While entertaining some friends this past weekend over at my apartment for a little Sunday morning brunch, I thought back to an anecdote from my time in culinary school. In an effort to flex my culinary muscles whenever an opportunity presented itself, I would always pick an over-the-top dish and end up slaving away over the stove trying to pull it off. In theory, it seemed like a great idea – they’d be blown away by this sophisticated dish and commend my skills as a chef, right?
Wrong. There was one time in particular when I emerged from the kitchen caked in flour and various other ingredients proudly carrying this extravagant soufflé. But as the flour began to settle, I realized that I had rushed things had burned the soufflé. Looking back on the situation, it’s easy to see that I was young and eager and wanted to show off my skills, but there was an important culinary lesson to be learned that I was missing then but now know – don’t let ideas get in the way of actuality. Was it wise of me to pick an ambitious yet agonizing dish that I could not cook to the best of my ability? Or should I have picked a dish that better suited the occasion and nailed it?
Having a relatively wide-open Sunday and a gorgeous San Francisco afternoon ahead of me, my equally gorgeous girlfriend Ali and I decided to invite a few friends over and throw together a quick meal with whatever we had in the house. I was short on groceries at the time, the effects a whirlwind weekend, and a quick perusal of the fridge yielded only eggs, cheese, onions, a little butter, potatoes, and some sausage. The obvious connection would have been to make an omelet of some sort, and normally if I was just cooking for myself I probably would have just gone that route. But since I was expecting company today, I decided to take a more “down home done right” approach.
After dispelling a few possibilities, I elected to simply throw together a casserole with what I had and let socializing with my guests act as the focal point of our afternoon. For whatever reason, I was overthinking what to add as a side dish. Initially, I thought it might be a good idea to juxtapose the simple “throw-it-all-in-there” casserole with a side dish that reflected a different end of the culinary spectrum.
As I was thinking whether I wanted to add a little garnish to complement the casserole, Ali suggested that we keep it simple and just make some hash browns for a side dish. Now, the thing about hash browns is that if you have a little extra time, the grating of the potatoes involved is one of those great activities in cooking that fosters community, and that’s what sold the hash browns for me. Both my girlfriend and I had had a busy week of work, and simply sitting around grating potatoes was a great way to shoot the breeze and share a moment.
You know, it’s a funny thing, being a professional chef and then cooking for your friends. I imagine it’s a lot like being a comedian and going to a cocktail party – people are always going to have expectations. Similarly, I’m always expected to pull off some over-the-top dish out of thin air. Ironically enough, on the times when I feel people are impressed with my cooking, I’ve noticed I end up amazing more people not with my extravagant dishes, but rather, through the application of my more traditional dishes.
So brunch was going to be decidedly simple; maybe even too simple for someone with a culinary background such as mine, but I feel that this is one of the main problems in today’s world of entertaining guests – people get too hung up on all these little details and forget the reason why they’re there in the first place.
Don’t be afraid to let the mood or ambiance of a get together dictate what is on the menu or what the nature of the afternoon will consist of. Too often with entertaining guests, I feel that people sometimes try and outdo themselves and ultimately end up falling short of their goals in the kitchen and in turn, of their party.
At its most basic, food should be about friends, family, and conversation. Does the possibility of cooking a gourmet meal greatly outweigh chatting with loved ones? Although it’s fair game to say that the actual food could be a point of centrality at a dinner party, it is the experience itself that is most valued – the coupling of food, ambiance, and company to foster an enjoyable environment. In our busy lives it’s all too easy to get caught up running from one falling star to the other and forgetting which is more meaningful, the constant running, or the things we are running towards? In closing, just remember that life is short, and it only takes 40 minutes to make a casserole.
Spanish Chorizo Casserole
Chef Ryan Scott
Yield: 5-6 servings
1 dozen eggs
4 ounces Tillamook cheddar cheese – shredded
1 1/2 cups cooked chorizo – browned and drained
1/2 cup green onions – sliced
1 cup half & half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 can of drained corn
2 tablespoons of cilantro
Preheat oven to 250F and Grease 2-qt casserole pan. In large skillet, melt butter and sauté onions until crisp and tender. In large bowl, beat eggs; stir in half & half and chorizo. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions; mix well. Cook over medium heat. As mixture begins to set, gently lift cooked portions with spatula so that thin uncooked portions can flow to bottom. Avoid constant stirring. Cook until eggs are thickened throughout. Spoon into prepared casserole dish. Pour soup evenly over top. Bake at 250F for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and bake 10-15 minutes longer.