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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
Pete arrived earliest, to be my sous-chef, and he and Morgan helped me get things off to a sizzling start!
Of course, a stew this hearty would hardly be complete without dessert. And that’s where Nino came to the rescue once again!
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.
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!
Sated and full, the evening continued with a few rounds of Sherlock-themed Cluedo!
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.