The process of bringing ingredients from their raw form to a complete meal with just a sharp object, some heat, and perhaps some cold will never cease to amaze me. My default example is onions: they phase-shift from spicy crispness to unmatched savory sweetness in about thirty minutes over heat. Put yeast in wort (the sweet, nutritious, warm soup of barley and hops), let it do its thang, and after a few days (in a brewery) or a few and then you have beer. Magic!
It is essentially a form of art therapy, which I think contributes to why I like it so much. You have the power to create something beautiful and delicious from start to finish, choosing the ingredients and how you will treat them. It is an excellent way to unwind. Even better, though, is sharing this experience with someone. I find few things more fun and relaxing than cooking with a friend. They’re there to tell you that your dressing needs a little more salt or that the meat should be taken off the grill a few minutes earlier than you were planning to remove it. It also shaves the intimidation off trying a new recipe or working with a new ingredient.
This past weekend, I visited my friend Adam in Los Angeles. I brought a bag of vegetables with me (two giant artichokes, summer squash, asparagus) which contributed to the makings of an excellent meal. We were both craving summer fare, so we agreed on gazpacho. A trip to Figueroa Produce rounded out the menu: grilled shrimp, grilled vegetables, grilled bread, steamed artichoke, tabouleh.
As long as you have the proper tools, making gazpacho is a cinch. A high-power blender or food processor is necessary to massacre your ingredients into a creamy, tasty soup. We threw in four heirloom tomatoes, half a red onion, one green bell pepper, half a peeled cucumber, three large cloves of garlic, four slices of baguette bread, a glug of extra virgin olive oil, cumin, salt, pepper, and some water. This amounted to monstrous amounts of yumminess, especially when served with ice cubes, homemade croutons, chopped cucumber, and diced red onion. After the first spoonful, Adam and I high-fived; it was that kind of meal.
The grilled veggies were standard but very good; the asparagus and summer squash had come from a farm merely days before, and I thought it was pretty clear when you bit into them. Grilled bread is good on its own, but this was drizzled in olive oil and rubbed with a tomato. It was everything I love about the bread of a tomato sandwich but more elegant. The bread was also a very good edible spoon for the gazpacho. Also, the tabouleh was excellent, refreshing and gorgeous.
The star of the dinner, though, was most definitely the lemon butter. Lemon juice + melted butter = religious culinary experience. The artichoke was pressure-cooked in water with some cloves (um, neverwouldathought, but sofreakingood), and Adam instructed us to dip it into the lemon butter. This caused the artichoke, which was certainly delicious, to become a mere vehicle for lemon butter transfer.
Even though this meal consisted of light, summer fare, it took about two hours to rest off the food coma it induced. This was probably worsened by the amount of beer I had been consuming, but either way, it was a very welcome coma. Very, very welcome.