Senior winter is one of the weirdest in-betweens I’ve ever experienced. It’s very much a “one foot out the door” kind of feeling with all the work of senior fall behind us and the much-anticipated Senior Spring Project in front. Yet here we are, some into college, some not; no one wants to do any work, and I’ve found myself the victim of extreme FOMO with every single hangout, get together, or party that my friends want to go to. As a result, I’ve spent less and less time with my family, and I’ve started looking for ways to reconnect with them.
Naturally, I’ve found it through cooking. I realized a few weeks ago that I basically just sleep at my house—I’m too busy to be there more often. I missed my brother, our time together having gone from 24 hours a day in eighth grade to a mere 20ish minutes a day now when we eat speedy dinners before returning to our respective activities and practices.
Upon this realization, I ventured that we cook dinner together. We’ve discovered a mutual love of the YouTube channel, “Binging with Babish,” and his series “Eat What You Watch,” a collection of foods that always look amazing in movies but seem impossible to make. The creator, Andrew Rea, released a cookbook this winter, and Max practically begged for it for Christmas. I knew I could get him to cook recipes from it with me.
For our first meal, he chose “pollo a la plancha” from Moonlight, which is essentially a plate of burrito fillings without the tortilla. For dessert, we chose the apple strudel from Inglourious Basterds. His school day ends at 2:30, so he got home well before me to marinate chicken in olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and lime—pretty basic Mexican seasoning. Later, when he returned from practice, we started on the black beans. These beans are the most special beans I have ever made. They have a smoky, peppery flavor, rather than just a plain bean flavor.
To make these magic beans, cook some fatty bacon in a skillet and char some green peppers over a burner (the char on the skin of the peppers releases the flavor from the skin and makes them easier to cook down). Then remove the bacon. Cook onions, garlic, and the (now diced) charred peppers in the bacon fat. While they cook, chop the bacon finely, and put it back into the skillet with a can of black beans and enough water to simmer everything.
Here, you should make some rice, too. On a griddle (legit people would grill, but it was 20 degrees when we were doing this), cook onion rings (not battered) in olive oil until they caramelize on the griddle. Remove them, and cook chicken until it’s done on the griddle. To present the dish, Max and I stuffed the rice into little ramekins to make round shapes, which we covered with beans and caramelized onions. We then put the chicken on the plate, sprinkled cilantro and fresh lime on the dish, and served it with lime seltzer.
For dessert, we made our strudel. I wrote in my first column that I don’t bake, and that’s still true, but the strudel was basic enough. It’s a really old German recipe, though, so we had to roll out our puff pastry on a well-floured tablecloth. (The tablecloth is there to show the baker when the pastry is thin enough—the pattern shows through it.) The recipe calls for three finely sliced granny smith apples, a lot of sugar, zest of a lemon, juice from half of that lemon, as well as a ton of cinnamon. If I paid attention to quantities I’d be of more help, but I just threw ingredients in until it tasted good.
For texture, chop some almonds finely and include those. Arrange the apples in a line on the puff pastry, now thin and long. Brush the edges of the pastry with melted butter to create sticky seams as you roll so the juices don’t ooze out. Roll the pastry tightly, buttering everything, and bake, buttering every 10 minutes.
Max, being the athlete that he is, chastised me for buttering so much and enjoyed the flaky pastry. We screwed up our timing of this meal, so once the strudel was done, our parents had gone to bed, and Max and I were awake at midnight, shoveling strudel with fresh whipped cream into our mouths.
I realize that this is what I want for my last year with my family. I want to spend time with my brother, and I want us to continue to cook together because that’s how we find time for each other.
Next time, we’re making fish tacos from I Love You, Man.