Cooking with Nick

“Cooking with Nick” will become a monthly installation here at Minneapolis Hunter. Nick, Frank’s brother and my good friend, is a foodie…a gourmet. I’ve known Nick for a decade now, and the meals I’ve had with him are most pronounced in my memory. There is one instance with him and another dear friend Betsy (who you will meet in detail once I stop cooking savory, and begin baking sweet) when we dined late night at Bar Lurcat here in Minneapolis. He was in town from Chicago, and we were celebrating the soon-to-be birth of his first son and his having met the love of his life, Chen. It was enough to be together, drinking a bottle of wine from CA (he would remember the producer, and vintage but not I) and talking of the next year, but Nick lives to dine – this celebrated time was to be noted by the food and wine. It was another bottle of fine wine in, a helping of foie gras (forbidden in Chicago), tuna tar tar and I can’t remember how many other dishes, that we raised our glasses many times, and forked down as delicious of food as was the time.

(Update! Nick with his razor sharp memory just texted after reading, lest you should be punished for my terrible memory: The wine from CA was a Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zin, the second bottle of wine was Nicolas Fuilette champagne and it was accompanied by Oysters on the half-shell)

Three friends at Lurcat, 2006

It’s truly a delight that he and his wife Chen with their darling son have since moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, and that the five of us can get together once a month to make a meal. Now, I will have to impart some humble information about myself. When I cook, and it’s edible, it’s quite surprising. My mother is a great cook, and I grew up with most meals coming straight from her vegetable garden. I think I grew up almost expecting my mother would cook all of my meals. For eternity. Eighteen and at college did not break me of it (college cafeteria food was actually really good), but twenty-one in London and no money to eat out did. I cooked lots of pasta, I’ll say that. It wasn’t until I met Frank and had a nice sized kitchen that I actually started to cook, and I’m still learning. So let’s get back to Nick, who is a wonderful cook. Mostly, he makes the meals and either we show up, or stock some decent swill while he cooks. But when he cooks, I’ve learned to watch and listen, and ask questions. I’m always amazed that he can take five things and combine them in a way I never would have. I mentioned the blog to him, and immediately we agreed that the typical monthly meal Frank, myself, him and Chen get together to enjoy, should be documented.

Above, a rare and special meal on the occasion of my birthday a month ago, eating several cuts of beef rubbed and cooked differently (in particular, I love the tenderloin seared with a nori crust and served with wasabi butter), Mashed Red Potatoes, Seared Scallops on a bed of bacon and brussel sprouts. If that wasn’t enough, it was accompanied by a bottle of ’95 Staglin Cab, and an ’05 Cayuse Syrah (En Chamberlain). I can’t say I’ve had such a delicious meal since, well, maybe ever. Last week we made pan seared Mahi Mahi with coconut sauce, mashed potatoes and sauteed baby bok choy. The wine had gusto, starting with a Crios Syrah/Bonarda blend ’07 (Argentinian), and then a Californian Graziano Zin ’06. The meal was delicious (the picture says it all, doesn’t it? Those textures, flavors…yum), but I will remember the sauce for a long time.

Mahi Mahi on a bed of Mashed Potatoes, wrapped in Baby Bok Choy with Coconut Sauce

What’s with sauces? After devouring Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” (the way he talks about sauces makes you think he’s found true love), re-reading Julia Child’s chapter on sauces, and watching Nick make the coconut sauce brought it all together for me. I’m a sauce person generally speaking, but ask Frank and he’ll tell you I’m not a sauce maker. I’ll just use the juices from the pan…forget the fancy reduction sauce. Or, salt and pepper it – I’ll be fine without a sauce. In fact, I think the closest I’ve ever come to a sauce is simmered milk with melted cheese and an egg whisked in. So, the lesson: Learn to Make a Sauce. So this week, I will make a hollandaise sauce a la Julia with poached eggs.

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