(insert lame ethnic cooking comment or Dr. Seuss rip-off here)
Most chefs, professional or in-home, love getting invited to dinner at other’s people’s homes. This is different than going out for dinner at a restaurant, which is fun but not the same.
I relish being on the receiving end of a home cooked meal. Sometimes I’m just tired of cooking for everyone else, even for myself. Really, there are times when I’d rather sit back, read, knit, go for a paddle, join a friend for a climb, hang out, goof off and then show up at the dinner table and have a home-cooked meal waiting for me. I know it’s hard to believe but really, there are such times ;)
Sometimes I get tired of my own cooking and am hungry (pardon the pun) for someone’s spin on a dish. Recipes are a great vehicle into a family’s history and a culture. I learned to make many dishes by infiltrating friend’s kitchens, along with learning a great deal about them.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been invited to other people’s dinner table this year. Most of those times have been at my in-laws, who are great cooks.
This lack of dinner invitations is a common problem amongst kitchen savvy folks. It’s a pattern that a social circle falls into. The one kitchen compatible friend gets branded the ‘chef’ of the group and everyone just shows up at their place for dinner by default. Though a few of us are arrogant oafs, most chefs make lovely dinner guests. Just keep the wine bottle away from us ;)
I’ve been told by my culinary neophyte friends that they’re afraid to invite me over for fear of what I’d think about their cooking. They fear that I’d be dictating a scathing review in my head, silently nitpicking at their dishes, muttering to myself about how the carrots are bland and that the pasta is overcooked. I’m horrified that they would think I would behave so. Part of this inferiority complex is fed by the assumption that what I cook at home is complicated (it isn’t) and that I am privy to chef-jedi secrets (I wish). If anyone is going to appreciate a home cooked meal, it would be a chef. Who better to know what you went through to put together a meal than someone who has to do it every day?
To remedy this, I’ve been offering to teach my friends or family how to cook in hopes that they will feel confident enough to invite me over for dinner. I’ve had some great successes with my Vancouver circle with a trio of vegan ronins, the love child of Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson and a spatula-wielding knight who wooed his lady with 4-course meals. However, on the island I haven’t had much success with this plan.
This has all changed now that our dear friends Karin, Dave and the 5 furry kids have moved into Nanaimo. I’ve known Karin since our Squamish days and she’s been gleaning cooking lessons from the beginning. I spent this past weekend at their place, teaching her how to make everything from Pad Thai to sorbets to preserving. It’s finally paid off ;)
Last night, I got invited to their place for dinner. A real dinner invitation. We made plans earlier in the week and everything, as if we were grown-ups or something. DH was invited too but wasn’t feeling too social. I think his new SOCOM 4 game had more to do with his absence than any anti-social tendencies.
So off to their new home I went. I was greeted at the door by their 5 furry kids and the enticing aroma of dinner cooking. Dinner was a beautifully roasted local free-ranged chicken that they picked up from the Shady Mile market and some local veggies roasted right in the pan.
Dessert was a duo of sorbets, a coconut lime and a cranberry. The cranberries were made with a batch we picked up from Yellow Point cranberries. A simple and elegant way to end an equally simply and elegant meal. Bravo!
We even had dinner companions:
(the cat version of college kids all piling into a telephone booth)
For dinner, I picked up a bottle of Ortega wine from Zanatta vineyards in the Cowichan valley. All the grapes used for their wine are grown in their Glenora vineyard. It was a fruity and rich white wine that paired well with the chicken. I could see it going really well with a Thai green curry or the pan-fried halibut with pesto gnocchi we had last week
BTW, I picked up the wine at North Gate beer and wine store, across from Superstore. It’s got a great selection of local wines and ciders.
I also found Volume 2 of my favorite red wine, Bete Noire (Black Beast) by Cherry Point Vineyards. This local red is a bit rough and bloodthirsty, with a deep fruity finish. In other words, a great wine snob repellant ;) I think red wine ought to be a bit bloody and carry itself with a bit of a swagger. Anyways, how could you resist a name like Bete Noire?
Hosting a dinner party doesn’t have to be an ornate affair. You don’t have to make everything from scratch. Sometimes it’s just a matter of assembling a dinner. On the island we have a great selection of locally made cheeses. Everything water buffalo to cow milk cheeses to fill your cheese plate. Nanoose Edibles carries a great line of smoked albacore tuna and salmon for an appetizer and locally made dressings for your salad. There are prepared jams and jellies for folks to nibble with crackers. Check out Golden Maples Farm at a Christmas craft fair near you. She makes her products from fruits and veggies grown right on her own farm. She even has lemon and lime trees growing in her greenhouse!
For dessert, pick up a Grandma’s Country pie from the Nanaimo Sausage House on 3018 Ross Rd (behind the County Club mall). They have a sour cherry pie that is getting quite the following. Their blackberry pie is on the top of my list. They have a range of pies from berries to pumpkin to lemon meringue. You can contact them at Grandmascountrypies@shaw.ca and place your order. While you’re at the Nanaimo Sausage House, pick up some sausages. They make them right there on the premises and it shows. We’re fans of the hot pepperoni and their smokies are DH’s favorites and that’s saying a lot. They also carry local cheeses and free-ranged eggs.
The main course can simply be a simple soup, a roasted chicken or fish. Heck, I’ve served scrambled eggs and toast for a dinner party.
For larger dinner parties, hold it as a potluck. Better yet, host it as a 100 Mile Diet potluck and have folks bring in their favorite locally-grown dish. Before you start the meal, have everyone introduce their dish and where they got the ingredients. This is great way to share and learn who your local growers are.
Have a tasty day!