When you live with someone like Andy, it can be hard to know when he likes something and when he really likes something at the table. This is because his policy is to express how good dinner is if someone else has made it for him — I mean really express it — even if it’s maybe just mediocre. He’ll drop his fork. He’ll “Oh-My-God” a few times. He’ll mmmm through the entire first minute of eating. If it sounds disingenuous to indiscriminately dispense this kind of flattery, he might indulge that accusation for a second before saying that he’d rather err on the side of being overly gracious. As he’s fond of pointing out: “There’s nothing weirder than cooking for someone who doesn’t mention the food they’re eating while they’re eating it.” I love this about him.
Unless, of course I’m the one cooking for him, in which case it drives me batsh*t crazy.
Though it’s weird to even put this in writing, you might say that cooking dinner has sorta kinda become my livelihood. And in that way, it does me no good to be serenaded with “Wows” when I’ve just cooked something that may or may not be book– or blog-worthy. When I need an honest-to-god, incisive breakdown of whether a recipe works or not, the guy is utterly useless. (The kids on the other hand? You might say they are gifted in the Critiquing Department.)
I have noticed, however, that there is a subtle hierarchy to Andy’s compliments. It’s always a good sign when he asks “What’s in here?” after the first bite. It’s even better when the word “keeper” is thrown around at some point during the meal. But I think the compliment that registers highest on the truth-o-meter for me is what he said last Thursday night, after eating nothing but a tiny portion of leftover macaroni and cheese along with three or four salads made right from the CSA box.
“Wow,” he said. “I could eat like this every night.”
There’s a theme to the dinners that earn this compliment. The meals are almost always healthy. They generally involve fish, really fresh, in-season vegetables, and very little intervention on the part of the cook. The compliment is apparently so rare, that I can recite every single meal I’ve made him in 15 years that has earned the honor:
1. Asian Cabbage Salad with Shrimp or Chicken. The classic.
2. Grilled Black Sea Bass with Market Vegetables Pretty much the formula for Sunday Dinner from April through November, when our farmer’s market is open.
3. Sweet-and-Sour “Mongolian” Tofu We are newly obsessed with tofu. More to come on that front soon.
4. Fried Flounder with pretty much anything on the side. Must be the freshest flounder we can find.
5. Spaghetti with Clams (page 56 of Dinner: A Love Story) He is actually the one that always makes this.
6. Detox Soup With or without shrimp
7. Last Week’s Salad Bar Dinner
We had leftover Mac & Cheese, but you could also just serve salads and vegetables with good warm baguette toasts. Slice one baguette in half lengthwise, ten brush with olive oil (or spread with a little butter) and sprinkle with salt. Wrap in foil and heat in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. While it warms, make:
- Any of these Summer Salads (from 2013 round-up), which includes the cilantro-napa cabbage salad you see above
- or these Summer Salads (from 2012)
- or these Summer Salads (from 2011), which includes the tomato-corn salad you see above
- or chopped tomatoes with basil and bocconcini
- lightly cooked carrots with honey, thyme, and butter
- or shredded zucchini sauteed in garlic and olive oil, aka Zucchini Butter via Food52 (not that Andy would ever touch that.)