The California Dish

Food, like love, should be entered into with abandon, or not at all

Friday, July 1, 2011

4th of July Party

I only know one thing for sure about cooking meat: slower is better. In fact, cooking any protein slowly is the way to go. Cooking protein fast makes it rubbery, which explains why scrambled eggs turn rubbery instead of light and fluffy if you coax them to the finish line with heat, and why slow roasted anything is fall-off-the-bone tender.

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is Asian stir fry. But, if you think about it, they usually slice meat in thin slivers and across the grain, which helps the fibers pull apart in your mouth faster and gives the illusion of tenderness even if it's not really there.

And then there is the possibility that they just add MSG or another flavor enhancer.

Funny story about MSG. I tutored a girl from China for a while. Wonderful gal. She told me she was very sad because she couldn't find  MSG here in the states and that it was her favorite spice. After giving her directions to the local Asian food store, I attempted to explain that Americans wouldn't consider MSG an actual spice, but rather a food additive that many avoid because of the side effects (headaches, nausea, etc.). That didn't seem to deter her one bit, as she told me that her dad had taught her how to cook with it. "But you don't put it on eggs," she explained, "my Dad said eggs have enough flavor without MSG." Ironic, since I can't stand eggs without a little dash of salt.

Tomorrow I'm hosting a 4th of July party and we're grilling fajitas. Tequila lime chicken and chipotle flank steak fajitas! And they're slowly marinating in the fridge right now. They'll cook a little faster than slow roasting, but marinating adds a lot of flavor when a dish is cooked more quickly. And we'll cut the meat cross grain to maximize tenderness. I wish I could take credit for the recipes, but I shamelessly borrowed them from the Barefoot Contessa and the Pioneer Woman, two women I have come to trust for recipes. I'll share the recipes and pictures later this weekend.

The key to successful entertaining is to be present with your guests. That's something I haven't always been good at. Sometimes, I've been so caught up in preparing a dish, that I spent more time in the kitchen than with the people I invited over. I'm learning to prep as much as I can ahead of time, so I can swim with my nieces and nephews tomorrow, which is so much more important than chopping vegetables.

Years ago, I did a little Kay Arthur Bible study about hospitality.  It was about the book of Ruth.

Somehow, Ruth's ability to uncover Boaz's feet in such a way that made him feel right at home conveyed her incredible gift of hospitality. It wasn't until much later, in an English Literature class of all places, that I heard that uncovering a man's feet is a euphemism for another kind of hospitality. Either way, uncovering a man's feet, in any sense of the phrase, didn't make a lot of sense to me in terms of entertaining.

What did stick with me is a little phrase that was buried in this booklet. It said a truly hospitable person can open a can of chicken soup and make you feel like are the most important person in the world, whereas another could spread a feast fit for kings and you could feel charmed, but not nourished. Entertained but not loved. Full but not satisfied. Since then, my goal has been to nourish people.

I probably learned the most about entertaining from a couple I went to Bible school with. They're older than I am by a few decades with just enough wisdom and experience and love that I couldn't help but spend hours at their home, nestled in their kitchen, laughing, tasting, and eating with them. We spent hours typing menus on parchment paper, collecting unique china dishes, popping into every grocery store in town on a quest for the right ingredients, dicing, simmering, and nibbling.

I learned about serving with excellence and the value of quality ingredients: imported chocolate, fresh fish and meat, organic produce. Often, the guests would have little idea that we had spent 8 hours making something they had eaten in under an hour, but we knew. And, in our own little way, it was our way to honor our guests.  Good food is a labor of love. And a smile and a compliment from our guests went a long way.

So, I ask you dear friends, how will you nourish the people you love this holiday weekend? What will you cook? What will you share? How will you honor?

1 comment:

  1. So true.
    Reminds me of Martha - slaving away in the kitchen, trying to "hospitable," but completely missing the point, while Mary sat at His feet and enjoyed his company. It's about the fellowship! I agree if you prep well, you can focus on your guests more. Good point.
    Have fun tomorrow! :)