Table for 6
Of all the meals I eat in a day, dinner is by far my favorite one. Considering that I have way more than the standard three square (I’m talking hobbit status – second breakfast, elevenses, afternoon tea), that’s saying a lot. Dinner is the best meal of the day because dinner means cooking with John. We started our culinary adventuring together most nights of the week our senior year at Cornell, and now that we live together, it has become a nightly ritual.
Cooking is a way for us to spend time together. Unlike some other couples, we do not spend the entire day texting as if we would never see one another again. We may send the occasional hello here or a random thought there, but in general, we do not feel the need to give each other the play-by-play. Restraining from that behavior not only allows me to keep my job and John to be productive in class and in the lab, but it makes for much more interesting conversation later on. While John spices up the meat and I chop up the vegetables, we talk about anything and everything. I tell him about the new project I’m on at work, he tells me about his research. We make plans for the next day – when we’ll run, when to meet at the train station to head home – and plans for the upcoming weekend. Conversation just flows.
Making dinner together is also a great way to unwind after a long and hectic day. The thing is, you can’t rush cooking; everything literally has its own time. Water can only boil so fast, an oven can only heat up so quickly. So much of cooking is about waiting and being patient and enjoying the process. The house begins to smell of deliciousness, and you wait. Sauces begin to bubble, veggies begin to sizzle, and you wait. Chicken begins to turn golden brown, but still you wait. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of waiting, all your hardwork and patience is finally rewarded – your meal is ready. It’s magnificent to behold. It looks beautiful there on the plate, so much so that for a split second you think “Ahh, I don’t want to touch it and ruin it!”. But that thought quickly subsides. You sit down at the table at once and devour your creation.
In addition to being an enjoyable and relaxing way to spend time together, cooking for ourselves is also a way to drastically cut our expenses. Eating out is expensive. Eating out in Boston is even more expensive. Every once in a while we treat ourselves to a dinner out, but it’s hard to justify doing it too frequently when it involves spending on one meal what we could spend on groceries for a week. Preparing a meal is always going to be at least a little bit cheaper than it would be to get it at a restaurant, but if you know the tricks, the savings can be huge. We buy in bulk. We buy non-perishables in mass quantity when they are on sale. We buy the cheaper cuts of meat that, with just a little bit more prep, taste just as good as the fancy stuff. We like to play a game where we calculate the cost of a meal we just made and compare it to the cost of the same meal at a restaurant. It’s a really fun game, one that we almost always seem to win.
But even if eating out didn’t break the bank, there is another more pressing issue that has us sprinting to the grocery store – tiny serving sizes! Unless we go to an all-you can eat buffet, or somewhere that has massively large portions (like Moe’s!), when we eat at restaurant we are unfortunately usually left hungry at the end of the meal. I myself eat a considerable amount, probably twice as much as the average woman my size. John, however, eats an unfathomable amount. The first time I brought him home to meet my family, he ate half an extra-large pizza. HALF. My parents now know to buy an extra pie when he visits so that 1) he can eat his fill and 2) the rest of my family won’t starve. His insatiable appetite is both incredible and disturbing. I suspect he eats between 3 and 4 times as much as the average man his size, or perhaps as much as the average bear eats just before it begins hibernation.
The fact that we both eat so much actually ends up making things easier when it comes to home cooked meals, though. Cooking for 2 people can be such a hassle. Most recipes have serving sizes between 4 and 8, and many grocery items are similarly portioned and packaged. Under normal circumstances, this could be a deterrent to our culinary exploits, but luckily for John and I, we are not just 2 people (calorically speaking that is). Rather than cutting recipes and worrying about half-used, opened items going bad in the fridge, we simply cook every meal as it were meant to be consumed by a large family. I eat for 2, John eats for 4, and not a scrap of food is wasted.
Once you get past the early stages of cooking, the ones where you follow recipes exactly as they are written and still manage to burn your food anyway, it really can become an art. There are so many different types of foods, so many spices and flavors and methods of cooking, that the possibilities are truly endless. John and I like to keep things interesting when we cook. Our favorite thing is to wander down the aisle of Wegmans and pick up tasty looking ingredients to incorporate in exciting new meals. Sometimes those meals turn out fantastic, sometimes they don’t, but it’s the process of experimenting that is the most enjoyable.
As adventurous as we may be sometimes with our dinners, though, when it comes down to it we are still runners, which means we are creatures of habit. We have our favorites, our staple, go-to meals that show up on the menu at least every other week. Three items in particular have shown up quite frequently since our move, so I thought I’d share them.
The follow are photos of actual meals we actually cooked that we actually devoured (after several minutes of delay due to photography).
#1. Omelettes – You simply can’t go wrong with breakfast for dinner.
How It’s Made – Saute onions, peppers, and mushrooms (asparagus too if we’re feeling spunky…and it’s on sale at Wegmans!) with garlic powder, cumin, and a little Italian dressing. While those are cooking, get the skillet going nice and hot. Coat the bottom with a bit of butter. Whip up eggs – 2 for me, 3 for John – and pour them into the skillet. Once they’ve firmed up, use whatever means necessary to flip that bad boy. Assuming survival of the flip, its another minute or so before it’s ready. Add in shredded cheese. Any kind will do really – cheddar, mozzarella, monterey jack – perhaps all three. Load up half the egg with the goodies. Fold over. Slide from pan. Enjoy.
#2. Salmon and Onion Pizza – It’s no Sonny’s pizza, but it’s pretty darn good.
How It’s Made – Roll, roll, roll that dough, but be warned, this is a lot more difficult that those pizza men make it seem. Actual quote from John: “This pizza dough is killing me. It won’t stop being a ball. It’s too sticky.” One day maybe we’ll make our own dough, but for now the store bought dough works just fine. Saute onions with garlic, basil and oregano. Add in salmon chunks (we tear apart pre-cooked frozen salmon burgers). While the toppings are sizzling, spread mushroom sauce over dough (assuming you’re gotten past step 1). Cover with shredded cheddar cheese and then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Finally, pile on the toppings. Pop in the oven at 400 degrees for ~15 minutes, or until the crust turns golden brown.
How It’s Made – Sauteed peppers, onions, and corn and pan-seared chicken spiced with cumin, chili powder, red pepper, and this seasoning called “WOW” that we bought for $10 at a flea market 2 years ago. Once they are cooked, place a tortilla down in a hot skillet. Lay down a substantial portion of cheese – don’t skimp, the cheese is the gluel! Pile in the goodies. Sprinkle a tad more cheese and then place second tortilla on top. Cook for 5-6 minutes each side, or until you can ‘hear the cheese’ as John likes to say (whatever that means).
With food being such a huge part of my life (and likely every other runner’s life for that matter), I felt obligated to have at least one post dedicated to it. However, writing this post has been quite enjoyable…and it has made me hungry. I suspect there will be more to come in the future.