Gentlemen, a word.
If you’ve strayed into your late twenties unable to piece together a meal suitable for the entertainment of a companion on a busy Tuesday, I humbly posit that you may be inviting evolution to phase you out.
I know: specialization, blah blah blah. That’s why you have a job, so you can pay the local grease master at TGIFridays to make you the awesomest of awesome blossoms. Fine. You don’t need that skill. I get it – you’re a dude.
Young men, in their fashion, seem to compete to determine who can extract biological functioning from the worst possible food. (In the UK, women do it too!). Guys, I grant that on your own down nights you can live pretty damn happily on a nice piece of fatty animal, gone ripe and leaking on the searing metal of a scorching pan, and nothing else. You have tasted of the mac and of the cheese, hedonistically, at the same time. (And let me be the first to say – glory friggin’ be the mac and cheese.)
Maybe you’ve got some game – add some rosemary and some potatoes in some duck fat. Or maybe you’re the dude nuking Trader Joe’s, or pre-fab sodium-laced carb festoons from your local frozen food aisle, and that might rock your socks. Heck, a bag of Doritos, amirite?! Believe me, I get it. There’s no shame.
But then there’s the dames. You may have to feed a fine lady, on occasion, if there’s a fine lady in your life. I’ve seen bad books written on how to GET a fine lady into your life by way of cooking.
Fact is, at some point you’re going to encounter the drastic specter of gender inversion: date night at your place. It’s part of the landscape now – don’t be nervous. One of the nice additions to the American cultural dialogue in the last thirty years is that dudes are allowed to cook: they are, in fact, celebrated for it. It took a while to puncture those gender-atavistic behavioral holodecks born of Victorian spheres of influence, but by gumshion… Amerrr’cuh, we did it.
Three broad tips, offered with all respect:
√ Keep it simple. Whatever you’ve ever had that tasted good together – find ways to think about them inventively. Fake elaboration fails; flavor layering prevails. A major rule is this – Serve what you would want to eat, or you will not like it. If you don’t like it, you can’t share joy over it. It will suck. It’s like selling something a product you despise to a client you don’t respect – in the long run, pawning it off will emotionally bankrupt you. I’ll touch on this later.
√ At some point in any series of dishes you will have to improvise. At least I do, because I’m no professional. No need to panic. Taste, add, dilute. Add acid, add salt, add cheese. It’s like anything else in life – a bad thing can be converted to something else and a really bad thing can be thrown out. Your dining partner will love that you tried, if nothing else.
√ Proportion rules.
As every cultures’ aesthetitions and clinicians and scientists (really any fields’ experts) have informed us, success is dependent on a harmony of parts. Dosage, cries the great Paracelsus! A few suggestions for harmony:
Have one thing carb-rich and decadent, a slow note that melts and remains.
Have one thing bright and clear, an acid or a vegetable or fruit, sweet, tart, long.
Have one thing inventive, something of yourself that means you thought about the thing – but not gimmicky. (Really, this depends on your feminine caller.)
Have. a. dessert. For the love of God. You may not need it. But have it.
It’s date night in America, and I’m a busy Brooklyn boy. I’m about to fuse those harmonious elements into a frenzied little dance served on rice. Let’s rumble.
Prep Time: 40 Minutes
1.5 Cups Rice – sweet rice best.
1 Cup Condensed/Evaporated Milk
1 Cup Sweetened Coconut
⅓ cup Berberre mixture, toasted (see below)
½ lb raw cleaned shrimp
1 mango, 1 avocado
Salt, glorious salt.
A lil brown sugar
Berbere: A pant load of heat, and mad Spices. Like, all of them –
I first encountered Berbere through an Ethiopian restaurant – traditionally good for stews (Wat) it’s equally useful as a spice rub. I found a recipe for it in something called The Congo Cookbook, which appealed to me for personal reasons. One of the original ideas of this blog was to explore broad, bald intersections in international cuisines by jamming them together in the particle accelerator of my sauce pots and saute pans. Also, a certain culinary experimentation is de rigeur with Curry and I.
1. Soak the rice. Rinse, drain, rinse, drain, until clear. (Fifteen minutes or so)
2. In a rice cooker or pot:
Combine Rice with ½ the can of condensed/evaporated milk
Chai tea – black tea grounds, ginger, cardamom (sieved)
Get the rice going.
3. Rub the shrimp with the spices and a dash of oil to get them going. Coat those boys, get all up in there.
4. Dice the avocado and shred the mango in a food processor – retain ¼ of the pureed mango in the freezer.
5. Pour the other half of the can of condensed milk into a stand mixer or bowl, put those soft fats (milk and avocado) and tart fruit (mango) together and mix until its a thick, glorious cream. If you feel like going nuts, add a dash of sugar and an egg white and make it a foam. Hell, you could make a semi-freddo from it, or use a sheet of gelatin and make it all kinds of stable.
6. Blacken the shrimp in one pan on high heat, quickly.
7. In another pan, toast the sweetened coconut, also quickly.
Take a bowl and form the finished rice into a shape. Sprinkle the plate with toasted coconut. Quickly toss the berbere shrimp with squeezed lime. Drizzle with the cream sauce as you see fit and side it with the now-almost-frozen mango puree.
And the villagers? They rejoice.