This past weekend, a dear friend was visiting from the east coast. When Jane lived nearby our families often met to share the evening meal. Everyone enjoyed these gatherings — for the pleasure of great company, food and cooking together. We found ourselves recreating the experience one night during her recent stay, chopping, stirring and laughing as we worked. Later we lingered at the table, long after the last bite. The melding of friends and food casts its spell like a magical tonic — filling bellies to bursting with flavorful morsels and merriment. We’re helpless to resist.
The weekend is over, and Jane is back home with her family. Yet the memory of shared cooking remains, rooted in my heart, a seed for New Year’s resolve: collaborative cooking with family and friends. Camaraderie in the kitchen leads not only to a lightened workload and inspired food but meaningful human connections as well. Conversation flows naturally as spoon stirs soup. Parents hear about challenges at school; couples share anecdotes of the day; friends reveal heartfelt personal stories. Cooking partners listen supportively. There’s no room for heavy-handed advice over a stovetop — the butter might burn.
Some folks I know question my thinking. To their minds, cooking is stressful enough — often rushed and fraught with anxiety as we scramble to put something reasonably nutritious on the table. This is not the time, they argue, to crowd more cooks into the kitchen (especially with sharp objects in use). To these folks I say — take a deep breath. Now, pick a weekend that’s relatively free, and invite friends over or simply ask that family keep the calendar clear. Plan a menu that’s easy to prep and that most would enjoy eating. Shop for ingredients and double check, to avoid last minute grocery runs. Pick at least one part of the meal that can be made with guests — whoever wants to join in. Prepare the remainder ahead of time. When guests arrive ask for participants. Offer guidance, encouraging words, recipes and a quick tour of the pantry and kitchen. You’ll be surprised at what transpires.
Sometimes we invite friends to make Indian samosas. I prepare the soft potato filling in the morning. All ages join the assembly line, rolling out buttery dough, tucking filling inside and sealing seams. Careful cooks take turns frying flaky turnovers while others grate ginger for tea.
Ever popular, homemade pizza offers natural collaboration. Prepare dough in advance and preheat the oven. Guests roll their own rounds and dress with sauce, cheese and pre-cut toppings. Pies are transferred to cookie sheets or a hot baking stone in the oven. Guests share cheesy slices and animated conversation.
Collaboration can be as simple and spontaneous as dividing meal prep between family members. Our oldest makes a green salad with her choice of ingredients, while the youngest mashes avocado for guacamole using her personal recipe. I sauté cumin-spiked black beans, while my husband shakes up homemade salad dressing. In short order dinner’s on the table, plus we’ve hatched plans for a board game afterward. Teens stand side-by-side with Mom and Dad happily cutting and mixing — forgetting for at least an hour about homework, cell phones and social networks.
Make a date to stir up a batch of cookies or a pot of soup with someone you enjoy. It may not be a resolution that sheds pounds, but it’ll put a smile on your face and a good taste in your mouth.
Ideas for quick, no-fuss sides using this week’s veggies:
Remove stems from kale and roughly chop. Squeeze juice of 2-3 oranges over greens and marinate for 30 min. Add diced red bell pepper, shaved red onion and toasted hazelnuts (roughly chopped). Drizzle with a generous amount of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
Toss cauliflower florets and onion wedges in some olive oil. Roast at 400 ° until tender. Sauté chopped collards or kale with minced garlic in olive oil. Add cauliflower to the pan and toss with walnuts and cooked pasta or rice.
Cut the peel (and white pith) from an orange, then cut circles crosswise and toss into a simple romaine salad with a bit of juice added to the vinaigrette. Toss in some ripe avocado, shredded raw beets and cubes of firm goat or feta cheese.
Toss knobs of carrot with olive oil to coat, salt, ground cumin, coriander and sweet paprika. Roast at 375 °. Drizzle lightly with honey, a squeeze of lime juice and chopped cilantro.
Cut ends off beets, rinse thoroughly. Lightly coat in olive oil and wrap in foil. Roast at 400 ° until tender (50 min or more). Cool and peel. Dress torn romaine leaves with oil and balsamic vinegar. Add beets cubes, orange segments (squeeze some juice over the greens), goat or feta cheese and toasted nuts. Toss in some fresh mint, arugula or cilantro if you have it. Serve as salad or on top of toasted Mountain Bread for a decidedly different sort of sandwich.
Try roasting cauliflower “steaks” for an unusual and truly memorable dish. Here’s the recipe…
I can’t resist a slaw. Here’s one that’s flavored with mustard and herbs and uses all the roots in this week’s bag: Winter Root Slaw.