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Do Try This At Home

August 24, 2007

Night #3:  Sister and Mom.  Secret Ingredient:  Basil

Deep in the doldrums of a New Jersey summer Nor’easter, there was really only one way to go:  soup.  Mom and Sister K made an extraordinary stew of split peas, barley, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, cardamom, and plenty of fresh basil.  Their spread began with tiny treats of cheese, basil, sausage and crackers, followed by a summery melon and proscuttio appetizer.  Bread was served with a basil-infused olive oil, and the blue cheese/walnut salad reigned supreme.  I believe the recipe for this particularly delicious stew can be found in the Low-Fat Moosewood Cookbook.  Presentation:  A moment of silence while holding hands.  Mom’s a minister, but that didn’t stop the youngsters from giggling throughout our “moment.”  Although I found this to be the weakest presentation of them all, I’m just happy she’s finally discovered cardamom.

 Night #4:  Friend K and “Grape.”  Secret Ingredient:  Pineapple.

Catering to the vegetarian crowd, K and Grape combined fabulously roasted tomatoes with lentils, carrots and onions to create a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs pasta sauce for herbivores.    We brought the salad, and the local bread was actually something to write home about.  Not for a New Yorker, perhaps, but definitely for a southern Italiophile like myself.  Secret Ingredient:  They plunked a whole pineapple on the table as our centerpiece and later carved it up for dessert.  Hmmm.   Presentation:  The meal kicked off with a whimsical, hippie-era song conjuring up images of sunshine and brightness.  The room warmed instantly as we all sang along. 

This is right about where the Top Chef format began to break down.  After being told repeatedly to “lower my expectations,” I ceased fun enforcement and joined the others in hours of mindless babyvision.  Overall, however, I can safely say everyone enjoyed themselves, made new discoveries, released their stress in an adventurous romp through a tiny kitchen, and ate like kings and queens. 

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