I’ve never been much of a chef.  When I was younger, I often helped in the kitchen by opening up cans of tuna fish.  They’re packed with juice, and so you have to open them, drain the juice, and then mix the tuna with mayonnaise to get a nice Tuna Salad.  Pretty straight forward!

Once, mom asked me to put some soup on.  I opened the can, drained the juice, and plopped the remaining contents into a pot on the stove.  Something didn’t quite look right.  Shouldn’t soup be more…juicy?  I won’t say how old I was at the time, but I’m pretty sure I was a teenager…

Fast forward a few years and I find myself living an independent life as an adult in Tbilisi!  On several occasions, my fellow volunteers and I tried our hands at cooking.  We met with a wide range of results, from the simple German Thai Suppe, to the delicious and successful pasta we made in Mestia, to the Thanksgiving Chef Boyardee Substitute, and our series of Zugdidi-based culinary parties.  We met with a great deal of failure, as well, with our burgers saved only by Manana’s quick thinking and fleetness of spatula.

Last year, my friends and I got into cooking in a big way.  We started, ambitiously, with a Grilled Cheese Cook-Off and continued cooking only sporadically, whether or not we had electricity.  We had great plans for a continuing series of cook-offs where we would engage in head-to-head and team-challenges to prepare pasta dishes, soups, and other delectable entrees.  Sadly, it never happened.

This year, however, has been vastly different and improved!  It all began in the spring, when I threw myself a little going-away party.  Morgan and I prepared finger sandwiches, Sangria, and salads and called it our Indoor Garden Party.

We even whipped out the old table cloth and bought fancy mustard for the occasion!
We even whipped out the old table cloth and bought fancy mustard for the occasion!

 

And look at our fancy fruit-adorned straws!  A classy purchase.  Plus, shout out to me for coming up with a way to use the extra cheese and fillings after we ran out of bread!  (Cheese rolls!!)
And look at our fancy fruit-adorned straws! A classy purchase. Plus, shout out to me for coming up with a way to use the extra cheese and fillings after we ran out of bread! (Cheese rolls!!)

Sorry for the awkward legshot, there.

We started up strong again this semester.  Morgan and I have gotten really good at making pasta sauce, and we even managed to do mac and cheese from scratch one night while we watched our favorite TV shows!

Mac and Cheese is the best TV dinner.  Also, how legit is this stuff, huh?
Mac and Cheese is the best TV dinner. Also, how legit is this stuff, huh?

But, that was just the beginning.  One fine afternoon in late summer, our good friend Pete from Australia invited us all around to his place for a new delicacy he was preparing called Watermelon Salad.  “It’s a refreshing summer snack!” Pete assured us.  It consists of cubed watermelon sprinkled with oil, feta cheese, onions, olives, and greens, and based on that list, it sounds absolutely disgusting.

Putting on my game face, I helped Pete prepare the ingredients, while Keti, Nino, and Nino’s niece Mariam lounged about talking, laughing, and drinking beers.  It was the classic Georgian household in reverse.

Pete and I laboring away while the lazy girls drink beer and laugh at us.  Also, if you're wondering what all these words are on the photo, well, we used it for Keti's surprise birthday cake a few weeks later!
Pete and I laboring away while the lazy girls drink beer and laugh at us. Also, if you’re wondering what all these words are on the photo, well, we used it for Keti’s surprise birthday cake a few weeks later!
See?  Birthday cake, and birthday sword!
See? Birthday cake, and birthday sword!

A lot of people didn’t like the Watermelon Salad.  Truth be told?  It was surprisingly awesome.  It was very refreshing and the (not-actually-feta) cheese went really well with the watermelon flavor.  Keti hated it, Nino tolerated it, but ten year-old Mariam enjoyed it, and we all know that children are incapable of lying!

Two weeks later, Nino asked, “Have I ever made you my famous Frittata?”  Curious, I offered my kitchen as a staging area and my sous-chef skills as assistance.  And so began our 2nd traditional cook-up.

Nino didnt
Nino didn’t let her sickness get in the way of her cooking, so she cooked with a mask on!

We decided that our new weekend tradition would be to take turns cooking for each other and sharing good food, good drinks, and good times every other weekend!  And what a good decision it was!

Nino’s Frittata recipe required a lot of preparation, and a lot of stirring.  As Stirrer-in-Chief, I was responsible for frying it all up together in our cast iron skillet and I was to blame for the lost pieces that fell into the burner.  Ask Nino and she’ll tell you that I almost ruined the whole experience!  Instead, however, we got this:

Finished Frittata! Full disclosure
Finished Frittata! (Full disclosure, this is not the Frittata made at my house, but it is essentially the same – it is one Nino made a week prior)

With the relative successes of Watermelon Salad and Frittata behind us, (I just know that Keti and, especially, Nino will take offense at WS and F being described together, positively, in the same sentence!) I decided that it would be my turn to show of my culinary chops!  I made the necessary preparations, and invited everyone over to try the delicious and hearty Guinness Stew, of Zugdidi fame.

All the
All the ingredients needed for Guinness Stew, plus Pringles and Guacamole!  (Guacamole in Georgia!!!  What has the world come to?)  And all this cost less than 50 GEL.

Pete arrived earliest, to be my sous-chef, and he and Morgan helped me get things off to a sizzling start!

We
We had too many potatoes and carrots to fry up, so we had to split them between two vessels.  I won the don’t-spill contest.  Nino would have been proud.
Wh
“What’s the next step?”
Oh!
“Oh! Add the veggies to the broth!”
C
“Cooking is Crazy!”
T
Then we just have to let it simmer for a good long while.  I think it was about 2 hours, all told. (Before Veggies)

Of course, a stew this hearty would hardly be complete without dessert.  And that’s where Nino came to the rescue once again!

Getting
Getting ready for Nino’s Famous Muffins.
Tell
Tell us, Nino, why are all your dishes “Famous”?
B
“Because I’m famous.”
Muffins
Muffins in the oven, stew stewing, all that remains is to drink wine and wait.
For the record, we did not give little Mariam alcohol.  She was drinking juice!
For the record, we did not give little Mariam alcohol.  She was drinking juice!
Pete
Pete, looking aware of the photo, had brought Pastisse, an aniseed-flavored French liquor.  It was nasty.  (I hate aniseed.)  Nino and I had some delicious Chambourd!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beef stew turned out incredibly.  It was the first time I’ve ever made something quite like it and I could not be more satisified with the results.

W
After Veggies.  Man oh man did it smell good!
K
Keti showed up just in time to eat our absolutely delicious stew!  Dipping tone bread in it was the best.

We ate and ate and ate until it was almost gone.  There was still enough for the next day’s lunch for me and Morgan though!  And then came the dessert!

Nino
Nino’s muffins deserve their famous title and were an extraordinarily successful demonstration of culinary ability and oven functionality! (Though we did have to prop the oven door shut to keep the heat from escaping…)
Cnadid
Candid photo of an adorable moment between a Nino and her niece.

Sated and full, the evening continued with a few rounds of Sherlock-themed Cluedo!

Some players
Some players took the game extremely seriously as they pondered the murderer of Moriarty.  Mariam even went so far as to put on her thinking hair.
Others
Others were more in it for the fun.
Our first game ended with a
Our first game ended with a surprise victory from Mariam!
While Mariam basked in the glory of victory, Nino wallowed in the shame of defeat.  This is her face upon realizing her crucial game-losing error.  Never assume, Nino.  Never assume.
While Mariam basked in the glory of victory, Nino wallowed in the shame of defeat.  This is her face upon realizing her crucial game-losing error.  Never assume, Nino.  Never assume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so ended Round 3 of our Cooking Tradition.

Round four coincided with Halloween, and gives this post it’s name.  Despite all of our best efforts, Morgan and I couldn’t manage to cook rock candy to serve as a costume prop.  Morgan did manage, however, to whip up some Chili par excellence.

We
We opted for the tried and true method of taking a hammer to some hard candies.
Lets Cook.
Let’s Cook.
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One thought on “Funemployed: Let’s Cook

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