
I was surprised but pleased to find out upon arriving yesterday that it would be all me. They'd cleared out two kitchens for me, both theirs and their neighbors' next door, as they're out of town for a month or so. There would be a few friends from the congregation, and three or four of their studies, along with the family. 11 total.
My first contribution was that fish soup I seem to be making a lot of for people. It's delicious, quick and easy. I was also excited to do a creme brulee, and I decided we'd do a lavender chocolate creme brulee, one I'd done before in America. Between two kitchens I had only a total of four burners, and the two ovens were more like large toaster ovens than real ovens, but they were convection and did the trick. They'd bought tons of red meat and a lot of great produce, and requested a beef stew.
When I started really cooking, I was vegetarian, so I cooked a lot of seafood and other stuff, but didn't do much with beef. I had a volunteer to start a rough chop on carrots, onions, celery and potatoes and a ton of garlic. I had probably.... 3 pounds of blade steak (flat iron steak before it's been cleaned of the tendony, fatty bits, so it's perfect for a slower cook) that I trimmed a bit and cubed up. Seasoned with salt and pepper and browned in a pan, just until it looked and smelled nice. Had we had some red wine and tomato paste, I'd have added it and cooked down before caramelizing the onions a bit. After the beef was all done, I divided it and the veggies between two nice ceramic pots and put them on to slow cook for about two hours.
At this point, there was a bit of absurdity. Dials were set wrong, one oven used Celsius, and one Fahrenheit, so I set one to about 180ºC or something, and i set the other one to 180 as well, but when I went to check on it after an hour, I could still touch the pot in the oven. It was 180ºF. No matter, we still had plenty of time. After blowing a circuit with the oven, dishwasher and exhaust fan all going and fixing a pipe in the kitchen, we'd gotten most of the slow cook out of the ovens (after trading one out for the creme brulee so it could cool and trimming a Halibut and making the fish soup). Put each of the pots on the broiler and got them going. All the stock and juices cooked down a bit, and the veggies were just right.
That being said, people started coming in around 7, and I'd made myself comfortable in the kitchen. The table had been set and all that was left was service. After some debate and awkward soup kitchen ladling, we started the first course. I was very confident about the fish soup. I've made it a ton before and the fish she'd bought was beautiful. After having trimmed it and done it all myself, I knew it was great. The beef stew, on the other hand, I kind of winged. It's a basic thing to make, but I was worried about the doneness of the meat, veggies, etc.
It was fabulous. It had all cooked together nicely and the meat had cooked through without drying out, and just fell apart so nicely. I was so pleased.
Creme brulee was a little bit of trouble. Pressed for time, and couldn't chill it as long as I wanted. For some reason it didn't set up as well as it should have, and the creme brulee torch was worthless for the sugar, and it wouldn't melt under the broiler either. Didn't look so great, but it still tasted wonderful. I love the combination of lavender and chocolate. Next I think I'll do an Earl Grey creme brulee, whenever I'm in a kitchen with an oven again...
That is to say, cooking is a lot of work, especially with multiple things going (in multiple kitchens), but there's something of the attention to detail, the production of something good and the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when everyone enjoys it.
After all the guests left, the Finns and I played lupaus, a card game similar to spades. We ate tons of chocolate and fruit and sipped on some whiskey and I learned how to count to 100 in Finnish and say some essential card-game related phrased. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.